We’ve got a big installment for the 1985 Journal, this week and I’ve decided to give you a little something extra. We’re commemorating the 28th anniversary of FRIGHT NIGHT, WEIRD SCIENCE, FOLLOW THAT BIRD and THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART 2, all of which were released the weekend of August 2-4, 1985. And to celebrate, I’m also including looks at the FRIGHT NIGHT sequel, the HILLS HAVE EYES predecessor and the other SESAME STREET film released to theatres. Giving 110% this week, film geeks!
SCOTT’S FILM GEEK JOURNAL – ENTRY 59
FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) – The only thing Charlie Brewster wants to do more than watch horror movies is get in his girlfriend Amy’s pants. He spies his next door neighbor, Jerry Dandrige, moving in, complete with what looks like a coffin. His suspicions are confirmed when he sees Dandrige putting the bite on an escort. Of course, nobody believes him. Which is too bad, since the only one who knows Charlie is telling the truth is Dandrige and he’s going to make sure Charlie shuts up permanently. Eventually Charlie turns to the only person he believes can help him, a washed up actor turned horror host named Peter Vincent, who gained fame on screen as “the Fearless Vampire Killer.”
FRIGHT NIGHT is a perfect movie. The film is wonderfully paced. Tom Holland handles his own crackerjack script with direction that holds teenage movies, old horror films and Hitchcockian classics in equal esteem. The cast is a wonderful ensemble. William Ragsdale is the ultimate everykid with Amanda Bearse as his appropriately vapid girlfriend. Stephen Geoffreys is wonderful as the annoying but ultimately human and tragic figure of Evil Ed, much more than your standard geek character. Then there’s Chris Sarandon as the greatest seductive vampire, one perfectly capable of balancing his good looks and charm with the finely tuned instincts of a predator.
But the standout is truly Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent. Bringing the class of Peter Cushing with the eccentricity of Vincent Price and then adding his own sense of flair to the part. It is one of the most amazing, amusing and sympathetic roles in modern horror.
FRIGHT NIGHT is an unveiled answer to what was then a craze of having bubbleheaded coeds skewered by random slashers. It proved that the old monsters that originated in gothic horror had more class, and in fact still had some new tricks up their sleeves. One of the year’s best and a personal favorite of yours truly. ★★★★ (out of ★★★★)
FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 (1988) – Charlie Brewster is now in college and has managed to convince himself that vampires don’t actually exist. He even allows Peter Vincent to go on talking about the time they faced a vampire together, while he doesn’t actually believe it. But when a seductive performance artist named Regine (Julie Carmen) sets her sights on Charlie, he quickly changes his tune. Unfortunately, Regine is the sister of Jerry Dandrige. And she doesn’t just want to kill Charlie, she wants to slowly turn him into a vampire that she can torture for all eternity.
FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 is a truly underrated sequel. It can’t touch the original, which really was a tough act to follow. There are moments when the humor is accentuated a bit too much and hits all the wrong notes. But does it deserve its redheaded stepchild reputation? Absolutely not.
Tommy Lee Wallace (HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, STEPHEN KING’S IT) takes over as director and he proves himself to be more than up to the task. The film is visually intriguing and a great script keeps things fresh by throwing a bunch of new stuff into the mix. Traci Lin (CLASS OF 1999, THE END OF VIOLENCE) plays Brewster’s sophisticated college girlfriend and is a much better match for someone who is trying to enter the adult world and leave his demons behind.
So, we have a film that is not as good as the original, but much better than its reputation. FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 is an entertaining flick ripe for rediscovery. ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) – An extended family takes their camper on a road trip to California,, stopping in the desert to mine for silver along the way. Their vehicle breaks down and they wind up stranded in an unforgiving terrain where the temperatures roast you during the day and freeze you at night. But this is the worst of their worries. A family of inbred cannibals lives out in the desert and the family will serve nicely as material for breeding and for feeding.
