He's sweet, sexy, and he likes to sleep in late. You might think he's the perfect neighbor. But before inviting him Jerry in for a nightcap, there's something you should know. Jerry prefers his drinks warm, red-and straight from the jugular! It's Fright Night, a horrific howl starring Chris Sarandon as the seductive vampire and William Ragsdale as the frantic teenager struggling to keep Jerry's deadly fangs out of his neck. Only 17-year-old Charley Brewster (Ragsdale) knows Jerry's bloodcurdling secret. When Charley can't get anybody to believe him, he turns to TV horror host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), who used to be the "Great Vampire Killer" of the movies. Can these mortals save Charley and his sweetheart Amy (Amanda Bearse) from the wrathful bloodsucker's toothy embrace? If you love being scared, Fright Night will give you the nightmare of your life!
Almost halfway into 'Fright Night,' the sleeper hit of 1985's summer movies, Tom Holland ('Child's Play') makes his intentions fairly clear. Using one of his characters as a momentary mouthpiece, the writer/director lets out a disappointing outcry about the state of modern horror movies. It's an amusing sequence made all the more ironic when that character is a washed-up actor reminiscent of classic Hammer Films fare, played marvelously by the wonderful Roddy McDowall. Even his name, Peter Vincent, recalls iconic genre figures Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, though McDowall's performance invokes the latter's attributes more — down to the jacket and hair. These various layers of irony and tongue-in-cheek humor are what have made the movie a cult horror favorite.
Mr. Vincent declares to William Ragsdale's suburbanite Charley Brewster that young moviegoers don't care about the stylishly atmospheric classics. By the mid-80s, horror was often defined by the amount of violence and gore inflicted by some crazed, perverse maniac. (He might as well be speaking to contemporary audiences.) When Charley pleads for his help to kill a vampire living next door, McDowall's reaction is timeless because he suddenly realizes he has a lunatic nipping at his heels — probably influenced by those same sadistic movies. In this short exchange, Holland makes known he wants his little vampire flick to be something topical while at the same time recalling what he saw as a missing ingredient in much of modern horror.
Simply put, 'Fright Night' is an homage to horror classics — a fond look back at a time when the genre was filled with atmosphere, suspense, and mystery. In fact, those films of yesteryear were heavily dependent upon those key features for generating frights, not just in-your-face brutality and bloodshed. Because violence had to be implied rather than shown, filmmakers were forced to be doubly creative with the camera and special-effects gimmicks were used only when necessary and often reserved for the latter half. Much of Holland's movie stays true to this as well, giving his viewers only glimpses of optical and mechanical effects as the story progresses and postponing the best for last. He devotes most of the time to the characters and building up to a spectacular showdown.
Holland's best camerawork can be seen during the nightclub sequence, just after Charley's friend, Evil Ed (a feverish Stephen Geoffreys), is attacked and continuing on when his girlfriend, Amy (Amanda Bearse), awakens in the house of Jerry the vampire (Chris Sarandon). Granted, much of what is seen feels dated and somewhat corny, along with the music and outfits. But Holland's eye for style and composition remains highly impressive for one making his directorial debut, slowly showing Amy's submission to Jerry's seductions. Mixed with Kent Beyda's editing, the entire sequence has a great rhythm and flow — another instance of Holland demonstrating his objective. He's not only creating an homage to gothic horror, but updating it for modern audiences to delight in.
The characters themselves are also taken from certain familiar archetypes, which makes up for much of the film's intentional cheesiness. McDowall's Peter Vincent is an obvious given to any long-time fans of the genre. Charley and Amy are caricatures of the two teen lovers who stumble onto a terrifying mystery. Think of the opening as the two kids necking at "Make-Out Point" and interrupted by the perfectly cued falling meteor or the alien invasion. A nice added touch is seeing the good-girl, plain-Jane Amy come to a sexual awakening later on in the movie. None of the characters are meant to be taken seriously. They're sly, sarcastic performances subtly poking fun at film tropes. Even Sarandon's Jerry brings back the enchanting appeal and charm of the iconic Hammer vampire writhing with sensual undertones.
