Fright Night – Review
A teenager discovers that the newcomer in his neighborhood is a vampire, so he turns to an actor in a television horror show for help dealing with the undead.
We are down to the very last review of our Fall Themed Horror series. We have watched a lot of decent movies and some absolute stinkers. Although this wasn’t anywhere near as big as the K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween feature. We have managed to cover some good movies. Fall is a difficult theme when it comes to horror. Plenty of movies are set around Halloween but that feels like a bit of a cop out. Finding movies with that genuine autumn vibe is a real task. I think we have a decent number of them listed here to help with the October hangover, however.
Anyways, it’s time to wrap things up on what will likely be the only fall themed horror feature I ever do. We are ending the series with a classic, however. We are taking a look at Tom Holland’s (not that one) Fright Night. Now this movie is definitely a fall horror. There are fallen leaves everywhere, the trees are orange, it looks cold. It is perfect for this feature and a great movie to end on.
Fright Night is a fun 80’s horror with a few comedy elements. Released at a time when everyone was making slashers. This movie represented something of a risk. Would anybody actually have any interest in a vampire story? What about the humour, would it be too much? Would people warm to this self aware spin on an old fashioned horror tale? Well, people loved it but do we? Let’s take a look.
Fall Themed Horror Month is All Done
November has been Fall Themed Horror month. We have been reviewing a few autumn themed movies every week. We have taken a look at movies like The Village, ParaNorman, Super Dark Times, and Pyewacket. If nothing else, it has been fun. We are all done now, however, and moving on to bigger and better things. Next week we are heading into December and Awful Advent.
Our Awful Advent 25 days of Christmas Horror feature is going to be big. Much like our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Horror feature, we will be reviewing a movie a day. For 25 days we will be looking at Christmas themed horror movies. These will either be set at Christmas or focusing on the holiday itself. It’s going to be fun! I know a lot of you can already predict some of the movies that will appear. Keep checking back for that starting on the first of December.
Fright Night – Synopsis
Fright Night follows the story of 17 year old Charley Brewster. Brewster, played by William Ragsdale, is a massive horror movie buff. A new neighbour has moved in next The movie starts with him making out with his girlfriend. Charley’s favourite TV show “Fright Night” plays in the background. Hosted by former movie vampire hunter Peter Vincent, played by Roddy McDowall. The show features horror segments tied together by cutbacks to Vincent. Charley attempts to push things a little further with Amy. Amy, played by Amanda Bearse, refuses his advances. A frustrated Charley protests prompting Amy to relate that she is scared. Pushing her fears aside, she invites Charley into bed.
As they are kissing, Charley notices something out of his window. Two men are carrying what appears to be a coffin into the next door neighbour’s house. Amy, having removed her top, asks him if he wants to make love. Charley ignores her question and tells her about the coffin. Believing he has an overactive imagination due to all of his horror movie watching. Amy dismisses him. Dejected, she leaves the house as Charley continues to stare out of the window. The next day, returning home from school, Charley is approached by an attractive woman. She asks if his house is 99 Oak. Correcting her, he sends her next door. That night, while studying, Brewster hears a blood curdling scream coming 99 Oak.
A Series of Murders – Synopsis Cont.
The next day, Charley is chatting with Amy in a diner. Amy is apologising for what happened when he suddenly gets up mid conversation to listen to what is on the news. A young woman has been found murdered and it looks like the woman he gave directions to the previous day. Charley’s friend Evil Ed, played by Stephen Geoffreys, arrives at the diner. He tells him that it is the second murder and they both had their heads chopped off. Amy, angry at once again being rejected, pushes a sloppy Joe into Charley’s face. Much to the amusement of Evil.
A little later, Charley has fallen asleep while studying. He wakes suddenly and looks out onto the next door house. Noticing his new neighbour Jerry, played by Chris Sarandon, standing at the window. He quickly realises that he is there with a woman. Charley grabs a pair of binoculars excited at the thought of seeing some boobs. Jerry removes the woman’s bra only to suddenly reveal a pair of fang like teeth. Charley recoils in horror only for Jerry to spot him. He closes the blind revealing long, claw like fingers. It becomes apparent to Charley that Jerry is a vampire and may be responsible for the recent murders. Or, is it actually just his overactive imagination? Either way, he will need some help to find out and he knows exactly who to call.
