Charley Brewster is an average high school kid. He likes horror movies, isn't getting anywhere with his girlfriend, and only barely appreciates the efforts of his hardworking, put-upon mother. Oh, and his neighbor is Chris Sarandon.
His neighbor is also a vampire, which I maybe should have mentioned first. Charley is the only person who has noticed this, which is amazing since the neighbor (whose name is Jerry Dandridge) disposes of his victims in garbage bags, has no qualms about using his supernatural powers in a very public nightclub brawl, and transforms into a bat and back with no regard to who might see him. Charley tells everyone--whether they're interested or not. He sees a woman enter Dandridge's house and later sees a newscast which identifies her as a prostitute and murder victim, so he brings in the police who give Dandridge a token sniff test before pronouncing him clean. Charley's friend Ed and girlfriend Amy decide that he needs professional help. No, we're not talking about a psychologist--we're talking about an actor.
Ed and Amy go to enlist the help of Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), a washed-up actor who used to headline Vampire movies but now works as a TV horror host in the same vein as Svengoolie or Elvira. Vincent (when he was getting more regular work) usually played the Van Helsing roles in vampire movies, and he's one of Charley's heroes. Initially he refuses to help, but he's just been fired from his hosting gig, and when Amy offers him her $500 savings bond he agrees to take it.
Vincent calls Dandridge to set up a meeting with Charley, and at the appointed hour, everybody meets at Dandridge's house. Dandridge downs a shot of "holy" water supplied by Vincent and everyone is satisfied except (of course) for Charley. On their way out, Vincent is fiddling with a pocket mirror and sees that Dandridge casts no reflection. Peter Vincent cannot handle vampires (which, as far as he was concerned, didn't exist), so he steps on the gas and gets the hell out of there. After wrestling with his conscience, Peter Vincent finally accepts that he will have to get involved, and maybe stake Ed, who by this point has been attacked and bitten by Dandridge.
This, more or less, is the first half of the movie. During the second half, our characters take decisive action agaist Dandrige, but he's always a few steps ahead of them thanks to the fact that Charley has made no secret to anyone of his suspicions.
The components are familiar, and indeed this could be described as "Galaxy Quest (or Three Amigos) as a vampire story". One of the common ideas of those movies is that the main characters don't know until it's too late that they're in a dire situation, but Fright Night gets that out of the way immediately; there's never any question that Dandridge is the villain and a vampire. Dandridge knows very well that Charley is onto him, and though he could dispatch Charley at any moment, he'd prefer to play with his food first.
I liked Fright Night very much, largely because it's a kind of love letter to the horror movies of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, and of course, Peter Vincent's name obviously a portmanteau of Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. Roddy McDowall is a good enough actor that he could play this role without chewing the scenery, but he does it anyway. Most people know Chris Sarandon only as Prince Humperdinck from The Princess Bride but he's really very good as a horror movie villain (see: The Resurrected) .
McDowall and Sarandon really do the lion's share of the cast's heavy lifting. I don't have a strong opinion of any of the teens, but I did want to mention that Amanda Bearse, who plays Amy has a remarkable, classic Hollywood style of speaking; she sounds to me like Judy Garland.
I'm pretentious, but even other, less-snobby people get annoyed by movies with too many effects. Fright Night's special effects are almost entirely crammed into the second half of the film, and there are so many of them, but thankfully they all serve the plot and they're gorgeous. I was especially impressed by the way the vampires' jaws open impossibly wide, and I can see how it's done, but it looks neat. I also like Jerry Dandridge's death scene (that's hardly a spoiler--this movie is too lighthearted for Charley to die at the end). I won't tell you how it happens.
Anyway, here's the trailer, if you want it:
And now, as the British say, I'm for bed. I'd love to say something clever and quippy here, but this October (and this last week in particular) has really been draining. Where does all my free time go? If I were more awake, I could turn that sentiment into something scary about mortality, but alas, I am not.
Lock the door and blow out the candles on your way up, please.