Most of the films in Ridley Scott’s filmography are fairly well known, but there are a few that are glossed over for whatever reason. For this film, the fact that it didn’t even make its money back at the box office is the likely reason, but it still garnered very positive reviews from critics. This is indeed a film of special, exceptional quality. Someone to Watch Over Me is not your typical Ridley Scott film, in most part. It’s story is definitely a cop thriller with a great urban atmosphere, but primarily, this is a romantic film done with great, beautiful artistic flare.
A stunning New York socialite and a down-to-earth city cop are caught in a deadly web of illicit passion and heart-stopping suspense. Newly-appointed detective Mike Keegan (Tom Berenger) finds his life turned upside down when he’s assigned to protect Claire Gregory (Mimi Rogers), the beautiful eyewitness to a brutal murder. Lured into danger and the dizzying heights of Gregory’s glamorous lifestyle, Keegan struggles to walk the line between protection and obsession – while trying to stay one step ahead of the psychotic killer Joey Venza (Andreas Katsulas), and not allow his happy marriage to fall apart over his affair with Claire.
I really like the vibe of this movie. It does have a very romanticized artistry to it, but with the moody subtlety that Scott is a master at. Oddly, while watching this, I got a very similar feeling as I got watching the John Badham romanticized version of Dracula, starring Frank Langella. It’s that foggy, subtle romantic visual quality with its greens and ambers which really struck me that same way. Someone to Watch Over Me is a finely crafted and gradually paced work of art that smartly blends the seductive beauty with the dangerous crime elements. By the trailer, you’d likely expect something a little more thrilling and exciting, but even then, this film easily roped me in. This is surely due to the great casting and excellent acting.
Michael Keegan is not the usual kind of movie cop. He’s surely streetwise, but he feels a little green and out of his element. Having just been promoted to Detective, he doesn’t have the consummate manner of those around him, and coming from Queens, he’s not accustomed to the high life sophistication of Claire’s world. So, he’s a bit of a blue collar style easy going guy, and Tom Berenger does a stellar job in this role. He’s extremely likable and fun loving early on, and progresses into a more serious, emotionally complex character as events unfold. You can see that Mike is very happy with his family, but as he gets deeper involved with Claire, everything begins to be torn apart within him. Berenger has great and distinctly different chemistries with Mimi Rogers and Lorraine Bracco, who portrays Michael’s wife Ellie Keegan. Both relationships have their own touching qualities, and work equally as beautifully. Ellie perfectly reflects the man he is, but Claire gives him something fresh and seductive. It’s an odd dynamic that you can feel so much for Mike and Claire, knowing they have something unique together, but also, view Mike as the bad guy opposite Ellie. That’s really a testament to Berenger’s talent. He makes Mike a very down to Earth guy with flaws, but never comes off as a reprehensible adulterer, just a man of sympathetic conflicts of the heart.
I was very pleased with what Mimi Rogers accomplishes in this role. The few moments where Claire is confronted by Venza are intensely fearful, and Rogers is greatly convincing. However, the majority of the film is focused on Mike and Claire becoming closer and more intimate. She proves to be a gorgeously romantic woman who is not a seductress. There’s nothing lurid about these two becoming involved. There is a genuine endearing attraction there that is quite touching, and the building of a chemistry and attraction with Claire is done quite subtly. She is charming, elegant, and vulnerable, but still exerts confidence. There’s a fine line between where she feels safe and self-assured and feeling very frightened that Rogers handles with delicate balance.
Through all this, you honestly feel for Ellie a great deal because she’s done nothing wrong to deserve this betrayal of her love. Lorraine Bracco is wonderful showing the agonizing pain of Ellie. She loves Mike so dearly, and that pours out so richly once she is scorned. This is really an exceptional performance as we see a full spectrum of emotion from Bracco from the loving and down to Earth woman to the deeply hurt wife and even beyond that in the film’s climax to utterly frightened to death. While the film is heavy on the Mike-Claire relationship, Bracco does such a strong job to keep Ellie’s end of the film relevant and emotionally impactful. By the end, that is the crux of the film’s resolution.
And I really adore Andreas Katsulas. He was taken from us far too soon. Many would know him as the one-armed man in The Fugitive, but my heart with him lies with the science fiction series Babylon 5. Here, his role is full-on in intimidating heavy mode. His screentime is fairly restrained, but his presence is almost always felt. That presence is very effective right from his first few minutes of screentime all the way through to the taut, thrilling climax. Katsulas takes that great talent of his and compounds it into a lethally threatening performance. Like with everything else here, the key word is definitely “subtlety.” Ridley Scott has such a great handle on tone with his visuals and actors that it is no surprise that everything is just pitch perfect throughout this cast. Of course, I couldn’t forget to mention the late and charming Jerry Orbach as the solid Lieutenant Garber. Orbach is always a bright pleasure to see in anything he ever appeared in.
