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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Retro Review: Fright Night

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" ;-)

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great Review :)

Stuart Conover said...

"that one rivulet of blood traveling down her naked back"

Completely agreed. That's always the first scene that comes to mind when I think of Fright Night *laughs*

Chad Medeiros said...

Love this film. Like you, watched as a kid and gets a view from me frequently for sentimental reasons.

Jonathan said...

The image that always comes to my mind is that tragic blue sweater that Dandridge wears at the club; gotta love the 80's. But seriously, in many ways this is my favorite horror movie from the decade along with "The Thing." I can't think of too many I've watched more than I have "Fright Night." Great review and very cool site.

drumdiva said...

With those teeth, Amanda Bearse reminds me of Karen Black in "Trilogy of Terror".

B-Sol said...

Tracey, do I even need to say that your Blogger avatar rules? Kneel before Ursa!

John W. Morehead said...

In my view this is an often negleced, or at least underrated vampire film. As you note, Sarandon turns in a memorable performance, and when this is combined with his undefined monstrous sidekick and McDowall as tv horror host/vampire slayer, you have the formula for a great film

Dorian Gray said...

I remember seeing "Fright Night" for the first time back in junior high when I was first getting into horror. My friend J would have sleepovers at her house and we would stay up late watching scary movies and this was one of them. J ended up developing a massive crush on Chris Sarandon after seeing this movie. In fact one of our rules was that each sleepover guest got to choose one movie for the marathon and I can't tell you how many times I saw "Fright Night" because of Mr. Sarandon =) Ah, memories.

J.D. said...

Yes, this is definitely one of the best horror films to come out of the 1980s and as you rightly point out, made by someone who clearly is a fan and devotee of the genre. The scene that always sticks in my head is when Charlie and Peter kill Jerry's assistant and he dissolves into goop and sand (?!). I always wondered just what kind of creature/being he was. Very weird but also quite cool.

Jeanette said...

I love that sequence were he seduces the girlfriend in the club wearing a torn grey sweatshirt that hangs from one shoulder Flashdance style.
Ohh it gives me the chills! (in a good way)

Jeanette said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chad Medeiros said...

Had to mention that I always loved the way Dandridge said "Hello Charlie!" when he visits the kid and his mom for the first time.

Tower Farm said...

Yes, this movie is a gem, no doubt about it. Who couldn't love it? Now...tell me you've seen the bizarre re-hash of "Fright Night" called "Night Visitor"? It came out a few years later, features almost the exact same plot, but throws Shannon Tweed into the mix.
-Billy

Al Bruno III said...

A great film from an era that had some pretty damn great horror films.

And Jerry Dandridge is one of the great horror villains and one of the great vampires.

drumdiva said...

It does rule! I love Ursa's expression of smug superiority. Hell, I just love Ursa (as you well know)!

Matt-suzaka said...

Fright Night is a classic in my opinion and my personal favorite vampire film. I'll just say that I still have just about every issue of the Fright Night comic series, along with dressing up as evil Ed for Halloween as a kid, burnt cross mark on forehead and all! So that should say it all when it comes to my love for the film - thanks for showing it some love!

"You're so cool Brewster!"

B-Sol said...

This movie really seems to have struck a chord with you guys! I knew it was popular, but damn! I guess it really is an underrated gem.

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