Werewolves may be my favorite movie monster, but vampires are a close second. Speed, strength, the ability to fly. Not to mention the raw sex appeal that vampires almost always seem to possess. What I’m saying is being a vampire wouldn’t suck (I’m so, so sorry).
The 1980s was a glorious time for vampire movies, because it was the decade of the teenager. Yes, in most 80s movies, teenagers could do anything. They could find treasure, they could time travel, they could defend our country against invasion from Russia. They could even fight monsters. Werewolves, vampires, zombies. Teenagers in 80s movies found all sorts of monsters.
But tonight, we find out what happens when the monster finds the teenager, with Fright Night.
Year Released: 1985
Written By: Tom Holland
Directed By: Tom Holland
Starring: William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon, Roddy McDowall
Between school work, chores, and his girlfriend Amy denying his many attempts to take their relationship to the next level, Charlie Brewster has a lot on his mind. So it’s no wonder that he pays little attention to the new neighbor moving in next door, a handsome man with a devilish smile named Jerry Dandridge. But as time passes and the death toll from the recent slew of unsolved murders rises, Charlie finds himself beginning to suspect that Jerry isn’t all that he appears to be.
While surrounded by half eaten bags of chips and unfinished homework, and with late night horror movie showcase host Peter Vincent on his television screen, Charlie is determined to get the bottom of this. While conducting his stakeout, and through the use of binoculars aimed out of his bedroom window and into Jerry’s, Charlie witnesses Dandridge seducing a beautiful young woman. Just as he’s about to turn away in embarrassment, Jerry opens his mouth and reveals a pair of fangs. Taken aback by this horrific sight, Charlie drops the binoculars, causing Jerry to notice Charlie’s snooping intrusion into his late night snack.
Now Charlie knows that Jerry is a vampire. What’s worse: Jerry knows that Charlie knows. It’s a race against time as Charlie turns to his girlfriend Amy, his best friend and horror fanatic Evil Ed, and even his hero and television idol, Peter Vincent: Vampire Killer in a desperate attempt to make them believe him before Jerry comes to pay him a visit. Can Charlie stop the monster next door? Or will Charlie be Jerry’s next meal?
This was one of the first vampire movies, beyond the 1930s Universal Dracula, that I saw as a youth. I remember being a fan of it, even at a young age, because it’s really just a vampiric take on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 classic, Rear Window. Charlie sees something he shouldn’t have seen, but worse, is seen seeing something he shouldn’t have seen and then he has to deal with the consequences of that. I remember thinking that was a really cool concept. I also remember the poster scaring the shit out of me as a boy:
THAT GIANT CLOUD VAMPIRE IS GOING TO EAT YOUR HOUSE, GET OUT OF THERE! SAVE YOURSELF!
As I said above, there were a lot of movies released in the 1980s that featured teenagers doing extraordinary things. I’d consider this to be among them, as Charlie has an unbelievable amount of pressure placed on him, that he eventually overcomes. Will Jerry kill him? Will Jerry kill his mother? Or his girlfriend Amy? Who can say who is next to be served up on Jerry’s proverbial dinner plate? It’s then that Charlie decides to stop him. The rest of the movie alternates between Charlie trying desperately to get someone, anyone, to believe him and taking charge of the situation himself.
The writing is superb for a 1980s vampire movie (trust me, there are far worse than this) and the acting is surprisingly good in a lot of places too. One of the places where it’s not quite so surprising is in the case of Roddy McDowall as the fearless Peter Vincent: Vampire Killer, which is a rare case of one of my favorite actors portraying one of my favorite characters.
A young Amanda Bearse, who would later come to be known as Marcy Rhodes/Darcy on Married, With Children, puts in a good performance as Charlie’s girlfriend Amy.
Stephen Geoffreys gives what I consider to be a scene stealing performance as lovable loser, Evil Ed. Especially later in the film. It’s also Evil Ed that delivers one of my favorite, albeit short, lines of dialogue from the movie. A line that I still repeat to this day:
“You’re so cool, Brewster!”
You really need to hear him say it, and know the context with which it’s used at the very end of the film, for it to have full effect.
Should You See It
Look, I’m pretty sure this was one of the first VHS tapes I owned growing up. There were a lot of vampire movies produced in the 80s, and I mean a lot of them. Most of those movies are nowhere near as good as this, in my opinion, so yes, I feel you should see it. Especially if you’re a fan of 80s vampire movies.
In 2011, a remake was released, featuring an all-star cast. Colin Farrell as the evil Jerry Dandridge, Anton Yelchin as Charlie Brewster, and Doctor Who’s own David Tennant putting in a Roddy McDowall worthy performance as Peter Vincent, to name a few. It’s also quite good and worth checking out, if you’re a fan of the original.
There was also a sequel released in 1988 entitled Fright Night: Part II and it was… Not so good. You can read my review of it (complete with another horrible vampire pun!) here.