Columbia Pictures // 1985 // 105 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // December 16th, 2011
If you like being scared, you're in for the night of your life.
What goes around comes around. The Hollywood horror remake machine is finally starting to run out of steam. Studios have pillaged nearly every horror franchise and retooled almost every classic horror movie from the '70s and '80s imaginable. Halloween. Friday the 13th. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. A Nightmare on Elm Street. Coming in at the tail end of the craze was Fright Night, a redo of the semi-classic vampire flick starring Roddy McDowell, William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon, and Amanda Bearse, now available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale, TV's Herman's Head) is your typical '80s teenager. He likes girls. He's into movies. And he fears for his life because a vampire has just moved in next door. Charley's girlfriend (Amanda Bearse, Married with Children) thinks he's acting crazy. Yet Charley knows otherwise and is keeping a keen and watchful eye on the handsome Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon, The Nightmare Before Christmas), a neighbor with a few secrets buried in his basement (along with, you know...a big coffin). When no one believes him, Charley is forced to seek help from a local washed-up late night movie host, "Vampire Hunter" Peter Vincent (a hammy Roddy McDowell, Planet of the Apes). With Peter's help, Charley hopes to rid his neighborhood of Jerry, before he and his friends all end up as Jerry's next meal!
The original Fright Night is a real treat for horror fans. While the movie found some initial success at the box office (and spawned a far lesser sequel titled Fright Night Part II, natch), it wasn't until video that the movie truly took off. A breath of fresh air among the standard teenager slasher fare, Fright Night plays with the conventions of horror, offering up fun characters, excellent special effects (for the time), and even a smattering of comic flare.
What makes Fright Night work is simple: interesting characters and a unique twist on the vampire genre. Writer/Director Tom Holland (earning his horror credentials with this movie, as well as Child's Play and the Stephen King adaptation Thinner) seems to have a keen understanding of how to put together a movie that's both scary and funny, a feat hardly even fully realized in most horror/comedies. Holland allows the horror to be truly horrifying -- as when Charley's best friend Evil Ed finds himself in Jerry's clutches -- but also knows the idea of vampires and werewolves is silly fare that deserves a bit of a wink and a nod. One of the best scenes tweaks the idea that vampires can't come in unless they're invited (to Charley's dismay). The director even manages to inject relevant themes, most notably homoerotic undertones that make Evil Ed's character even more sympathetic when he meets his final end.
A movie is only as successful as its actors, and to that end Fright Night is a resounding hit. The film is filled with all manner of memorable performances, not the least of which is Roddy McDowell as the has-been actor turned TV personality Peter Vincent. Wearing laborious looking coats and a clipped style of speech, Vincent harkens back to a simpler time in horror when a stake and fangs were all that was needed to scare audiences. Vincent's eventual character arc from meek actor to actual vampire killer is a sight to behold. Chris Sarandon as the titular vampire is smooth, assured, and nothing audiences had seen before. Although Sarandon hasn't gone on to superstar status (his voice as Jack Skelington seems to be his career highlight), he gives Jerry a dose of sexual proclivity and proves a formidable foe for Charley and Peter.
Character actors like Amanda Bearse and Stephen Geoffreys prove invaluable to the film. In fact, Geoffreys is so strange and weird I can't imagine Fright Night without him. It's a shame most of his later work has been in hardcore gay porn. William Ragsdale is adequate as Charley, but doesn't do a whole lot to shine, though this may not be entirely Ragsdale's fault. When the rest of the movie around you sports a veritable cornucopia of strange folks, everything else becomes less than memorable.
The effects team on Fright Night outdid themselves with wonderfully over-the-top grotesqueries including a fully formed werewolf, a melting vampire, and a lot of ooey gooey blood. One aspect long appreciated by fans is that the movie never lingers on the horror elements or presents them as realistic (unlike the Hostel series), which is truly part of the fun.
It's hard to find fault in a movie so unabashedly amusing. If you want to nitpick, sure...the effects work often shows its seams and there are moments when the film grinds to a halt, most notably during a dance sequence at a local '80s nightclub. Yet for all its faults -- and comparatively speaking, this is really one of the better horror movies of the 1980s -- Fright Night is highly recommended for those with a taste for blood and giggle fits.
Farmed out from Sony to the Screen Archives label Twilight Time, Fright Night is presented in 2.40:1/1080p high definition widescreen. The original DVD release was decent but no great shakes; this new transfer is leaps and bounds beyond standard definition, even if still imperfect. The biggest issue is that the image often comes off as soft, the picture retaining a very filmic look. There is a fair amount of grain, but defects are almost nonexistent, color saturation is very good, and black levels are deep and dark.
The soundtrack is presented in two options: DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 Master Audio, both in English. There isn't an enormous difference between the two, both being extremely front heavy, though the 5.1 mix offers a few extra discreet surround elements. During some of the more climactic moments, the surrounds kick in, with composer Brad Fiedel's eerie score sensing impending doom for Charley and company.
The only bonus features are two theatrical trailers and Fiedel's isolated music score.
Fans unimpressed with the 2011 remake of Fright Night will be ecstatic to see the original version hitting the high def format, even if Twilight Time dropped the ball by releasing a nearly bare bones version. Hopefully, another studio (or Sony themselves) will take time to put together a truly "special edition" for this much loved film.
Fright Night offers up a fun throwback to classic monster movies with
an '80s twist. Twilight Time's DVD is a welcome addition to any bloodsucker's
Review content copyright © 2011 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Columbia Pictures
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Isolated Music Score
* Theatrical Trailers