Tuesday, June 9

A Classic in Retro: Fright Night (1985)

a true survivor

"Apparently your generation doesn't want to see vampire killers anymore...All they want to see slashers running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins."

Directed by Tom Holland
106 Minutes / RCA Columbia Pictures Home Video VHS from 1985 / Cropped from 2.35:1 to full screen

Fright Night is one of those misty enigmatic Horror greats that's akin to a full eclipse. Like Phantasm, the film seems to always fall out of our community's collective awareness until it revolves back around with its omnipresence discovered once more. The film has the chops of an underdog without a director or cast widely synonymous with the genre. Sure, writer/director Holland mostly resides in Horror filmmaking, but even then his work is on the outskirts besides this and Child's Play. There also isn't even a particularly well-known score (sorry Mr. Fiedel) or an abundance of memorable gore effects popular of the era.

What it does have is tremendous heart and a learned storytelling sensibility that hearkens back to the golden age of our beloved genre. None of Fright Night's ideas or characters seem pushed aside at any time for the sake of forced effects shots or a tidy runtime. Paying modern tribute by simply being to a time when icons deeply imbued nearly operatic drama into endless variations of Universal's monster templates and damsels like Hazel Court adorned lavish spiral staircases in period dress. A tall order for today's breed behooved to explicitly expound upon the virtues of Ash kickin' Deadite ass or Fulci's ocular trauma in sore-thumb fashion...groan.

The cast do a uniformly excellent job, especially Amanda Bearse who makes her decade with Al Bundy seem misspent, but the true star is a frosted-mini wheat-haired Roddy McDowall. It's easy to imagine a star of his magnitude snubbing his nose at such a role. Who really would care if the performance was phoned-in for a nice check. Though
McDowall relishes the nuance of a once genre legend being confronted with the real terror of his on-screen vampiric battles. His quiet demeanor and wit are very becoming of at least our perception of the reality of a screen great like a Lee, Cushing, or Karloff. Of course, it's obvious the character is modeled after Vincent Price. The film also wisely gives Peter Vincent plenty of legroom, almost seeming to realize Charley's quest to gain his trust and his growth into becoming a real vampire killer being more interesting than Charley's grave dilemma.

The build to the conclusion promises and delivers. It's a sheer thrill witnessing Charley and Peter face down the malevolent charm of Dandridge. McDowall sells the remorse and horror of killing "Evil" Ed with unbelievable potency, never imagining what seemed so common during his film career so traumatic in the flesh.
Richard Edlund's dazzingly visual effects work take flight here and are refreshingly multi-colored--probably to temper the MPAA's scissors. In the end, one could levy a charge of predictability, but it would be hard to begrudge such an absorbingly humble horror comedy. A must-see and own in the purest sense.

This ultra-battered VHS looks and sounds all of its twenty-four year vintage. It appears to be an ex-rental from the "Wythe Video Center" in Brooklyn, so she's a harbor chick. The picture is cropped from the original scope widescreen ratio, but the damage to composition isn't the worst I've seen. The DVD is certainly the way to go, but it was fun seeing this in throwback...tracking errors and all.

Film: 9.5/ 10
VHS Picture: 6/10
VHS Sound: 6/10

2 comments:

Starmummy said...

I have this on VHS too (though the condition is much better). I love how the box opens from the side, something I've rarely seen. Decent movie too. It was cool seeing Chris Sarandon and Stephen Geoffreys at a Horror Convention last year.

The Igloo Keeper... said...

I've loved this film since it came out, back then I was an early-teen horror lover. Now I'm a late 30's bald father of two but I still watch this a couple of times a year.

...do you dare tread upon the staircase?
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