Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Review: Fright Night (1985)


Starring: William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Stephen Geoffreys, Chris Sarandon and Roddy McDowell.

It's long overdue, especially with my not-so-softspoken love of this movie. So with the remake having just hit theaters, here's my review of the original Fright Night. This 1985 vampire-next-door tale was directed by Tom Holland, who had previously written Psycho II and would go on to direct Child's Play in 1988 (again with Chris Sarandon).

The story follows Charley Brewster, an honest and refreshing depiction of a geek in the 1980's. He loves horror movies, yes, but not as much as his best friend, Evil Ed (played perfectly over-the-top by Stephen Geoffreys). Charley also has a girlfriend, Amy, with whom he's been desperately trying to find "the right moment." Charley is also obsessed with the TV horror-host show "Fright Night" and its star, Peter Vincent. And Charley thinks he may have found that right moment with Amy... until he looks out the window and sees two men carrying a coffin into the house next door.

Thus begins a series of events leading to Charley's discovery that the man who has just moved in next door to him, Jerry Dandridge, is a vampire. And when his mom, his girlfriend, and his best friend don't believe him, Charley's last-ditch effort is to turn to help with Fright Night's host, Peter Vincent himself.

Now, at this point in the 80's the vampire genre was dead. The Lost Boys and Near Dark, the decade's other two big hits, would follow two years later. Fright Night was the first movie to usher vampires into the modern age. Using Peter Vincent to bring an element of old school (in particular, the Hammer era of the '50's and '60's) charm, the film both satirized and paid respect to the classics of yesteryear in a way that would not be so perfectly done again until 1996's Scream. The characterization in this film is top-notch and not one character is left one-dimensional or without something to do. Charley and Peter in particular stand out as two very well-rounded heroic leads. One being a seventeen year-old forced to do the right thing when no one else will, the other so perfectly characterized because he is not a hero, he just plays one in the movies. Charley's heroic journey and Peter's battle of faith and courage alone make this stand out amongst other horror comedies of the era.

The thing to carry this home, acting wise, has to be the vampires, though. Chris Sarandon is perfectly charming and monstrous as next-door-neighbor Jerry. So charming that no one in their right mind would believe he was a vampire, unless they had seen the things Charley had seen. Still, Jerry is far from a two-dimensional monster. He claims to Charley that he does not want to kill, he simply has no choice. And his pursuit of Amy seems to be some hopeful search to reclaim something of a long-lost sense of love, and less to get back at Charley, until the last act or so.

The technical aspects of the film also stand out. The make-up effects are astounding and really create a whole new idea of how terrifying the vampire can be. These are not counts with slightly-overgrown canines, but creatures that can look as monstrous as they choose. They do all the classics, mist, wolves, bats... but in a very modern (for 1985, at least) way. And that's perfect, because that's what the film is about at the core, it's a horror with comedy elements about modernizing classic themes. The score, too, really provides both a haunting and sensual atmosphere. Combined with everything above, the film is a solid 9/10, a masterpiece of vampire cinema, and the first of Captain Cadaver's Essentials. If you haven't seen it, or have seen the remake, or plan to see the remake, or just want to see a good vampire film or coming-of-age story in general, do yourself a favor and check this one out. Because, remember, if you love being scared, it'll be the night of your life.

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