“I have just been fired because 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.” – Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent: Vampire Killer in Fright Night
a Primal Root written review
By the mid-1980’s horror cinema was dominated by low brow exploitation slasher horror cinema. Every weekend seemed to bring us another holiday themed blood bath filled with nekkid, pot smoking teens being chased down and hacked into oblivion by some silent masked killer or catch phrase spouting dream demon. By 1985, the formula was old hat and there a resurgence in appreciation for the classics. Tom Holland’s fun, sexy, highly entertaining directorial debut, Fright Night, is one of the most unabashed and perfect examples of what can be done when two genres are expertly amalgamated.
Fright Night seamlessly and joyfully the hard lined, effects driven spectacle of the late 1970’s and early 80’s horror genre made famous be the likes of George Romero, John Carpenter and John Landis, along with the fun, campy nature of many Hammer and Universal Classics. Fright Night is a film that generates it’s frights, laughs and boundless charm from the audience’s knowledge of horror cinema history. Fright Night is a film that bridges a gap between a simpler seeming time in the genres past and fully embraces the gnarly, grotesque necessities of the current 1980’s horror audience and succeeds in creating something familiar as well as new and enjoyable from start to finish.
Fright Night tells the tale of virginal high school horror movie aficionado, Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale), who is having relationship problems with his equally virginal high school sweetheart, Amy (Amanda Bearse). Charlie becomes convinced that his new next door neighbor, Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) is a a serial killer, one who has been decapitating prostitutes and draining their bodies of blood…He is also convinced that Jerry is, indeed, a mother fucking vampire.
When Charlie convinces a police detective to investigate Jerry and his live-in buddy Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark), but once the detective and Charlie set foot into Jerry’s home and Charlie’s suspicions are made clear, he is mocked, laughed at and told he is a fool…but this also means Jerry Dandridge, who is ACTUALLY a very powerful vampire, now knows the nosey kid next door is on to him and pose a very real threat to his existence.
Jerry comes to Charlie with a compromise; forget that he is a vampire and live, or continue being a little fuck face who tries to convince people that I’m a vampire and I’ll rip your little teeny bopper head off, drink your blood and then shit it down your neck stump. Of course, Charlie being one of the rare breed, pure of heart sort of kids, refuses to ignore evil. In return, Jerry retaliates by seducing both Charlie’s girlfriend Amy and his one and only friend, Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys). Charlie, who has no siblings and whose Mom works the night shift at the hospital and has a singular remedy for vampire onslaught in a mug of hot cocoa, which Charlie adamantly DOES NOT NEED, is totally useless. Plus his Father is completely absent without a mention of his whereabouts or existence.
Out of options, Charlie turns to the unlikely aid of a late night horror movie host of the program ‘Fright Night’, classic horror film actor, Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall, who owns this movie, by the way). Nightly, Mr. Vincent boasts about his knowledge and fearlessness when it comes to battling vampires to their undead deaths. But, in real life, Mr. Vincent is a coward when confronted with the supernatural. It is up to this unlikely duo, Charlie and Peter Vincent, to vanquish the evil Jerry Dandridge in time to save Amy, who is slowly transforming into red headed sexy blood sucking minion of the undead!
So why the lasting impression? The cult status? The deeply devoted fan base and high regard from cinema devotees? Simply put, the film is absolute god damn pleasure to watch. It plays to everyone! Hardcore horror aficionados, casual cinema goers, sick demented trash cinema collective members, Fright Night pleases everyone. The violence is so over the top, colorful, fantasy based and imaginative, it’s never really disturbing as much as it is just good old fashion spook house fun.
