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I originally wrote an extremely in-depth analysis of both the film and disc for this review, but unfortunately a glitch in the system wiped the whole thing and left me to start from scratch. As you can imagine I was somewhat disheartened by this turn of events, so what follows is a truncated version of the original review reconstituted to the best of my recollection. It's not what I originally intended, but I had the motivation smacked out of me by the loss of the original piece. Vampires aren't the only things that suck.

 Fright Night

Feature


Meet Jerry Dandridge. He's sweet, sexy, and he likes to sleep in late. You might think he's the perfect neighbour. But before inviting Jerry in for a nightcap, there's just one thing you should know. Jerry prefers his drinks warm, red and straight from the jugular! It's Fright Night, a horrific howl starring Chris Sarandon as the seductive vampire and William Ragsdale as the frantic teenager struggling to keep Jerry's deadly fangs out of his neck. Only 17-year-old Charley Brewster (Ragsdale) knows Jerry's blood-curdling secret. When Charley can't get anybody to believe him, he turns to TV horror host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), who used to be the "Great Vampire Killer" of the movies. Can these mortals save Charley and his sweetheart Amy (Amanda Bearse) from the wrathful bloodsucker's toothy embrace? If you love being scared, Fright Night... will give you the nightmare of your life. (Taken from the Sony synopsis.)

 Fright Night
As I write this review I'm possessed of a certain sense of smugness. You see, this particular release of Fright Night was limited to just three thousand copies, obtainable only from a small independent distributor in the United States at a premium price point. With the advent of the recent remake I assumed that a Sony Blu-ray release was a forgone conclusion, but for reasons best known to them the home entertainment giant decided to licence the distribution rights to Twilight Time. Unfortunately this meant that many people who wanted the disc were unable to secure a copy (it sold out in less than a month) and those living overseas had to pay a considerable amount for shipping and run the risk of further financial penalties at customs. Speculation as to quite why Sony adopted this tactic includes everything from the increasing cost of creating and distributing catalogue titles to the fairly disappointing financial performance of the remake. In truth it's not hard to imagine a scenario where both of those factors came into play, but it's a real shame for fans. Now the only legitimate way to get your hands on a copy of the Blu-ray is through eBay or private sales. Looking at these is cause for a heart attack, as the price gougers who bought up multiple copies for the express reason of selling them on at a profit are out in full force. If you can find it, expect to pay upwards of one hundred dollars for this baby thanks to those blood-suckers!

 Fright Night
Although I don't remember the specific year in which I first saw Fright Night I must have been in my early to mid-teens. My family used to rent a bunch of tapes every Sunday and I would always retire to my bedroom to watch a couple of films on my TV/VHS combi (remember those?). Although the exact timeframe is a little hazy I do have a fairly strong recollection of my first viewing experience, and while I'm not and never have been the biggest horror fan I used to watch a lot of the old Hammer vampire movies so Fright Night's blend of nostalgia and teen movie was right up my street. Although I would like to believe that - as a perpetually horny teenager - I had more in common with Charley Brewster than anyone else, the truth is that I was probably more of an Evil Ed outsider type. I think most teens have been the victim of bullying at one time or another, and as such can identify with such a character. (Given the mistreatment he endured it's not so hard to understand why Ed willingly offered himself up as an acolyte of evil.) After a few years away from the film I picked it up when it arrived on DVD and fell in love with it all over again. Watching Fright Night became a bit of a Halloween tradition in my house, but over the last few years it’s been displaced by other genre movies. However, it has remained one of my childhood favourites and as such I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get my hands on the Blu-ray Disc.

 Fright Night
It may come as a surprise to some to learn that Fright Night was a financial success upon its release in 1985. In fact it was the second highest grossing horror film of the year behind Freddy's Revenge, and according to Box Office Mojo the thirty-fifth most profitable film overall. It was also pretty well received critically, currently holding a very respectable ninety-three per cent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. A lot of this is due to the fantastic script by writer-director Tom Holland, who called upon memories of the vampire films of old, fused them with elements of contemporary teen movies and injected nods to other genre work and a campy sense of humour. Of course a good script is fairly useless without great actors to bring the characters to life, and Chris Sarandon's turn as the charismatic Jerry Dandridge is the pick of the bunch. Unlike the recent remake in which Jerry is portrayed as a remorseless killing machine (or as Ed puts it, the shark from Jaws), Sarandon's Dandridge is conflicted. Sure he's an evil blood-sucking demon, but he's almost a reluctant evil blood-sucking demon. You get the sense that he kills only out of necessity - after all, he initially offers to let Charley live – and it is this duality that makes him interesting. Not to sound like I'm ripping on the remake for the s(t)ake of it (sorry, bad pun), but Sarandon's suave, sensuous, dare I say debonair vampire does more for me than Farrell's bestial incarnation. He feels like a real character; someone who could live next door to you and remain undetected, which is something that didn’t ring true about the 2011 film.

