The American Society of Cinematographers

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Fright Night
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Fright Night (1985)
Blu-ray Limited Collector's Edition
2.35:1 (High Definition 1080p)
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Twilight Time, $39.99

Small-town preppie high-school student Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) is focused on extracurricular activities. He is equally passionate about his girlfriend, Amy (Amanda Bearse), and the local, late-night-television program “Fright Night,” featuring former Hollywood hack Peter “Vampire Killer” Vincent (Roddy McDowall) as host to a catalogue of schlocky movies. Charley's schoolwork suffers from his late-night obsessions of lurid horror fare and sweaty make-out sessions with Amy. He is so preoccupied he barely notices someone has purchased the creepy “fixer-upper” house next door to the one he shares with his mother (Dorothy Fielding). One night he catches a glimpse out his bedroom window of movement in the darkness below: two men are carrying a coffin into the basement bulkhead next door.

Nobody believes Charley. His mother explains that their new neighbor is charming Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon), who, together with his live-in carpenter, Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark), “flip” old houses for a living. Rumor has it they’re a gay couple, but Charley doesn’t buy that after he catches an attractive woman visiting them and then later sees her face on the local news as a missing person. As other women go missing and dismembered bodies start showing up on the outskirts of town, Charley begins to realize there's something going on next door. After hours of staking out Jerry's upstairs windows from his own room, Charley finally catches him sporting fangs and piercing the neck of a helpless victim. Jerry knows he’s being watched and swoops over to visit terrified Charley, threatening the lives of Charley and his mother should Charley not keep his mouth shut.

Charley appeals to Ed (Stephen Geoffreys), a friend and self-professed horror geek, who readily agrees to help Charley guard against vampires. Crucifixes, garlic and holy water are not enough for panicked Charley as the sun lies low and scary Jerry rises. Charley knows he has to stake Jerry through the heart while he sleeps in his coffin, and that he can turn to only one person for help, TV horror-host Vincent. Charley needs to convince Peter that the real “Fright Night” is happening in the house next door.

In the mid-1980s, writer/director Tom Holland, a fan of the lurid thrillers of the Hammer House of Horror and American International Pictures, pitched Fright Night as an alternative to the ubiquitous stalker pictures that were passing for horror movies at the time. Banking on Holland's success as a screenwriter, Columbia Pictures took a chance on him as a first-time director on the film. Richard Edlund, ASC, fresh from the big-budget horror-comedy Ghostbusters (1984), was assigned to make the film's toothy creatures of the night have real bite on a modest budget. Stepping in to capture all of this in a proverbial landscape of foggy autumn nights was director of photography Jan Kiesser, ASC, CSC, who urged Holland to go “big” with visuals by shooting anamorphic.

Kiesser’s crisp nocturnal imagery has been rendered with commendable care in this HD transfer by mail-order distributor Twilight Time. The occasional softness that’s evident appears to be due to the original production’s low budget. This image transfer is a bold improvement over the previous, standard-definition DVD, with generally deep, rich blacks and excellent fine detail within the frame. The visible film grain feels organic, and there is little evidence of any DNR. Colors are well reproduced, and the play of light in dark, tight spaces has a luminous appeal. The film-like, inky vividness of the images will surely thrill Fright Night fans. The 5.1 DTS audio track might not be as busy and multi-directional as those on newer titles, but it is clean and quite effective, if generally confined to the front soundstage.

In keeping with the title’s history on home video, only bare-bones supplements are included in this package: two rousing theatrical trailers, several screenshots of Twilight Time's catalogue of previous releases, and the film's popular score on an isolated track.

Although this Blu-ray was clearly produced with the movie’s fans in mind, it’s a terrific and worthwhile presentation for newcomers. The lovingly crafted, atmospheric silliness of largely tongue-in-cheek performances, studio-backlot locations, practically created ghouls, and horror-movie clichés remains as entertaining as ever. Fright Night reminds viewers that there are still very good reasons to be afraid of the dark, and that vampires were not always sexually precocious teenagers.

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