One of the best horror extravaganzas of the 1980s was the vampire film Fright Night (1985), with Chris Sarandon as one of the more seductively appalling vampires of cinema.
In a decade when the top box office draws for horror were slasher films, Fright Night dared to be a romantic, comedic, heroic tale of the Good Fight against evil.
One aspect of the genius of the film not often remarked upon is that it was cast to appeal to more than teenagers.
The central cast includes the typical screaming teans, headed up by William Ragsdale as Charlie Brewster who has vampires move in next door, threatening him & his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse).
But in having Sarandon as the chief villain, & Roddy McDowall as the host of a local television Friday night horror film series posing as a vampire expert, we also have the pleasure of fine & mature character performances.
There are additionally delightful side-characters, notoriously Stephen Geoffreys as Charlie's endearing weirdo buddy Evil Ed who is over-the-top wonderfully bad, & an across-the-board excellent support cast.
For me the real star was Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent, whose very name is a loving homage to the best of horror cinema.
As the faux vampire hunter film host of Charlie's favorite television program, Charlie is idiot enough to think Peter really knows about vampires, so seeks his help.
Roddy completely steals the show as the skeptic who becomes a totally believing coward then must rise to the occasion -- the play-acting vampire slayer who becomes the real thing.
Although Fright Night is also a comedy, it's no mere spoof, & both Charlie & Peter are great co-protagonists.
The key vampire is by turns horrifyingly menacing & just too damned sexy & sure of himself.
Special effects were state-of-the-art for the 1980s, & today's reliance on CGI is no great improvement.
The FX are well done & nicely integrated into the story, so that it all seems quite real for the duration of the film. And the climax is scary explosive awesome fun.
Fright Night has respect for B-horror conventions as it twists those conventions all around, & builds superb atmospherics with set design, cinematography, lighting, soundtrack score, & performance. All these years later, it holds up stunningly well.
It's three years after the events of Fright Night as we enter Fright Night Part II (1988). It's not the equal of the original of course, as it isn't easy to duplicate a classic.
But it ain't half bad either, & McDowall reprising the character of Peter Vincent is as earnestly delightful as in his first turn at the role.
Our hero Charlie has undergone intensive therapy & no longer beileves in vampires.
He now feels healthy enough to reconnect with his old friend Peter Vincent who shared his delusion & still believes in their adventure as real vampire killers.
When exotic vampires move into Peter's gothic apartment building, Charlie's torn between again believing in what he presently believes was madness & fantasy, or embracing the reality of his past experiences.
After a dream of being nipped by the gorgeous busy vampire Regina (Julie Carmen), Charlie starts wearing sunglasses & feels more studly. He begins sleeping days. Both he & his girlfriend Alex (Traci Lind) are deep into harm's way.
We have also Belle (Russell Clark) the black drag-queeny skate-vampire & a hairy werewolf-vampire (Jon Gries) plus well played support-characters.
If the original Fright Night was a comedic horror film with moments of real suspense, the sequel is a slapstick exaggeration but still captivating.
A party club for fake or wannabe vampires & their volunteer s/m partners is infiltrated by the "real" vamps, posing as performance artists who only dress up & act like vampires, Regina & Belle.
The sexy exotic Regina is the sister of the thousand year old vampire killed in the first film. She's out for revenge against Peter & Charlie.
Peter Vincent's cowardly streak from the first film isn't entirely overcome this time around.
It scares the bejeepers out of him when he for sure realizes vampires are out to get him & Charlie, but his heroic side is motivated by Charlie being unknowingly endangered.
When at last they join forces for one more stab at the Good Fight, the underlying tone of the power of friendship adds an extra layer of delight. The teenage horror fan & the eccentric old horror film actor make a thrilling team.
It takes a good forty minutes for the story to unfold with all its basics. The film really bursts with life after the cards are on the table. Once this is done, the second half is full of incidents.
When the bug-eating Renfield-like guardian (Brian Thompson) goes down, it's wonderfully gross.
And when Regina does her transformation into monstrous giant bat-thing, very like her brother in the previous film, it makes for a splendid last encounter.
But before that final clash, the vampiress takes over Peter's job as ghoulish host of the Fright Night series of horror films on local television.
He at last works up the gumption to become once more the fearless vampire killer. But trying to kill the woman who took over his job on tv just gets him put in the state mental hospital.
When one of the loonies helps him escape, it's quite a funny bit. Charlie's psychiatrist also finishes up his role with a funny bit.
The comedy of all this undermines some of the suspense & it really only comes alive as a horror film per se when Peter Vincent goes into high vampire-hunter mode.
McDowall really can balance comedy & dread effectively, without one undermining the other. But if much of the rest is just too funny to also be suspense, it doesn't matter, as it couldn't be more fun.
Continue to the next vampire film:
Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural (1973)
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl