sovay: (Claude Rains)
sovay ([personal profile] sovay) wrote2014-10-15 11:16 pm

Apparently all they want are demented madmen running around in ski masks hacking up young virgins

I am sick. I don't even seem to have the same bug as [ profile] derspatchel—he spent Sunday through Tuesday coughing like a consumptive, I just have a viciously sore throat and more of a fever than my thermometer felt like telling me. (According to it, I've been running cold since last night. According to the doctor's office, respectable fever. I wonder what that means last night's minor fever really was.) I have actual doctor's orders to drink lots of liquids and do nothing. I'm trying.

1. My poem "After the Red Sea" has been accepted by Goblin Fruit. It has Yiddish in it. I don't know if it's speculative or not. It is one of the recent poems about which I feel most strongly and I am very glad it has a home. That is one of the things it is about.

2. [ profile] rose_lemberg and [ profile] shweta_narayan have something to say about editor confidentiality.

3. Even after I signed off the internet last night, I couldn't get anything done, so I lay on the couch with a loudly purring cat in my arms and watched Fright Night (1985). Comments below adapted from stream-of-consciousness sleep-starved e-mail I sent [ profile] handful_ofdust around four in the morning. I didn't sleep very much at all.

There are two major problems with Fright Night and unfortunately they are impossible to avoid; they're the central couple. I would have been about eighteen zillion percent more sympathetic to the protagonist Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) if he had not been introduced pressuring his girlfriend into sex she clearly isn't ready to have. Seriously, we fade in past the title cards and pan slowly across Charley's bedroom with all its adolescent clutter, some sub-Hammer horror is playing on late-night TV and the two of them are half-watching, making out on the floor, and the first thing we see as the story starts is Charley repeatedly sneaking his hand up under Amy's shirt as she keeps prying his fingers off. Finally she pushes him off her, firmly—"Charley, I said stop it!"—and he explodes: "Jesus, give me a break, Amy! We've been going together for a year and all I hear is 'Charley, stop it!'" Doesn't matter how many vampires he sees after that, I'm fine with all of them eating him. Meanwhile, as wide-eyed trophy-next-door Amy, Amanda Bearse is stuck in a script where she could have been replaced by a blender without any perceptible difference to the plot, except that then the writers would have needed to explain why there's a scene where Chris Sarandon makes love to a blender. Her most interesting moment is her response to the vampire's seduction: between one beat and the next she goes from mesmerized to knowing, slowly folding back the collar of her dress. I suspect we are not meant to cheer her on for her obviously superior taste, but between a monster and a pushy, whiny creeper, are you telling me there's a question? Any time the film was trying to behave like an '80's teen comedy, I wanted to stake it and set it on fire myself.

(I make an exception for Stephen Geoffreys' "Evil" Ed, even when he has to share screentime with his pointless age-mates—cocky, nervy, misfit and consciously annoying, with his sleeveless Goth T-shirts and his bedroom full of holograms and models, he's an awkward, convincing teenager and the silent intensity of his reactions to the vampire's proposition makes a compelling case for his reasons to accept. You don't have to be afraid of me. I understand what it's like being different. They won't pick on you anymore, or beat you up—I'll see to that. All you have to do is take my hand. Here, Edward. Take my hand. He reaches for the slender, claw-thorned fingers as if they're the only lifeline anyone has ever offered him, tear-stained and shaking; he buries himself under the vampire's coat as though he's come home.1 I rather liked the ending the film gives him. [ profile] derspatchel pointed out, and I think rightly, that Nick Frost and Simon Pegg must have seen this movie sometime.)

When it behaves like a horror film aware of its conventions, however, Fright Night is almost above reproach. I haven't seen many monsters like Chris Sarandon's Jerry Dandridge. He's not an exotic vampire, with his sweaters and his scarves and his urban American accent, nor is he camouflaged by anything other than the cynicism of the times; he's amiable, casual, very handsome and very much of his decade, and he's not human, at all. Very likely he never was. When the finale's sunlight blasts him down to the traditional bones, what hangs there burning looks like nothing so much as the skeleton of a monstrous, man-sized bat.2 And he's queer-coded, with his "live-in carpenter," his easy negotiation of the club scene, and his successful appeal to Ed's awareness of "difference," but he drinks comfortably from female prostitutes and nothing in their scenes together suggests his attraction to Amy is not genuine. He has portraits on his wall of women across the ages who look just like her; who might be the same woman. Billy says sympathetically, watching Amy leave the crumbling old Victorian fixer-upper that the two of them have occupied like Dracula at Carfax: "Looks just like her, doesn't she?" Vampirism as sexual deviance is familiar. Jerry's metaphor is more complicated.

