20 September 2011

Fin's Review: Fright Night

After watching Near Dark I thought it would be good to bring Fright Night to the table a film which alongside Near Dark represents the the pinnacle of 1980s vampire films. Released in 1985 Fright Night was the directorial Debut of Tom Holland and remains his best and pretty much only good film. On paper fright night shouldn't really work, but it does and it delivers bucket loads of fun and B movie charm along the way. Holland took the John Hughes teen formula which would come to define 80s cinema in films such as The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller's Day Off films in which weird or geeky teenagers unite to somehow outsmart and defeat both the adult world and their more popular peers. Holland adds in a great B movie story line and a great fondness for classic vampire lore and creates a funny, cartoonish and endearing horror gem. 

Much of the success of this film is anchored upon the fact that the set up and the story are incredibly simple. The film never takes itself too seriously and has its tongue firmly in its cheek throughout. Fright Night focuses on the adventures of Charlie Brewster a horror film fanatic who discovers his new next door neighbour is in fact a vampire. After reporting this startling discovery to those in authority and being understandable laughed at by his mother and the police. Charlie decides that he must take responsibility for destroying the vampire threat next door. Realizing that he is seriously out of his depth Charlie tries to recruit the only person he thinks can help, Peter Vincent a washed out old actor and star of the vampire films Charlie loves. Tom Holland crafts a film of charm and wit around this simple premise. A huge factor in the success of Fright Night are the  universally excellent characters who are both funny and likeable and as a result we really care what happens to them. 

Two performances provide the backbone of the film in the form of Chris Sarandon's vampire and the washed up and slightly sad old actor Peter Vincent. Roddy Mcdowall is on fine form as the cynical world weary vampire slayer who only agrees to help Charlie and his gang after charlie's girlfriend gives him her $500 savings. His journey from cowardly on screen hero too real life hero is really fun to watch develop. Peter Vincent also provides a link to the past and is a way of Tom Holland paying tribute to the Hammer Classics that this film pays homage too. Fright Night was ahead of its time in terms of ironic parody and self referential tribute to a by gone age of horror film making. Much like Scream over a decade later which paid tribute to the slasher genre Fright Night is a eulogy and tribute to the classic vampire films of the 50s and 60s. At a time when a succession of weaker and weaker slasher films were being released Fright Night looked backwards to golden age. Peter Vincent sums this idea up in his most famous line 'The kids today don't have the patience for  vampires. They want to see some mad slasher running around chopping off heads'. 

The second stand performance is Chris Sarandon's in his excellent portrayal of the vampire Jerry Dandridge the seductive, charming killer next door. Chris Sarandon plays the vampire role perfectly he is coolness personified however this affability and charisma hide a far darker more sinister side. Couple this with the clear enjoyment Sarandon has in playing the role and some of the stunning 80s gear he wears during the film and he alone makes this a film worth seeing. Evil Ed also deserves a mention Charlie's geeky friend and even bigger horror nerd who brings much of the comedy to Fright Night.

A further notable aspect of the film that is really strong are the special effects which are both very over the top and very effective. The scene where Evil Ed is transformed into a wolf and back again is really impressive and in some ways bears comparison to the transformation scene in American Werewolf in London. All in all Fright Night is an underrated minor classic of 80s horror with more heart and charm than most films out there. Considering the time of year Fright Night would make a great choice for Halloween a perfect mix of laughs and light-hearted chills.

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