The Scoop: 1985 R, directed by Tom Holland and starring Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, and Roddy McDowall
Tagline: If you love being scared, it’ll be the night of your life.
Summary Capsule: Hey honey? Yeah, the new next door neighbors are vampires. Should we bring them a blood basket?
Eunice’s Rating: “I have never met a vampire personally, but I don’t know what might happen tomorrow.”
Eunice Review: When it comes to comparing how I feel about a movie to how Justin feels about it there seems to be very little middle ground, we either agree completely or are polar opposites. Back when I was just a mini-mutant I had to go through and read reviews on movies I had already seen in order to get a read on him, and Fright Night was one of those movies. I seem to remember poking some fun at him about the review and being called, good naturedly, a heckler. I told myself if I ever became a mutant I would do a review for Fright Night of my own.
That day has come.
Let me start off by saying how much I miss the ’80s vampire movie. Vampires were bad guys, they didn’t have feelings and whine about them all the time. And people who wanted to kill vampires? Good guys. *huff* Even so, in the interest of full disclosure, even now vampire movies are my crack.
Anyway, Fright Night is about a suburban teen named Charley Brewster. He lives with his mom, has a girlfriend named Amy, and a friend known as Evil Ed. Charley is really into a show called Fright Night with Peter Vincent, a has been horror actor now doing the hosting segments between old vampire movies (Think Elvira or Midnight Monster Hop). When a new neighbor, who only comes out at night and keeps a coffin, and his “carpenter” move in next door the hooker death rate goes up. Charley goes to the cops but they think he’s crazy, as does his friends. So he goes to Peter “Vampire Killer” Vincent as his last hope. Peter thinks he’s nuts too, but is convinced by Amy and Evil -and $500- to play along. Of course by the time everybody figures out he’s right it’s too late.
I’ll admit, Fright Night isn’t in league with the too cool biker vamps of The Lost Boys or the level of viciousness of Near Dark, it’s definitely in the fluffier category of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Once Bitten. It falls into the family of teen escapist fantasy that seemed to thrive in the 80s. Think Monster Squad meets the Hammer style vampire movies. And Fright Night is at it’s best when it’s a love letter to those old Christopher Lee Dracula flicks.
Which brings me to my favorite character, Roddy McDowall’s Peter Vincent. I’ve had an affinity for Roddy McDowall ever since I was a kid and I saw him in the Planet of the Apes movies and Octavian’s speech near the end of Cleopatra (“‘The soup is hot; the soup is cold.’ ‘Antony is living; Antony is dead.’ Shake with terror when such words pass your lips!”). So he’d get a pass even if his wasn’t the best character. But Peter Vincent is the only character, between screen time and execution, that’s given much depth. In that he a) has some sort of a background, b)has a heroic arc, and c) Roddy does what he can (the regret he puts off in the scene where he slays someone is worth noting). And it’s channeling Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee all the way.
I can see where someone might have problems separating Chris Sarandon from Prince Humperdink, but open your mind I say. The man has a body of work, and if you’re willing to watch pretty much anything like me, you’ve probably seen some of it, including his other horror movies and his many TV movie and show appearances as menacing murderous husbands. So after the knee jerk reaction of “I shall be very put out.” I’ve never had any problems. Jerry Dandrige is the spirit of a classic vampire in an 80s setting. The menacing and (at least compared to Charley or any other guy in this movie) seductive school of vampire villain, like if this was a hundred years ago he’d have a cape but instead wears sweaters. Jerry comes off like he wakes up every night, stretches, and thinks to himself, ‘Man, it’s good to be a vampire!’ There’s a quickly forgotten subplot about a painting that looks just like Amy, but they never go into it.
On the makeup and special effects side, the creatures still hold up pretty good. The staked wolf, and the transformation back into a person is gory, and goopey and perfectly horrific. And the scene where Billy (what is he anyway? A ghoul? I’ll go with ghoul) melts is also quite nice.
Probably the movie’s biggest problem is it’s main character. To be euphemistically phrasilogically (my word) blunt about it, Charley is a grade A three letter word that can also mean donkey. He treats his girlfriend like garbage, and his friend worse. There’s nothing about him that is remotely likable, to the point where I would’ve rather seen the vampire win. Even by the end Peter Vincent is the one who emerges as the hero of the story. Charley just doesn’t DO anything constructive. Plus, totally agree with Justin there is no way a teen boy turns down sex, and the whole scene just makes me hate Charley for the rest of the movie.
