Isn’t it remarkable how much the ravages of time can add or take away to a film – let’s take colourful vampire adventure Fright Night as an example (we probably should as I’m currently reviewing the damn thing).
Directed by Tom Holland – no, not that Tom Holland – in 1985, the film was a more than acceptable variant on the boy who cried wolf scenario that brought a suprisingly classic take on the blood sucking species and brought their world of crucifixes and fangs into the realm of suburban America. Back then during the times of giant hair and Ronald Regan it was seen as an above average and fun take on the genre but these days it’s regarded as a stone cold classic thanks to it’s fun premise, it’s old school presentation and a plethora of legitimately gob-smacking make-ups that litter it’s rousing final act – but is that actually accurate or is Fright Night a lucky recipient of us having rose-tinted glasses that are more a shade of blood red?
Charley Brewster isn’t your typical 1980’s teen horror foil – he doesn’t seem to be bullied, he’s a monster movie fan who has decent social skills and oddly enough he has a devoted girlfriend, Amy, who is perfectly ok with losing her virginity with him. Even odder still is the fact that Charley is far to preoccupied with spying on his new neighbour to take her up on the offer; you see this neighbour – a dapper, single male by the name of Jerry Dandridge – seems to have had an honest to god coffin delivered to his house at night, not to mention the rash of murders that are plaguing the area; and was that a woman’s scream Charley heard coming from Dandridge’s window that night? If Charely didn’t know better he’d think his neighbour was some kind of Vampire or something…
Well guess what? Unsurprisingly (‘cos it’s the fucking 80’s) Jerry actually is a Vampire and the two get into an escalating battle of wits as the terrified teen strives to out the predatory bachelor before he becomes the next victim. His friends think poor Charley’s losing it but the last straw comes when he desperately requests the aid of Peter Vincent, a former horror actor now reduced to being the horror host of a cable tv show.
Despite everyone around Brewster remaining steadfastly sceptical, Dandridge decides to stop fucking around with this punk kid and targets him and his friends for a damn good biting and Charley, Peter, Amy and their weird, screechy friend “Evil” Ed better literally watch their necks as the Nosferatu next door aims to make them all like him… or worse.
A tremendously nifty mash up of Dracula meets Rear Window, time has been incredibly kind to Fright Night, it’s mix of doe-eyed nostalgia combining with 80’s excess to easily make it in the top three Vamp flicks of the decade (the others being The Lost Boys and Near Dark – rank them how you please). It’s also refreshingly simple too, content to simply have fun without piling on metaphors – in fact, if Fright Night seems to be about anything, it certainly isn’t something as profound as the nature of growing up or the pressures of maintaining a relationship while at high school; no, Tom Holland’s (again, not that one) fang filled opus is a great big unabashed love letter to horror movies of the past such as Hammer’s output or the various beasties from Universal’s classic monsters series. It’s not even subtle either, I mean naming the silken voiced thespian character Peter Vincent? That’s about as transparent as naming the vampire Drac McBiteyface and yet it’s too warm hearted a gesture not to genuinely fall in love with.
The cast are insanely enthusiastic, sinking their teeth (sometimes literally) into Holland’s knowing script with Amanda Bearse (who went on to be the annoying neighbour in TV’s Married: With Children) and Stephen Geoffreys (who went to do 976-EVIL and… erm, porn) delivering capable backup for William Ragsdale’s amiable Charley but it’s the characters of Jerry Dandridge and Peter Vincent who entertain the most. Chris Sarandon heaps on cheese and charm aplenty as the not-so-friendly neighbourhood bloodsucker who effortly shifts from debonair ladies man to prosthetics laden monster with aplomb and is equally both hissably villainous and weighed down with pathos whereas legitimate screen legend Roddy McDowell is an utter joy as the vain has-been, honestly stunned when someone turns down his autograph and hideously ill-equipped to deal the actual flesh and blood monsters he’s forced to confront. Just as a multi faceted character as Dandridge, Vincent shows both how low Peter has sunk (he quite happily accepts money to initally assist Amy and Ed to try and convince Charley he’s suffering from delusions) only to finally rise as a true hero by the film’s end – something that’s neatly highlighted by the man’s inability to get a crucifix to repel Dandridge due to his lack of faith.
The film is loaded with neat little memorable bits like Jerry’s monstrous nature subtly hinted by having him take an enormous bite out of an apple or the most 80’s scene set in a club ever (yes, even more 80’s than the Tech-Noir club in The Terminator) but by the third act Holland elects to slam the movie into high gear and unleashes a boffo climax literally bursting at the seams with almost every kind of special effects in the book. The looks of the vampires are hugely enhanced by some truly ghastly prosthetics – Amy’s transformation into a vamp with a mouth that looks like a ripped out fireplace is the movie’s signature image although Evil Ed’s undead dental is also nothing to sniff at either – and the film also casually flings in other gruesome delights therefore acting as an awesome showcase for old school special effects. There’s a jaw dropping wolf-to-man transformation (possibly the best one ever in a film that’s not actually about werewolves), some other poor sod melts right down to the bone oozing green slime everywhere and there’s even a super-cool stop motion/animatronic monster bat that rockets at it’s victims like a miniature jet with a slavering overbite you could prise open beer kegs with.
It’s the perfect big finish to a movie that continuously makes the right decisions to be a genuinely rousing crowd pleaser that’s content to keep it’s scares fun and it’s monsters awesome.
It may lack the gravity of an Exorcist or a Shining but whereas there’s different strokes for different folks, there’s also different fangs for different thangs…
I’m with Evil Ed… you’re so cool, Brewster.