Wes Craven’s first horror film, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, typically gets the lion’s share of the praise when detailing the director’s pre-NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET career. But as far as I’m concerned, THE HILLS HAVE EYES is a far superior film to LAST HOUSE and the best film he made before coming up with Freddy Krueger.
This film is a brutal expose on what happens when a family who isn’t necessarily innocent (Dad is an ex-cop with a short fuse and they all laugh at some pretty savage happenings in their civilized lives) is forced to survive against a cruel desert and the most savage predators imaginable. It’s a film that winds up being brutal and suspenseful without the cheap shots that plagued the far too slick remake. Craven manages to keep the tone consistent throughout the film, unlike LAST HOUSE with its Keystone cops. By the final shot of the film, you’re left gasping for breath. ★★★★ (out of ★★★★)
THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART II (1985) – The survivors of the original film are still plagued by what happened out in the desert. Which is why they aren’t too keen on returning through that area when it becomes the prime terrain to test a new fuel for motorcycles. Some of the family does go along and sure enough they get stranded and wind up coming across the mutant family once again. Never mind that most of them died in the first film.
Everyone hates THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART II. The people who saw it hated it. The people who made it hated it. The people who greenlit it hated it. And with good cause. As great as the original is, this sequel is a disaster. It’s hard to find anything nice to say about it. If there is anything positive, it’s in the return of Michael Berryman as Pluto and Janus Blythe as Ruby, now living a more civilized life as “Rachel” in what is the film’s only inventive twist.
Wes Craven reportedly agreed to do this film when he was short on cash. He wrote the script and started filming but the funding got pulled midway through, leaving much of the film unfinished. Once A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET became a huge hit, the producers revived this film and ordered Craven to finish it. Unfortunately, he was not allowed to go back and shoot the remaining footage and was instead told to make do with what he had. Since what he had didn’t make much sense and couldn’t be scraped into a feature-length film, THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART II makes repeated, shameful use of footage from the original film. Everyone in this film is given a flashback scene, up to and including the dog. One of the all-time missed opportunities in horror cinema. ½★ (out of ★★★★)
SESAME STREET PRESENTS: FOLLOW THAT BIRD (1985) – Big Bird is happy on Sesame Street, but doesn’t have any other birds he can talk to. Ms. Finch helps place wayward birds in bird homes, with the thinking that birds belong with their own kind. Big Bird tries it out, living with an insipid family that just doesn’t understand the most basic things that Big Bird loves. So, he leaves the family to make the long trip back to Sesame Street. A manh- er, birdhunt is called for BB and so his friends from Sesame Street all set out to cut him off at the halfway point.
By this time, the Muppets from THE MUPPET SHOW had already starred in three movies, but the Muppets from SESAME STREET had starred in zero. So this was a big production and… well, it just doesn’t work. The audience naturally skews more towards the kids, but the film doesn’t seem to know how to do that. So, we get a few jokes that appeal to everyone like in the previous Muppet features. But then we also get some stuff for the kids which sometimes comes off as condescending. The songs are pretty terrible this time out, lacking the talent of Paul Williams or Joe Raposo. One exception: the Grouch National Anthem that opens the film and like Oscar notes, really is the best part.
Another oddity is the decision to have some of the Muppets voiced by people other than the puppeteers. Seeing Jim Henson’s creations voiced by Sally Kellerman, Eddie Deezen and Lorraine Newman just felt wrong somehow.
But the main reason I probably didn’t go for this one is that I just don’t like Big Bird. I’m a Grover man myself. Or Oscar the Grouch. Actually, there are a lot of characters from SESAME STREET that I like. But I just never took to that giant androgynous bird. Hence, a lot of the scenes featuring the other Muppets were pretty great. But whenever they went back to Big Yellow, the sucking commenced. FOLLOW THAT BIRD contains enjoyable moments with the supporting cast, enough to make you wish the movie was about one of them instead. ★★ (out of ★★★★)
THE ADVENTURES OF ELMO IN GROUCHLAND (1999) – Elmo loooooves his blanket. So much that he doesn’t want anyone else to have it. When it gets damaged and then lost, Elmo winds up slipping through a vortex in order to retrieve it. He winds up in Grouchland, USA – a land full of crabby wads of matted fur like Oscar. His blanket is quickly stolen by Huxley (Mandy Patinkin), a villain who must have everything for himself. Elmo travels to Huxley’s lair, while Huxley sends out various methods to get rid of the furball. Along the way, he realizes that he wouldn’t be in this mess if he didn’t demonstrate the same selfish tendencies as Huxley.