It also put a smile on my face when Michael Kamen’s credit came on screen as the composer. I really, dearly love his work. There was always a real elegance and sophistication he brought to his scores, and Someone to Watch Over Me definitely gave him the opportunity to flesh out some lush, romantic cues. There’s the obligatory saxophone parts, but it’s done so very beautifully. It really is a lovely tapestry of romanticism that he weaves throughout this film while never remotely approaching over the top melodrama. He’s aided a little by a smooth jazz style arrangement of the title song by Sting, and some fine music tracks from Steve Winwood and Fine Young Cannibals early on. The work Kamen does with the tenser, more thrilling scenes is very effective and taut. This is the perfect score for this movie accentuating every subtlety with careful craftsmanship.
Also, it seems that no matter what cinematographer Ridley Scott works with, his visual style always comes through brilliantly. You could turn this movie on, not knowing anything about it, and know it is a Ridley Scott movie just by the rich atmospheric noir look of it. Someone to Watch Over Me is absolutely gorgeous re-crafting the looks of Alien or Blade Runner into a romantically effective package. The scenes early on in the night club and art gallery are brilliant, perfect examples of Scott’s signature style. Later on, inside Claire’s upscale apartment, the overall look is very seductive with soft, dim amber lighting. As usual, Scott uses very deep blacks and smoky, shadowy visuals to create a mysterious atmosphere, and even on the streets of New York, that works so stunningly well. If for nothing else, Scott is one of my favorite directors based on his gorgeous visual neo noir style.
Beyond all of the stunning aesthetics, the story played out in both the seductive romanticism and the dangerous crime thriller are perfectly interwoven. I found the balance just right for the film’s intended emotional direction. I would definitely imagine a film like this today being forced to be packed with a lot more action and excitement instead of developing the romance and subtle suspense. Thankfully, this was made in a time when someone like Ridley Scott, whose last couple of films had not done well at the box office, was able to make the movie he wanted to make. He does a fantastic job with Howard Franklin’s screenplay just enveloping it entirely in his articulate, detail oriented sensibilities and wonderfully inspired visual style. Yet, the visual awe is not used to mask any lack of substance, but to enhance the strengths of it all.
I really did enjoy Someone to Watch Over Me. If you enjoy a classic thriller with a twist of romance, which the film’s tagline boasts, you will certainly find some satisfaction here. Ridley Scott directs this film with class and a focus on the smooth moody atmosphere and gradual development of its characters. The cast is absolutely top notch featuring substantive and respectable work from everyone involved. This film is actually a very clear precursor to Scott’s next film, Black Rain, which was an excellent full-on thriller, but still with a lot of that romanticized atmosphere of danger. If you’re looking for the exciting flipside to this seductive film, Black Rain is absolutely that film. Just forego watching the trailer. It’s a little on the spoilery side. Anyway, Someone to Watch Over Me is a very beautifully crafted and executed film that I really do highly endorse.
Dracula. The name is legendary in the world of horror. There have been countless portrayals of the infamous Count throughout the decades. In the late 1970s, a stage play was produced with a unique take on the original novel focusing more on a seductive Dracula than the gory, fearsome one. In both the stage production and this film adaptation, the iconic role was portrayed by the excellent Frank Langella. Directed by John Badham, this is a very interesting presentation of this story that I feel is very successful, even if the horror factor does not rival its brethren.
When a ship is wrecked off Whitby, the only survivor, Count Dracula (Frank Langella), is discovered lying on the beach by the sickly young Mina (Jan Francis), who is visiting her dear friend Lucy Seward (Kate Nelligan). Lucy, her fiancé Johnathan Harker (Trevor Eve), and her father Dr. Seward (Donald Pleasance), who runs the local asylum, try to make the Count feel welcome to England. The Count quickly takes the life of Mina, and proceeds to romance Lucy, with the intention of making her his greatest bride. Soon after the death of Mina, the Sewards call her father, Dr. Van Helsing (Laurence Olivier) to come to their home. As Lucy falls deeper under the spell of the Count, Dr. Van Helsing almost immediately comes to understand that his daughter fell prey to a vampire and discovers the culprit to be none other than the Count himself. Dr. Van Helsing, Dr. Seward, and Johnathan Harker work together to foil the Count’s plans to take Lucy away to his native Transylvania.