 Fright Night
Of course Sarandon isn't the only reason to love the film. What would an evil vampire be without a heroic vampire hunter? In this case it's Roddy McDowell's Peter Vincent, an ex-B-movie star turned late night TV host fond of wistfully reminiscing about his glory days. McDowell is a delight in the role, delivering a layered performance that sees him undergo a ‘cowardly lion’ transformation from a man willing to sell his dignity for a few hundred bucks into the fearless vampire killer he portrayed in his youth. Of course we mustn't underestimate the contributions of the lesser-known cast members. It's easy to empathise with William Ragsdale's Charley Brewster, a young man caught between the figurative rock and hard place (or should that be toothy place?). I'm sure many will identify with Charley, a sexually frustrated geek whose biggest worry until Jerry moves in next door is that his girlfriend won't put out. Ragsdale's performance is affable and he does an admirable job with what is essentially the lead role. Speaking of Charley's girlfriend, Amanda Bearse's Amy undergoes a remarkable transformation from sexually repressed young woman to vivacious vamp(ire), and it's a far cry from her role in Married with Children. After Fright Night I’d never look at Marcy D’Arcy in the same light again! This brings us to Ed, the outsider of the group, who is clearly a risible character amongst his peers on account of his peculiar looks and sometimes odd behaviour. Of course there’s something deeper going on under the surface, and Evil Ed’s (Stephen Geoffreys) seduction by Jerry and eventual acceptance, nay revelment, in his newfound freedom can been seen as something of a metaphor for the character’s strongly hinted at sexuality (although as a naïve teen I wasn’t aware of the sexual subtext).

 Fright Night
While not an out and out horror flick in the vein of the earlier Elm Street films, Fright Night it also delivers its share of scares. A lot of credit for this must go to the fantastic effects work, especially the vampire makeup, which is some of my all-time favourite (and far superior to the CGI employed in the remake). It's a testament to the work of Richard Edlund and co. that the effects hold up to scrutiny under the high-definition transfer microscope; Evil Ed's agonising metamorphosis during his tragic death scene still looks great and even Jerry's bat form looks acceptable (I swear the strings are less visible than before). It’s true that some of the optical effects employed for the transformations are starting to show their age, but it adds to the film’s eighties charm and the ‘less is more’ approach to showing said transmutations largely negates the issues. In any event I grew up watching films where puppets, not pixels, were the norm, and I think the old-school effects are a major contributing factor as to why I’m still so fond of the film. Whatever the reasons the fact remains that I really dig Fright Night and I hope you do too.

 Fright Night

Video


Twilight Time presents Fright Night in its original theatrical ratio of 2.40:1 (1080/24p AVC). I’m not one hundred per cent familiar with the technical ins-and-outs, but I believe the Blu-ray was transferred from a new 4K master created under the supervision of one of Sony’s head honchos. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but in all honesty the film looks better than any twenty-five year old, relatively low budget horror movie has any right to. As mentioned in the feature section of the review I’ve owned the picture on multiple formats, including VHS and DVD. I’ve also seen a 1080i HDTV version of the film that was a considerable step up from both, but this new high-definition presentation wipes the floor with everything that’s come before. To put it simply this is probably the best the film has looked since its original theatrical run, if not ever. Fine object detail is considerably better than previous versions; faces now have texture; you can see the grain in wood, the stitches in fabric. Comparing the Blu-ray to the DVD is like lifting a foggy veil, such is the transformation. Another major improvement is the colour palette, which is far more natural and vibrant here than it ever was in standard-definition. The purity of the primaries is much improved, so much so that I got the sense I was seeing things as they originally looked on set for the first time. From what I can tell a few alterations have been made to the timing of certain scenes, but on the whole I would have to say that it actually improves the look of the picture. (The odd red push present on the DVD is nowhere to be seen). Exterior night time shots that used to be bathed in the warmth of streetlamps have been pushed to the cooler end of the spectrum, but this makes for a creepier, more atmospheric appearance. Some scenes are also darker than before, but only those that were too bright in earlier incarnations and it never results in the dreaded crush.

