Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fright Night: Extended Review and Analysis

“What would you do if you accidentily discovered that the house next door was occupied by something not human, something horrifying, something unspeakably evil?”(1) What if that evil that comprised a danger to everyone you knew and cared about? What if no one would believe you when you tried to warn them? If you take into account the fact that your knowledge was essentially un-provable, it made you look a little insane, and you only had a belief that you found yourself sometimes doubting, then you have plenty of reason to think that it would be too much trouble to do anything about it. Perhaps you would choose to just ignore the evil and hope it left you alone. Or you could decide to face the evil and fight.

This happens to be the plot of one of the more interesting vampire movies the genre has ever produced. Fright Night (1985) tells the story of one Charlie Brewster. A fan of cheesy B-horror movies, he discovers one night that his new neighbor is actually a vampire. When he tries to warn the people in town, he not only comes off as a grade-A nutcase, but he also raises much unwanted attention from the vampire himself.

The movie opens with a classic gothic cliché, a full moon and the howl of a wolf. There is some pretty cheesy dialogue between a Jonathan and a Nina, also the stuff of classic horror. The camera pans down the street and into a second story window. Instead of the couple heard before it is indeed revealed that a cheesy old horror movie is playing on a TV set. There is a couple in the room, which is revealed to be the bedroom of a high school boy named Charlie, but they are not watching the movie. Charlie is a fan of horror, but at the moment he is more interested in trying to get to second base with his girlfriend.

When she resists his advances, he notices two men carrying a coffin into the basement next door. His mother tells him that the long abandoned house has finally been sold. Charlie begins to notice that his new neighbor has something to do with the string of murders in town and begins to suspect that his neighbor is a vampire. When he tries to report him to the police, they simply think he is a crank. The actual vampire, however, is not amused.

Later that night he comes to pay Charlie a visit. He offers him a choice: forget about his existence or die. Charlie puts up a brave resistance and barely succeeds in temporarily fending off the fiend. As Charlie wonders what he can do, his favorite late-night horror host comes on the TV. As the vampire hunter in dozens of old movies, Charlie decides to turn to him in a desperate plea for assistance. After all, “Peter Vincent” claims that he really believes in vampires and evil.

In reality, Peter Vincent is a fraud. He is like the priest fallen from grace who teaches a doctrine he no longer believes. Charlie’s friends convince Peter to perform a bogus test on the vampire for money, and the vampire agrees. While there, Peter sees the truth and is scared away. The teens are left alone and in danger…

It is the best sort of vampire tale: classic good vs. evil with plenty of a surprisingly Christian understanding of the conflict.

The Evil in Fright Night is enticing, seductive, and presents itself as harmless or even good. Evil is also utterly dangerous. It tricks society into accepting it, encourages the belief that it does not really exist. Meanwhile it destroys people; killing some to feed off of, tricking other to find love and acceptance in its service, and converting others into servants of evil as well.

The forces of good, meanwhile, must rely on belief, community and the willingness to sacrifice in order to face and defeat the evil.

In this movie’s version of the genre, the weapons against vampirism require faith in order to be effective. Peter’s character develops this idea best. When he discovers the reality of what, all his life, he thought just entertainment and a source of fame, fandom and money; his first reaction is to run. He understands the evil and the danger and he is afraid. It is easy to be convinced of the reality of evil, but that does not naturally translate into the idea that there is also a force for good and a means of overcoming the evil. It takes a step of faith to accept that. When Peter first confronts the vampire for real, he tries to attack him with a crucifix like he did in so many movies. The vampire mocks him: “You have to have faith for that to work on me.” Charlie tries his hand at it with much more success. He is not merely acting. There is no proof that if you face the evil bravely, that you will succeed. You have to trust.

As with all the classic examples of vampire stories(2), there is also a need for a community of faith. It is not enough to face the evil alone. Fellow believers must band together to stand against it. When one of the hunters, usually a woman, is separated from the community for protection, she is instead left open to attack. In this film, Charlie’s friend (appropriately nicknamed “Evil”) separates himself from the group out of complete disbelief. Ironically, he is the most knowledgeable of the teens in the lore of vampires. On his own, the vampire is able to use his isolation and feeling of rejection from the group to seduce him. Later, Charlie's girlfriend Amy is isolated and partially turned.

The final aspect of the people who stand against the evil in vampire stories is that they have to be willing to die in the fight. Usually self-sacrifice, or a true willingness to die is needed to defeat evil. At almost any point in the story, Charlie and Peter could run away and likely not be followed. All the vampire wants is to be left alone to slowly kill off the people in the town. Instead, they stay and fight to save Amy and the other people in town.

One final aspect of this film that it shares with most of the best of the genre(3) is that, in the end, the evil is not defeated by the hunters directly but by… well, that would be giving to much away.

Fright Night manages to be an engrossing horror-comedy, and still explores all of these aspects of the genre in a fresh (for it’s day) and intelligent way. Roddy McDowell does an excellent job playing Peter Vincent. Chris Sarandon is effectively low-key in his performance as the Vampire. The music is smooth and cool (especially for the eighties) and does a good job of expressing the seductive and creepy nature of evil. The effects, especially in the last act, are over the top and gory and decidedly pre-computer animation. That and it is just plain entertaining as well, in a cheesy-eighties-horror-movie sort of way.

A warning must be given however. Lest all the talk of Christian understanding and the fight between good vs. evil lead anyone to think this would be a good movie for Christians in general or youth groups: don’t read that here. This movie has scares, language, sensuality, talk about sex, and a brief moment of nudity. As with many vampire (and horror, fantasy and sci-fi) movies, a lot of truths can be seen here. That does not make it a Christian movie or mean that it really has Christian conclusions.

(1) from the original trailer for Fright Night
(2) See the novel Dracula. In most film versions, the community is usually reduced to a single hunter or, at best, an older expert and a younger apprentice.
(3) See in particular many of the Hammer studios vampire films. The supernatural aspect of vampirism tends to be emphasized and often the climax is also out of the hunter’s hands.


  1. Nina, what's scary about Nina?

  2. It is just a common name in Dracula movies, derived from Mina, which is the name of the woman in that book. It is sort of an inside joke, as a bunch of movies have changed the character from Mina to Nina. A good example of Hollywood creativity and innovation.

  3. great insights, bravo!


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