Writing a review for Fright Night turned out to be harder than I thought, because it’s not very deep. And when a movie’s enjoyable in a turn your brain off kind of way there’s not really much to say about it. I think the difference between whether you like it like me, or hate it like Justin comes down to how you feel about vampire movies.
Justin’s Rating: Well. This certainly does suck.
Justin’s Review: Here’s the thing: out of the three classic horror movie monsters — zombies, vampires and werewolves (we’ll leave mummies alone for now) — vampires are by far the least interesting. Maybe just to me, but still I’ve never been entertained by a vampire movie, never been scared by any onscreen portrayal of a bloodsucker, and after the rise and fall of my love affair with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show, I can’t even make the mental leap to take vamps as anything but a running joke. And this is probably why Fright Night stood little to no chance of reversing my policy on Mayor McFangy and his Blood Crew.
Shades of An American Werewolf in London and The Lost Boys, Fright Night gets a failing grade in Home Ec for messing up the horror-comedy blend. A good horror-comedy (Evil Dead 2 as Exhibit A) should be both scary and funny. A decent horror-comedy will show lopsided favoritism to just one of those aspects and give the other side passing lip service. But when you don’t succeed in making either of those work in the least… man, it’s a pitiful two hours of “coulda, woulda, shoulda’s”.
Fright Night does have a name for itself in the 80’s vampire legacy. I’m not sure why. Maybe a massive yet lame conspiracy is to blame. Running through it, it’s a fairly standard teen horror flick that easily could’ve used any number of other threats than vampires as its antagonists. Charley (William Ragsdale) is the prototypical teen (“prototypical” is a bigger word than “typical”, so I went with that there) who becomes the Only Person To Spot The Real Threat, and therefore must make a complete fool out of himself trying to convince friends and authorities before It’s Too Late. What tanks my interest in Charley as a character is that in the opening scene, his girlfriend is on the bed, ready for sex for the first time, and Charley is more interested in watching guys carry a coffin into the house next door. Um. Hm.
Maybe there’s a huge homosexual subtext going on in this movie — there’s certainly enough evidence to suggest it. There’s even a guy who gets turned into a vampire by another guy in a pretty suggestive manner, and it’s not too big of a leap to make the transformation into a metaphor for changing one’s sexuality. However, since this is most certainly not a freshman college term paper, I shall give such things a rest.
It also probably doesn’t help that Chris Sarandon is the big head vampire. He lost his ability to be taken as a threatening character after nailing what a sissy Prince Humperdinck was in The Princess Bride two years later.
So, there you have it. Another middle-of-the-road horror flick with nothing spectacular to either recommend it to you or warn you away. And to all you vampire wanna-be’s out there, I gotta ask: why the heck would you honestly want to be a creature who has to drink blood for the rest of your life? You ever tasted blood? It’s not cherry kool-aid, my friend. Gross.
- Chris Sarandon spent as much as eight hours getting the vampire makeup applied to his face. It took twelve hours to put Stephen Geoffreys into the wolf makeup, which he ended up having to do twice.
- The character Peter Vincent is drawn from two horror movie actors: Peter Cushing, and Vincent Price.
- This film contains a puppet that was scrapped from another Columbia Pictures film, GhostBusters
- Give up sex for coffin watching? Right…
- What a responsible mom, offering her son a Valium
- It is sooo weird going back and watching Amanda Bearse’s helpless doormat Amy after years of seeing her as uber-feminist Marcy on TV’s Married with Children.
- Jerry is always eating fruit. A reference to bats maybe? Or perhaps Bunnicula.
Peter Vincent: The kids today don’t have the patience for vampires. They want to see some mad slasher running around and chopping off heads.
Evil Ed: He got me, Charley! He bit me! You know what you’re gonna have to do now, don’t you? Kill me. Kill me, Charley… before I turn into a vampire, and… GIVE YOU A HICKEY!
Jerry: Hello, Edward. You don’t have to be afraid of me. I know what it’s like being different. Only they won’t pick on you anymore… or beat you up. I’ll see to that. All you have to do is take my hand.
Jerry: You shouldn’t lose your temper, Charley. It isn’t polite.
Jerry: Welcome to Fright Night! For real.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Fright Night Part II
- Fright Night (2011)
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- The Lost Boys
- Interview With The Vampire