Fright Night (1985) 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review: Brewster’s Thirties

If someone would have told me three years ago that I would be repeating myself, well, I probably would have believed them. Indeed, when I initially sat down to work on a review for Twilight Time’s 30th Anniversary Edition of the 1985 vampire horror classic, Fright Night, I nearly found myself writing the exact same words I had jotted down for my original article for the company’s initial release of the film. Not wanting to repeat myself – and with little else to say on the title, I must sadly confess – I figured, since I greedily ignored my editor’s plea to let another writer cover the item, I would just focus mostly on the special features that can be found on this new re-issue.

After I’m done saying some of the same old shit, of course. First, I really, truly, madly, deeply love this film. It quintessentially epitomizes practically all of the glorious era that was the mid-1980s in terms of fashion, music, and film. It even proves a point that bloated Hollywood executives commonly overlook: giving aspiring filmmakers a much-needed break can be a good thing. Providing you let the right one in, of course. (Yeah, I went there.) Here, writer/actor Tom Holland, fresh from surprising a few folks by penning a (what I consider to be) good script for a sequel to Psycho II, was given the chance to direct his own story. With a modest budget and an assortment of devoted performers who ranged from fresh, seasoned, and even from the stage, Holland set out to stake horror right in the heart.

Have I made enough bad vampire puns yet?

So anyway, with the assistance of a great score by Brad Fiedel and a number of special/visual effects artists who were keen to impress audiences near and far, Holland succeeded in making a splash with his first time as a director. Bringing back classic, gothic-era monsters in an age where Freddy and Jason sequels were being released every other weekend was not an easy task, but Fright Night did it. The film was successful enough to garner its own followup, which, despite my fondness of the original, I have never actually seen – something that was originally attributable to the Menendez Brothers (seriously), while, more recently, owing to the fact that the only DVD release has gone out of print (and bootlegged, big time).

Heck, the series even got the dreaded reboot in the 2010s with a remake and the even more dreaded direct-to-video sequel (which I have also not seen, though for an entirely different reason: something I like to call “taste”). But, when it boils right down to it, nothing beats the original. Chris Sarandon is both sexy and sinister as the vampire who moves in next door to poor William Ragsdale, who decides to fight the forces of evil by recruiting an elderly, out-of-work, hammy horror movie star as brought to perfect life by Roddy McDowall – in a role that was rightfully written for Vincent Price (the character is named Peter Vincent as an homage to Price and Hammer’s own Van Helsing, Mr. Peter Cushing), but who was unable to take part due to declining health.

Huh. I guess I have more to say on the subject after all. Amanda Bearse (just two years from Married with Children) is Ragsdale’s girlfriend (and convenient reincarnation of Sarandon’s long lost love), the oft-controversial Stephen Geoffreys (who suddenly switched to making hardcore gay porn in the middle of his career – hey, more power to him) is their geeky horror-loving friend, and Jonathan Stark is Sarandon’s demonic familiar creature critter thing (I don’t know if anyone really knows what his proper designation is supposed to be) and implied gay lover to boot. And, with the exception of the late Mr. McDowall, who passed away in 1998, the whole cast is reunited along with director Holland in the first of several special features for Twilight Time’s 30th Anniversary Blu-ray release.

Aptly entitled “1st Ever Fright Night Reunion Panel,” the nearly hour-long Q&A was recorded at Fear Fest 2 in 2008, wherein the stars and director of Fright Night were interviewed alongside Tommy Lee Wallace and Julie Carmen, the director and co-star of Fright Night II. Needless to say, no one looks the same here as they did in 1985, with Chris Sarandon’s bizarre, inexplicable transformation into all of the members of Kiss combined being perhaps the most noticeable (so much for my man crush on him – thankfully, there’s Chris Sarandon v2.0 now, aka Mark Ruffalo). Their memories, however, are just as fresh (well, Ms. Carmen forgot she had met Mr. Sarandon on the set of Fright Night II, which sets the stage for Ms. Bearse to deliver a wonderful quip the actor almost seems to take personally).

Three installments from the web-based (so expect lesser quality) series “Choice Cuts” (from Shock Till You Drop) present interviews with writer/director Tom Holland, as conducted by a Starbucks swizzling Ryan Turek. Totalling nearly 30 minutes when viewed back-to-back, these candid conversations with the director who has made a number of Stephen King adaptations since (and who is presently working on The Ten O’Clock People with Chris Sarandon) have very little to do with the feature film in question itself, but Holland’s career is interesting enough that it shouldn’t matter (but I’m putting it out there anyway). A plethora of stills from Holland’s archives and two trailers (one “G” rated, the other in the “R” vein, but both very similar) are also provided.

But the coolest extra (in my opinion) is a vintage EPK for the film, which runs nearly two hours, features a bit of raw footage, and is quite the time capsule piece for the retro hounds in general. In fact, the whole affair was culled from a videocassette (so again, expect a shift in quality, though they’ve done their very best to make it look as good as digitally possible), though the embedded time code may irk a few perfectionists (or easily distracted; I kept finding myself staring at the pretty little numbers ticking by). Sadly, the home movies Roddy McDowall, who regularly shot his own 8mm footage on movies and when with friends, shot during the making of the film has never been uncovered, so that’s not here. Nor is the sequel, which is presently in the hands of different copyright holders. (Those “check disc” Blu-rays you see on eBay are dupes, kids. Don’t pay for ’em.)

As for the feature film itself, the new print comes from (reportedly) a high-resolution 4K scan. It is indeed different from the previous Twilight Time Blu-ray, which I noted as being a little brighter (and just a little muted, color-wise) compared to its predecessor. Several sources have commented on a few tiny anomalies that are present on this issue, though I can’t say any of them caught my eye. The original 5.1 English DTS-HD MA mix from the 2011 Blu-ray is included once more, but is (thankfully) joined this time by a 2.0 DTS-HD MA English audio track for those of us who like to recreate the theatrical sound experience (sans the screaming of easily-excited parties in the back row, of course). The 2.0 DTS-HD MA selection featuring Brad Fiedel’s score as an isolated track also returns.

Two (count ’em, two!) new audio commentaries also make their debut here. First off, we have writer/director Tom Holland teaming up with bad guys Chris Sarandon and Jonathan Stark for a sit-through of their spectacular group effort, as moderated by filmmaker Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs). Sullivan and Holland return for the second commentary, this time joined by the perhaps livelier William Ragsdale, Stephen Geoffreys, and FX guru Randall Cook. Each commentary can make for a good listen, though it is only on the latter one that you’ll be able to hear everyone pressure Mr. Geoffreys into reciting his classic line, “Oh, you’re so cool, Brewster!” Add in another swell essay by film historian Julie Kirgo, and you have yourself a winner here, kids.

Like the first Twilight Time release of the movie, Fright Night sold out once pre-ordering opened, so if you see one of the 5,000 produced copies miraculously out in the wild somewhere, sink your teeth into it but fast.

(Yes, I just had to wrap it up with another terrible analogy.)

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Luigi Bastardo

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