UK Release Date: 20th April 2017
Runtime: 106 minutes
Director: Tom Holland
Writer: Tom Holland
Starring: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, Stephen Geoffreys, Jonathan Stark, Dorothy Fielding
Synopsis: A high schooler is in grave danger when a vampire moves in next door and begins to take out anyone who might have witnessed his murders.
Vampires were the flavour of the month for decades of cinema, but fell out of favour when the supernatural gave way to the slasher in the 1980s. Director Tom Holland was having none of this and so he made Fright Night, which served as a rebuke to those who thought the vampire movie had run its course. The desperately original and endlessly brutal film, with tongue placed firmly in cheek throughout, became a cult classic in pretty short order. It’s out now on steelbook and is arriving soon on dual-format Blu-ray in the UK and it’s well worth a revisit.
Horror fan Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) becomes paranoid after he sees a coffin being pulled into the house of his new neighbour Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon). He is certain that Jerry is a vampire and promptly tries to convince his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) and friend Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) that he isn’t crazy. When he is threatened with death by Jerry, Charley seeks out TV vampire killer Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) and tries to enlist him to join the fight against Jerry to put an end to his killing.
Fright Night is a near-perfect tonal concoction. In many ways, it’s a campy 80s horror driven by deliberately icky practical effects and wry humour, but it also has a dark, violent edge and some serious scares. Tom Holland’s witty script takes swipes at the slasher craze and homages both the Universal Monsters and the work of Hammer in Britain – its TV presenter’s name combines Peter Cushing with Vincent Price. First and foremost, though, it’s a fast-paced horror powered by well-written characters and a real sense of brutality. It manages to be endlessly camp, but capable of serious chills.
Holding everything together is Chris Sarandon. Only a few years before, he was nominated for an Oscar for Dog Day Afternoon, but yet he slips with absolute comfort into the archetype of a traditionally handsome, seductive vampire. Sarandon’s performance is a masterwork of deadpan comedy and simmering arrogance. During scenes in the film’s final act where he works his supernatural magic on Amanda Bearse’s girl-next-door, it’s entirely believable that Sarandon’s character could have that sexual aura. The hyper-sexual Sarandon is the perfect opposite for William Ragsdale’s protagonist, who is a blundering high-schooler seemingly unable to get his girlfriend into bed.
The comic heart of the film, though, comes from two offbeat performances. First, Stephen Geoffreys is entirely bizarre as Evil Ed, wearing a perpetual goofy grin across his face and punctuating his dialogue with nervous, manic giggles – a precursor to Randy in Scream. When his character is seduced over to the dark side late in the film, it’s plausible that this shunned outsider would embrace a charismatic father figure in order to get back at those who had ostracised him. Secondly, Roddy McDowall is nothing short of iconic as Peter Vincent – the high camp midnight movie star. His scenery chewing and over-cranked line delivery make Vincent a character who is both pathetic and inspirational in equal measure.
Fright Night works best when it focuses on the interplay between its characters, but also constructs some terrifying and grotesque set pieces. The practical make-up work is outstanding and reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead in its commitment to being as grim as possible. As much as the film is funny, it never scrimps on the horror in order to create Gothic terror whilst remaining unmistakably contemporary. Fright Night is quintessential 80s horror – terrifying, self-referential and camp in all the right places.
There’s a pretty huge pack of extras here, including loads of new interviews with the cast and filmmakers as well as an interesting feature-length documentary about the making of the film and its legacy.
Pop or Poop?
Every bit as fun now as it was in the 1980s, Fright Night marries cult camp with high horror to produce a truly special scary movie. The young performers are tremendous and the whole thing is held together by Chris Sarandon’s showcase of sinister, insidious charm.
For midnight movie fans and bloodthirsty gorehounds alike, this is about as fun as it gets. It really is an enduring cult classic for a reason.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Fright Night is available in a brand new steelbook edition now and it will be on dual format Blu-ray from April, courtesy of Eureka Entertainment.