Fright Night (1985)
Fright Night (1985)

Genre: Horror Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 46 min.

Release Date: August 2nd, 1985 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Tom Holland Actors: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, Stephen Geoffreys, Jonathan Stark, Dorothy Fielding

 


 

W

ith a full moon out, it’s the perfect time for an episode of “Fright Night,” hosted by and starring television and movie personality Peter Vincent, Vampire Killer (Roddy McDowall) – a persona with plenty of knowledge on dispatching evil entities. As the show commences, teenager Charley (William Ragsdale) tries to put the moves on his sweetheart Amy (Amanda Bearse). But he has little success, firstly when Amy gets cold feet and secondly when Charley grows preoccupied with his new neighbor’s peculiar nocturnal activities – such as shuffling a coffin across the backyard.

Charley’s failing trigonometry grades don’t seem all that important when he hears about two murders in two days, the second of which is the discovery of a badly mutilated corpse of a known prostitute – a leggy blonde whom Charley watched enter his neighbor’s home the previous afternoon. That evening, Charley happens to see the new owner, Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon), about to sink vampiric fangs into the neck of a fresh young victim. Convinced that Jerry is a shapeshifting, bloodsucking killer, Charley calls the police. But the result is entirely expected: his accusations are laughed at and ignored. And Jerry delights in toying with the youth, since the claims are rightly outrageous.

“Haven’t you listened to anything I’ve said!” As is typical with teen-oriented scenarios, the adults all provide disbelief, while peers (including sidekick Stephen Geoffreys as Ed Thompson) tend to offer up advice, even if it’s hokey. Once Jerry’s identity is confirmed, the humor-laced horror notes take precedence, which is a welcome relief from the very fake high school scenes and interactions. Writer/director Tom Holland is no John Hughes. Nevertheless, the comedy is handled smartly, particularly as Charley remains deadly serious, even while everyone around him mercilessly mocks his conjectures.

Hysterically, the film presents comical solutions to common vampire restrictions, allowing Jerry to continue his cheeky haunting of the only person alerted to his ominous routines. And the recruitment of professional vampire slayer Vincent is likewise facetious, as he’s lured into the mission not through his famous agenda, but with the promise of a mere $500 savings bond. Going along with the lighthearted fantasy elements are a flying bat gimmick, McDowall’s perfectly fitting goofiness and exaggerated expressions (along the lines of Peter Cushing’s bumbling professor turns in ’60s and ’70s sci-fi, yet with a hint of self-awareness), gooey yet funny makeup and transformation effects, and a pervasive sense of childish unfairness in elders continually getting the better of the teens (right down to the overt sexuality) or in their refusal to cooperate. The finale is a touch overlong, while the dialogue could be more polished, but the faults possess a certain quirky appropriateness to the low-budget, B-movie vibe and the intention that laughs always supersede chills. In many ways, “Fright Night” feels like a modern adaptation of an Abbott and Costello adventure … if they were in the realm of “The Evil Dead.”

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10