Color, 1985, 106 mins. 41 secs.
Directed by Tom Holland
Starring Chris Sarandon, Roddy McDowall, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Stephen Geoffreys, Jonathan Stark, Dorothy Fielding
Eureka (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL), Twilight Time (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Sony (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Though now firmly enshrined as one of the screen’s most beloved vampire films, Fright Night felt like an anomaly that came out of nowhere where it opened in August of 1985 (the same day as Weird Science), coming after a wild barrage of titles that season like Rambo: First Blood Part II, The Goonies, and Back to the Future. The horror genre had been faltered with its regular cash cow, the slasher film, appeared to be in rapid decline, and here was a tongue-in-cheek but suitably scary throwback to Universal and Hammer Films with a fun ‘80s teen twist – and the critics actually ate it up. Though it’s filled with gruesome images of transforming vampires, the film has a classy sheen and a witty script by first-time director Tom Holland, a former actor who had earlier penned The Beast Within, Psycho II and Class of 1984 and decided to make the leap to directing after the insane treatment of his script for Scream for Help.
Pretty much everyone knows the plot of this one by now, but for the uninitiated, teenager Charlie Brewster (Ragsdale) finds a late night make out session with girlfriend Amy (Married with Children’s Bearse) interrupted by the arrival of new neighbors next door – who happen to be hauling what might be a coffin. The fact that a vampire film starring and hosted by once-famous horror actor Peter Vincent (McDowall) casts doubts on Charlie’s claims, even when he sees debonair new arrival Jerry Dandrige (Sarandon) engaging in very predatory activity in the window. With much difficulty, Charlie tries to enlist the aid of Amy and neurotic sort-of-friend “Evil” Ed (Geoffreys, who weirdly also appeared with Bearse in Fraternity Vacation the same year) to prove Jerry is a vampire and his apparent domestic partner, Billy (Stark), is his human servant, even going so far as to get the police and Vincent himself involved. Soon the fearless vampire hunters start falling prey to the undead Dandridge, which leaves the survivors heading to a monstrous showdown.
With its eye-popping practical special effects by Richard Edlund and some of the finest, spookiest scope cinematography this side of John Carpenter, Fright Night is a film that seems to keep getting better with age despite the fact that its horror host angle will have almost no relevance to younger generations. (Though occasionally effective, the 2011 remake stumbled badly in its updating by turning Vincent into a sulking, potty-mouthed imitation of Criss Angel.) The film ended up kick-starting a wave of modern vampire films throughout the second half of the decade including one official sequel (minus Holland), Vamp, Once Bitten, The Lost Boys, and Near Dark, while Holland would go on to launch another incredibly durable horror series with Child’s Play three years later. It’s a rare horror film where everyone involved speaks very warmly about the familial atmosphere on the set and loves talking about it to this day, which has also helped to continue to build its fan base to this day. In an indirect way it’s also a leading title in the wave of ‘80s horror films embraced by the LGBT community, primarily with the coding of Ed’s character and Jerry’s potential bisexuality; it’s not as blatant as, say, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge or The Lost Boys, but the film strikes a chord in receptive viewers with good reason.
Outside of theatrical viewings, it was nearly impossible to see Fright Night in its original wide proportions until very late in the laserdisc game and then via a no-frills DVD in 1999. The tremendous potential for a special edition was left unfulfilled for a very long time, with fan-engineered audio commentaries with the cast and crew recorded in the interim with many of the surviving participants. An attractive but sparsely tricked-out Blu-ray first appeared from Twilight Time in 2011 and sold out in record time, immediately commanding insane amounts of money online. The transfer looked fairly solid but a bit soft, with adequate black levels and a nice DTS-HD MA 5.1 track (along with optional English subtitles and an isolated score track highlighting the excellent music by Brad Fiedel of The Terminator and The Serpent and the Rainbow fame). The sole extra on that release is a pair of trailers.
