Blu-ray Review: Fright Night (1985)

When it comes to vampire movies I don’t think you’ll find one more era-defining as Fright Night, Tom Holland’s atmospheric suburban nightmare and celebrated high-point of 80s horror cinema. Unfortunately, the landmark title has been somewhat scarce within the Australian DVD & Blu-ray market until its re-issue by Cinema Cult in February. Now that’s it’s rightfully back on store shelves, home audiences can reacquaint themselves with 17-year-old Charlie Brewster, a frantic teenager convinced his new next door neighbour is an undead creature of the night.

Several years ago I watched a number of ‘Universal Monster Classics’ for the first time as they had just been released on Blu-ray to coincide with the studios 100th anniversary. While I was able to admire the films for what they had achieved, I didn’t find them particularly enjoyable. I think what makes Fright Night strike a chord so with many fans is how it’s able to bridge two distinctive and influential periods of cinematic horror. Holland utilizes a variety of visuals synonymous with the genre, which by then were very much cliché, to create this wonderful homage to the bygone era while using modern techniques and style to tell a story enticing to audiences of the time. Fright Night was the first vampire film to spend one-million-dollars on effects and not only does it show, but they hold up remarkably well over thirty years later. During each viewing, I can’t help but lament for the art-form that’s now taken a back seat to digital elements, although it has re-emerged to some extent in recent years. The plot is predictable to some degree, but can easily be forgiven due to the sheer level entertainment value the film offers with memorable scenes on intense confrontation, awkwardness and bizarre circumstance.

Charlie Brewster, the film’s tightly wound young lead, is portrayed wonderfully by William Ragsdale, perfectly conveying the nervousness and angst of teenage life. His love for scary movies is his most endearing quality and relatable to anyone who has stayed up late under the spell of B-grade cinema. His long-suffering girlfriend Amy, played by Amanda Bearse of Married with Children fame, brings a light comedic element to the film along with best friend and horror aficionado Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys), who schools Charlie in the particulars of vampire lore. Ed’s eccentricities make him stand out among the supporting cast and to this day remains a beloved and memorable character. Roddy McDowall in one of his best role as TV presenter Peter Vincent is an affectionate tribute to screen icons Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. His reluctance to help Charlie and the crippling fear he experiences upon realizing it’s all true, gives the superficial hero a nice arch and sympathetic quality, who could have otherwise easily been written one-dimensional. Now finally to Fright Night’s blood-sucking villain Jerry Dandridge, the most charismatic, witty and sassy ‘Dracula-like’ vampires ever portrayed on screen and full credit must to actor Chris Sarandon, who clearly relishes in the role.  His line delivery and subtle winks to the audiences are priceless and practically near steals the show.

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As a major studio feature, Fright Night as a had a very consistent history on home video, especially during its time on disc-based formats. Cinema Cult’s HD treatment of the vampire classic appears to be for the most part a port of the previous Australian Blu-ray, which was released under Universal Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 2014. There is a slight darkness to the picture, but I think that’s more to do with the film’s visual styling and overall presentation, arching back to the classic horror films of the 30s and 40s. It’s both an impressive and worthy transfer with the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack serving the film’s synthesizer-dominant score extremely well.

I own three different editions of Fright Night, which is a statement right there, and while they vary in a number of ways, there has been no compromise in quality. If you’re yet to see the film, Cinema Cult’s release is the perfect means to uncover what is a time capsule of 80s aesthetics and horror filmmaking at its most traditional yet reinvigorating.

(1985, dir: Tom Holland)



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