Fright Night (1985)

William Ragsdale

Roddy McDowall

starstarstarstar

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ISgM9sjza8 

I’m just going to come out and say it, Fright Night is my favorite horror film ever and the top film on my must-see Halloween Watch List. Halloween cannot come without me watching this movie or the jack o’ lanterns won’t shine as bright nor will the candy taste as good. To think I’ve only just discovered it within the last five years is truly amazing. Where was this movie all my life? It’s not particularly scary nor all that suspenseful. What it is, however, is serious about horror while being simultaneously campy about horror movies. We begin with wolves howling at a beautiful full moon and the dialogue from a corny vampire flick on an unseen TV set. Two teenagers are making out in a bedroom. Charley Brewster(William Ragsdale, ie the titular character in the later TV series Herman’s Head) and Amy Peterson (Amanda Bearse aka Marcy of the later Married with Children). The corny movie on TV stars the actor Peter Vincent (played by Roddy McDowall the character’s name probably a combination of Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, two of the horror gods of the 50’s-70’s) who is also hosting the TV program which is showing his old movies. This reminded me of Joe Bob Briggs and his Drive-In Theater show on TMC back in the day where he would offer his commentary on the film before and after the commercials. The make-out session ceases when Charley tries to take things to the next level. A typical, easily distracted boy, his attention is soon seized by the sight of the neighbors moving in next door. They are handling something that looks like a coffin into the basement. The kind with storm doors.

Things begin happening, such as beautiful women showing up at the new resident’s house only to be found murdered sans tete the next day. Charley’s suspicions get the best of him and in typical obsessed teenage boy fashion, he throws caution to the wind and attempts to get a closer look near the basement. He is stopped by Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark), roommate to the owner Mr. Jerry Dandrige (the great Chris Sarandon at the very peak of physical perfection, tall dark, handsome and with a seductive baritone. He is one of the best casting choices in cinematic history) who asks in a dangerous tenor, “Whatcha doin’ kid?”

The ensuing scenes bring new meaning to the phrase “home invasion.” Jerry is seen by Charley getting down to business via his window. The new neighbor shows his fangs and the identity of his newest female victim. Both are naked from the waist up in an exploitative scene which rushes any thoughts of this being a kid’s Halloween Special out immediately. It’s one thing to experience the horrors of a vampire in the forest or in a gloomy castle but to have one waiting in your very room is nothing short of terrifying. Charley’s adventures across the next couple days are riveting. He spends these hours with equally geeky pal Evil Ed Thompson (Stephen Geoffreys) whose raucous laughter and mocking cries of “You’re so cool Brewster” made him quite a popular character for a while, and on again off again girlfriend Amy. He even approaches actor Peter Vincent for help to no avail. We’ll see plenty of him before the end, though.

The film’s plot is heavily influenced by the 1979 production of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot in the slow introduction of the vampire and then the main characters venturing into the haunted lair of the undead fiend. The last 35 minutes of this movie are pure gold from the very moment our heroes step near the house with the intention of going in. Every gory, bloody confrontation has weight, significance, and purpose. Each horrible death has an almost Cronenbergian effect of anti-violence about them via excess. Despite the campy nature of the presentation, each life in this film has value, well save, perhaps for the early victims whose deaths are shown in asides on TV News. The finale is the most satisfying confrontation in almost in any film I’ve ever seen just this side of overkill. It should be held to the skies as to say “THIS. This is how you end a vampire movie, fool!” Just absolutely excellent filmmaking.

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