RETRO REVIEW – ‘Fright Night’ (1985)

Written by J.T. Johnson

4-stars

ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: August 2, 1985
DIRECTOR: Tom Holland
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Jan Kiesser
WRITER: Tom Holland
MUSIC: Brad Fiedel

The ‘80s were a hotbed of horror films featuring teens and aimed towards the teen market. This was before cinemas really began enforcing the rule of not letting kids under 17 into the theater if the film was rated R. Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees ruled the day, but there were several other horror flicks that tried to appeal to horror fans. “Fright Night” was one such film that stood above the rest.

Charley Brewser (William Ragsdale) is a fan of horror films and loves his girlfriend Amy Peterson (Amanda Bearse). Things are going well for Charley until he notices a coffin being moved into the basement of the house next door. Soon after, the news begins reporting about the brutal murders of young girls. Already suspecting his new neighbor, Charley begins spying on the house next door until he witnesses that not only is his neighbor the murderer but he also has fangs and a bitchin’ manicure!

The neighbor is Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) and he has been a vampire for a really long time. When he notices Charley, he threatens to harm the boy’s friends and family if Charley doesn’t stay away. To add more dramatic weight, Jerry becomes infatuated with Amy because of her similar appearance to Jerry’s long-lost love. You know, that old chestnut.

Charley immediately begins searching for help. When the police prove to be ineffective, Charley turns to one of his horror heroes. Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) is the host of a late-night show called “Fright Night” and a former horror movie icon. At first, Peter won’t help the young boy. When Peter finally realizes that Jerry is indeed a vampire, Peter reluctantly takes up his greatest role once again.

The film is essentially a contemporary retelling of the “Dracula” myth. Jerry is obviously Dracula while Charlie and Peter fulfill the roles of Jonathan Harker and Van Helsing, respectively. With Jerry’s long-lost love rediscovered, Amy fits comfortably into the role of Mina Harker.

It should be noted that the film is horribly dated. On the flip side of this, it is a lot of fun to see a modern retelling of an old myth while also watching some inventive effects made on a budget. The make-up and practical effects are top-notch for their time and present day audiences can still enjoy them for what they are.

The cast works well together and it’s easy to see that the actors had fun making the movie. Sarandon is very effective as Jerry and there are times where he is truly menacing as he stalks Charley and his friends. The only thing that could have been better would have been to learn more about Jerry’s past.

Ragsdale is also effective as Charley by playing it safe as the everyman the audience can relate to. Like Jerry, though, there are elements to his character that are never really looked at and it would have been nice to learn a little more about our lead character.

McDowall is particularly great as Peter. Instead of being the confident mentor to Charley like several other movies, Peter is scared shitless and it is often Charlie who has to inspire Peter to make a stand. It is this slight change on the formula that also helps the film stand above the rest.

The actor who almost steals the show is Stephen Geoffreys as Charley’s friend, “Evil” Ed. In reality, he is the typical, crazy sidekick found in several ‘80s comedies and horror films. But in this film, there is a unique and oddly tragic twist that Geoffreys makes work despite feeling a little out of place. 

Despite dated effects, “Fright Night” still works today due to the fact that it wasn’t afraid to bend rules when it felt the need. The archetypes are still there, but the story is not being held captive by them and that is always a refreshing change of pace.

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