And then there's Roddy McDowall. I imprinted on him with The Legend of Hell House (1973) and I love him here, playing fifteen years older and at least three times hammier than he was in real life. The archetype of the actor called on to become for real what they've always played at being is one of the metafictional classics,3 but it is a gift from the gods of character acting that in addition to being expectedly out of his depth when faced with a real vampire, Peter Vincent is kind of a weasel about getting there in the first place. A former horror stalwart who staked many a busty vampire on the Technicolor screen, now the fading host of the late-night nostalgia-fest Fright Night Theatre, he's just been fired, he's facing eviction, he's bitter about the way the horror genre is trending, and he takes five hundred dollars from a high school kid to hoax her boyfriend about the vampire next door. The audience knows he has to come through as a hero eventually, but it takes him much, much longer than anyone is hoping, onscreen or off—there's at least one more waspish refusal and one more panicky collapse than the standard progression. And yet he's the kind of character it's impossible not to describe as a sweetheart, impulse to pack his bags and flee notwithstanding.

So it is especially appropriate to the reluctant hero's arc that he cannot simply assume the persona of "Peter Vincent, the Great Vampire Killer," even though that function is precisely what Charley and the narrative demand of him. He repeats the name to himself like a mantra as he enters the Dandridge house, carrying with him the props he used in his movies, dressed for the part, but the reality is unsurprisingly and satisfyingly messier. There is no stern, cold command in him as he watches a staked vampire slowly die; it's a grotesque, prolonged process, Peter's face is creased with distress and disgust and pity, and more than once he almost reaches out to take the creature's hand or pull out the stake, either of which would be suicidal, but you can't have an ounce of human compassion and not want to save someone choking on their own blood.4 When he finally gets that apotropaic trick with the cross to work on Jerry, backed by the powers of faith and sheer terror, his mouth keeps pulling into an incredulous little smile, as though he can't believe it's really working. (Fright Night is not a religious movie, I feel I should point out; there's more talk of God in Terence Fisher's Dracula (1958). When Jerry dismisses Peter and his fancy crucifix with the withering "You have to have faith for that to work on me," he never specifies faith in what. Quite possibly it's just faith in the truth of vampirism, that any of this mishegos of folkways works the way it's supposed to: crosses, mirrors, invitations, bats. At a doubtful moment, Peter reassures himself and Charley not so much with genre savvy, but wishful thinking: "Well, so far everything's been like it was in the movies. We'll just have to keep hoping!") He's always scared and he frequently crumbles and he's not, by McDowall's own admission, even a very good actor. I love the clips we see of his old movies, which are pretty much exactly the sort of thing Peter Cushing would have starred in if his career had gone straight into the toilet after Brides of Dracula (1960). His levels of sincerity can be gauged by the affectation of his accent. He looks much better in his tweedy jackets and cardigans than he does in full Victorian vampire-hunting drag. He's immensely endearing. And I like that we never learn his name. "Peter Vincent" is the character, but he doesn't tell us what to call him instead.

I don't know how I'd feel about the remake. I've had the major differences described to me and I approve of anything that gives Amy a character and decreases my fervent desire to kick Charley repeatedly in the ass, but I can't imagine anyone but McDowall as Peter Vincent and modernizing the character from a horror host to a stage magician does not get around the problem so much as it confuses me. I am not sure the two professions occupy the same pop-cultural niche, and there are such valuable parallels in the original between the real vampire and the make-believe vampire killer that I'm not sure what would replace them in the new formulation. I may still try it at some point, just for comparison's sake. But I am glad of the original. Its nominal protagonist just isn't the character I like it for.

1. If Ed starts the film as Charley's Renfield, as Gemma has suggested, then what he becomes is Jerry's Lucy. The vampire folds him close in his stylish trenchcoat like a bride in the black wings of a cloak.

