Fright Night

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Year: 1985
Director: Tom Holland
Writer: Tom Holland
Starring: William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Chris Sarandon, Stephen Geoffreys, Jonathan Stark, Roddy McDowall

Apparently your generation doesn’t want to see vampire killers anymore, nor vampires either. All they want to see is slashers running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins.

When Fright Night first came out in the theaters I was lucky enough to catch it with my father at our local drive-in. Then we made sure to catch it again the week after and then the week after that, we might have even gone for a fourth viewing but the film lineup had changed by that point. Somehow we both had missed any trailer for this film but when we saw the black and white ad in the paper, the poster art for the movie we made sure to be there opening night! Fright Night was also one of the very first VHS tapes that we bought when it came out, instead of just renting it over and over, this was back in the days when VHS movies were $30.00 brand new and I can assure you this was a rare treat for our household. Fright Night is quite simply a modern vampire classic, it has some scares and it has some nice laughs, and it is a film that I still watch every few months.

We start the movie off with a tracking shot to the Brewster home at night, set in a normal looking suburban area, all the while we are hearing dialogue from an old movie, we enter through Charley Brewster’s (Ragsdale) upstairs window and are treated to a a few moments of a wonderful tip of the hat to the classic Hammer Films starring Peter Vincent (McDowall). Charley and his girlfriend, Amy (Bearse) are not paying too much attention to the film as they are on the floor beside the bed making out, well Charley is trying to make out I should say. Amy tries to distract him as we find that not only is Peter Vincent the star of the movie on the television but he is also the host of the late show presenting it. Amy and Charley have a brief squabble over how far the young man wants to go and while they make up beside the bedroom window, Charley catches something out of the corner of his eye, next door two men are carrying a coffin. We later learn this is Jerry Dandridge (Sarandon) and his bodyguard Billy Cole (Stark). He tells Amy all of this but it doesn’t help matters that the Peter Vincent movie is showing a group of coffin bearers on the moors. Amy gets quite upset that Charley has lost interest in her and storms out of his bedroom. Charley races after her and they begin to squabble once again before his mother humorously begins to pry into their affairs. Charley is less than attentive as Amy leaves and when he mentions to his mother about it looking as if they have new neighbors she tells them she was told that day it was purchased by someone who fixes up old houses for a living, meanwhile on the news we hear of a report of man being found murdered behind the railway yard.

The next day at school we are introduced to ‘Evil’ Ed Thompson (Geoffreys), nerdy best friend of Charley, and a horror movie buff extraordinaire. Amy makes an appearance by pushing between the two with all the subtlety of a freight train, so she is obviously still steamed about the night before. Things are not looking so good for Charley’s love life but when he gets home he stops by his doorstep as a beautiful woman is stepping out of a cab, she asks if his home is the correct address she is looking for and Charley with a bit of disappointment informs her that the house she wants is next door. Later that evening as Charley is studying at his desk, behind him through his window we can see a light come on just a second before a woman’s scream fills the night air. As Charley turns at the sound the light blinks off.

The following day finds Charley at the cafeteria still studying when Amy sits down opposite of him, they both apologize for their behavior each agreeing they never want to argue again…which is a bad time for Charley to look up and see the local newscast, the very woman he saw the day before was found murdered under a bridge. As Charley gets up while Amy is telling him how relieved she is they’ve made up to hear the television better, Ed comes up and informs him that the woman was the second victim the night before, another had been found and both had been decapitated. Charley then finds out his forgiveness from Amy is short lived as she is rightfully upset about his not paying attention to her which earns him a chili burger in the face.

Upon returning home, Charley begins to look on the Dandrige door house with great suspicion. Unfortunately the young man is spotted by Cole as the man (Or is he?) is painting the basement windows black. Charley is caught trying to open the cellar doors and a humorous but rather tense confrontation ensues. That night Charley tries to stay up with a pair of binoculars to keep watch on the Dandrige place but falls asleep, he awakens hours later to see a woman disrobing in the next door window, this time though his next door neighbor is there. Charley’s excitement quickly turns to horror as Dandrige sprouts fangs and is set to sink them into the woman’s neck but he ceases as he makes eye contact with the young man, as Dandrige lowers the window blind we can see that he has unnaturally long fingers tipped with sharp nails.

Charley in a blind a panic rushes into his mother’s bedroom, rambling about what he has just seen, which is of course not exactly taken seriously. Charley sees from his mother’s window that Cole is outside, opening up the back of his jeep. The young man rushes downstairs and outside where he hides in the bushes watching as Cole comes out of the next door house with a human sized plastic bag draped over his shoulder before throwing it in the back of the jeep. A great wind stirs everything from up above and we hear the flapping of wings as Charley looks shocked to see Dandrige steps out of the darkness, throwing the woman’s purse to Cole. At this point Charley’s mother starts to call for him from the doorstep and the two men stop, Dandridge scans the bushes and spotting Charley tosses the apple he was snacking on in his direction. As the apple comes to a stop in front of the terrified young man we see just how large of a bite mark Dandrige possesses. The young man bolts from his hiding spot to grab his mother and slam the door shut, Cole makes to follow but his master stops him with a gesture. Inside the Brewster home, Charley begins to lose his patience as his mother thinks he might be either getting sick with a fever or perhaps he stayed up too late studying, the next morning Amy listens with the same amount of disbelief and in fact asks if this is a ploy of his to get her back. Charley decides that the only place to go is to the police, as he reminds Amy that he did see the deceased woman at Dandrige’s place the evening of her murder.

