ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Fright Night (1985) Blu Ray & DVD (Eureka)
One evening, high school student Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) is in his bedroom, making out with his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) while watching “Fright Night” - a show introducing some cheesy old horror films, presented by an ageing star of the genre named Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall). When he stares out the window he sees his new neighbours outside, carrying what appears to be a coffin across the yard.
After this occurrence he starts to witness a series of events that lead him to come to a conclusion that the pair - Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon) and Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark) - are in fact vampires, and that they are responsible for the deaths of some women in the area. Unfortunately nobody - neither his girlfriend, nor his eccentrically punky best pal nicknamed Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys), nor his mother Judy (Dorothy Fielding), nor police detective Lennox (Art Evans) takes him seriously.
To make matters worse Jerry and Billy are aware of Charley’s snooping, and when his mother invites the former across the threshold of their front door (which in vampire lore means he can visit any time he pleases) he becomes afraid for his own life. He decides to approach Peter Vincent to request his help for protection against vampires. However the latter (despite his enthusiastically hammy work presenting his show) thinks he’s a fruitcake. Soon afterwards Amy and Evil make their own approach on the washed-up horror veteran and persuade him to pay a visit to these strange neighbours, only this time to prove to Charley that they are not the bloodsucking beings he believes them to be.
When Peter, Charley, Amy and Evil pay a visit to Jerry and Billy, Peter tries to demonstrate that Jerry isn’t a vampire by asking him to drink from a vial of supposed “holy water” (which is just normal tap water). Since Jerry doesn’t suffer any ill effects, Peter believes his job is done and beckons the group to turn away and leave their home. However when Peter examines himself with a pocket mirror he notices that Jerry (standing behind him) isn’t visible in the reflection. Suddenly the reality dawns upon him, and the group need to use all of their vampire knowledge gleaned from old films to wage a battle against him.
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One of the most fondly-remembered horror films from the 1980s, Fright Night is also notable for its meta-commentary on the horror genre 11 years before Wes Craven’s Scream won plaudits for the same reason. Vampire lore learnt from the cinema? An old vampire movie star who ends up becoming a Van Helsing-alike in real life? It’s all cleverly done, and works particularly well in an early scene between Charley and Peter. When the former expresses that he believes in vampires, the latter (who has just been fired from his TV show) expresses that he wished more viewers believed in them instead of the hockey-masked wearing killers that were popular during this period (a reference to the Friday the 13th series), as it would have kept his ratings high. Roddy McDowall (who had himself gone down in horror history playing a leading role in 1973’s The Legend of Hell House) is great fun as the campy presenter who veers from bemusement, through terror, to dashing heroism during the course of the film’s story. Chris Sarandon also stands out, simply exuding soft-spoken menace and seductive masculinity playing a modern-day take on Dracula.
Fright Night does admittedly have a few flaws, although these are more to do with the era when the film is made than anything else, and can be quite endearing if approached in the right frame of mind. Some of the special effects have aged well, but others clearly haven’t. The synth-rock soundtrack is unmistakably mid-80s and is rather overused at times. In this pre-Buffy era, women were still being portrayed as easily-subjugated damsels in distress. While William Ragsdale and Amanda Bearse play their highly-strung adolescent roles well, they are clearly older than the high school age their characters are supposed to be. Stephen Geoffreys plays the kind of silly-voiced comic relief that was so popular during this era (see also Bobcat Goldthwait in the Police Academy series), an act that does come dangerously close to wearing out its welcome.
Still, the issues don’t overwhelm the film’s strengths as it combines a genuinely witty script with slow-burning but effective horror. Tom Holland doesn’t shy away from the sexual aspects of vampirism, but does so in a restrained and elegant manner as Jerry gradually seduces the virginal Amy and (in an unusually subversive scene for this AIDS-paranoid period) more succinctly seduces Evil Ed. While the latter character isn’t explicitly outlined as being gay in the script, there is something of a homosexual frisson on the way in which this boy is cradled inside Jerry’s cloak. Incidentally, after a few other roles in various 1980s and early 1990s films (including Robert Englund’s directorial debut 976-EVIL), Stephen Geoffreys went on to a career in gay porn flicks, usually under the pseudonym of Sam Ritter.
In addition to the various subtexts Holland knows how to generate atmosphere and tension, from Jerry and Bill’s house being bedecked in all sorts of fancifully gothic accoutrements (from a colourful stained glass window to a wall covered in old wind-up clocks), to the all-encompassing billows of smoke that regularly herald the arrival of the vampiric characters. He makes great use of overhead and POV camerawork plus various coloured lighting gels to effectively build up the menace in any given scene. It all culminates in a climactic half-hour that stands as one of the finest finales ever to grace a film of this type.
Despite its few weaknesses, Fright Night stands up as a horror classic, and is well worth catching as an example of how the 1980s was such a fondly-remembered decade in the genre’s history.
