Fright Night

I rewatched the quirky, kick-ass classic Fright Night (1985) this week. I remember loving this movie’s peculiar brand of creepiness as a little youngster Marla and I’m pleased to report that my delight in Tom Holland’s mastery hasn’t waned a bit. This movie is just so much fun! Fright Night successfully skates on that razor thin line separating the scary from the funny, never leaning too heavily one way or the other, a talent at which most other movies in this vein tragically fail.

poster by you.

“Teenager” Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) has two preoccupations in life: watching vampire movies and trying to lay his sweet, virginal girlfriend, fellow “teenager” Amy (Amanda Bearse).

charlie amy by you.

Charley’s favorite show is the Masterpiece Vampire Theater Fright Night, hosted by old movie star Peter Vincent, an urbane amalgamation of Vincent Price and Peter Cushing played by Roddy McDowall. So naturally when Charley catches his dashing new neighbor moving a large coffin into the house next door, he assumes the worst. Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) is charming, handsome and suave, and Charley’s a goofy-ass kid, so of course no one takes him seriously. Hey, you know who’s always charming, handsome and suave? VAMPIRES.

jerry 6 by you.

Since Charley’s kind of a peeping tom, he sees Dandridge grow all fangy and talony up on some pretty lady’s neck. The next day, a news report flashes the young woman’s photo with the news that she’s been decapitated. Charley’s bugged; Amy and their shrieky, annoying friend “Evil” Ed (Stephen Geoffries) are unmoved.

charlie evil amy by you.

Even worse, Charley arrives home to discover that his love-starved space cadet mom Judy has invited Dandridge into their home. For coffee and some light, desperately clingy chatter!

jerry mom by you.

The evidence and scares start to mount up, yet everyone continues to ignore Charley’s distress. He finally turns to the great vampire killer Peter Vincent, evidently adorably oblivious to the fact that he is a fictional movie character. Vincent kindly rebuffs the loony kid, so Charley turns his bedroom into a Lair á la Buffy, all garlic, crosses, candles and stakes. Amy and Ed are understandably freaked that Charley is planning to murder the sociable bachelor next door, so they enlist Peter Vincent to help them convince Charley that he’s nuts. Despite Vincent’s breezy reply that he’s been offered a starring role in a major film and can’t be bothered, Amy susses out that he’s a broke old has-been, offers him a $500 savings bond which he snatches up like it’s candy, and they’re in business. Of course they all quickly discover that Charley’s not such a lunatic after all, and once they make the grim mistake of attracting Dandridge’s attention, this movie gets pretty scary.

Fright Night is a love letter to fans of the traditional vamp flick. All the old lore is in fine form here: sunlight and stakes, sleeping in coffins, shapeshifting into bats or wolves, the useless crucifix unless its wielder truly has faith. Charley and Peter Vincent really are qualified to battle vampires, because they’ve seen all the movies. They know precisely what to do! At one point, Vincent cheerleads the discouraged Charley, “So far, everything else has been like it is in the movies. We just have to keep hoping!” This wink-nudge concept is pretty clever, and yeah, the film’s funny and weird, but it’s also seriously scary! And totally gross! Fright Night definitely earns its R rating; it doesn’t shy away from the boobs and gore. The practical effects make-up in this movie is awesomely old-school. The effects might date the movie a bit, but they just look so damn cool!

dandridge by you.

vamp amy 3 by you.

ed by you.

Yeah, sorry, spoiler alert, the above is Vamp Ed, who is miraculously even more annoying and shrieky than normal Ed. Don’t worry, this happens pretty early on in the movie. Although arguably not early enough, because man, Ed sucks. You really want him to get his. Not to say that Stephen Geoffries does a bad job with the role; he’s actually quite good. Evil Ed’s high-pitched offensiveness masks a truly dark, twisted teen whose eventual transformation into a vampire is the only reasonable place for the character to go. Geoffries nails this role, especially his big, heartwrenching scene at the end of the film, and when he’s scared shitless of Dandridge in the alley. At which point, by the by, we ALL become scared shitless of Dandridge. That sequence is seriously suspenseful and Chris Sarandon is so intimidating!

jerry 3 by you.

Sarandon does a fantastic job in this role. He’s so smooth and private. He’s quite polite and considerate for a vampire, repeatedly giving Charley chances to back off, telling him, “Forget about me, and I’ll forget about you.” I’m totally on his side. Damn kids and their damn neckblocking!

peeping by you.

But I really do like Charley. He’s cute, but he’s also brave and honorable. Ragsdale plays him in a really likable way.

charley by you.

Amy’s okay—Amanda Bearse does a good job, and she’s cute and plucky, but a bit too damsel-in-distress for my taste.

amy 4 by you.

Unsurprisingly, the real ace here is Roddy McDowall’s Peter Vincent. He’s got this hopelessly British way about him, genteel and unruffled…before lapsing into terrified hysterics. He rocks.

peter vincent by you.

