Tom Holland first came to the attention of exploitation fans in the late 70s and early 80s, as the screenwriter for films such as THE INITIATION OF SARAH, THE BEAST WITHIN, CLASS OF 1984 and PSYCHO 2.
In 1985, Holland - who has quite a few minor acting gigs to his credit - took to directing his own screenplay for a modern vampire flick called FRIGHT NIGHT. Thirty-one years on, I think it's safe to say everyone's aware of the film's cult status and its influence on the hip bloodsucker movies which followed (THE LOST BOYS, NEAR DARK, VAMP). At the time it won several awards, garnered rave reviews and scored big at the box office. Despite moments of interest in Holland's subsequent directorial career such as CHILD'S PLAY and his TV's "Twisted Tales" series, he's never hit such heights again.
Beginning as a riff on REAR WINDOW, the film's premise centres around a man, in this case Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale), who witnesses what he believes to be a murder from his bedroom window. Only, in this instance Charlie is a young horror film obsessive and he suspects his new neighbour of not only being a killer, but a vampire at that.
Spurning the advances of hapless girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) in favour of spying on his neighbour Jerry (Chris Sarandon) moving in one night, with the help of his assistant Billy (Jonathan Stark), Charlie is alarmed to see them carrying what looks to be a coffin into the house. The following night, Charlie watches a beautiful woman arrive at the house, go inside and retire to the bedroom with Jerry. Our clueless hero is agog as he observes Jerry seduce the filly, then bare his fangs and chow down on her.
Charlie alerts the police. They duly investigate but end up laughing in his face when they find no evidence of ill-doing and Charlie takes the unwise move of accusing him of being a vampire. The cops leave, amused. Jerry and Billy, however, are most certainly not amused.
That evening Charlie receives a visit from Jerry, who attacks him in his bedroom. Luckily for Charlie, his mother Judy (Dorothy Fielding) is awoken by the commotion and Jerry flees before doing his quarry any harm. Charlie puts the kafuffle down to a bad dream he'd been having.
Now fearing for his life, Charlie is in desperate need of help. With the help of a quietly dubious Amy, his first port of call is his school pal Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys), a wise-cracking horror nut. But he doesn't take Charlie's claims all that seriously either. There is, concludes Charlie, only one man who can help him now: Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), host of his favourite TV horror show, "Fright Night". On his show, Peter has a habit of rising from a coffin and proclaiming himself - in a deeply theatrical manner - to be the greatest vampire slayer alive. That's good enough for Charlie.
Hounding Peter outside the TV studios where he works, Charlie is dismayed to find his idol isn't interested in slaying his bloodsucking neighbour. But the struggling actor, who's coincidentally just been sacked from his job in a canny nod to the changing expectations of horror fans during the 1980s, soon changes his tone when Amy offers him cash in return for his services. All he's required to do is take Charlie to Jerry's house and, via a bogus ceremony, disprove his claims that his neighbour is a fanged ghoul...
Comedy and horror don't often merge together well. The best exceptions to this statement tend to come from the 1980s, where a handful of films managed to marry the two genres with considerable skill: AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, THE HOWLING, THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, RE-ANIMATOR. Even, arguably, NEKROMANTIK. And FRIGHT NIGHT definitely belongs on that list too.
Holland's screenplay finds a canny balance between the humour and the terror, always taking care to play the frights straight and keep the more comedic moments amiable, as opposed to coarse or smug. There is, of course, a whole shed-load of homosexual subtext to consider too: film analysts will enjoy mulling over Jerry and Billy's relationship, Charlie's obsession with his neighbour, Jerry's seduction of Ed and so on. It helps that Holland has a great cast who exhibit a fine understanding of the material.
Sarandon is perfect as the suave, sophisticated vampire with contemporary looks but who still adheres to traditions such as avoiding sunlight and never entering a home until its owner has invited him in (in this case, Judy welcomes Jerry over a short while before he makes the bedroom attack on Charlie). McDowall's unbridled campiness fits the role of the flamboyant, if somewhat jaded, TV personality like a glove. Geoffreys all-but steals the show with his manic energy as the loudmouthed misfit who is ultimately perhaps the film's most vulnerable character.
On the surface FRIGHT NIGHT has enormous fun both sticking to and subverting the tropes of vampire cinema. In a nod to "Dracula", Amy resembles Jerry's lost love; crucifixes, garlic and Holy water all make their appearances; Jerry has no reflection in mirrors. But here vampires are capable of shape-shifting into werewolves or melting without warning.
Which leads into me commenting on the FX work. A crew of over fifty people were involved in the combination of practical make-up and animatronics effects, most of whom were part of the Los Angeles-based Entertainment Effects Group. Their efforts are truly remarkable. Gory, ambitious, creative - and, best of all, they hold up surprisingly well three decades down the line. Even when viewed in HD.
