In the 1980s, the vampire movie decided to give itself a bit of a makeover and intertwine some laughs with the traditional hallmarks, such as aversions to crucifixes, as well as the general fear factor. The two main protagonists were Tom Holland‘s Fright Night in 1985 and Joel Schumacher‘s The Lost Boys in 1987. Both are still bloody brilliant, but which is looking slightly longer in the tooth nowadays? The debate has raged for nearly thirty years now, but here at last is the definitive best-of-five heavyweight contest.
The premise of a high school student who’s finding life difficult enough without the undead being thrown into the equation is central to both films. In Fright Night, Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale) is desperately trying to convince everyone around him that his next-door neighbour is a vampire, whilst trying to keep the demon at bay. In The Lost Boys, Michael Emerson (Jason Patric) is the new kid in town who falls in with the kind of crowd you wouldn’t want to bump into down a dark alley during the witching hour. The crucial difference is that Charlie is very much alone for pretty much all of the first half of proceedings, cleverly making the audience empathise with his predicament and ask themselves how they would handle the situation. Anyway, apologies for the mini-review, let’s crack on.
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Both sets contain members who were, at the time, rising young stars, although the only one whose career has gone from strength-to-strength is Kiefer Sutherland‘s. It’s the more senior that seem to impress on the whole, in particular Roddy McDowall, who is perfectly cast as Fright Night‘s washed-up TV star-turned vampire hunter Peter Vincent. Fright Night also benefits from the cast number being kept to a minimum, which allows relationships between the characters, good or bad, to develop more fully.
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As many a filmmaker can attest to, whether young hopeful or seasoned pro, this is a really difficult blend to get right. Our gruesome twosome both manage to pull it off effortlessly, which of course goes a long way to explaining why they continue to enjoy such a loyal fanbase. Having said this, Fright Night‘s point-blank refusal to take itself seriously a little too often in the end, costs it in this particular category. The various nods to the classic vampire flicks of old are all well and good but, coupled with a demented bat puppet flying around, they are sometimes at the expense of genuine scares, whereas Sutherland and his gang of blood-sucking bikers are far more realistic.
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In 1984, composer Brad Fiedel scored a monster hit with the theme for The Terminator. It was a tough act to follow the next year and, perhaps unsurprisingly, he didn’t quite hit those heights with his score for Fright Night, although Come To Me is still a sterling effort. However, Cry Little Sister, otherwise known as ‘Theme From The Lost Boys’, is rightly praised and, combined with a smattering of top rock tunes such as Aerosmith‘s Walk This Way, it means that this one goes to the boys.
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The ‘Head Vampire’
It’s been a close contest but, alas, there’s only one winner in this all-important final category. The Lost Boys‘ novel twist of who ultimately turns out to be the master of them all means that on the downside we only get to see Edward Herrmann in all his fiendish glory for a few minutes. Yet even if things had been different, a career-best performance from Chris Sarandon as the evil Jerry Dandridge would still have won through by miles. As charismatic a Count as you could wish for (see video above), he’s a walking advert for why so many women love a bad boy.
Final Score: Fright Night 3 The Lost Boys 2
So there you have it (blood) suckers! Fright Night comes out on top, but only just. No doubt there’s plenty out there who will disagree, but for the uninitiated both flicks are classics of the genre and well worth a watch – especially around this time of year!