Fright Night (1985) – 31 Days of Horror: Oct 27

by Jovial Jay

Welcome to another two-part weekend post, as I’ll look at the original and remake of Fright Night!

Fright Night was the cornerstone of the mid-80’s vampire resurgence.

Before Viewing

The trailer does a good job setting up the plot. A teenage boy knowing what lives next door, but no one believes him. There’s lots of shots of bats, and wolves, and the vampire, plus other spooky stuff. They even manage to get a couple shots of Roddy McDowell so the viewer knows there’s  a famous actor in the film. Sit down, curl up and welcome to Fright Night!

Presented below is the Trailer for the film.

Spoiler Warning - Halloween

After Viewing

Fright Night balances a careful tone between horror and humor. It brings the chills and the thrills but lightens the mood every now and again. Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) believes the new neighbor, Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire. All the evidence seems to point to that conclusion. But when Charley tells the police, or his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse), no one believes him. So he seeks out local TV Horror Host, Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell) to get his help.

Peter doesn’t want to help Charley, but Amy and their mutual friend “Evil” Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) pay Peter some money to pretend to help. Unfortunately Peter gets a glimpse in a mirror when administering the test on Jerry, and freaks out. Knowing the truth makes it harder for him, and he runs away scared.

Jerry follows the three kids as they walk Amy home. He attacks Ed and turns him into a vampire. Jerry then chases Amy and Charley into a music club, where he seduces Amy and takes her home. Meanwhile Ed visits Peter’s apartment and tries to attack him, but Peter is able to ward him off with a crucifix.

Charlie turns to Peter as the only one that will believe him and that can help him. They head to the Dandridge house to save Amy and hopefully kill Jerry. Jerry has already turned Amy into a vampire, and the transformation will be complete at sunrise unless they can kill him. Peter and Charley kill Jerry’s servant, Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark). They then follow Jerry down to the basement where they drive a stake into his heart. He is strong and manages to pull the stake out, but shatters some of the blackout glass in the process. Seeing what they must do, Peter and Charley smash the windows and mirrors, flooding the basement with light and killing the vampire. Amy is saved and three leave the house.

Later Amy and Charley are making out while watching “Fright Night,” the TV show with host Peter Vincent, when Charley thinks he sees a pair of glowing eyes next door. He dismisses (or ignores) them and goes back to his girlfriend. The last sound is the voice of Evil Ed, who appeared to have been killed by Peter prior their assault on Jerry, saying “Oh, you’re so COOL, Brewster!”

You’re Peter Vincent! The great vampire killer!
“That is a character in a movie. – Charley Brewster & Peter Vincent

Fright Night is a chilling film that came out in the mid-1980’s during the resurgence of vampire fiction. It was part of 80’s spat of vampire horror films that included David Bowie’s The Hunger, Lifeforce (a sci-fi vampire film), the incomparable The Lost Boys, and Near Dark, plus several more humorous vampire films like the Jim Carey vehicle Once Bitten and Grace Jones’ Vamp. What keeps the film fresh is it’s commitment to the genre, it’s performances and the use of humor.

Fright Night might be the first self aware vampire film. Given the 50-plus years of the vampire genre, everyone knows about how a vampire should behave, and how it can be killed. Charley and Ed are experts as well, knowing that crucifixes, garlic and holy water can stave off a vampire. Peter Vincent, having played a vampire killer in many films, also knows that their reflection will not show up in a mirror and you must drive a stake through their heart to kill them. These “rules” are all discussed and known by the characters, but that doesn’t make it any easier for the heroes to kill off the villain.

William Ragsdale does a great job as a teenager that no one believes. He gets just enough hysteria in his performance that he seems unhinged. Roddy McDowell’s character is self-absorbed enough with his own film performances that he dismisses the kids out of hand. But the moment that Peter see’s Ed’s death by his own hands, is a heartbreaking and strong performance (by both actors). Stephen Geoffreys also puts in a clever performance as the weird sidekick, who is teased and shunned, but gets the chance to turn the tables by becoming a vampire himself. Unfortunately, he sees that just having power doesn’t make him a stronger person, as the elderly Peter Vincent is able to ward him off quite easily. Finally Chris Sarandon’s work as Jerry Dandridge is great. He plays a likable man, a suave and sexy vampire, and in the end, an evil and menacing monster.

The humor in the film is one of the things that has stuck with me since I first saw this film as a teenager in the mid-80’s. The film scared me a lot at the time, but the humor softened those fears, allowing me to finish the film unscathed. Moments such as Ed pretending to be bitten in the alley, causing Charley to lean in and exclaiming that he is going to give him a hickey! Or my favorite, Jerry stating menacingly to Peter and Charley, “Welcome to Fright Night. For real!” McDowell, as the cowardly vampire hunter, also manages to get a few laughs in at the expense of his character before finding his inner strength and saving the day, for real, this time!

Please tune in tomorrow for a review of the 2011 remake of Fright Night and see if it should have been greenlit, or cancelled before it began.

Assorted Musings

  • Peter Vincent is named after Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, two icons of horror cinema.
  • Roddy McDowell’s performance is reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s character in The Fearless Vampire Killers, which is neither fearless, nor a vampire killer.
  • Fright Night is the second film by director Tom Holland (not the Spider-Man actor) in the 31 Days of Horror this year. The other film is Child’s Play, also with Sarandon.
  • Three years later a sequel Fright Night part 2 would be released, including only Ragsdale and McDowell from this cast.
  • A remake (and a sequel) would be made in 2011 (and 2013) starring Anton Yelchin as Charley, David Tennant as Peter, and Colin Farrell as Jerry.

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