What Would You Do If You Accidentally Discovered The House Next Door Was Occupied By Something
Not Human . . .
Something Horrifying . . .
Something Unspeakably Evil?
No One Believes You.
Not Your Mom.
Not Your Girlfriend.
Not Even The Police.
It Knows That You Know.
You’ll Do Anything To Protect Yourself.
But It Will Do Anything To Protect It’s Secret.
I can’t even begin to tell you how much of a ‘memory movie’ this is. I’ve mentioned that term before in other reviews and I can’t recall if I ever defined it, but I suppose now is as good a time as any to do that, if I haven’t. A memory movie is any movie you can recall with vivid detail where you were, who you were with, if anyone, what you were doing and what your life was like when you saw it. Because of this most memory movies, for me anyway, are from childhood, my teen years and a little ways into my 20s, but they can be from yesterday, the day before, or even the year before last just as long as the movie and the moment are working in tandem.
Fright Night is 1985 and 1985 for me is the heart of high school. I was sixteen when it came out in August of that year, but when commercials for it started to pop up all over the TV I didn’t have a clue as to what it was about. You see Fright Night was a pivotal movie in cinema vampire lore. It redefined the creature. Not overwhelmingly so, but just enough for me to think the movie was about a party some kids were throwing that gets infested by demons. Interestingly enough director Kevin Tenney actually makes that movie some years later and his Night Of The Demons (1988) is also a big memory movie.
For some reason I didn’t have any desire to go see Fright Night. I remember being in Mrs. Meranti’s (I think that was her name) psychology class when I learned what it was really about. I sat in front of this kid who was a year ahead of me (cannot remember his name now) and we were talking one day when he mentioned he saw Fright Night and told me it was about vampires. ‘Vampires?!’ I remarked. “I thought it was about demons or something.” And he proceeds to tell me all about it. I still didn’t have any desire to go see it.
My next memory of it picks up when it comes to home video. This is either six months or a year later. We used to go down to the local video store and rent movies and I remember my mother coming home and telling me the video storeowner highly recommended Fright Night. My best friend, Gerry Lee, was set to sleep over this particular weekend so we made a night of it. It was Gerry, my mother and me; we all relaxed in the living room and watched the movie. God, I loved this flick on first viewing. Gerry and my mother did too.
Since I just recently learned Lionsgate may actually own the rights to the not-unexpected 1988 sequel, Fright Night, Part II after all, I might as well briefly discuss my memories of it as well. Keep in mind this is Lionsgate and they’re pretty much still in the phase MGM used to be in many years ago when they owned a ton of genre flicks and would do nothing but “hoard them in their vaults.” Yes, it always pains me greatly when I learn they own a memory movie because odds are it’ll never get released. Ever. And, if it does, call the Pope because I now have proof miracles do happen. So, this is probably as close as I’ll ever get to talking about the sequel. A sequel I love just as much as the first.
I remember when I first heard they were going to do a follow-up. I had just bought the latest issue of Fangoria and was reading it as my mother was driving us home. This would be, perhaps, ’87. I was still a year out from getting my driver’s license. I remember those days, every time I hit up the local bookstore for Fangoria it would be all read by the time I reached home. There wasn’t any mention of a plot yet, so I assumed the sequel would be about Evil Ed, since we all know his survival is hinted at seconds before the end credits roll, but it wasn’t, and I never saw the movie until the end of 1990 when it aired on cable. Again it was another movie I adored upon first viewing. I distinctly recall I was working at K-Mart at the time and me and this girl, who worked there in the shoe department, were just starting to date. I loved the song that runs over the end credits, “Come To Me” by Deborah Holland, and I would routinely sit on the floor of my bedroom, put the tape in and re-run the song over and over.