Released at a time when theater screens were flooded by depictions of meaningless violence and gore inflicted by some crazed maniac, Tom Holland's 'Fright Night' serves as a witty tongue-in-cheek homage to classic horror cinema. Invoking in particular the style of Hammer Films, the 1985 vampire flick is essentially a clever celebration of and a tip-of-the-hat to movies that were more subtle, mysterious and atmospherically gothic. Now a cult favorite, it continues being an amusingly entertaining feature for genre enthusiasts everywhere.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Fright Night (1985)' comes to Blu-ray as a Limited Edition release courtesy of Twilight Time. The Region Free, BD25 disc is housed in the standard blue keepcase accompanied by a six-page booklet with a stimulating essay written by screenwriter Julie Kirgo. At startup, the disc goes straight to the main menu with the usual options, a still photo and music playing in the background.
According to the press release, this Blu-ray limited edition of Tom Holland's 'Fright Night' was done under the supervision of Grover Crisp, who also oversaw the restoration of Martin Scorsese's 'Taxi Driver.' And frankly, the results are absolutely brilliant. Without a doubt, Twilight Time offers cult enthusiasts the very best presentation of the 1985 comedy-horror!
The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode was struck from a freshly-made 4k master, using either an interpositive that's in immaculate shape or possibly even the original 35mm camera negatives. Whatever the source, the outcome is a beautiful and consistent picture with pitch-perfect contrast balance and crisp, clean whites, allowing for excellent visibility in the far distance. Fine object and textural details are outstanding and very well-defined for a film of this vintage. Granted, it's not the sort of material that can match the sharpness of newer releases, but compared to its standard def counterpart, this is a marked improvement. From the interior design of Jerry's house, the foliage around Charley's neighborhood or the clothing of any given character, the transfer is quite distinct and often striking.
Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the video is awash in a thin layer of film grain, giving it an appreciable cinematic quality. Black levels waver a tad in some scenes, but they're generally true and stunningly intense, providing the image with wonderful depth. Background info and minor details are discernible in low-lit interiors and nighttime sequences. The color palette receives a significant boost with richly-saturated and energetic primaries that never seem artificially tweaked or terribly manipulated, making this a remarkable and worthwhile upgrade of a long-time cult favorite.
Much like the video, the audio is a great improvement over previous editions, although it's not the type to give modern sound systems a real workout. The original design is in Dolby stereo, and thankfully the engineers who worked on this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack didn't completely revamp the original elements in order to satisfy contemporary listeners.
Despite being remixed into a 5.1 track, this lossless mix remains a very front-heavy presentation with crisp, precise dialogue reproduction that never falters. The soundstage displays excellently balanced channel separation and imaging that feels considerably wide with splendid warmth and fidelity. Acoustics are sharp and lifelike in most every interior scene, while the mid-range exhibits crisp, distinct detailing in the instrumentation with room-penetrating clarity. Rears are employed on occasion for subtle atmospheric effects, which nicely enhance the soundfield without being a distraction.
The LFE, however, is terribly wanting, but is likely a result of the source rather than a fault in the codec. It's most apparent during the nightclub sequence because the songs noticeably lack any bass extension. Interestingly, Brad Fiedel's original score, which is the clear winner of the whole presentation, does come with a perceptible low-end which adds great depth. The distinction and clarity in the music and each instrument used is rather marvelous, exceeding all expectations. In fact, the entire lossless mix is a stunning listen on Blu-ray and something which fans are sure to really enjoy.
Seeing as how the only home video releases in the past (VHS, Laserdisc, and DVD) have been disappointing barebones packages, supplements here basically all exclusive to the HD format.
With amusing, tongue-in-cheek performance by the entire cast, Tom Holland's 'Fright Night' is a highly-entertaining and clever homage to classic horror cinema. The film and narrative is not only a throwback to the atmospheric styling of those movies, but an attempt to reintroduce and modernize their tropes for contemporary audiences with cheesy fun and fright. The limited Blu-ray edition from Twilight Time features a shockingly excellent video and audio presentation, but only one worthwhile supplement. This is a collector's item aimed directly at cult enthusiasts, but it's worth every penny if you really love the film.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.