2. That in itself is not a take on vampirism I've seen often, but I really like how it makes subtle, delightful hindsight sense of all the fruit we've seen Jerry eat throughout the film, much more often than we've seen him drink blood—it wasn't a smokescreen for his hematophagic habits, it's the other half of his diet. I love him coming downstairs at dusk, yawning and catching an orange tossed to him by his Renfield-boyfriend Billy (Jonathan Stark, doing a great job of looking like the practical human one in the relationship until all of a sudden he doesn't); it's such an ordinary, domestic moment, it becomes all the more perverse.

3. Here I refer anyone who hasn't already seen it (and anyone who has; it stands up to repeat viewing) to My Favorite Year (1982), with Peter O'Toole. I'm not an actor, I'm a movie star!

4. There more than anywhere else in the film I can see McDowall channeling Peter Cushing: what it costs Van Helsing to hold Dracula down with that makeshift candlestick cross and know he can't let up. The most authentic moments of vampire-hunting are not necessarily the confident ones.

I had no idea there were any photographs of onna-bugeisha. [ profile] fleurdelis28 found this one for me. I think I'm going to lie down now.
yhlee: wax seal (Default)

[personal profile] yhlee 2014-10-16 06:19 pm (UTC)(link)
By request

La la la la la howdy!

(You get the Texan version)

[identity profile] 2014-10-16 03:46 am (UTC)(link)
Feel better!

I had no idea there were any photographs of onna-bugeisha.

I had no idea there WERE Onna-Buggeisha!

[identity profile] 2014-10-16 04:22 am (UTC)(link)
I hope that you have a store of strange and delightful liquids, and a stream of weird films.

Feel better!


[identity profile] 2014-10-16 04:53 am (UTC)(link)
This turned out really great, especially for something written under Pressure of Sick. Now go to bed.;)

[identity profile] 2014-10-16 07:36 pm (UTC)(link)
It is sort of like they're playing out parts they both don't have a lot of investment in. But then again, that's heteronormative sex-role B.S. for you in general, I guess.;)

Glad you slept, and sorry about the dreams. I just lay down for half an hours and had a series of really elaborate nightmares, one inside the other, from which I would periodically surface on a wave of intense fear and then get pulled back down into. At one point I remember a girl in a bed realizing there was a woman with a skull for a face crouched next to her dangling hand, staring up at her; the woman laid a finger to where her lips should be and said: "Sssh, she's coming now," pointing to the dark staircase outside, where another skull-faced woman was crawling up the steps on all fours. The girl could only lie there and watch, I suppose mimicking my own inability to wake. Then I finally did, and checked my mail. So relaxing!

[identity profile] 2014-10-16 11:17 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh dear. I want to read that story.

[identity profile] 2014-10-16 06:34 am (UTC)(link)
I've seen the image of the onna-bugeisha before, with commentary that it's just a woman (I think maybe a geisha?) in costume, rather than a woman who actually engaged in warfare. Which is probably true, if only because it's a photograph, i.e. Meiji period at the earliest, and the number of Japanese men who got dressed up like that as something other than a costume was pretty damned low by then.

Having said that, it is an awesome picture. I have it in the slideshow of Japanese pictures we put on in the background when I'm running my Legend of the Five Rings game, which is a fantasy ~Japanese setting.

On the topic of Japan: have I recommended Seven Souls in Skull Castle ( to you? It is three hours of pure grade-A crack, and I think it might fascinate you, because of the body language: it draws heavily from kabuki in certain aspects (including having some actors best known for their kabuki roles), but at the same time is being done with a more cinematic sensibility. (It's actually a film of a stage play, but the play was staged with the intent of it being filmed, as a kind of hybrid media thing.) Given how intensely you write about body language, I suspect you might be fascinated to watch those performances. And even if not, you'll still probably laugh like a maniac, so it's a win-win! :-)

[identity profile] 2014-10-16 08:30 pm (UTC)(link)
Ah, well. I'd seen the Wikipedia note about Nakano Takeko and the "Women's Army" of 1868 and assumed it was a picture of one of them.

I don't think so . . . but at the same time, I don't recall where I saw context for the photo, so whatevs. I could be wrong. It's a cool photo regardless!

Okay, that does sound extremely appealing. Is there anything I should know about the genre conventions or the historical background? (It looks from your link as though the cast includes female actors, so there's a departure from kabuki already.)

