Fright Night [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Eureka
Review written by and copyright: Charlie & Tex (10th January 2017).
The Film

Well, after years of ridiculously high prices on Ebay and inferior imports from various countries, the seminal 1985 classic Fright Night finally gets not only a UK release on Blu-ray, but one which makes the rest look anaemic by comparison. Loaded with more enticing goodies than the Child-Catcher’s van, it also boasts the definitive transfer in both picture and sound. That’s what the faithful have come to read, now what of the movie itself?

Back in the early 80s, former actor turned writer Tom Holland wanted to take his career a step further into the director’s chair, and armed with a script with the premise of being a modern take on an old classic - referring to as “the boy who cried werewolf” - he and producer Herb Jaffe wanted to bring the vampire genre away from the period gothic which had brought about its own demise and into not only the present day, but into your very neighbourhood. With a dynamite cast, witty script, elaborate special effects, bitchin’ music and superb production design, Fright Night was not only a mirror of its time, but a classic of the era that endures to this very day - or we wouldn’t be writing this review, would we?

Strongly echoing the Hitchcock classic Rear Window, our hero Charley Brewster is introduced doing his best James Stewart peeping-tom thing, though not as insufferably infuriating as Stewart's Jeff Jeffries. Such rubbernecking irritates girlfriend Amy, who was in the process of finally putting out for him, as the sight of his new neighbours apparently dragging a coffin into their house more engrossing than her attempts to consummate their love. When local prostitutes Charley sees going into the property never come back out, he goes to the police, but only makes his problems bigger: now the fuzz don’t believe him, Amy’s dumped him, best friend Evil Ed is convinced he’s crazy, his mother has become very fond of her new neighbour, and - to top it all off - Jerry Dandridge has revealed himself as a vampire, and told Charley that he intended to kill him! What is a boy to do? How about hire hammy actor-cum-TV-horror-host Peter Vincent to kill him?



It’s up to Charley to awaken the “Great Vampire Killer” from decades of “resting” and bring out the stake-driving instincts to save Amy from the clutches of Dandridge, who wants to make her a vampire in the image of his dead wife and has recruited Evil Ed into the fold. Vampires are one thing, but can they take on Ed’s lupine form? Or whatever the Hell Dandridge’s roommate is?? It’s a pitched battle, with more than just their lives on the line, and we’re all in for a most frightening night!

That’s the story in nutshell, and it’s a concoction of pure bliss. The whole thing is a loving homage to vampire movies of the past, gently ribbing some of their more flamboyant qualities, but adoring them whilst bringing them right up to date for modern audiences. The structuring is perfect, building slowly to cement the premise, developing the characters through different emotional states throughout the movie and having their core personalities decide their fate by the end of the movie. With excellent set-pieces, silkily sensual scenes of vamparic seduction, eerie scenes of tension and a range of humour which vacillates between laughs and wonderful pathos.



One of the things which makes Fright Night so effective is the close-quarters nature of the suburban setting, typically being an environment where kids can play freely in the streets knowing that nothing can happen to them. Here we get some establishing shots of the full street - complete with frolicking children - but these are quickly discarded as the focus shifts to the neighbouring houses, ensuring that the audience is aware of their close proximity and just how dangerous it is to discover that the guy next door is a serial murderer. The vampire element aside, this is the core of the movie, asking just how well you know your neighbour and what they get up to at night. It speaks to everyone watching, and literally hits them where they live.

At its core, Fright Night is a story about faith, both the loss and a redemption through rediscovering it again. Peter Vincent is a man without such faith, having slipped away from him when his film career hit the skids and was reduced to eking out a living reliving old glories by hosting reruns of his old films on a late-night cable television channel. He is a man hiding his lack of faith by way of his rather questionable acting skills, fighting to protect his fragility with a smokescreen of bravado that even Mr Magoo could see through. As the last vestiges of his faith are seemingly torn away by his confrontation with Dandridge, his cross having no effect upon the vampire, the battler of fictitious monsters has his faith return with a vengeance after witnessing the harrowing demise of Evil Ed, the existence of real vampires proving that good must exist also.

