There are some kids who aren’t scared of anything and there are some kids who are scared of everything. I spent most of my childhood in the latter camp, doing my best to avoid any situation that was a little scary, whether it be climbing aboard a roller coaster or climbing the ropes in gym class. Scary movies definitely fell into this category. I think that by the time I was ten years old, the scariest movie I had watched might have been a WPIX airing of Carrie (which really wasn’t scary) or an old Hammer Studios flick like Dracula: Prince of Darkness. In other words, despite my fascination with the video boxes for horror movies, I really wasn’t up for renting one.
I can’t tell if spending my early years being relatively sheltered from the sights and sounds of scary movies had a positive or negative effect on my life. I mean, the negative is that I was a complete pussy when it came to watching even Alien for the first time, and one scary scene could give me a really bad nightmare to the point where I insisted that my closet door be closed each night before I went to bed. Then again, the fact that I remembered that one scary scene so well has made me really appreciate what goes into a quality horror movie. In other words, I’m not one to sit back and simply let The Exorcist or The Blair Witch Project simply happen. If I’m watching one of those films, I’m involved.
The earliest film which had a scene that had an enormous effect on me was the 1985 film Fright Night. Starring William Ragsdale (yeah, Herman from Herman’s Head), Amanda Bearse (Marcy from Married … With Children), Chris Sarandon (Prince Humperdink from The Princess Bride), and Roddy MacDowall, it is the story of a teenager named Charlie Brewster (Ragsdale) who believes that his new neighbor, Jerry Dandridge (Sarandon) is a vampire. And it turns out that he’s right. He confronts his neighbor and discovers that this is true, then enlists Peter Vincent (MacDowall), the host of the late-night horror movie show called “Fright Night”, to help him take the vampire down. Vincent is reluctant, but eventually joins Charlie when his friend Ed is turned into a vampire and when Dandridge takes his girlfriend, Amy (Bearse), and turns her as well.
Naturally, everything works out all right, but there are some terrific fight scenes and halfway decent special effects and makeup that hold up pretty well while the film itself stays true to the classic vampire rules and pays homage to old movies like Dracula: Prince of Darkness. Sarandon as the villain plays him with a bit of swagger and the same slimy charm he brings to his role in The Princess Bride, but more cool and less petulant. It’s like he took every piece of shit preppy douchebag played by Billy Zabka and rolled them into one. In fact, there really isn’t a bad actor in the film (except maybe “Evil” Ed, Charlie’s friend, who is like Stiles from Teen Wolf with an irritating high-pitched voice and the annoyance turned up to 10) and I loved how it was a movie that basically says that it is going to have fun with cheesy movies of old.
In 1986 or 87 when I first saw it, I didn’t get any of that. Of course, I really didn’t see the whole thing. I happened to be bored one afternoon and headed a couple of doors down the street to my friend Matt’s house. He, his brother, and a couple of friends were in his guest room where his parents had put an extra television and VCR, watching Fright Night. When I walked in, they were completely engrossed and after asking what they were watching, took a seat in the chair next to the bed while the two heroes of the film have chased Jerry Dandridge around his house and have discovered that Amy is in the throes of vampire transformation. There was a lot of yelling, hissing, and other action, so I stuck around while they chased Jerry into the basement and Charlie confronted Amy. he wanted to see if she was okay and with her head in her hands, she turned to him and said, “It’s not my fault, Charlie. You promised you wouldn’t let him get me. You promised!”
Then, she turned around and I saw something that would honestly stay with me for days. Amy was no longer a girl in a white dress with small fangs, she was a full-on, demonic vampire. A complete monster. And I swear that even though I sat through the rest of the film, when the guys start breaking all the windows in the room to let sunlight in and destroy the big, bad vampire, I wanted to either run out of the room screaming. When I went to bed that night, Amy’s face was in my thoughts and as I looked at my closet, I shook with fear that she was going to pop out of the closet and come after me. This went on for weeks and was probably compounded by the fact that I wouldn’t tell my parents why I was up in the middle of the night and not sleeping very well because they had just started allowing me to watch movies and television shows with more mature content and I didn’t want to lose that privilege.
Of course, the nightmares eventually went away. But I will tell you that I still have problems with some horror movies. Call me a wimp if you will, but I could barely sleep after watching the first Paranormal Activity last year. But despite those restless nights, I like that I still have a little bit of innocence left, especially for quality films.
You can see Amy’s transformation for yourself in this clip. Watch the whole thing because it’s really freakin’ awesome, or skip to about 5:50 to see the scene I described. Then, head over to Two True Freaks because Scott Gardner and Chris Honeywell have an excellent podcast wherein they discuss Fright Night and Fright Night II (which I’ve never seen and is very hard to find on video).