Year: 1985 Company: Columbia Pictures Runtime: 106′
Director: Tom Holland Writer: Tom Holland
Music: Brad Fieder Cinematography: John Kiesser
Cast: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, Stephen Geoffreys, Jonathan Stark, Dorothy Fielding, Art Evans, Stewart Stern, Nick Savage, Ernie Holmes, Heidi Sorenson, Irina Irvine
Disc company: Twilight Time Video: 1080p 2.41:1 Audio: DTS HD-MA 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH Disc: BD25 (All Region) Release Date: 12/13/2011
Fright Night is now officially SOLD OUT
Reviewed from a screener provided by Twilight TIme
“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’ll do anything to protect it’s secret…”
It’s not often that one can rely on a theatrical trailer to give an honest description of the film it represents, but in the case of Tom Holland’s 1985 horror opus Fright Night the advertising makes such excellent work of it that I feel no remorse in letting it do that part of my job for me. With inspirations ranging from Hammer to Hitchcock, a smart script, and a superb cast of players, Fright Night ranks as one of the very best of the ’80s genre revivals and a damn fine film in its own right. In theme it recalls the distinct brand of sci-fi terrors Universal’s B-picture department specialized in some thirty years before (epitomized by 1955’s Tarantula!), in which all manner of fantastic horrors were visited upon small-town America, though in practice it’s a different beast all together. Standing in for the Cold War paranoia of then is a sexual anxiety fitting of Fright Night‘s teen leads, while the usual atom-born menace is lost in favor of one of the oldest fantasy threats of all – the vampire.
Taking place in an anonymous slice of Reagan-era suburbia, Fright Night follows the exploits of veritable every-teen Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale), a high school kid with a beer light in his room, porno mags shoved between his encyclopedias, a doting single mother, and a girlfriend named Amy (Amanda Bearse) who loves him to bits even if she’s horrified to go “all the way“. Charley idolizes his local horror icon Peter Vincent, washed-up host of the late-night schlock marathons from which the film takes its name, stumbles through his trigonometry homework, and oh yeah – he has a vampire living next door who knows Charley knows about him and wants to kill him for his troubles. With no one believing his story, not even Vincent, Charley rightfully fears for his life, but things get even more personal when the suave bloodsucker next door takes a shine to his virginal girlfriend…
It is with that last point that Fright Night, a terrific horror film on its surface merits alone, reveals what’s really on its mind – sex. Some (including Julie Kirgo, who contributes the excellent liner notes for this release) have read homosexual undertones into the vampire Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon as the ultimate in sensual and be-sweatered yuppie menace) and his relationships with troubled young outsider “Evil” Ed (Stephen Geoffreys, who made a career of gay porn in the ’90s) and his live-in familiar Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark), but the most overt of the film’s sexual substance is of the straight variety. Indeed, Holland pushes the subject from the very start, opening with a bit of intercourse that is not to be between Charley and his beloved. The vampire attack witnessed by Charley that starts all the trouble is an overtly sexualized affair and a later encounter between Dandridge and Amy (the spitting image of Jerry’s long-dead lover) is even more so, with Amy cooing in orgasmic bliss as blood trickles down her back. In this context the growing conflict between Charley and the dastardly Dandridge becomes less about survival than about who will collect the sexy spoils, and control the fate of Amy’s freshly-awakened sexuality.
Fright Night may have sex on the brain, but it’s still out for thrills and chills, first and foremost. Holland and company don’t disappoint. Though bolstered by terrific practical effects and creature design from Randall William Cook and Richard Edlund (Oscar-winning alumni of such productions as Ghostbusters and Raiders of the Lost Ark), Fright Night‘s most effective moments remain its simplest, like Charley investigating suspicious noises in the night, Dandridge suddenly appearing in the corner of a darkened bedroom, or “Evil” Ed running into the stalking menace in a misty alleyway. Holland shows a keen understanding for the genre throughout, both in his taught direction (this, his debut as director, remains his best work in that regard) and in the intelligence of his screenwriting, and never neglects the horror of the situation. Much more importantly, he never neglects the characters who make that horror tick.
To that end it’s impossible not to discuss Fright Night without also discussing its cast, perhaps the best in practice of any of the decade’s revival horrors. Roddy McDowall gives the performance of his later career (one he would reprise in Fright Night Part 2 three years later) as down on his luck horror icon Peter Vincent, whose career as cinema’s preeminent vampire killer has collapsed into a low-pay hosting gig on a late night television film show. Initially paid to help cure Charley of his vampire delusions, Vincent soon finds himself the unlikely ally of the child, and forced to summon the courage of a role he’d played so many times before to combat an evil all too real. McDowall balances Vincent’s tremendous charm and ego (his reaction to discovering Charley and his friends don’t want his autograph is priceless) with underlying insecurity and, ultimately, courage, and practically owns the picture in the process.
