Saturday, December 31, 2011

Blu-ray Review: FRIGHT NIGHT (1985)

FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) Blu-ray

Label: Twilight Time
Region Code: Region FREE
Rating: R
Duration: 106mins
Video: 1080p 16:9 Widescereen (2.35:1)
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA
Director: Tom Holland
Cast: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Stephen Geoffreys, Roddy McDowell


I was all of twelve years old when I caught director Tom Holland's FRIGHT NIGHT in the cinema in 1985, some might think this young but I think twelve was a very appropriate age for one to properly enjoy this awesome 80's vampyric tale of young sexuality. At that age I definitely had an interest in girls but I also still had one foot firmly planted in adolescence. For example, at that age I would still sprint home after school to catch the latest episode of the THUNDERCATS, even though I was pretty rapt by the sci-fi action adventures of Lion-O an his battles on Third Earth against the ultimate evil of Mumm-Ra I would also run to window for a sneaky-peak of a pretty neighbor girl by the name of Heidi O'Claire when I would hear her voice outside. This was just the beginning of what would become many unrequited teen crushes and these cursory pangs of sexual curiosity put me in nearly the right frame of mind to understand the character of Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale, TV's HERMAN'S HEAD), a pretty average teenager with a love of Hammer-esque Gothic horror films which he views during the late-night showings of the TV program Fright Night hosted by washed-up b-movie actor Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell, THE PLANET OF THE APES). It's up in his room with Fright Night on in the background that Charley's making out with girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse, TV's MARRIED WITH CHILDREN) who's right on the verge of giving into Charley's demands for sex that he becomes distacted by the arrival of his new nextdoor neighbor Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon, THE PRINCESS BRIDE) and his live-in carpenter Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark, HOUSE II) who seem to be moving a coffin into the basement. This bit of oddness proves too much for young Charley to ignore and he forgoes losing his virginity to spy on the neighbors instead, WTF? Sure, Amanda Bearse may not the most stunning beauty the 80's had to offer but what the fuck is he thinking? Apparently Amy doesn't think much of this deflowering snub either as she storms outta his room and the next day at school smashes a burger into his face, and rightfully so,  much to the delight of Charley's pal Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffrey's, 976-EVIL) who cracks one of his classic catch phrases, "You're so cool Brewster, I can't stand it!". Geoffrey's plays the awkward, social misfit looking for acceptance so well here, it's definitely a stand-out performance from a young man who would soon go onto to takes lead roles in gay porno like GUYS WHO CRAVE BIG COCK ...I wonder what that one's about?

Later that night Charley hears a blood curdling scream come from next door after witnessing a memorably gorgeous woman enter the home and the next day when he catches a news report about a murdered prostitute he realizes its the same woman. It's the following evening while peeping the neighbors  REAR WINDOWN style that Charley actually witness's Jerry about to exsanguinate a woman with his fangs and eerily long fingers on full display. Alarmed at the prospect that a vampire is living next door Charlie attempts to tell his mother who attributes the incident to an overactive imagination spurred by too many horror films and a lack of sleep. When he tells Amy she thinks it's a ploy to win her back, which flatters her and when he goes to Evil Ed the misfit thinks he's surely flipped his wig but is only too happy to offer some vampyric folklore in exchange for a few dollars. At his ropes end Charley resorts to calling the authorities to report that Dandrige may be behind the recent spate of prostitute murders. However, when he accompanies  Det. Lennox (Art Evans, DIE HARD 2) to confront Jerry he loses all credibility once he mentions the "sleep of the undead" and the embarrassed officer can't leave the premises soon enough.


A bad situation gets even worse when Charley shockingly discovers that his own mother has invited Jerry over for drinks despite his warnings, and we all know that a vampire can't enter your house without permission. With that layer of protection now gone the already nervous teen breaks into a flop sweat and really starts to lose it. His worst fears are realized when Jerry pays him a visit later that night threatening the teen to forget about what he' seen but Charley outright refuses and drives a wooden pencil into the vamps hand, the injury reveals Dandrige's true hideous self and he flees but swears vengeance upon the meddling teen.

