If you’re going to be a derivative movie, don’t hide it. Flaunt it, own it, and be able to take the premise you’re deriving from and twist in to something excellent. “Fright Night” does the very thing. What if, instead of a murderer, the next door neighbor was a vampire? And what if, instead of a disabled man, we featured a young high school boy with a bad habit for snooping? And what if, instead of a photographer, this character was a horror fan whose imagination may or may not be playing tricks on him?
“Fright Night” is a masterful take off on Hitchcock with an eighties twist that is absolutely excellent most times. The cast is perfection, and the film manages to balance out its tone of comedy and horror very well. And that’s due mostly to the characters who make this film a horror gem worth celebrating. Charlie Brewster is a kid whose imagination is always running away from him, and this often stifles his relationship with his girlfriend, Amy. Entrenched in horror movies and paraphernalia of all kinds, Charlie begins spying on his new neighbor Jerry, who arrives in his quiet little suburb under the cloak of darkness, shipping in many large human size crates. “Fright Night” works as a mystery as well as a vampire film, because director-writer Tom Holland paints the first half of the film as mystery and then dives head first in to the horror.
Much of what we see involving Jerry is unusual and incredibly odd, while Jerry himself garners an exhibitionist attitude. Especially with his behavior involving busty women he brings home to sleep with. Charlie can never be sure if Jerry is just a sociopathic playboy, or if Charlie is becoming the witness to a dangerous vampire preying on local women. Director Holland adheres to classic vampire mythology, giving Jerry the limitations of a mythological vampire, including his inability to enter a home without being invited first. The advantage unfortunately belongs to Jerry since Chris Sarandon gives an iconic performance as the sly bachelor who is so charming and unassuming you want him in your home. It’s especially disarming considering Charlie’s mom is single and always on the hunt for companionship.
When Charlie begins imposing on Jerry’s likelihood, director Holland amps up the terror two fold, conveying some truly tense and creepy moments. Jerry becomes bolder and bolder over the course of the premise, but it’s only to establish a line between the two rivals. One of the best moments is when Jerry enters Charlie’s room and warns him to mind his business or else suffer dire consequences, revealing his horrifying form underneath his dashing facade. Things become even more harrowing when Charlie enlists the help of Peter Vincent. Unable to distinguish fiction from reality, as the lines blur with Jerry’s form revealed, Charlie seeks the help of horror TV host Peter Vincent.
Roddy McDowall is superb as the inept television celebrity thrust in to this extraordinary situation that begins as a means of amusement for him and quickly transforms in to a fight for survival; Especially with Jerry seeking out Charlie’s girlfriend Amy as a companion. “Fright Night” is a taut and entertaining horror comedy that perfectly balances out both genres to generate nervous laughter during the terrifying moments, and sheer terror from the more insane sequences. “Fright Night” is assuredly not just an eighties horror classic, but a horror masterpiece that takes an old premise and transforms it in to something fresh and unique.