The performances are foremost in the movie, and none of them are treading water here. Roddy McDowell seems to have been waiting years for this role, taking certain projects he didn’t want to be in and repurposing them as fuel for a washed-up actor whose glory days never were much to write home about anyway. He plays Peter Vincent with complete sincerity, a thespian who has to keep up the pretence of stardom even though his show has been cancelled and he’s about to be evicted. There a warmth which wouldn’t have been there if any other actor had taken the role. He’s matched by the presence of Chris Sarandon, who plays so many different sides to Dandridge that’d blow out an oscilloscope should he be plugged into one! He’s charming, warm, sensual, ingratiating and seductive. But he’s also mysterious, condescending, threatening, dangerous and murderous, and all wrapped up in a superlative performance.



William Ragsdale and Amanda Bearse are perfect as Charley and Amy, the fang-crossed lovers fighting it out in the midst of a break-up. American audiences have a problem with heroes who aren’t anything other than strong n’ silent, as evidenced by their dismissal of Luke Skywalker as “whiney”, and there are many of them who have the same feelings towards Charley Brewster. They're teenagers, for Christsakes! It’s to Ragsdale’s credit that he makes his character as likeable as he is, and pairs up wonderfully well with both McDowell and Bearse. Speaking of Bearse, she’s just as much a changeling as Sarandon, going from desperately putting out to keep a relationship alive, to plain scared and eventually becoming a vamp of both the bloodsucking and sexual variety. Same with Stephen Geoffreys as “Evil” Ed, who goes from bullied weirdo to weird bully, revelling in the new power he’s been granted, his repressed self now unbound by the conventions of the living. Geoffreys was tipped to be the new Jack Nicholson, and to watch Fright Night is to only wonder what could have been for him. This is a once-in-a-lifetime cast, validated by the sequel somewhat lacking when they couldn’t get everyone back together.

When it comes to blurring lines, none do so in more areas than Jonathan Stark’s enigmatic Billy Cole; though officially identified as Jerry Dandridge's room-mate, and his ability to walk abroad during daylight hours, coupled with his ultimate demise infers that though he isn't a vampire, he is a supernatural being of some sort. As well as his species traversing boarders, there is a pervading vibe that he might actually be in a sexual relationship with Dandridge, as there are moments in the film where they have the kind of close male-to-male contact with each other that was at the very least unusual for the period and seemed to infer homosexuality, yet Dandridge's seemingly single-minded quest for female victims, coupled with his desire to have Amy in his clutches for all eternity, all add to a most intriguing cinematic sexual melting-pot.



But then, the sexual element has always being at the very heart of the vampire story, and found a new lease in the 80s, unbound by censorship restrictions and finding new life through the social problems of the era. The Hunger practically thrust the theme into the faces of its audience, with all the restraint usually practiced by Tony Scott, but Fright Night kept the sensuality under control, always bubbling under but crashing through the waves when the time was right. The pan-sexual nature of Jerry Dandridge sees him not only stalking Amy, but taking Ed under his wing in an act which perfectly reflects the manner in which all predators of all sorts work: targeting the vulnerable and indoctrinating them into their way of thinking. He isn’t there to harm Ed, but to bring him into the fold and have him do his bidding. Ed’s vampirism unleashes his true self, which just happens to be a blood-thirsty bastard, and a sexual metaphor which doesn’t need elaborating on. It’s also one we can relate to, as a good friend of ours was always an oddball, and we were hoping that he would change for the better when he got laid, but instead he became a violent psychopath who went to prison for some pretty despicable crimes. Dandridge’s seduction on Amy in a disco is so sexually charged that by the time the first dance is over, she is practically throwing herself at him! Burgeoning sexuality and the confusion associated with it are as much a part of the story as fangs and crosses, and while this might all sound completely inappropriate that these are high-school kids, but Fright Night delivers sensuality neither vulgarity nor judgement.

As if to highlight the love of vampire movies from the past, Dandridge is a classic vampire, embracing most of the legends‘ core. He sleeps in a coffin, is affected by crosses, doesn’t cast a reflection, transforms into a bat, is burned by holy water and repelled by garlic - which is a refreshing antidote to the modern ones existing on synthetic bloody substitutes and all that crap. As if proving that Fright Night was mindful of both the present and the past, one particular staple of the vamparic mythology was dug up by Tom Holland for the 80s, becoming so ingrained in popular culture that the have come to be a staple on screen: this being how a vampire cannot enter your house until it has been invited in by the owner first. There weren’t than many films which contained this vital piece of self-protection until Fright Night, with The Lost Boys cementing that particular part of vampire lore a couple years later.

