Remade last year in 3D with Colin Farrell as the villain, the original 1985 “Fright Night” told the story of a teenager who realizes his next-door neighbor is a vampire. Despite its age, the original still holds up, and given its 80s setting it now feels kind of retro. For one thing, Amanda Bearse, better known for playing feminist neighbor Marcy in the long-running sitcom “Married with Children,” plays the girlfriend character. The effects still hold up, and probably merit even more admiration since every thing was done by hand due to non-existent CG technology. A character not only explodes, he oozes pus first. Added bonus: in the 80s it was O.K to include a lot of cursing and gratuitous nudity in summer movies. Those were the days.
From the very first frame director Tom Holland set the mood by opening with a shot of a full moon with a wolf howling in the distance. We then hear characters discussing vampires and how to kill them. But as the camera pans down into a suburban house, we see it is only the television playing some a low-rent vampire show. Teenager Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) is half-listening to the show while making out with his girlfriend Amy (Bearse). He gets distracted when he notices the new neighbors moving in and sees them carrying a coffin into the basement. Uh-oh.
Amy of course dismisses Charley’s sighting as the result oft the TV show, but over the next few days the neighbors get busy. They do a lot of carpentry, mostly barring the windows so sunlight doesn’t enter the house. Then hookers arrive at the house, but none leave. However, one of the neighbors carries out large garbage bags early the next morning. Meanwhile, the TV news reports a wave of murders has hit the town. As Charley spies on the house with his binoculars “Rear Window” style, he hears the sound of wings flapping and sees one of the neighbors has a rather sharp pair of pearly white teeth.
With no doubt in his mind there is a vampire next-door, Charley calls the police and tells them he has found the serial killer. The seemingly human Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark) lets them into the house and challenges Charley’s evidence. Seeing there is no proof, Charley openly says the “V” word and the police leave feeling quite insulted. That night things escalate as the vampire, Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon), shows up in Charley’s living room. You know, just to introduce himself to his mother, say hello and threaten to kill him if he ever calls the police again.
This is when the movie takes a meta turn, as Charley turns to the one person he believes can help him: Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) the star of “Fright Night,” the vampire TV show Charley loves. On TV Vincent repeatedly says he believes in vampires and gives advice on how to kill them. Unfortunately for Charley, in reality Vincent is a burned out actor whose contract has expired. In an amusing scene, he rants about how 80s kids not longer care about vampires, but about mask-wearing killers who like to stab horny teenagers (hello “Friday the 13th“). Initially he believes Charley is crazy, but after a visit at Dandridge’s house he notices the man has no reflection. Actor Peter Vincent must now actually become Peter Vincent The Vampire Killer.
The movie has some good production value and creates some appropriately creepy atmospheres. Dandridge’s house is filled dusty old furniture, cobwebs and chandeliers. Then there is a steam-filled dark alley one character is foolish enough to walk down alone. This is the moment when you shoot at the screen “don’t go there you idiot!”
The performances are also quite effective. Sarandon as Dandridge is both charming and threatening as he invites himself into Charley’s house. One minute he is making light jokes while wearing a grey sweater, the next he’s issuing death threats to Charley over the telephone. This was the 80s so of course this guy had never read “Twilight,” but if he had, he would probably have laughed his ass off. Then he would have called a hooker for a midnight snack.