The actors all perform at the top of their game. Chris Sarandon as the incredibly suave and seductive vampire Jerry Dandridge conveys brutal menace and a confident swagger and joyful glee, but also manages to mix in a bit of humanity to a very old, very sophisticated creature of the night, making Jerry an unforgettable antagonist. Ragsdale is a perfect choice for the strong willed, in over his head, Charlie Brewster, likewise, Amanda Bearse as Amy conveys doe eyes innocence so well, it;s kind of annoying as shit. But it works in the favor of the character’s story arch, her relationship with Charlie keeps her almost as a child it is only when she is seduced by Jerry that her sexual awakening occurs, her physical appearance begins to change, drastically so soon after Jerry, *AHEM* slides his fangs into her causing ribbons of warm red blood to stream down her back in a not too subtle symbol of her virginity being taken. As she starts to turn, her hair goes red, she shows off her lovely tits through a see through white gown, and she aggressively attempts to seduce those around her so that she, too, can stick her fangs in them. It’s always fascinated me whenever women go evil in movies how much sexier they become. Like Lily in Legend, sure, she’s cute in all in her white gown, flowery head dress and shit, but as soon as she gets into the all black ensemble and starts dancing around with a confident, assured look of a woman who has been through Hell and back, knows pain, pleasure, desire and is world wary of these things, that’s when I find myself getting a chub. Besides, there are few turn offs greater than innocence. But that could just be me.
Stephen Geoffries, who notoriously would turn to a career in homoerotic porn for the majority of his career, turns in one of the most excellent, go for broke performances as Evil Ed. Evil Ed is obviously an outsider, seemingly hyper active with a penchant for saying what’s on his mind, he seems like a bit of a nerd and someone who has been picked on his whole childhood. He plays the majority of the film as a kind of gonzo comic relief, but again, one of the strengths of Fright Night is when these seemingly stock and familiar characters are expanded upon. Two stand out scenes for Evil Ed always come to mind as the highlights of the film. When Evil Ed is seduced with the promise over never being picked on or bullied ever again, if only he takes the hand of Jerry Dandridge. It’s a beautiful moment as Evil Ed first cowers and then opens up to the idea of having someone, finally having someone who gives his word to stand up for him. Of course, it;s an evil creature of the night, so he will only become a kind of errand boy or good for Jerry, but I guess it beats going to high school. Also, Evil Ed’s ****SPOILER**** death is pitch perfect. It’s outstanding on so many levels, this teenage boy, who has given his soul away for vampiric powers, has now been impaled through the heart while he is in the form of a wolf. The physical effects are astounding through this sequence as we watch a dying Evil Ed in pure agony transform back into his human form slowly, painfully, mercilessly. He screams out in agony, at first as an unrecognizable half man half beast, who reaches out for comfort from a shell shocked and mortified Peter Vincent, the man who put the stake through his heart. Ed reaches for contact, someone to comfort him as he passes away and Peter almost reaches out to do so, before remembering just what he’s dealing with, and draws his hand back. As Ed fades away, and now looks exactly like himself, he gives Peter Vincent a tearful smile of regret as he dies, soulless, a being of evil and most assuredly heads straight down to Hell. Roddy andStephen are both excellent in the scene, and if you ask me, it might just be the best moment of the entire film, as these two work off one another beautifully.
Which bring me to Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent. This man is the heart and soul of Fright Night. As the aging, retired, reluctant and increasingly irrelevant Fearless Vampire Hunter, Roddy brings a beautiful, funny, sympathetic character to life with so much charm and charisma, you cannot help but love the man. He enlivens each and every scene he’s in with heart and warmth in a performance so wonderful, you;ll forget the man played a monkey four damn times.
There are a lot of overt sexual elements to Tom Hollands’ exceptional horror flick, Fright Night, but one of the messages I always found most noble is that horror, as a genre, is a necessity for youngsters. Suggesting that knowledge of how to deal with the evils of vampires and their ilk will come in handy, we just never know when. Fright Night is provocative, daring but also, in a sense innocent and nostalgic. It arrived at just the right time in 1985 as horror cinema was becoming stale on it’s steady stream of stale slasher flicks. Fright Night is among the finest horror films of the 1980’s. It’s wickedly comical, the performances, again, are all excellent and the practical effects, decades later, hold home remarkably well and are astounding to behold. It’s also successful in transplanting the vampire myth from far away mountains of Transylvania and establishing them in the suburbs, a place where the forces of evil can move in right next door, and if you’re not paying attention, infiltrate your entire town…
Bolstered by a rad 80’s soundtrack, Fright Night is a colorful, imaginative, well crafted and most importantly, FUN, non stop love note to horror’s cinematic history. One I feel has never been topped, let alone, matched.
I award Fright Night (1985) Five out of Five Dumpster Nuggets.