“Back, Spawn of Satan!”
Ready to have fun? You’d better be, because that is what Fright Night (1985) is all about. A classic horror date movie, Fright Night tells the tale of Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale), an unassuming teenager who suspects his new neighbor is a vampire.
Of course, nobody believes Charley’s story, even when the missing persons count begins to pile up and the neighbor’s sketchy friend is seen carrying large bags out of the house in the middle of the night. To make matters worse, Charley’s love interest, Amy, portrayed by Amanda Bearse of Married With Children fame, falls for the good looking neighbor.
A classic cat-and-mouse game ensues, with Charley trying to convince his friends, family, and the police that his neighbor is a vampire without making everyone think he is insane. Eventually Charley calls in Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), a B-movie legend known for his penchant for killing vampires, to help him rid the neighborhood of the evil living next door. But as Peter Vincent, Vampire Killer, discovers, killing vampires in real life is a lot more difficult than he makes it look in his movies.
The beauty of Fright Night lies not just in its chilling storyline, but in its ability to seamlessly weave humor, thrills, and horror into one tight package. Director Tom Holland strikes the perfect balance, ensuring that for every scream, there’s a hearty laugh to follow. It’s a nod to the horror classics of yesteryears, while adding an ’80s touch that makes it endearing to those nostalgic for the era. The synthesizer-heavy soundtrack, neon lighting, and impeccable costume design firmly root the film in its period, making it a time capsule of sorts for contemporary viewers.
The performances across the board are commendable. Ragsdale’s portrayal of Charley is every bit the quintessential panicked teenager, while McDowall’s Peter Vincent is both tragic and comedic – a washed-up actor who gets a shot at genuine heroism. Chris Sarandon is suave, menacing, and irresistibly charismatic as Jerry Dandrige, the vampire next door. He plays the role with such finesse that you’re often torn between rooting for him and hoping for his demise.
However, it’s the film’s special effects that steal the show. Considering its time, Fright Night boasts commendable practical effects. The transformation sequences are grotesque and eerily realistic, making the vampire mythos feel tangible and terrifying. Kudos to the makeup and effects teams for creating some truly memorable monsters.
But what truly sets Fright Night apart is its meta commentary on the horror genre. Through the character of Peter Vincent, the film acknowledges the dissonance between cinematic horror and real-life terror. It toys with the idea of disbelief in a world where monsters are confined to the silver screen, and what happens when that boundary is shattered.
Fright Night (1985) is a delightful blend of horror and comedy, a reminder of the creative genius of the ’80s film industry. It’s a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet delivers genuine scares when it needs to. Whether you’re a fan of the genre or just looking for a fun flick for the night, Fright Night is a bite you won’t regret.
The end result is one of the better popcorn-munching horror date movies of the 1980s. The production quality is strong, the writing is creative, and the acting is competent from the star roles down to the bit players. McDowall in particular shines in his role, appearing to have a ton of fun as he paints a portrait of a washed up B-movie star battling his own demons. One of my favorite McDowall moments from Fright Night is when he complains that today’s horror fans are more interested in masked looneys killing virgins. Great line, except that I don’t think those girls in Friday the 13th were very virginal.
Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) is one of the top sidekick characters of the 1980s, and once you hear his laugh, it will stick in your head forever. Chris Sarandon delivers a knockout performance as the suave bloodsucker, Jerry Dandridge, oozing charisma and malevolence in equal measure, making him one of the most memorable on-screen vampires of his era. Sarandon’s portrayal has an alluring charm; he seduces with a glance and terrifies with a smirk, embodying the classic vampire archetype while still providing a fresh and modern take.
Looking beyond Fright Night, Roddy McDowall had already established himself as a household name with an expansive career before this film. Perhaps most famously known for his roles in the “Planet of the Apes” series, he showed an adeptness at slipping into a character and giving it depth and dimension. His turn as Cornelius remains iconic and is a testament to his versatility as an actor.
Stephen Geoffreys, who played the quirky and unforgettable Evil Ed, had a relatively brief period of mainstream fame in the 1980s. However, his performance in Fright Night remains a standout, and he later took on other roles that showcased his eccentric acting style, such as in “976-EVIL”. His piercing laugh and idiosyncratic energy are instantly recognizable, making him a memorable component of any film he graces.
Chris Sarandon, prior to playing the seductive vampire, had received acclaim for his role in the film “Dog Day Afternoon”, for which he earned an Academy Award nomination. Sarandon has a knack for adding depth and complexity to his characters, regardless of the genre, making them feel real and relatable. Post Fright Night, he continued to impress with roles in movies like “The Princess Bride” as the dastardly Prince Humperdinck and as the voice of Jack Skellington in “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
Amanda Bearse, while her role in Fright Night showcased her as the damsel caught in a deadly love triangle, is perhaps better recognized for her comedic chops, especially in “Married With Children” as Marcy D’Arcy. Her shift from the vulnerable Amy to the assertive Marcy reveals her range and adaptability as an actress.
The effects are excellent and never overused, and there is a nice soundtrack drifting in the background that should kindle feelings of nostalgia for anyone who grew up in the 1980s.
I’m not going to suggest Fright Night is terribly frightening. It’s not. It’s just a fun-as-hell suspense/horror movie, with just the right amount of comedic relief sprinkled in amid the gore.
Grab your Fright Night DVD and cuddle up beside your significant other. Don’t forget the popcorn!