The next time I see Part II it’s winter 2002, and again it was from a cable airing, but this airing was a significant one since the movie just drops off cable’s radar for years and years. In fact I don’t think I had really even thought about it again until that airing either. And since I didn’t have it on tape I shoved in a VHS tape and recorded it. Yeah, I know, 2002 and I’m still recording on tape?! It’s true I was, but I’ve got a DVD recorder now. When I listened to that song again, Jesus, it was like David Cronenberg had suddenly burst into my room, flipped me over on the bed, pulled up my shirt and jacked me into one of his Existenz pods and blasted back to 1990. Never underestimate the nostalgic power of 80s music, my friends.
So, what’s Fright Night about?
Yeah, I know you Gen-Xr’s know what it’s about, but for the newbs here who weren’t even born when this flick came out and may just be hearing about it now, it’s a “modern” tale of vampirism, plain and simple. In the past three days I’ve reviewed two other vampire movies, comedies actually, and where the vampires of those movies were blatantly of noble lineage the vampire of Fright Night is not, at least there’s no outward sign he is.
His name is Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) and like a lot of cinema vampires he comes with his own “Renfield.” Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark) is his name and as near as I can figure he’s some kind of half-vampire creature for he’s able to operates in the daylight to protect his master and keep up the façade that they’re just two normal guys who’ve moved into this sleepy town in the mid-west. Unfortunately they have the bad luck of moving next door to this high school kid named, Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale), and his mother, Judy (Dorothy Fielding). In Charley’s defense, Dandridge could have taken better care and kept his nocturnal feedings on the down low, but I suppose when one has lived as long as he you become jaded, too cock sure of yourself and perhaps a bit careless, for one night a feeding gets a little too loud. Charley’s hears the scream and gazes out the window at the house.
This is a perfect time to mention Charley’s girlfriend. Her name is Amy Peterson (Amanda Bearse) and in the scenes just following the opening credits, he’s trying to get down her pants but she won’t let him. You get the immediate sense this sexual tension is an oft point of contention between them, but out of the blue she suddenly decides to relent and let Charley have her body. There’s something going on in the backyard of the neighbor’s house, however, that’s taken his mind totally off of sex. It’s the new neighbors carrying a coffin into the basement.
As I said, Dandridge gets far too careless for his own good and it leads to his demise but before we get there, Charley has another late night encounter with his new next-door neighbor. This one is far more alluring. He spies Dandridge and this naked chick about to have what he presumes is sex, but Dandridge suddenly sports fangs and funky fingers and doesn’t take to being spied on.
It doesn’t help there are dead bodies popping up all over town, most seem to be hookers with their heads torn off and the photo of the latest he spies on the news looked exactly like one who asked him for directions to Dandridge’s home the other day.
Fangs? Longer than normal fingers? Decapitated bodies?
Shit, this sounds like the work of a vampire.
But Jerry’s smarter. He one-ups the kid by getting Judy to invite him over. Now he has access to their home any time he wants. And one particular night he decides to finally pay Charley a visit to take his measure.
While throttling the kid up against the wall he gives him a choice, “Forget about me, Charley, and I’ll forget about you.” A pivotal moment in the movie, but Charley doesn’t want peace. He tries to pull a cross on Dandridge so Dandridge tries to shove him out the window to a probable impalement death below on their white picket fence. A lead pencil through the palm and a waking mother prevents Dandridge from completing the murderous act.
Now the games begin. Dandridge flees, trashes Charley’s car and then makes a phone call to him from his bathroom where Billy is attending to his wounded palm. He tells Charley he’s going to put him through more hell than what he did to his car tomorrow night.
The race is on to find some way to kill this vamp and the only way he can find is Peter Vincent, Vampire Killer (Roddy McDowell). Vincent is a low-rent Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee type who made a lot of Hammer-esque movies in his youth. He’s now in the mid-west playing the role of horror host for this channel every Friday night and Charley’s so desperate he believes this man is a “vampire killer,” and thus heads down to the studio the next day to enlist his aid.
I should back up a little here for I’ve neglected to mention an integral character, a friend of Charley and Amy’s named, Ed, but he’s known as “Evil Ed,” because of his love for monsters and the occult. It’s Amy and Ed who persuade Vincent with money to help Charley. You see Vincent thought he was crazy when Charley just came out and told him about the supposed “vampire” living next door to him. But to appease the “mentally ill” kid he agrees to show up at the Dandridge household and perform a “vampire test” to prove he’s not a vampire, but this does not go entirely as expected. It does, actually, until the very end when Vincent inadvertently learns via his pocket mirror Dandridge has no reflection.
