“You’re so cool, Brewster…”
My Halloween countdown would not be complete without the inclusion of a film that played a massive role in my youth. I will happily credit this film, alongside Hellraiser, as one of the films that got me hooked on horror. Two very different films, mind you.
Fright Night is just…great. I think I first saw it around 1989 and remember being struck by how funny it was. It was funny and gory and exciting and everything a nine year old wants from a film that he shouldn’t even be watching. (Come on, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not the worst film I could’ve watched, right?) I have seen Fright Night easily 100 times since then.
I watched it again recently with my friend Steff who had never seen it, (she had only seen the remake) and still, today, I sat with the same goofy grin that I’m pretty sure I had when I saw it for the first time.
Like Gremlins, Fright Night is very much a film of it’s time and it still works well now, 26 years after it’s release. Why? It has a great cast, above average effects, a likeable hero AND a likeable villain and an excellent story.
The debut feature from director Tom Holland (Child’s Play) Fright Night is the story of teenager Charley Brewster, who has reason to believe that his new neighbour, the suave, sophisticated Jerry Dandridge, is a vampire. Obviously, no-one believes him. Who would? But undeterred, Charley sets about trying to convince his girfriend Amy, his oddball buddy Evil Ed and Peter Vincent, host of late night horror TV show Fright Night, to help him destroy Dandridge. Slowly, they see that the new guy on the block isn’t all he appears and when Evil Ed and Amy find themselves at the mercy of the cool vamp, it falls to Charley and Peter to battle the blood-sucking bad guy to save their friends and themselves.
Fright Night has aged pretty well. It still seems fresh and gives me the same feeling I get when I watch films like The Goonies or Ghostbusters. Holland’s script is tight and the final film is well realised.
The cast really works to sell the film and it;s all the better for it. Like Gremlins‘ Zach Galligan, William Ragsdale (Fright Night 2, The Reaping) is the quintessential “teenage” hero, wildly running around, seeking someone to believe him while living in the corners of his eyes for an imminent vampire attack. Married With Children‘s Amanda Bearse is excellent as Amy, although as a 27 year old playing someone ten years younger, she never really sells the part. Stephen Geoffreys’ Evil Ed is a masterpiece of high pitched, mocking, hyper horror movie geekery. The late, great, Roddy McDowell (Planet of the Apes, The Poseidon Adventure) is perfectly cast as vampire hunter Peter Vincent and brings some much needed class to the proceedings.
And then there is Chris Sarandon. Sarandon (Child’s Play and the voice of The Nightmare Before Christmas‘ iconic Jack Skellington) is just wonderful throughout. Cool but threatening, Sarandon brings a likeability and depth to the character of Jerry Dandridge, elevating him to where he now sits as one of my favourite horror baddies.
The effects are largely practical, given that it was the eighties and things were done better then. The make-up is impressive and even now, look good. OK, some of it looks hokey but this only adds to the charm.
Fright Night spawned a sequel that reunited Ragsdale and McDowell in their roles from this film. Sadly, it’s nowhere near as good. 2011 saw the release of Craig Gillespie’s “remake”, a film that doesn’t contain one percent of the charm of Holland’s film. It’s a CGI laden, soulless film that, like so many remakes, wasn’t actually necessary.
Like I said at the start… Fright Night is just…great. It ranks among the best genre films released in the 80′s. It’s a funny, yet darkly effective film and one that I will always have great affection for.