“Welcome to Fright Night! For real.”
What do you get when you cross Rear Window, vampires, and the ’80s? Only one of the most fun horror films of the decade! Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) is your average teenager whose biggest problems are pop quizzes and getting to 2nd base; but when a mysterious man with strange habits moves in next door, his world becomes slightly more complicated. Mr. Dandrige (Chris Sarandon) is charming, seductive, and he has a thing for coffins. As Charley’s peeping reveals his neighbor’s true nature he has to fight to protect his friends and family as well as himself, and of course nobody believes him. He even enlists the help of local, vampire slaying celebrity Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell), who only plays along to disprove Charley’s allegations…that is until he realizes that Dandrige is in fact a vampire. Together they fumble their way through one sticky situation after another as they try to rescue Charley’s girlfriend (Amanda Bearse) from an eternity with the undead.
It’s all here, from the teen angst to the gratuitous nudity to the ’80s-tastic soundtrack featuring Devo and the J. Geils Band. But nostalgia aside, what I love most about the film is that it’s self-aware and has a great tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. I’d say it’s similar to something like Shaun of the Dead, where it holds up as a genre film and adheres to the conventions, but also successfully parodies that genre. The humor works mostly due to Chris Sarandon’s performance as a sexually ambiguous, yet deliciously villainous vampire. He torments this poor teenager for the fun of it, and the viewer has fun right along with him. After all, what good is it being a vampire if you’re not going to be stereotypically sexy and witty about it?
It helps that the vampire effects are top notch, and they manage to stay scary without becoming ridiculous. With all the antics towards the end of the film, it would be easy to dip into silly territory, but the film keeps up enough intensity to carry it through to the end. It does get cheesy from time to time, especially when Charley’s friend ‘Evil’ (Stephen Geoffreys) is spouting one overdone (but nonetheless funny) line after another. But that just adds to the ’80s charm. As does the score from the under appreciated composer Brad Fiedel (Terminator 2). Part orchestral, part synthesized, it’s very much a product of its time, but it still adds alot to the atmosphere — and keeps it fun.
Fright Night was director Tom Holland‘s first (and by far his best) film after penning such classics as Class of 1984 and Psycho II and he seems right at home behind the camera. It’s a film that holds its own in the vampire genre and it’s probably one of my favorites next to The Lost Boys and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. You might expect just another dumb teenage flick, but as it turns out Fright Night is a clever, enjoyable horror film and I think it deserves to be in any horror fan’s Halloween line-up.