Monday, August 22, 2011

Fright Night: When is a "classic" maybe not really one?

Given the way folks carelessly toss about the term "classic" -- using the word to describe everything from ugly muscle cars to '80s slasher flicks -- I really shouldn't be surprised that some nostalgic movie buffs are eager to apply that appellation to the original 1985 Fright Night, if only to differentiate that film from its recently released, reportedly underwhelming remake.

But at the risk of sounding like the critical equivalent of the cranky old coot who wants those damn kids to get off his lawn -- I can't say I share the love for the '85 flick. This is, reprinted verbatim, my original review of the original Fright Night, as it appeared Aug. 2, 1985, in the now-defunct Houston Post:

Fright Night takes a great idea and makes the very least of it.

For his debut as a director, scriptwriter Tom Holland has come up
with a doozy of a premise: A teen-ager discovers his next-door neighbor is a
vampire, and must call on a TV horror movie host for help when no one else
believes his fantastic story. Unfortunately, Holland fritters away his
inspiration as he scuttles back and forth between grisly shocks and campy
put-on. One moment, we have a heavy-handed sight gag: the vampire's home is
the only house on the block surrounded by swirling fog and low-hanging clouds.
The next moment, we have Richard Edlund's yuck-o special effects: green slime
oozes from a bad guy's corpse, before the skeletal remains crumple into dust.

Holland had similar trouble balancing gore and giggles in his script for
Psycho II. Here, however, the schizophrenia is even more obvious, since
Holland lacks the directorial skill to merge the disparate elements. His movie
doesn't jell until the final 20 minutes, when, despite some glaring gaps in
the narrative logic, it generates some genuine suspense. By that time, alas,
it's too late in the evening for Fright Night.

Roddy McDowall
[pictured above] gives a stylized, sympathetic performance as Peter Vincent,
the horror movie host who displays grace and surprising bravery under
pressure. Chris Sarandon plays the vampire, Jerry Dandrige, with adequate
suavity and menace.

But William Ragsdale, the teen-age hero, is a bland cipher. Amanda Bearse
is supposed to be his leading lady, but she could pass for his mother. (Of
course, her obvious maturity comes in handy when Sarandon starts vamping her
in a silly disco sequence. If she looked younger, he'd look like a child
molester.) Stephen Geoffreys, who plays the hero's eccentric classmate and
reluctant ally, looks and sounds like a Jack Nicholson clone that was somehow
damaged in the laboratory. Dorothy Brewster, cast as Ragsdale's mother,
overacts with the tiresome stridency of a supporting player determined to make
herself memorable.

Fright Night could have been something special. Its mediocrity is not
merely disappointing, it is almost infuriating.

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