31 Days to Scare ~ Fright Night (1985)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A teenager discovers that the newcomer in his neighborhood is a vampire, so he turns to an actor in a television horror show for help dealing with the undead.
Stars: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Roddy McDowall, Amanda Bearse, Jonathan Stark, Dorothy Fielding, Stephen Geoffreys, Art Evans
Director: Tom Holland
Rated: R
Running Length: 106 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review:  Growing up, I think it’s safe to say that any kid with a taste for horror films visiting a video store who passed by the VHS for Fright Night stopped dead in their tracks.  That fantastic poster art alone sold a significant number of tickets when the movie was released in August of 1985, and I’m sure it did the same for the home video release later down the road.  I recall being fascinated by that fanged image hovering above a tiny home and counting the days until I was old enough to check out what terrors Fright Night held in store.

Before the release of Fright Night, its writer/director Tom Holland had established himself as a reputable screenwriter in Hollywood.  Crafting well-received genre titles such as The Beast Within and Class of 1984, both released in 1982, he followed that up the next year with the successful continuation of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic Psycho.  I’m a big fan of what Holland did with Psycho II, and it’s a sequel that plays like a Jaws 2, meaning that it couldn’t possibly hope to rise to the same bar as its predecessor but, taken on its own merits, is quite entertaining.  The year before Fright Night, Holland was credited with the cult favorite Cloak & Dagger and the sleazy Scream for Help, but his mix of horror and comedy in this 1985 fanged feature firmly put him on the map.

High schooler Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale, Mannequin: On the Move) is your average all-American kid in small-town U.S.A.   He has a virginal girlfriend, Amy (Amanda Bearse, Bros), and a wacky best friend (Stephen Geoffreys, 976-EVIL) dubbed “Evil Ed” by those that know him best.  Living with his single mother, he often falls asleep watching his favorite program, Fright Night, a late-night horror show hosted by washed-up actor Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall, Dead of Winter), the star of many of the B-movie titles shown in the program.   The relative peace of Charley’s life and quiet in the neighborhood is upended when Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon, The Sentinel), his new next-door neighbor, moves in.

Staying up late one night, Charley watches Jerry and his live-in friend Billy (Jonathan Stark, Career Opportunities) move some alarming items in, including what appears to be a coffin.  When several local girls start to turn up missing, one that Charley swears he saw going into Jerry’s house days before, he begins to suspect that there is more to his new neighbor than a tendency for only coming out in the evening. Screams in the night coming from next door and glowing eyes staring back at him from dark windows convince him Jerry might be…a vampire.  Enlisting the help of his favorite vampire hunter/television host (who’s just been canned and needs cash), Charley and his friends start to poke around Jerry’s house, arousing his attention in the worst way possible.  Now, with a vampire on his trail and no one believing him, Charley will face a real fright night as he faces an evil that threatens everyone he loves.   

Holland has a good ear for dialogue, and while more than a little of Fright Night stayed planted firmly in 1985, the comedy has stayed fang-sharp, and the horror still has bite.  It’s a treat to revisit every few years and pairs nicely with 1988’s Fright Night Part II which is hard to find but worth the hunt.  I liked the 2011 remake starring Colin Farrell because it had generous nods to this original endeavor, but nothing is going to top what felt (and still more or less feels) fresh about Fright Night.  It’s well made and targeted at a critical audience that ate it up at the time and then passed it down through two generations.