I feel this really is more of a performance-driven film as the plot doesn’t captivate very much. It’s quite standard for a adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel. Thankfully, the cast is especially exceptional. Frank Langella is undoubtedly the most seductive and sensual Count Dracula ever committed to film. With every glance of his eyes, every graceful movement, every soothing, hypnotic word he speaks, it fully enraptures an audience into the Count’s spell. Langella has been told by many fans how their wives were so greatly turned on by his performance, and the husband’s benefitted nicely from it. The wardrobe was meticulously assembled to give him the right flowing and iconic quality, and Langella envelopes that ideal beautifully. He has such a striking presence from his first entrance to the end. He truly commands a scene bringing a shadowy majesty to all he does. The performance is captivating reflecting the centuries old wisdom and power Dracula has gained, making him a dangerous and fearsome evil to combat. The character himself is depicted as a more lonely individual who feels a sadness being isolated from the world. Words spoken with great zeal by Bela Lugosi about the creatures of the night are turned around with a sorrowful tone by Langella. It makes Dracula a more sympathetic figure who yearns for an eternal love to end his pain of loneliness. He doesn’t wish to damn Lucy, he wants to be with her for all time, to love her in the darkness.
Sir Laurence Olivier is also a sympathetic figure as Abraham Van Helsing. He inhabits the intellect of the Professor well, but since the story makes it that Mina is his daughter, there is an added depth of emotion here. As anyone should expect from this magnificent actor, Olivier brings great theatricality and soulful breadth to this portrayal. Despite his grief for Mina, Van Helsing has a solid strength and conviction which makes him a formidable adversary for the Count. Olivier puts on a peculiar accent as Van Helsing which is further unique since all other actors in the role have just used their native English accent. It’s just one more thing that helps him make this role his own.
Lucy Seward is wonderfully portrayed by Kate Nelligan. She has an elegant, soft beauty about her that is perfect. She brings forth a great depth of love and pain just in her eyes alone. How Lucy is mesmerized and caught up in Dracula’s power is realized with a dynamic expression of soul and heartache. You can feel the connection between Lucy and Dracula so deeply throughout the film, and is never anything but powerful and beautiful.
The rest of the cast is remarkably solid. Donald Pleasance is great as Dr. Jack Seward smartly keeping up with Olivier, and never faltering in anything he does. Trevor Eve is quite distinct as Jonathan Harker, but spends most of the film in contempt of Dracula to really breakout into showing his love for Lucy. There are a few moments where he has the opportunity, but they don’t last long enough to be fleshed out. While all other roles are rather small, the actors in those roles maintain the level of quality and commitment as the leads.
Now, there are moments of fearsome horror, but it’s more suspenseful than frightening. There’s enough dramatic conflict and ghastly encounters to maintain this in the realm of horror. When Van Helsing enters the underground cave, and is confronted by his now undead daughter, the make-up upon her is very ghoulish. While its not played for startling scares, the suspense and emotion of the scene is strong. It’s clear that John Badham wanted to make an elegant horror film instead of a shocking one, and I can respect that. The atmosphere created around Dracula in certain scenes make him both enrapturing and chilling. Ultimately, this is tragic vampire love story that has sophistication and grace in addition to its fair share of creepy imagery. I think the ambiguous ending is rightly appropriate to the mysterious qualities of the Count.
The visual effects are very impressive, and handled by the legendary Albert Whitlock. He’s done amazing work on numerous productions over his sixty year career, and this is no exception. Dracula’s transformations into bats and wolves are done very artistically using some beautiful techniques which add to the elegance of the film. It’s rarely anything noticeably elaborate, but these effects are no less impressive because of that.
The masterful John Williams did the score for Dracula, and it is grandiose and sweeping. The main theme is both haunting and romantic, a perfect encapsulation for this story. As always, Williams did a marvelous job creating something unique and operatic for a film that deserved a rich musical experience.
The film is brilliantly shot by veteran cinematographer Gilbert Taylor. In his more than fifty year career, he most notably shot Dr. Strangelove, Frenzy, The Omen, and Star Wars. Dracula is simply a gorgeous film through and through with mystifying atmosphere, alluring lighting, and artistic and competent compositions. It masterfully showcases the amazing production designs in great breadth and detail. Said production designs are exquisite with elaborate, theatrical scope to them, especially in Carfax Abbey. While some are divided on the expressionistic love scene with the red laser light and all, it really didn’t elicit a generally strong emotion from me either way. I surely advocate that it is outside of the style of the film, but one could make the case for Dracula and Lucy’s sexual encounter needing to be a heightened sensual experience. Of course, there are other ways to do that which don’t date the film in the late 1970s. The filmmakers actually borrowed the laser lights from the rock band The Who on a day off from their concert tour. That aside, there’s really not a single technical that fails to impress in this film. It truly is gorgeous.
However, I have to take issue with director John Badham’s alterations to the color timing of the film. He originally wanted to make this as a black & white film, but Universal Pictures vetoed that idea. Thus, when the film was given the widescreen laserdisc treatment in 1991, Badham de-saturated much of the color from the film leaving it with a flat color palette. This mostly affects the darker or exterior scenes giving the picture a rather bleek, muggy look. Knowing that he had done this, I did boost the color setting on my television to partially compensate, but much was still left to be desired. It’s simply the fact that a film needs to be shot and lit as a black & white film for it to work in that sort of presentation. Dracula was not shot in that way. Regardless of this fact, the 2004 DVD does look quite good with good picture quality, if it is a tad dim, but I can see the potentially vibrant film that this once was.
