It’s been a bad run, with some really disappointing bad horror movies (a sentence that may not make sense to many, but does to me). So, I decided to go back to the basics and review a classic. I remember one night when I was twelve or so, and the local TV channel was having its Halloween horror night. I had never really seen a horror movie, and my parents were not too keen on me starting at that point. Nonetheless, both were away for a dinner party or something, and I decided to take a chance and watch this movie called FRIGHT NIGHT. From that moment on, I was hooked on horror movies and therefore I owe a big debt to this movie.
The plot (and really quite a witty one): a young man is intrigued with his new neighbors, two guys who moved into the big, foreboding house next door. He becomes even more curious when beautiful young women keep walking into that house. And he becomes extraordinarily curious when he hears that women are being found mangled and decapitated. Connection? Well, you know the answer to that, I know the answer to that, but the character in the film doesn't yet. That is, until one evening in which he spys and sees one of his neighbors, Chris Sarandon, making love to a woman. When Sarandon opens his mouth and reveals fangs, suddenly this movie kicks into high gear.
In a typical movie, the young man, William Ragsdale (who was the title character in the short-lived FOX sitcom "Herman's Head") would go around telling everyone that a vampire lives next door and no one would believe him. This does indeed happen in this film, but there is an interesting twist of fate which makes the standard elements of the plot more intriguing: Sarandon sees Ragsdale spying on him. At a stage early on in the film, he appears in Ragsdale's room and almost kills him. The fact that the vampire KNOWS that Ragsdale KNOWS makes this film particularly interesting.
After a series of embarrassing attempts to convince others of the true nature of his neighbor, Ragsdale decides to recruit the help of Roddy McDowell. A local celebrity, McDowell plays host to a television series named "Fright Night" in which he plays a vampire killer. Of course, when Ragsdale comes to him, McDowell thinks he’s mad. After a bribe from Ragsdale's girlfriend (played by Amanda Bearse, best known as the neighbor from "Married With Children") and his best friend, whose nickname is "Evil," (Stephen Geoffreys), McDowell agrees to perform a fake "vampire test" on Sarandon, who also goes along with it. Yet McDowell discovers that Sarandon is a vampire not through his sham tests, but by glimpsing into a mirror and noticing Sarandon's absence. From this moment on, the movie gets into super high gear and the real action comes, climaxing in an assault on the vampire mansion by Ragsdale and McDowell.
Why is this movie such a great B-flick? Well, I could talk about its special effects, its exciting climax, and its well-constructed plot. But the real reason it's excellent is the exact same one which made films such as NIGHT OF THE CREEPS and DAWN OF THE DEAD so good: a sense of humor. FRIGHT NIGHT is fully aware of its own cheese and what genre of film it fits into. Roddy McDowell's character is a nod to the clichés of the genre since he is a star of cheesy vampire flicks! When McDowell walks up to the vampire house for the first time and notices that it looks just like every spooky horror-movie house, he says, "Yes, it does have a certain air about it, doesn't it?"
This film is alternately funny, scary, and always entertaining. It's got just enough blood for those who crave violence. It's got plenty of cool special effects which actually reveal the presence of a budget. It even has plenty of sexual elements as well. But best of all are McDowell, Sarandon, and Geoffreys, all of whom create unique characterizations lifting this film above the common drech which usually marks the horror genre.
A note to aspiring horror directors: Almost every horror movie I have seen which is aware of its own limitations and its clichés and embraces them has been excellent. It is very difficult to come up with something totally new in the horror movie genre and more than likely you are going to include a cliché in your film. Advice: have a sense of humor. 90 percent of the great horror films have one, and it didn't make them any less scary. FRIGHT NIGHT is a must-have movie.
Rating: **** stars (out of a possible 4)