Fright Night (UK - DVD R2 | BD RB)
Welcome to Fright Night... Chris takes a look at the long-awaited UK BD release
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 official synopsis.)
A few years back I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of the limited edition Twilight Time release of Fright Night on Blu-ray, which was restricted to just three thousand copies and available only from a small independent distributor in the United States at a premium price point. It’s probably the single most expensive Blu-ray I’ve ever bought, and given that my love for the film I thought it was a price worth paying even for a relatively bare-bones release. More recently I picked up a copy of the European release of the film from Sony as a backup copy, but although that had a marginally better video encode it lacked lossless audio and extras of any kind. Now, almost five years after the original Blu-ray release the UK finally gets its own version of the film courtesy of Eureka, complete with lossless audio and plenty of extras.
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 time-frame 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 genre fan I used to watch a lot of the old Hammer vampire films so Fright Night's blend of nostalgic horror 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 the archetype (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 flicks. However, it has remained one of my firm favourites and as such I was really excited for the opportunity to revisit it with Eureka’s release.
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-one 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 knowing 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.
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 delight, in his new-found 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).
While not an out and out horror flick in the vein of the earlier Elm Street films, Fright Night also delivers its share of scares. A lot of credit for this must go to the fantastic effects work, especially the vampire make-up, 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.
Eureka presents Fright Night in its original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 (1080/24p AVC). The accompanying booklet is a little short on technical details, but as with the previous releases this version is based on a 4K scan of the original negative overseen by Grover Crisp. To be honest every Blu-ray incarnation of the film has looked pretty damn great (with the possible exception of the Twilight Time re-release), but I think this is possibly the best encode yet. There’s not a lot in it to be sure, but after studying comparison caps from three different releases the compression and detail on this version is ever-so-slightly better than what’s come before. In any event the film certainly looks more impressive than any thirty-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 of those, but Sony’s 4K master wipes the floor with everything that came before. Fine object detail is excellent for an anamorphic picture; faces now have texture and you can see the grain in wood, the stitches in fabric. When compared to the standard-definition releases it’s like witnessing a foggy veil being lifted, 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 unsightly red push present on the DVD is nowhere to be seen). Exterior night time shots that used to be bathed in the warmth of street lamps 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.
As mentioned above this release probably has the best compression of all of the available versions (David MacKenzie authored the disc). Truth be told I was probably a little naive when it came to my review of the Twilight Time release, as looking back it’s clear that it was slightly filtered and had a few minor compression issues. However, I’m happy to report that I didn’t spot any digital artefacts while watching Eureka’s disc, or even while skipping through it later for the purposes of taking the screen captures. Some very minor, almost insignificant film artefacts are still present, but I only really noticed them when taking the screen captures, rather than during the course of normal viewing. 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. There’s also 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 came very close to awarding the visuals on the Twilight Time release a nine, but settled on an eight because of a few very minor issues. Given the subtle improvements in encoding quality I’ve decided to bump the score up a little for Eureka’s effort. It’s a really strong catalogue title and I take a great deal of pleasure in seeing one of my favourite films treated with such respect.
Originally released in theatres with a Dolby Stereo soundtrack, Fright Night originally arrived on Blu-ray with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The European Sony releases were lossy Dolby Digital only, so it wasn’t until the Twilight Time re-release that we finally got the film’s original stereo track. Thankfully Eureka has seen fit to include both the 5.1 and stereo tracks on its release, in Master Audio and LPCM respectively. Starting with the 5.1 effort, while it sounds pretty good for the most part, but 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 to your average contemporary movie. The sound design is also somewhat limited, with most of the action occurring at the front of the sound-stage 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 films 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 frontal array, 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 sound-stage are pretty rare. Even so the surrounds are used to good effect in a number of scenes, not just for Brad Fiedel’s seductive 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. Still, if you’re a real purist the inclusion of the original stereo track removes any need to compromise the aural experience. It’s obviously more limited than the multi-channel track in terms of its ability to fill the room and add bass extension, but it’s probably a little tighter in some respects and certainly makes for a different viewing experience. I for one am very happy with its inclusion.