THE ADVENTURES OF ELMO IN GROUCHLAND was the second and so far last SESAME STREET movie. And honestly, it’s almost unfair for me to review it. This one is not meant for kids of all ages. This is meant for kids 8 years old and younger. So, as I review this, keep in mind that I’m not reviewing it as the kid who really wanted to see the film, but more likely as the adult who was dragged by their offspring to the theatre.
So yeah, this is pretty terrible. I’ve never warmed to Elmo anyway. I know I just got through talking about how I don’t like Big Bird, but if there’s a Muppet I like less, it’s Elmo. The high-pitched voice, the “love me love me” attitude – ugh, pass. This is also a Muppet film done after the passing of Jim Henson and prior to the much-needed 2011 revamp. Hence, there’s this odd sense of trying to please the core audience while keeping some sort of consumer relevance which just doesn’t fly.
Oh well, at least Mandy Patinkin is good. ★ (out of ★★★★)
WEIRD SCIENCE (1985) – Two bullied nerds decide to create a girl on their computer. What they get is the incredibly beautiful Lisa (Kelly LeBrock), who immediately sets out to loosen the boys up a bit. Instead of turning into one of the most graphic porno films ever, it instead becomes about Lisa trying to turn the nerds into cool kids and help them find their confidence.
As a child of the 1980s, I had fond memories of WEIRD SCIENCE. It was the third film from John Hughes after SIXTEEN CANDLES and THE BREAKFAST CLUB. It had a premise that was silly and yet piqued the interest of every pubescent heterosexual boy on the planet. And we all remember funny bits from the film.
But you know what? WEIRD SCIENCE really isn’t that good. Oh yes, the part with the mutants at the end is great (Michael Berryman, making his third appearance in the Journal this week, has one line and it’s the best one in the film.). Bill Paxton has some funny bits as the abusive military jock Chet. And there’s a few chuckles here and there.
But taken in context, the film doesn’t add up to anything. It’s not funny, it’s not charming and it’s pretty obnoxious. WEIRD SCIENCE is funny for the bits, but that’s about it. Anthony Michael Hall isn’t as funny as he thinks he is and Ilan Michael Smith just grates on the nerves. And seriously, not consummating that relationship might have been cute on paper but on the screen, it’s a travesty. ★★ (out of ★★★★)
BOX OFFICE CHAMPS – AUGUST 2-4, 1985
1. BACK TO THE FUTURE (1,515 screens) $8.4 million ($81.6 million – 5 weeks)
2. NATIONAL LAMPOON’S EUROPEAN VACATION (1,546 screens) $7.4 million ($27.4 million – 2 weeks)
3. FRIGHT NIGHT (1,542 screens) $6.1 million (1st week)
4. WEIRD SCIENCE (1,158 screens) $4.9 million (1st week)
5. THE BLACK CAULDRON (1,252 screens) $3.1 million ($11.5 million – 2 weeks)
6. E.T., THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (re-release) (1,427 screens) $2.8 million ($25.4 million – 3 weeks)
7. COCOON (948 screens) $2.6 million ($56.5 million – 7 weeks)
8. SILVERADO (1,040 screens) $2.5 million ($19.1 million – 4 weeks)
9. SESAME STREET PRESENTS: FOLLOW THAT BIRD (1,129 screens) $2.4 million (1st week)
10. MAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME (1,139 screens) $2.3 million ($30 million – 4 weeks)
source: Box Office Mojo
Number of films covered in the Journal so far: 267
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