Runtime: 106 mins
Dir: Tom Holland
Script: Tom Holland
Starring: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, Stephen Geoffreys, Jonathan Stark, Dorothy Fielding, Art Evans
Allzthings entry: http://www.allzthings.com/ShowCollectoritem.aspx?thingnumber=16159
It’s a wonderful-looking 4K remaster: check out the lighting on the obligatory 80s disco sequence. The details within Jerry and Billy’s house are another delight. In fact, just about any frame could be taken and held up as a thing of beauty.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is superbly balanced. The music is pristine and never overwhelms the dialogue, even from the perpetually soft-spoken Chris Sarandon.
You’re So Cool, Brewster! - The Story of Fright Night
A 2 hour and 24 minute documentary looking at the Fright Night film. It goes over Tom Holland’s career, the casting choices, practically all of the film’s effects sequences (in considerable detail), the musical score, the film’s marketing and its ongoing legacy. Although incredibly long for a movie Making Of (38 minutes longer than the film itself) it is often highly entertaining. Tom Holland talks about being invited to one of Roddy McDowall’s twice-weekly dinner parties (once weekly for straight friends, and another for the gay ones) and attending one with Vincent Price and wife Coral Browne. He notes that he was ashamed not to get their autographs. We also learn that he made the cast write their own character’s autobiographies before shooting; Art Evans claims that his ended up being “like Gone with the Wind”. The SFX artists also talk about how they learnt the hard way about using the various chemicals involved in their trade.
The one real weak point about the documentary is Simon Bamford, who hosts it by impersonating the Peter Vincent character. He’s truly irritating, and an insult to the memory of the long-deceased but well-loved Roddy McDowall. Luckily he doesn’t pop up frequently enough to spoil things, but nonetheless it would have been preferable had his scenes been removed and replaced by basic chapter cards.
Fear Fest 2008 Reunion Panel
Tom Holland, Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Jonathan Stark, Amanda Bearse and Stephen Geoffreys, Julie Carmen and Tommy Lee Wallace take part in a Fright Night I & II reunion Q & A. I’m not a big fan of making Q & A recordings being turned into DVD/Blu Ray special features since the audio quality usually doesn’t come out very well, and this is the case here. There’s also a lot of overlap with the fairly exhaustive “You’re So Cool, Brewster!” documentary. Nonetheless Holland and Ragsdale’s reminiscing over Roddy McDowall is worth a listen, particularly when they reveal that he maintained a lot of friendships with numerous Hollywood generations throughout the years. We also learn that Fright Night II only ended up getting a very brief US theatrical release despite a successful initial opening as Jose Menendez, the head of distribution firm Live Entertainment, was murdered by his sons, putting the film’s rights into limbo until his successors decided to give it a second life on video.
Choice Cuts with Tom Holland and Ryan Turek
Ryan Turek goes to Tom Holland’s home to interview him. They talk about how he got into writing and then directing, and look at some of the films he got involved with up to Fright Night. At the end Holland gives a tour of his house to show us some prosthetics from the film that he kept as memorabilia.
Vintage Electronic Press Kit
A 93 minute video press kit featuring snippets from reviews, music videos by the J. Geils Band introduced with English and Spanish titles, a rather tongue-in-cheek Making Of the music video introduced by vocalist Seth Justman, “A Vampire for the 80s” featurette, some brief news wraps related to the film and a feature about SFX artist Richard Edlund’s work on both Ghostbusters and Fright Night. It appears to be a transfer straight from a worn old video, complete with occasional picture jumps. It would have been preferable just to include the music video on its own as the other features don’t really provide much that isn’t given by the other contents of the disc.
What is Fright Night?
A documentary discussing the reasons behind Fright Night’s enduring popularity. Director Tom Holland also discusses the horror genre’s ability to incorporate social commentary in a way that more “respectable” movies can’t easily do.
Tom Holland: Writing Horror
The writer/director talks about how he wrote Fright Night as a hearkening back to the old days of Dracula and Frankenstein, in an era when the slasher movie was at the peak of its popularity. We also get a series of other cast and crew interview snippets about their experiences of working with Tom on the film.
Roddy McDowall: From Apes to Bats
Tom Holland and the Fright Night cast taking a look back at the talented actor, intercut with photographs and film stills. Stephen Geoffreys reveals that, when he saw Planet of the Apes, he was initially freaked out by the talking primates but then put at ease by the warmth exuded by McDowall, even when he was covered in layers of latex. Julie Carmen discusses how the actor help her to cope with working in creature makeup during her own stint on Fright Night II. Tom Holland also recalls how he took him down into MGM’s underground archives, and started crying at the disrespect the studio had shown to their old materials. A nice tribute.
A trailer and galleries round out this incredibly lengthy collection of extras. There are several hours’ worth of material here but a little too much overlap between the different features.
A highly enjoyable 1980s horror film despite a few dated elements. The copious extras veer from the worthwhile to the flabby.