All right fiends, its time for some vampire fun. Now I normally don’t like to make a double feature that includes sequels. It just feels lazy to me most of the time and usually, I like to try and create double features that focus on interesting connections and thematic elements. But there is something so perfect about putting Fright Night and Fright Night Part 2 together as a fun night of horror-filled fun.
To be clear I am recommending the 1985 and 1988 original films, not the remakes. Both are clever and funny films that pay homage to the history of horror they reference in the films. As I discuss each film I will highlight those qualities. They are also horror movies that never stop considering that they are trying to be fun. Whether it’s through comedy or fantastic effects or scares, these movies focus on you enjoying what’s on-screen.
Fright Night was directed and written by Tom Holland and starred Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Roddy McDowell, Amanda Bearse, and Stephen Geoffreys. Ragsdale stars as Charlie Brewster, a young man who lives with his mother and is dating Amy (Bearse). One night while he and Amy are in his room, he looks out the window and sees his new neighbors moving in, which arouses his suspicions because who moves after dark. The next day he falls asleep watching Fright Night, his favorite late-night horror tv show where Peter Vincent (McDowell) showcases horror movies. When he wakes later in the night and goes to turn off the TV, Charlie passes the window and sees his new neighbor Jerry Dandridge with a woman in the middle of sex.
While Charlie watches, Jerry grows fangs. As he goes to bite the woman, Jerry spots Charlie. He connects eyes with Charlie and then closes the shade. The next night Jerry attacks Charlie in his room, but Charlie’s mother overhears the commotion and Jerry flees. Charlie tells his friends Amy and “Evil” Ed (Geoffreys) and even calls the police, but Jerry outsmarts Charlie and appears innocent. In desperation, Charlie goes to enlist the aid of Peter Vincent, who is doubtful but comes to believe Charlie. Meanwhile, Jerry has become enamored of Amy, and Charlie has put everyone in danger because they know Jerry’s secret. Charlie and Peter are headed for an eventual confrontation with Jerry or die.
What makes Fright Night so good is how it references films from the past while telling its story. To start, it uses the Fright Night tv show that plays in the background as a device to pay homage to horror hosts and their shows from the past. Before there was streaming and even home video, people sat down on Friday and Saturday nights to watch old horror movies hosted by people like Elvira and Zacherley. They played all different types of films with much focus on horror from the ’50s and ’60s and Hammer horror movies, many of which were vampire films. Peter Vincent is a direct reference to those times, not only as a host, but his name is a reference to Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, and his outfit is reminiscent of Cushing’s Dr. Van Helsing’s costumes. The structure of the story and action is also very similar to those films. A vampire arrives and starts killing young women, which arouses the locals’ suspicions. They enlist a vampire hunter to help stop him before taking a woman as his bride (usually the love interest of the main character). This film also is very respectful of vampire lore in a way some play fast and loose. One is Jerry’s use of a ghoul that is his daytime protector, a character that has seemed to disappear over time. Another is the way certain items affect Jerry. Garlic has been a referenced ward against vampires, but roses and other aromatics are usually forgotten but used in this film. And the holy cross as a talisman is utilized, but it places importance on the ward’s use being dependent on its user’s faith. Oh, and Geoffreys as “Evil” Ed – Charlie’s hapless friend that is turned into one of the most famous side characters with very little screen time – is iconic. These elements are carried over into our second feature Fright Night Part 2.
This sequel opens on a brief recap of the first movie with Charlie discussing the events with his therapist. Charlie is now a college student and is convinced that the whole thing was a delusion to create a logical explanation that Jerry Dandridge was a serial killer and that vampires do not exist. Peter has meanwhile returned to being a tv horror host with a show that has waning popularity. One night while visiting Peter at his apartment with his girlfriend Alex, he sees people moving in with large crates and becomes attracted to one of them, the beautiful Regine. Later, Regine reveals to Peter she is a vampire, and Jerry’s sister comes for revenge on Peter and Charlie. While Regine slowly begins to change Charlie into a vampire, Alex starts to see Charlie was not delusional and turns to Peter to help her save Charlie.
Fright Night Part 2 builds on many of the first film concepts and adds some great new characters and story elements. Again the story structure and events are referential to horror films like Vampire Circus; the family of a killed vampire comes to exact revenge on the exterminators. It’s also clever that Regine not just wants to kill Peter but steals his show away from him. To aid Regine in her revenge are not only her ghoul but a werewolf and a transgender roller-skating vampire named Belle. Yeah, you read that right. Although Belle – played by Russell Clark – never says a word, he makes a lasting impression. This character is also a reason I love horror as a genre more and more. Whereas mainstream media was slow to use or deal with queer characters and themes, horror was doing it for a while. It may not seem like much, but doing so leads to the more inclusive and accepting environment we live in now.
Before I tell you where to watch these films, I have an interesting trivia piece to share about Fright Night Part 2. At the time of its release, the sequel was a bomb; it in no way was the success the first was. It did not get a major theatrical release and was hardly promoted but has become a cult classic since. This status is not because of the film but rather because of its unfortunate ties to an infamous piece of history. The story goes that the sequel’s director Tommy Lee Wallace and Roddy McDowell had a meeting with Live Entertainment CEO Jose Menendez about the film’s planned distribution and ad campaign one day. That evening Jose was murdered along with his wife by their sons in events that would become known as the Menendez murders. As a result, the film lost its nationwide distribution opening in LA and NY before hitting video store shelves with no advertising. This also killed the plans for another sequel that director Tom Holland and actor Roddy McDowell planned.
You can find Fright Night on Amazon, Apple tv, Fandango Now, Redbox, and Youtube for rent or purchase, as well as streaming free on Prime Video. Fright Night Part 2 is not available for rent or purchase, but thankfully it is streaming for free on youtube in HD.