Classic 80’s Vampire Horror
Fright Night is an absolute classic of the horror genre. Foregoing the slasher trend of the time. This is an old fashioned vampire story brought to the suburbs. The 80s was a bit of a strange time for horror. Monster horror was no longer en vogue. Making movies focusing on things like Dracula and Frankenstein was passé. Kill counts were now the most important thing. Buckets of blood. Cheeky bits of nudity and masked killers were the hallmarks of 80’s horror cinema. Their names can roll off any horror fan’s tongue with ease. Freddy, Jason, Mike Myers, Chucky. Short names for quick thrills. It was horror for a generation that didn’t want to think too much.
Then, in the mid 80s, along came Fright Night. Openly declaring the director’s disdain for the new slasher trend. Peter Vincent laments “Nobody wants to see vampire killers anymore, or vampires either. Apparently, all they want to see are demented madmen running around in ski-masks. Hacking up young virgins”. Sure, Holland himself had been responsible for the first in the Child’s Play series. His love of horror with a deep story lead him to desire something a bit deeper. This is a movie that is acutely aware of the changing nature of horror.
Realising he could not make a typical vampire horror movie. Director Tom Holland wondered how he could bring a story like this to the modern age. The obvious solution is to place the vampire in the suburbs. Throw in a little bit of Rear Window-esque voyeuristic tension and give us a hapless protagonist. Making Charley a horror fan. Holland realised that nobody would believe him when he told them what he saw. The only person who might help him is his local TV station horror presenter. Capitalising on the popularity of presenters like Elvira. Holland had found a way to bring the old to the new and Fright Night was the result.
Truly Iconic Characters
Giving his actors significant control over the presentation of their characters. Holland managed to elevate Fright Night. He allowed the cast to add personality, nuance and depth to their respective roles. The result is a bunch of genuinely iconic characters. Many of which would be etched into the annals of horror forever. Charley Brewster helped set the benchmark for the likeable modern horror protagonist. Having a somewhat overactive imagination and a fascination with horror. The people around Charley refuse to believe his wild claims. This acts as the background of the story. Charley cannot find anyone who will believe in him and he is slowly left isolated. His short attention span ostracises his girlfriend. Added to this, his initial poor handling of the situation puts his friends in danger. We would see this type of protagonist many times again over the years.
Charley’s best friend “Evil” Ed Thompson is one of my favourite horror characters of all time. It’s a curious fact that actor Stephen Geoffreys did not want to play this role. He auditioned for the part of Charley Brewster but the production team had other ideas. Geoffreys could not understand why they felt he fit this role but he gave it his all. The result is a truly excellent performance. Evil is a strange dude who has a seeming obsession with gore. As the movie goes on, the character only gets better as does Geoffreys’ performance.
A Couple of Standout Performances
A couple of the performances here standout tremendously. It’s pretty much a pick’em for which you prefer. British actor Roddy McDowall plays old movie vampire hunter Peter Vincent. Obviously a portmanteau of classic horror actors Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. McDowall does not play the role at all like either of those actors. He offers the viewer a cowardly and reluctant character of dubious ability. All too aware of his fragility. It’s a fantastic performance that absolutely elevates the final half of the movie. It is only heightened by Holland allowing McDowall to add nuance to the character. McDowall could have played this like an overly serious actor full of confidence. Instead he gives us a character that is more scared than anyone and completely unsure of himself.
The next standout is Chris Sarandon as vampire Jerry Dandrige. We’ll be seeing more of Sarandon on Knockout Horror soon as another iconic character. Here, he is perfectly smooth, evil, suave, and debonair. Absolutely remorseless, Jerry doesn’t ask, he takes. He is everything you would expect from a vampire. Sarandon does evil in a completely convincing way. Jerry is a legitimately scary character who is totally remorseless. Fright Night keeps many of the traditional, Dracula-esque, tropes but Sarandon manages to bring them bang up to date… Well, for the 80s anyway. Every horror needs a great villain and Jerry is up there with some of the best. I imagine when many horror fans think of a vampire, they think of Sarandon.
Dracula for the Modern Age
Holland’s aim was to bring a traditional vampire story to the modern age. He manages to do this while keeping many of the traditional Dracula themes intact. What’s all the more impressive. He does it while fooling the audience. They never really know that they are watching a traditional vampire story. We actually have facsimiles of characters from the original story of Dracula. We have a Van Helsing, we have a Renfield, we have Mina. The story plays out in a different way but the main characters are all there one way or another.