Music is an essential element to Fright Night, and Brad Feidel brings as eerie and atmospheric a score through the masterful use synthesisers, wringing out every drop of music required to fit the mood of a scene. It’s hard to think of another electronic score which can bring such a questioning, plaintive touch when something ominous is taking place, something Fiedel does with alarming ease. Strings and more traditional piano sounds are brought in when needed, and come out to play when the scares become suitably classical, supporting the modern with the past, a superb accompaniment to a movie designed with that as its credo. It’s infuriating that Fiedel is not only ridiculously talented, but he’s also married to the stunning Ann (Jaws 2) Dusenberry - naturally, we hate him!!!



We should also mention that the songs that Fright Night was one of the very first movies to hire bands to write songs specifically themic to the films, hiring the artists they wanted rather than picked pre-recording songs. Both the choices of artists and songs are superb, including the incredible Armies of the Night from Sparks, the excellent Good Man in a Bad Time by Ian Hunter, not to mention the seductive Give It Up from Evelyn King, this time getting some Champagne into her. Some tracks are more prominent than other, but all are winners, particularly Fiedel’s own Come To Me, which only saw an instrumental version in the final film. If we had to nitpick, then the titular theme by J Geils Band - while great in isolation - might be a little too frivolous for the end credits, sending audiences out with it in their heads and colouring their perception of the movie. The album wasn’t as successful as hoped, and remained difficult to get hold of for years. We picked it up about 25 years ago, and as testament to how obscure it was, we were only able to get hold a promotional copy of the LP, coming with an embossed stamp declaring it as such. God, that album had a fair bit of play over the years!!

As fondly remembered as the movie is today, there were some really snotty reviews towards genre movies at time of release in the UK, with gaming publications - be they role-playing ones or the video-based type - projecting a deeply condescending view onto films coupled with a self-righteous attitude. The nerd-bait magazine White Dwarf ran a scathing review of Fright Night, taking particular disgust at the scene in Club Radio where Dandridge seduces Amy on the dance floor and puts her under his spell. With all the accuracy and tact of the Daily Mail, it spun the scene as a paedophile molesting a young schoolgirl, the hack sneering at the salaciousness he himself created. Such things left you in no doubt as to why such nerds regularly got the beatings from bullies they not doubt richly deserved, and exactly why they wrote to Santa hoping to get laid for Christmas.



Fright Night has stood the test of time admirably, choosing subtle, pathos-driven humour rather than going with the crassness which was prevalent in 80s comedy, and its wink at the camera on the genre has seen it age more gracefully than the “hey - wouldn’t be ironic if [insert staple event in horror movie] happened? Oh no!!!! [staple event in horror movie] is actually happening!!!” used in more recent attempts to skewer its subject. Unlike that subtle-as-a-brick-to-the-head remake - which was made at the time when it became the fashion for cast & crew to take swipes at the original when promoting their remake - it can call itself a classic, and happily avoid having to add the dreaded/patronising “cult” prefix to qualify it as such. The movie is great, but what of the quality ? With two other transfers out there, we’d better get looking at the presentation….

Video

As supervised by the highly respected David McKenzie, we are treated to higher levels of detail and more lovely, lovely grain that the Twilight Time edition. Fright Night is a movie utilising superb prosthetic makeup, and it’s testament to both the effects guys and Eureka that only a few of the them don’t hold up too well under the unflinching gaze of an immaculate 4K transfer. Fine detail really is superb, blowing away the Twilight Time release (1st one) with ease, and the colour palate is now more natural, particularly in the area of flesh tones - gone is the slightly orange-tinge to the image, and there are no compression issues at all, and no sign of the dreaded black-crush. There’s a lot of knitwear going on in Fright Night, and the Eureka transfer leaves you prone to gazing lovingly at the woollen garments whilst working the knit-stitches from the purls. Oh, and Jerry Dandridge’s ultra-cool leather trench coat looks even more expensive here! Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the definitive transfer of Fright Night.

