Welcome back, spooky darlings, to another edition of Late to the Party! This week I watched Tom Holland’s 1985 classic, Fright Night.
Fright Night, I’ve realized, is essentially a modern-day suburban retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. You’ve got Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) as a stand-in for Johnathan Harker. He realizes that his new neighbor, Jerry Dandrige (who has moved in to an aging mansion with enviable stained glass windows and antique architectural fixtures that seem oddly out of place in this 80s suburb, but, okay) has some rather frightening secrets.
Charley seeks the assistance of a renowned occult expert and supposed vampire slayer, Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall). But Vincent is a much more reluctant and dishonest double for Van Helsing. Though he eventually rises to the occasion, he begins his journey as a floundering entertainer and steadfast cynic.
Like Dracula, Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon) has a Renfield-like “familiar” in his roommate, Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark). Billy takes out the trash, drives their jeep, and generally helps Jerry with the acquisition and disposal of victims. They’re best buds!
Charlie’s girlfriend, Amy (Amanda Bearse), plays the role of a surrogate Mina. She is seduced by
Jerry and soon is transformed. Charley’s only hope is to kill Jerry, releasing Amy from his spell and saving them all in a grand heroic gesture.
One scene that stuck out to me was the dance floor seduction of Amy. The subtle primal awakening is communicated perfectly.
This poor girl has had a bit of an on-again, off-again relationship with Charley, and our first introduction to them as a couple is Carley’s low-key attempt to pressure her into having sex. When she bundles up the resolve to give it an honest try, Charley is too distracted by Jerry’s in-a-coffin arrival to realize that this is kind of a big deal for Amy. She storms off in a huff.
In subsequent scenes, Amy tries to open up to Charley to address the challenges in their relationship. She is continually frustrated as Charley becomes more obsessed with his new “my neighbor is a vampire” theory.
Enter Jerry. Seductive, sexy Jerry (or, at least he was 80s sexy). He is taken by her resemblance to an old lover and his raw vampire magnetism draws Amy in like a moth to a flame. She’s finally granted sensual attention, and damn, this girl is so ready.
As always, I went head-over-heels for Fright Night‘s practical effects. There are some fantastic transformations punctuated by melting flesh and cracking bones. I was practically giddy, you guys.
I don’t care what anyone says, the real way to a woman’s heart is through gruesome practical effects.
Another scene worth highlighting is the wolf death. It’s actually heartbreaking (completely sold by Roddy McDowall’s reactions) and – again – the visuals are solid. I felt actual emotions because of this scene, which is no easy feat (trust me on this).
I’m going warn you about spoilers for the next paragraph, so if you – like past me – haven’t seen Fright Night, perhaps skip ahead?
The scene between the dying wolf and Vincent is skillfully presented. Vincent – who had run off to seek help – finally lives up to the strength of his as-seen-on-TV character. He gains confidence that he can be the knowledgeable vampire slayer that he pretends to be. But it’s a tragic discovery, since it comes on the heels of killing young “Evil” Ed. Ed, the awkward outcast, who was lured to the vampire life by Jerry’s promise: “they won’t pick on you anymore”. As Ed dies, he reaches out for comfort, foiled by the monster he has become.
Overall, Fright Night really grew on me, and I’m glad I finally gave in and watched it.
For more Late to the Party, check out the full catalogue of recent discoveries!
I’ll leave you with this song because if I’m going to have it stuck in my head all day, dammit, you should too.
Featured image by Chris Fischer