Fright Night (1985) - 2/31 Days of Halloween 2020
If there's anything we've established in these past three years of reviews, it's that I love a good vampire flick. I don't really have a preference about how the vamps are portrayed (so long as they don't sparkle), and fresh takes that turn the genre on its head are always fun, but let's face it... sometimes you just want a good popcorn flick that ticks all the vampire cliché boxes.
Today's movie does just that with some great nods to genre classics. And having a rocking soundtrack complete with a haunting score by Brad Fiedel doesn't hurt, either.
Without further ado, let's raise the coffin lid and sink our fangs into 1985's Fright Night.
As the movie opens, we're introduced to two teens named Charley and Amy who are making out while a horror TV series titled Fright Night, hosted by horror icon Peter Vincent, plays on the television. They argue when Amy doesn't want to make love, but she eventually gives in to Charley's demands. The fight resumes, however, when Charley sees two men carrying a coffin into the vacant house next door and he becomes obsessed. Over the next few days, Charley observes multiple women entering the new neighbor's house, only to see the a man carrying suspicious, body-shaped bags out and see the women on the news. When Charley observes the neighbor with one of the women, the man exposes sharp fangs and is about to bite the woman's neck before he sees Charley spying on them and lowers the shade, blocking Charley's view.
Charley becomes convinced that his new neighbor, Jerry Dandrige, is a vampire. He consults his friend Evil Ed about how to deal with vampires, and Ed gives him a crucifix, advises him to adorn himself with garlic, and warns Charley never to invite the vampire in. It's too late, however, because Charley's mother invites Dandrige in, giving the vampire free reign of their home. That night, Jerry attacks Charley, but Charley manages to fend him off. Desperate, Charley tries to enlist the aid of Peter Vincent, the host of Fright Night, but the actor shrugs Charley off as a troubled fan. As Charley becomes more and more obsessed, Amy and Evil Ed bargain with Peter Vincent to help them convince Charley that Jerry Dandrige is simply a man. Vincent agrees and performs a fake test with Dandrige's cooperation. Things take an unexpected turn, however, when Peter Vincent accidentally discovers the truth when Dandrige doesn't cast a reflection in his mirror. With his secret out, Dandridge stalks the teens, setting his gaze longingly on Amy.
Who ever heard of a vampire named Jerry, am I right? I'm not going to lie; that's one of the things I love so much about this movie. It gives the illusion of turning the genre on its ear while actually sticking to the cozy clichés we've all come to know and love. While we don't get to see the true effects of holy water or garlic on the undead, we do see that the old reliable cross works, provided the user possesses the faith necessary to harm the undead. Fright Night doesn't try to reinvent the wheel, and I'm a-okay with that.
Let's talk about the effects. Fright Night boasts some incredible practical effects for 1985, and most of them still stand up today, particularly Evil Ed's painful transformation from wolf back into human. My favorite effect, however, has to be the gruesome death of Jerry's familiar Billy. Some of the vampire makeup effects on Jerry and Amy come off as a bit hokey, though, in my opinion, but they don't spoil the fun. The only thing I have an issue with is Amy's magically growing and shrinking hair.
Overall, Fright Night lives up to its name. Roddy McDowall is absolutely delightful as the washed-up actor and vampire hunter. His performance is a great tongue-in-cheek homage to the classic Hammer horror films and the late, great Peter Cushing. A sequel was released in 1988, and I'd love to track down a copy, because I haven't seen it in over twenty years. A remake featuring stellar performances by Colin Ferrel and David Tennant was released in 2011, and I highly recommend it. It's one of those rare remakes that actually does the original justice, in my opinion.
My verdict is surely obvious at this point. If you've never seen it, pop some extra buttery popcorn, maybe add in some garlic salt for good measure, and check out Fright Night, as well as its sequel and remake. Hell, make an entire fright night of it! And whatever you do, don't invite any strangers in!