Blu-Ray Review: ‘Fright Night’ 30th Anniversary Edition
I have mentioned the blu-ray distributor Twilight Time before. Compared to some larger companies they are relatively new and small but what they lack in scale they make up for in quality, especially in the release of restored blu-ray versions of rare and never-before-released films.
One thing that they are known for is their extremely limited release model; Twilight Time releases only 3,000 copies of their films and then stops production. This can create a demand for many of their films and also an increase in value for collectors. In 2011 Twilight Time issued a blu-ray release of the 1985 classic comedy-horror Fright Night (this movie was remade that same year starring Colin Farrell) in their usual 3,000 copy model and it became an instant hit. In fact, it sold out before it was ever release and there are dozens of high dollar copies on eBay. This year, possibly due to demand and combined with the right timing, Twilight Time has released a second version in the Fright Night 30th Anniversary Edition and this time with 5,000 copies instead of 3,000. So, is there a difference between the two releases? Absolutely and I’ll get into that a little later but first I want to briefly go over the plot before the blu-ray options.
The star and focus of Fright Night is Charley Brewster (played by the charming William Ragsdale whom you might recognize from the FOX series Herman’s Head in the early 90’s). He’s your average high school boy in suburban America. He has a cute girlfriend, Amy (play by Amanda Bearse, who would go on to play Marcy on Married with Children) who has been his steady girl for over a year but still won’t go “all the way.” Charley spends most of his time making out with Amy and watching his favorite late night television show Fright Night, a local program that plays old black & white horror movies and is hosted by the star of many of those movies Peter Vincent: Vampire Killer (played perfectly by Roddy McDowall, who many might recognize in voice as Cornelius from the original Planet of the Apes).
Charley gets a new neighbor, the charismatic Jerry Dandridge (played by Chris Sarandon, Prince Humperdinck from The Princess Bride) whom Charley believes to be a vampire. He goes to his girlfriend and their weird friend from school (Evil Ed as they call him) and even the police about this, all of which, of course, do not believe him. As a last ditch effort he goes to Peter Vincent who, being an actor and not a real vampire killer, immediately thinks he’s crazy and sends him away. Amy and Ed pay Peter Vincent to come prove to Charley that Jerry is not a vampire. They do so but before they leave Peter sees something that leads him to believe that Jerry might actually be a vampire and Jerry sees it too. So now Charley and Peter know it might be true, Jerry knows that they know and it’s up to Charley and Peter to step up and become real life vampire killers.
I will be the first to admit that I am a HUGE fan of this movie. I guess it kind of holds a sentimental place for me as one of my favorite movies growing up. I actually had it on an old cassette tape recorded off television in my youth. So, in a way I am biased, but in another way I have great expectations/standards for a movie I really like. This release certainly didn’t disappoint. You know how sometimes you love something when you’re young and as an adult you look back and think “That was really terrible”? This is not one of those times.
Looking back on it, this movie really has a lot going for it. It was written and directed by Tom Holland, who would go on to give us the Child’s Play movies. And, like in his later movies, he is able to nicely balance humor without losing any of the horror. The performances are really good: Roddy McDowall really shines to me as a Vincent Price/Christopher Lee-esque actor in those 1950’s Hammer horror movies. Chris Sarandon is great as our formidable villain able to both charm and terrify equally well. As relatively new actors at the time, Ragsdale and Bearse do very well. They are both likable and able to convey a teenage naiveté that most cannot. On top of that is a score by Brad Fiedel (The Terminator), which is so good much of it made its way to the 2011 version (one song in particular stands out), but most impressive are the special effects.
