Still thrilling over thirty years later


In his directorial debut, Tom Holland’s “Fright Night” was released on Aug. 2, 1985. The film has gained a cult following that has lasted into the 21st century. The story is simple: a teenaged boy discovers his new neighbor is a vampire and seeks to unveil his identity before it’s too late. Charley Brewster becomes the neighborhood defense against all things evil, teaming up with has-been horror star Peter Vincent.

Holland, who previously had been a screenwriter for other 1980s cult classics (“The Beast Within”, “Class of 1984”) decided he wanted to pay homage to classic vampire flicks of the golden age of Hollywood. “Fright Night, ”in summary, is a traditional vampire feature catered to a modern, 1980s, young adult audience.

The score of the film was composed by Brad Fiedel. It’s a synth-infused euphony with two standouts, “Dream Window” and “Come to Me,” both invoking a sultry, dark atmosphere. The score overlaps with a soundtrack that sonically captures the 1980s, with artists such as Ian Hunter and Evelyn “Champagne” King featured.

I was a senior in high school when I watched “Fright Night” for the first time. I was entranced, bewitched even, by the clever plot, the campy horror aesthetic, and the practical effects that sent shivers up my spine. Although a horror flick, “Fright Night” explores sexuality through the vampire themes, especially through our leading villain, Jerry Dandridge, a seductive, almost angelic, vampire. I watched the film for the second time the following night, with eyes for Jerry and Jerry alone.

When I try to examine what about this film enchanted me so thoroughly, I clearly pinpoint the characters. “Fright Night’s” cast of characters is filled to the brim with tropes, clichés, and the naïve ignorance of teenagers. What makes this charming is the situational dynamics that are explored between characters, which the small cast is able to convey convincingly. Our hero, Charley Brewster, opens the film during a makeout session with his girlfriend, Amy. Charley is a fan of a local horror program, appropriately titled “Fright Night,” which serves as background noise as the two teenagers awkwardly try to find a middle ground for their sexual desires.

William Ragsdale (“Herman’s Head”), who was 24 at the time of filming, performs with an innocence that captures the simplicity of Charley’s life pre-Jerry Dandrige. Chris Sarandon’s (“Dog Day Afternoon”) performance as Jerry revamps the blueprint of the Dracula-esque vampire typecast that had grown out of style by the 1980s. He’s charming, smooth talking, and he easily becomes subject to Charley’s investigation after the murder of two prostitutes that he’d seen going into 22 Oak Street.

Jerry is written as if he is still trying to hold onto his humanity; he still feels for a long-lost love, and has an implied homosexual relationship with his familiar, Billy Cole. Sarandon, in his own attempt to bring humanity to his character, has Jerry nibbling on fruit throughout the film, as in his research he learned that most bats found in America are fruit bats.

Charley’s companions, Amy, played by Amanda Bearse, (“Married…With Children”) and his friend Evil-Ed, played by Stephen Geoffreys, (“Fraternity Vacation”) are both complex characters that do more than serve as sidekicks. Amy is a young woman who isn’t sure of herself yet. She rejects Charley’s attempts to sleep with her before eventually succumbing to the pressure, only to then get frustrated when Charley’s attention isn’t on her anymore. Her intentions aren’t always entirely clear, as she seems to care for Charley, but at the same time acts viciously towards him the moment she doesn’t get all his focus. Evil-Ed, Charley’s strange-but-loyal friend, is often seen as a joke, and even though Charley relies on him, he still feels the need to insult him. Both characters play important roles in Charley’s character arc, as well as create a chemistry of teenage friendship that lends a more lighthearted tone to the film.

The host of “Fright Night” himself, Peter Vincent, played by Roddy McDowell (“Planet of the Apes”) is a horror movie caricature who pays homage to Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, two actors from the horror movies that inspired Tom Holland. Vincent embodies the roles he played in his heyday, now only finding work as a horror TV host. Throughout the film, Vincent embodies his aspirational role as vampire hunter, as he becomes the embodiment of who he wanted to be. His cowardice is replaced by sympathy for his companions, which allows him to become brave.

This is a great comedy/horror film that has weathered the years beautifully.