Cult titles are funny things. Though some film aficionados will tell you they are a genre unto themselves, instead this label reaches across the entire genre spectrum, plucking titles here and there for the requisite amount of devotion, or sometimes obsession, from its fan base.
Think Hard Boiled, The Big Lebowski, pretty much anything John Waters has ever made, or when it comes to the horror genre, Fright Night - films that don't do extraordinarily well either with critics or audiences during their initial release, but over time begin to accumulate more and more exuberant film fans ready to quote and analyze or just cherish ad nauseam.
Despite receiving a sequel in 1988 - courtesy of Halloween III's Tommy Lee Wallace - Fright Night took kind of a while to catch on, but once it did, and outside of your more established franchises like Halloween or Friday the 13th, there has never been more devotion to a clunky, kind of silly film from the 1980s - the time in which all cinema was seemingly clunky and silly.
By now, Fright Night has become legendary for all manner of legitimate and accidental reasons, and there are very few horror fans out there unaware, at the very least, of its plot: that of Charley Brewster (Justified's William Ragsdale) and his new neighbor, Jerry Dandridge (Dog Day Afternoon's Chris Sarandon), who wastes no time in letting slip that he's a vampire by biting a chick in front of the open window that directly faces Charley's bedroom. Since his girlfriend, Amy, and best bud, "Evil" Ed (Amanda Bearse and Stephen Geoffreys, respectively) don't believe him, Charley only has one option: to seek help from Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), former horror thespian and host of a late-night spook-show called "Fright Night" to fight this blood-fanged evil that has moved in right next door.
Fright Night is the definition of 1980s horror, and that's okay. The clothes were big, the hair was bigger, but there was also a non-pretentious charm worming its way through the entire proceeding. Writer/director Tom Holland, no stranger to the horror genre with both Child's Play and Stephen King's Thinner under his belt, shows a bit of flare in what was still the early part of his career.
For the uninitiated, Fright Night is a tough sell, as having a love for 1980s "light" horror is nearly a prerequisite, but the reliance on physical and in-camera effects was a refreshing callback to a less exacting era of cinema (that sounds like a slight, but it's not) where the mindset seemed more to be "let's make a film" rather than "I wonder how far we can push the visual effects." As someone who was always more ambivalent about this title, I was curious to see what a many-years-later viewing of the film would hold for me; while my initial misgivings about the film's uneven tone and (to me) too-long dull stretches remained unchanged, it was refreshing to find myself appreciating certain aspects that I missed the first time for whatever reason: Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent gives the performance of the film, straddling that line between playing a total forgotten failure, to playing someone genuinely fearful, to then playing someone destined for heroism. He and Ragsdale have fine chemistry and their final fight with Dandridge and his mutant familiar, Billy, is an enjoyably slimy special effects light show. That, and the earlier mentioned charm of physical effects, left me feeling less dismissive and more disappointed that I don't share the kind of love that many, many other individuals share for this film.
Much has been said (and maybe too much) about the gay undertones present in the film: the subtle homo-eroticism between vampire Jerry and the curious Charley, who seems more interested in peering through the window at his new neighbor rather than pouncing on his girlfriend who's waiting in his bed and saying, basically, "Okay, we can sex now." Added to that would be Stephen Geoffrey's surprising foray into gay pornography in his later years, as well as Amanda Bearse's eventual coming out as a lesbian. All of this added together has painted Fright Night as "the gay vampire movie," which may or may not be accurate, depending on with whom you speak that were involved with the making of the film. (The gay theory is a common one for not-at-all-gay cinema.) While it's sincerely doubtful any of this significantly bolstered the film's infamy beyond trivial talking points, it certainly does add another layer to this film's otherwise harmless and enduring legacy.
I guess I'm a curmudgeon, but I don't see the big deal in this beloved cult title. Still, it 35 years later, it continues to climb to the top of most other genre titles released on a yearly basis that come, take a dump, and leave, and no one even remembers they were there. But Fright Night manages to live on, and as I've said before, especially about flicks that aren't my bag, remaining in the discussion this many years later is a triumph.