Spoilers end here, friends. You’ll have to watch the movie yourself to see how hilariously bad Charley’s visit with the police ends up. Not to mention how Amy’s fate becomes entangled with Charley’s crusade to destroy Dandrige as well as how Peter Vincent and Charley Brewster make one of the best vampire hunting teams to grace the silver screen.

I tell you this, there was something magical in the air around 1985, take a quick look at a small list of the films that opened that year and that I happen to have on my shelves:

Young Sherlock Holmes
Weird Science
Silverado
Teen Wolf
St. Elmo’s Fire
Brazil
Better Off Dead
Cocoon
Day of the Dead
Lifeforce
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
Return of the Living Dead
Re-Animator
The Breakfast Club
Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
The Goonies
Rocky IV
Back to the Future

Fright Night was most definitely the best horror movie to hit the screen that year and the reason lies solely on the actors. Every single one of them drives their performance home. Every main character is memorable and has an interesting story arc, you will feel for each of them in turn. The soundtrack is pretty awesome as well, I still have my cassette tape that I pop in every once in a while, sadly it seems that the CD is no longer in print. I think that everyone will find this to be a must have to add to their Halloween viewing list, so I bestow five pumpkins out of five to Fright Night.

flaming pumpkinflaming pumpkinflaming pumpkinflaming pumpkinflaming pumpkin

VicSage

Editor at Retroist
Searching through the alleys for useful knowledge in the city of Nostalgia. Huge cinema fanatic and sometimes carrier of the flame for the weirding ways of 80s gaming, toys, and television. When his wife lets him he is quite happy sitting in the corner eating buckets of beef jerky.

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5 thoughts on “Fright Night

  1. Doug says:

    I’ve watched this two times over the past two weeks. I love it for so many reasons: 1) Chris Saradon is perfect in his role; man, he sells it. Best Vampire Ever. 2) The music – very effective; I think the musical accompaniment to all the vampirism is called “Come To Me”; chilling electric guitar. 3) Real emotion – Sarandon hints and the hardships of being a vampire on a few occasions, and McDowell shows compassion even when vampires are dying. You sense his disappointment with himself as well. 4) The scene in the club – five minutes without dialogue, yet it works. Greatest vampire movie of all time in my opinion. Great pick.

  2. Doug says:

    And a couple of other things: 4) the effects – excellent. Yeah, it’s obviously rubber, but man they scared me back then. Rob Bottin (The Thing) I believe. Awesome. 5) they explained vampirism, took all the old tropes and (to me) made more sense of them. Why do vampires talk so funny? Because of their fangs? How can they be both suave and creatures of the night? Because they change with their emotions/lust. It’s undeniably a masterpiece. A flawed masterpiece maybe (yeah, there’s too much exposition). But still a masterpiece. Ok, I’m done.

  3. vinvectrex says:

    Heck yeah! Glad to see Fright Night getting some attention. VicSage – nice note about all the great films from 85!

  4. Atari Adventure Square says:

    This is indeed one of the finest vampire flicks made.
    One I watched last month while rueing the news of its remake.

    Yeah, Doug has it right.
    Perfect balance of horror and humor, with good acting, fine effects and terrific story.
    Also one of my favorite actors of all time – Roddy McDowall.

    I also love seeing that list of 1985 flicks.
    I’ve seen more of those on VHS than in the movie theater. VCRs really *did* make a difference in choosing entertainment venues, in the late 80s.
    I was lucky enough to catch Fright Night on the big screen, though.
    I was 18 by then and me and my friends had a blast. Talked about the movie for years afterward.

    By the way, didja ever hear or see the short-lived 1979 NBC series Cliffhanger?
    The hour-long show was comprised of three 20-minute segments of an action\adventure\horror series. I loved it completely and would’ve run away with it to make babies, if such a thing was possible.
    It had a running vampire-in-modern-day story with Michael Nouri as the draculi.
    There was no humor in it, but it was kind of a lead-in for my appreciation of Fright Night.
    There’s a sort-of guide here:
    http://www.ovguide.com/tv/curse_of_dracula.htm

    but there doesn’t seem to be any available video content.
    Worth seeking out, though.

  5. @AtariAdventureSquare You bet I remember Cliffhangers! The Draculi segment took place at a night school if I remember correctly. I believe the two other segments were a cowboy in an underground empire and a kind of Perils of Pauline type show. I’ll make sure to check out your link. I’m very hesitant on the remake for Fright Night…but I’ll wait until I see a trailer for it before officially giving it a thumbs down. It has David Tennant in it after all. :)

    Friends, thank you so very much for the kind words on the reviews, much appreciated. I completely forgot to add that I have almost an entire run of the Now Comics Fright Night series from back in the 80’s. They need to put that in a collected volume at some point.

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