Review: Fright Night (1985)

“Nobody wants to see vampire killers any more, or vampires either. Apparently all they want to see are demented madmen running around in ski-masks, hacking up young virgins” says veteran actor Roddy McDowall in the horror comic caper, Fright Night in the scenery-chewing role of Peter Vincent, the hard-on-his-luck TV horror host. And in 1985, he was almost certainly right. The glory days of Hammer Horror had long gone and slasher flicks were filling cinemas and terrifying teens. Fright Night however is a fantastical return to the vampire legends which have passed into the mytharc of horror films for almost as long as film has existed.

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Of course, this being the Eighties, a healthy dose of angst, love and lust was added generously to the mix, presumably striking a synthesized chord with every high-schooler of the time. The brief flash of annoyingly pert movie breasts as the vampiric lothario sets his fangs on his prey would have titillated many teens- in the movie theatre and on devilish late-night telly. Ultimately, Fright Night closes in on what made Hammer Horror so popular in the first place: blood and the potential of a bit o’ skin. Undead or otherwise…

Fright Night begins uniquely enough. Teen Charley (William Ragsdale) begins to suspect his new neighbour is a vampire and sets about trying to drive him out. Reluctantly aided by his ‘frienemy’ Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) and his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse), the film rattles off every vampire cliché and myth you’ve ever heard of and runs with it. The vampire in question, Jerry Dandridge, played by the gleefully evil Chris Sarandon is smarmy and seductive, and terrifyingly persuasive and charismatic in equal measure. For me, one of the best scenes is in a down-town nightclub where Amy comes dangerously under his spell and her role is transformed as merely the nagging girlfriend into a sexual, rhythmic being. You want her to escape the the villain’s grasp and yet you are also fascinated by the tempting lustful power of evil. And if that doesn’t get you,  then who doesn’t love a good gawp at some terrible Eighties disco fashions…!?

Aside from the good-looking teens, the heart of the film comes from Roddy McDowall. A fading figure of horror; a former movie ‘vampire-killer’, McDowall’s Peter Vincent is firstly motivated by money but ends the film finding faith in the creatures in the night he had for so long parodied and profited from. Brandishing his crucifix once again in the climatic scenes, he finally develops the courage to believe, transforming a meaningless symbol into an effective weapon. Though McDowall is a reliable source of humour throughout the film, a protracted scene in which he witnesses the death of a vampire alone in Charley’s house could easily have been omitted but offers emotional gravitas to a film largely relying on its duty to deliver on scares and playful violence. Speaking of which, the special effects are still impressively unnerving, building on the success of films such as An American Werewolf in London (1981) and Ghostbusters (1984) and delivering on the real-life gore which would eventually be lost with using CGI entirely.

If you’re looking for a fun, sexy vampire film more likely to tantalise than traumatise, then Fright Night is the film for you. Fright Night‘s director and writer Tom Holland went go on to storyboard the 2011 remake starring Colin Farrell, Anton Yelchin and David Tennant as Peter Vincent. As remakes go, it’s fun, but sink your teeth into the original, it might just be to your taste…

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