August 7, 2015 Fright Night A Decade Defining Horror Film 30 Years Later
Anyone growing up in the ’80s easily remember that everything was big; big hair, big clothes, shoulder pads, and big, scary, movies. It was a great time for Slasher films, but in the midst of all that, was the release of Horror Comedy Fright Night in 1985 by Columbia Pictures. It was their lowest budgeted film, and there were not high expectations for it, although Fright Night re-sparked Horror fans’ interest in Vampires. Taking a chance, Columbia Pictures hired iconic Writer/Director Tom Holland to prepare the script. He did a first draft in only three weeks, basing it on ideas he ponders for over a year before discussing it with the head of the story department of Columbia Pictures, John Byer. Reportedly loved the writing process, he laughed through it idea for over a year before discussing with the head of the story department at Columbia Pictures, John Byers. Hitting theaters on August 2nd of 1985 no one expected the film to be such a success, but here it is later three decades later as a pinnacle Horror film of the decade.
Taking place in a small, quiet suburb, Fright Night focused on the story of Charley Brewster, played by William Ragsdale who later starred in hilarious TV Series Herman’s Head and more recently on Justified. Charley’s girlfriend Amy Peterson (Amanda Bearse: Married with Children series, Drop Dead Diva 2011), barely tolerates his avid love of all things Horror, and in particular the show Fright Night, starring Vampire Killer, Peter Vincent (the late, Roddy McDowall: Planet of the Apes 1968, Fright Night II 1988). Amy tries her best to get Charley to show her some romance, but he cannot pull himself away from his fixation with the dark side. When a dark, mysterious, handsome stranger, Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon: The Princess Bride 1987, The Nightmare Before Christmas 1999), moves in next door during the night, Charley becomes immediately suspicious. Seeing a coffin only confirms what Charley suspects, that his new neighbor may be a Vampire. Dandridge has a housemate/assistant, Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark: House II: The Second Story 1987), which only adds to the mystery surrounding Dandridge. Charley secretly watches Jerry from his bedroom window, and one evening he witnesses Jerry killing a young woman by biting her on the neck, who is then reported missing.
Freaking out, Charley tries to tell Amy and his best friend, Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys: Fraternity Vacation 1985, Heaven Help Us 1985), who is a complete lunatic, but still thinks Charley is nuts. Charley is determined to uncover the terrifying truth, that the Lord of the Undead is just next door. Charley’s mother, Judy Brewster (Dorothy Fielding: The Doctors series, Kiss Me Goodbye 1982), is a working but single parent and has little time for Charley’s strange rantings. To complicate matters further, Jerry is invites into their home by Judy who is immediately taken with him. Jerry knows that Charley has been watching him, and Jerry warns Charley that he is also watching him. If Charley tells anyone about Jerry, Jerry will kill him. Charley believes the only person that can help him is TV Star Peter Vincent, so Charley rushes to the set, and implores his help. When Vincent turns out to be nothing but an actor, Charley fears for his life, gathering any cliched implement he can to protect himself. When Jerry’s body count starts rising, and he threatens or hurts the people close to Charley, it pushes him into a standoff with Jerry, but will he be strong enough to fight him and survive?
Fright Night combined both Horror and humor, with a compelling storyline, and great but minimal special effects at the time. Well-acted by the small cast, some of the stars went on to greater things. Filming only took three months, and as it was not expected to be successful, the budget was low. In addition, after completing filming on Ghostbusters, Richard Edlund headed the visual effects, which was a great benefit to the film. The makeup processes for the cast were lots of hard work, but it well and truly paid off in the finished product.
Interestingly, Holland wrote the part of Peter Vincent with Vincent Price in mind, but unfortunately Price was no longer acting in Horror films at the time. This lead to the hiring of McDowall in the part, and McDowall was excited to play Vincent, and doing an excellent job making the character extremely endearing. Sarandon who had in fact did a spledid job in 1997’s forgotten Horror classic The Sentinel at first was reluctant to make another genre film, but once he had read the script he was immediately taken in by the story. The combination of McDowall, Sarandon, Bearse, Geoffreys, and Ragsdale, together with the production team, made for magic and the film surprisingly met major critical praise upon its release.
The success of Fright Night paved the way for Vamp in 1986, and Lost Boys, as well as Near Dark in 1987, thus making it a pioneer in reigniting audience’s interest in vampires. A sequel, Fright Night II was filmed in 1988, starring Ragsdale and McDowell reprising their roles in the first film, which unfortunately was not well received, but did catch a second wind upon VHS release, and the DVD edition is now extremely difficult to find. Paying homage to Fright Night, remake was released 2011 with Colin Farrell playing Jerry Dandridge, meeting moderate success for a new audience.
While it is hard to believe that it has been thirty years since the release of the original Fright Night film, looking back through the years, perhaps the film was the best Horror film of the era. Including a top-notch soundtrack with exclusive tracks from Autograph, Devo, The J. Geils Band, Ian Hunter, and more, the night club sequence in Fright Night could also be considered one of the best scenes in a Horror film as well. Overall, Fright Night packed a punch, scaring the pants off Horror fans worldwide, while also making them laugh at the same time, making it one fans can still sink their fangs into for years to come.