I'm on a bit of a vampire kick of late here in the Vault, and so this week's Retro Review takes a look at Fright Night, a film which should rightfully be listed in the dictionary, should you ever look up the term "'80s cult classic" (not that that would be in the dictionary, but you get the point...)
First off, let's get this out of the way: Jerry Dandridge is one of the most bad-ass vampires to ever stalk the silver screen, and may in fact be the most underrated cinematic bloodsucker of them all. This is Chris Sarandon's defining role as far as I'm concerned (although Dog Day Afternoon comes close). Channeling Christopher Lee with an extra dose of wit and charm, he exudes sinister sexuality in every scene he's in.
But we also have to give props to the legendary Roddy McDowall as phony vamp hunter Peter Vincent. And how bizarre is it that our two romantic leads are William Ragsdale and Amanda Bearse, who would shortly thereafter star in two of Fox's earliest TV sitcoms (Herman's Head and Married with Children, respectively). That always seemed kinda trippy--maybe it was just me.
But getting back to McDowall, one of the things I love about this excellent horror comedy is the way in which it also pays tribute to the beloved TV "horror hosts" of yore. Peter Vincent may as well be Zacherle, Svengoolie, Ghouldardi, or any of the other classic characters who brought late-night boob tube terrors into the homes of little boomers and gen-xers. Clearly, this is a movie made by folks who love the genre.
And this is very true. Fright Night boasts one of the most impressive horror-centric crews of the 1980s. The man behind the film was writer/director Tom Holland, most notably also the director of Child's Play, and the screenwriter of Psycho II. He also wrote flicks like The Beast Within and Class of 1984, and directed the adaptation of Stephen King's Thinner.
But it goes beyond Holland. Cinematographer Jan Kiesser would go on to shoot Fido some 20 years later. The excellent makeup effects were the result of a collaboration of fine artists including Ken Diaz, who had previously worked on My Bloody Valentine and The Thing. Diaz was aided by Thing collaborator Dale Brady, as well as creature effects man and Rick Baker protege Bill Sturgeon, who had cut his teeth on An American Werewolf in London, The Howling and Videodrome, and would later bring his impressive talents to bear creating beasties for movies like House, The Blob, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, The Frighteners, Army of Darkness, Men in Black, The Ring and Hellboy.
Oh yeah, and if you find the score particularly memorable (which it is), that's because it was written by Brad Fiedel, the composer for films like The Serpent and the Rainbow and Gladiator, who is of course best known for his iconic Terminator theme.
In short, with a bunch like this working on it, it really is no surprise that Fright Night turned out to be the minor classic it is today. I first saw it as a child, and as with most movies we see in childhood, there are certain images that will always stay with me: Amy being seduced and bitten by Dandridge, that one rivulet of blood traveling down her naked back; Evil Ed's forehead being seared by the crucifix; Vincent first learning that vampires are, in fact, real--thanks to a conveniently placed mirror.
I have a lot of respect for Fright Night. It balances the horror and comedy very well. It follows most of the traditional "rules" of old school vampire movies, proving that vampires don't necessarily need to be post-modern to be effective. And it holds up perfectly after more than 20 years. This is an absolute must-see for lovers of vampire cinema everywhere.
* This week's Retro Review was suggested by the ever-delightful "Marilyn Merlot" ;-)
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