Holland even keeps the more cheesy elements of the Dracula story intact. Jerry can turn into a bat. Sure, it’s apparently a fruit bat as is alluded to by Jerry’s love of apples. But it is a bat nonetheless. Jerry does not have a reflection. He can seduce and hypnotise women. Hell, Holland even managed to fit in a Werewolf as well as a bunch more vampire tropes. All while keeping the movie set in a suburban American neighbourhood.
Holland also digs a bit deeper into the homoerotic undertones of the original story. The fact that he does this is commendable. The movie subtly alludes to the vampire’s bisexual nature. Holland manages this while never indulging in, or ridiculing, it. A bold move for 80’s mainstream cinema. All in all. Fright Night is a really good example of the timeless nature of horror. It reminds that fantastic horror stories can transcend countries, language, and even time. Dracula can work for a modern age. It can even work in a boring, middle American neighbourhood.
Fantastic Effects and Actually Scary
Fright Night is a wonderful step back to the age of amazing practical effects. Coming off of the production of Ghostbusters. Richard Edlund was responsible for visual effects and what a job he did. Determined to make the actors suffer for their art, they endured hours in the makeup chair. The result is a movie that still looks fantastic even today. From subtle allusions to Jerry’s vampiric nature early in the film. All the way up to full body transformations, there isn’t a misstep. Movies like Fright Night can really make you miss that era of practical effects. Sure, younger viewers that are used to CG effects will likely find this a bit odd looking. It is one of the best examples of effects from that era, however. The ingenuity and techniques utilised are impossible not to be impressed by.
Fright Night does a fantastic job of building tension. Sarandon is a perfect villain and Jerry’s cold, merciless demeanour is suitably chilling. It really helps that our protagonists feel fairly useless. Charley Brewster is the literal kid next door. Completely incapable of dealing with the situation alone. He enlists the help of someone even less capable than him. Up against the threat of someone who has very few weaknesses. The pair feel incredibly outmatched. Seeing what has happened as a result of Charley’s interference with Jerry. It is hard not to feel scared for the protagonists. Scenes featuring Jerry effortlessly walking into Charley’s house are so effective. It works to emphasise how outmatched Charley is. There are a number of scenes like this. The final stanza is also extremely atmospheric and provides a few good scares. It is a tense movie and stands up well compared to more modern horror.
Maybe a Few Negatives
Fright Night is a fantastic movie but there are a couple of negatives. The runtime, for one, is a bit much. Clocking in at 107 minutes, this is a long slog for a horror comedy. There are a few scenes that could have been trimmed a bit to tighten up the production. The comedy element is sure to put a few people off. Character’s like Evil Ed are played for laughs and I think that won’t be for everyone. At certain points the horror can take a bit of a back seat to the teen drama element. Others who do like comedy horrors may find it to be a little lacking in laughs. This isn’t an overt comedy horror. The humour is very much present but not in the same way as other horror comedies.
Amanda Bearse doesn’t really make for the stereotypical girl next door. In fact, it’s hard not to notice that she is pushing 30 when making this. She feels a little out of place. Its hard to imagine her being the reason for events that happen later on. Other movies cast this role a lot better and I always felt as though she didn’t really fit. The movie is, somewhat, showing its age. Some of the things that drive the plot might not be relatable anymore. Elvira isn’t a thing now and younger horror fans may not get the local horror presenter trope. Naturally some of the dialogue can seem a little cheesy nowadays. All in all, however, Fright Night has held up remarkably well and is a fantastic horror movie to this day.
Is it a Knockout?
Fright Night is a classic 80's vampire horror with a compelling plot, excellent performances, and amazing practical effects. Combining comedy with horror, Tom Holland brings the story of Dracula to the 80s and places it in a quiet suburban neighbourhood. Tense, atmospheric, and with a lot of laughs, this is a movie that reminded people that old horror stories could be brought right up to modern times.
Supported by a fantastic cast, standout performances elevate the movie. Chris Sarandon is cold and menacing as vampire Jerry. Roddy McDowall is a highlight as past his prime TV vampire hunter Peter Vincent. Practical effects are some of the best around back in 85 and still hold up today. Some may not appreciate the comedy leaning and the long runtime. Others may find the sheer 80's cheesiness of the film a little difficult to get past. For everyone else, Fright Night is essential horror viewing and one of the best movies to come out of the 80s.