By Ben Bussey
As I’ve remarked many times when looking at reissues of old horror favourites, many of them feel like they need little or no introduction, and to my mind that’s certainly the case with Fright Night. Tom Holland’s 1985 directorial debut was among the first dozen or so horror movies I saw in my youth, and it’s one that’s always stayed dear to my heart. As the volume of online outrage that greeted the 2011 remake demonstrated, I’m hardly alone in that sentiment. Now, almost 32 years on from its original release, the tale of high school nerd Charlie Brewster, washed-up actor-turned-local cable horror host Peter Vincent and their conflict with the vampire next door Jerry Dandridge remains a near-perfect hour and forty five minutes of vintage creature feature theatrics brought to life in an unmistakably 80s fashion.
William Ragsdale (who went on to the dizzy heights of TV sitcom Herman’s Head) is Charlie, whose blossoming romance with sweetheart Amy (Amanda Bearse) hits a roadblock – or, y’know, cock-block – when the young man spies his new neighbours carrying what appears to be a coffin into their basement. More strange things occur in the days ahead, as glamourous women show up at the house next door only to show up dead on the evening news; and most alarming of all, Charlie sees his neighbour – a rather dashing fellow named Jerry (Chris Sarandon) – in an intimate moment with another attractive woman, when he rears his head back to reveal fangs. Convinced that his neighbour is a vampire but unable to persuade anyone that he isn’t a raving lunatic for thinking this, Charlie approaches Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) for assistance. Understandably taken aback, the hard-up former movie star agrees to help only when Amy and Charlie’s pal ‘Evil’ Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) pay him off, and shows up expecting to put on a show for what he assumes to be a mentally ill teenager; but soon enough, all involved discover that Charlie isn’t as crazy as they thought, and Jerry Dandridge is a very real threat to all of them.
From a historical viewpoint, Fright Night does seem something of a watershed moment for horror. By the early 80s, vampires and other such classic monsters had largely fallen by the wayside, with the genre instead coming to be dominated by ‘demented madmen running around in ski masks hacking up young virgins,’ as Peter Vincent memorably puts it. Tom Holland’s film brought back a classic Gothic horror sensibility, but also brought it up bang up to date with a heavy emphasis on practical make-up/creature FX. It’s a little surprising that the BBFC haven’t downgraded the film to a 15 certificate as they have with so many other older genre movies, because when you really look at it, Fright Night isn’t actually that gruesome. Like Evil Dead 2 (one such film that has been downgraded), there isn’t so much gore as there is goo; spectacular death scenes result in fountains of multi-coloured puss and slime, with red blood largely absent.
Of course, if Fright Night was nothing more than a young horror nerd teaming up with his movie star hero to battle a blood-sucker, we’d be forgiven for thinking it was just for kids. Key to the film’s broader appeal is the manner in which it plays on the sexual aspects of the vampire, by way of the bizarre love triangle between Charlie, Amy and Jerry, with the vampire believing his young neighbour’s girlfriend to be the reincarnation of his long-lost love. In the extras, Tom Holland says it was only when he introduced the character of Amy that the screenplay really started to work, and it’s easy to see why; though she’s clearly a supporting character, her journey is in many ways every bit as vital as Charlie’s. Indeed, she arguably develops more over the course of the film than he does, from the sexually insecure young woman of the opening scenes to the literal vamp of the conclusion. Of course, her nightclub dance scene with Chris Sarandon is the most teeth-grittingly 80s sequence in the movie, not helped by Sarandon’s proto-Basic Instinct sweater, but along with the following seduction scene it remains effective, not least for the fact that the whole subplot is conveyed with very little dialogue. One amusing anecdote from the extras comes from composer Brad Fiedel, who says he was contacted by a couple in search of a longer cut of the love scene track Come to Me, as they really ‘liked’ the track but found it a little too short for their purposes…
That key extra, by the way, is the feature length, fan-made documentary You’re So Cool, Brewster! which chronicles the making of the film and its legacy, with contributions from the bulk of the key figures from the movie, excepting of course for the late Roddy McDowall. It’s this extra above all else which makes this new edition of Fright Night a must-buy for serious fans, as it really goes into detail on all aspects of the movie. One suspects there may be a wealth of deleted material there too, as we get only short snippets on the 1988 sequel (although there are newly shot interviews with its cast and director Tommy Lee Wallace), and only the briefest references to the remake, nor any mention of that film’s 2013 sequel. Of course, would there really be as much interest in seeing the other three Fright Night movies get the same scrutiny? As with a great many horror franchises, the original holds up in a way the sequels never will.
The level of 80s retro in popular culture may seem to have got a tad bit out of hand in recent years, but Fright Night stands as a classic example of how the best films of that era continue to entertain; both reflective of its own time period, and burning with nostalgia for times gone by, but above all else keeping the focus on loveable protagonists who we can relate to and root for. Why, it’s pretty much Back To The Future with fangs, isn’t it?
Fright Night is available now in a limited edition steelbook Blu-ray from Eurkea Entertainment, who are also set to release a more widely available dual format DVD/Blu-ray from 10th April 2017.