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Fright Night (30th Anniversary Edition)
What would you do if you discovered that you lived next door to a vampire? That was the core conceptual idea which led to the creation of the beloved 80's horror classic Fright Night (1985), which was a critical darling, the second-highest grossing horror film the year it came out, and a effort which led to both a direct-sequel and a big-budget 3D remake. From writer-director Tom Holland, Fright Night has garnered a reputation from horror fans as a classic vampire genre film and it has now received a 30th Anniversary Edition that lives up to the quality of the filmmaking.
Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) lives next door to a vampire. Brewster is a teenager obsessed with late-night horror and sci-fi films. He isn't too popular in school and this isn't exactly something that will earn him popularity brownie points as he runs around his town proclaiming that a vampire has moved in next door. He's seen news reports about missing individuals and noticed shady dealings by the neighbor at night. Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) is the terrifying next-door neighborhood vampire and before long, Dandridge is paying Brewster a visit. Desperate for help, Brewster seeks the guidance of a local television host, Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), a actor who introduces vampire films and who Charley considers an expert on the subject. Vincent is neither an expert on the subject or someone who wants to help Brewster. He shrugs their meeting off as he considers Brewster to simply be an obsessed vampire fan.
Amy Peterson (Amanda Bearse), Brewster's girlfriend, is concerned about his sanity and wants to help prove to him that his neighbor isn't actually a vampire and that vampires do not exist. Peterson enlists the help of Brewster's best friend "Evil" Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) to help in convincing Brewster that vampires aren't real and they plan a meeting with the neighbor. Deciding their team-effort isn't enough, Amy and Ed also visit Peter Vincent (an idol to Brewster), and ask for help with the visit. Vincent agrees because he realizes the boy might actually need help to be convinced that "vampire's aren't real" and because he has just been laid off as the late-night host for the program which Brewster adores. Little do Peter Vincent, Amy Peterson, and Evil Ed realize that things are about to become a lot more frightful when it comes time to prove that Jerry Dandridge is just a normal human being.
Fright Night was written and directed by Tom Holland (Child's Play, Psycho 2). It was his directorial debut after having written a string of successful B-Movie horror flicks that all managed some degree of success for the studios. Holland does a great job on every level. Ultimately, the success of Fright Night rests largely with his efforts to bring it all together.
The idea behind the film started with the simple but highly effective premise of a character living next door to a vampire. Holland found the concept perfect for a cinematic exercise and thought it could make a really entertaining film. Yet something was missing. Over the course of one year of pondering about the concept of the film, a great idea eventually came to Holland to implement a late-night television horror host into the story. It seemed to make perfect sense to have the lead character go and visit the "expert" on vampires. Thus the character Peter Vincent was created and the film took flight from there (with Holland reportedly writing the script in three weeks). Thus, Fright Night was born.
The concept behind the film is ingenious and one wonders how Hollywood hadn't already produced something like it. It goes to show how smart Holland's screenplay was from its conception. The execution is brilliant for a genre film and the characters are compelling considering the often-problematic horror genre. As a director, Holland managed to make something special: a film that is simultaneously scary and adventurous, with a fast-pacing rhythm during some of the action-packed scenes, and a slow build during the frightening moments. It works.
The performances by the cast assembled are impressive. A huge part of the fun of experiencing Fight Night comes from how successful the actors do in their respective parts. Ragsdale is great as Brewster and was a perfect casting choice. He does manage to embody the type of teenager obsessed with genre films amazingly well and is a likeable, bumbling protagonist. Brewster is great fun as a cinematic character and it's clear that Ragsdale had an equally great time bringing this role to the screen.
Considering the fact that the vampire Dandridge is a creepy monster, Sarandon does a stellar job of making the character compelling on-screen with a confidence that is rarely ever seen in such roles. Sarandon plays the part as if Dandridge is a successful businessman but is amazingly effective at making the part frightening as the film delves into straight-out horror genre filmmaking. Sarandon excels in his part as the central antagonist of the story.