The special effects for Fright Night were designed by Richard Edlund. This is the same guy that brought us the effects in Ghostbusters. Considering Fright Night had a much lower budget, he managed some amazing effects; especially transformations. And the mouth of the vampires in “vampire mode” is still creepy as hell to this day. Amazingly, these effects held up incredibly well in the blu-ray transfer. Instead of revealing flaws and seams and such (as might be expected) they add new realism to them. Now, on to presentation:
Presentation wise, the movie itself is not all that different from the 2011 release. In fact, they use the same 4K scan from the earlier edition. It has been cleaned up a little more, mostly a slightly brighter color tone. This blu-ray is offered in 1080p High Definition with the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen. As usual, Twilight Time has created a print that looks like a brand new high-quality print even though it’s 30 years old. I looked extra carefully at this edition and was unable to find any specks or imperfections in the transfer. It’s by far the best version of the film available, although the 2011 version is very close to this. This release does have anew audio option: 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio stereo, which reproduces the original sound design used for its theatrical run and it comes with the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation, which is my recommended option and works very well with the sound effects. Most importantly, the dialogue is crisp and clean and the score is evenly balanced to not drown out the dialog or sound effects. You can also get SDH subtitles (in English) for the deaf and hearing impaired.
Now, after all of that you might be wondering what makes this so different from the previous release. In addition to a slightly higher quality (if you’re not THAT picky) there are a ton of extras included this time. The previous version was generally a bare bones presentation. It had the film (in excellent quality) and a trailer but really nothing else. The 30th Anniversary Edition is quite the opposite: it’s loaded with extras.
Packaging: Unlike other Twilight Time releases, this one came in a clear case rather than blue. Not a huge change and probably serves to differentiate it from the previous release but it looks pretty cool. It also includes a booklet featuring an essay written by critic Julie Kirgo.
• Trailer: As is standard, this release comes with the original theatrical trailer.
• Isolated Score Track: The score is very good and might even make for some good, spooky Halloween party music. This will be a big hit with musical score fans.
• Audio Commentary: Writer/director Tom Holland with actors Chris Sarandon & Jonathan Stark (he played Jerry Dandridge’s roommate/servant).
• Audio Commentary 2: Writer/director Tom Holland with actors William Ragsdale & Stephen Geoffreys (Evil ed), and FX Artist Randall Cook.
• 1st Ever Fright Night Reunion Panel: recorded at Fear Fest 2 in 2008 the panel features Tom Holland, Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Stephen Geoffreys, Amanda Bearse, Jonathan Stark, and moderated by Rob Galluzzo (55 min.)
• Shock Till You Drop Presents Choice Cuts with Tom Holland and Ryan Turek: Writer/director Tom Holland talks about Fright Night, his career, and movies Ryan Turek from Shock Till You Drop.
• Vintage EPK with behind the scenes raw footage: An hour and a half of original videotape footage (it’s not clean-up) makes for an interesting watch. Full of old cast interviews, music videos, clips, behind the scenes footage from on-set filming, and a featurette on special effects.
• Stills and memorabilia gallery from the Tom Holland Archives: A series of photographs that were taken on the set of Fright Night. It’s a fun little gallery to peruse.
Overall, the Fright Night 30th Anniversary Edition is a must-have for fans of the film and serious movie collectors. It’s by far the best presentation you can find of the film and worth the premium cost (Twilight Time generally has a price point of $30) considering the superior quality. For those that have never seen the film I recommend watching it (it was recently taken off Netflix but is available on DVD) and if you become a huge fan consider moving up to the Blu-ray release. I most definitely recommend it.
Fright Night 30th Anniversary Edition is currently available from Twilight Time
At the time of writing this it has come to my attention that the 5,000 copies of the blu-ray release have been sold out. Since Twilight Time was kind enough to send a copy I thought it best to post the review anyways. This means that any copy out there would only be available on the aftermarket (Ebay, amazon, etc) for a price higher than the premium MSRP. That said, I still stand by the quality of this release and if you are a serious fan or collector and have the extra funds it’s a blu-ray worth adding to your collection. And, with the 30th Anniversary editions hitting the market it is likely that some of the 2011 editions will become available and you might snag one of those for a lower price than usual. So, good luck if you plan on snagging one!!
Fun Fact: The character Peter Vincent is named for two actors well-known for their appearances in horror movies: Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. In fact, director Tom Holland conceived the role of Peter Vincent with Vincent Price in mind, but Price’s health was declining and he was trying to shy away from accepting horror roles by that point in his career.
Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures