Marking the directorial debut of Tom Holland (Child’s Play (1988), The Temp (1993)), and starring William Ragsdale (Herman’s Head (1991-1994), The Reaping (2007)), Chris Sarandon (The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), The Princess Bride (1987)), and Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes (1968), The Black Hole (1979)). Fright Night is an 80s horror classic, following Charlie Brewster (Ragsdale), a horror movie lover, and dedicated fan to the late night show Fright Night. One night, after a fight with his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse), he spots what can only be described as vampiric activity coming from the house next door, after the arrival of new neighbours. After a young woman goes missing, a girl Charlie saw go into his neighbours house, Charlie becomes convinced that the man next door, the devilishly charming Jerry Dandridge (Sarandon), is indeed a real vampire. Charlie seeks out to convince Amy and his best friend ‘Evil’ Ed (Stephen Geoffreys), that vampires do indeed exist, and that they are all in grave danger. Even going as far as to attempt to recruit Fright Night’s own late night host, the self-proclaimed vampire killer, Peter Vincent (McDowall).
Releasing two years prior to The Lost Boys (1987), Fright Night is a marvel in vampire horror thrillers, with just a healthy dose of comedy thrown in. Boasting incredible special effects, manned by many of the visual effects geniuses who brought us Ghostbusters (1984), it truly earns its place as a cult classic. Written and directed by Tom Holland, who had previously written the script for Psycho II (1983), Fright Night acts as a love letter to monster horror films, in an age where slasher flicks rain supreme, answering Halloween’s Michael Myers (1978), and the mask killer of Prom Night (1980), with the charming but deadly Jerry Dandridge, and his off kilter assistant, Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark). While the vampire genre is flooded these days, especially in the teen demographic, thanks to the likes of the Twilight franchise (2008 – 2012), it’s hard not to see Fright Night’s impact on Vampire films after witnessing it.
William Ragsdale’s Charlie, is impulsive, kind hearted, and unmistakably relatable. While he jumps to conclusions relatively quickly, it’s easy to see how he draws his conclusions, you find yourself rooting for him heavily throughout, especially when the life of his beloved girlfriend, Amy, is at stake. Roddy McDowall, playing Peter Vincent, an obvious nod to Hammer Horror legends, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, gives an incredibly strong and memorable performance, as a man who once starred in several low budget horror films, lowered to hosting a late night show where he showcases his previous efforts. When confronted by Charlie, Peter finds himself facing familiar situation, where the danger is oh so real, and he must find out if he really can live up to his moniker of ‘The Vampire Killer’. Stephen Geoffreys’ Evil Ed, easily the most animated character of the entire film, spouts some of the film’s most recognisable lines. Constantly buzzing with adrenaline, and making the films biggest transformation, Holland envisioned Ed as a stand in for the young horror fans of the world, who feel alienated, just as big of an outsider as the monsters he adores in the movies. Finally, it’s Chris Sarandon’s Jerry Dandridge who steals the show. At once charming to everyone he meets along the way, easily swaying the thoughts and opinions of those around him, it’s terrifying to realise the dark power he really has. His bloodlust always at the centre of his actions. In the film’s most famous scene, the night club, we see the often noted connection between vampirism and sex personified on screen, with his seduction of the young Amy. His dark and sinister power working its magic, as Amy transforms from a girl into a woman in his arms, before being whisked away to her doom.
The film’s effects are on top of their game throughout, released after the likes of An American Werewolf in London (1981), and The Howling (1981), Fright Night boasts an incredible array of practical effects throughout. Everything from extensive makeup for the vampire look, to the incredibly detailed and timed animatronic puppets and full body suits of the wold and bat transformations. It’s easy to see the visual effects teams pedigree and talent throughout. The film’s score by Brad Fiedel, coming off of his incredible work on The Terminator (1984) for James Cameron, provides a beautifully haunting addition to the film. Screaming with 80s electronica, and the iconic inclusion of the electric violin, the score has become almost as famous as the film itself.
Fright Night is more than worthy of its cult status, and despite having a 21st century remake, starring Anton Yelchin (Star Trek (2009), Green Room (2009)), Colin Farrell (In Bruges (2008), Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) and David Tennant (Doctor Who (2005-2015), Broadchurch (2013-2017) , the film is well worth your time regardless. A must see for any fans of 80s horror, vampire films, or just those looking for a damn fun time.