Fright Night in 3D comes out in remake form this weekend. I'll have a review of that one up soon. In the meantime, though, I wanted to take a trip back to the days when original horror film making was still being done. When scripts presented brand new premises that called for actual real acting by legendary actors. Those are the days of horror that I like to recall the most...the 80's. That's the decade that I pretty much cut my teeth with horror movies. And one of the films that I look back with such fondness and love...is the original Fright Night. Join me...as we take a look back at the original vampire-moves-in-next-door film of fright.
Now, most horror outlets have been doing their Fright Night retrospectives and dedications in lieu of the remake. That's cool, I own the original issue of Fangoria that spotlighted the original film back in 1985...so, it's really interesting for me to check out the last issue of Fango that took a look at the new film, as well as the old film in comparison. Instead of doing the same old walk down memory lane, I'll be taking a look at each character/actor from the original film and dissecting his/her roles that helped make the film such an iconic piece of horror film that has stood the test of time. It will also serve as a bit of a time capsule that we can compare the performances to from the new updated version.
Back in 1985, acting in a B horror films usually drew less enthusiastic reactions from peers in the craft. Genre roles were pretty much relegated to those who took a fancy to horror or Sci-Fi or fantasy. So, your Robert Englunds and your Kane Hodders pretty much stuck to the roles that made them famous and the films that those actors usually stuck to were horror. You would never see someone like Michael J. Fox starring in a straight up horror film. He was too busy starring in Back to the Future. That film, along with Stallone's Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rocky IV were the top grossing films of 1985. And while those films brought the studios all kinds of cash at the box office, the horror films released that year were golden classics that went on to endure through the years. Films like...Demons, Silver Bullet, Re-Animator, Return of the Living Dead, Phenomena, Cat's Eye and Romero's final great film...Day of the Dead all went on to become legend in the minds of millions of Film Deviants all over the world. Also released in 1985 was a little American horror film written and directed by Tom Holland, who coincidentally wrote and directed Child's Play...another film starring the first actor that we'll be talking about.
Chris Sarandon is one of those actors who commanded credibility during that era. In fact the only other horror film that he starred in before 1985 was in the 1977 film, The Sentinel...which also inspired many nightmares and sleepless nights during my early childhood. Sarandon chose many diverse roles early in his career...debuting as a transsexual in A Dog Day Afternoon and later choosing more literary work in A Tale of Two Cities and The Day Christ Died. One day, Sarandon was approached to play the role of Jerry Dandridge, a blood-thirsty vampire that moves in next door to young Charley Brewster. A role that would later prove iconic and career changing.
Sarandon brings a certain thespian flair to Dandridge. A sort of classy hipness duelled with an evil sharpness that wasn't really associated with vampire lore back then. He turned Jerry into a new iconic take on the modern vampire. I couldn't think of anyone else who could've played Dandridge with the same sexuality and power that Sarandon presented. Think about it for a moment. Could you imagine anyone else during that era. I thought of it for a little bit and could only come up with someone like Rutgar Hauer. But, then...I could pretty much make the argument that you could put Hauer in any fucking movie and it would be awesome. But, then, I'm currently the commander-in-chief of the Rutgar Hauer fan club society on the interwebz. But, that's another matter. Chris Sarandon was basically born to play Jerry Dandridge. He takes the character and creates a seductively evil creature who lives in the solitude of his horrors. Perfect casting.
William Ragsdale plays Charley Brewster. He's your typical good guy who has a love for horror films as well as a love for trying to slip the panties off of his girlfriend. A character that many a gorehound from the 80's could relate to. It's a premise that puts a fresh spin on the boy-in-peril stereotype. While it was first seen in the television film Salem's Lot, the "horror fan" premise is utilized to its full potential as we see Charley seek the help of a horror television host that he watches every night. A make-believe vampire killer. I mean...at the time...all I had was Elvira. So, if a vampire moved in next to me and was constantly trying to kill me...I would've probably done the same. Except, I'd probably seek out the help of Rutgar Hauer. I know he wasn't in a vampire film at the time...but, I would be confident that the man could kick some ass. Charley represents the light in this tale of darkness. The Harker character of the 80's.