Regardless of this, there is still an excellent motion picture to be had here. Again, granted, there’s not much in the way of true horror that will affect a modern audience, but if you’re looking for a romantic vampire film done right, you would be hard pressed to find one better than this. It is interesting to note that, as a stipulation, Frank Langella did not don any fangs at any point during the movie, and specifically did not want blood on his face. He wanted to maintain a certain level of integrity, and avoid the clichés that other Draculas had indulged in. I think it generally works for a film of this style and tone. It helps maintain a level of humanity in Count Dracula which enhances the heart and soul of his tragic character. This iteration of Dracula might not be for everyone, but I truly like the change of approach here. I can watch a gory Dracula film at anytime in a dozen or more different versions, but this gave me something different with the talent and artistic quality to make it very successful.
The Lost Boys is an excellent vampire film that perfectly reflects the time it was made in. The witty humor, the fearsome horror, and the amazing pop soundtrack create a purely 1980s vampire film with a lot of style. Director Joel Schumacher and executive producer Richard Donner hit it big with this film. It had everything going for it including a solid cast of amazing young talent, and has been a classic of the genre for a quarter of a century. Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire.
After a divorce, Lucy Emerson (Dianne Wiest) moves her two sons, Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim), from Arizona to Santa Carla, California. They move into Grandpa’s place (Barnard Hughes), which is somewhat removed from the lively beachside town. The small family is trying to fit in with their new surroundings, but they’re a little put off considering that Santa Carla is dubbed “the murder capital of the world”. Lucy gets a job at the boardwalk video rental store owned by the kindly Max (Edward Herrmann), Sam meets Edgar (Corey Feldman) & Allen (Jamison Newlander), the Frog Brothers, at the comic book store, and Michael runs into a dangerous pack while chasing after the beautiful Star (Jami Gertz). The pack is led by David (Kiefer Sutherland) who takes Michael on a wild ride into a weird world. What both brothers will gradually come to realized that this boardwalk town is, to quote the Frog Brothers, “a haven for the undead.” Fangs, blood, and creatures of the night come out of the woodwork, and Michael and Sam are directly caught up in it.
This could’ve easily become a cheesy 80s vampire film, but with the brightly shining talent involved, it became a fantastic, fun vampire-filled thrill ride. Kiefer Sutherland’s name speaks for itself. He makes for a charismatic, dangerous, and enthralling villain that easily lures Michael deeper into the darkness. Jason Patric also demonstrates a great, gradual evolution for his character, and shows a very brotherly relationship with Corey Haim. You can definitely see the potential Patric had for later in his career for more dramatically challenging roles with a wide depth of emotion. He plays well off of everyone especially Kiefer and Jami Gertz. She demonstrates a wonderful vulnerability as Star trapped between the vampire world and her love for Michael. Gertz sells the threat of David very well through Star’s own fear, and has seductive chemistry with Jason Patric that is strong and passionate.
Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, and Jamison Newlander bring a sense of fun to the film that gives an extra dynamic to the film. Without them, it’s more a straight vampire horror-love story film, but with them, you get a younger adventurous Goonies type dynamic that brings in a wider audience. Each young actor puts a lot of heart and enthusiasm into their roles. Haim is very light-hearted and easily likable. Feldman and Newlander intentionally play up a gritty Clint Eastwood style archetype which, when put into a pair of young teens who run a comic book store and hunt vampires, it becomes delightfully humorous. The Frog Brothers are a smart highlight in the film which only complement and never dominate this fine ensemble cast.
Dianne Wiest plays a perfect mother to two teenage boys, and an endearing daughter to old Grandpa – which Barnard Hughes plays with a lot of comedic enthusiasm. Edward Herrmann also plays his part very well in an assuming fashion, and is very convincing at the film’s conclusion. As far as the other vamps – they add a lot of life to Kiefer’s gang. They all have the 1980s hair metal look going on which couldn’t be more dead-on perfect for 1987. It’s also cool to see Alex Winter here prior to his Bill & Ted films.
Cinematographer Michael Chapman crafted some awesome imagery throughout the film, but my favorite sequence is definitely the motorcycle chase scene. Beyond just the energizing action aspects of the sequence, it has amazing atmosphere through shadowy lighting and dynamic angles. This makes me wish the sequence lasted longer as well as allowing Lou Gramm’s awesome “Lost in the Shadows” to play longer. Chapman has shot many great films from Taxi Driver to Raging Bull to The Fugitive. He’s proven his talent for powerful imagery time and time again, and there’s no shortage of visual artistry in The Lost Boys.
