Ooh! Controversy! Debate! Aside from a good portmanteau, we’d say that ’80s vampire movies are our favourite thing. Now, there is plenty of debate to be had over which vampire film is the best ever. In the ’80s there were some true greats. The Lost Boys and Near Dark remain entirely rewatchable and wonderful to this day but there’s a reason why our Twitter avatar is Stephen Geoffreys otherwise known as ‘Evil’ Ed from Fright Night (1985).
The film tells the story of Charlie Brewster, a high-school horror film fan who is leading a reasonably normal life. He’s got his girlfriend, Amy, and his best friend, Ed, and is happily living in suburbia. This all changes when he starts to notice some odd behaviour from his new neighbour. At first, it’s just strange. Carrying a coffin into his house under cover of the night and some questionable fingernail grooming regimes but when he sees Jerry Dandrige bite the neck of a beautiful woman, he puts all the pieces together and realises that Jerry is a vampire.
Convinced that he’s just watched too many episodes of his favourite TV show, Fright Night, Charlie’s mum and Amy don’t take him seriously and so he calls the police, telling them that Jerry murdered the woman who has now gone missing. Accompanying them to Jerry’s house, the police ask Jerry and his housemate Billy Cole some questions but Charlie’s frustration gets the better of him and when he mentions the V-word, the police leave and Charlie begins to realise the trouble he is now in.
Ed advises him that if the legends are true then silver and crosses are his best weapons but that staying at home is his best defense as vampires cannot enter a home uninvited but when Charlie’s mum politely invites Jerry into their house, Charlie decides that he needs the help of a real vampire hunter, Peter Vincent the host of Fright Night. However, the mid-’80s hasn’t been kind to Peter and he’s been fired from his show and has no interest in helping Charlie but when Amy pays him to perform a vampire test on Jerry, Peter comes to realise that Charlie was telling the truth.
1. Every good vampire movie needs a charismatic, and terrifying, vampire. The Lost Boys had David, Near Dark had Jesse and Fright Night has Jerry Dandrige who is handsome, charming and vicious. The scene where he visits Charlie in his bedroom and warns him to stay away has everything you want from a good vampire film. Chris Sarandon’s performance makes him one of the best screen vampires ever.
2. ‘Evil’ Ed. Okay, so Stephen Geoffreys’ career may have taken an unfortunate turn right into gay porn but his exuberant performance as Ed was full of energy and comedy and gave us the lines ‘to what do I owe this dubious pleasure?’ and, of course, ‘you’re so cool, Brewster’ but when he is indelibly burned with a cross by Peter Vincent, his pain turns to rage.
“The master will kill you for this! But not fast. Slowly! Oh, so slowly!”
3. Fright Night sticks to the basics. Holy water, stakes, crosses and sunlight. There’s no bending the rules. None of that Twilight shit. They even remember that vampires aren’t meant to cast reflections. Which leads us to…
4. Fright Night has a Club Tech Noir scene. Ever since the original Terminator movie, any time you see a big darkened club, that’s a Tech Noir scene. This one is a particularly good one. Charlie and Amy run into the club figuring they’ll be safe. They aren’t safe at all! Jerry walks in, seduces the living fuck out of Amy by just looking at her, dances with her until she realises that he’s GOT NO REFLECTION. At which point he makes Charlie his bitch before beating up two massive bouncers. A good night out by any measure.
5. Vampires can take a few forms and Fright Night gives us all the good ones. Aside from Jerry in human-looking mode (although Sarandon has since revealed that he believes the reason Jerry eats apples in the film is that he shares his geneology with a fruit bat!) we also get to see him in vapour mode and as a vampire bat while Ed turns into a wolf. Well, even better than that. His transformation from wolf back to dead human is a stunning piece of special effects work. Up there with American Werewolf in London’s iconic scene.
6. The special effects need even more of a mention than that. With a budget of close to $10m for the whole film, a solid tenth of that was used on the effects and it is money well spent. From the excellent ‘pencil through hand’ gag to the whole ‘exploding in green fucking flames’ bit later on, Fright Night looks exceptional.
7. Peter Vincent, the fearless vampire killer, is an excellent character. This self-obsessed fraud was named after Peter Cushing and Vincent Price (Price was approached to play the part but turned it down due to his failing health) but after realising that Charlie is telling the truth about Jerry’s vampirism, he rather wisely runs off before manning up and taking the fight to Danridge’s front door.
His mix of egotism, fear, courage and empathy is all ably reflected in Roddy McDowell’s magnificent performance. But sure, re-cast him Doctor fucking Who, you idiots.
8. It was apparently Chris Sarandon’s idea to say that Amy “looks just like her, doesn’t she?” in some sort of reference to a lost-love of Jerry’s. They take that idea and just leave it hanging rather turning Jerry into some sort of ponce vampire. He’s badass to the end.
9. Also badass is Billy Cole. We’re never quite sure what’s up with Jerry’s house mate. He protects Jerry during the day and appears to be human until the moment where we find out he’s immune to bullets and if you stake him in the heart, he’ll leak pea soup everywhere.
His best moment is when Jerry welcomes Charlie, Amy and Peter to the house. Everyone is acting friendly but when Billy deliberately bumps into Charlie, you know he’s not a green soup man to be messed with.
10. The ending. We won’t go into detail except to say that the final showdown is spectacular. Loads of great practical effects, weird puppetry and Chris Sarandon running around in a ton of prosthetics. Exceptional stuff.