William Ragsdale went on to do the inevitable sequel to Fright Night...as well as star in the popular sitcom Herman's Head. He's been in several television programs along the way...most recently seen on the show Justified. Ragsdale hasn't matched the the iconic character of Brewster ever again in career yet. Personally, I thought it would've been a cool scenario to have Ragsdale reprise his role in the remake...this time playing the father of the kid who witnesses a vampire move in next to him. Would've been a nice little homage to the original...but, then...what the fuck do I know?? I'm just a little horror fan devoted to the love of the genre. How could I possibly have a clue of what is cool??
Speaking of cool. One character from the film who has gone on to dwell in the abyss of nowhere is Mr. Stephen Geoffreys. Fright Night stands as his golden moment of awesomeness. It's like a beautiful fossil captured in amber for all eternity. His performance as Evil Ed is the most quotable in the film. He's the quintessential horror movie fan who really has no life outside of the geeky things that he loves. In fact his character arc is probably the most tragic in the film. Evil Ed is someone that exists inside all of us. That lonely moment in life where you don't quite fit in anywhere...and the only reason you have friends is because they're really the only ones who can put up with all of your quirks. There's a scene in the original where he's confronted by Jerry Dandridge in a dark and murky alley and he's given the choice to be the same 'ole social castaway that he's always been...or to be something much more beautiful and frightening. To be something that would never have to worry about being prey to anyone ever again. It's a sad moment in the film and proves just how much depth the characters all have. Dandridge, also in his immortal loneliness, helping a familiar soul by taking it for his own. As evil as they come.
The rest of Geoffreys career plays out like a stand out episode of E's True Hollywood Stories. I won't mention the gay porn stuff (whoops)...for the sake of his immortal moment as Evil Ed, but I will say that the choices you make in life are ultimately your own...so, you must stand up and own those choices. And that's one to grow on.
I had a little crush on Amanda Bearse. Not because she was hot or anything. But, because she was real. She seemed like the girl that lived across the street from me. I kind of fell for her as I watched the film for the first time. I fell for her portrayal of Amy Peterson. The soft and innocent little teenage girl who runs around with a couple of geeks...getting herself into all these little crazy adventures. So, when her transformation into that iconic big-mouthed vampire came...God, I was completely frightened. My emotions twisted in my stomach and I ached for poor Charley and his fledgling love for her. It was a desperate moment in the film that stands as the ultimate fight for love...as good as any great vampire story. What would you do for your girl if an evil vampire was trying to steal her for himself? Would you just say....peace the fuck out, hoe! Or would you find yourself in a delicate battle for the love that you believe in. It's an integral piece to the legend of Fright Night. Amy symbolizes the heart of the film...the one that Charley is fighting to save and the heart that Dandridge has been searching aeons for.
Ms. Bearse went on to portray Marcy Darcy in the hilarious Married With Children...and is probably best known for that role. But, in my heart...you will always be the Amy that we helped save from the clutches of evil.
Last, but certainly not least...is the legendary Roddy McDowell. What in the fuck is someone of his stature doing in a silly little 80's horror film about next-door vampires?? He's carving out a cinematic performance for the ages as the immortal Peter Vincent - Fearless Vampire Killer...that's what he's doing. And this silly little 80's horror film about next-door vampires happens to be Fright Night. What can I say about McDowell's performance that hasn't already been said? It's funny...because director Tom Holland originally wanted to cast either Peter Cushing or Vincent Price (the character's name, Peter Vincent, is a play on those actors' names) in the role. Neither of those iconic actors were available at the time...so, he got McDowell, instead. And good thing he did, because I know of no other actor who could seamlessly balance the delicate sense of self-doubt and ultimate triumph that Roddy McDowell accomplishes with the role. To this day, Peter Vincent is still the fucking man to call in case you are ever confronted with a suave vampire with a penchant for 80's sweaters.
Unfortunately, McDowell passed away in the late 90's. But, his immortality has been cemented in Fright Night and no one can deny him that.
Fright Night is that rare cinematic horror experience where everything just comes together perfectly. Every actor is meant to be here and every performance just clicks flawlessly. The characters create the film...just as much as the film creates the characters. It is a proven classic from 1985 and will surely live on past any kind of remake.
Thanks for reading,