Retro Review: ‘Fright Night’
In the realm of horror movies vampires are a constant source of material, they just need a clever filmmaker to reinvent the classic tropes and they are screen ready. Which is exactly what genre legend Tom Holland did in 1985. He made a film about a teenage boy who learns that his new neighbor is a vampire but nobody believes him until it’s too late. This movie is named, Fright Night, and has become a cult classic and easily ranks among the best vampire movies ever made.
William Ragsdale plays Charlie Brewster, an average teenager who discovers his new neighbor Jerry Dandridge is a vampire. Naturally nobody believes him as his girlfriend turns on him and his friend Evil Ed mocks him. Jerry continually ups the ante in intimidating Charlie forcing him to turn to an old B-movie actor, Peter Vincent for help. Despite the help of an “experienced” vampire hunter, things still look hopeless for Charlie. For much of the movie, Jerry enjoys playing a cat and mouse game with his nosy neighbor, until the climax when he truly unleashes his power in an endgame which will keep audiences enthralled.
The plot of Fright Night is nothing new, but Tom Holland’s execution in putting the film together is why it all works. He knows when to let the campier parts be campy and went to really crank up the scary elements. The fear factor comes largely from the fact that a merciless vampire is terrorizing a group of characters whom we have really come to care for. Unlike the Lost Boys, the other great vampire movie of the 80’s, the teens in Fright Night do not have an edgy coolness to them, they are just regular kids. It helps add legitimacy to their performances that they are sharing the screen with acting legend Roddy McDowell who legitimately turns in a solid performance in a film most actors of his stature would have done simply for a paycheck.
Despite having a very un-vampiric name, Jerry Dandridge earned his place among cinema’s top bloodsuckers. The character, beautifully portrayed by Chris Sarandon, was a vampire for the 80’s; dressed in the most stylish fashion with a charming worldly demeanor it is easy to see why nobody believed Charlie. When the time came for Jerry to show his true form, special fx artist Richard Edlund and make up artist Ken Diaz created a truly gruesome monster. Holding nothing back, the creatures of Fright Night are bound to give nightmares to more impressionable viewers. Especially when Evil Ed is turned into a bloodsucker, complete with crucifix scar and ability to turn into a wolf.
At the end of the day Fright Night is a fun and enjoyable vampire film which perfectly combines horror with a nice touch of comedy. Director Tom Holland did not set out to remake the wheel, he wanted to reintroduce the wheel to a new audience and show why it worked so well. Just because it is a fun movie it does not mean it is tamed down as the scares in this flick are truly effective as we wonder how a simple teenage boy and an out of work actor can stand up to a centuries old powerful creature of night.