ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD: Limited Edition Steelbook 26TH DECEMBER, Special Edition 10TH APRIL, from EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT
RUNNING TIME: 104 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
17-year-old fan of old horror movies Charley Brewster discovers that his new next door neighbour Jerry Dandrige is a vampire responsible for the disappearances of several victims, but neither his mother, his friends nor the police believe him. Jerry turns up at his house and offers Charley a choice; forget about his vampire identity – or else. Charley refuses and after a struggle Jerry destroys his car and informs him that he will do much worse to him later. In desperation, Charley turns to Peter Vincent, formerly a horror star and now a TV horror host, for help….
To my mind Fright Night is, as well as being historically important in that it was the first major Hollywood release to successfully bring vampires up to date and make them cool again, also the best film out of the mini phase of teen-orientated vampire movies of the mid-80s which also included Near Dark, The Lost Boys and Vamp. It has a very neat premise, it demonstrates a real nostalgia for the horror films of old while successfully updating their concerns to a hip [well, it’s not so hip now of course!] 80’s environment and very much feeling fresh, it has a light touch while rarely going for obvious laughs [moments like our hero returning home twice from an encounter with a vampire, putting on the TV and being confronted with Scars Of Dracula and Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things respectively are few and far between] and adeptly managing the switch to genuine horror, it cleverly plays on teen fears and not always the obvious ones, it’s loaded with charm, and it has one of my favourite non-villainous horror movie characters ever, a character played so wonderfully by Roddy McDowall that the huge Vincent Price fan in me is actually pleased that Price, tiring of being in horror films, turned the role down. I hadn’t seen Fright Night for about 12 years prior to watching Eureka Entertainment’s definitive Blu-ray release of the film, and was fully expecting to be just a bit disappointed viewing it with older and more critical eyes, but within minutes it had me under its spell again.
Writer/director Tom Holland had the basic idea for Fright Night for a year until he solved the problem of what the boy who thought his neighbour was a vampire would do; he’d go to Vincent Price for help. He wrote the script in three weeks though there were numerous revisions [at first there was no love interest!], some of them from cast members. At the time of production, Fright Night was Columbia’s lowest-budgeted film and they did not have high expectations for it, so they were focusing all of their attention on the John Travolta/Jamie Lee Curtis film Perfect, which they were certain was going to be a blockbuster. This was perfect for Holland as he was left totally alone to make his film without any interference except for a request that the original ending of Peter Vincent transforming into a vampire be changed. The vampire contact lenses could only be worn for a maximum of 20 minutes because they made the wearers blind and were thick, painful and dried out their eyes. Jonathan Stark kept tripping up, Amanda Bearse was in total agony when the crew forgot to buff her contacts, and Stepehn Geoffreys kept his on for too long, resulting in scratches on his eyeballs for months afterwards. It took nearly eight hours to prepare Chris Sarandon’s makeup, while Geoffreys had his mouth glued shut when prosthetic adhesive was accidently out into his mouth to create the illusion of saliva. Ragsdale broke his ankle running down some stairs and all his subsequent scenes were performed with a cast on. Fright Night surprised Columbia’s expectations and became the second highest-grossing horror film of 1985, surpassed only by A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.
The opening scene is quite clever. As the camera pans down from a full moon, past a few houses and towards a bedroom window, we here some dialogue which seems to be between a man and a woman who’s a vampire. However, when we see through the window, it’s all coming from a movie showing on the TV in Charley’s bedroom. The film appears to be a very bad Hammer-style picture [the actress looks very similar to Melissa Stribling in the 1958 Dracula which I’m sure was intentional] with atrocious acting. Considering Fright Night is, despite its trendy 80’s feel, partly also a nostalgic love letter to the days of when Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee reigned supreme in the horror world [Holland clearly wasn’t too fond of the 80’s slasher boom when he has Peter bemoan the fact that modern kids just want: “Demented mad men in ski masks hacking up young virgins”], I think that Holland isn’t so much mocking those old films as mocking the misguided opinions many young heathens have of them. Anyway, Charley is busy making out with his girlfriend Amy, and tries to take things too far. By the time Amy finally relents and gets into Charley’s bed, he’s more turned on by two men carrying a coffin into the house next door and is soon getting the binoculars out a la James Stewart in Rear Window. There are soon a couple of silly moments, one where Jerry is with a female victim and the curtains are wide open just so that Charley can see what he’s doing, and the other where Charley, a seasoned horror movie watcher, goes to his friend Evil Ed [!] for advice on how to deal with vampires and Ed tells him stuff that he ought to already know, though it’s properly funny that Charley is so wound up that he doesn’t notice that Ed is taking the mickey, and we do learn something new – that crosses only work against a vampire if the person has faith.