I don't really know kabuki all that well myself, so insofar as the movie is doing the kabuki thing, knowing kabuki is not necessary at all to enjoying it. My impression is that the connection there consists in large part of an odd synthesis between very finely-observed movements and SUBTLETY WHAT'S THAT NEVER HEARD OF IT OK BYE. <g> I mean, the eyeliner alone. I'm not sure there's a moment in this film where the emotion isn't dialed up to 11 or higher.

Entertaining trivia: the guy who plays Ranbei in the film is apparently mostly known as an onnagata, i.e. a guy who plays female roles in kabuki. His nickname among his fans translates to "Prince of the Sidelong Glance," and dear god I can see why. :-)

Historical background-wise, if you know who Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu are, you're good to go. (If you don't, let me know and I'll give you the more-efficient-than-Wikipedia version -- you really don't need a lot to get by.) There are other historical details squirreled away in there, but even if you've never heard of Akechi Mitsuhide, you can tell from the dialogue that he betrayed Nobunaga, which is all you need to know.

[identity profile] 2014-10-16 12:00 pm (UTC)(link)
I really want to see this now. Is it on Netflix? [why do I even ask questions like this when I can check, myself, after posting the comment--or while writing it? It's a convention of conversation in person, I think, when we weren't cyber connected. My habits are older than my reality. Annnnnyway, we now return you to your regularly scheduled comment...]

What you say about the vampire--that he was maybe never really human, and:

And he's queer-coded, with his "live-in carpenter," his easy negotiation of the club scene, and his successful appeal to Ed's awareness of "difference," but he drinks comfortably from female prostitutes and nothing in their scenes together suggests his attraction to Amy is not genuine.

This universal acceptance and availability makes him like an obverse messiah, a hugely sympathetic antichrist.

And what you say about the main guy creeping on his girlfriend just goes to show you how firmly het-male movies are (were?). "You invest a year in dating a girl and she still won't let you even cop a feel--life's a bitch, amirite, guys? "//Haaaaaaate.

Regarding your other news--I sincerely hope both you and [ profile] derspatchel recover smoothly and speedily from your illnesses.

Regarding Rose and Shweta's statement, I think it's very good. The inciting situation was a source of personal distress, but I 100 percent agree with their position.

[identity profile] 2014-10-16 11:11 pm (UTC)(link)
The remake I will give two things - Charley was less punchable and they made excellent use of Collin Farrel's ability to do smarm.

[identity profile] 2014-10-17 02:12 pm (UTC)(link)
Don't get me wrong, I like Collin Farrell! The smarm of many of his roles (he can play non-smarm just fine, too - Ondine being a great example) is just something that I may have seen more of than non-smarm, and sometimes it works well. Other times, it works too well. In this case, it's perfect.

David Tennant... I don't dislike him, but I never did care for his Doctor (nor Matt Smiths, though I saw very little of it), which kind of jaundices my eye a bit.
gwynnega: (lordpeter mswyrr)

[personal profile] gwynnega 2014-10-17 12:35 am (UTC)(link)
I've never seen Fright Night, but clearly I must, at least for Roddy McDowall. Maybe I'll stream it this weekend!
seajules: (gojira matinee)

[personal profile] seajules 2014-10-21 07:06 pm (UTC)(link)
I saw Fright Night in the '80s for Roddy McDowall, who was either my third or fourth crush (the first four were Jim Hawkins, Vincent Price, Peter Pan, and Roddy McDowall, but the order is debatable). As a perhaps-useful historical note, nothing in the marketing of the movie at the time indicated that Charley was either meant to be particularly sympathetic or the protagonist. Chris Sarandon and Roddy McDowall were the Names in the cast, and one was led to expect that the major confrontation was theirs. Charley and Amy and their modern teen trappings were the updated bits of the traditional Victorian framing that it was assumed many '80s teens were familiar with from Saturday afternoon monster movie double features on their (our) local Cable channel. They were the overt excuse for why the narrative took place in a contemporary suburb, a treatment a lot of horror classics were getting at the time (with very mixed results). This is why I keep forgetting the movie's been remade, because it doesn't make sense that it should have been. The things that were significant about Fright Night as its own retelling are not things that could be redone in the current cinematic horror culture, never mind should. But then, that's true of many remakes.

You might find the sequel interesting for reasons of the comparison with Hammer's stable and the original. It does assume Charley's anybody's idea of vaguely heroic, unfortunately, and both takes itself more seriously while trying harder to be sly, but it has its moments.