Audio

We have two options here, being a rather nice DTS:HD-MA 5.1 mix and an LPCM 2.0 version of the original Dolby Stereo soundtrack. The HD track is pretty nice, with front-pans and the occasional piece of panning to the rears, all being pretty respectful to the original mix, whilst adding a little more to it. Music fills every corner of the soundstage, and there are some nice uses of placement in the rears to give it spatial presence, all anchored by a surprisingly fulsome dialogue track. OK, it’s not the absurdly deep vocals found in modern audio, but it’s a really nice job from the Eureka guys. This honestly is as good as the original recording will allow, and a fun time is guaranteed. The LPCM option is also good, being reminiscent of the soundtrack on the beloved LaserDisc release from the 90s, which put the lousy DVD audio to shame. We were impressed by the 2.0 effort, giving us a shot of nostalgia we weren’t expecting! This is an excellent presentation you can season to your own taste. English HoH subtitles are included.

Extras

You’re So Cool, Brewster (126:42): Even if you shelled out stupid money on the secondary market for either of the Twilight Time releases (or just pre-ordered at the normal price, as we did…) there is possibly a single persuading factor for buying Fright Night one more time: the inclusion of this definitive documentary. Essentially a 2.5 hour cut-down from the standalone 4-hour version available at an eye-watering price, the material solely concerning the making of the first film is presented here and is an incredibly rewarding, engrossing experience. Hosted by a Peter Vincent-a-like, there are interviews with EVERYONE involved with it, and they are so thorough that even a trifling thing like death doesn’t prevent contributions from the likes of Roddy McDowall, represented by interview footage from the set of the movie. From it’s very inception to the final take at the gate, the entire history of the movie is covered, and even the most rabid of fans will find themselves squeaking with delight at barrage of new information launched at them by this incredible piece. We all know that Amanda Bearse was given a fake set of tits for the showdown at the end of Fright Night, but only here will you discover their life after the movie. We don’t want to give you a laundry-list of the coolest bits found here, as 1) your should have the pleasure of discovering them for yourself, and 2) it would just take too bloody long! As with all documentaries about “niche” movies, there are the expected instances of actors scrabbling to say nice things about a genre they either despise or have utterly no feelings for, but it’s a small part of a both thorough and thoroughly entertaining look at one of the most enduring horror movies from the 80s.

From Apes to Bats (20:53): This is a must for any fan of Roddy McDowell (that’s us!) and anyone else interested in how the industry was poorer for his passing, covering both his child and adult career, right from when the evacuee was taught the “mid-Atlantic” accent upon arrival in Hollywood, something also being taught to American actors. A grateful Julie Carmen sites McDowell as the only way she was able to endure the heavy prosthetics needed to play the full-vampire version of Regine Dandridge when he told her to go inward and meditate to divorce from the reality of being encased. Stephen Geoffreys recalls his first exposure to McDowell being that of freaked out at him in full makeup in the Planet of the Apes movies. Coolest of all was talk of how McDowell became the surrogate uncle to everyone on the set, and it’s a mark of just how personable a guy he was they he was able to do so as successfully as he did, with all involved reminiscing fondly of him. We’ve always had a soft spot for him, being brought up on the Planet of the Apes movies, and is heartening to find that he lived up to the legend. He played the nicest of guys and the most obnoxious of Columbo baddies, achieving both with ease. Not to mention that it was rumoured that he was the only Chimpanzee in the world with a tail. A Hell of a guy!!

Tom Holland: Writing Horror (8:55): Another chat with Holland yields some rather nice stuff, including how he really pushed Sarandon into playing Dandridge as a highly sexual being, along with how the first-time director was charged up with almost boyish happiness at finally making his debut film. Most affectingly is his genuine plea to filmmakers (and musicians) to battle over maintaining at least a crumb of the rights to their work, something VERY difficult to do in the face of an increasingly corporate business, to avoid becoming merely a gun for hire.

What is Fright Night (10:42): Cast and crew encapsulate what the movie means to them, with some comments more practiced and mildly condescending than others. Predictably, those behind the camera have more genuine feelings towards it than those in front, but we’ll leave you to find out who rather patronisingly refers to it as a “…little cult classic”.

Fear Fest 2 (54:32): Here we have footage from the 2008 reunion panel, consisting of Tom Holland, Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Stephen Geofferys, Amanda Bearse, Jonathan Stark, and all moderated by Rob Galluzo. Jonathan Stake is a constant source of amusing and insightful comments, and walks away with the trophy on this one, securing it with his recounting of way he only got the homoerotic undercurrent when he watched the final film, as well his experiences when seeing it with a paying audience. Fright Night Part 2’s Julie Carmen is shoved right at the end of the table along with Tommy Lee Wallace, both chipping in quite a bit to the conversation. There is quite a bit of overlap with the information in the various documentaries, but the interaction between the participants is pure gold. It’s a nice touch that Holland ends the proceedings by citing Geofferys as giving the bravest performance and making the boldest choices as an actor, followed by a huge round of applause from the audience. Fright Night fans will never get this bunch of guys back together again, and it’s great that the whole thing is available for the fans to enjoy.

