Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Fright Night – review

Directed by: Tom Holland

Release date: 1985

Contains spoilers

Well, it’s about time that I got to this one. A classic vampire movie from the eighties I defy any fan of vampire films generally not to adore this film for the plentiful homage that refer to predecessor vampire movies, and indeed general horror movies, of yore. And they are there, the film brims with them so apologies if I miss your favourite reference.

Am I being overly generous already, well let us just see…

In a bedroom somewhere in America we hear the sound of a vampire being staked, from the TV, as
‘teenagers’ Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) and Amy Peterson (Amanda Bearse) make out. The host of the TV show, Fright Night, is introduced. Now let us stop here for a second as one of the most obvious references is in the name, Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), being a composite of Vincent Price and Peter Cushing – indeed the look of the character owes much to Cushing.

Anyway, Amy tries to distract Charley, and his wandering hands, with the TV as he is a big Peter Vincent fan but teenage frustration kicks in and he wonders, after a year together, why they are not more intimate. Amy is scared but decides then and there to go all the way. Charley is distracted however; he has noticed two men carrying what looks distinctly like a coffin into the house next door. Ignoring Amy, he manages to upset her. Downstairs the news, watched by his mother (Dorothy Fielding), mentions a murder.

The next day Amy is giving him the cold shoulder and he notices a prostitute (Heidi Sorenson) entering the newly occupied house. During the night he hears a scream. The day after that, when Amy is trying to make peace, he notices the woman’s face on TV. She has been murdered and his friend Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) says that the police band mentioned both murder victims being decapitated. Charley has managed, again, to honk Amy off.

Charley goes to the house after school and is looking towards the cellar when a man appears,
Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark), and intimidates him away. Instead Charley keeps a vigil, watching the house from his bedroom, but falls asleep. When he awakens he sees a woman disrobing in the opposite window. Of course, being a teenage boy, he finds this most enthralling. The owner of the house, Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon), stands behind her and then reveals fangs. He looks over towards Charley and pulls the blinds with long talon tipped fingers.

Charley wakes his mum but can’t get any sense and so goes outside, where Billy is placing something that looks like a body in the car. Something swoops overhead and then Dandrige steps out of the shadows. Charley is spotted when his mother shouts him. He tells her that the new neighbour is a vampire, but is not believed and the next day tells Amy, to the same effect. He goes to the police who investigate until he mentions vampires, though whilst in the house he notices a portrait that looks like Amy. The use of a portrait was nice as a referential to plots of other movies/shows, most notably Dark Shadows/Dracula (1973), but they didn’t play on this too much. Indeed Dandrige himself calls it a similarity without getting bogged in the melodrama of reincarnation.

When he realises that the sun is due to set, Charley goes to Evil for tips on how to defend himself from vampires. Here we get the first lore, though most of the lore is standard to general vampire movies. A cross can ward, if you have faith, holy water and garlic work. A vampire cannot enter your house without an invite.

When he gets home Dandrige is in the house, invited by his mother. Later there is a night invasion, where Charley is given a choice – to forget Dandrige and the vampire will forget him. This is not taken and so Dandrige goes to kill him but a judicial pencil through his hand causes him to let the boy go and enter monster form. Mrs Brewster awakens and Dandrige scarpers. On the TV Peter Vincent mentions that he believes in vampires.

Charley goes to see Vincent, not separating movie fantasy from reality, and Vincent – who has just been fired – treats him like a nut. By the time Evil and Amy get to Charley his room has become a vampire killer’s lair and he intends to get Dandrige. They tell him to wait whilst they see Vincent and, after Amy pays the man, he agrees to do a vampire test on Dandrige.

This is pre-arranged and he will give Dandrige tap water, say it is holy water and convince Charley that his neighbour is not a vampire. Things go slightly wrong when Dandrige recognises Amy and Vincent notices that Dandrige has no reflection – something Dandrige realises has happened. With Evil turned, Amy in mortal danger and Vincent revealing himself to be a coward, can the day be saved?