The first half of Fright Night borders on being darkly humorous and certainly has an air of farce about it but very rarely turns into an actual comedy and the chilling moments like Jerry suddenly being in Charley’s house don’t at all stick out. Stuck with nobody believing him, Charley finds Peter Vincent, who he constantly watches on TV. He was a very poor horror movie actor, and now presents his own movies and those of others [horror hosts like Elvira were very popular at the time]. He claims that he’s an actual vampire killer, but when asked by Charley to help, he admits that he was talking rubbish and takes a hell of a lot of convincing to help. Roddy McDowall manages the changing feelings of the character so well and gives him considerable pathos to boot, perhaps his best scene being when all the main characters visit Jerry’s house and Vincent has to actually be a good actor for once and disprove to Charley that Jerry is a vampire, but his main opponent is just as memorable. A slightly sexually ambivalent Chris Sarandon, who seems to have been influenced by Frank Langella’s Dracula and to my eyes betters him, is as suave a vampire as you can think of and is so totally cool one almost feels like rooting for him. My wife always thought that the whole “vampires are sexy” thing was ridiculous until she watched Fright Night and had her mind changed despite the dance floor seduction of Amy by Jerry going on for absolutely ages – though it’s very well staged, especially the way Jerry every now and again casually lets Amy go because he knows she’ll be drawn back to him. Amanda Bearse totally sells all this too. It’s a shame that Sarandon, wanting Jerry to be more sympathetic, suggested that Amy resemble a past love of Jerry’s, as it’s a pointless addition.
Fright Night perhaps moves a little too slowly for some of today’s teens [something that certainly can not be said about the remake, though it totally lacked the heart of Holland’s film], but it’s taken at just the right pace for its story [which seems to borrow a bit from Salem’s Lot and is really a variation on Dracula if you think about it], allows for plenty of genuine suspense to build, and when the action starts provides some memorable special effects moments, notably one of the best vampire decompositions seen on screen. One transformation scene [I won’t ruin it if you haven’t yet seen this film] manages to be spectacular but to also actually be rather sad and you feel the victim’s pain [a la An American Werewolf In London], while an unused prop from Ghostbusters is employed in another scene, and was this the first picture to have vampires actually physically transform beyond just sporting fangs and becoming very pale? Their look has certainly been imitated in film after film. Meanwhile sexuality is very present. Amy moaning in ecstasy as blood trickles down her back after being bitten reminds us how adding sensuality can make something which is basically repellent actually rather attractive. Her seduction plays on the fears of many an awkward teenage boy who fears he may lose his girlfriend to a more attractive and confident rival, while there seems to be just a bit of homosexual tension between Charley and Jerry, and rather more between Jerry and his ‘keeper’ Billy Cole, though nothing’s explicitly stated, and overall I’m surprised that the film still has an ’18’ certificate considered what you can now get away with in a ’15’.
Holland is generally a highly un-showy director, but he does have certain shots he likes repeating like having a character in focus in the foreground and another character, usually monstrous, appearing out of focus in the background. Ragsdale is just okay as the lead though that’s the way it usually is with these things. Geoffreys [who later changed his name and became a gay porn star!] goes a bit over the top in his manic portrayal of Ed, and the character rather more annoying than was probably intended. Brad Fiedel’s s electronic score is effective and diverse if very much of its time, but it’s the songs that are used especially well in this movie, particularly before, during and after the club sequence, where you hear four successive numbers and they all seem to comment on what’s taking place on screen. Successfully managing to merge the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ [or at least what was new in 1985] and so damn fun from beginning to end, Fright Night may just miss out on being an all time classic but for me still belongs amongst the top twenty vampire movies and is still certainly worthy of the best of the films it so clearly loves.