Kent Beyda's taut editing, Brad Fiedel's memorable score and Jan Kiesser's sumptuous photography further help the film move along at a consistent, agreeable pace.
If you can get past Jerry's turtle neck sweaters and one really ill-advised moment where he and Amy dance in a nightclub (oddly charming in its naffness), FRIGHT NIGHT offers nothing but good-natured fun. It's nigh-on impossible not to like.
To date, the film has been sorely lacking in the "Special Edition" department - the nearest we've had was Twilight Time's limited 30th Anniversary blu-ray of last year. But Eureka! have righted that wrong with this stunning dual format release.
We were sent a copy of the blu-ray disc to review.
FRIGHT NIGHT is presented uncut and in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The 16x9 transfer comes with full 1080p HD resolution and is housed here as a healthily sized MPEG4-AVC file. A 4k restoration process having taken place, the movie looks fantastic. Natural, filmic, warm, true - deep blacks, an absence of compression noise, authentic colours and flesh tones, lots of detail: you'd never guess the film was thirty years old.
English audio comes in choices of PCM stereo and 5.1 mixes, both of which offer clean and robust services. Optional English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing are well-written and easily readable at all times.
The disc opens to a static main menu page. As is common with Eureka!'s blu-rays, there is no scene selection menu in evidence. For those who like to flick straight to their favourite scenes, there are 12 remote-accessed chapter stops.
Of the copious bonus features on offer, by far the most tantalising is the whopping 2-and-a-half-hour documentary "You're So Cool, Brewster!". Everyone is interviewed; every facet of the production is covered. It truly is the final word on the film. Want to know how Ragsdale got the gig? Or how Sarandon was bowled over by the script? Or how the music was developed? Or the thought process behind the editing? Or how the actors got along? Or learn that Ragsdale is "a really good kisser"? Or be enlightened on those incredible (for their time) special effects? Or gasp when Holland reveals that Charlie Sheen wanted to audition for the role of Charlie, but was told he was too handsome for the role? You'll get all of this in this well-shot, adroitly edited affair - and a whole lot more.
Plus, it's always interesting to see how the actors have aged over the decades. Well-humoured, brisk and consistently entertaining, this is a fabulous addition to the disc.
We also get a 54-minute audience Q&A session recorded at a Fear Fest screening in 2008. This sees Holland, Sarandon and Geoffreys on stage, and provides a solid hour's worth of good-natured entertainment. If you've already sat through the excellent documentary, however, you will undeniably find a lot of repetition here.
"Choice Cuts" finds Shock Till You Drop's Ryan Turek interviewing Holland in an agreeably informal manner, slouching on a comfy settee with a cup of coffee in hand. This is a lovely 28-minute featurette which covers films like CHILD'S PLAY, THE BEAST WITHIN, FRIGHT NIGHT etc. It's a sincere, clearly affectionate career retrospective.
A vintage "Electronic Press Kit" surfaces here in pillar-boxed VHS quality, and is a most intriguing proposition. It comprises of a compilation of quotes from positive US screening reviews; two music videos (one for the English crowd, the other for our Spanish friends); a Making Of documentary. In total, these last for 94 minutes (!).
Two original theatrical trailers are very similar to one another but very welcome here nonetheless.
A "stills and memorabilia" gallery follows. I lost count of how many images are proffered here. A lot. From behind the scenes monochrome snaps, to script pages, to colour photos taken from a later cast and crew reunion ... all good stuff.
"What is Fright Night?" is the first of three HD featurettes from Dead Mouse Productions. This 10-minute effort takes another look at how the film came to be, containing alternative interviews with Sarandon, music supervisor David Chackler, cinematographer Jan Kiesser, editor Kent Beyda and more.
"Tom Holland Writing Horror" is an enjoyable 9-minute chat with the director, talking about his love of the genre and its fans.
"Roddy McDowall: From Apes to Bats" offers a heartfelt and endearing tribute to the late character actor. It mixes archive interview footage with the star himself plus warm recollections from the likes of Holland. It all makes for a most enjoyable 21 minutes.
A DVD is also present in this dual format package but was unavailable for review purposes. I understand it contains the film and the mammoth "You're So Cool, Brewster!" documentary. There's also a limited edition Steelbook release to be had, which contains an exclusive 24-page colour booklet. Along with the usual disc credits and notes on how to best view the film, this contains an excellent new essay on the film's themes by Craig Ian Man. Peppered with nice stills throughout, this is a most attractive addition to an already fantastic set.
FRIGHT NIGHT remains great fun, a true 80s genre classic. And this release easily trumps all over. If you're a fan, it should go without saying that this is an utterly essential purchase.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Eureka!|