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 on account of repeat VHS viewings, 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 cues from Sparks, Evelyn ‘Champagne’ Williams and others also prove memorable. To this day I still have the Fright Night soundtrack on my phone and listen to it frequently.
If there was one disappointing aspect of the original Twilight Time and Sony releases it was the lack of bonus material. Twilight Time’s re-release went some way towards rectifying the problem by including a couple of commentary tracks, the isolated score, a reunion panel, interview and various EPK stuff. However, the commentary tracks are actually freely available to download from the web (link) and as such are more of a convenience than a selling point. The isolated score would have been a nice addition to Eureka’s disc, but given the extensive material that is included I can see why it had to be dropped to maintain the visual quality of the feature itself (after all, that combined bitrate is finite). Anyway, here’s what you'll find on the UK release:
- Fear Fest 2008 Reunion Panel
- Choice Cuts with Tom Holland and Ryan Turek
- Vintage Electronic Press Kit
- Theatrical Trailers
- Stills and Memorabilia Gallery
- You’re So Cool, Brewster!
- What is Fright Night?
- Tom Holland: Writing Horror
- Roddy McDowall: From Apes to Bats
- Booklet featuring a new essay by Craig Ian Mann (Steelbook exclusive)
A lot of the above material is presented in standard-definition, but that allows for a selection with a combined running time of over five hours (possibly even closer to six)! The Fright Fest Q&A runs for almost an hour, while the EPK is an hour and a half and includes vintage interviews with the cast and crew, music videos and much more. It looks to have been sourced from VHS and as such the quality is pretty ropey (there are frequent vertical rolls and cut-outs), but it's a fascinating look at how films were marketed back in the eighties. However, the highlight is probably the almost two-and-a-half-hour documentary 'You're So Cool, Brewster!', a retrospective piece that includes contemporary interviews with Holland, Sarandon, Ragsdale, Bearse, Geoffreys and many more. It's a real love letter to the film that offers a wealth of interesting information. The rest of the extras are more recent interviews with Holland, Sarandon and others, along with a piece on Roddy McDowell and the obligatory trailers and stills galleries. The Steelbook release (which is already OOP) also includes a booklet, of which I have a PDF copy. It's an interesting enough piece, but I wouldn't lose any sleep if you didn't manage to get a copy.
I do have one minor gripe, which is the lack of a chapter selection option, either on the main menu or via a pop up menu. Combined with the static menu it makes the disc feel a bit cheaper than it should. With that said, the Twilight Time release was similarly afflicted...
It's been a long time coming, but the UK finally has a Fright night Blu-ray release worthy of the film’s cult following and the eBay scalpers can be consigned to the basement with the rest of Jerry’s relics. Eureka's disc utilises the same gorgeous 4K transfer as previous releases, but with slightly tighter compression making for arguably the best looking version yet. The audio also receives a boost thanks to the inclusion of the original stereo, but it is the bonus material that really shines when compared to what’s come before. The lack of an isolated score and some slight repetition aside this is easily the most comprehensive home video release of Fright Night yet, offering hours of content that’s actually worthwhile. It’s a pity that the Steelbook was only available in such limited numbers (many of which were bought by eBay scalpers), but if you can wait until next April for the standard release you’re in for a real treat. Fright Night comes highly recommended!
* 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.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 10th April 2017
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: LPCM 2.0 Stereo English, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH
Extras: Documentary, Featurettes, EPK, Trailers, Stills Gallery
Easter Egg: No
Director: Tom Holland
Cast: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, Stephen Geoffreys, Jonathan Stark, Dorothy Fielding, Art J. Evans
Genre: Comedy and Horror
Length: 106 minutes
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