Fright Night (1985)
By: Devon B. on October 22, 2013 | Comments
Twilight Time | Region Free | 2.40:1, 1080p | English DTS-HD MA 5.1 | 106 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Fright Night Blu-ray
Credits
Director: Tom Holland
Starring: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, Stephen Geoffreys
Screenplay: Tom Holland
Country: USA
When I first heard about Fright Night it was a new release VHS with an alluring cover. I presented it to the parental units in hopes of a hire, and they took it to the shop keep and asked about its suitability for their young son. The man flipped open a panel on the cover and showed them a picture, and then all three agreed it would be too scary for me. To this day I'm not sure what the picture was, because that particular store was short lived (it foolishly didn't stock porn – the death knell of many a video store long before Blockbuster) and I never found another copy with the lift up flap. I'm guessing it was probably a snap from the dance scene, as that's by far the scariest thing in the movie.

The non-dance section of story concerns a high schooler, played by William Ragsdale, who claims to want to have sex with his special lady friend, Amanda Bearse, but really seems more interested in his new next door neighbour, Chris Sarandon. Turns out his interest is well founded, as the neighbour appears to be a next door nosferatu, and once the vampire learns Ragsdale's found him out, he attempts to scare the boy into leaving him alone. Ragsdale ain't having any of that, but for some strange reason no one will believe him that Sarandon's a sanguine sucker. Ragsdale then tries to enlist the help of Roddy McDowall, an actor of the Peter Cushing type who is known as a famous vampire hunter, because despite being in high school Ragsdale evidently hasn't figured out the concepts of make believe or acting. To be fair, it was the days before DVD commentary and Google, so Ragsdale wouldn't have had as much opportunity to learn about the actor as he would've today, and the character was clearly desperate to find someone to believe him. Anyway, it doesn't happen until a ways into the film, but I think I'm giving nothing away to say the pair end up in bumbling battle with the undead next door.

An oddity in watching Fright Night now is that so many of its stars went on to become much better known for other things. A champion of the cinema both on and off screen, McDowall was already well established at being able to play either a chimpanzee or a dude living with his dead mother, but many of the others went on to well known roles. Two became sitcom stars, one went on to play one of the most iconic villains of the 80s and another went on to...star in 976-Evil. Okay, so Stephen Geoffreys also went on to suck something other than blood in adult feature films, but rhe dude gave one of the most memorable performances of the 80s in Fright Night, and if he wanted to go off and make porn why should I care? It doesn't change the quality of his performance here, and while I get that all sorts of things can contribute to a breaking of the suspension of disbelief, like I can no longer watch Michael Caine in movies without saying "My cocaine" repeatedly, it seems most of people's snide comments about Geoffreys aren't about him doing porn but that he did gay porn. I understand there might be a surprise factor on hearing what Geoffreys was getting up to, but I was more surprised by Bearse's, admittedly less explicit, coming out and that was just because I'd seen her play hetero characters for so long.

Fright Night isn't really about the sexuality of its stars, it's about vampires. I guess there is a possible homosexual undertone to the relationship between Sarandon and his housemate, but it's largely irrelevant to the story whether they share a bed when Sarandon's not in a coffin. I don't' normally like vampire movies, but Fright Night is a great one. Because I'd been denied access at a young age I did develop an obsession with the movie, and knew the story long before I got to see the film thanks to a comic book spin off. The movie mixes funny with frightening with splendid results, aiming to keep the horror elements scary and the humorous elements amusing but not allowing them to disempower the bits that were meant to terrify. The lines definitely overlap between the two styles, but never in a way that one detracts from the other. The film is full of wit and charm, and has plenty of noteworthy performances. McDowall is particularly engaging as a character that deserves pity and respect, a man in way over his depth trying to do his best.

Fright Night has certainly dated a bit, so Sarandon seems less dapper and more douchebag now, but if the big issue a film has nearly 30 years after its release is that the clothes look funny, it's doing pretty well. The movie purposely avoided 80s trends and went with a classic monster over a masked madman, didn't rely heavily on gore and even kept down the profanity. I love a lot of movies with masked madmen chopping people up while cursing up a blue streak, but there's no denying that Fright Night's attitude sets it apart, and it's so well done that it holds up far better than almost any slasher I can think of. By showing restraint, Fright Night's more graphic moments become all the more powerful when they happen, assisted immensely by some top notch FX. Some of the FX haven't aged as gracefully, but for the most part they still work, and there are a few moments that are still amazing today, let alone in the mid 80s.

Writer/director Tom Holland would go on to unleash Chucky in Child's Play, but even though it didn't spawn anywhere near the level of sequels that Child's Play did, I think Fright Night is the superior effort, all the more impressive since it was Holland's first film. It managed to be both a throwback and entirely fresh, and is yet another fine exhibit of proof that horror peaked in the 80s.
The Disc
All things considered, Fright Night looks great in its HD debut. The print can be a little soft but that seems to be source related, so the only real flaw in the transfer is a bit of macroblocking. Unfortunately the additional clarity makes McDowall's hair look ridiculous. The audio offers great clarity but is a front heavy mix, however the surrounds spring to life in a few places like the alley sequence. Otherwise this remix is probably very close to the original audio mix, which, as usual, begs the question of why the original audio wasn't included. The extras are pretty scarce, just two trailers, an isolated score track and a little booklet. It's a shame some real extras weren't included, but for those interested some fans have organised their own cast and crew commentary tracks which are readily available for download.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
A worthy successor to Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and a forerunner to Shaun of the Dead, Fright Night is a classic horror comedy. Fright Night was licensed to Twilight Time for a limited release, and it's a shame really because a lot of people missed out. It's also a befuddling move on the license holder's part because the remake had just come out, and that's usually the sort of thing that boosts older titles' sales. Extended fingers crossed that the movie gets a properly distributed release soon.
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