Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fright Night

directed by Tom Holland
starring Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale and Roddy McDowall
Columbia Pictures, August 2, 1985, 106 minutes
Rated R

When a teenager learns that his next door neighbor is a vampire, no one will believe him.

So, with the upcoming release of the Colin Farrell-David Tennant remake of Fright Night (it releases this Friday, on August 19), I decided that I had better refresh my memory of the original (not that I have any plans to see the remake in the theaters, being unemployed and having kids does have its drawbacks), so we queued the original up in the ol’ Netflix and sat down to watch.

Alisa walked out after about 20 minutes and went to do other things.

In the interest of fairness, I sat through the whole thing.  While it is nowhere near as bad as Dracula 2000, Fright Night has not aged well in the last 26 years.  However, if aging is the worst of the films’ faults, then it is still worth seeing.  I think that the last time I saw this film was some time in middle school at a sleep over (it was the same sleepover where we had also rented House II: The Second Story (I still remember the zombie-cowboy-grandfather) and Critters) and I had forgotten much of it, so it was like I was coming to the film anew.  While there were some hokey moments (I’m pretty sure I saw a string on the vampire bat-thing at one point) there are still some genuine chills, especially as the story gets going and Charley (William Ragsdale) is still trying to figure out if his new next door neighbor Jerry (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire or not.  I find that this is a problem with many films of this ilk, that the suspense and tension that is created in the initial ambiguity surrounding the monster/killer/antagonist of a horror film is often dissipated once the monster/killer/antagonist is revealed.  John Carpenter calls this the “Monster Problem” and it is something that horror directors struggle with (at least the good ones do).

Fright Night has the Monster Problem, and while it does not have a perfect solution it does stretch it out as long as possible.  Jerry as a monstrous vampire thing in the end of the film that is threatening to disembowel Charley is not as scary or threatening as the Jerry who is stalking Charley and his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) through the streets of their town and into a dance club.  That predatory vampire is much scarier than the grotesque bat-creature.

The true saving grace of this film is Roddy McDowall’s performance as the aging and fading horror film star.  As Peter Vincent, McDowall is brilliant and steals every scene that he is in.  Really, it is worth it to see the film just for McDowall’s performance.

In the end, I would classify this film more as a “cult horror classic” than a “horror classic,” and it is far from the best vampire film ever made, but it does have its moments, and it is worth the time.

Official Trailer

Fright Night at IMDb