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Monday, March 25, 2019

Fright Night (1985)




Remember when I mentioned in the Hell House review that it was my second favorite Roddy McDowall movie? This is my favorite of his movies, well horror that is. He did some other stuff that I might like more. In this movie he plays Peter Vincent, a washed-up actor who now hosts a horror program on late night TV. He is contacted by a young man named Charley Brewster who believes that his suave neighbor, Jerry Dandrige, is a vampire.

We the viewer know that Charley is right since we have seen everything that he has. But of course, none of the other characters can buy it since there is no such thing as vampires. Eventually Vincent is convinced by Charley’s friends to have Dandrige tested in front of him to prevent a murder from happening. During that test Vincent notices that Dandrige casts no reflection! Between that and the fact that Charley’s girlfriend Amy looks just like his lost love the vampire decides they all must go. This leads to the finale where Vincent and Charley head into the vampire’s lair to destroy him and rescue Amy whom he has kidnapped.

Fright Night has enough gore to keep fans interested. There are the standard fangs sinking into flesh with blood trailing down the neck. Nothing too exciting there, but we also get a transformation from wolf to person after a nasty bit of staking. That is particularly gooey and decent as far as vampire deaths go. Vincent’s handyman/protector isn’t a vampire but isn’t human either. I mean when you shoot and then ram a piece of wood thru them people don’t melt like he does. So that is also a decent death scene.

Now this is a damn vampire!
The vampires in the movie look great. They have different aspects depending on how angry or hungry they are. Some look traditional with fangs and glowing eyes, but then they get more and more savage looking. We also see that Vincent can turn into a bat, which he does on a couple occasions. I’ve already mentioned that another vampire can become a wolf. They have an animalistic side that isn’t always seen in other movies bloodsuckers.

The dialogue is excellent and delivered perfectly by the cast. There are several very quotable lines in Fright Night, such as Stephen Geoffreys’ line, “His Dinner is in the oven”. Seriously Evil Ed is awesome! Amanda Bearse and William Ragsdale are good as Charley and Amy. Chris Sarandon does an amazing job playing the vampire. He oozes evil and charm at the same time. How does one pull that off? When he talks about being invited in (Charley was counting on him not being able to come into his house) he is threatening him in the open without anyone noticing. There are many scenes like this in Fright Night which is a credit to Tom Holland who is both the writer and director.

All of the above makes Fright Night a good movie. What makes it great is Roddy McDowall. I don’t know how to explain how amazing he is in this movie. He can give more emotion to his performance in a single glance than many actors can with pages of dialogue. After his character’s world is rocked by his discovery that vampires are real you can see all sorts of emotions on his face. More than once he runs away, only to have his guilt over abandoning the kids force him to return. It isn’t that he is suddenly brave and transformed into an action hero ready to battle the monsters. You can see in his face that he is a guy that decides he has no choice but to help, so he does. McDowall is one of those actors that can take whatever material he has and make it better. Since Fright Night was already a good movie he makes it great!

Clearly, I love this one. I won’t bother with the line telling you to go watch it. This is a classic of the horror genre and the best vampire movie of the eighties so that should be unnecessary. In fact, I’m thinking that everyone has already seen this before. Instead let me leave you with this one extra story. I watched this recently to celebrate Halloween, which is typical of me. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve watched Fright Night over the last thirty years, but it has been a lot. I noticed something this time around that I never saw before. They have an old Peter Vincent movie playing on the television in one of the scenes. He goes to destroy a vampire but has the stake wrong way around. Pointy end was towards the hammer. Was this an accident or did they do that intentionally? The fact that I even have to ask ought to tell you how cleverly written the movie is. No one makes them like this anymore.


© Copyright 2019 John Shatzer

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