Despite the company’s initial policy of not doing reissues, the film was eventually granted a full-fledged Blu-ray special edition for a reissue by Twilight Time in 2015 sporting what was touted as a 4K transfer (though the prior one was as well, apparently) and, more importantly, a nice slate of extras in addition to the previous 5.1 mix and subs (with the theatrical 2.0 mix thrown in as well this time). Unfortunately something went amiss between the master delivery stage and its presentation on the disc as it features an uptick in detail but very pale, flat blacks and a tendency to get very chunky looking at times, often obscuring detail entirely during the dimly lit climax. As for extras, in addition to the two trailers and isolated score, this edition adds a pair of very funny and trivia-packed commentary tracks: one with Holland, Sarandon, and Stark, moderated by Tim Sullivan, and the next with Holland, Ragsdale, Geoffreys, effects artist Randall Cook, with Sullivan moderating along with Jeremy Smith. On the video side, the disc adds on a terrific 2008 reunion panel (54 mins.) with Holland, Sarandon, Ragsdale, Geoffreys, Bearse, Stark, and moderator Rob Galluzzo, which covers everything from the issues with wearing loads of heavy makeup to the delightful personality of the much-missed Roddy. Holland is joined by future Blumhouse exec Ryan Turek from his Shock Till You Drop days with three Choice Cuts segments on the making of the film (totalling around 27 mins.) and a lot about Holland's other earlier genre efforts, while a vintage EPK packs in loads of making-of footage with an emphasis on the special effects. Actually, calling it an EPK is selling it way short as it's almost 95 minutes long with looks at Edlund, news coverage, cast and crew interviews, the J. Geils Band music video, and loads more. Finally you get a hefty gallery of stills and ephemera from Holland's collection. Unfortunately the supposedly massive amount of photographs Roddy shot during the production have yet to be released anywhere, but hopefully they're being kept safe and will turn up someday.
However, the edition of Fright Night to beat is definitely the 2017 dual-format, region-free UK release from Eureka, which fixes the compression issues, gets the black levels exactly where they should be, and overall qualifies as the best-looking version out there, especially when you compare all three side-by-side in motion. The DTS-HD MA English 5.1 and 2.0 options are here also (with optional English SDH subs), and apart from the two commentaries, every extra has been included here (2008 panel, EPK, Choice Cuts, trailers, and gallery). The biggest new extra here is a special edit of You're So Cool, Brewster! The Story of Fright Night (2 hrs. 26 mins. 43 secs.), a feature-length doc about the making of the film. (An expanded 3hr37m version incorporating Fright Night II can be obtained separately here.) Apart from the annoying and overlong faux Peter Vincent segments that separate each section, it's a brisk and breezy dive into the film with seemingly every single living person involved interviewed at one point or another. You may know a lot of the basics going in, but the presentation is like a joyous crash course in how the film came about.
A trio of new featurettes has been included as well (from Dead Mouse Productions, culled from the creation of the doc), starting off with "What Is Fright Night" (10m42s) with Sarandon, Holland, Ragsdale, music supervisor David Chackler, cinematographer Jan Kiesser, editor Kent Beyda, creature designer Steve Johnson, Bearse, Geoffreys, first technician and makeup effects man Mark Bryan Wilson, Stark, Fiedel, makeup artists Ken Diaz and Rick Stratton, and actor Art Evans, among others, offering sound bites about the horror influences on the film and the ways it impacted those that followed. In "Writing Horror" (8m55s), Holland (with a few interjections from the other usual participants) expounds on his love for the genre and its fans while exploring how it has transformed from being "not cool" when he was a kid to massive pop culture acceptance now. "Roddy McDowall: From Apes to Bats" (20m53s) features some archival interview footage with Roddy mixed with comments from Holland and the other usual suspects about the actor's remarkable role in Hollywood history and his uncle role to those on the set of this film and its sequel. (Note that some of the extras, including the new featurettes, the EPK, and the gallery, are on the Blu-ray only, not the DVD.) The first pressing of this disc was a limited steelbook edition sold through UK retailer Zavvi containing a booklet with a new essay by Craig Ian Mann, but the actual disc contents are the same no matter how you buy in. In short, hang on to that second Twilight Time disc for the commentaries, but the UK one is the most essential release for any Fright Night fan.
TWILIGHT TIME FIRST BLU-RAY
TWILIGHT TIME SECOND BLU-RAY
Reviewed on April 24, 2017.