Trick or Treat 2020: Two Cents Slays FRIGHT NIGHT!

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

Tom Holland (not Spider-Man) had a neat idea.

Wouldn’t it be fun to do a horror movie about a teenager who loves horror movies and becomes convinced that his next door neighbor is actually a vampire? And then everyone would think the kid was crazy!

But Holland couldn’t see how to turn the cute concept into an actual film, and so he let it sit. Some time later, the obvious answer popped into his head: If a horror fan ran into a real monster, he’d run to Vincent Price for help! Who better?

And so we get Fright Night, in which unassuming dweeb Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale) comes to suspect that his cool new neighbor Jerry (Chris Sarandon) is actually a vampire responsible for a string of recent murders. When no human agency proves helpful, Charlie turns to Peter Vincent (Roddy MacDowall) a hack actor veteran of many vampire creature features but currently slumming it as the host of a horror TV series.

Although the film is firmly planted in the ’80s, in many ways Fright Night predicted the ’90s turn towards meta-commentary in horror. Before there was Jamie Kennedy reciting all the rules you needed to follow to survive a slasher movie, there was Fright Night, a movie in which the characters know to fight vampires thanks to movies about vampires.

Fright Night has always enjoyed a healthy cult following thanks to its affectionate relationship to the larger horror genre and fandom, its wild special effects, barely-subtextual homoerotic subtext, the presence of genre legends like MacDowall and Sarandon, and the eccentric performance by Stephen Geoffreys as Charlie’s friend ‘Evil’ Ed.

Fright Night also enjoyed a pretty terrific remake a little while back, a film whose own quality has further enshrined the original movie as a horror classic.

So for our last film of this spooky season, let’s sprinkle on some garlic and make sure the crucifixes are adjusted comfortably. Alright, let’s take a bite out of Fright Night.

Next Week’s Pick:

Today we’re reeling at the news of Sir Sean Connery’s passing. Best known as the first and greatest James Bond of the ongoing series, Connery continued to have an incredible career for three more decades after turning in his Walther PPK, starring in numerous films, both weird and wonderful. To honor his passing, we’re skipping his most famous character (one he eventually came to resent) and instead highlighting one of his most unique supporting roles in Highlander.

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at) anytime before midnight on Thursday!

Our Guests

Trey Lawson:

Fright Night is kind of the pinnacle of “horror comfort food” for me. It’s not super scary — despite some very good special effects. It’s also got a fun sense of humor, with plenty of knowing winks and references to vampire lore (particularly as depicted in 1960s/70s Hammer horror.)

What is wild about Fright Night is that it’s a teen movie where I could not care less about the teens. William Ragsdale and Amanda Bearse give fine performances, and Stephen Geoffreys is certainly memorable as Ed. But for my money, the reasons I fell in love with this movie (and the reasons I keep coming back to it) are the performances of Chris Sarandon as the deliciously evil Jerry Dandrige and Roddy McDowall as the actor/horror host/ersatz Van Helsing. The former brings just the right amount of menace to the film, while the latter walks a fine line between selling the horror as genuine while also being the primary source of the film’s tongue in cheek tone.

Fright Night isn’t my favorite vampire movie of the 1980s, but it’s just so much fun that I’m always happy to revisit the film. I’d say it’s more than deserving of a place in anyone’s Halloween viewing list.

Verdict: Treat (@T_Lawson)

The Team

Justin Harlan:

Fright Night is a classic and deservedly so. Revisiting it only a few weeks after The Lost Boys, I can definitively say it’s the better of the two films, albeit both are fantastic. Neither, however, are as good as the 2011 remake of Fright Night… but I digress…

This go around, I realized that both Charlie and Ed are kinda dicks. Charlie is a shitty boyfriend and Ed is a shitty friend. Really, Amy rules and mostly everyone else kinda sucks. Charlie and Peter Vincent do kick some ass in the end and get some good character arcs, but they both still are dicks through a good chunk of the movie.

Nonetheless, I still find the film extremely fun and worth repeated viewings… even if my prevailing feeling is that I want to go watch the remake now.

Verdict: Treat (@thepaintedman)

Brendan Foley:

The only real problem Fright Night has is an imbalance of its leads. Roddy MacDowall is an absurd delight as the vain, cowardly, but somehow still lovable Peter Vincent and Chris Sarandon is so deliciously evil as the vampire Jerry, that I couldn’t help but resent the film a bit every time it cut away back to the teenagers the movie is actually about. And the teenager stuff is perfectly charming and fun, no arguments here. But MacDowall gives the movie such a crazy energy boost once he arrives that I kept finding myself wishing the movie had just been about the horror host having to step up to a real vampire and the other stuff could just dangle.

But whatever, Fright Night is still a whole lot of fun. Vampires have never been my favorite breed of movie monster, but Holland pulls from the full lore surrounding these creatures of the night to allow for all kinds of fun shenanigans, particularly the shape-shifting which leads to multiple epic creature effects sequences that still hold up beautifully.

I maybe don’t revere Fright Night the way so many do, but it’s a pretty terrific little number and I’m happy to have revisited it.

Verdict: Treat (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Austin Vashaw:

One of the best aspects of the novel Dracula is the palpable terror of the silent duel of wits between Dracula and Harker. As Harkier’s paranoia and mounting fears are confirmed, and as the vampire keeps the hapless realtor imprisoned, Harker knows better than to protest or let on that he knows the score. Instead he tries to make his escape while also humoring his host and playing the role of a guest.

Like most of the best aspects of the novel, this dynamic has been ignored by virtually every adaptation. But it’s one of the things that Fright Night understands and absolutely nails. If you let on that you know a vampire, you’d better be ready… because you’re as good as dead.

Besides a great screen vampire and awesome paranoia dynamic, Fright Night also boasts terrific supporting characters, awesome creatures and makeup effects, and knowing nods to the monster kids in the crowd.

Verdict: TREAT! (@VforVashaw)

Next week’s pick:

Next week’s pick:

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