[Hello, readers! To celebrate Valentine's Day, the Daily Dead team thought it would be fun to do things a little differently this year. We're putting the spotlight on our favorite horror-loving characters from genre cinema—people who have represented our own fandom on screen and, in many cases, helped bring our passion for horror into the mainstream. Be sure to check here for more of our tributes to some of the greatest horror fans to ever grace the big screen.]
As a kid, while I loved every possible monster out there, I was a total vampire nerd through and through. I’m not sure what it was that completely drew me in—perhaps it was their power, their bloodlust, their uninhibited nature, or even their immortality—but vampires were where it was at, as far as I was concerned during my childhood. Which brings me to my picks for my favorite horror fans in cinema: Mark Petrie from Tobe Hooper’s miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s ’Salem’s Lot, and Charley Brewster from the original Fright Night. To be honest, it was hard for me to choose between the characters, simply because they both meant so much to me growing up, so I felt like I needed to give each of them their due here.
Mark Petrie (Lance Kerwin) was my first encounter with a Monster Kid. While I knew I liked horror movies as a child, I really didn’t know that it was a thing until I began to realize just what Mark was all about. Salem’s Lot was also my first vampire movie ever, which is probably why it’s a movie that I hold so near and dear to my heart, and I do think a lot of that comes from Mark’s presence in the film.
He’s a quiet kid, with a penchant for writing, who also loves building monster kits and masks in his room (which might just be one of the coolest bedrooms ever seen in a horror movie, honestly), and other than the model kits and masks, that description pretty much summed me up as a kid, too. I spent most of my free time when I was indoors tucked away in my bedroom, usually reading or writing, and as I got older and inherited an old hand-me-down B&W television, I was always trying to find horror movies on whatever stations happened to come in on that given day (remember when that was a thing, fellow old folks?).
But in a movie filled with an incredible array of wildly engaging main and supporting characters, Mark’s stoicism, and the way he staunchly defends his love of monsters, magic, and the macabre, always made him a standout character. His passion taught me very early on that you should always defend whatever it is that you’re passionate about, regardless of what the world thinks.
One of my favorite moments with Mark in Salem’s Lot is when his father (Joshua Bryant), a man who comes from the world of accounting and numbers, in an effort to connect with his son tests Mark’s ability to escape from a pair of handcuffs. We see that Mr. Petrie does love his son, but he also worries about Mark, too (as most parents do), because he sees his progeny’s affection for the weird as a roadblock between his son and a normal and prosperous life. When his dad asks him why he’s drawn to all these “weird” things like monsters and magic, Mark answers with, “I always have been. I can’t explain it, it’s the way I am.”
Right on, Mark.
And because I’ve been caught in a similar conversation a few times myself, I truly adore the way Mark nonchalantly responds to his father’s concerns about his potential career possibilities with, “I’ll earn a living.” While most of society views Mark’s hobbies as a detriment to how he should transition into adulthood, he doesn’t care what they think, and knows he’s smart enough to figure it out as he goes along.
Of course, Mark’s knowledge of creatures and ghouls comes in handy in Salem’s Lot, particularly when one of his best pals, Danny Glick (Brad Savage), comes tapping at his window in a vampiric state. At first, Mark is drawn into Danny’s otherworldly gaze, but he quickly realizes that evil is literally at his bedroom window, and grabs a small crucifix from his cemetery model to shoo the bloodsucker away.
That scene in Salem’s Lot is still one of my favorite moments from a horror movie ever (and is a huge reason why I don’t, and will never, sleep with my bedroom curtains open), but it’s also a huge moment for Mark’s character, because it signifies the loss of his childhood. There’s no going back after seeing your friend as a vampire, and Mark’s life would never be the same again. A world of hypothetical monsters means nothing when the real thing shows up on your doorstep.
We also see how Mark ends up being taken in by Ben Mears (David Soul), famed-author-turned-vampire-slayer, at the conclusion of Salem’s Lot after the titular city is left in fiery ruins. The story fast-forwards to two years later, when we pick back up in Guatemala with the duo, who are now pursuing the creatures of the night as their main vocation. In the end, Mark did in fact find a job that utilized his expertise with the monstrous.
Which brings us to Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale). As an adult, I’ve started to recognize just how many parallels there are between Tom Holland’s Fright Night and Hooper’s Salem’s Lot, and I’d even say that Charley is a modernized version (for those times) of Mark Petrie. Instead of models and masks, though, Charley’s affection for the genre was fostered by Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), a local horror host who brought classic and cult genre films to the small screen via his own weekly show, Fright Night. Charley loves Fright Night so much that he even has it playing during his make-out session with his girlfriend, Amy (Amanda Bearse), during the film’s opening scene, so clearly his love runs deep.
But the great thing about Charley is that while there are a lot of parallels between him and Mark, Holland infuses his character (and his story) with his own unique twists in Fright Night, thereby making him an excellent hero for modern horror fans in the ’80s. Once Charley realizes that a vampire—a sexy vampire at that—by the name of Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon) has moved in next door to him, not only does he go and alert the authorities, but he even has the cojones to show up at Jerry’s house with the police. Brazen move, my friend.
And even after Charley is attacked by Dandrige (and fends him off via a crucifix and a pencil through the hand), he still persists in his desire to put a stop to Jerry’s efforts to “suck his way through the entire town,” even reaching out to his hero Peter Vincent, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality. In Charley’s mind, the only qualified person to help him on his quest is the “fearless vampire killer” he adores so much, and even if there is a desperation to his logic, it still makes sense in a way, because if anyone knows night stalkers, it would have to be Peter Vincent.
The scene when Amy and Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) come to check on Charley and find him in an obsessive state over killing Jerry (and “obsessive” might be putting it mildly) has always been a standout moment to me for two reasons: one, I will be the first to admit that my own vampire obsession rose to ferocious levels throughout my childhood, to the point where I even started a vampire hunting club; and two, it’s some of the best acting work we get from Ragsdale (who was pretty damn great in the rest of the film, too), ranking right up there with the moment Charley pleads with Peter to help him rescue his beloved Amy when she falls into the clutches of the dangerously seductive Jerry.
Another big reason I always felt connected to Charley (and this is something I’ve written about before) is because he was a kid with a single mom, which meant that the threat Jerry posed on his existence was something he had to contend with mainly on his own. Throughout Fright Night, Charley has to learn how to become his own man, even if Peter was there helping him defeat Jerry, and there’s no doubt that Charley survived the events of Holland’s film because his profound infatuation with horror movies became his greatest weapon in the end (and Charley’s love for genre literature was something that would come in play as an important part of Fright Night Part 2).
Truth be told, I owe a lot to both Mark Petrie and Charley Brewster, and I’m so glad I discovered them as a kid, because they helped normalize aspects of my own fandoms that I didn’t fully recognize until I was much older. They helped me realize that there is a place in this world for all the Monster Kids out there, and that you just never know when all that supposedly useless information we’ve learned over the years about creatures, monsters, and things that go bump in the night may just end up being important tools for ensuring your own survival.
Click here to read more "To Horror, with Love" pieces from the Daily Dead team.