Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Yama Hama, it's Fright Night: Review of Tom Holland's '85 Original

With the intention of watching the upcoming re-make of Tom Holland’s 1985 horror-comedy classic, Fright Night (though this time it’s in 3D, of course), I thought I would give the original a go first. While I had expected the film to be of the over-the-top, cheesy, gory, schlock variety, I really didn’t expect to require my 80’s blinkers to this extreme.



The 80’s are a ‘recent’ decade that I seriously need to catch up on. Usually, if I’m going to watch a classic, I go back to the 70’s or earlier, and well, I watch plenty of current films. The 80’s always seem to be forgotten about. Well, if this is one of the better-received horror films from the decade (93% on Rotten Tomatoes, and the winner of Three Saturn Awards) then I don’t think I’m going to fare well when I dedicate my time to genre films of this period. 

Anyway, there was still plenty of fun to be had with Fright Night. The story does wear out it’s welcome, and after a fast start (within the first 5-10 minutes there have already been several murders and we are well aware that Jerry is a vampire) it does seem to go on forever, with a lengthy final (final) act. The levels of gore, and a series of quite disgusting transformations (that seem bizarrely out-of-place for a ‘Vampire’ film) become more abundant as the story continues.

There isn’t much of a story, really. Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) is a Gothic horror film buff, who enjoys the late-night horror TV series, “Fright Night”, starring Peter Vincent, a washed-up actor who played a vampire killer in old horror movies. Charley, on the night he is about to finally 'get lucky' with his girlfriend, Amy Peterson (Amanda Bearse), is distracted when he spots some mysterious men carrying a coffin into the basement of a neighbouring house.


When he learns about several recent murders in the area from his best friend ‘Evil’ Ed (a maniacal performance from Stephen Geoffreys) and spots his neighbour Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon, The Princess Bride) sporting fangs and lining up a female victim through his window, he comes to the terrible realization. Of course, no one believes that vampires exist, and he desperately tries to convince his friends, his mother (who even willingly invites the attractive and charming Jerry over for tea) and the police.

Having been warned by Jerry to ‘look the other way’ about him, Charley fears for his life and seeks out his only hope, the Vampire Hunter himself, Peter Vincent (played with plenty of enjoyment by Roddy McDowell of The Planet of the Apes franchise). Charley becomes obsessed with proving what Jerry is, and when his friends are placed in danger, ridding his town of the blood-sucking menace.

There are a few good sequences in the middle of the film, which is the strongest, after an unashamedly cheesy opening. Charley’s hilarious confrontation with Jerry’s ‘housemate’ Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark) when he notifies the police of his suspicions, Peter Vincent’s discovery that Jerry is a vampire by a chance glimpse in his mirror, and Jerry’s tormenting of Charley and Amy on the night streets, before following them into a nightclub, are the highlights. While few sequences are terrifying, there are some effective moments of suspense. 

Come the conclusion, the action becomes confined to Charley and Jerry’s houses, with the former (enshrouded in a sinister veil of fog) becoming a character in itself. These sequences go on for too long, and Holland seems content just throwing anything at the audience. Ed’s transformation from a wolf into a human is reminiscent of An American Werewolf in London (but in reverse), while Billy’s melting death is just bizarre. I found myself laughing at numerous "what the?" occasions.


What I did like about the film are the self-aware nods to vampire lore. The characteristics of vampires (not reflecting in mirrors and kept at bay by faith and a cross for example) and recognition of the position of vampire films within the horror genre are thrown into the plot. In a period where vampires have outstayed their welcome and have been replaced by serial killers wearing hockey masks and villains of that nature, Holland is reiterating that vampires are still prevalent. Chris Sarandon and Roddy McDowell were the standout performances. Sarandon is eerily charming here and Amy’s attraction to Jerry seems to be the result of some sort of mysterious pheromone. He was perfectly cast, though I felt his performance suffered whenever he was under the make-up.

Throughout the film, I kept being reminded of ‘The Strike’ episode of Seinfeld where Kramer responds in horror to Elaine’s smudged make-up with “Yama Hama, it’s Fright Night”. Despite some quality sequences, it all became too ridiculous in the end to give this a recommendation. I wish I were watching Seinfeld, because I wasn’t a big fan of this. My motivation to watch the re-make, which opens in cinemas tomorrow, has copped a sharp stake through the heart.

My Rating: ★★ 1/2 (C)

4 comments:

  1. Hah, I like it a lot more than you do. I thought it was a hugely entertaining and fun horror flick.

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  2. Thanks to you and the rest of the Escape Hatch crew, I've realized that I'm something of a Fright Night apologist. Or maybe just an apologist for cheesy '80s horror in general.

    I admire the film for that sort of dark, gothic, foggy look it's going for. The gore. Like you said, the nod to vampire lore. And Chris Sarandon - dude's a smooth operator. Nice post!

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  3. I just saw the remake this weekend and was considering tracking the original down. I still might, but your take on it (cheesy 80s) matches the dim memory I have of it.

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  4. @ Vik - It had some moments, but 80's horror is a genre I need to adapt to I think. Not every horror film is The Thing :-p

    @ Robert - Yeah, Chris Sarandon was the man. I liked his performance, but it became so much more than a 'Vampire' flick - werewolves and green goo monsters (what was Billy Cole really?). I liked some of the style, and there were some really good scenes, but others became more than I could bear.

    @ sirbriang2 - What did you think of the remake? I don't think I'll see it.

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