Fright Night
"Some films are made with so much love, and are so palpably full of people enjoying themselves, that the mood is infectious."

The early 1980s were a transitional period in horror. Serial killers were emerging from the shadows, hunting down American teenagers at unfeasibly elaborate parties. Young audiences wanted so-called 'realistic' horror, and were tired of the Gothic tropes of the Seventies with its occult rites, grans castles and fancy clothes. Even the undead were changing, vampires making way for a relentless army of zombies which has kept marching to this day. In this climate, Tom Holland, a longstanding fan of the older kind of horror, decided to make a stand. He wrote Fright Night to give the vampire a last glorious hurrah. It would become the first film he directed, and it would become an unexpected sensation that's still adored by fans more than three decades later.

It begins with a boy. Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale), who lives in the suburbs with his hard working single mother (Dorothy Fielding), is trying to get more intimate with long term girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) and obsessively watches horror films presented by fading icon Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall). One night, Charley glimpses something going on at the house next door that sends his horror nerd instincts into overdrive. Convinced that new neighbour Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire, he desperately tries to warn people, but no-one will believe him. The only person who seems to take notice of what he's saying is Dandrige himself - and that could put Charley in serious danger.

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If this sound cheesy, it is, but in all the best ways. It's perfectly paced and full of energy, with a witty script and and sharp sense of humour. Ragsdale and his teenage co-stars (including Stephen Geoffreys as best friend 'Evil' Ed) come across like real young people, not the clumsy pastiches often created by scriptwriters who've forgotten what life at that age is like, and their warmth and likeability means the viewer really cares when they're in peril. Sarandon brings a perfect combination of sexual magnetism, ruthlessness and camp to his role, and has a touching possibly-romantic partnership with live-in helper Billy (Jonathan Stark, who claims it wasn't until he saw the finished film that he realised how their interactions come across). But it's McDowall who steals the show. His acutely observed, delicately mannered portrayal of an actor growing old and bitter, but quite terrified of any real dealings with the monsters who made his name, is as endearing as it is entertaining. He is an unwilling Van Helsing, full of useful lore but not at all prepared for the situation he finds himself in when the teenagers seek his help.

Some films are made with so much love, and are so palpably full of people enjoying themselves, that the mood is infectious, even at moments when the subject matter is serious or dark. Fright Night's success cannot be attributed purely to accident - it's beautifully structured, very well edited and full of technical work that really pushed the boundaries of what was possible at the time - but it's the chemistry between cast members that ultimately makes it compelling. Add to this a poptastic score that really catches the Eighties vibe and remains fun to listen to today (it's aged better than the haircuts), and the film is a romp from start to finish. There are some genuinely scary moments and a few astutely judged sentimental ones, but more than anything, it's just enormous fun.

Reviewed on: 22 Dec 2016
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Fright Night packshot
A teenager becomes obsessed by the idea that the sophisticated stranger living across the street is actually a vampire.

Director: Tom Holland

Writer: Tom Holland

Starring: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Stephen Geoffreys, Roddy McDowall

Year: 1985

Runtime: 108 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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