We have reached the time of the summer doldrums in the motion picture industry. The blockbusters have all been released, and now the lame, the halting, and the deformed movies stumble out of the studios in the almost pitiful hope of finding an audience. One or two might turn out to be good films which the studio had no faith in, or didn't know how to sell, but most of them are dogs. For instance, Fright Night.
Given that you are going to make a vampire movie, Fright Night has a couple of good ideas. Having a vampire move in as your next door neighbor has possibilities, as does having an old horror-movie star thrust into the role of vampire killer. Fright Night doesn't do nearly enough with the premises, however. Rather, it hopes to get by on lots of special effects, mostly grouped at the end of the film. The effects aren't bad, but one has to sit through the first half of the film to get to them, and the first half isn't very good at all.
The main problems are script and actors. The script requires incredible stupidity on the part of nearly everyone, and many of the actors give miscalculated performances. Of the characters introduced in the first half hour, I hoped that at least three of them would be killed fairly quickly, as I found the actors in those roles nearly intolerable. Alas, none of them disappeared with any alacrity, and one proved to be the hero of the film.
Let me give you a brief example of the sort of stupid things going on in Fright Night. Our hero (poorly played by William Ragsdale) is a horny high school kid who has been going with a girl for about a year, and they still haven't gotten beyond fully clothed cuddling. Well, a little more cajoling from him and suddenly she's willing to go to bed with him, and starts undressing. The kid glances out the window and sees a couple of strangers carrying an oblong box into the cellar of the uninhabited house next door. Now, put yourself in his position, keeping in mind that you are a horny 16 or 17 year old virgin, the girl in question is the woman you love, and you haven't even gotten beyond kissing her before. Do you, a) close the curtain and hop into bed, b) say to hell with the curtain and hop into bed, or c) forget that your girlfriend, the woman you love, is waiting for you in bed for the first time ever, ignore everything she says, and grab a pair of binoculars so that you can get a closer look at the box? If you answered c), apparently you too have whatever mysterious quality it takes to be a Hollywood screenwriter.
If the characters were more likeable, little flaws like this might be overlooked, but Ragsdale isn't likeable. The actress playing his mother is a real tooth-grinder, too. Worst of all is the actor playing his best friend, a weird guy nicknamed Evil. On the positive side, Chris Sarandon is terrific as the vampire, capable of simultaneously displaying charm and menace. Roddy McDowell is also fine as the cowardly late night horror movie host. The girl is OK, as is the vampire's unexplained buddy, so the cast isn't a dead loss, if you'll pardon the expression. But with two of the central roles so badly played, the acting is a net loss.
Tom Holland, the director, has no special talent for horror. He tends to tip his hand a moment too soon. Given the abysmal performances of the non-veterans in the cast, he also seems to have little talent with actors. How'd he get this job? He does show adequate competency at patching the story together, despite some plot holes. He seems most at home when the special effects start to fly.
And they do that, among other things. There are a number of good makeup effects and a few other surprises. They dominate the last half hour of the film, and that is when Fright Night starts to be at least a little fun. For me, it was too little too late. Fans of horror movies may get more out of them. Fright Night certainly isn't for non-horror fans, as it is fairly gruesome in parts and has little to offer beyond its shocks. If you figured on seeing Fright Night anyway, they will probably be enough to satisfy you. If you didn't want to see it, or weren't sure, skip it.
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