One of my favorite vampire movies is the next title up in the Monsters in the Movies book from DK Canada. Tom Holland’s Fright Night starring Roddy McDowall, Chris Sarandon, Stephen Geoffreys, Amanda Bearse and young William Ragsdale in the lead in this wonderful suburban update on the vampire legend.
I came to horror movies late in film years, I didn’t actually enjoy them until I hit about thirteen, and this was the film that got me into them. Before this both Poltergeist and The Shining had found their way into my home, but I couldn’t bring myself to watch them, the idea freaked of each of their plots freaked me out. I had a vivid imagination as a young tween.
But thanks to Fright Night I discovered Stephen King (though his books had been around the house for awhile. In fact I believe the first King book I read came shortly after this film, and surprise, it was ‘Salem’s Lot), and so man other fantastic horror films, as the blog has demonstrated over the years, and for years to come (one hopes!).
The story is one I could relate to, mostly. Or at least I could relate to the idea. Charlie (Ragsdale) is a but of a horror buff. He loves the public television show Fright Night, hosted by washed up horror actor Peter Vincent (Peter Cushing, Vincent Price – get it?) as played by McDowall.
He loves his girlfriend, Amy (Bearse) and his best friend ‘Evil’ Ed (Geoffreys) shares his interest in horror.
So of course, no one believes him when he is convinced that a vampire, Jerry Dandrige (Sarandon) has moved in next door. Even when the bodies start piling up.
He turns to Peter to help him, but the actor simply believes he is a poor confused boy, but when Amy and Ed approach him, and he in turn approaches Jerry to help convince Charlie he’s wrong, the horror actor realizes the truth and he and Charlie may be in for the fight of their lives as Jerry tears their lives apart.
I remember the first time I saw this film, and I was completely taken in by it. It’s nothing more than a very simple vampire tale set in suburbia, but it’s told so well, the humor and the scares are so on point, Brad Fiedel’s score works brilliantly, and the makeup and special effects work perfectly and most of them have stood the test of time.
The remake is passable, but doesn’t have the same innocence that this version does. And of course the nostalgia factor for me plays very high… and Roddy McDowall!!
There was a follow-up film that saw Charlie going to university and coming up against Jerry’s sister, as well as a short-lived comic series, but nothing quite caught the flavor of the original.
There’s something almost Hitchcockian about the way the story is played out, small town/suburbia filled with disbelief, an everyman thrust into events he didn’t ask for, but can’t stay away from.
The first time I saw this film was when I brought it home on videotape from Vision Video in Bermuda, while we were living there. We would usually rent two or three movies to get us through the weekend, and I brought this one home, loved it, and remember we had some family friends over and they settled in to watch it as well, so I watched it at least two times that weekend.
And I was enchanted by it.
Fright Night was my gateway to horror films, and I will always love this one. To be clear, I say jovially, this is not in conflict with my first film experience which was Jaws, as I don’t discover that a horror film, but an adventure film.
This is one of my favorite McDowall roles, and he’s so brilliant in it. In fact you could argue it’s an understated performance, and it’s so fun to watch him come to the realization that Charlie is right.
It sticks faithfully to the basic vampire rules and by following them and grounding the rest of the in a recognizable (if now dated) realm Fright Night remains a classic of the genre.
And you can find it and others (including some not so classics) in DK Books’ Monsters in the Movies.
“You’re so cool, Brewster…”