Fright Night

Fright Night. Vistar Films 1985.

Before watching the movie:

I somehow got the sense that there’s a whole blend of spooky stuff going on in this movie to the point that it might be an anthology movie or at least have an episodic progression. Turns out it’s just “there’s a vampire next door”. I guess the broad title comes from the horror show that the main character likes to watch that he eventually recruits the host from after nobody else believes him.

I’ve also gotten the impression this is really campy in just the right way, but it doesn’t seem to actually be considered a comedy, so I think I probably know what kind of tone to expect, but I thought this was a completely different movie until earlier today.

After watching the movie:

Charley Brewster is obsessed with two things: the late night horror movie show Fright Night, hosted by Peter Vincent the former star of cheesy vampire movies, and getting his girlfriend of over a year Amy to do more than kiss with him. He notices a coffin being carried into the basement of the house next door, and the next day sees a woman entering that house, and later sees the neighbor in the window brandish fangs and begin to bite her. Charley sees her appear on the news the next day as the second killing in town that week. After a failed attempt to get the police to intervene, Charley realizes he’s tipped his hand and now the vampire, “Jerry”, will be coming for him. Charley tries to solicit Peter Vincent’s help, but Vincent dismisses him too. Concerned with Charley’s obsession, Amy and their friend “Evil” Ed pay Vincent to help them prove to Charley that Jerry isn’t a vampire, but Vincent gets spooked off when, after Jerry passes the staged tests, Vincent sees that Jerry has no reflection in a mirror.

The first half of the movie seems very disconnected from the title, since Vincent only appears on TV and Charley is completely alone in his knowledge of Jerry’s secret. Even though this isn’t much more than 90 minutes, it felt like it was an hour of Charley alone and then an hour of Charley with his friends and Vincent. Eventually it comes to the point where it feels like it’s been building to make the title meaningful, but for a long time, it seemed like an afterthought title.

When I read that the horror host’s name was “Peter Vincent”, my immediate thought was that he would be a legally distinct echo of Vincent Price, but Roddy McDowall completely removed any impression of Price from my mind. He has an entirely different take on playing a former B-horror hero.

Jerry Dandridge seems to be an early step in modernizing vampire depictions. There’s a visible line running from him to the characters in Interview with The Vampire to the Twilight vampires. He’s aggressively normal, at least until his illusion slips. Charismatic in a modern sensibility. And they do take advantage of the R rating to demonstrate his seductive abilities. But I don’t think there’s any name that strikes less of a “vampire” chord than “Jerry Dandridge”.

This is just a little short of the true classic quality, but I can definitely see its merit as a cult classic, and it’s not surprising there’s an extensive franchise underneath it. The charm is there, there’s an inventiveness (or reinventiveness) to it, but it doesn’t quite have the polish it could have.

Some Kind of Hero

Some Kind of Hero.
Paramount Pictures 1982.

Before watching the movie:

The first brief summations I read for this just say that the character is a veteran having a hard time coming home and getting into “trouble”. Which also describes First Blood. A slightly more involved summary mentioned that he ends up in a criminal heist for the mob, which I can certainly see being played for laughs or drama, and in fact, the book this is based on was a serious drama, but this is a dramedy because the studio insisted that Richard Pryor do comedic scenes. I think it will be interesting to see Pryor do as much drama as the suits will allow him to.

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The Toxic Avenger

The Toxic Avenger.
Troma Entertainment 1984.

Before watching the movie:

I hadn’t heard of this movie until I stumbled across it on a streaming platform, but apparently it has a cult following. It’s from about 20 years later than I initially thought, but I also thought it was played straighter. This is going for satire, not camp.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the grotesque deformity the accident that gave him his super powers came from is a specific take-that to all of the superheroes and villains that got their start from chemical or nuclear accidents and end up looking amazing, or at most with a cool scar on the face, completely unlike most things that suddenly and dramatically change a human body in reality.

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Earth Girls are Easy

Earth Girls are Easy.
De Laurentiis Entertainment Group 1988.

Before watching the movie

How did I never know, or at least never have it sink in, that Jeff Goldblum is in this? Jim Carrey playing a weird alien, okay. Jeff Goldblum playing a weird alien, the potential to really let him run wild with it has massively piqued my interest.

I stayed away from this movie for a long time because I was expecting a raunchy comedy that hasn’t aged well. But now I find that it was inspired by a song by and co-written by Julie Brown, of songs like “Cause I’m A Blonde” and “The Homecoming Queen’s Got A Gun”, so it has the potential to at least not be tasteless in the way I was expecting. It’s still over 30 years old.

