This week’s culture round-up

I’m still on my SF reading binge and in the last week I have finished Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, which I liked very much, am still working my way through Iain M. Banks’s complex The Algebraist and have just started Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow. Andy and I have started rewatching Season 4 of Babylon 5.  I haven’t watched any of the new series of Dr Who because I’m scared that it might upset me.  Anyway, here are some links to things I enjoyed on the internet:

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In Praise of Fright Night (well, sort of)

The forthcoming remake of Fright Night (1985) has spurred me on to write a post about the original film, which was a favourite of mine when I was a teenager.  I’m aware that this post may largely consist of me rationalising my attachment to a homophobic and sexist film, but what can I say? I loved Fright Night when I was a kid and, when I sat down and watched it again recently, I found that I still loved it almost as much.

For me, as a teenager, Fright Night appeared extremely queer.  It presented a hero who was more interested in spying on the handsome man next door than in consummating his relationship with his girlfriend.  Meanwhile, the handsome man next door lived with another man who appeared to be devoted to him.   The hero’s best friend, ‘Evil Ed’, could be read as the kind of gay kid who protects himself from attack by becoming the class clown (fun fact: Stephen Geoffreys, the actor who played Ed, stars in gay porn films), as could the washed-up, horror film actor, Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell), who is represented, at least initially, as the nervous, fussy, effeminate gay male stereotype.

Fright Night reinforces homophobic discourses most strongly in the representation of the vampire, Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon), as the predatory, older gay or (perhaps more accurately) bisexual man and, in 1985 when so many gay men were dying of AIDS, the homophobic metaphor of infection that he carries as a vampire can’t be ignored.  The film also has little to offer feminism.  Charley’s mother is a silly woman (bad single Mum!) who endangers her son, and Charley’s girlfriend, Amy, who is generally submissive to men, ends up as the object of exchange in a classic homosocial triangle through which Charley and Jerry channel their relationship with each other (another fun fact: Amanda Bearse, the actress who played Amy, is a lesbian).  Also, as soon as she’s vamped Amy manifests the monstrous female sexuality that vampire fiction by male authors has traditionally assumed to lurk in all women, and also treats us to some rather exciting vagina dentata imagery.

So far, so homophobic and sexist, but Fright Night is just so clever, so witty, and winks at its audience so outrageously, that I can’t completely condemn it.  It does something interesting is in its presentation of two gay role models for the boys – “evil” Jerry Dandridge versus “good” Peter Vincent.  It’s very unusual to see the effeminate gay man (as Vincent seems to be portrayed) being represented as heroic at all on film, and rather than simply saying that gayness is bad, the film suggests that there are good and bad ways to be gay.  Poor Ed makes the fatal mistake of identifying with Jerry (but you can understand why he does), while Charley is wise enough to hook up with Peter Vincent instead.  Of course this opposition between “good” and “bad” gayness is in itself homophobic, but it’s a little more interesting than a lot of other horror films.  I also feel that Fright Night is, on another level, sort of about homosexuality and homophobia in horror film, insofar as it acknowledges and plays with the gay subtext that is such a longstanding feature of the genre. In particular, it seems to be saying something about the role that the gothic and horror genres have played in telling coded stories about queerness that have been especially attractive to young people trying to sort out their feelings about sexuality.

At the end of the film, Charley still hasn’t managed to consummate his relationship with Amy and still gets distracted by looking out of the window.  You never know, he might manage it after the credits roll, but you can decide that his options are still open.

Little link round-up

Tanith Lee, Sabella, or The Bloodstone (1980)

In the pink hills of Novo Mars, while the wolves howled, Sabella lay in the arms of men.  And the transparent crystal at her throat turned scarlet as she took their blood.

They really, really should have filmed this book around 1983 – I can just see it, everyone with huge eighties hair and reflective sunglasses, acting in front of painted backdrops representing the desert, and of course, a David Bowie soundtrack.  It would have been awesome.

Set on a future Mars-like planet colonised by humans, Sabella, or The Bloodstone is the story of a vampire stricken with a guilty conscience about the strapping young men she despatched during her teens and much existential angst concerning her vampire nature.  Sabella eschews the company of humans and feeds on animals. Then she meets a man called Sand who pursues her until she gives in to temptation and allows him into her bed, with the inevitable conclusion.  But shoving his body in the incinerator doesn’t solve her problems because his dangerous, charismatic brother, Jace, is on her track and Sabella is in for a reckoning when he catches up with her.

I wish I’d read this book when I was 19 because I would have loved it then.  I’m a little too old for Sabella and her bloodstone now, but I still found it an enjoyable science fiction vampire tale, with the superior quality of writing that you can expect from Tanith Lee.  I liked the twist towards the end which pulls it above your standard vampire tale.

You could probably say a lot about Sabella from feminist and psychoanalytic perspectives – dead mothers, doubles, sex equated with death, womb imagery, eroticised relations of domination and submission are all featured –but I’m not going to try and talk about any of that.

It’s vampires on Mars; it’s fun.  Give it a go if you liked Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, or C.L Moore’s ‘Shambleau’