Mary Harron, director ofAmerican Psychoreturns with a Gothic horror film,The Moth Diaries.
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“The master will kill you for this, but not fast. Slowly, oh so slowly.” – Fright Night (1985), D. Tom Holland
Is the person living next door a vampire or is he just gay? Well, due to the amass of female victims with bite marks, it’s time to lean less toward the gay and more toward the undead… but maybe he’s bi.
Beyond being a classic “boy who cried wolf” story, beyond a devilishly fun 80s vampire romp adventure, Fright Night offers a great deal of fascinating insight into horror fans and the tragic world of the outcast, especially the young teen outcast. For the rest of this little ditty, I’d like for you to transport yourself back into your teen years (unless you’re already a teen, in which case, way to go, you’re ahead of the game!) and remember how scary it was to be different. You remember? Great, now we can continue.
To begin, we must first ponder: outcast? What makes an outcast? Well, there are lots ways one can become an outcast and many of which you can accomplish in your very on home, it’s easy! One can be an outcast most obviously because they look different, dress different, you can simply talk differently, have divergent interests, basically anything that makes you different makes you an outcast. But the kind of outcast we’re talking about is based around knowledge. When you have knowledge that no one else does, whether it’s about your sexuality or the fact that there’s a vampire living next door, it’s incredibly alienating to be the only one who knows.
In the film, there are basically four main characters including Charley Brewster, Peter Vincent, Amy Peterson and of course, Evil Ed (Ed Thompson). Each one suffers from being alienated by their own secret anxieties. Most obviously there is Charley who’s dealing with the knowledge that there’s a vampire living next door, Amy is dealing with being a virgin, Peter Vincent is dealing with being scared and washed up while trying to appear confident. Evil Ed is an interesting case because it’s never made fully clear why he’s oppressed; there are subtle hints that it’s because he’s interested in the occult, but you never know for sure. So, as a teen, you’re basically allowed to project whatever you want onto this character as to why people “pick on him and beat him up”, which I can remember being surprisingly liberating.
Now comes the vampire, a negative and seductive force ready to liberate all who are oppressed. Sounds good but for one thing, you’ll have to become a creature of the night, a scourge on humanity feeding off the blood of the living. Thematically it makes sense, when you feel you are the outcast, sometimes the most tempting way to express your outcastiness is through aggressive deconstruction of the norm, to make normative society your enemy and what better way to do that then becoming a vampire. Yes, right now we’re talking about that most complex of subjects: teen angst. After Amy becomes one with the night, she’s a sexual predator, freed from her nervous adolescent worries of intimacy. She also gains a giant monstrous mouth lined with razor sharp teeth. In one sense it’s positive cause she embraces her anxiety and overcomes it, but she’s also now a destructive monster out for blood. This is the trade off and the danger of realizing you’re different.
On a more personal note, the character of Evil Ed also takes a walk on the dark side, as I’m sure most of you remember the scene where he’s cornered in an alley. A devilish hand is outstretched to him, despite it’s elongated fingers tipped with razor sharp nails, it offers acceptance and safety. Ed takes the hand of his own free will, a single tear running down his face as he allows the vampire to envelope him. When I was a teen, I assumed that this character was gay and being from a small town where the only time you heard the word “gay” was in derogatory “that’s so gay” comments, this scene resonated deeply with me. It succinctly expressed many of the emotions and desires that build inside of you as a young gay teen. It also showed me the power that a simple, scary little moment in a simple, scary little vampire movie can have.
Horror exists because of and for the outcast. This statement is not meant to deter anyone from horror. On the contrary, deep down, everyone is an outcast. And horror, like the vampire in Fright Night offers us a way to express our differences and embrace, even if it’s just for an hour and a half, that seductive angsty dark side within us all. You’re running down a dark alley chased by some powerful thing that soars through the blackness of the night. You’ve reached a dead end. Nowhere left to run. The thing appears before you, blood dripping from its mouth, offering you the promise of acceptance no matter what. Would you take that hand? I thought so.