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Despite its age, the sexy, funny, and thrilling “Fright Night” remains one of the genre’s best with its stellar cast and killer effects.

Written and directed by Tom Holland, Fright Night, like the recently celebrated The Lost Boys, is yet another classic ‘80s vampire film that places vampires within a new context.

Holland’s story presents an irresistible scenario: a fan of classic horror films believes his neighbor is a vampire. In the end, he’s helped out by a veteran horror movie actor who has always played a vampire hunter and finally gets to become one in real life.

The film is a wonderful homage to classic horror films — a brilliant blend of classic horror with multilayered characters with just a touch of camp. Holland also assembled a talented ensemble cast whose nuanced performances bring the characters to life from page to screen, aided by a talented team of special effects artists.

Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) is a horror fan and faithful viewer of Fright Night, which airs classic B horror films hosted by Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell). Vincent (named after horror legends Peter Cushing and Vincent Price) was a well-known horror movie actor in Hammer-esque 1960s films, playing a Van Helsing-type character.

The Brewsters have a new next-door neighbor, Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon). Jerry is a mysterious and handsome man who is oddly never been seen in daylight, though his roommate, Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark), is much less daylight-averse.

Charley spies on his new neighbor one night and sees him bite a victim and drink her blood. Meanwhile, the news reports that some women have gone missing. Charley tries unsuccessfully to convince his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) and friend Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) that Jerry is a vampire.

Eventually, Amy and Ed convince horror movie legend and Fright Night host Peter Vincent to get involved.

Fright Night was both a critical and commercial success and has achieved cult film status.

Released on August 2, 1985, the film grossed $24.9 million at the box office against a $9 million budget.

Fright Night was Holland’s directorial debut. He started out as an actor before trying screenwriting. His previous screenwriting credits include Cloak and Dagger, Scream for Help, and Psycho II. Already a successful screenwriter, Columbia Pictures decided to give Holland a shot when he expressed interest in directing Fright Night.

Mental Floss quotes Holland as saying, “I started to kick around the idea about how hilarious it would be if a horror movie fan thought that a vampire was living next door to him […] I thought that would be an interesting take on the whole Boy Who Cried Wolf thing. It really tickled my funny bone. I thought it was a charming idea, but I really didn’t have a story for it.”

It was when Holland came up with the idea for Peter Vincent that the story clicked.

According to Mental Floss, Holland was discussing his idea with a department head at Columbia Pictures when the idea of Vincent’s character popped into his head.

“Of course, he’s gonna go to Vincent Price!” Holland told Dread Central. “The minute I had Peter Vincent, I had the story […] Charley Brewster was the engine, but Peter Vincent was the heart.”

While Holland was thinking of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Fright Night makes me think of the Hitchcock classic Rear Window, about a man who watches his neighbors and, from his observations, comes to believe that his neighbor murdered his wife.

Charley sees Jerry drink a woman’s blood and the reports of missing women on the news. However, Charley is also known as a huge horror fan. So, when he tries to convince his friends that Jerry is a vampire, they don’t believe him. Charley just comes off as a lonely, nerdy teenager who watches too many horror movies — something many of us can relate to.

Fright Night’s cast has flawless chemistry.

Ragsdale, Bearse, Geoffreys, McDowell, and Sarandon work so well together. No matter how unbelievable things get, they sell every minute of it.

The characters are also beautifully written and multilayered.

Evil Ed is the outcast who embraces vampirism as a form of personal empowerment. Charley is the nerd who wants to be a hero and get the girl. Jerry is a timeless vampire, jaded by living through countless ages only to cross paths with someone who resembles a woman he once loved. His pursuit of Amy is the pursuit of a ghost from his past. Peter Vincent is a failed actor who embraces the role of a lifetime — to be a hero in real life once he realizes that the monsters he fought on screen are real.

At first, Oscar nominee Chris Sarandon didn’t want to be in a horror movie. However, he gave Holland’s script a chance, and reading the full story changed his mind.

