Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Reviews, Horror

Fright Night (1985)

In a couple of weeks a new version of Fright Night will be released, with Colin Farrell in the vampire-next-door role and David (Doctor Who) Tennant as the has-been horror movie star reduced to hosting the local spook show. Those are two good reasons to give it a look, yet really, was it necessary to do a remake of the 1985 picture? Not quite a classic, but a film of considerable wit, creepiness, and—yes—charm. Landmark’s Egyptian Theatre (805 E. Pine St.) is slipping in a showing of the original at midnight Friday and Saturday, Aug. 12-13. Here’s a review I wrote in The Weekly back in the day. – RTJ

Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent, a horror host beyond price

Told that a man has just moved into the long-vacant house next door, Charley Brewster’s single-parent mom sighs, “With my luck he’ll probably be gay.” The signs are not propitious. Actually there are two men; they call each other Jerry and Billy, wear sweaters a lot, and apparently adore restoring rambling old houses so they’ll have somewhere to display their antiques. But if truth be told, their relationship is a good deal more exotic than that implies, and they are interested in women. Teenage Charley spies quite an attractive one getting undressed in the upstairs window one night—and Jerry leaning over her shoulder with a mouth suddenly sprouting fangs.

Fright Night is a tidy little contemporary variation on the vampire horror movie. It’s somewhat selfconscious about being a variation: The title also applies to the local TV station’s late late show hosted by a washed-up, campy horror star named Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), and the film goes for the comedic jugular quite a bit of the time. But Fright Night is finally, and satisfyingly, closer in spirit to Roman Polanski’s dark-humored Dance of the Vampires (aka The Fearless Vampire Killers) than to a silly sendup like Love at First Bite. It observes the rules of the vampire game, and restores the stinging juice of life to conventions that had been packed away to desiccate in the costume department.

He doesn’t call undue attention to it, but writer-director Tom Holland has been careful to ground his generic carryings-on in characterization. “Evil Ed” (Stephen Geoffreys), the high school chum to whom Charley turns when no one else believes him about the vampire next door, is all braying punk bravado and antic weirdness, the odd-geek-out in the school community who will make an unexpectedly touching yet appropriate victim. Mom Brewster (Dorothy Fielding) is just ditsy enough, warm enough, and horny enough to make the cardinal error of inviting the new neighbor into her house (the necessary first step before a vampire can get you where you live). Peter Vincent, his show cancelled and his brand of Gothic ghoulery crowded offscreen by mad-slasher flicks, is sufficiently desperate for validation that he finally accepts the role of fearless vampire-killer in real life. And Charley Brewster—well, Charley and his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) are just on the point of helping each other out of their bothersome virginity when distracted by the midnight arrival of a coffin next door. That interruption presages a more profound disturbance of rapport as the erotic/exotic Jerry Dandridge makes a classic older-man’s play for the young woman’s affections—and gets a good deal farther than first base.

As Dandridge, Chris Sarandon has his best role since his movie debut in Dog Day Afternoon. There he played the lover whose desire for a sex-change operation motivated Al Pacino’s hapless bank heist; ever since, he’s struggled through problematical characterizations of out-of-balance pretty-boy types in misbegotten films like Lipstick, Cuba, and The Osterman Weekend. In Fright Night he gets it just right: the suspiciously excessive good looks masking the decay of centuries, the slightly ersatz sensuality that hints at the divergence between the public and private faces of desire, and a sinister confidence in performance that allows him the stylistic leeway of whistling “Strangers in the Night” while homing in on his latest target.

The Weekly (Seattle), August 14, 1985

Copyright © 1985 by Richard T. Jameson