William Ragsdale - Charley Brewster
Chris Sarandon - Jerry Dandridge
Roddy McDowall - Peter Vincent
Amanda Bearse - Amy Petersen
Stephen Geoffreys - 'Evil' Ed Thompson
Jonathan Stark - Billy Cole
Dorothy Fielding - Judy Brewster
Genre - Horror/Comedy/Vampires
Running Time - 106 Minutes
The 1980s were mostly good for the horror genre. The slasher film sub-genre was raking in a ton of cash until eventually over-saturating itself. Werewolves actually appeared in good films with great special effects and not the horrible CGI that ruins them now. And the vampire had a great decade as usual, with films like NEAR DARK, VAMP, THE HUNGER, and THE LOST BOYS. Those looking for lighter fare in their horror were also in luck, as movies such as GHOSTBUSTERS, ELVIRA: MISTRESS OF THE DARK, and even the later A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET sequels were pretty successful. One of those lighter fare films that did well and has gained a ton of love over the years has been 1985's FRIGHT NIGHT.
A horror-comedy dealing with sexy vampires and kooky characters, many favor FRIGHT NIGHT over THE LOST BOYS and NEAR DARK. Maybe it's because it tends to be more humorous than the others. Maybe it's because Chris Sarandon seduced the audience just as much as some of the characters as the head vampire. Maybe because it was somewhat aware of itself in bringing the idea of vampires into a postmodern, contemporary setting that many people could relate to. FRIGHT NIGHT is very much your commercial vampire tale that appealed to the mainstream at the time, which is why it's no surprise that a remake has always been released by the time you read this review, whether we want it to exist or not. Still, is FRIGHT NIGHT worth the admiration after 26 years? Or has nostalgia clouded many people's heads? Let's sink our fangs into one of the most popular vampire films ever made.
Charley Brewster (Willaim Ragsdale) is a horror film geek who is starting to become frustrated with his shy, virgin girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse), while amusing his weird friend 'Evil' Ed (Stephen Geoffreys). Charlie is living his life as a normal teenager until Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) moves next door. Apparently one night after spying on Jerry with a beautiful female guest, he notices that Jerry has fangs and plans to force them into the girl's neck. Charley figures out that his new neighbor is a vampire, but no one will believe his story.
When Jerry threatens his life, as well as the lives of his family and friends, Charley turns to a local horror host named Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), who starred in many films as a vampire hunter. Peter doesn't believe Charley's story either, until one night where he notices that Jerry doesn't cast a reflection in a mirror. Realizing that Charley's friends are now on to him, Jerry makes sure to turn them all against each other until he takes them all down one by one.
FRIGHT NIGHT is a quintessential 80s vampire-comedy that did pretty well at the box office and has gained a legion of fans through home video and cable. It's slick, effective, and somewhat down-to-earth for a vampire flick. It's not intent on scaring people, but bringing a different, hipper look to the vampire story for an 80s generation.
The narrative of FRIGHT NIGHT works because it takes a realistic look of suburbia and gives it a supernatural twist that's not too far-fetched. The teen characters want to make out, have sex, and be accepted for who they are and what they believe in - in other words, they're normal teenagers. They also watch horror movies and know the rules on how to deal with certain monsters in case the need arises. There's also the aspect of oblivious parents who have no idea what they children are up to or how unsafe their neighborhood is. Plus, who hasn't wondered about our own neighbors and what they're really like behind closed doors? Sure, they may not be vampires like Jerry, but they could be a serial killer or a sexual deviant. So the story is believable in that way and doesn't dumb it down to appeal to a younger demographic. Because of this, it's easy to see why viewers admire this film.
There's also the very simple tale of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" here going on as well. Charley sees Jerry's vampire ways, from biting people, to entering invited homes with ease, and even turning into his true vampire form. Yet, no one believes him because the idea of a vampire isn't a concept these characters can grasp in a realistic setting. Charley looks insane because vampires are only seen as a construct of literature and cinema, which causes him to lose the respect of his peers and his community until it's proven that Jerry is indeed a member of the undead. It's a story we've all been told as children to show us the harm of lying constantly to the point that no one will believe us when we actually tell the truth. FRIGHT NIGHT doesn't really explore this aspect all that much since we don't really know Charley's character before the film's events, but it makes the film easier to follow and understand.
I also believe the homages to other films and some of the themes presented in FRIGHT NIGHT have helped the film maintain its audience. We obviously get the REAR WINDOW reference with Charley spying on Jerry with binoculars. Peter Vincent [named after Peter Cushing and Vincent Price] starred in vampire films that look strangely similar to Hammer Horror. Plus he hosts a horror show, which a lot of us really loved back in the 80s and early 90s. Even though Elvira is still doing one, I feel as if the genre lost something special with the lack of horror hosts these days. As for the themes, probably the most prominent one is the homosexuality of vampires. Jerry not only seduces women, but obviously Ed, who doesn't seem to fit in for some reason and lets Jerry change him in order to gain some sort of power. It's well known as Stephen Geoffreys, who played Ed, is gay in real life. So it's easy to see why it was added with such subtext in the script. Also, Jerry lives with Billy Cole, who acts like a "very good friend" rather than a roommate. They're very intimate with each other and would die for the other. It's obvious that there's a bit of homosexuality going on beneath the surface. I think it gives FRIGHT NIGHT an interesting layer to focus on.