This movie’s just so awesomely 80s. There’s the requisite dance scene in a smoky disco as Dandridge hypno-eyes Amy into swaying to the smooth synth grooves with him. The soundtrack is kind of hilarious, but also, weirdly…scary! All that high-pitched twangy synth guitar can really unnerve you after awhile.

amy 2 by you.

amy jerry by you.

Fright Night may come across as unflinchingly 80s, but its fresh take on an old concept makes it innovative even by today’s standards. And while it may have its share of hokey lines, bad clothes and worse hair, the scares and gore it delivers are serious business.

vincent evil by you.

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10 Responses to “Fright Night”

  1. oooh! i’ve never heard of this movie, but it sounds like a total 80s gem!! after reading yr review, i really want to see it! except, uh, the scary parts.

    note to horror movie makers: if you guys had more dance montages, i think there would be a LOT more fans (including my pants).

  2. Okay, so just as a recap, is Dandridge Prince Humperdink? And is Amy the neighbor wife on Married With Children? I remember studiously avoiding renting this movie as a child. The cover was scary enough, and I wasn’t really into scary movies until I grew up.

  3. xymarla Says:

    Jon, yep, Sarandon is totally Prince Humperdink! Did you know he used to be married to Susan Sarandon and then she took his name and made it much more famous? Poor guy. I think he’s awesome. Also right on the Married with Children neighbor lady! I just had to look that up.

    Sarah, for the first half of the movie, I was actually thinking, “Sarah would like this!” and then I remembered how scary it is. But we can watch it together and I’ll tell you when to close your eyes!

  4. I realize I’m a little late to the party on this one, but I’ve been out of country, so I have an excuse! As Ms. Marla can attest, this is another of my very favorite 80s horror movies. Part of what makes this review so good is that it captures the elements that make this movie so lovable and/yet scary. The balancing act she mentions is remarkable, in large part to Chris Sarandon, who creates such a great character that, even when watching it today, I can’t quite figure out how he mixes the self-awareness, sex appeal, and scariness into the magic that it becomes. The character feels as magnetic and timeless today as it did then. And let me just second the awesomeness of the old-school practical effects. AMAZING work with the teeth, which get crazier than in any other vampire movie I’ve seen. The werewolf/human transformation Marla pictures above is also phenomenal, in part because it comes across as the saddest & loneliest part of the movie. No joke, I tear up every time I see it.

    This is the same director who made the original Child’s Play, which had a similar mix of scary/funny. Guy had the magic touch back then. OH YEAH, and random info on Evil Ed: He went on to star in 976-EVIL (directed by Freddy Krueger!), then fell off the cinematic map, only to reappear several years later as the lead in several hardcore gay porns. No joke.

    Since I’ll probably be the last post on this thread, I’ll just take up a little more space to share my personal theory for this film: The whole thing is a not-too-subtle plea for gay tolerance. The vampire and his keeper come into town pretending to be pretty much openly gay – they are a well-dressed, mid-30s, self-described “bachelor couple” who run an antique store and bought their house as a fixer-up project. Chris Sarandon pleads, really pleads, with Charlie REPEATEDLY to leave them in peace to live their lives the way they want, explaining that they want no trouble and will cause none in return. They only go “evil” when threatened with destruction. Sarandon’s entire “seduction” of Evil Ed consists of explaining that he understands what it’s like to be “different,” and to have the other people pick on you because of it. He offers him warmth, understanding, and protection, and it clearly registers with Ed, who accepts his outstretched (and well-manicured) hand. Finally, it’s worth noting (though maybe coincidental) that the director himself was openly gay, as were several of the lead actors in the movie.

    Anyway, thanks so much for reviewing this! Makes me happy!

  5. NONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONO!!!!!

    http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/content_display/news/e3id56fc6d97f8a77c11bf0663ee77f3f22

    Those bastards! Should have known all it would take is Marla’s awesome review to remind those soulless animals in Hollywood. I WILL KILL ALL PEOPLE INVOLVED WITH THIS PRODUCTION.

  6. […] You can read my review of the original Fright Night here. […]

  7. Onyalilitha Says:

    Ok…i personally love this movie and Evil Ed and was a bit insulted with your treatment of them…Ed is a fantastic character and Geoffreys handles the role perfectly and this “shrieking” is in fact the classic crazy evil laugh that sends chills up your spine. I do know that Amanda Bearse is gay (and the director) and a few others are bi but do you really need to make such a statement? does someones orientation really matter in the judging of a fantastic film? i’m not trying to start anything here i just was a bit upset with how you treated this review.

  8. I’m confused. Are you talking to me? I said Evil Ed is an annoying character, but I meant he’s intentionally annoying and I made it clear that I think Geoffreys does a wonderful job with the role. I *love* Evil Ed; I think his annoying behavior masks a sinister underbelly. And I didn’t say anything at all about anyone’s sexual orientation in the post.

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