Ranker reports that Sarandon described Holland’s script as “Beautifully constructed, it was obvious that this was a labor of love, it was clear that the writer/director’s approach to it was one of wanting to have fun with the genre without making fun of it, the characters were beautifully drawn.”

Sarandon also wasn’t sure about working with a first-time director. But Holland and Sarandon met to discuss the film, and after Holland shared his vision with Sarandon in detail–frame by frame, Sarandon was convinced to do the film.

Ranker quotes Sarandon as saying that “Literally [Holland] described the movie shot-by-shot all the way through — page-by-page, scene-by-scene. It was basically the way he shot it.”

Holland also came up with an exercise for the actors to help them relate to their characters better. He made the actors write backstories for their characters. Stephen Geoffreys didn’t agree at first. He changed his mind when Holland told him that if he didn’t participate in the exercise, he would be dropped from production.

Most of Fright Night’s $9 million budget went to create excellent over-the-top special effects.

The flawlessly executed effects add creepiness as well as a touch of camp.

Each character’s metamorphosis is like watching a comic book character come to life. Jerry morphs into a classic monstrous bat, Evil Ed shifts to wolf form, and Amy sprouts shark-like jaws.

Puppets, prosthetics, and optical effects were provided by Richard Edlund’s Boss Film Corporation, which had just finished working on Ghostbusters at the time. While working on Ghostbusters, The Boss Film team honed their skills, which was to Holland’s advantage when he got the team to work on Fright Night.

“They had made all of their mistakes with how to do the matte shots and everything on Ghostbusters with their huge budget, and so they really knew how to do [the special effects] as inexpensively and efficiently as it could be done at the time,” Holland said.

Fright Night spawned an underrated 1988 sequel that doesn’t get much attention or air time. Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, Fright Night 2 follows Charley (Ragsdale) to college, where he crosses paths with Jerry Dandridge’s sister, Regine (Julie Carmen). McDowell also reprised his role as Peter Vincent.

Many sources report that, as of October 2020, Holland is working on a direct sequel to his original Fright Night story in novel format. Holland told Nerdist that his novel is called Fright Night II: Resurrection, which will include the characters from the original film, including Jerry Dandridge and Evil Ed.

“The demand just kept growing and growing,” Holland said.

“I have a feeling that Charley Brewster, who’s older but not that much older, maybe ten years, comes back to Rancho Corvallis when his mother Judy passes away unexpectedly. And he finds that new people have moved into the house next door.”

In 2011, Fright Night fans saw a much darker remake with Colin Farrell as a much more deadly and less human Jerry Dandridge and the late Anton Yelchin as a heroic Charley Brewster. While the remake is entertaining and action-packed, it lacks the original homage Holland created to classic horror movies.

Farrell’s Jerry was ruthless and cold-blooded, while Sarandon’s Jerry remained likable, even as he relentlessly pursued Charley and his friends. Sarandon played Jerry as just a vampire trying to get by until a nosy teenager got in his way. Farrell is pure darkness and determined to feed or kill whoever crosses his path.

The 2011 remake also has a 2013 straight-to-DVD sequel Fright Night 2: New Blood, which I haven’t seen but heard has nothing to do with the 2011 Fright Night story.

Fright Night, like many horror classics, also inspired a comic book series with Charley and Peter Vincent taking on other types of supernatural creatures.

Holland’s Fright Night is a timeless tale whose delightful charm never grows old; it still resonates with horror fans over 30 years later.

SOURCES
“Behind The Scenes of 1985’s Vampire Classic ‘Fright Night,’ by Jack Morgan, October 12, 2022, Ranker; “16 Biting Facts About ‘Fright Night,” by Jennifer M. Wood, October 23, 2018, Mental Floss; “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Fright Night,” Minty Comedic Arts, Uploaded December 11, 2017, YouTube; “Director Tom Holland on FRIGHT NIGHT at 35 and Its Upcoming Sequel,” by Eric Diaz, October 30, 2020, Nerdist.

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