I used to think that I could count on one hand the number of vampire movies I actually enjoyed. Vampires and I just didn’t mix, you understand. They reminded me too much of the irritating goth kids that littered my high school back in the day. And yet, I’ve recently been giving the vampire sub genre a deeper evaluation and actually managed to find quite a few flicks which I had once overlooked, never realizing their true quality. Fright Night is one of those movies; a classic horror flick which I had written off for years simply because I didn’t like vampires. My loss, entirely.
Fright Night (1985)
Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) has a problem: A vampire lives next door but nobody will believe him. No one would suspect the charming Mr. Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon) of being one of the undead, which works to Dandrige’s advantage, as he intends to kill Charley before he can let his secret out. Charley’s only hope lies in Peter Vincent (Roddy MacDowall), the host of the late night television program, Fright Night. Peter is reluctant to give Charley his aid at first, but after getting a taste of Dandrige’s dark deeds first hand, decides to lend a cross or two. Charley and Peter are the only ones with any chance of stopping Dandrige and they’d better work fast, as Dandrige has taken Charley’s girlfriend (Amanda Bearse) prisoner and intends to turn her to his side.
Fright Night starts out as a more-or-less homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, but then wastes no time in getting right into the thick of things. Dandrige makes his intentions clear very early and the pace hardly settles down afterward. Chris Sarandon is excellent as the lead villain, with this presence which is so infuriatingly smug you just want him to die as painfully as possible.
The rest of the assembled cast is just as satisfying. You’ve got Ragsdale as the fatally out of his depth protagonist and he definitely sells the part in that respect. Roddy MacDowall adds a touch of class to the picture (as he does with just about everything he’s been in, except for maybe that Go-Bots movie), with Vincent’s transformation from out of work actor to fearless vampire killer a very amusing one.
The supporting cast is fine, though not as strong as the leads. Amanda Bearse is serviceable as the movie’s love interest, though her hair was crazy weird at times. Stephen Geoffreys plays Charley’s buddy, Evil Ed, who is both entertaining and obnoxious all at once.
The monster effects in the movie are what really grabbed me. Writer/Director Tom Holland actually remembered that vampires can transform into things other than bats, including wolves and mist. He uses this to great effect, giving you a host of gruesome creatures to chew on. I was particularly fond of the vampire-wolf transformation sequence. While I wouldn’t say it matches up to the transformations seen in An American Werewolf in London or The Howling, it was none-the-less cool.
As you can imagine, the climax is where the monster effects really come in to play, and by no means will you be let down. Well, I did see some strings following Dandrige’s transformation into a bat, but it’s only for a second.
The suburban setting is one I especially appreciated, reminding of films such as The Gate (which I adore). It creates that sense of isolation in a populated area and brings a sort of creepiness and loneliness to the rows of picket fences and identical dwellings.
I’m glad to finally be over my vampire boycott, and movies like Fright Night are what make me feel that way. Amidst all the gory horror effects is a sense of dark humor that lightens the mood and keeps the film nice and fun (but never all-out campy). So even if you don’t like vampires, check this one out. I doubt you’ll regret it.