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For young Charley Brewster, nothing could be better than an old horror movie late at night. Two men move in next door, and for Charley with his horror movie experience, there can be no doubt that their strange behavior is explained by the fact that they are a vampire and his undead day guardian. The only one who can help him hunt them down is a washed-up actor, Peter Vincent, who hosts Charley's favorite TV show, Fright Night. Vincent doesn't really believe that vampires exist, but does it for the money...
For more about Fright Night and the Fright Night Blu-ray release, see Fright Night Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on December 8, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Tom Holland (I)
Writer: Tom Holland (I)
Starring: Chris Sarandon (I), William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, Stephen Geoffreys, Jonathan Stark
» See full cast & crew
Fright Night Blu-ray Review
Back to the future.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, December 8, 2011
Yesterday's low budget cult hit is tomorrow's iconic cultural touchstone. That has repeatedly been the case with the advent of cable television and its repeated broadcasts of lesser known films which have found a whole new life as they became exposed to more and more audiences. It's especially true for films that certain generations grew up watching, and the memories of having seen the films (over and over in many cases) glosses over any inherent faults any given film may actually have. Fright Night was actually a substantial hit in 1985, but it was never an outright blockbuster, but large swaths of people who saw the film over 25 years ago, as well as those who caught it in any number of broadcast iterations through the year, have an incredibly fond feeling for it, despite its somewhat lo-fi charms. Fright Night is completely unpretentious, and that's perhaps its crowning achievement. Taking the old suspense standby, repeatedly exploited by the likes of such iconic directors as Alfred Hitchcock, of an innocent bystander who becomes privy to some secret information, and nicely twisting that trope to include a nerdy teenager (William Ragsdale) who discovers his neighbor (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire, Fright Night walks a nice tightrope between silly (sometimes downright juvenile) humor and some decent scares. Adding into the fun is a cartoonish turn by Roddy McDowall as an ex-horror film star who hosts a local television show which reruns his old movies as well as others starring the likes of Christopher Lee. When Ragsdale's character of Charley can't get anyone else to believe what he thinks is going on, he turns to McDowall's Peter Vincent for help, thrusting the actor into the predicament of actually having to live up to the image his young fans have fostered of him.
Many of my earliest memories of horror films are due to a late night (meaning 10:30 p.m.) Friday series that played on Salt Lake City's ABC affiliate which was called Nightmare Theater, somewhat improbably hosted by a kiddie show host named Fireman Frank. Staying up late was pretty special for a five or six year old, but that special feeling soon turned to abject fear when something like Frankenstein or The Mummy flickered across the airwaves. I still have incredibly strong memories of burying my face in the fuzzy living room couch cushions during one especially horrifying showing, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, when Michael Landon's horribly disfigured face after a horrible car accident is shown. That same sort of fascination with a late night horror movie franchise is part of Fright Night's wonderfully nostalgic appeal.
Charley is a fairly typical high school teenager trying to make it with his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) upstairs in his bedroom, both while the local horror series Fright Night with host Peter Vincent plays in the background, and perhaps even more horrifyingly as his mother sits downstairs. When Amy gets cold feet about going all the way, Charley by chance catches a glimpse of new neighbors moving into the Gothic mansion next door, and they include a coffin being hoisted into the cellar. With Fright Night's Peter Vincent expounding about the terrors of vampires in the background, Charley comes to the only logical conclusion—his new neighbor is obviously a fanged beast who feasts on human blood. Charley's suspicions are confirmed when he sees a gorgeous woman entering the neighbor's house who soon shows up on the evening news as a murder victim. And as in the best mystery thrillers, Charley can't get a soul (a living soul, anyway) to believe him, including a local policeman whom he brings to the neighbor's house in the hopes of uncovering the truth.
When Charley's Mom makes the logistical error of inviting the new neighbor in (something you should never ever do with a vampire), Charley meets the suave and debonair Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon). Jerry makes it quite clear through his glowering presence and a couple of well delivered doubles entendres that he is indeed a vampire and he does not take kindly to all the trouble Charley has stirred up. That sets up the central conflict of the film, as Charley, Amy and their manic friend Ed (AKA Evil) (Stephen Geoffreys) manage to enlist the putative aid of the real life Peter Vincent (McDowall), who finds himself in needs of funds after his television series is unceremoniously canceled.
Fright Night is a slight film, but it's almost entirely enjoyable and even kind of sweet natured in its own undead way. While Ragsdale and Bearse make for an appealing enough romantic couple, it's Geoffreys and Sarandon who steal the show here, with McDowall's twitchy antics not far behind. Geoffreys pretty much chews any available scenery, and Sarandon has the same sort of lugubrious charm that Frank Langella displayed in his version of Dracula. Watching the film now with contemporary (and cynical) eyes, some of the then pretty spectacular special effects look a little creaky, but there is one fabulous sequence where one of the characters who's been transformed into a vampire then morphs into a wolf and meets an ignominious end which of course results in a reverse transformation back into human form.
There's little doubt that Fright Night is not an overlooked masterpiece, as may perhaps be evidenced by the less than spectacular remake (also out this week on Blu-ray), which tried to gussy up this original's low rent charms with state of the art special effects (and 3D), largely to no avail. But much like the old B-movies that played on shows like Nightmare Theater or even this film's own in-movie Fright Night, there's a certain ineffable allure to silly little films that deliver a few passing scares and giggles along the way. Fright Night is certainly one of those films.
Fright Night Blu-ray, Video Quality
Fright Night is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.40:1. Fright Night was filmed on a fairly paltry budget and the bulk of this film exhibits signs of less than superior film stock and some less than ideal filming conditions. Despite what was evidently a new high-res scan for this release, the overall image here is a bit on the soft side, though there appears to have been no noise reduction and while soft, the image retains a suitably mid-80's cinematic look. Colors are acceptable, though never really brash. There is some occasional crush in the dark scenes, notably the finale in the cellar of Jerry's home. But close-ups reveal above average levels of fine detail, and this is certainly a sharper presentation than the film has ever had before. The opticals, including some of the special effects, contribute to some of the softness on display, as might be expected.
Fright Night Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Fright Night features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that may not offer incredible surround activity but which sports excellent fidelity and some actually surprising dynamic range. Dialogue and even effects tend to be anchored front and center, though a couple of great sequences, including the first battle between Jerry and Charley in Charley's bedroom have some nicely placed discrete channel effects. Everything is cleanly and clearly presented here, and Brad Fiedel's score (also available as an isolated track) percolates along very nicely.
Fright Night Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Fright Night Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Fright Night is a sweet, good natured film that works a number of well worn clichés but manages not to get mired down in too much same old, same old for its own good. Part of this is due to the expert pitch of the performances, which range from the increasing panic of Ragsdale to the over the top antics of Geoffreys to the oily menace of Sarandon to the almost Don Knotts-esque fear of McDowall. There's nothing outright hilarious in Fright Night, but it's genial, and while some of the special effects haven't aged particularly well, there enough sense of danger here to provide a couple of solid chills. You may have seen this before (or, in a way, after, if you've seen the recent remake), but Fright Night is still a lot of fun. Recommended.
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Fright Night Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Twilight Time Acquires Columbia Library Titles for Blu-ray (Updated) - August 31, 2011
Twilight Time, a specialty label which focuses on releasing vintage films previously unavailable on DVD, has struck a deal with Sony Pictures Home Entertainment to license and release classic films from the Sony-owned Columbia Pictures library in high-definition ...
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