Review: Fright Night (1985)

David A McIntee compares the remake, currently out in cinemas, with the original version of this vampire tale…

The plots are basically the same: Charlie Brewster thinks his new next-door neighbour, Jerry Dandridge, is a vampire. He is proved correct, and must recruit the help of supposed vampire expert Peter Vincent to kill the creature of the night before he and his friends get turned.

At the time, Tom Holland’s opus was quite a revolutionary tale, both playing off the nostalgia for the previous generation’s vampire movies (Peter Vincent is named for Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, and wears the tweeds of a Hammer vampire hunter), and bringing things up to date with a modern (and quite metrosexual for 1985) vampire in a modern setting.

The direction is adequate but nothing special – Holland is more an actor’s director, and concentrates on getting decent performances out of the cast, rather than on spectacle. Nevertheless the shocks and laughs come along nicely. William Ragsdale makes an oddly old teenager, perhaps because of his dress sense, while the character of Evil Ed is just trying too hard to be manic. The acting honours, of course, go to both Roddy McDowall – here having something of a renaissance in his career, after being known more for Disney films and Planet Of The Apes – as Peter Vincent, and to Chris Sarandon as Jerry the charming vampire.

Much of the thrills and laughs still hold up, but the film has dated very much where the music is concerned – it’s filled with that electronic bass twanging so beloved of 1980s horror flicks – and also in fashions. Jerry’s grey leather coat, and Amy’s turquoise outfit are particularly painful.

Actually, another way in which it has sort of dated is in terms of certain actors now being better known for other things: in particular, Sarandon is better known to genre fans as bad Prince Humperdinck in The Princess Bride, and it’s hard to Amy seriously when she’s played by psycho neighbour Marcy from Married With Children

With 1980s horror now being something viewed with nostalgia itself (we could replace Vincent’s line about his era’s films giving way to hockey-masked slashers with one about them giving way to torture-porn) it’s no longer got the advantage of bringing something old and new to the table. It’s now more a mixture of two different nostalgias, but even on those terms, it’s an amusing film with some good practical effects and sleight-of-hand editing, which has a memorable hero and villain. On those terms it still works; they’re just different terms than the ones it was made to fulfil.  7/10

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