Fright Night is a staple of the vampire genre. It came along at exactly the right moment. After the Hammer horror films of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, vampires kind of disappeared from the mainstream for a long time. While there were successes, such as the miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, in the early 1980’s, there weren’t a lot of them. The late ‘80’s alternatively, were full of not only vampire movies but vampire comedies in particular. It’s no coincidence as to why. In 1985, Fright Night was released and it changed everything. In some ways, it changed the landscape of horror.
Fright Night reintroduced vampires to the mainstream, much in the same way that Scream reintroduced slashers. The feature centered on fans of those old vampire features, pointing out the tropes and trappings of the genre but still treating the monster with respect. It was extremely successful, the second-highest grossing horror picture of 1985 and even if most people tend to forget it, it did launch a franchise.
Some of these entries are better than others. Some of them might surprise you. But all of them are a part of the legacy that began with Fright Night, even though—spoiler alert—none of them match the mastery and intelligence of the original.
Fright Night (2011)
I have no doubt that this one is going to surprise a lot of people and probably make some readers very angry. It has a great cast, it has a great writer, just about everything about it should have worked. And as a standalone entry, it’s really well done in places. Some of the character work is great. But here’s the problem: It’s not about vampires. As pointed out before, the original was about vampire movies and vampire culture and the overall atmosphere of horror at the time in general. The new film focus, on questions of masculinity and becoming a man and what that even means—these are interesting. But when it forgets to be about vampires, there’s really no reason for it to contain them. They feel out of place. Let’s also not forget that this remake was being produced at a time when vampires were incredibly popular, so the lack of focus on the topic—aside from a single mention of Twilight—feels like a wasted opportunity.
Again, the 2011 remake on its own is a better film. There are a couple of cringe-worthy moments but also some surprisingly sincere bits as well. It was clearly not what people wanted. Nobody needed a second remake of Fright Night two years after the first and I’m not going to try and defend its existence, because it probably should not exist. Yet it fixes the major problem with the first remake right out of the gate. By setting it in Romania, it’s automatically tied to vampires and vampire history, at least somewhat. And it does deal with some vampire history and has an incredibly strong focus on that history, even if the facts are not altogether accurate. If anything, it might be the most tied to the idea of vampirism since the original. It also solves the Peter Vincent problem, even if the actor is less interesting in the role. In the 2011 version, Vincent is reimagined as a Vegas magician which a pretty random update of a late-night horror host. Here, he’s the host of a Ghost Hunters type of TV series which already makes a ton more sense on paper.
While I hold the original in incredibly high regard, I admit that Fright Night Part II is an extremely underrated movie. It’s more comedic, somewhat lighter than the first, but it’s also a lot of fun. Sadly, it does not build off of the idea that Evil Ed might return, which was what held me off of coming around to it for a long time. But the relationship between Charley and Peter is too good to ignore, especially as they spend so much of the running time trading off who believes the situation and who doesn’t. It’s an absurd premise, but it makes the most of that absurdity and seeing Charley as the victim of the vampire this time is an interesting twist on the original.Fright Night (1985)
Tom Holland’s Fright Night is an essential vampire film as well as an essential piece of horror from the 1980’s. It’s a character piece. The characters are relatable and surprisingly layered, every single one of them. Charley is an awkward guy, but he seems to be pretty popular. He’s terrified, but also feels the need to put on a level-headed appearance. Amy is the selfless hero here, doing whatever she can to help Charley even if she doesn’t believe a word of what he’s saying. Ed is much more than just the best friend. Evil Ed is an inversion of the horror trope of the fan who is immediately prepared to deal with a horrific situation. He’s not Mark Petrie in Salem’s Lot or Randy Meeks in Scream. Ed is the one who adamantly refuses to believe the situation, he’s the one most insistent of the idea that these things do not exist, which is very interesting. And then you have a great villain, that being Jerry Dandridge. He is cold, he is essentially a serial killer routinely picking off young women in the neighborhood, but he is also surprisingly passionate toward Amy when she seems to remind him of someone from his past. It’s such a tight, effective movie and it’s no wonder that it spawned a franchise.