I do think some of the narrative has issues. For one, Charley seems to be well known in horror since he's a huge fan of Peter Vincent. If that's the case, why does he feel the need to ask Ed about how to kill a vampire? Wouldn't he already know that? This is done to tell the audience "vampire rules", but it contradicts with Charley's character. Also, what was Jerry's deal with Amy? Somewhere in Jerry's past, he fell in love with a woman who looked like Amy. Yet we don't understand what happened or even who this woman is. It also makes Amy's sudden attraction to Jerry suspect. Are we supposed to believe that Amy is a descendant of this woman and that her spirit lives within her or something? Some explanation could have helped. Other than that, Tom Holland wrote a solid screenplay.
As a vampire film, FRIGHT NIGHT is expected to have some grue and special effects. While other vampire films may be scarier and have more violence, FRIGHT NIGHT is no slouch either. We get some gooey stuff here, like a pencil stabbed through a hand, some slashed throats, and the usual staking and sunlight deaths. The special effects and make up are also pretty cool. Jerry's transformation into his demonic vampire form looks dated a bit, but it's better than any CGI. I love the reverse werewolf transformation that's a homage to AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. And the decomposing body into slime is awesome. Richard Edlund did all this stuff and I think it still looks great after all these years.
The direction by Tom Holland, who would later direct CHILD'S PLAY, is excellent. It's not an overly stylish film, but Holland keeps a great pace and a lot of atmosphere that increases the mood and suspense as the film plays out. I think the scenes in the alley, Charley's bedroom, the night club, and the finale are all great visually, creating seductive and tense moments most films try to do but fail at. I also think the comedic moments are handled very well also. The film looks very nice and the editing is tight. FRIGHT NIGHT is a great looking vampire film that would have been the MTV-generation's vampire flick if it weren't for THE LOST BOYS two years later.
The acting in FRIGHT NIGHT is pretty solid as well. William Ragsdale as Charley handles his part well. He's not the best actor and he does play the role a bit whiny at times, but it never gets annoying. He's quite likeable in the role and has great facial expressions. Roddy McDowall is fantastic as Peter Vincent. He brings a lot of class to the film. His switch from vain actor, to coward, to a true hero are all believable. I know a lot of people give Charley the hero credit, but I think McDowall's performance as Vincent says otherwise. Stephen Geoffreys as Evil Ed has got to be one of the weirdest, quirkiest performances ever seen in cinema. Yet, he's hilarous and interesting to watch. He also has the best and more famous one-liners in the film. Amanda Bearse is okay as Amy. She's a bit awkward at times, which made me disconnect with her a bit. Jonathan Stark does what he has to as Billy Cole. He was very mysterious and it worked. But the star of the film is without a doubt Chris Sarandon as Jerry Daindridge. Even as a straight man, I was seduced by this guy. Sarandon is sexy, mysterious, charming, and subtly evil as the head vampire. He's the glue that holds the film together and keeps you watching. I haven't seen the remake with Colin Farrell playing the same role, but I know Farrell has his work cut out for him. Sarandon plays one fantastic vampire.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE TELLING BREWSTER HE'S SO COOL
- Charley enjoys making out with Amy while Peter Vincent hosts Fright Night. I enjoy making out while watching Elvira's Movie Macabre - with my pillow as I dry hump my bed.
- Jerry seduces beautiful women to his house to bite their necks and feed on them. Knowing me, if I were a vampire I'd probably catch a fatal blood disease or something.
- Charley stabbed Jerry in the hand with a pencil to stop him from killing him. Too bad it was a #2 pencil. If it were a #1, that vamp would have been dust.
- Jerry wants to stop Ed's emotional suffering by turning him into a strong vampire. Ed was eager because he'll be receiving a stake much lower than the heart more than once.
- A character melted into green slime. Man, the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards were hardcore back in the 1980s.
- Amy because a seductive, manipulative, and vicious vampire. If Al Bundy had messed with her then, Married...With Children would have been 10 seasons shorter than it was!
THE FINAL HOWL
Even though I'm sure a lot of people will see the remake this weekend, the original FRIGHT NIGHT more than holds its own and it's definitely worth rewatching every year. There are only a few more entertaining vampire films than this one - great direction, good acting, and a well told story wrapped around eighties cheese. Fans and non-fans should continue taking a bite out of this one to show that no remake was necessary. Even though it's a vampire film, FRIGHT NIGHT doesn't at all suck.
3.5 Howls Outta 4