Fright Night (1985)
Director: Tom Holland
Cast: William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon, Roddy McDowall
Run time: 106 mins
Format: Limited edition dual format SteelBook / Dual Format
Release Date: 26th December 2016 (Limited Edition Dual Format SteelBook) /
10th April 2017 (Special Edition Dual Format edition).
Jamie Havlin takes a look at a fondly remembered and influential horror/comedy classic from the 1980s.
Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) is an unremarkable, suburban seventeen year old, whose main interests in life appear to be snogging girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) while he’s supposed to be swatting up on trigonometry, and watching late night TV show, Fright Night, presented by Peter Vincent, an actor who once specialised in playing the role of a vampire hunter in hammy old Hammer Horror style B-movies.
Charley possesses an overactive imagination and therefore takes an immediate interest in the two men, Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon) and Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark), that carry a coffin into the basement cellar of the long vacant Victorian house next door to where Charley stays with his divorced mother. The men have a relationship or friendship that is never fully explained but are said have bought the property to renovate and sell on.
The coffin incident is instantly forgotten the next day as a gorgeous blonde asks Charley for directions to Dandrige’s house although later that night he is startled by a scream and the following day, the murder of a prostitute is reported on the local news station.
Charley’s suspicions grow that his new neighbour is truly a neighbour from Hell and this is confirmed when, making good use of his binoculars, he spies on Dandridge and witnesses him seducing a brunette before plunging his fangs into her neck.
Proving that Dandridge is a vampire will, though, prove problematic and he’ll make a real enemy of the gleefully amoral vampire as he attempts to convince others of his claim.
A local cop laughs off his theory while Amy and Charley’s pal, a weirdo nicknamed ‘Evil’ Ed, are hardly any more convinced. There’s only one thing for it. Enlist the help of a man who nightly claims to know that vampires exist having fought them in all their guises.
Peter Vincent, though, is in no mood to help Charley, his already washed up career being delivered what is likely to be a fatal blow with the news that due to poor ratings, he’s just received what Americans refer to as his pink slip – or P45 if you’re British, a fact that he puts down to Charley’s generation. As he wearily explains: ‘Nobody wants to see vampire killers anymore, or vampires either. Apparently all they want are demented madmen running around in ski masks hacking up young virgins.’
Time for a Plan B. Which, as it turns out, isn’t a million miles away from Plan A but involves Amy and Ed paying a visit to Vincent this time, who by now has just received an eviction notice and is desperate for cash. Vincent has his price, accepting Amy’s offer of $500 for his help. Not that he’s any less skeptical. ‘Your friend needs a psychiatrist not a vampire killer.’
A visit by the actor and the teenagers to Dandridge’s lair initially appears to disprove Charley’s accusations – he happily imbibes some holy water that, according to the horror host, has been blessed by a local priest – but Vincent then notices that Dandridge casts no reflection in his pocket mirror and resolves to become a real life vampire hunter.
Although parodying many conventions of the the genre, it’s hard to imagine writer/director Tom Holland not being, like Charley, a huge horror fan and here he gives us something much more satisfying than the vast majority of ‘demented madmen running around in ski-masks’ slashers from the era.
The balance between comedy and horror is perfectly judged and the cast are generally top notch, especially McDowall and Sarandon.
Inevitably three decades on some of the special effects do look a little ropey at times although in the pre-digital world I would guess these were considered pretty much state of the art. Then again, given the nature of the film, this hardly seems to matter and I would argue that Fright Night is one of the best vampire movies of the 1980s – along with The Lost Boys and Near Dark.
Fright Night performed surprisingly well at the box office, becoming America’s second highest-grossing horror film of 1985, behind the first of numerous Nightmare on Elm Street sequels.
And speaking of sequels, almost inevitably Fright Night II went into production a few years later although without Holland at the helm – he was shooting Child’s Play at this point – though both Ragsdale and McDowall gladly agreed to reprise their roles.
A loose remake of Fright Night hit cinemas in 2011 with a version of Peter Vincent, played by David Tennant, closer to Criss Angel than Roddy McDowall’s original take on the character. This was enjoyable enough while still falling into the category of yet another Hollywood remake that failed to match the original.
For more on the film, visit Eureka Masters of Cinema.
All words by Jamie Havlin. More writing by Jamie can be found at his Louder Than War author’s archive.