Fright Night comes to Region ‘B’ Blu-ray in a truly outstanding transfer which I can’t fault at all. Colour, depth, a pleasing level of grain – it’s all almost perfect for a film of this vintage. And Eureka have put together a simply outstanding collection of special features for a film which never received the deluxe treatment on DVD. Sadly they haven’t been able to locate all that behind the scenes footage that McDowall apparently shot, and they also haven’t included the two cast and crew commentaries that were on the Region ‘A’ Twilight Time release, but those commentaries were originally done in 2008 without the blessing of the studio and only originally made available on mp3s, so maybe Sony requested that they not be in this set. To be honest, there’s so much else to enjoy here that the commentaries aren’t really missed.
I went straight for the You’re So Cool, Brewster documentary which lasts two hours and was made by Dead Mouse Productions who also made the Hellraiser documentary included in Arrow’s release of the first three films in that series, so if you’ve seen that then you’ll know how exhaustive and well produced this one will be. It’s introduced by a guy pretending to be Peter Vincent, and to be honest his appearances throughout are a bit distracting, though they don’t take up much of the time. Pretty much all the surviving key cast and crew members turn up to talk about the film, a sure sign of how much it’s liked by so many who worked on it. Every aspect of the production is covered in depth, the sections of most interest to me being the extensive look at the creation of the special effects which tell you how every major effect was done [and once again seems to suggest that special effects guys tend to be a bit nuts – in the best possible way], and the music. There are plenty of great stories, such as one of the effects people producing in a hurry a bit of makeup to be used in one shot that he didn’t think looked very good and Holland then using it for a whole day’s worth of shooting. It’s nearly all very warm and fuzzy, as you might expect, but my heart really melted at the end when Holland looks like he’s trying to fight back tears of happiness as he thanks the makers of the documentary.
The Fear Fest panel that actually begins the special features initially provides much the same information as is on the early part of the documentary, but then members of the audience start asking questions and we get over an hour of light, even jokey but often interesting discussion [there’s some indirect criticising of the studio and the way studios work – Ragsdale even says that he never received any of the Fright Night 2 scripts that he was reported as turning down]. Alongside the folk mentioned in the specs below are Fright Night 2‘s Tommy Lee Wallace and Julie Carmen, and there’s a fascinating explanation as to why Fright Night 2 got such a low key release. The Shock Till You Drop interview has Holland talk in detail about his career leading up to and including Fright Night and finishes with him showing the interviewer the various Fright Night models and puppets he has around his house. The vintage press kit, taken from video, looks quite rough, sometimes jumps, and is even time coded, but it contains much behind the scenes stuff, on-set interviews and a wonderfully cheesy pop video, and runs for nearly an hour. The three 2016 featurettes were obviously made at the same time as the documentary and their material often seems like stuff that was cut from it. There’s not much that’s new here. Still, this is a great collection of extras and I don’t think that Fright Night could have been given a better release. I highly recommended this set in every way.
*4K digital restoration
*Original stereo PCM soundtrack and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio options (on the Blu-ray)
*English subtitles for the deaf and hearing-impaired
*Fear Fest 2 2008 reunion panel featuring Tom Holland, Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Stephen Geoffreys, Amanda Bearse, Jonathan Stark and moderated by Rob Galluzzo (BLU-RAY ONLY)
*Shock Till You Drop Present Choice Cuts with Tom Holland and Ryan Turek, a three-part video interview on the film (BLU-RAY ONLY)
*You’re So Cool, Brewster! A new two-hour version of the definitive 2016 documentary on the making of Fright Night, focusing on the first film, created exclusively for this release
*The full electronic press kit, featuring extensive on-set interviews and behind-the-scenes footage (BLU-RAY ONLY)
*What is Fright Night featurette, a 2016 video piece featuring cast and crew interviews (BLU-RAY ONLY)
*Tom Holland: Writing Horror, a 2016 video piece featuring interviews with Holland and his collaborators (BLU-RAY ONLY)
*Rowdy McDowall: From Apes to Bats, a 2016 video piece featuring archival footage of McDowall and cast and crew interviews (BLU-RAY ONLY)
*Stills and memorabilia from Tom Holland’s personal collection (BLU-RAY ONLY)
*G-rated and R-rated theatrical trailers (BLU-RAY ONLY)
*Booklet featuring a new essay by Craig Ian Mann (STEELBOOK EXCLUSIVE)