Shock Til You Drop presents Choice Cuts (28:19): This is a three-part look at the career of Tom Holland, saving Fright Night for the final act. From his training and time as an actor, to becoming an in-demand writer and eventual director, this is a real treat. He recounts how his writing of Psycho 2 “saved [his] life” and opened up door which would have been slammed in his faces. Not surprising, given that we find out that Universal wanted to make Psycho 2 as cheaply as possible, shelling out a mere $4.2m on it, but turned out to be one of the most profitable movies in history when it made over $90m when unleashed upon the world. Naturally, Anthony Perkins still had to sue for his percentage of the profits! Genre fan Holland also spills the beans about meeting Vincent Price at Roddy McDowell’s house, and was quickly crushed when told that Price disliked horror movies. This is fun stuff, and host Ryan Turek certainly knows his stuff, and we never doubt the fan credentials of someone who has a tattoo of the runic symbol from The Beyond!

Electronic Press Kit (93:59): Now this is a real find! This is the full, raw timecoded tape given to TV companies upon release so as to form promotional articles about Fright Night. Running for an hour and a half, it consists of various featurettes containing extensive interviews with the cast and crew, as well as on-set footage from the shoot, with the questions posed to them all left silent so as to allow interviewers to drop themselves in. Right at the end are elongated clips from the movie, as seen in any number of TV reviews and articles back in the day, but even better is that the whole thing opens with the complete music video of J Geils Band’s theme to Fright Night!! Snippets are peppered throughout the above extras, but here we are treated to the full version as seen at the time. It’s a lot of fun to see the movie being talked about without anyone having prior knowledge of how it was going to be received, and the cast & crew having to pitch it to an audience, rather than reminiscing about a classic. The one sour patch comes when Chris Sarandon lets his guard slip a little when he notes that the movie that: “…For the most part, there are some nice little acting scenes…I’m sorry, when I say ‘acting’, I mean there are some very nice dialogue scenes”. Hmmm.

Stills and Memorabilia (1:03): From the archives of Tom Holland come a number of stills, production photos and newspaper clippings for the collective delectation, and a lovely experience they are, too. Best of all are the notes from a test-screening (which follows the predictable pattern of these things, including how short attention-spans deem certain elements as “too long”) and a letter dispatched by producer Herb Jaffe stating that Fright Night is going to be huge, pushing for a sequel to go into production immediately so as to save money on publicity when the movie opens exactly a year after the first. There is something almost admirable about the balls of that notion!

Trailers (2:50): Yep, both of ‘em See how Columbia balls-up the previews to make it look like a straight horror movie in G and R-rated form. If you have watched the extras, you’ll know how contentious they were, failing to promote just how fun it was and possibly alienating a general audience which might have pushed it well over the $100m mark.

Overall

Our first exposure to Fright Night was (probably) in early 1988, when we rented it from our local video store one Friday night, and regardless of the infamously crap quality of the RCA Columbia tape release, we were hooked. The lovely widescreen LaserDisc of the 90s brought our appreciation up even further, and next decade saw us wondering why such a hash had been made of the DVD. Come the current decade, we were among the lucky few to pre-order copies of the Twilight Time release and watch others sounding off in frustration. But now our viewing experience has come full circle, as Fright Night reaches its zenith courtesy of Eureka. It’s a movie with traverses genres, respects its source-material, exudes charm from every grain in the film, is played for complete verisimilitude by a wonderful cast and provides both thrills and laughs with rock-solid confidence and perfectly encapsulates the times. But above all it’s FUN!!! It gives us a nostalgic charge every time we see it, along with a ridiculously enjoyable 2 hours. Can you ask for anything more from a movie?

OK, the steelbook sold out before it even came out, but there should be NOTHING to stop you from pre-ordering the dual-format release coming in April. This is the definitive release, and deserves a place in any movie collection. Superb.

(We’re OK with Part 2, even thought it is vastly inferior…)

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: A Overall: A

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, and amazon.de.