This post is part of my 31 Days of Vampires! series for October 2014.
Teenager Charley just wants his girlfriend Amy to put out. C’mon guys, he’s waited a year already! Most school nights the two of them turn the telly to Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), hackneyed horror host, and wrestle/make-out until they get to arguing about when TEH SEX is supposed to happen.
We are about forty-five seconds into my plot synopsis and if you’re bored already well, so was the film – because enough’s enough, here’s your vampire! In the form of smug, yuppie neighbor Jerry Dandridge (Jerry? Jerry is not a scary name) as played by Chris Sarandon. Charley spots Jerry getting up to his bloodsucking ways and Jerry spots Charley spotting him. Thus the teenage hero embarks on a mission to stop the dastardly demon and save his small town from vampiric assault.
Fright Night deserves more recognition than it gets. It is solid boilerplate 80s horror and moves along at a nice clip. The special effects deserve mention, too: long before CGI, when what we had was makeup, lighting tricks, fog machines, and gooey prosthetics. The film makes wonderful use of techniques between transformation stages (in what I call, the “Manimal” technique). Vampire Jerry, for instance, has about four looks – the Jerry-with-sexy-fangs, the Jerry-who-is-a-gross-monster, the Jerry-who’s-halfway-in-between, and the Jerry who’s actually just a gooey puppet/bat/rat monkey thing. Notable too is a distressing and realistic vampire-as-wolf detransformation, and the final vampire dispatched onscreen – complete with green flames, imploding glass, and a horrific skeletal abomination screaming into eternity.
Star power: there isn’t much. Sarandon is pretty great – we’ll get to him in a minute. Teenage Amy and Charley as played by Amanda Bearse and William Ragsdale (you may recognize the latter from “Justified”) provide little charisma or likeability. McDowall must have been a director’s favorite because the last 1/3 of the film showcases him having close call after close call and mercilessly mugging to the camera in the fashion we’ve come to expect from this B-movie icon.
Vampire films have wisely tapped into sex from the get-go and this film is no exception. Like many, Amy is viewed as too-virginal for the hero’s taste – but don’t worry, she’ll change her mind. And who can blame her? Chris Sarandon – 80s pleated Dockers, textured sweater and all – makes a very sexy, suave – and frankly sarcastic vampire. The nightclub scene alone is worth the film!
And did I mention smug? He has gotta be the smuggest Nosferatu I’ve seen onscreen.
For vampire fans: 5 out of 5 stars.