The soundtrack is flat out amazing. You have excellent tracks from INXS, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Who’s Roger Daltrey, Foreigner’s Lou Gramm, Tina Turner’s saxophonist Tim Cappello, and the haunting theme of “Cry Little Sister” from Gerard McMann. While they are not all original tracks, they do all come together as a cohesive sound that reflects the best qualities of 1987’s popular music. These songs nicely highlight and punctuate numerous scenes in the film greatly, and create a dense, awesome atmosphere for this film. There are so many pop songs in the film that, frankly, they overshadow what fine and ominous work composer Thomas Newman did for The Lost Boys. While there are sequences with full, gorgeous score, his music mainly fills in the blanks as more transitional music or an accompaniment to the lyrical tracks. I definitely do not view that as a negative mark. Mainly utilizing these songs over a score resulted in a great filmmaking style that only makes the film far more entertaining and colorful.
Joel Schumacher shows he has a great depth of talent here despite some of his later critical failures. He balances out the characters and their stories very well as no single story dominates over another. This also results in a very well balance tone between the lighter fare with Sam and the Frog Brothers, and the heavier toned horror and love aspects of Michael’s side of the film. Schumacher really brought out some wonderful performances from a lot of young, eager talent, same he did in the brilliant St. Elmo’s Fire. This is definitely a film one could grow up with from childhood into teenage years to adulthood, and constantly find something that appealed to them. In my late teens, I probably loved the lighter toned material and the straight horror stuff best, but now, many years later, I definitely have a deep appreciation for the sexy and seductive aspects of the film. They are beautifully executed from the acting to the cinematography and editing to the perfect choice of music. It has such a wealth of depth and sensuality that I don’t get enough of in cinema.
Schumacher never allows the horror or dramatic aspects to fall behind the humorous adventure. When all storylines converge, this becomes a very strong horror film with plenty of frights, action, and intense special effects. The showdown between Michael and David is powerfully done in every aspect. The ferocity of their clash is perfect, and is given a very dark and ominous lighting scheme. While the visual effects were quite limited in allowing vampire flight, Schumacher wisely limits the screentime of those effects. They are there only to service their moments in the film, and instead, the scene focuses in on Sutherland and Patric closely. However, the special make-up effects are flat out amazing. The striking and rather iconic vampire designs are realized with great detail and skill. When David reveals that vampiric visage, it is frightening. They look like fierce, vicious creatures that will feast with a smile on their fanged faces. One could definitely see an inspiration here for the vampires of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel with the pronounced, thick foreheads, yellow eyes, and long fangs. It truly is a masterful job that I think is one of the best, most fearsome vampire designs ever put to film.
The only aspect of the movie that maybe a little ill-taken is the very end. The ultimate master vampire is dispatched with in a way that works for the quirky, humorous tone of the film, but many are likely to desire a more dramatic conclusion especially after the Michael and David throwdown being so climactic. It’s a hair splitter. Repeat viewings allow for a fan to enjoy it more, but a first time viewer might be left somewhat unsatisfied. This ending does pay-off something established earlier in the film, but it’s a very subtle setup that one would likely not take lasting notice of if not for this ending. Obviously, I have no desire to spoil anything for those who have not seen the film, and I don’t think this aspect of the film should at all deter you from experiencing an excellent, vibrant, and entertaining vampire flick!
While Joel Schumacher has made some severely maligned films in his career, he has also had a number of incredible films to his credit, and The Lost Boys is absolutely ranked among them. For most anyone, if you say “1980s vampire film,” The Lost Boys is what jumps into their minds, and for exceptionally good reasons. It’s perfectly stylish in all the right ways with excellent performances, a killer soundtrack, and a solid script that balances all its varies tones just right. This film is designed to please on multiple levels, and does so immensely well. This is definitely a classic of the vampire genre that will frighten and amuse you in a very satisfying film experience.
Sequels are a tricky business. In horror, they tend to be rather formulaic. However, there’s a big difference between a formulaic slasher film that follows a loose stalk and slash concept, and a sequel that just carbon copies every plot point and story turn from the first film. If you’ve seen the original Fright Night, you’ve already seen a better version of this movie.
It’s a few years later, and Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) has been in therapy, attempting to recover from the incidents of the original film. Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) is still the host of “Fright Night”, and an adamant believer in the undead since the vanquishing of Jerry Dandridge. Charley is attending college and has new girlfriend in the beautiful and attractive Alex (Tracy Lin). Charley has attempted to put the events of four years ago far behind him, but the past has just caught up to our two heroes. Meet Regine Dandridge (Julie Carmen). Sexy, seductive, alluring, just like her brother Jerry. Regine has come to avenge her brother’s death upon Charley and “the Great Vampire Killer”, Mr. Vincent. Regine ensnares Charley with her blindingly seductive aura, and good old Charley can’t resist her mesmerizing beauty. Brewster tries to deny what’s happening around him, but Regine wishes to make Charley into one of the undead to eternally torture him.
