Fright Night (1985)

Two fabulous performances, great cinematography, and some wonderfully grotesque make up work make this 1980’s classic absolutely worth watching.

Fright Night is a horror comedy that follows a teenage boy named Charlie, played by William Ragsdale, as he comes to believe that his new neighbor Jerry Dandridge, played by an incredible Chris Sarandon, is a vampire.

The film opens with a classic horror movie spoof playing on Charlie’s TV. It stars Peter Vincent, played by Roddy McDowell. He’s an over the top horror movie star and host of a weekly horror showcase called Fright Night. He’s the heart of the movie. He’s this hammy actor in the vein of Vincent Price or Peter Cushing. He is a vampire killer of the first order, but in reality he’s just a vain actor whose glory days are behind him. Charlie is a fan of Vincent’s show and seeks his help in dealing with his vampire neighbor. Roddy McDowell’s performance as Vincent is so good! He is delightful as a cowardly lion of sorts. He’s very proud and full of himself, but he has nothing to back up his bluster. He only reluctantly agrees to help Charlie after being pulled into the situation by Jerry.

Speaking of Jerry, Chris Sarandon is in the list of top five sexiest vampires of all time. He is so good looking here, and full of charm and swagger. He adds layers and depth to what could have been a one note monster. Sarandon is able to telegraph so much in a simple look and a half smile. Part of the movie involves him stealing Charlie’s long neglected girlfriend Amy, played by Amanda Bearse. He seduces her in a wonderfully shot dance sequence in which Amy transforms before our eyes from an innocent child to a femme fatale. Sarandon shines in little moments when he shows off the pleasure he gets from intimidating and tormenting Charlie. He clearly loves playing with his prey. Too often, horror movie monsters do illogical things regarding the hero. They have them in their clutches only to let them go. Here, if Jerry lets Charlie go, it’s because he clearly loves playing with him and watching the fear in Charlie’s eyes. It’s a great performance.

The cinematography here is also really lovely. it’s a very well shot movie that takes off on a few flights of fancy. Whenever Jerry’s house is shown, it looks like the most over the top haunted monster house of all time complete with green lights emanating from under the porch, heavy fog, and a ghostly hallow of moonlight. It’s just a fun movie to look at.

The film also boasts some stellar makeup and effects work. When Jerry reveals his vampire form, it is grotesque and monstrous and wonderfully impressive. It retains so much of Sarandon’s own features while distorting them with a truly evil look. There are two spectacular special effects sequences involving character deaths. The make up work is incredible. These creatures as they meet their ends is just above and beyond the call of duty. It is imaginative and wild and truly horrifying. Does it go on too long? Yes, but that’s okay because the effects work is so good! It deserves the extra screen time.

That said, the movie can be very awkward at times. The framing of Charlie’s “friend” Evil Ed is very strange. Are they friends? Charlie seems to alternate between hating Ed and telling him to buzz off, and him rushing to Ed like they’re best friends. It’s weirdly inconsistent. Not to mention the performance by Stephen Geoffrey’s is truly bizarre. It’s such a weird and mannered performance that doesn’t fit in with anyone else in the movie. He’s just awkward on screen.

The film also has an unconventional plot structure. Which in many ways is delightful. It is not at all predictable. However it also has a weird momentum issue where it feels like it’s building to a climax and then restarts about halfway through. That said, the wonderful performances by Roddy McDowell and Chris Sarandon are so electric and entertaining that it more than makes up for the awkwardness.

The movie has wonderful tone of both playing with the horror genre as well as embracing the genre. it doesn’t call out specific cliches and spoof them or comment on them the way modern movies do. It just plays with conventions and turns them sideways a little bit.

It’s a really fun movie. It’s not particularly scary, but it is a ton of fun. Definitely my cup of tea, and a solid start to this years movie marathon. Check it out now streaming on Amazon. – B+

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