SALEM HORROR FEST: Fright Night (1985)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This movie was watched as part of Salem Horror Fest. You can still get a weekend pass for weekend two. Single tickets are also available. Here’s the program of what’s playing.

Fright Night was the first modern horror film I ever watched. I remember painting in my parent’s kitchen and my father telling me not to be afraid and just watch it with him. It’s a great start — combining the Hammer films that I loved that didn’t scare me with new school special effects and metacommentary.

The very first film in the series, this one really speaks to me as I was part of the last generation to grow up with horror movie hosts on UHF channels. Sure, there’s Svengoolie today and some internet shows, but it’s not the same. Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) is one such host, a washed-up actor who was in a few great movies decades ago and now goes from town to town, playing the same old 1960’s Z list horror films, saying the same lines. 

The defining moment for him is that Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale, Mannequin 2: Mannequin on the Move) believes in all his bull. And when Jerry Dandrige (the untrustable Chris Sarandon) moves in next door and shows all the signs of being a vampire, Charley finds he needs Peter Vincent more than ever before.

Plus, you get a pre-Married with Children Amanda Bearse as Charley’s love interest and a pre-976-EVIL Stephen Geoffreys as Charley’s best friend/worst nemesis Evil Ed. And I just love Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark, House II) as Jerry’s thrall.

This is a movie made for those who love horror movies. After all, Peter Vincent is named after horror icons Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. Creator Tom Holland wrote the part for Price, but the acting great had stopped appearing in horror movies at this time in his career. As they made the film — and the sequel together — Holland and McDowall became life-long friends, with McDowall introducing the young director to Price, who was flattered that the part was written to honor him and thought that Fright Night “was wonderful and he thought Roddy did a wonderful job.”

He’s right — this is a movie that taps into the mind and heart of horror fans, as so many of us have wondered, “What if the monster — and the monster hunter — was real?” The lighthearted yet dangerous tone of the film is letter perfect. That scene in the nightclub, where Jerry takes on the security guard? As good as it gets.

Also of note: I’m glad the original ending wasn’t used. It was to close with Charley and Amy making out with Peter Vincent coming on the TV to host Fright Night, saying “Tonight’s creepy crawler is Dracula Strikes Again. Obviously about vampires. You know what vampires look like, don’t you? They look like this!” Then, he would transform, look into the camera and say, “Hello, Charley.”

After the unexpected critical and financial success of this film, a sequel was inevitable. Holland and Sarandon were both making the first Child’s Play, so they couldn’t commit to the film, although the actor did visit the set. Stephen Geoffrey’s didn’t like the script, opting to star in 976-EVILUltimately only Ragsdale and McDowall would return.

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