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FRIGHT NIGHT ($25) is one of my favorite vampire movies because the film not only pays homage to the great films that preceded it; it also manages to gently send up the entire genre- in a respectful way, of course. When FRIGHT NIGHT appeared in 1985, vampire movies had long since fallen out of vogue, the horror genre had replaced them with an endless stream of homicidal maniacs in hockey masks. So when FRIGHT NIGHT appeared, it was something completely different. Sure, FRIGHT NIGHT had all the earmarks of classic vampire movies, but the concept had been jazzed up enough to make it appealing to a new generation of fans. Instead of Transylvania, FRIGHT NIGHT takes place in the heart of suburbia, where we find Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale), the film’s teenage hero. In many ways, Charlie is a typical teenager- he has his own car, he’s not into studying and he’s trying desperately to "get some" from his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse). The only thing that may make Charlie seem a bit unusual is his love for watching Fright Night, a late night television program that features old vampire movies.

Fright Night also happens to be hosted by actor Peter Vincent, the infamous "Vampire Hunter" of the movies. While watching Fright Night and making another unsuccessful attempt to get somewhere with Amy, Charlie notices his new neighbors carrying something that looks suspiciously like a coffin into the basement of the house next door. Of course, Charlie’s curiosity is immediately piqued, so he decides to keep an eye on the house next door. After witnessing several strange occurrences next door, Charlie becomes convinced that his new neighbor is a vampire. As you might have guessed, no one believes Charlie’s assertions. Charlie even goes so far to bring the police to the house next door, but this does little move than to make Charlie the vampire’s next target.

William Ragsdale delivers a solid performance as the teenager who has to deal with a pain-in-the-neck neighbor. Chris Sarandon does some of his most memorable work as vampire Jerry Dandrige. Without a doubt, Jerry Dandrige is the best-dressed vampire I’ve ever seen, plus Sarandon’s performance is absolutely wonderful. Sarandon is suave, menacing and genuinely funny, making the character of Jerry Dandrige multidimensional and a rather likable screen villain.

Roddy McDowall’s performance as the ham-bone actor, Peter Vincent, is an absolute scream. McDowall easily takes the character from his over-the-top stage personal to that of a genuinely frightened old man who has to deal with the fact that vampires do exist. McDowall then shifts gears again, when his character is forced to muster up the courage to become a real life "Vampire Hunter." After laughing at Amanda Bearse on MARRIED WITH CHILDREN for so many years, I forget how much sex appeal she exuded during the film’s seduction scenes. I wonder where Bearse hid that sexy character for all those years on television. Finally, we come to Stephen Geoffreys, who delivers the signature performance of his career with the role of Evil Ed. Geoffreys’ performance as Evil Ed is funny and creepy, plus he pushes the limits of being over-the-top as a new minted minion of the undead. The cast of FRIGHT NIGHT also includes Jonathan Stark, Dorothy Fielding and Art Evans.

Columbia TriStar Home Video has made FRIGHT NIGHT available on DVD in both full screen and wide screen presentations offered on opposite sides of the disc. Considering that FRIGHT NIGHT was filmed in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, anyone but the most hardcore full screen addicts will find watching the cropped version will be a complete waste of time. The 16:9 enhanced presentation FRIGHT NIGHT looks very good. However, since this isn’t a brand new movie, the transfer isn’t likely to blow everyone’s socks off. Generally, the image is sharp and well detailed- it just doesn’t hyper-realistic look one finds on some new movies. The film element is in very good condition, so irksome little markings are very few and far between. Film grain is somewhat apparent in the darker scenes, but that was the nature of film stocks from the mid-eighties. Color reproduction is somewhat subdued on the DVD, but the flesh tones are usually quite believable. Neither chroma noise nor bleeding caused any detriment to the image. Blacks tended to be a tad gray, but it never became bothersome. Solid DVD authoring kept digital compression artifacts in check, including a couple of very difficult dark sequences where they could have overwhelmed the image.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 channel soundtrack decodes to standard surround, but FRIGHT NIGHT is the kind of movie that really would have benefited from a brand new 5.1 channel mix. As it is now, the Dolby Surround mix is far too anemic for the tastes of any vampire or vampire movie lover. Dialogue reproduction is clean, but the forward soundstage is a bit under-whelming. There are some directional effects and the rear channels come to life from time to time, but the sound could have been a whole lot more. Additionally the music sounds a bit harsh and the bottom end is somewhat shallow. French and Portuguese language soundtracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Thai subtitles.

The interactive menus are fairly basic, providing access to the standard scene selection and set up features. A theatrical trailer is the only supplement included on the DVD.




DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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