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Movies of My Yesterdays: UHF

As I grew up, I eventually discovered my parents’ music collection, and among it, my father’s Weird Al CDs (and eventually the Doctor Demento cassettes and tape recordings of Weird Al vinyl albums). I considered myself a fan of Al Yankovic, but eventually I learned that there was a lot more than just the self-titled album, Even Worse, and Alapalooza. But I think I was in high school before I found UHF.

UHF. Cinecorp 1989.

While I usually came to these kinds of things through library catalog raids, I distinctly remember my favorite high school teacher showing this movie on a slack day, and a lot of the most iconic parts of the movie were definitely new to me at the time, so except for possibly passing some of the more random elements while channel surfing and not knowing what it was, I’m confident in saying that my teacher playing it in class was the first time I saw this movie, although I don’t think we finished it then (a common theme among movies played at school, considering a class period is a little less than an hour and a movie is at least 75 minutes). I eventually saw it on DVD, the menus of which are how I first encountered Al’s updated (hair down, no mustache, no glasses) look that was probably old, old news by then.

As recall, the plot is probably the most forgettable part of the movie, though it’s clearly constructed as a means to let Al’s comedic ideas and abilities (and those of his writing partner) play. Al’s character George comes into control of a tiny local TV station and builds it into the area’s most must-watch TV through just having weird ideas nobody in the TV industry would have, a sure threat to the big network that wants him out of competition for their ratings.

There’s more story and fewer sketches than I remember. Stanley is shown at the beginning to be a daydreamer, but that’s not carried through most of the movie. The cutaways are almost entirely station ads once the story gets going until the big Rambo parody daydream at the end. The Beverly Hillbillies music video could be argued to be continuing his flights of fantasy, but it’s framed as a dream instead of a daydream, and it’s so different from the imagination sequences that it just seems awkwardly shoved in.

I’m not sure if RJ Reynolds seems like a parody of someone specific in broadcasting or if Kevin McCarthy is just that much of a presence in his own right. He feels like the most noteworthy actor in a movie with Weird Al, Kramer, and The Nanny despite the fact that I had to look up his name. He seems like a Leslie Nielson type whose serious appearance is usually played for comedy.

It’s unfortunate that this movie didn’t do well enough to let Al continue to make movies in the 90s. He’s only in the last few years been able to take the time to pursue comic acting alongside his music career as he reached the end of his album contract. This is at least as good as a classic National Lampoon or Airplane!-type movie, and he seems like he could’ve done more. I should probably look up AlTV, which sounds somewhere between talk show parody and actual talk show, but more in this vein would have been on another level.

Rewind: Adventures in Babysitting

Yesterday’s Movies began in December 2009. I’m marking ten years of … uh, zeitgeist hitting the fan, apparently, with a look back at the first movie I reviewed on a weekly update schedule.

Adventures in Babysitting.
Touchstone/Silver Screen Partners III 1987

I remember this movie positively, so I’m surprised how negative my review sounds. My topics still might not necessarily flow into each other, but I try to be coherent on at least the level of paragraphs. I’m pretty sure my original review is more jumbled than the movie seemed to me at the time.

While Thor is still a random character to be enamored with for the 80s, his film appearances in the last decade have certainly raised his relevancy now. In 2009, if I even knew that Marvel Studios was making a Thor movie, I was aghast and perplexed that someone thought he was a movie superhero. His first two solo movies didn’t do much to change my mind, but as an ensemble player and in Ragnarok, I enjoy him a lot now.

Chris’s boyfriend cancels on their anniversary dinner at the last minute, and Chris ends up agreeing to babysit Thor fan Sara and her older brother Brad, who has a freshman crush on Chris. When Chris’s friend Brenda spends all her money running away to the bus station downtown, Chris takes her charges into the city, along with Brad’s lecherous friend Daryl. A fast succession of misadventures soon causes them to be targeted by a murderous gang of car thieves.

It’s a lot easier to complain about movies than to discuss what’s good or analyze them. I still think Daryl’s initial portrayal is way over the top, but that comes from a combination of him being a kid who doesn’t know or care what’s not okay in a time when they didn’t know as well what wasn’t okay. Everyone’s characterizations as they’re introduced are a little heavy-handed, it’s just that Daryl’s really hasn’t aged well.

For a city as diverse as Chicago, it seems a little odd that the three different music venues visited are all into rhythm and blues. It’s good music, and the Babysitting Blues is a highlight of a scene, but I think it reveals where someone’s taste in music lay.

