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 basement of the house next door, the sometimes excitable Charley starts to wonder if his new neighbor, handsome bachelor Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon), is actually a Prince of the Undead. 

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

As it turns out, Charley’s suspicions are spot-on. 

One night, while up late studying, he hears a scream coming from Dandridge’s bedroom. Then, the following morning, the local news reports that the body of a murdered girl, who just so happens to look like the pretty blonde Charley saw walk into Dandridge’s house the night before, has been discovered. Then, while spying on his sinister neighbor, Charley sees Dandridge’s assistant, Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark), load what looks like a 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 tries to have Dandridge arrested for murder (without any proof). 

Feeling he has nowhere else to turn, Charley tracks down his idol, Peter Vincent, in the hopes he’ll know what to do. While the aging actor initially thinks his young friend has lost his mind, Vincent soon sees for himself that vampires are very real, and that Charley isn’t a s crazy as he seems.

One of the things I always loved about writer / director Tom Holland’s Fright Night was the way it depicted the dual nature of its monster. Early in the film, Jerry 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, who has obviously succumbed to his charms; and later in the movie, the urbane bloodsucker even manages to seduce Amy on a crowded dance floor. But if you piss this vampire off, you get something else entirely, as Charley discovers when Dandridge “visits” him in his bedroom. While there, Dandridge transforms into a hideous monster right before our eyes, a vampire uglier even than Murnau’s Nosferatu. Sarandon handles these two extremes wonderfully, and is convincing as both a debonair predator and a feral creature of the night.

Equally as 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 at the moment, it’s nothing compared to the terror that awaits him once he agrees to “help” Charley. Watching Peter Vincent’s evolution from a passive onlooker to a frightened participant is an absolute treat, 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, is responsible for some of 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). But along with his goofy demeanor, Evil Ed is also 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 ‘80s vampire flick; it’s a horror classic, and if you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and watch it immediately.


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.