Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #379
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: August 2, 1985
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $24,922,237
Running Time: 106 minutes
Director: Tom Holland
Producer: Herb Jaffe
Screenplay: Tom Holland
Special Effects: Albert Lannutti, Michael Lantieri, Dean W. Miller, Clay Pinney, Darrell Pritchett
Cinematography: Jan Kiesser
Score: Brad Fiedel
Editing: Kent Beyda
Studio: Vistar Films
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Stars: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Stephen Geoffreys, Roddy McDowall, Jonathan Stark, Dorothy Fielding, Art Evans, Stewart Stern, Nick Savage, Ernie Holmes, Heidi Sorenson, Irina Irvine, Bob Corff, Pamela Brown
Suggested Audio Candy:
Sparks Armies of The Night
“Welcome to Fright Night”
By the eighties life had begun to severely suck for vampires. In truth they had been on the decline for over a decade after Hammer Films were forced to relinquish their grip on the horror majority share. In 1968, an unknown American film-maker by the name of George A. Romero brought about the revolution with Night of The Living Dead and his countrymen fast cottoned on to the potential for superiority by the time the seventies came rolling in. The once dominant production house were toothless to defend their honor and any attempt at updating the formula and moving Dracula to a contemporary setting proved ultimately fruitless, with both Dracula A.D. 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula failing to spark any real level of interest.
Things went eerily silent for the next decade until Tony Scott offered us The Hunger. Ironically a British movie and almost metaphorical in its use of vampires, it was responsible for an influx of Stateside interpretations on the age-old theme of eternal life. Tobe Hooper had already conjured up a made-for-TV adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot in 1979 and George A. Romero’s glorious Martin had ghosted past many radars two years previous, so it was only a matter of time before somebody took that to the next logical stage. The war would ultimately wage between enthusiastic fans as to whether Joel Schumacher’s marketable marvel The Lost Boys or Katheryn Bigelow’s moody noir Near Dark represented the apex of the vampire rebirth. Tom Holland’s Fright Night is rarely mentioned in the same breath as either film but it does deserve kudos for grabbing itself first bite.
“That bastard! Why didn’t he tell us there was going to be a pop quiz”
The first on Holland’s agenda was to escape the subgenre’s Gothic trappings and relocate to a suburban locale. His main protagonist was Charley Brewster (William Ragdale), an otherwise nondescript teenager with one hell of a conspiracy theory. According to Charley, vampires had taken up residency next door and were using it as a knocking shop for their foul bidding. I know right? That kind of shit doesn’t play out in suburbia. Actually it did as the persistent lad took matters into his own hands and commenced a nightly stakeout, ill-prepared for the results of his findings.
Brad Fiedel Come To Me
“Hello, Edward. You don’t have to be afraid of me. I know what it’s like being different. Only they won’t pick on you anymore… or beat you up. I’ll see to that. All you have to do is take my hand”
Our respondent Jerry Danbridge (Chris Sarandon) was one cool customer. No red cape necessary, he offered flashes of his heritage but only when he deemed necessary. He was just looking for a less labored existence…that and a few virgins to relinquish of their untapped blood bounty. If Charley had seen fit to quit being such a busy-body then perhaps harmony could have been achieved. Alas, you try telling an adolescent not to do something. Before long, Charley’s friends and family were implicated and a chess game of sorts ensued, with Jerry holding two blackened bishops now that the king had been so unceremoniously exposed. Ragsdale never made the Brat Pack and one can only assume that The Breakfast Club wished for nothing to do with such a snivelling snitch. Because of his tall tales and Rear Window voyeurism, poor Stephen Geoffreys really went through the ringer.
“He got me, Charley! He bit me! You know what you’re gonna have to do now, don’t you? Kill me. Kill me, Charley… before I turn into a vampire, and… GIVE YOU A HICKEY”
Geoffreys was riding high on the crest of a tiny little wave and midway through shooting Fraternity Vacation when he received the call to audition for the part of Brewster…or so he thought. If he was a tad miffed on arrival to learn that his services were only required for Evil Ed, then he must have been livid after enduring eighteen hours in the make-up chair awaiting werewolf transformation. The custom contact lenses he wore proved excruciating and scratched both retinas but still the pratfall continued at his expense. Once the restrictive wolf mask was in place, the FX crew then proceeded to pour dental adhesive into his personal head space, sealing the poor boy’s jaw shot. By the time he filmed scenes with veteran actor and thespian Roddy McDowell, Geoffreys left him incensed after getting way too physical. Holland had surreptitiously suggested to the poor confused boy that he should “go all-out” but I’m assured that much of his vitriolic rage was due to what he had already been forced to endure.
“I have just been fired because nobody wants to see vampire killers anymore, or vampires either. Apparently all they want to see are demented madmen running around in ski-masks, hacking up young virgins”
Where Fright Night cunningly paid reverence to its Gothic forefathers was with the introduction of Peter Vincent (a gloriously camp McDowell). Inspired by Peter Cushing’s turn as the inimitable Van Helsing and another Hammer hot-property Vincent Price, with a dash of The Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz; his performance was simply delightful. Whether chewing the scenery on the flimsy set of his phony horror show or chewing the scenery out of hours, No scenery went untouched. Ragsdale really came into his own as Brewster when under Peter’s benign spell and the pair enjoyed moments of true chemistry. But Dandridge was always waiting in the wings and this is where old met new with no shortage of guile or panache.
“Welcome to Fright Night! For real”
Sarandon had sworn off of horror for almost a decade after the rigmarole of a turbulent shoot for Michael Winner’s The Sentinel. Here he could be most cordial but we knew deep down that nothing was fooling him for a picosecond. Like the true master of ceremonies himself, he knew when exactly to turn on the charm and Charlie’s belle Amy (Amanda Bearse) fell deep into his new romantic trance under the flourescent glow of nightclub lasers, as opposed to being drugged and dragged back to Transylvania. Suddenly the night crawlers began to congregate in the shadows and murmur amongst themselves. Fright Night had been an experiment, a dip of the toe if you like, to determine whether vampires can co-exist in a brave new world of Casio keyboards and Rubix snakes. Holland got it spot-on by casting Sarandon at this pivotal time.
“You shouldn’t lose your temper, Charley. It isn’t polite”
Fright Night will never be my personal darling with the likes of The Lost Boys, Near Dark, and Richard Wenk’s Vamp (there I said it; no returns) stomping their ground during the same era but it was responsible for making the transition more seamless. It paid respect to its grandfathers, offered a teasing glimpse of eternal life in a contemporary setting, then stepped back into the shadows, content on snooping as its brethren rose. John Amplas remains Keeper’s true modern-day Nosferatu; where Sarandon can be content with having stirred up The Lost Boys. And we may just owe those wonderful Frog Brothers to a certain Peter Vincent.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: There was splatter on the platter but the real gristle was in lovingly crafted layers of latex, complete with orthodontic gluing agents. The transformation make-up was painstakingly undertaken and it showed in every demonic reveal. No vampire movie would be complete without a little blood siphoning and it took its fill but no more, leaving Fright Night Part II to lower the tone a notch and staying unerringly true to its great heritage.
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
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