Tuesday, October 20, 2015

#1,891. Fright Night (1985)

Directed By: Tom Holland

Starring: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse

Tag line: "If you love being scared, it'll be the night of your life"

Trivia: Charlie Sheen auditioned for the role of Charlie Brewster, but the director decided his looks weren't right for the character

Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) believes in vampires. His favorite television program is the Fright Night movie show hosted by Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), a former film star whose most popular role was that of a vampire hunter; and when he spots some movers carrying a coffin into the house next door, the sometimes excitable Charley starts to wonder if his new neighbor, handsome bachelor Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon), is actually an undead bloodsucker. 

So obsessed is he with the notion of living next door to a vampire that Charlie even misses his chance to have sex (for the first time ever, mind you) with girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse), who storms out when Charlie refuses to take his binoculars off the Dandridge house.

But, lo and behold, Charley’s suspicions are spot-on. 

One night, while up late studying, he hears a scream coming from Dandridge’s bedroom. The following morning, the local news reports that the body of a murdered girl, who happens to look exactly like the pretty blonde Charley saw walk into Dandridge’s house the night before, has turned up. Then, while continuing to spy on his potentially sinister neighbor, Charley sees Dandridge’s assistant, Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark), load what looks like another dead body into the back of a car! 

Of course, nobody believes Charley when he tells them a vampire has moved into the neighborhood; not his mother (Dorothy Fielding) or Amy, or his strange friend Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys). Even the police laugh at Charley when he accuses Dandridge of murder (without any proof). 

Feeling he has nowhere else to turn, Charley visits his idol, Peter Vincent, in the hope he will know what to do. While the aging actor initially believes his young fan has lost his mind, it isn't long before Vincent discovers that vampires are very real, and that Charley isn’t as crazy as he seems.

One of the things I always loved about writer / director Tom Holland’s Fright Night is the way it depicts the dual nature of its monster, Jerry Dandridge. Early in the film, Dandridge is a suave ladies’ man, much like Bela Lugosi in 1931’s Dracula. One night, while peering out his window, Charley spots Dandridge with a beautiful woman, and later in the movie, the urbane bloodsucker even manages to seduce Amy while the two are on a crowded dance floor. 

But if you piss this vampire off, you get someone else entirely, as Charley discovers when Dandridge “visits” him one night and transforms into a hideous monster, a vampire even uglier than Count Orlok in Murnau’s Nosferatu. Sarandon does a wonderful job as Jerry Dandridge, perfectly portraying his character's two extremes: debonair lover and feral creature of the night.

Equally good is Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent, the former star who has fallen on hard times (moments before Charley approached him at the TV station, Vincent was informed his show had been cancelled). But as bad as things may seem for Peter Vincent, it’s nothing compared to the terror that awaits him when he agrees to “help” Charley. Vincent’s evolution from skeptical bystander to frightened participant is one of Fright Night's most endearing qualities, and in the hands of a seasoned pro like McDowall he quickly becomes the movie’s most sympathetic character.

When it comes to memorable sidekicks, however, it’s hard to top Stephen Geoffreys’ Evil Ed, who, with his bizarre mannerisms and near-insane cackle, generates the film’s biggest laughs (though definitely a comedy, Fright Night is not a satire. The guffaws come courtesy of the situations these characters find themselves in). Yet, despite his goofy demeanor, Evil Ed eventually becomes the film’s most tragic character, and his final scene is as poignant as they come.

With characters you can really get behind, some awesome (practical) effects, and a truly terrifying monster, 1985’s Fright Night is more than a great vampire flick. It is a horror classic, and if you haven’t seen it yet... what the hell are you waiting for?


Jonathan said...

Great review. This is my personal favorite horror movie of the 80s and easily my favorite vampire film.

I've always felt if The Lady Vanishes remake never happened and Hammer Studios was still thriving in the 80s this was the film they would have made.

The one scene that has always annoyed me though is when Brewster has to go to Ed for help on killing a vampire. I get it was an exposition scene, but Brewster would have known all this based on things we already know about him; mainly his love of vampire films.

A said...

Great review! You hit the nail on the head on all it's important aspects!

One of my favourites of the 80's and as real as they come.

Refreshing to watch some decent camp-horror instead of the vile, blood-all-over stuff out now.