Charming Men with Side Smirks: A comparison of FRIGHT NIGHT’s Jerry Dandridge and THE GUEST’s “David”

PicMonkey CollageAt the peak of my transition from childhood into womanhood, I rented a VHS copy of FRIGHT NIGHT from my local video store.  I had small crushes growing up on people like the boy who sat in front of me in choir, but when my 12 year old eyes saw Christopher Sarandon’s performance as Jerry Dandridge it was all over.  I think for most people, we distinctly remember the first time we see someone that makes us “feel” different.  To me, Dandridge is the epitome of the charming bad boy.  The constant threat of danger is a thrilling fantasy but the fact he didn’t look (or act) like the monsters and murders I’d seen in other horror films was alluring.  He smirked sideways with homosexual undertones and he could woo a woman in a dance party setting just by looking at her.  He had the body of a Greek God and made himself welcome in the family home without batting an eyelash.  There was the fact he was a vampire, but it almost didn’t matter.  Of course there have been other seductive male killers (I’m looking at you Patrick Bateman) but there’s never been one quite like Jerry Dandridge. Until now.

Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett are two of horror’s golden boys, and they’ve yet to make a film that I didn’t love.  Today I was finally able to catch their newest flick, THE GUEST.  Five hours later and I still don’t think I’ve recovered.  The film is awesome and I highly suggest you check it out, but it’s the lead actor that had me captivated from the jump.  Dan Stevens’ performance as David Collins was absolutely stunning and dripped so severely with reminders of Jerry Dandridge, I could have drowned.  Side smirks, wooing a woman at a dance party, homosexual undertones, body of a Greek god, and the ability to make himself welcome in the family home without batting an eyelash…yeah, we don’t stand a chance.

In the world of horror, there exists the archetype of the savaged masked killer but the scariest is the one that blends in with us.  I’m not talking about creepy motel owners with an affinity for taxidermy, but those like Jerry Dandridge and David Collins that are awful people but we almost desire to be more like.  A spider lures you into its web, but it takes an entirely different predator to make you willingly let it into your home.  The engaging thing like these two characters is that you have the villain straddle the line of being an anti-hero whilst doing absolutely nothing heroic.  It makes the morality tale that most horror films are structured with, a little more ambiguous.

In both instances of Jerry Dandridge and David Collins, they play with what we already “know” about their types.  In the world of FRIGHT NIGHT, you say “vampire” and the characters immediately think of all the things they’ve learned about them from shitty public access television.  When dealing with the army veteran of THE GUEST, characters immediately analyze him based on the things they’ve probably learned from watching cable news about returning soldiers.  In both FRIGHT NIGHT and THE GUEST, how to deal with the evils presented by both characters are shaped by a misinformed media.

PicMonkey Collage2It’s refreshing to see this because predominately when we have these charming villains, they’re presented as women.  It’s a story as old as time dating back to creatures like the Sirens in Homer’s Odyssey but it’s not often that we show that men are just as capable as women of using their more superficial attributes to obtain control.  On the surface, the main reason we love characters like the ones in GINGER SNAPS, JENNIFER’S BODY, and TEETH or David Collins/Jerry Dandridge is primal.  We’re sexually attracted to them.  Both Christopher Sarandon and Dan Stevens are painfully attractive people in general, and it makes their actions somewhat seductive, regardless of how terrible.  Had Jerry Dandridge been an creepy old man moving in next door, Charley Brewster’s mom wouldn’t have been so quick to invite him in for a drink.  Had David Collins looked more like Private Pyle from FULL METAL JACKET, I doubt Mrs. Peterson would have offered to let him stay overnight.  It’s a shitty thing to admit, but we’re more likely to trust conventionally attractive people than we are “ugly” people.

The major difference between Jerry Dandridge and David Collins lies within the women that serve as their major focal points.  Dandridge’s obsession with Amy is requited, and her inability to see past her sexual attraction towards him leads her to near destruction.  However, Anna Peterson is able to see through David Collins’ sex appeal which starts the domino effect for chaos.  In both instances, their attraction or lack of is what brings them trouble.   There is absolutely no winning with these two men, and that’s what’s scariest of all.  Either we go home with the charming man like Amy in FRIGHT NIGHT or we ignore his charm like Anna in THE GUEST.  Amy took the fork on the left, Anna took the fork on the right, and both women ended up in the exact same place.  Monsters don’t always come with a warning label, and THE GUEST and FRIGHT NIGHT do a great job of exposing this truth.  As an audience of fans sick of reboots of masked killers, a literal “new face” to horror presented in characters like Jerry Dandridge and David Collins could help to fill that void of creativity that we’ve been craving.

P.S.-I’ve seen enough boobs in horror films to last two lifetimes, I DEMAND MORE SHIRTLESS HUNKS!

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One Response to “Charming Men with Side Smirks: A comparison of FRIGHT NIGHT’s Jerry Dandridge and THE GUEST’s “David””
  1. Chris Lee says:

    I’m shocked I didn’t immediately think of Jerry. When I watched the film I thought of the android from prometheus played by Michael Fassbender. But, in fact, both actors owe a debt to Chris Sarandon.

    “The devil doesn’t come to you with his red face and horns, he comes to you disguised as everything you ever wanted.”

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