Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Fright Night (1985)

**This review contains spoilers**

Horror movie buff Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) suspects something fishy, when he sees a coffin carried into the basement of his new next door neighbor's house. Charley becomes more suspicious after a series of gruesome murders are reported in the area, one of them being a prostitute, who visited the next door neighbor. Ignoring his girlfriend, Amy Peterson (Amanda Bearse), Charley starts sleuthing into the mystery of the mysterious and reclusive man next door.

Determined to uncover the truth, Charley ignores a warning from his new neighbor’s caretaker, Billy (Johnathan Stark), turning to his best friend, Ed Thompson, or “Evil Ed” (Stephen Geoffreys) for help. Ed, another passionate horror aficionado, gives Charley some advice (with the promise of eight dollars) on how to stop vampires, after Charley witnesses the man next door using his fangs to bite into the neck of a woman one night.

But Charley meets his new neighbor during a surprise visit, after he receives a crucial invitation from Charley’s mother, Judy (Dorothy Fielding). Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) introduces himself as a harmless friend next door, but Charley isn’t fooled by the act.

With everyone around him refusing to believe Jerry is actually a vampire, Charley turns to the star and host of his favorite TV show. Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) stars in Fright Night, as a legendary vampire killer, and he’s out of work after Fright Night is cancelled. Charley tries to convince Peter of Jerry being a vampire, but Peter refuses to listen, until Amy offers Peter a five hundred dollar savings to bond to expose Jerry as a real vampire by using holy water.

Jerry passes the holy water test, because Peter pulled a fast one by using ordinary tap water. But Peter is terrified, when Jerry doesn’t appear in his mirror with the reflection of others. After a while, Jerry convinces Ed to become a vampire, turning him in an alleyway at night. And as Jerry and Amy seek refuge in a local night club, Jerry seduces Amy, taking her hostage at his house. Amy resembles a lost love from Jerry’s past, so Jerry decides to turn Amy into a vampire at his house, with the hopes of  Amy becoming his companion. Charley must persuade a reluctant and cowardly Peter to return to Jerry’s house, fight off Billy, destroy Jerry once and for all, and rescue Amy.

Is Jerry Dandridge on your list of great movie characters? Because he’s more than deserving of a spot.  Sarandon oozes charisma, as the witty and smooth Casanova, who will do anything to make Charley’s life a living hell. Jerry isn’t some growling lunatic, who runs around ripping out throats, tearing out necks with his fangs or hands, and he doesn’t go on senseless killing sprees. No. Jerry is a cunning and menacing vampire, who outsmarts his adversaries. Dandridge knows how to hit you, where it hurts. Turning Amy and Evil are two prime examples, and you can throw in the surprise visit to Charley's mom, and Jerry threatening to kill Charley’s mom. Big contrast from what we see in the overwhelming majority of vampire flicks (i.e. vicious and deranged bloodthirsty cannibals) now a days.

William Ragsdale has his moments as the determined and jumpy hero, who will do anything to save the day, but he’s overshadowed by Sarandon and Roddy McDowall’s Peter Vincent. McDowall provides some good laughs, as this pompous and cowardly televison actor, who‘s down on his luck. Amanda Bearse is known for her memorable battles with Al Bundy as Marcy. For the most part, Amy is your typical high school girlfriend, but Bearse is more deceptive  and mean (with some help from makeup), when Amy becomes a vampire. Can’t say too much about Johnathan Stark. He’s believable in the enforcer/bodyguard role, and that’s about it. And who could forget about Stephen Geoffreys’ Evil Ed (“You’re so cool, Brewster!”)? For my money, Ed is the funniest character in Fright Night. Geoffreys plays the quirky and goofy teenage outcast role to perfection, and if you ever look at CM Punk’s current profile photo on his Twitter page, you’ll see the pic of a vampiric Ed after Peter Vincent shoved a cross into his forehead.

Die hards of the franchise will choose Child’s Play (and well, they might have a point, because he directed the best Chucky film), but Fright Night is Tom Holland’s best film as director. Holland, who also wrote the screenplay for this film, keeps the gore and blood to a minimum. It’s just enough to pull a reaction out of you, but the bloody stuff doesn’t reach extreme gross-out levels here. Holland knows when and how to set the moods between subtle and sexy, while weaving in some spooky and chilling nighttime scenes along the way.  Fright Night is the crowning achievement in Holland’s career. Unfortunately, he had to be the guy to direct Thinner, and Fatal Beauty was a horrendous action/comedy (the dialogue and jokes are terrible, but Holland still directed that piece of trash).

Fright Night provides the perfect mix of humor and ghostly horror, while addressing the major and important details in vampire mythology (the usual stuff with garlic, sunlight, holy water, crosses, having faith behind the crosses, so they can be effective, and not being allowed inside as a visitor without an invitation). Good cast, memorable characters, superb directing, and a great soundtrack. Fright Night is a true gem from 80’s horror, and it’s one of the best horror comedies ever made.

Rating: 10/10

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