Halloween Review: Fright Night (1985)

They released a remake of this film a few months back and I guess it was pretty good but, really, why bother? Fright Night, a little piece of horror-movie history, works perfectly well. A ghoulish snapshot of a time and place, it remains fine seasonal viewing.

Title: Fright Night

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Written and directed by Tom Holland

William Ragsdale as Charley Brewster
Chris Sarandon as Jerry Dandrige
Amanda Bearse as Amy Peterson
Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent
Stephen Geoffreys as Ed “Evil” Thompson
Jonathan Stark as Billy Cole
Dorothy Fielding as Judy Brewster
Art Evans as Detective Lennox

Full Cast and Crew information is here.

Available in DVD.


When a teen horror-movie fan suspects his neighbour is a vampire, he turns to the local horror-host, a faded screen star (named for Vincent Price and Peter Cushing), for assistance.

High Points:

This film came at a time when the traditional monsters had withered away, replaced, as Peter Vincent laments, by psychopaths slaughtering teenagers. Yes, Anne Rice’s literary efforts notwithstanding, vampires had faded from the mainstream in 1985. Other people had handled them humorously, but Fright Night stands as one of the earliest entries in the horror/humour funhouse-style flick, a tribute to classic cinematic terrors filled with touches of the contemporary, and links to the horror movie’s future. It’s filled with the kind of Easter Egg Halloween Surprise touches that have become common in genre films. Its influence on Buffy would be difficult to deny. I’d stake money Joss Whedon (who would have been 21 at the time) loved this film.

Low Points:

The film has laughs and frights and a bit of gore, but it could have been a fair bit scarier without unbalancing its delicate balancing act. The conclusion, perhaps inevitably, puts too much emphasis on special effects.

The Scores:

Originality: 4/6 See “High Points.”

Effects: 5/6 CGI didn’t exist, and this film makes excellent use of old-school prosthetics, make-up, and cinematic tricks. Fright Night goes for deliberately cartoonish, hyperbolic visuals, at once effective and ridiculous.

Story: 4/6

Acting: 5/6. Roddy McDowall made a career of playing eccentric, somewhat fey characters, and he does very well as a fading star. Terrified when he discovers the horrors he battled onscreen actually exist, Vincent must struggle to become the Vampire Slayer he once pretended to be. Chris Sarandon turns in a memorable performance as the seductive, sinister fiend named… Jerry Dandrige.

Other performances can be uneven, especially when the actors have to deliver the film’s somewhat campy dialogue.

Production: 5/6

Emotional Response: 5/6 The film’s campier moments—and it has its share of those—are well within genre standard. Watch Fright Night for what it is, and you shouldn’t be disappointed. It’s Halloween night, and we’re walking through the Haunted House.

Overall: 5/6 This remains an essential Halloween film, despite (because of?) its dated 80s sensibility. The story and characters hold up, the tone suits the tale– and the music, fashion, and style make The Breakfast Club look timeless.

In total, Fright Night receives 33/42.

Additional Comments

I could write about the film’s queer subtext, but someone else did it far better than I could.

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