There’s an added layer to the movie as we learn Dandridge once knew Amy Peterson in a previous lifetime and he still carries her portrait with him, which Charley gets a brief glimpse of. Once they meet it’s clear he recognizes her and makes plans to make her his all over again. But deep down Dandridge is a bloodthirsty undead monster and in this life Amy clearly has no interest in him. She does, however, end up getting seduced and turned into a vampire, which is how he intends to keep her, but the monkey wrenches thrown into this whole plan are Charley and Peter. And as I mentioned before they end up being the death of him and Billy. But the side of Good does suffer a loss—Evil Ed. He ends up getting turned and then staked. But why did Vincent have to pull the stake out afterwards?
Every one’s performance in his movie is stellar, and spot on, and interesting to watch, but for me the standout has always been Roddy McDowell’s Peter Vincent character. Before this movie McDowell was in two other flicks I had seen and was terrified by—Legend Of Hell House (1973) and It (1966). Hell House scared me the worst.
Most of the key characters went on to star in other projects I still fondly remember: Amanda Bearse got her fame through the series Married With Children (1987-1997); William Ragsdale even headlined a series for a bit, Herman’s Head (1991-1994). I loved both of those shows. Chris Sarandon has done several other movies I’m still a fan of: The Osterman Weekend (1983), Child’s Play (1988) and The Resurrected (1992). While Jonathon Stark went on to do House II: The Second Story (1987), Stephen Geoffreys did 976-Evil (1988) and McDowell reprised his Peter Vincent character for the aforementioned sequel.
The FX are equally top notch with the highlight for me being the demonic bat Dandridge transforms into, hinted at a couple of times throughout the film, but never seen until the confrontation at the end in his house. It’s big, it’s evil looking and sports a vicious bite.
As for the lineage of the movie itself this “lightening in a bottle” has become a bona fide cult classic and you know what happens to cult classics these days? They get remade. Yeah, that’s right, Fright Night was remade in 2011 and even though there were parts I liked (Colin Farrell makes a pretty good 21st century Jerry Dandridge; David Tennant a pretty good Peter Vincent) as a whole it just didn’t live up to the original. I’m guessing the public thought so too since another remake was cranked out two years later, a direct-to-DVD one, with the confusing title, Fright Night 2: New Blood. The ‘2’ is only for the cover of the disc; the main titles when they come up are simply Fright Night: New Blood. I actually liked this version, but the remakes and sequels stop there.
Sony first put Fright Night out on DVD way back in 1999, but when blu-ray was invented it was conspicuously absent from that format for a long time. When Nick Redman and Brian Jamieson created their boutique distribution label Twilight Time in 2011 only then did the movie finally get a blu-ray release, but sadly it was a bit of a disappointment. Despite the transfer being a very welcome upgrade it came without any substantial extra features that most fans knew it should have had. But this was mostly the fault of Sony since their contract initially with Twilight Time was no new extras be created for any of their movies they release.
Quite frankly Sony’s perception of Fright Night has always been a bit of a head-scratcher for fans. I believe briefly there were tentative plans for the studio themselves to release it on blu-ray but at the last minute they balked and gave the film to Twilight Time instead. The general consensus being the studio knew they wouldn’t make substantial money on it. At least the kind of money they’d want, so they sat on it until an opportunity arose where they could, at least, get out a limited edition of 3,000 units of it through Twilight Time. That 2011 blu-ray sold out during the pre-order phase as I knew it would.