From here the movie takes beat-for-beat reprises from the first film. Peter Vincent, despite his true believer status, is still somewhat cowardly and skeptical as to Charley’s eventual claims. The tables turn quickly as Charley is truly dissuaded in those claims only for Mr. Vincent to peer into his pocket mirror once again to reveal the non-reflection of their vampiric adversaries. Some things vary from the original’s plot path, but there are numerous parallels such as Peter Vincent getting fired as host of Fright Night. Then, there’s essentially a replication of the first film’s climax.
Fright Night, Part II is directed and co-written by Tommy Lee Wallace. I don’t believe he is a particularly bad director, but he hardly ever seems to get films that have good enough or original enough content to really breakout as anything special. His scripts vary in originality. With Halloween III: Season of the Witch, he did a fairly good job with the concept, but it lacked enough compelling content to maintain dramatic momentum. With Vampires: Los Muertos, he has better luck with a more polished production and decent ideas, but with a direct-to-video budget and the cast to go with it, he just fell too short of reaching the quality of Carpenter’s 1998 original. Fright Night, Part II simply has a severe lack of creativity as it more tries to remake the first film instead of attempting to be a smart, natural continuation of it. It’s as if Wallace didn’t know what to do with the characters as they were left at the end of the first film, and just tries to reset everything so he can have them do it all again.
Visually, the movie certainly looks a great deal better if you can locate a widescreen version of it, but it’s not an easy find since the only North American DVD released for it is in pan-and-scan. I’ve only seen a few clips from the widescreen version, and it was a vast improvement in appreciating the visual quality of the movie. Regardless, this sequel focuses more on gore and being more outlandish in its concepts, which is a poor replacement for innovative creativity.
Regine Dandridge is joined by an extremely offbeat band of creatures of the night that are easily more badly comical than scary. The male vampire seems more werewolf like, but it’s quite implied that he is a long-toothed bloodsucker. There is another vampire who is portrayed by a man, and certainly looks like it, yet dresses in drag throughout the entire film, gliding around in roller-skates. It’s utterly ridiculous and an ugly sight to behold. Then, there’s Brian Thompson who is some bug eating brawn of the bunch. He never happens to be anything of note as he hasn’t anything more to do than to say “You’re supposed to bite her on the neck,” and munch on an array of bugs. This group never adds anything particularly positive to the movie. There might be people who enjoy some of their humor, but it just left a terrible impression upon me rather quickly. In the first film, Jerry Dandridge made every attempt to blend in, to be inconspicuous so to not attract undo attention to his horrific nocturnal activities. This group does everything possible to attract as much attention to themselves as possible. Not to mention, the film tries to feed us the weakest of excuses for Charley Brewster to dismiss the obvious truth about them.
Julie Carmen is quite beautiful and seductive. She fills her part well, but doesn’t reach the levels of Chris Sarandon’s Jerry Dandridge. Sarandon just oozed a sexy and seductive charisma, not to mention, a fine level of sophisticated charm. Carmen doesn’t have a rich enough charisma or presence to rival him. The dynamic between Regine and Charley also never really clicked for me. Charley’s characteristically a little awkward and comical, and him being under her trance is played more silly than sensual. Thankfully, both Ragsdale and the late Roddy McDowall maintain great consistency with their return performances. They had their characters locked in for the first film, and four years later, they easily slipped right back into them. It’s a fine thing to witness, but the level of fun cannot measure up to Tom Holland’s Fright Night.
The script has some definite flaws in logic. First off, there’s no way Regine could know who it was that killed her brother. She wasn’t there when it happened, and there was no one left alive to tell her who did it. A revenge plot certainly works fine, but this plot hole is never addressed. Charley seeing a psychiatrist doesn’t make any rational sense, either. He was perfectly fine at the end of the first film, and it was blatantly obvious that Jerry Dandridge was a vampire. There is no disputing that, and there were eye witnesses in Peter Vincent and Charley’s now ex-girlfriend Amy to confirm that. This idea seems to be in the film only for the filmmakers to reset everything so that they can retread the same plot progression as the first movie, which is lazy and sloppy screenwriting. Also, Regine’s revenge plot doesn’t really sell. She’s going to seduce Charley in order to turn him into a vampire – an immortal being of great supernatural power. Revenge plots aren’t usually designed to make your adversary stronger and more capable of defeating you. I get that it’s a turnaround from Jerry seducing and turning Amy in the first movie, but it’s not the most clever scheme for exacting revenge on the person who killed your brother. It lacks innovation and smart screenwriting.
