I saw Fright Night (1985) as an adolescent. The rental copy chosen was well preserved in the coffin that has become the VHS tape. Seeing this movie again, I’m reminded how Fright Night, with reference to genre, makes for a delightful mash-up. Of what? you ask. Okay, fine. Comedy, mostly. Of horror, too, of course. Of vampire horror, in particular. Anything else? Yes, of course. But really, let’s not overdo it. This isn’t a “think piece,” Mr. Fong-Torres.
Fright Night opens up to a sleepy suburban town bathed in the blue light of an exceptionally bright moon. As fits suburbia, it is but the sound of a television only that stirs the heavy stillness of the supernal night. The camera creeping to an open window parallels the eerily effective killer-behind-the-camera view mastered in such landmarks as Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980). And let us not forget just how close in years those films are to Fright Night. Yes, Holland’s showing us something familiar, isn’t he?
“Where’s this trail leading us?” asks not a few viewers, especially after the bloodthirsty invocation wrapped in the words, “Come, sit here beside me on the veranda,” come seductively delivered from an unseen mouth; presumably, one we’re about to encounter, fang-first. What suspense!
And . . .
Shit. Our presumptions—what happened?! Not what we anticipated. It’s . . . funny?! There’s no vampire; there’s no blood. It’s just a movie playing within a movie. A movie as background noise, used by characters Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) and Amy Peterson (Amanda Bearse) in Charley’s bedroom to snuff out the music of their teenage love under the old, lecherous moon. There you have it: Funny, and, realistic.
From the get-go, we’ve gleaned a message from Mr. Holland: No, what you’re about to see isn’t everything else in horror released in the past ten years or so. Forget it. We can have some fun.
Gazing into reels with eyes wide and wild with the sights, viewers see unfolding before them the tale of a vampire moved-in next door to the boy next door dating the girl next door in a nondescript nowhere-nothing town.
If you grew up during this time (late 80’s, early 90’s), in such a small town, then nostalgia is likely to bite down harder than the maw of some indefatigable beast of a deathless burden while watching this film. Like those charismatic creatures of the night, nostalgia can leave one hell of a wicked mark, feelings festering for years on end.
Disgust-worthy special effects, as well as elementary lines of dialogue delivered poorly, yet humorously—“So far, everything has been like it was in the movies. We just have to keep hoping.” —push the film along with a force of past awareness of horror successes and the comedic courage to do away with them in lieu of creating something slightly different.
The otherworldly, exotic element characteristically portrayed through the vampire role, is acted by the West Virginian born Chris Sarandon, whose character name, “Jerry Dandrige,” fits the country roads star not at all. Which, consequently, bolsters Sarandon’s man-of-the-world demeanor when, as a centuries-old vampire, Dandrige is damningly placed alongside Tom, Dick and Harry in a faceless village of reality-whipped yokels.
Oh sweet, bloody wine of Christ! It’s hard enough to be a teen, let alone one facing Mark Ruffalo’s father of a vampire next door! But it’s not like Charlie’s entirely alone in his plight.
Charlie’s got a wonderfully understanding mother; flighty, to be sure, yet caringly attentive. One whose own cavernous vacancies of love instill in her a quiet desire for her son to find his own happiness, instead of burying his love-hope within her own loneliness, as she so intimates with the words, “Thank you for helping Charlie with his homework” to Amy.
And Amy, what an innocent sweetheart. Sure, she’s into herself, mostly—teenager—but she also loves deeply, as when in reference to the outright insane notion of a real-life vampire living next door, Charlie reluctantly asks: “Amy, you don’t believe me, do you?” to which Amy replies: “I love you, Charlie.” She loves him enough to sacrifice her own believe of what constitutes truth; and that’s saying something substantial about her character.
Charlie’s also got a Mustang. Sure, those splotchy white circles that look like blown up white blood cells mar the cherry red paint considerably but, IT’S A MUSTANG. Within the context of this film and youth culture, surely that’s got to be some kind of big deal. Right?
Despite all that, things are just plain hard. Nobody believes Charlie about this vampire foolishness. And who do you turn to when nobody believes you?—Somebody you can trust is crazier than you are. Charlie implores Evil (Stephen Geoffreys) and legendary horror actor turned television host, Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell), to open their black fountains of arcane knowledge and save his silly life.
If you haven’t seen Fright Night, undoubtedly you’re missing out on many laughs and, summarily, just a plain, old-fashioned creepy good time in the 80’s, adventuring alongside Charlie and his pals as they war through the fiery agony of a bullying beast unable to rest; one irascible, fanged lothario as vindictive as hell. What could be more entertaining than watching youth make the attempt to drive a stake through centuries of evil?