US Release Date: 08-02-1985
Directed by: Tom Holland
- Chris Sarandon, as
- Jerry Dandrige
- William Ragsdale, as
- Charley Brewster
- Amanda Bearse, as
- Amy Peterson
- Roddy McDowall, as
- Peter Vincent
- Stephen Geoffreys, as
- Ed Thompson
- Jonathan Stark, as
- Billy Cole
- Dorothy Fielding, as
- Judy Brewster
- Heidi Sorenson as
Within the scheme of famous horror movies, Fright Night barely registers. For me though, it was one of my favorite horror movies when I was young. Watching it now, it does seem quite dated. Check out the telephone Billy Cole uses. Bearse, at the techno club, looks like mid 80's pop queen Sheena Easton. McDowall has a line that references the new wave of horror movies that had recently come out, such as Halloween and Friday the 13th, “Apparently your generation doesn't want to see vampire killers anymore, nor vampires either. All they want to see is slashers running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins”.
Highschool student Charlie and his single mother (It is never explained what happened to Dad) get new neighbors one night. They interrupt Charlie making out with his girlfriend in his bedroom, when Charlie sees two men move a coffin into the house next door. After Charlie sees a prostitute go into the house that is later found dead, he suspects his new neighbor, Jerry, of being a vampire. Neither his girlfriend Amy, or his best friend Ed, believe him. He calls the police, but that just gets the neighbor upset and Charlie soon learns that his suspicions are true.
With no where to run, Charlie turns to the host of his favorite television show, Peter Vincent. He hosts a nightly scarey movie. Often he stars in them as he is a has-been "B" actor, once known in his films as The Great Vampire Killer. His house is full of old movie memorabilia and he even uses one of his old props to discover that Charlie is telling the truth. My favorite line of his is when he boldly holds up a cross to Jerry and says, “Back, spawn of Satan.”
Meanwhile, Jerry has met Amy and she just happens to look like a long gone girlfriend of Jerry’s. He decides he wants to make her his undead bride. Before they know it, Charlie and Peter are experiencing a real horror experience, or as Jerry tells them when they come into his home, “Welcome-to-fright-night...for real.”
This movie was the highlight of Ragsdale’s career. He continues to act in guest rolls on television. Sarandon was likewise at the peak of his success. Two years later he would play the bad guy in another 80's classic, The Princess Bride. Bearse went on to fame in Married With Children and did not return for the movie sequel. Geoffreys’s career took an interesting turn. He starred in over two dozen gay porn film in the 1990's with such titles as Latin Crotch Rockets and Leather Virgin. The best of McDowall’s career of course, happened long before this movie came out. He will always be remembered as Cornelius in Planet of the Apes (1968).
Watching it now, I can definitely see what I liked in it at the time. I could easily relate to Charlie, as I was near his age when I saw this. Being a movie buff, I enjoyed the character of Peter Vincent. This was also one of the first films I ever saw a nude scene in. For me, it was a bit erotic at the time. The most interesting thing I noticed this viewing was just how true Fright Night is to the Hollywood vampire myth. Ever since this movie came out, every Vampire movie rewrites the rules about vampires. Fright Night had a vampire that turned into a bat, did not like holy water or a cross, did not cast a reflection and could be killed by sunlight. Some things should never change.
Chris Sarandon and Jonathan Stark in Fright Night.
Truly Eric this is an old school horror film. As you say, it stays true to the Dracula myth rather than the trendy, sympathetic version of vampires created by Anne Rice. The Peter Vincent character is clearly modeled on Peter Cushing's vampire killer from the old Hammer horror films and the plot is a bit reminiscent of Salem's Lot.
Like you Eric, I had fond memories of Fright Night, but the years haven't been so very kind to it. Of course the fashions and styles are dated, but the special effects and makeup seem quite weak as well, even for the time.
One thing that seems obvious to me now but that escaped me all those years ago is just how gay the vampire Jerry Dandridge seems. Not only is his style very metrosexual (years before that phrase had been coined) but he lives with a male roommate whom he seems very close to; touching him and draping himself on him in several scenes. In one scene Jerry's roommate kneels in front of him with his head level with Jerry's crotch to bandage his hand and the camera angle is such that all you see is the back of the roommate's head facing the vampire. Nothing sexual is happening, but it's a very suggestive camera setup that I have to believe was deliberate. In yet another scene Jerry pulls a horn from a box and begins polishing it. Sure, he shares some suggestive scenes with Amy, but they share no real chemistry and he abandons her quickly after making her a vampire. And yeah, he kills a few female prostitutes, but I think he's just compensating.
Peter Vincent has always been my favorite part of this movie. Roddy McDowall steals every scene he appears in and I wish he'd been in it more. I love all the references to his old movies and the props that litter his apartment. His performance is nearly the only thing in the movie that lived up to my memory of it.
The premise to the story is good; a mysterious neighbor, girls disappearing, a coffin in the dark, but after that initial opening the story kind of loses its way. Amy looking like Jerry's old girlfriend is a subplot that never really goes anywhere and should have been cut. The story as a whole for that matter, could have used a tighter edit job.
Some movies just can never live up to our childhood memories. Fright Night is definitely one of those movies.
Actual make-up looks realer and more scary than today's CGI will in 25 years.
Unlike for you Scott, Fright Night did live up to my memories of it. I enjoy the time-capsule aspect of old movies. And I disagree with you about the make-up and special effects. Not only do I think they were decent for the time (especially in the scene where Evil is killed by Peter Vincent) but I think they hold up well, better in fact - in my opinion - than today’s CGI effects will look in 25 years.
I also disagree about the editing. The story moves at a brisk pace (we jump right into the action) and the scares keep right on getting more intense until the end. I love the scene where Charley is relieved to find out that a vampire cannot enter your house without first being invited in by the rightful owner. He returns home only to find his mother in conversation with their new vampire neighbor whom she has invited to drop in whenever he likes.
I agree that the movie holds true to the old vampire movie myths. However it also foreshadows the modern Twilight vampires in terms of the romance angle. Jerry dances seductively with Amy, even feeling her up under her dress at one point, and they make out kind of hot and heavy in a later scene. He may or may not be interested in his male roommate but he is at the very least bisexual.
Roddy McDowall does of course steal the movie. He starts off as a complete fraud that doesn’t believe in vampires. Then when confronted with evidence to the contrary he reacts by running away, only to return heroically just in the nick of time.
When I first saw this movie I loved the nostalgia tinged aspect of Peter Vincent’s character. Today the entire movie is nostalgic for me, conjuring up as it does the mid 1980s so gloriously. New movies will continue to be set in that decade as it was the last one before the internet and cell phones entered everyday life and therefore seems quaint.
Fright Night remains a very entertaining horror movie that perfectly encapsulates 1985.
Photos © Copyright Columbia Pictures (1985)