Again, the film doesn’t end in a much different way than the first. In fact, the ending may leave you a bit unsatisfied. It’s slightly clever, but doesn’t equal the dramatic build up in the basement of Jerry Dandridge’s house from the first film. Director Tommy Lee Wallace just isn’t very innovative, and that becomes worse when he’s directing sequels to films helmed by great filmmakers. The makeup effects certainly don’t rival those of the original’s. They look rather hokey and lack either an artistic beauty or solid terrifying quality. Fright Night, Part II only made a few small million at the box office in ’89, and it doesn’t surprise me at all given the time it was released and the quality of the film. It provides some extra gore, but lacks in the fun factor that the original was so rich with. Surely waiting four years to do a sequel didn’t help either. Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers all suffered bad box office in this year with their respective critically panned sequels, and so, why should this late arriving sequel have been any different?
The film’s stars, McDowall & Ragsdale don’t lose anything from part one to part two, but everything else falls down, at least, big one notch. The effects, the direction, the script, the fun / humor factor, and certainly the villains fall well below the quality of Tom Holland’s original Fright Night. It is worth, at least, a rent, but the first Fright Night is where all the gold lies. Part II simply isn’t as fun, fresh, or nearly as satisfying as its predecessor. There’s far too much bizarre and corny quality throw into this one to really feel polished and smart. Even if I judged this as a standalone film, I still wouldn’t like it based on those qualities alone. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully watch the 2011 remake of Fright Night basically because I’ve already seen one grossly lacking and disappointing remake of the movie, and it was called Fright Night, Part II. I don’t think I have the desire to see another one.
In 2011, they remade this movie. I have not seen it, and I don’t need to. The original Fright Night from director Tom Holland needed no improvement or reinvention. It’s an excellent and immensely entertaining vampire film that mixes enough horror with humor. It has a wonderfully seductive vampire in Chris Sarandon and a wonderful lead in William Ragsdale. As many of the best 1980s vampire films did, it delivers on both solid horror and fun humor in a well balanced blend.
For young Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale), nothing could be better than an old horror movie late at night. However, when he sees the new neighbors bringing a coffin into the house next door, Charley starts to believe his handsome and charming neighbor Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire. Unfortunately, Dandridge knows that Charley is aware of his secret, and attempts to kill him. Charley then becomes deadest to destroy the monster, Of course, nobody believes his wild claims – not the police, not his weird friend “Evil” Ed (Stephen Geoffreys), and not his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse). Ultimately, Charley turns to his beloved horror television show host and cinematic vampire killer Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) who is also skeptical, but as the terrifying events unfold, he and Charley must stand side-by-side to battle the fanged undead for their own survival.
Fright Night is such a strong movie. Every artistic element really forges together solidly. Most importantly, the cast is brilliantly put together. Writer / director Tom Holland really grabbed up some amazing talents. Firstly, William Ragsdale has so much enthusiasm for the role of Charley Brewster. He really sells every passionate, manic, and heartfelt aspect of the character. Right from the start, he’s purely relatable as this loveable, scared teenager. While playing Charley as an entirely straight, panicked character, Ragsdale is able to illicit so much humor amongst his co-stars. His intensely fearful behavior purely feeds into Ed & Amy’s perspective that he’s gone right out of his mind, and makes for a wonderfully funny juxtaposition. Anyone going to see this movie could easily put themselves in Charley’s place, and that’s really the perfection of this movie. Anyone else in Charley’s position would likely be frightened out of their mind, and look for desperate solutions to this lethal supernatural threat. Still, it’s Ragsdale’s sweetness, heart, and innocent charm that really drive home the likeability of Charley.
The late and very great Roddy McDowall clearly was having major amounts of fun on this movie. His performance as Peter Vincent is greatly charismatic and smart. He brings such jovial, witty quality that required a charming sweetness. The moments where he plays up the corny aspects of the character are very entertaining and brilliant. McDowall also adds subtle touches of depth to this lowly washed up horror legend of Peter Vincent, respectfully named after horror greats Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. As Peter Vincent becomes aware of the horrifying reality at hand, McDowall richly portrays the character’s shaken, fearful state of mind. One of the film’s most intense scenes is after Peter Vincent violently slays a creature of the night, and he witnesses the tragic, nightmarish reversion he takes from wolf back to human form. McDowall gives the scenes such emotional substance with an amazingly deep expression of humanity and sympathy. Most other horror films wouldn’t think to incorporate such a powerful moment, but it deeply motivates Peter Vincent to confront Dandridge once again into the film’s climax. It gives him the strength of will and faith to combat this powerful enemy. It’s a great piece of acting by Roddy, and a brilliant piece of screenwriting and directing by Tom Holland.
