Good Vampire Films: Fright Night
I love this film. It’s that rarest of beasts: the comedy-horror that doesn’t suck. Thus I am inspired to review it far earlier than I was intending to due to the horrible news of that impending remake that seems to be turning it into the bastard lovechild of Disturbia (which is terrible) and Twilight (the less said about that the better), and sports a script that insists on doing stupid things such as Dandridge having killed Vincent’s family in the past. Why does Hollywood keep insisting on doing cretinous things like that? Wasn’t it enough that Dandridge was a, you know, bloodsucking creature of the night? Does he really have to have a tie to Vincent’s family? I bet Murphy’s producing.
Anyhoo, point missing cretinous remakes aside, Fright Night is one of the finest Vampire films of the 1980’s (a decade that sported many an iconic vampire film). Looking back at this, I’m struck by what a good year for Horror 1985 was- there are a truly surprising amount of genre films that are all classic (in their own way) and are all worth watching. If I compare the garbage that passes as horror 25 years later to films such as Return of the Living Dead or Fright Night then I’m saddened by the fall of the genre.
Fright Night takes a simple premise and runs amok with it. Charlie (William Ragsdale) is an oversexed teenager attempting to slip his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) a length when he spies something suspicious out of his bedroom window. Closer investigation unearths that suave vampire Dandridge and retainer (Chris Sarandon) have moved in next door. Soon enough dead hookers start turning up in the town, and Charlie knows that the vampire is behind it, except nobody believes him because vampires don’t exist. Eventually Amy and “Evil” Ed, his best mate, (a demented Stephen Geoffreys- more on him later) hire cowardly horror movie actor Peter Vincent (McDowell) to attempt to break Charlie’s delusion. Vincent stumbles on to the fact that the Vampire is real, and shenanigans ensue.
As said above, Fright Night is superb, and a lot of this derives from the performances. You may know Beales nowadays from sitcom dreck Married with Children, but back in 1985 she made a cute victim. Sarandon is oiler than the Gulf of Mexico as Dandridge, and it’s really an iconic vampire performance. The club scene in itself is gripping stuff as Dandridge seduces Amy effortlessly leaving an impotent Charlie gaping like a fish. Ragsdale is good as Charlie, but a bit overshadowed by the rest of the cast, particularly McDowell who sets the screen alight as the useless and cowardly Vincent, but more particularly Geoffreys who is simply magnificent as the iconic and deeply annoying Ed (he now makes a living in gay porn- which is only slightly less acceptable than Married with Children). Fright night is a really, really well acted film.
The script itself is a joy. By treating vampires in a ludicrously po-faced manner writer/ director Tom Holland manages to milk the comedy for all it’s worth. Evil Ed gets many a great line (the sarcastic “you’re so cool Brewster” is a touch overplayed and seems to be all over the internets), and Dandridge isn’t shy of a slimy one-liner either. The characters are all well drawn and convincing and the film absolutely sticks to its well-defined rules. It’s good stuff- and I particularly like Vincent’s lament on the state of Horror films that could well be true today:
Apparently your generation doesn’t want to see vampire killers anymore, nor vampires either. All they want to see slashers running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins.
The effects, as is to be expected, are all practical and of variable quality. The vampire effects themselves aren’t that great, but there is a brilliant reverse-werewolf transformation as a staked Ed turns back from wolf to human. The odd melting head or two never goes amiss, and Fright Night adds a couple of perfectly competent examples. I think the best description of the effects is that they still, for the most part, stand up today, and because it was the 80’s there is nary a drop of CGI.
The thing is, though, Fright Night is genuinely funny. McDowell in particular does sterling comic work as Vincent. He’s such a weasel of a human being, and that his first instinct is always to run away makes him a hilarious character for a Vampire movie. When he is eventually forced into action to face the vampire McDowell portrays him as on the verge of soiling himself. To be absolutely fair, if I had to go into a vampire’s lair then I’d be on the verge of alcohol induced unconsciousness. So I can’t say I blame him.
Overall, I throughly recommend both this and its sequel. Fright Night is a superior vampire movie and one of the very few genuinely successful Horror-Comedy hybrids out there. It takes a fairly simple and well-worn story, laces it with enough postmodernism to make even Kevin Williamson think twice and serves it up with lashings of humour, dollops of gore and some genuine scares and excitement.
If you haven’t seen Fright Night, then do so- you won’t regret it: 3.5 Changs.
Until next time,