This told Twilight Time something and I hope Sony something as well. Fright Night had rabid fans and putting it on blu-ray would actually get those rabid fans to buy it. Cut to January 2015 when Twilight Time decided to re-release the blu-ray for it’s 30th anniversary. This time they gave us the blu we all wanted from the start, fully loaded with plenty of extra features:
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Tom Holland, Actors Chris Sarandon and Jonathan Stark and Moderated by Filmmaker Tim Sullivan
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Tom Holland, Actors William Ragsdale and Stephen Geoffreys, FX Artist Randall Cook and Moderated by Journalist Jeremy Smith and Filmmaker Tim Sullivan
- First Ever Fright Night Reunion Panel – Fear Fest 2 (2008) (54:32) with Tom Holland, Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Stephen Geoffreys, Amanda Bearse, Jonathan Stark and Moderated by Rob Galluzzo
- Shock Till You Drop Presents Choice Cuts with Tom Holland and Ryan Turek: Part 1 (10:42), Part 2 (6:52), Part 3 (10:44)
- Vintage EPK with Behind-the-Scenes Raw Footage (1:34:52)
- Stills and Memorabilia Gallery from the Tom Holland Archives (73 Photos)
- G-Rated Trailer
- R-Rated Trailer
- Isolated Score Track
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.85:1 high definition widescreen—English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio—English SDH subs only.
This new transfer took me by surprise since I assumed the print wouldn’t look any different than the 2011 one. I also assumed the addition of all these extras was the main selling point of this anniversary edition, but the transfer did indeed get an upgrade. This one isn’t as dark as the previous, and the clarity is a lot better. It’s all going to boil down to personal preference in the end. Do you like the darker print of the 2011 blu or the lighter print of the 2015 one? I personally like the 2015 one.
Before a few years ago I had never heard of pirate commentaries, when I heard the cast of Fright Night had done not one, but two, this stunned me. They’re on the Icons Of Fright website along with commentaries for Child’s Play (1988), Nightwing (1977) and Halloween 6: The Curse Of Michael Myers (1995). Nightwing, hey? There’s a commentary I never expected. I was surprised actors and directors could be persuaded to make these, but I suppose if a studio refuses to put the required bells and whistles on certain classics, I guess their existence makes a lot of sense. Up to now I had never listened to the Fright Night ones, and am very, very glad they were included on this anniversary edition.
Amanda Bearse is the only actor from the cast that couldn’t be a part of them. Still you get a lot of information and anecdotes about the making of this flick from the others, even from one of the FX artists involved, Randall William Cook.
The Fright Night 2008 panel was a nice addition too. Hat’s off to whomever arranged it and seeing fit to include Julie Carmen (Regina) and director Tommy Lee Wallace of the ’88 sequel. I kept looking at this dark haired woman in the corner and wondering, ‘I recognize all the others but who the fuck is that?!’ It wasn’t until I saw Wallace at the end that it hit me, ‘Oh, nice, it’s Regina, Dandridge’s vampire sister from the sequel!”
Like the commentaries you also get a wealth of info on the movie, not so much on the sequel. Now that I’m thinking about it someone should arrange a Fright Night, Part II reunion panel with the surviving actors, maybe this would coax Traci Lind out of hiding for some welcome nostalgic talk. I understand she has totally retired from acting and doesn’t really acknowledge that part of her life anymore.
The Shock Till You Drop Choice Cuts segments . . . now those I actually saw before hand on Shock’s website. A very thorough walk down memory lane with Tom Holland on most of the movies he’s ever been involved with.
The most unexpected extra, however, is the 90+ minutes of behind-the-scenes interviews and footage from 1985. A lot of the interviews and portions are repeated, but it’s still a lot of fun hearing from the actors at the time they were actually filming it.
I don’t why I think this but I have a weird feeling you might see one more blu-ray release of this movie some day. It’s probably because of the exclusion of the behind-the-scenes home video Roddy McDowell made I didn’t know existed till the first blu came out. I’m not sure who would release it. I can’t see Twilight Time doing yet another release 3 years from now unless they could add something significantly new it, like McDowell’s home videos. It would be great if Sony would do it themselves. I mean they clearly must know there’s some money to be made now. Both editions have sold out in one day. But I digress. In the meantime, I recommend this one over the previous blu, if you can find it affordable on eBay that is. I can’t believe I typed that with a straight face.