1985. Directed by Tom Holland.
There are few films that manage to walk the tightrope between terror and comedy without falling into one of the genres and overshadowing the other. Fright Night is a pristine example of a film that is both frightening and funny in equal portions. Anchored by an unusually soulful premise and a wonderful mix of performances, Tom Holland' masterpiece, Fright Night, remains a pillar of American horror cinema.
Charlie Brewster is a teenager with a very serious problem. One night after a sexual falling out with his girlfriend Amy, Charlie discovers that his handsome neighbor Jerry Dandridge is a vampire. Charlie tries to get help from the police, his friends and family, and even a washed up horror television show host, but Dandridge is always one step ahead of him, tricking everyone into believing he is a human. To complicate matters, the vampire believe's Charlie's girlfriend is the reincarnation of his long lost love. Amy is kidnapped by the ghoul and his minion, forcing Charlie to confront his fears and face the undead predator on its home turf.
William Ragsdale stars Charlie. He does an excellent job portraying a hormonal teen whose erotic predispositions are abruptly shattered by a real life nightmare, taking the pituitary output to a lizard brain level of self preservation. Charlie's transition from hapless victim to fierce vampire hunter is aided by some amazing makeup work from Ken Diaz, which allows the viewer to visually chart Charlie's progression throughout the movie. Chris Sarandon delivers his most iconic performance as the vampire Dandridge. He presents as a lost soul, tormented by his past who straddles the divide between menace and charm in every interaction. Amanda Bearse does a magnificent job as Amy, appearing virginal in the first two segments and then transitioning in to a sultry fatale in the final act. Stephen Geoffreys has the film's most memorable lines as Evil Ed, while the legendary Roddy McDowell steals the show as the "fearless" vampire expert Peter Vincent.
It's easy to dismiss Fright Night as simple vampire movie. On its surface it's a story about a young man and an old man battling a vampire, with the youth trying to save the one he loves and the elder trying to find meaning in his wasted life. However, these simple concepts are the blood slicked portals through which a deeper meaning can be found: This is a film about relationships. There's the skin deep level in which Charlie and Amy flirt with losing their virginity. There's the romanticized, sexy dangerous fantasy of Amy and Dandridge and the pseudo father son relationship between Charlie and Peter Vincent. Most importantly, however is how each of the character's relates to the central dilemma and how their various actions produce a menagerie of results. While Charlie's friend Evil chooses to embrace the darkness in order to feel whole, Peter Vincent chooses to fight it for the exact same reason. Dandridge gives his would be killers a plethora of opportunities to escape and only truly commits to non essential violence when pressured. Both Vincent and Dandridge spend the bulk of the narrative trying to avoid conflicts in favor of living out their existences in relative peace, despite the vampire having to kill and Vincent being a faded star desperate for the limelight. Everyone in Holland's world is a loner and it's how each uses their individuality that makes Fright Night an amazing horror experience.
Brad Fiedel's synth heavy score is a resplendent 80's triumph, while Thaine Morris's visual effects are an outstanding nod to the creatures of weird pulp horror novels. Whenever the vampires and other monstrosities shed their human disguises to reveal themselves, their revolting countenances bring an otherworldly malevolence that sets them apart from their unflinchingly serious cinematic brethren. It's the perfect amount of over the top gore that never becomes satiric in its presentation. It is this constant element that makes Fright Night a absolute classic horror gem. Jan Keisser's cinematography and Jerry Adams set design weave everything together, presenting the city as dangerous and enticing, much like the killers who stalk it's alleyways. The house at the center of the action in the finale is ominous with its outward decoration, while its Gothic interior is pure flea market Dracula.
Available now for digital rental, Fright Night a one of kind horror experience. If you're looking for a Halloween film that is incessantly smart and surprisingly funny, you can't go wrong with this ultra 80's smash. Sexy, scary, and never too serious for its own good, Fright Night is the perfect blend of creature violence and intelligent humor.
Highly, Highly Recommend.