The mid 1980’s saw the movie market being saturated by the sudden rise in popularity of slasher films; think Friday The 13th, Nightmare On Elm Street, Halloween,Schizoid and Maniac. But in 1985, first time writer/director Todd Holland (later to direct Psycho 2) brought the summer’s surprise horror blockbuster to our screens, a film that became so popular that year to horror movie fans that it was beaten in gross earnings only by Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.
Teenage misfit and horror movie fan Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale) spends his days trying to get his sexy and innocent girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse in her preMarried With Children days) into bed, struggling with math homework, and staying up late watching his favourite show, Fright Night. One particular night however, Charlie witnesses his new neighbours moving a coffin into their basement. Charlie manages to shrug it off until the next night he witnesses his new neighbour Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) chomping on the neck of a scantily clad woman through the bedroom window. As is standard fare for these films, nobody believes him. Not the Police (who for some unknown reason take Charlie with them when they go to the house to question the bloodsucker and his ward), not his weird best friend Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys), and not even the bumbling host of Fright Night, Peter Vincent (Roddy MacDowell), who, after a long and mediocre career in horror films, is now unemployed and dispirited. Vincent visits Dandridge with Brewster in order to persuade Charley that he’s deluded (by asking Dandridge to drink tap water who Charley believes is holy water), only to find that Dandridge casts no reflection in his mirror. When Dandridge turns Evil Ed into a fellow bloodsucker and lures Amy into his home, Charley persuades Vincent that they must confront Dandridge, igniting Vincent’s long-slumbering faith and strength and ending in a climatic bloodbath at the Dandridge house.
It’s easy to see why Fright Night was so popular on its original release, and has consequently become a cult hit amongst horror movie fans since. The film constantly pokes fun at it’s vampire film predecessors, such as a great scene showing Peter Vincent on the television screen in the background as the fearless Vampire Killer going in for the kill with the stake upside down, and then being disgusted at the spray of blood that gets on his face when he drives it home. When Vincent consequently meets Jerry Dandridge, the bloodsucker remarks that he found all his film’s “Very Amusing”.
Stephen Geoffrey’s is a classic as Evil Ed Thompson, Charley’s best friend and school nerd who is one of Brewster’s biggest doubters: “there are no such thing as vampires you fruitcake!” He is so freaky looking and weird that you just know he’s going to get it in the jugular. When he gets his dues he returns to Peter Vincent’s apartment and tries to suck the blood of his former idol “I used to admire you…until I found out what a sap you are”. Geoffrey’s went on to star in a few horror productions afterwards, including The Twilight Zone and 976-Evil, but then abruptly disappeared into the world of gay porn. Chris Sarandon also is an absolute pillar in this film. He oozes cool and confidence, so much so that you can imagine him trying to hit on your girlfriend in a bar. He strikes such a chord that you find yourself constantly gunning for Charley to sock it to him, and when the bloodsucker eventually perishes at the end you are almost on your feet cheering. Watching Sarandon in The Princess Bride soon after one keeps expecting him to sprout fangs and tear young Buttercup’s throat to shreds or burst into flames in the sunlight.
This is a pretty nice and enjoyable vampire film at times. It takes the traditional vampire fare into a current time period and mixes it with themes of teenage angst, romance and alienation that were becoming so popular with other successful films of the time such as The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. In saying that, the film also has a few genuine scares that sends chills down the spine, such as when Dandridge chases Evil Ed down the incredibly darkened alley and then appears suddenly from a blanket of fog. It’s at its best though in the final showdown at the vampire’s house when Dandridge exclaims “Welcome to Fright Night….for real”. There are some great special effects thrown in to for good measure, such as dissolving piles of goo, exploding skulls and a screaming bat the size of a Volkswagen that nearly takes off the fearless Vampire killer’s head.
There isn’t a whole lot wrong with this film, if you can look past a dated soundtrack and special effects budget (but hey, it is the 80s after all). There is a cheesy scene in a nightclub in which Dandridge shows his cool by seducing the shy Amy whilst Charley is left defenseless. The scene is there to demonstrate the ancient ghoul’s power, yet it comes across as quite corny with the use of mirrors and Amy’s shock that she is falling under his spell. For me, it takes Charley way too long to clock what is happening and act accordingly. One thing I would give Charley though, he has a hell of a lot of balls for a teenager.
The final verdict and there isn’t a whole lot wrong with this one. Vampire fans and 80’s movie fans alike will both take a lot of elements away that they will enjoy, and the casting is spot on. It has just the right amount of gore, cheese and comedy (one of the funniest since Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Hunters), and should appeal to most horror film fans out there. I would definitely recommend skipping the sequel however, as it hardly compares to the pace and originality of this flick.
I actually just heard they are going to remake this little gem. Lets hope that it’s a worthy remake and not starring Seann William Scott or Jason Biggs (although Id quite like to see him get it in the neck).