Bearse does an excellent job at playing the part of the concerned girlfriend and is compelling for delivering that role with a clear sense of authenticity and because of the effectiveness of the surprises in store for the character during the last act of the story. Geoffreys is over-the-top effective as Evil Ed and makes the most of the zany best-friend with an odd nickname and penchant for pranks. Of course, the best performance within the film is most certainly from McDowall (Planet of the Apes), who is believable, fascinating, and charismatic as the wacky, determined, and in-over-his-head "vampire expert" television host who has to somehow help save the day.
The Special Effects for Fright Night were conceptually crafted from Richard Edlund. Edlund oversaw the creation of the film's many effects shots. Bear in mind that this is the same FX wizard who was responsible for Ghostbusters. Though this vampire film was low budget in comparison to Ghostbusters it seems the special effects budget was apt as the film has some outstanding work in it that added a lot to the film's overall effectiveness. In particular, Evil Ed's transformation from man to vampire, vampire to wolf, and back to human was remarkably well handled and designed. These effects shots were elaborate and smarter than what is found in many other horror films. These design aspects helped to put a unique stamp on the ultimate success of Fright Night.
The score was composed by Brad Fiedel (The Terminator) and it also added a lot to the spooky ambiance of the filmmaking. It's an effective score which blends well with the effort made by Holland as a director. The scare moments are more effective because of the inflections and emphasis placed within the music. Fright Night had musical success beyond the score too. A soundtrack was also released and which featured the theme song to the film, "Fright Night" by The J. Geils Band.
The cinematography by Jan Kiesser (Some Kind of Wonderful) adds an eerie tone to the entire film visually. The work done by Kiesser helps to match the directorial style effectively and it leads to the film feeling all-the-more reminiscent of great horror films from John Carpenter. Making the vampire house effectively spooky required using a darker color palette which envelops the picture is shadows and Kiesser's work effectively contributed to the overall successes that were achieved in the production.
At the time of the release of Fright Night, vampire films and mythology were in the decline. Compared to other horror tropes the concept of a vampire was not considered as something successful compared to the legions of other monster-movies and slasher films which were unfortunately being churned out by Hollywood while classic creature flicks were slowly disappearing. Holland wanted the vampire film to breathe new life again.
This was a smart decision artistically. Obviously, the rest is history: Fright Night became a huge hit and the vampire genre has effectively re-generated a lot interest over the years (and seems to show no signs of disappearing now with the success of so many popular shows/films like True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, Twilight (does that count?), and even the Fright Night remake. Holland's Fright Night remains a classic of the genre because it tapped into vampire lore with ambition, creativity, and a unique concept that was successfully executed. Few films have been able to deftly combine horror and comedy in a genre-filmmaking style as effectively as this film does, which is easily one of the primary reasons this stands as one of the best genre excursions of the 1980's.
Fright Night arrives on Blu-ray (again) with a newly revamped presentation taken from the 4K scan used by Twilight Time on their first edition. This release has a slightly brighter color tone for the cinematography and the encoding has been redone. This release is presented in 1080p High Definition with MPEG-4 AVC encoding in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen.
Fright Night has never looked better before (or at least on home media). With an average bit-rate of 30mbps, this is a substantially better presentation compared to the other Blu-ray editions on the market (both in North America and as found on overseas editions which have had much smaller encoding rates). The film has a wonderful filmic quality with fine grain reproduction. The presentation manages to look like a quality film print at the peak of its prime. There are no issues to distract viewers as far as print quality goes: no added edge-enhancement, no DNR, no aliasing, and other major anomalies. It's a beautiful print and the encode bit-rate impresses. Fans of Fright Night (including those who own any previous editions) will almost assuredly want to pick up this release so they can own the best presentation available.
I have read that some viewers have found a few moments with minor macroblocking if freeze-framed. If one looks at these particular scenes on pause or via screenshots one will see some minor flaws in the image a few times. I guess for some viewers this might seem frustrating. However, having viewed it in motion without noticing any such drawbacks myself, I don't believe that most viewers will find any fault with the transfer or encode. It looks splendid. Viewing a film and looking for barely noticeable flaws in the presentation is a lot different compared to seeing noticeably distracting issues in motion. This is a strong presentation.
