Review: Fright Night (1985)

20 Aug

I’m probably going to go and see the remake of this film in the next couple of weeks so I dug this out for a little refresher. This was Tom Holland‘s directorial début and it is still an entertaining comedy vampire film now even if some of the effects have dated poorly.

Charlie Brewster(William Ragsdale) is a teenager making out with his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse). Amy is just getting warmed up when Charlie gets distracted by men carrying a coffin into the empty house next door. This really pisses off Amy and she leaves. Charlie’s mother tells him that they have a new neighbour Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon).

Next day when Charlie gets home from school he sees a beautiful scantily dressed woman going into their neighbour’s house. Later on that night while Charlie snoozes through old movies on tv he is awakened by the sound of screams from next door. At school the following day Amy is trying apologise for leaving but Charlie gets distracted by a news story on TV about the women he saw going next door being found dead. Amy gets angry about being ignored again and smashes a bagel into Charlie’s face then storms off. His friend Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) is in hysterics at this. Geoffreys really has a weird persona and he uses it to pretty good effect in this film.

Charlie is poking around the house when he gets disturbed by Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark), Jerry’s housemate and runs off. Later that night Charlie is watching Fright Night, the only show he ever watches, and he falls asleep again. When he wakes he sees a beautiful woman stripping at the window next door. Behind her is Dandridge who opens his mouth to reveal a set of vampire fangs poised to bite down the woman’s throat. He must have heard Charlie because he looks right out at him then smiles and pulls down his blinds. Charlie panics, wakes his mother then goes out and hides in the bushes where he sees Billy dumping a body-sized bin bag in the back of a car. He tries to tell his mother but she thinks he must have been dreaming. Charlie faces a huge problem trying convince anyone since the truth sounds just like fiction.

After he fails to get Amy to believe him he decides to try the police but without mentioning vampires. A police detective goes to Dandriges’s house but Billy manages to fob the cop off and when Charlie is forced to say what he knows to try to get the cop to investigate further he just ends up looking crazy, meaning he can’t turn to the cops again. He goes to ask Ed for help and Ed is offended that Charlie thinks Ed is crazy enough to believe vampires are real He also doesn’t like Charlie using his nickname Evil Ed. Ed does help with little bits of vampire lore but I wonder how helpful he was since Charlie watches these films every night and must be as familiar with the vampire rules as Ed. Maybe Charlie was just desperate to find someone to believe him.

One rule that Ed mentioned is never invite a vampire into your house so, of course, when Charlie gets back from Ed’s Jerry is sitting the living room, invited in by Charlie’s mother. I like the way that Dandrige threatens Charlie in front of his mother in this scene and Charlie’s mother remains oblivious and thinks he’s just making small talk. That night Jerry pays a more intimate visit to Charlie in his room and openly threatens him with dire consequences if doesn’t stop snooping and telling people that he is a vampire.

The situation is getting very serious so Charlie heads to the TV studio that transmits Fright Night and begs for Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), the host of the show, to help him but Vincent thinks he is joking or insane and drives away. Charlie now realises how alone he is and makes preparations to kill Dandrige on his own. Amy and Ed call round and are deeply worried about his mental condition with all his talk about killing Dandrige. They try to put him off the idea and when that fails they get him to agree to wait until they return with help.

They go to Vincent’s house and ask for his help with convincing Charlie that he’s wrong. They want him to convince Charlie that Jerry is just human by adopting his vampire hunter persona and performing a fake vampire test on Dandrige. Vincent arranges the test with Dandrige not realising that Dandrige is making sure the test really is a fake. Charlie trusts them but is worried about what Dandrige is going to do to them when his vampirism is revealed. In Dandrige’s house Dandrige charms his guests and gently pokes fun at the idea of vampires. He passes Vincent’s fake test leaving poor Charlie looking more isolated and completely crazy. But Vincent gets the glimpse of the truth in the mirror of a prop cigarette case.

This film is easily seen as just a throwaway popcorn flick and it is good one, but there is quite a good use of cultural blindness to isolate the genre savvy Charlie so that even when he’s with people who love him he’s totally on his own against Dandrige almost right up to the end. Chris Sarandon is perfect as Dandrige, easily switching the charm on and off as required. The late Roddy McDowall is also great as the washed-up actor Peter Vincent reduced to hosting a campy late night horror show, but the main credit has to go William Ragsdale who is excellent playing Charlie going crazy from being the only who knows the truth.

Rating 8/10


Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Entertainment, Film


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2 responses to “Review: Fright Night (1985)

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