Year Of The Vampire: Fright Night Embraces Queer Vampirism And Is So Cool, Brewster

(Welcome to Year of the Vampire, a series examining the greatest, strangest, and sometimes overlooked vampire movies of all time in honor of "Nosferatu," which turns 100 this year.)

Just before the 2020 presidential election, the Michigan Democrats held a fundraiser where the original cast of "Fright Night" would reunite via Zoom to do a live script reading of the 1985 vampire comedy, with Mark Hamill stepping in for the late Roddy McDowall and Rosario Dawson for any additional one-off characters. I joined hundreds of viewers as Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Stephen Geoffreys, Jonathan Stark, and Dorothy Fielding slipped into their familiar roles, with Geoffreys even using all of his vocal might to muster the classic laugh of Evil Ed. "Fright Night" has been my favorite movie since I was very little, but seeing the cast back together reminded me just why I fell in love with Tom Holland's (not that one) hilarious, unintentionally queer, wonderful little vampire movie.

The 1980s saw a boom in vampire comedies, but none quite like "Fright Night." The story focused on high school student Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) who is convinced his next door neighbor Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire. He tells his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) and his best friend Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) who at first dismiss his ridiculous claims, but after they call on horror host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) to investigate, the group realizes that Charley isn't hallucinating things, and that Dandridge is in fact, a vampire.

What It Brought to the Genre

"Fright Night" marks the directorial feature debut of Tom Holland who would later direct "Thinner," "The Beast Within," "Psycho 2," and the franchise starter "Child's Play." He's long considered the film to be his love letter to horror fans, which is why his characters love horror movies, admire horror hosts, understand the tropes of protecting oneself against vampires, and can't help but fulfill their destiny as "Scooby-Doo"-style meddling kids. There's a meta-humor to it all that makes the film infinitely more enjoyable for horror fans, but doesn't exist in a vacuum where non-horror fans can't also find enjoyment.

The premise is fun and allows for some borderline farcical hijinks, but the strength of the film comes with how beautifully relatable every character is. Charley is a ball of sexual frustration and anxiety, Amy is an adorable girl-next-door who doesn't let people push her around, Ed is constantly bordering on neurosis, Peter Vincent is a skeptical old pompous thespian, and Jerry is like if the hottest dad in town was a swinger and, you know, also a vampire. Everyone feels simultaneously like a cartoon character and someone you've known for a lifetime. I truly don't know how Holland was able to capture such rich and identifiable characters, but the film succeeds because of them.

Sorry Lost Boys, Fright Night is THE '80s Gay Vampire Film

Whether or not Holland intended it, "Fright Night" is exploding with queerness. Charley frequently ignores the heterosexual advances of his girlfriend in favor of his obsession with Jerry Dandridge. Jerry lives alone with his own Renfield, Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark). When Jerry finally reveals himself to Charley as a vampire, he does so by interrogating him about revealing his "secret." He pulls Charley out of the closet (literally), gives him a lecture about how he doesn't have a choice in being this way, and threatens him by wrapping his hands around his throat. During their scuffle, Charley knocks over the photo of Amy and it breaks. The scene only ends when Charley penetrates Jerry with his wood ... err ... pencil.

At one point Ed is separated from the group and made to feel pretty lousy by his friends, but Jerry approaches him, and offers him a new world sounding like the queer elder we all need.

You don't have to be afraid of me. I know what it's like being different. Only they won't pick on you any more or beat you up. I'll see to that. All you have to do is take my hand.

On top of it all, most of the actors in the film were gay. Stephen Geoffreys went on to do gay porn, Amanda Bearse directed "The Big Gay Sketch Show," and Roddy McDowall was one of Hollywood's "openly closeted" actors. After all, there's no such thing as a heterosexual vampire.

The Vampires are Legitimately Scary

As funny and gay as "Fright Night" is, the vampire designs solidified the film's place in the cult classic canon. Richard Edlund of "Ghostbusters" fame was in charge of the special effects, Steve Johnson made custom-painted glass contact lenses for the vampire transformations that were impossible for the actors to see out of (and in some instances, scratched their eyeballs), there's a killer werewolf transformation sequence, and the prosthetic "shark mouth" vampire fang design by Randall Cook was so striking, the marketing team ended up using the image of Amy with the shark-mouth on the film's poster. Vampires had been creepy and scary for decades, but "Fright Night" vampires were straight up terrifying. For as seductive as Jerry Dandridge was in his human form, he was equally as horrific when all vamped out.

"Fright Night" embraces everything great about the vampire film, and celebrates every little detail. A lack of mirror reflection is given a dance number, wooden crosses are melted at the touch, and a boy's obsession with horror revitalizes the passion of a washed-up horror host. The beloved film was remade in 2011 and if I'm being completely honest, the only thing wrong with it is that the perfection of the 1985 film already exists. I admit that I have an entire wall in my office dedicated to "Fright Night" because no film on Earth has brought me more joy. "Fright Night" has it all, and is the perfect reminder of why we love vampire films so much after all these years.