I think Sara’s love of Thor might be meant to draw a parallel between comic book adventures and the gang’s series of travails. Every time they get themselves out of trouble, they quickly land in a new kind of it. Also Thor may a bit of an odd choice, but he definitely is one of the easiest comic book superheroes to accidentally cosplay as, which leads to the most important Sara scene.

Looking back at what I was writing ten years ago, I think it’s easy to see how much I’ve grown into this. I don’t always feel like my writing makes sense, but I’ve developed a sensibility that I don’t think would let something that disjointed get published now. A good movie deserves better than a pile of disconnected complaints.

The Final Days

The Final Days.
Multicom Entertainment Group 1989

Before watching the movie:

Long ago, in another time, a corruption scandal went all the way to the top and there were consequences. This is the story of what was happening in the White House as Nixon’s power and psyche crumbled.

As interesting as the intrepid reporting profiled in All The President’s Men was, it’s a story told from the outside. It’s a mystery, but one where every reader will know who did it, just not the path the sleuths took to figuring it out. As I watched that movie, and more so as I read the book, I was more interested in the legal and political processes that, as the story went on, seemed increasingly out of focus as Woodstein followed the money. So I was glad to find that their followup book was a reconstruction of what was happening in the Nixon White House as everything fell apart, put together from interviews with basically everyone involved except Nixon himself. The Happily Never After of the political fairy tale.

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Movies of My Yesterdays: Howard the Duck

This is a little later than most My Yesterdays selections, but it’s still formative. I first saw this movie shortly before starting Yesterday’s Movies and I had Opinions, and at the same time I was looking for an internet project I could add to on a regular basis. And now it’s been ten years of putting my unsolicited thoughts about movies people have forgotten about into the void.

Howard the Duck. Lucasfilm 1986.

On one night of his perfectly ordinary life in a world run by humanoid ducks, Howard is suddenly sucked into space by an interdimensional portal, and lands on our Earth. Stuck in a world that finds him weird, freakish, and otherwise a magnet for harassment, Howard quickly gets mixed up with Beverly, singer for a great girl band with a bad manager, and helps her out. As romance kindles, suddenly a group of scientists arrive and explain that Howard was brought here by an accident with a “laser spectroscope”. Before Howard has a chance to get them to reverse the beam and send him home, there’s another accident with the machine, the police show up and arrest Howard, and the lead scientist, Dr. Jennings, has a Dark Overlord of the Universe taking over his body.

This still seems like two incompatible movies to me. The first act and the epilogue are a very upbeat music-filled story that’s almost a romantic comedy, but once Howard and Beverly are starting to settle into a relationship, an entirely different movie, and not a better one, crashes the party and takes the plot in a completely different direction. It felt like half and half originally, but the space alien section seems much longer now, mostly due to the action scenes that last three times as long as they need to.

I guess the point of that turn was to spend some time establishing a status quo before getting on with a surreal adventure, but Howard still just got there and wants to leave. Nothing is normal for him and Beverly. They’re just interrupted as they’re beginning to figure out what to do with themselves.

The swift escalation of a lot of confrontations between Howard and people who don’t get him is still cartoonish. There are the people who assume he’s a human in a costume or some kind of puppet, and the people who think he’s a deformed human or animal, but somehow, way too many of them, when they find out he’s not what they think, go straight to “picking a fight”. To the point that he practically almost gets lynched at least once. If duck people were common and a lot of humans knew them as a race they wanted to subjugate, that would make more sense than “thing I can’t identify is giving me some lip”.

The filmmakers wanted to “have fun with it”, but the main part of the movie is not much fun. There are some scenes that are trying to be comedic and muddying the tone, but the overall way the Dark Overlord story is handled is a slog of bad to mediocre ideas. It’s not a complete travesty of a movie, but it really doesn’t have much understanding of how to handle itself.

Loophole

Loophole.
Brent Walker Productions 1981.

Before watching the movie:

I think it was Martin Sheen leading the movie that caught my attention, but I’m interested in seeing his character accidentally fall into helping a crime gang, as well as Albert Finney as the mastermind.

I thought this was going to be more comic, but it seems to be listed as heist drama.

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The Monster Club

The Monster Club. Sword and Sorcery Productions 1981.

Before watching the movie:

This is three horror stories as framed by a vampire and the actual author of those stories going to a dance club. The packaged stories could be anything, but that frame sounds bonkers, and they seem to be positioning the rest of the movie as a bit of a spoof too.

It looks like a pretty minor cult classic that didn’t get much outside of the UK, but it features some pretty big names in monster movies, so I’m interested in seeing how this goes.

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