Other vampire lore we get is turning into a bat, turning into a wolf, eye mojo and mist form. Dandrige is stronger than a human and, whilst Vincent can use a cross against Evil, faith is needed for a cross to effect the master vampire. The vampire casts no reflection and a stake through the heart or sunlight will kill a vampire. If a head vampire is killed by sunrise (or just a little after) then those he has turned the night before can be saved.

I mentioned references and we get scenes on the TV from Scars of Dracula and zombie flick ‘Children shouldn’t play with dead things’, as well a portrait of Lugosi and memorabilia that look like they came from Nosferatu (1979). This is to name but a few, and many of the references are in the actions of the characters rather than props that we see.

The acting is spot on. Sarandon oozes arrogance in a role that he glides through with consummate professionalism. Geoffreys is both hilarious and tragic as Ed. Ragsdale plays his role well and McDowall is a pleasure to watch. In atypical Hammer style Bearse takes her character from coy girl to wanton, blood hungry hussy.

The effects are great, for the time this was made, with a nice mix of animatronix, makeup and matted effects. I often mention crap bat syndrome and this escapes it by having the bat so outlandish that it works. The climax looks a little dated now but is still spectacular. The soundtrack is very eighties but the tracks work well, and are referential lyrically to the subject matter. You’ve got to love Dandrige whistling ‘Strangers in the Night’ as he creeps around the Brewster house.

There really isn’t a bad thing I can say about this movie, it mixes horror, with some low level gore, great acting, lighting and direction. It throws a genuinely amusing comedy level in and stirs the whole thing with a big dollop of nostalgia and a genuine love for the films it is referential to.

8.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK


Anonymous said...

Fright Night is a class film. I've seen it loads of times and still love it. I can't remember if the sequel was any good though. I only saw it once and it was a long time ago. All I can remember about it is a female vampire, at the beginning, sitting on top of someone's car.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Steve, thanks for the comment. It is good isn't it.

I promise I'll get to reviewing Fright Night 2 real soon, but, for a variety of reasons, it'll probably be in a few weeks.

mice said...

I love Fright Night. Its everything I like in a Horror film. Camp, Humor, Sexy-ousity. having Roddy in the film does not hurt either.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Mice, got to agree Roddy is a star! btw I don't know if sexy-ousity is a word but it should be lol!

Anonymous said...

I love this film so much. When it came out I was eleven, but I saw it as soon as it was released on video. This film has been my reason for only dating tall dark haired men, and for being obsessed with vampires. If I could I would live in this film.


Taliesin_ttlg said...

Thanks for the comment Melusine.

Anonymous said...

This was the first vampire film I ever saw, at the age of 8. I was also the first one I ever owned. I love this film for many reasons. However, one thing has always bugged me: What the heck is Billy Cole? He is obviously not a vampire, but we are never told what exactly he is either. I guess he gets written off a some random ghoul.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Suzanne, it never does explain. I guess he was just some sort of human servant - a bit like Straker in Salem's Lot or the hollywood propensity to have servants called Renfield.

That said, of course, the servant in #2 was a bug eater, Billy wasn't that we know of.

DarkwingDave said...

First - THANK YOU for using the original poster. Re-releases now have the shot of Evil with the cross burn and it just doesn't have the same effect as the classic original. Sarandon had some of the coolest parts such as when he's entering Charlie's room whistling "Strangers in the Night" or when he refuses to allow the use of real holy water due to being 'born again'.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

To be fair Dave the cover is actually the DVD I have. Sarandon does make a rather cool vampire.

The T said...

I really don't like teens mixed with my vampires... Never found the magic on this one.

Your review is great though. Makes you kind of understand why people love this film so much.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

The T, fair enough - no film is going to be for everyone. Glad you enjoyed the review, however.

Kara said...

This film has one of the sexiest seduction scenes I have ever seen, even after 25 years. I recently just watched it again, thinking that maybe I just romanticized it, since I was 15 when I first saw it. But NOOOOO... that scene is still sooooo well done, filled with raw, sexual energy. The music compliments it well, and just the emotion he can give with his eyes is incredible! Chris Sarandon was and still is one of the sexiest men ever!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Kara, thanks for stopping by.

Glad you got a chance to revisit your youth and glad that the scene still meant something (or by the sounds of things, a lot) to you.