I absolutely love Chris Sarandon’s work. I think he is a remarkable actor able to bring a unique and entertaining quality to everything he does. He can do great, straight dramatic acting, or as in The Princess Bride, can play a truly despicable villain while still making him deeply comedic. As Jerry Dandridge, Sarandon oozes seductive sexuality which saturates the screen. He has a hypnotic allure that leaves no doubt in his ability to sway Amy’s desires. Sarandon always brings an elegant sophistication to his performances that really penetrates and creates a very theatrical quality. That is vibrantly on display with Jerry Dandridge. He can be nicely charming as the friendly neighbor, but then, turn on the imposing, frightening qualities which electrifies the screen. In the dance club scene, he completely captivates and enthralls with sensual, erotic physicality in conjunction with Amanda Bearse. It’s a great dynamic that Dandridge is both deeply seductive and romantic as well as fiercely violent. Dandridge is very full of life and compelling charisma that would be a chore for most any other actor, but for Sarandon, it seems to come very naturally.
The supporting cast is just as solid and enjoyable. Jonathan Stark does a very intriguing job as Billy Cole. When things get weird, the character just gets weirder. What sort of creature he is, I’m still uncertain about, but that’s good. It shows that there are things that not even all of the horror movie knowledge in the world can explain in this film. Most would know Amanda Bearse from her years on Married With Children, but she shows a whole different side of her talent here. She demonstrates an impressive range starting out as the wholesome, sweet girlfriend Amy who gradually succumbs to Dandridge’s seduction to become an alluring vixen. It’s quite amazing how sexy and attractive she is late in the film. She plays off of Ragsdale very well with both comedic and heartfelt moments, and later, is very in sync with Chris Sarandon’s sensual vibe. It’s solid work. Stephen Geoffreys is great as the quirky, nutty “Evil” Ed. He’s so much the comic life of the film, and it’s not one of those instances where he’s the lone character off-setting the tone. He entirely fits into the tone and style Tom Holland sets with this film, and Ed just pushes the crazy, hyperactive aspect of it all. He’s the clown of the group, and Geoffreys just goes full boar in the latter half of the film. It’s immensely entertaining and well-rounded, as are all of the performances.
Fright Night is amazingly well shot and edited. Pacing is very tight and consistent. There never feels to be a lull as the momentum constantly builds as the plot progresses and the horror intensifies. Mood and atmosphere are smartly maintained through very good, realistic lighting and strategically used haze. The aforementioned club scene is very 80s with vibrant colors and a lively visual style. There’s nothing low grade in this film. The production values are consistently very high. Sets are perfectly realized, and the effects are flat out excellent. Instead of straining the budget with another series of optical composites or wire work, the filmmakers chose some great camera work to avoid showing Jerry Dandridge flying around early on. This adds to the film, oddly. Fright Night is subtle in what it does early on only giving you a taste of who and what Jerry Dandridge is. It’s not gratuitous or flaunting his abilities. It’s saving that for much later when it has more impact. Of course, the special make-up effects are absolutely phenomenal, and on fully ghastly display. The vampire make-up has multiple phases that all work to striking effect, and there is no shortage of genuine, strong scares or vampire gore. We get a couple of chilling, unsettling sights in this film which proves that Fright Night truly lives up to its title by giving the audience a gruesome, frightening thrill ride. In that final act, Charley and Peter aren’t just dealing with Jerry Dandridge, they have multiple fearsome adversaries to battle through in order to survive.
Tom Holland wrote a very smart, clever, and sharp screenplay. It’s a great premise in which one moment Charley’s watching corny old vampire movies on late night television, and the next he finds a vampire living next door to him. Every element of plot and character is interwoven very tightly to allow for that consistent pace and flow I mentioned before. The comedy in the film dynamically fits in very well with the startling horror aspects. When the horror kicks in, it’s high gear all the way, and done with immense talent and skill. He brings out amazing performances and chemistry amongst his actors to create a richly cohesive piece of cinema. Holland really knew how to build suspense and tension to give the terror a strong pay-off. Even the seductive, sexual aspects are given their due build-up to pay them off for the characters and audience. I can’t comment much on Tom Holland’s filmography, but between Fright Night and Child’s Play, he has more than sold me on his talent for horror.
Overall, the original Fright Night is extremely hard to beat. I’m not opposed to ever watching the remake, but I also have no desire to go out of my way to do so. Tom Holland made a purely fun and excellent horror film here that is rich with character, style, terror, and a smart story. Even the 1989 sequel Fright Night, Part II could not rival this film’s innovation and intelligence. You surely cannot go wrong with this delightfully scary film. The performances are amazing all around giving you several wonderfully conceived and executed characters to invest yourself in, and a marvelously realized vampire villain that will surely satisfy on multiple levels. Fright Night is a bonafide classic of the genre in my eyes, and I am surely not alone in that sentiment. If you’ve never seen the original, you will be doing yourself a great favor by doing so. I’ll also clue you in on the two pirate audio commentaries that were recorded by Icons of Fright featuring, among others, Tom Holland, William Ragsdale, Stephen Geoffreys, Chris Sarandon, and Jonathan Stark. They are great insightful listens, and they’re FREE to download!