With no where else to go Charley contacts the local horror-host Peter Vincent played with perfection by Roddy McDowell who summons equal parts Peter Cushing and the the theatrics of Vincent Price, it's a brilliant portrayal and a loving nod to horror-hosts and Hammer films, it's really is a large part of why I'm so enamoured with this film. Like those before him Vincent sends the boy away, believing that he'sa rather unfortunate nut case. When Evil Ed and Amy discover Charley plans to murder his neighbor it's they whom finally convince the actor to help if only to appease their delusional friend. Eventually all four end up on the doorsteps of the vamp's home which is drenched in a creepy fog, with Charlie the only one not knowing this is a staged event Jerry only too willingly drinks the "Holy Water" and though he passes this ultimate test Charley still refuses to believe, he protests but is told to leave before he further embarrasses himself or any further harm comes to his friends, but when Peter Vincent takes out a cigarette case for a smoke he sees in it's mirror that Dandrige casts no reflection. He quickly makes for the front door trying not to attract attention but is obviously quite shaken, which does not go unnoticed by Charley or Dandrige. Once outside Charley demands to know what he saw and Vincent begrudgingly confesses just before speeding off.


Walking home that night the trio of friends discuss the incident amongst themselves, Ed, still a non-believer, chooses to take a shortcut through an alley alone, all the while mocking Charley's fears,  but he finds himself cornered by Dandridge and succumbs to the vampire willingly when offered the life without ridicule he so craves. With Ed now among the vampire's acolytes Dandridge turns his attention to Amy, chasing the two teens into an 80's discotheque where he abducts Amy after glammering her. Jerry Dandridge is truly one of the most suave 80's vampires ever, the guy is just super-smooth, great hair, a great dancer, rocks a sweater and is an apple snackin' maniac which just tickles me for some reason. It's set-up early on that Amy bares a striking resemblance to one of Jerry's former lovers and he plans to turn her into a blood-sucker and deflower the young virgin, much to the chagrin of Charley who I have to say had his chance earlier.

Desperate and without an alternative Charlie once again enlists the help of the frightened Peter Vincent in an attempt to rescue Amy from the vampire Dandrige. It's here that we get one of my favorite scenes in the entire film with Peter Vincent facing off against Evil Ed now a shape-shifting vampire who takes the form of a wolf which leaps towards the horror-host just as Vincent thrusts a stake through his chest, the dying beast crawls under a stairwell and gruesomely transforms from a snarling beast into a pathetic looking creature then into the innocent looking Ed, all the while emitting an unnatural and unnerving wail as a sympathetics Peter  Vincent looks on with tears tears streaming from his eyes, pained by the tragic death of a young person.


Pretty typical of my favorite 80's films the special effects are mostly in-camera and practical done by a couple of guys who know a thing or two about cool special effects; Richard Edlund (GHOSTBUSTERS) and Randall Cook (LORD OF THE RINGS). Their work here is something wonderful and even under the scrutiny of 1080p still look pretty awesome. The final battle with Dandridge does reveal some cheesy effects work in my opinion but on the whole it's a pretty top notch production.


Blu-ray: Twillight Time's transfer of the film is very nice, presented in 16:9 enhanced widescreen (2.35:1) aspect ratio with an English 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio track with optional English (SDH) subtitles. The image comes from a near pristine print and is quite pleasing to the eye easily offering better contrast, deeper black levels, and way more fine detail than the standard definition DVD, it's pretty sharp and is surely the best presentation the film is likely ever to see. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio option is very impressive with Brad Fiedel's score getting some sweet surround sound action, it's a very nice audio presentation.


Special features are few but appreciated beginning with an isolated score track featuring the film's excellent score from Brad Friedel, two theatrical trailers and an eight-page booklet with an essay on the film by Julie Kirgo which is a pretty great read on it's own. In lieu of commentary it's noted in the booklet that you can download commentaries for the film by Robert Galluzo and Tim Sullivan at http://www.iconsoffright.com/

Special Features:
- Isolated Score Track
- Original Theatrical Trailers (2:48)
- 8 Page Booklet with essay by Julie Kirgo

Verdict: FRIGHT NIGHT remains not just one of the best vampire films of the 80's but one of the best horror films that decade had to offer, a film that attains it's humor smartly without resorting to lame-brained boner jokes and is just horrific enough to keep he horror fans rapt with some impressive effects work. It's great to see the film make the jump to Blu-ray even in such a limited quantity, it's hard to believe that Columbia Pictures haven't thought to give the film a wider Blu-ray release, there's surely demand for this title so I give it up to Twilight Time for their great taste and superior attention to detail. 4.5 outta 5

Note: Sadly, by the time I was able to review this wonderful release the very limited edition run of 3,000 had sold out completely and is currently available, though at super inflated prices, through Amazon and on Ebay. I was quite impressed with the quality of the presentation and I encourage you check out Twilight Time's other titles which includes a Blu-ray of the Ray Harryhausen film THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961) which is also available in a limited run of 3,000 editions so grab it quick, available exclusively through http://www.screenarchives.com/

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