Regarding the encoding and 4K scan: quality of this caliber is actually pretty rare for 80's films, let alone a b-movie horror flick, so seeing it in an almostflawless presentation quality is quite impressive. Sometimes reaching towards perfection (even if not quite grasped) will have to do. Personally, I felt like I was seeing a presentation of the film with an actual theater-quality print. Every time I see such a well-done presentation I feel like applauding the efforts that were made. Your mileage may vary if you are sensitive to minor one-second issues you might notice while freeze-framing and zooming-in on film presentations.
Twilight Time has also done an excellent job with the audio presentation. First of all, it's worth noting that the release includes a new audio option: 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio stereo, which reproduces the original sound design used for its theatrical run. If viewers want to see the film with the original audio presentation, they now have that option.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation is also an amazing option, with great fluidity, detail, and clarity. The surrounds are minimally used but are effectively utilized in those few moments: the dance club, in particular, and a few other "scare" moments use the surrounds quite well. The score by Brad Fiedel is also opened up effectively. I recommend the surround version, which is basically just an enhanced version of the original stereo with a few modifications. Either way, the dialogue is crisp and clean, the score sounds lovely, and the audio will please with 24 bit depth encoding.
English SDH subtitles (for the deaf and hard of hearing) are provided.
Note: In order to help differentiate this edition from the earlier release from Twilight Time this re-release of Fright Night comes packaged in a clear Blu-ray case. It's a quite lovely case and I wish that more of the Twilight Time catalogue came packaged with this kind of material. It's something that helps to make the release feel extra special. Future Twilight Time releases on Blu-ray could benefit from these kinds of cases.
This release includes the standard pack-in inclusion of a booklet featuring an essay written by critic Julie Kirgo.
On disc supplements include:
Isolated Score Track. This is particularly noteworthy as the score is in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 24 bit and the Intrada Special Edition score CD release is currently OOP. The score by Brad Fiedel is excellent and appropriately spooky. Twilight Time's inclusion of a lossless isolated score should please many film score fans.
Audio Commentary featuring writer/director Tom Holland and actors Chris Sarandon & Jonathan Stark. Moderated by filmmaker Tim Sullivan.
Audio Commentary featuring writer/director Tom Holland, actors William Ragsdale & Stephen Geoffreys, and FX Artist Randall Cook. Moderated by Journalist Jeremy Smith and filmmaker Tim Sullivan.
1st Ever Fright Night Reunion Panel - Fear Fest 2 (2008) - featuring Tom Holland, Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Stephen Geoffreys, Amanda Bearse, Jonathan Stark, and moderated by Rob Galluzzo (55 min.)
Shock Till You Drop Presents Choice Cuts with Tom Holland and Ryan Turek (11 min., 7 min., 11 min.) In this three part interview, Tom Holland talks about Fright Night, his filmmaking career, movies, and more trivia with Ryan Turek from Shock Till You Drop interviewing.
Vintage EPK with behind the scenes raw footage (1 hr. 35 min.) is VHS-grade (it literally has the videotape time stamps on the footage!), and bad wobble that makes it look poor in quality for the most part, but this is still a watchable press kit inclusion with old interviews with the cast and crew, quotes from film reviews, music videos, clips, behind the scenes footage from on-set filming, featurette on special effects wizard (from Ghostbusters to Fright Night) and more. Considering the massive lack of extras on previous Fright Night editions, even something timeworn like this should be appreciated by fans.
Stills and memorabilia gallery from the Tom Holland archives presents viewers with some high quality reproductions of photographs that were taken on the set of Fright Night, most of which are impressive black and white photographs. This is a click-through gallery presentation that anyone can click-through at their own pace.
Lastly, the original theatrical trailers for Fright Night are included.
Twilight Time has revisited Fright Night with a 30th Anniversary Blu-ray Edition. This is the best release that Fright Night has ever received on home media with a stunning 4K restoration, an excellent lossless audio presentation (in both 5.1 and the original stereo), and a selection of supplemental materials. Many fans found the previous editions to be disappointing because of the lack of supplements. This release makes up for previous barebones editions and makes sure the film looks (and sounds) the best it ever has on media. Even though the release is now out of print this is certainly a "must-own" edition for anyone looking for the best available release of Fright Night.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.