Fright Night, which brings the vampire again to the screen, is a giddy blend of the silly and the gruesome. It also introduces the designer vampire. Wearing a long, grey leather coat during his nocturnal feedings, Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) fits more comfortably into the glossy pages of men’s fashion magazines than into lore. But teenager Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) is not fooled: he saw the fashion plate sink his fangs into one downy female neck and watched him carry the body out of the house in a large garbage bag. But nobody believes Charley’s story. The audience does not take Charley, or Dandridge, seriously either —until the vampire pays Charley a latenight visit and turns into a vile monster. From that moment in Fright Night the audience’s squeals of laughter compete with the screams.
To humor Charley, his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) and his friend Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) enlist the aid of Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), a down-at-the-heels horror-movie host on a local TV station. The suave Dandridge charms the trio, but Vincent does notice that Dandridge casts no reflection in a mirror. Soon Dandridge leaves bite marks on both Amy’s and Evil Ed’s necks, and Charley and Vincent desperately seek to trap the vampire in order
to drive a stake through the Ancient One’s heart before sunrise.
Director-screenwriter Tom Holland’s unique—but not fully realized—knack is to combine comic elements with dread. Not all the jokes hit their mark, but having Dandridge whistle Strangers in the Night as he enters a bedroom is certainly a mischievous touch. After Charley has been through the jaws of hell during Dandridge’s first attempt to kill him, he tells his scatterbrained mother (Dorothy Fielding) that he had a nightmare. She tells him one she had: “I was at this white sale and I suddenly realized I was stark naked.” Then she asks if Charley needs a Valium.
Holland has been sloppy when it comes to vampire lore itself: Dandridge munches on fruit, although vampires do not eat in the traditional sense. But Holland does adequately render the erotic content of the legend. The vampire’s bloody appetite is a metaphor for sex, sizzlingly embodied by Sarandon’s seductive performance. And Dandridge is more bisexual than vampires usually are, fancying the “attractive” Evil Ed as much as the virginal Amy. Holland has updated the vampire myth to imply that the most popular of nighttime activities, sex, is filled with danger, even to the point of death. Despite Holland’s penchant for comedy, Fright Night has a sensual yet forbidding allure.
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