 Fright Night
Of course compression is also much better, with the unsightly artefacts visible when upscaling the standard DVD banished to the basement with the rest of Jerry’s relics. I’m happy to report that I didn’t spot any digital artefacts while watching the film, or even while skipping through the disc later for the purposes of taking the screen captures. I did spot the odd film artefact here and there (mainly white specks), but these were rare and small enough to go unnoticed on most people’s screens. Some might complain about image softness, but it’s a result of the anamorphic photography so it seems unfair to criticise the disc for something that’s inherent to the source. Likewise there’s a layer of natural film grain to remind you that you’re watching an eighties movie that hasn’t been noise-reduced to the point of ruin. I don't feel entirely comfortable awarding the visuals more than an eight because of the film artefacts, but it's an extremely solid eight bordering on a nine. I probably shouldn't be surprised by this given Sony's involvement, as they churn out perhaps the most consistently excellent catalogue titles on the format, and I take a great deal of pleasure in seeing one of my favourite films treated with such care.

 Fright Night

Audio


Originally released in theatres with a Dolby Stereo soundtrack, Fright Night arrives on Blu-ray with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that sounds pretty good for the most part. Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. Obviously the film is of an era when fidelity wasn’t what it is today, so expect the track to sound a little hollow when compared against your average contemporary movie. The sound design is also somewhat limited, with most of the action occurring at the front of the soundstage and only minimal use of the surrounds. With that said, the film sounds a hell of a lot better than I was expecting. Dialogue is always a concern with movies from this period, but although it’s unmistakeably eighties it sounds clear and intelligible throughout. The effects are also relatively well handled, particularly the various stinger effects and the sounds that accompany Jerry’s off-screen transformations into his bat form. There are some discreet pans across the front of the soundstage, mainly cars pulling into driveways and that sort of thing, but sadly occasions where the audio makes its way from the front to the rear of the soundstage are pretty rare. Even so, the surrounds are used to good effect in a number of scenes, not just for Brad Fiedel’s score, but also for Jerry’s nocturnal flights, the sound of the stampeding crowd in the club, and the climactic showdown in the basement. This isn’t an all-singing, all-dancing multi-channel showcase, but it is faithful to the film’s original sound mix and as far as I’m concerned that’s all you can really expect. I’d rather this approach than a forced sound-field with all manner of effects added in after the fact, as has been the case with the home video releases of a number of older movies in the past. In all honesty it came as something of a pleasant surprise and helped ensure a healthy score in the audio department.

 Fright Night
I touched briefly on Brad Fiedel’s score earlier on, but I can’t move on without commenting on it in greater detail. I became a big fan of the score during my teens through a combination of watching the movie and playing the computer game on the Amiga, and I’m still a big fan to this day. Although unquestionably a product of its time it really captures the mood of the piece, particularly the seductive, almost sleazy cues that accompany Jerry’s earlier appearances. There are also some gloriously cheesy pieces to revel in, such as the music that plays alongside the clips from Peter Vincent’s old vampire movies. The various licensed songs shouldn’t be underestimated either; the title track from the J. Geils Band is a campy delight, while tracks from Sparks, Evelyn ‘Champagne’ Williams and others also prove memorable. To this day I still have the Fright Night soundtrack on my MP3 player and listen to it frequently.

 Fright Night

Extras


If there’s one disappointing aspect of this release it’s the lack of bonus material. I don’t know if Twilight Time was restricted by its licence, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect more from a disc costing upwards of thirty-five dollars. With that said one of the features is actually pretty great; Bred Feidel’s complete score is included in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 for your listening pleasure. As previously mentioned I’m something of a fan of this particular score and not enough discs include music-only tracks these days (it was more common in the early days of DVD). The various pop tracks aren’t included, presumably for monetary reasons, but it’s still a welcome addition. Other than that all we get are a couple of samey theatrical trailers (presented in HD but still SD quality) and a booklet written by Julie Kirgo. It’s a decent read and actually includes information on how to obtain two commentaries featuring almost the entire original cast. You’ll find them here (there’s also a track for Tom Holland’s horror favourite Child’s Play). Oh, one thing that  irked me a bit was the lack of a chapter selection option, either on the main menu or via a pop up menu. It just makes the disc feel a bit cheaper than it should, and given that there are only twelve chapters it wouldn’t have taken much time to implement.

 Fright Night

Overall


With its gorgeous visuals and solid audio Twilight Time's Blu-ray release of Fright Night is a must-have for fans, but unfortunately most will never get to see it and that's a crying shame. In all honesty I think Sony underestimated demand for the film; after all, if it managed to sell three thousand units from a relatively obscure website with almost zero advertising, how many could a major label have shifted off of the back of the imminent release of the remake? I don't condone piracy, but limited, high price releases like this are almost guaranteed to leave some people disgruntled and prepared to turn to alternative means to acquire a copy. Is it worth a hundred dollars or more? Personally I don’t think so (thirty five bucks was pushing it), but if you have money to burn you could do a lot worse than to pick this up. The rest of you law-abiding citizens can only hope for a wider release somewhere down the line. Me, I’m just happy to have a copy of one of my favourite films in my library, even if I do live in constant fear of damaging it! Now, where did I put that cotton wool?

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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