At the more malignant end of the spectrum lies Chris Sarandon as the devilish Jerry Dandridge, who, along with Kinski, Schreck, Lugosi, and Lee, exists as one of film’s most memorable vampires. Dandridge – who eschews the traditional cape for snazzy cable knit sweaters and has a taste for fresh fruit (fruit bat?) just as strong as his taste for the supple necks of prostitutes – is every bit a product of the decade in which the film was made, an upper crust yuppie bloodsucker with a penchant for remodeling homes and antiquing. He keeps up with the pop music scene, looks perfectly adept in the neon haze of a discotheque, and keeps a dark, wry sense of humor about himself that makes him seem all the more dangerous (“What’s the matter Charley? Afraid I’d never come over without being invited first?”). But Dandridge is more than just yuppie trappings and a handsome smirk, whistling “Strangers in the Night” as he stalks his prey. Sarandon’s ace performance lends the character an attractive outsider mystique and a feral magnetism that’s difficult to ignore. He’s a perfect villain, made all the more effective by just how tempting he makes the evil he represents appear.
Like Dandridge, Fright Night itself is very much a product of its time, though it’s no less successful a picture today for the polka dotted linoleum on its floors or the Ian Hunter on its soundtrack. It remains the best film of writer and director Tom Holland’s career (is that really The Langoliers I see in your filmography? Oy.), and easily makes my short list for most satisfying genre efforts of the ’80s. Among its often lamentable brethren Fright Night manages to be something different, something special, and for those keen on horror it’s an absolute must-see.
Fright Night proved a surprise success upon its release, becoming the second highest grossing horror film of 1985 (behind A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge), but times have clearly changed. Though still a popular cult item Fright Night has become just another among many victims of waning big-studio confidence in deeper library titles, however successful they may have been initially, and the lackluster returns of the recent remake (also to be released on Blu-ray today) have sealed its fate as far as owners Columbia / Sony are concerned. With no interest on the part of the owners to release the film to Blu-ray themselves, niche label Twilight Time have stepped in to take up their slack. While many may find the arrangement less than ideal, with Fright Night released as a limited edition of 3000 at a price point higher than might be expected of a wider issue, you’ll hear no complaints from me. If this is the future of library titles on Blu-ray then I’m in full support of it, and those wishing to see more marginal big-studio properties available on the format would do well to do the same.
But what of the disc, eh? Fright Night arrives on Blu-ray with an honest 1080p transfer in the original Panavision ratio that serves the intended aesthetics of its modest production quite dutifully. From the neon-drenched interiors of the discotheque and a beer-light illuminated teenage bedroom to the starker, more natural exteriors, the latest Sony-produced master of the title looks very good throughout. Damage is minimal, limited to some baked-in white marks and a bit of minor dust and debris, and while the level of detail can vary greatly from scene to scene the end results never appear unfaithful to the original photography. There’s a lovely layer of natural grain in evidence throughout, and though the modest encode (single layer AVC at an average video bitrate of 21.5 Mbps) results in some (very) minor artifacts there’s nothing here that’s so dramatic as to distract from viewing. This is another strong showing from Twilight Time, and fans of Fright Night should be very pleased.
Blu-ray screenshots were taken as uncompressed .png at full resolution in Totem Movie Player, and compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 95% using the ImageMagick command line tool.
Originally a Dolby Stereo show, Fright Night‘s visuals are served well by a new lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. Those expecting directional effects to be bouncing about like ping-pong balls will be out of luck – what you get is occasional LFE umph and some minor separation, but a track that remains faithful to the overall aesthetics of the original recording. The moody synth score, dialogue and effects all sounded excellent to these ears, and appropriately vintage for a film now in its 26th year. I dig it. The most robust addition to the contractually-limited supplemental package (which otherwise includes only a pair of theatrical trailers, both in HD with lossless audio) is the isolated Brad Fieder score in lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo which, though lacking the notable pop songs included in the film (I assume they were omitted due to the lofty expense of licensing them), sounds quite robust. Twilight Time leave very little to complain about here, and even include a set of optional English SDH subtitles in the mix.
In the short period Twilight Time have been active in the Blu-ray market expectations have already grown quite high for them, and Fright Night does not disappoint. Another excellent set of liner notes (remember when these were included with practically everything?) from Julie Kirgo round out the package, and even include the URL for a pair of Fright Night ‘pirate’ audio commentaries (available from Icons of Fright) featuring much of the cast and crew. Awesome stuff! Whatever your thoughts on these limited edition niche releases, the bottom line is that you won’t find Fright Night looking or sounding better than it does here, and isn’t that what really matters? Fans and genre junkies are heartily encouraged to indulge.
Film: Excellent Video: Excellent – Audio: Excellent
Supplements: Isolated Brad Fieder score track. two theatrical trailers in HD, liner notes by Julie Kirgo.
Packaging: Standard Blu-ray case with booklet.
Fright Night is now officially SOLD OUT