Fright Night (1985)
Dir. Tom Holland
31 for 31 is a curated film program for the month of October. Conceived of as a compilation mixtape, the program explores the historical and cultural legacy of Horror cinema. Consider this my billet-doux to the genre.
Kevin Williamson was not the first filmmaker to interpret horror from a self-deprecating perspective. More than a decade prior, and just a month after Marty had shot back into the future; Fright Night swooped into cinemas. A loving tribute to Hammer Horror, Writer-Director Tom Holland’s meta take on the mythical vampire blazed a self-referential trail. Its impact is evident: Fright Night staked, so Scream could stab.
Fright Night was Holland’s directorial debut, but he’d been hustling in Hollywood as a writer for several years beforehand. He was best known at the time for writing the punk anthem, Class of 1984, and the belated sequel, Pyscho II. The latter must have left an impression since Fright Night is effectively a spooky riff on another Hitchcock thriller, Rear Window, with William Ragsdale’s Charley Brewster filling in for Jimmy Stewart.
The Charley we meet is a teenage dweeb who spends most of his time watching trashy horror movies or hoping to get laid. Like most kids his age, he’s grappling with all sorts of high school angst. He’s failing trig, he sucks at being a boyfriend, and he’s kind of an asshole. But his life gets curveball when he begins to suspect his new neighbor, Jerry (a perfect Chris Sarandon), might just be a bloodsucking scourge.
Naturally — because this is how all these stories play out — no one believes poor Charley. His girlfriend, Amy, and best friend, “Evil” Ed, tell him to stop watching so many goddamn scary movies (one sympathizes). With no other options, Charley seeks the help of TV host and self-proclaimed vampire killer, Peter Vincent (a similarly perfect Roddy McDowell), to help him vanquish the undead demon.
The first half of the ’80s was dominated by slashers, forcing vampires back into their caskets. The genre had become a bit old hat (or bat) so Holland’s film served as a much-needed resurrection. Fright Night was instrumental in ushering in the idea of a “modern” vampire. These creatures of the night were now enjoying a hipper nightlife: leaving behind their creepy castles in favor of trendy night clubs. Christopher Lee’s cowl had given way to Chris Saradon’s turtleneck. Films like Near Dark and The Lost Boys would push the concept even further (with lots more leather), but Fright Night effectively gave vamps their fangs back.
As Roger Ebert said in his review, “Fright Night is not a distinguished movie, but it has a lot of fun being undistinguished.” Way to hit the nail on the coffin, Rog. This movie is a fucking blast with an infectious Goonies-esque charm that makes it thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. A corpse-cold classic, Fright Night has something for everyone to sink their teeth into.