Tom Holland’s Fright Night took the classic Transylvanian vampire tale and dropped it into Normal Town U.S.A. in the 1980’s.
1985’s Fright Night started the resurgence of unconventional vampire themed films… later that same year Once Bitten starring a young Jim Carrey hit theaters. The following year there was Vamp. Then in 1987, the one- two punch of The Lost Boys and Near Dark.
Fright Night tells the tale of high school student, Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale), who has his life turned upside down when a vampire moves in next door. Suddenly Charley’s troubles in life go from failing pop quizzes and wondering if his steady girlfriend is ever going to put out, to finding himself in a life or death battle with his immortal next door neighbor.
Charley’s vampire suspicions about his new neighbor, Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon) begin when Charley first lays eyes on Jerry. It happens one night when Charley and his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) are up in Charley’s room making out while watching “Fright Night” a local TV show that airs classic horror movies. Charley and Amy start bickering when Charley tries to take things to the next level and that’s about the time some noise outside gets Charley’s attention… from his bedroom window Charley sees Dandrige and his roommate, Billy Cole, moving what appears to be a coffin. Charley tries to tell Amy about it, but she thinks Charley has just been watching too much “Fright Night” and their “romantic” evening ends on a sour note.
The next day, Charley sees a female escort pay Dandrige a visit, he doesn’t think anything of it at the time (other than the thoughts you’d expect a horny teenage boy to have when seeing a vivacious woman). But later in the week when that same escort’s dead body is found and her picture is on the local news, Charley is 100% convinced that his new neighbor is a murderous vampire. Charley calls in his suspicions to the police… but that does not end well for Charley and eliminates the police as an option for the rest of the film.
Charley turns to his friend, affectionately known as “Evil Ed” (Stephen Geoffreys), for some advice on how he can protect himself against a vampire. Evil doesn’t tell Charley anything he wouldn’t already know as a regular “Fright Night” viewer, but the scene works to help establish the vampire rules for the audience… holy water, garlic, a crucifix and wooden stakes are all weapons Charley can use for protection. But Evil mentions one big vampire rule that should, in theory, keep Charley safe. A vampire can not enter your home unless invited by the owner… as long as Charley is in his home at night, he will be alright. Well, that is until Charley’s single mother invites her new, handsome neighbor over for a Bloody Mary. This leads to our first confrontation between Charley and Dandrige.
Charley then has to take an entirely different approach. While watching another episode of “Fright Night”, Charley can’t help but take notice when the host of the program, Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), states that vampires are in fact real. In Charley’s mind, if anyone is going to believe his story about his neighbor being a vampire, it would be Peter Vincent. So the next day, Charley heads over to the TV station and waits outside for Peter. Peter Vincent, got the horror host gig due to the fact that he himself was a star of many of the classic horror films that the station shows, so a fan waiting outside to meet Peter Vincent, Vampire Killer is not strange… but when Peter hears Charley’s story about a vampire neighbor, he makes a hasty exit believing Charley is off his rocker.
Charley is becoming a desperate young man. When Amy and Evil Ed get wind that Charley is planning on sneaking over to Dandrige’s home and driving a wooden stake through his heart… Amy is able to talk Charley off the ledge, at least temporarily. This buys Amy and Ed enough time to make their own plea to Peter Vincent… including bribing him with a $500 savings bond. Vincent, who at this point has been fired as the host of “Fright Night” due to declining ratings and has received an eviction notice from his landlord… is willing to come to the aid of the troubled Charley Brewster.
Evil Ed suggests that Peter perform a test on Jerry Dandrige in front of Charley to prove to Charley that Dandrige is not a vampire. Dandrige agrees to drink a bottle of “holy water” and invites Ed, Amy and Peter to bring Charley over the next evening.
This visit does nothing to help Charley and before it is all said and done, Peter Vincent realizes that Charley was telling the truth. To make matters worse, Jerry Dandrige becomes infatuated with Amy… who resembles a lover he once had decades ago. But even worse than that, Jerry Dandrige realizes that his guests who left in a hurry know that he is vampire, and that knowledge is going to put them all in danger.
Evil Ed ends up becoming the first victim, as Jerry Dandrige turns Ed to the dark side. After that Jerry tracks down Charley and Amy at a downtown nightclub… it is there that Jerry is able to glamour Amy and she goes home with Jerry Dandrige that night and not only does he get to go where Charley has not, he turns Amy in the process. That leaves only Charley Brewster and Peter Vincent… Dandrige calls Charley and lets him know if he wants to save Amy that Charley and Peter Vincent need to come to his house.
This invite sets up the ultimate fan boy experience. Think about it, getting to go vampire hunting with Peter Vincent the Vampire Killer is akin to to going on an archeological adventure with Indiana Jones or receiving Jedi training from Yoda. Of course Peter Vincent himself, admits he is no vampire killer, he only played one in the movies… but that admission and the fact that when pressed into action, a terrified Peter Vincent still goes with Charley to Jerry Dandrige’s house makes the Peter Vincent character so endearing and my favorite character in the film… and that is saying something, because all the key parts are played extremely well.
William Ragsdale and Amanda Bearse are the boy and girl next door. Stephen Geoffreys is one of the creepy kids we have all known at some point in our lives. And I would totally believe that Chris Sarandon was a vampire if you told me. How freaking smooth is Sarandon in the Jerry Dandrige role?
Fright Night will forever be my favorite vampire flick. I am even a fan of the unsung 1988 sequel and an even bigger fan of the 2011 remake (which to me is probably the best horror movie remake of them all). But I think it is the underdog element of this high school kid and a pretend hero, who have to become real heroes, that puts Fright Night over the top for me.