Fright Night Review
Written by: Constantce
When did you first become a horror fan? Do you remember catching glimpses of The Exorcist from the top of the stairs when you were supposed to be in bed? I did. It’s because Mom’s been a fan since she was a little girl. One of the first horror movies that Mom let me watch – questionable judgment or not – was Fright Night, (1985). It reminded her of her old favorites. Of the nights she snuck downstairs to watch horror on TV. The title of the movie is derived from the title of the TV show that Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell) hosts.
“a-Welcome a-tooo a-Frrrrrrright Night. For real.” This line, delivered by Jerry (Chris Sarandon), encapsulates the feel of the whole movie. It is a comic nod to the over-the-top TV Horror Hosts of yesteryear, and it rolls into a chilling statement that you should be scared. I have been frightened by that “for real” every single time I’ve seen this movie, which is somewhere in the hundreds, for sure.
The special effects are pretty dated, but if you’ve got good enough acting, it doesn’t matter. A good example of this is when Jerry is in Charlie Brewster’s (William Ragsdale) room. By this point in the movie, you feel connected enough to Charlie to feel fear in the face of the plasticized vampire, his fangs hanging out and eyes too dead to be… uh… dead. You also believe the pencil through the hand, but you’ve definitely got to suspend disbelief for that, because it is pretty fake. Amy’s (Amanda Bearse) super-wide vampire grin is a little more unnerving, but then you get Evil Ed’s (Stephen Geoffreys) transformation, which recalls all the great Werewolf films and even Michael Jackson’s Thriller. His changes are graphic, but what really makes the scene hit home is the pathetic growling of what sounds like a dog in pain. There have been discussions on the boards about how the innocent make such effective victims, and Evil is both dog and boy. Weird as he is, he is likely inexperienced in the ways of love, and you can feel his life potential slipping away when he dies.
Fright Night came at a time when I was just learning how strange sexuality can be. I was confused about being turned on by a horror film, but this is movie is about sex as much as it is about vampirism. Eroticism is dripped over the entire plot, from the innocence of the impending “first time” between Charlie and Amy to the bare-breasted prostitute on the verge of being slain in plain view, to the seduction dance inside the night club. You might even view Evil’s naked death as a little homo-erotic. Yes, blood and boobs are the two basics of horror film, but sometimes it seems like the boobs are thrown in with next to no plot-fulfilling purpose. The good thing about these dual themes of sex and violence in Fright Night is that they are bound together.
The novel Dracula, by Bram Stoker, is not the first literary reference to a bloodsucker, but it is the best known. What isn’t such common knowledge is that Stoker would probably turn over in his grave if he knew that his Dracula had become a sex object. If anything, Stoker was trying to warn against promiscuity, painting the bloodsucking as an allegory for losing virginity. Look at what happens to Lucy, the girl that succumbs. Her innocence is gone, she is physically ill, and she becomes hungry for the blood of children. How unnatural! There can be no marriage in the future for this girl who had so many possible suitors. She is ruined. Stoker wanted to scare his readers into fearing premarital sex, fearing the disease it might bring. Yes, you can call vampirism a sexually transmitted disease. Too bad for Stoker. Instead, readers pined for the dark sexuality of the predator. And thus, the romantic vampire was born. Paving the way for the Universal Dracula’s of yesteryear and then eventually leading to Jerry Dandridge, a monstrous and voracious seducer of women and maybe even men (he’s got his live-in helper, Billy).
No one can resist Jerry. His eyes are intense and unafraid, a side effect of his nature, but also enormously appealing. He “charms” everyone, even Amy, who is already in love with Charlie. This echoes back to Dracula, who takes Mina from Jonathan. Amy tries to resist, and her sweet innocence nearly keeps her safe, but Jerry’s sexual prowess is too expert. Unfortunately, their first kiss doesn’t play out right. She looks nervous, as she should, and he is playing the part of gentle seducer, but the kiss doesn’t gel. Be it bad acting (I’m not going to get into the real-life sexuality of the actors), or whatever, I expected more out of that union. Still, when she undoes the top of her Marilyn Monroe gown, his eye-balling her and her looking so undressed satisfies the moment. The resolution of the film has good conquering evil, but being a modernization of the Victorian theme, instead of finding Charlie and Amy walking down the aisle, they are finally consummating their physical relationship, and you get the sense that their love (and somehow their having sex) will protect them from horrors of the future. Even if they aren’t traditionally pure, in the updated context of modern society, they are monogamous and in love.
Fright Night is one of those horror flicks that you’ve probably got on VHS and DVD, and if you’re truly psycho, like I am, you’ve even got that “Hypnotized” song on your iPod. You’ve probably seen Fright Night Part 2 (1988) and think it wasn’t too bad. So if you took the time to read my review of what’s a sacred horror movie, I hope I was able to give you something a little different to think about.