Directed by Tom Holland (1985)
by Nikkolas Nelson
Fright Night is an allegory, pun intended, for sexual identity and the homophobia specific to the United States circa 1985, most notably driven by the rising AIDS epidemic. Jerry Dandridge is an asexual vampire (supernatural creature) posing as a homosexual aristocrat who moves next door to 17 year-old Charley Brewster and his mother. Charley’s mother comments that “He (Jerry) has a live-in interior decorator. With my luck? Probably gay,” and this is perhaps a very intentional guise for Jerry. It potentially invites fewer questions from neighbors about his lifestyle as the years roll on without them seeing a wife and children, allowing Jerry the privacy he requires to kill people. Also, Jerry is seen consistently eating fruit. It’s a rare habit for a vampire to eat any food at all, a nod to, perhaps, the derogatory term ‘fruit’ (Jerry’s disguise) popular at the time but more specifically represents the fruit of carnal knowledge that Jerry represents; not just the knowledge of sex but also its inherent revelations of sexual identity.
Enter Charley. The film opens with Charley on a quest to lose his virginity. After a short argument, his girlfriend Amy submits to the act but Charley is suddenly distracted by his new neighbors, Jerry and Billy, carrying a coffin into the house. The coffin represents homosexuality - death being something that was unjustly synonymous with homosexuality at the time due to the emerging AIDS epidemic. In a classic ‘perverted teenage boy’ trope, Charley binocular-peeks through the windows (a trope typically reserved for a girl’s bedroom, locker room, bathroom, etc.) at the coffin. It’s at this moment that Charley questions his sexuality, insisting on watching the coffin, rather than losing his virginity to Amy.
Meanwhile, on television, there’s a glimpse of young Peter Vincent. Peter Vincent is a homosexual man posing as a heterosexual actor - the telling moment in the movie within the movie in the opening scene, as he marches toward the hissing vampire, the stake (phallus) is pointed at himself rather than toward the voluptuous vampiress that moments before nearly seduced a man to his death. Peter poses as a heterosexual actor, closeted due to the bigotry of the time, and compensates in roles that call for machismo (e.g. a vampire killer) but as Peter later points out, he loses his job because “teenagers these days just want to see men running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins,” i.e. brutal overstatements of hetero-sex roles; a very violent and fearful return to heterosexuality in contemporary popular culture where Peter’s perceived femininity has no place (“Don’t be gay. You’ll die from AIDS.” - The 1980’s).
Later, Charley sees a beautiful woman on her way into Jerry’s house. Charley, suddenly chipper, tells his mother that he is going to his room to “study” but what Charley is actually doing here is attempting to realign his sexuality. His friend "Evil" Ed drops a hint for this earlier when he asks Charley about Amy, “Did she find out what you’re REALLY like?” <wink> <pinch> <nudge>, an allusion to Charley’s sexual confusion. But now that Charley is convinced that Jerry is heterosexual, he can stop questioning his own sexuality. The woman is instead murdered and the terror that Charley experiences isn’t because Jerry is a vampire but because Charley suddenly (and very violently) can once again no longer be certain of his own sexuality.
And who does Charley run to? “Evil” Ed, a moniker that Ed protests perhaps because he, like Peter, is a closeted homosexual. With homosexuality considered evil by the fundamentalist social structure, Ed doesn’t want to be called Evil because it calls attention to his homosexuality, something for which he is violently bullied, confirmed in the alley with Jerry right before he is turned. Shortly before, just to note, he threatens to give Charley a hickey and calls him a ‘fruitcake.' It should also be noted that the actor, Stephen Geoffreys, as Sam Ritter, has credits in such homosexual adult films as Das Butt.
Back to Charley. We find him, after being attacked by Jerry (rife with metaphors for sexual exploration by the way, not the least of which - a pencil (phallus) through the palm of a hand (masturbation) surrounded by candles, crosses, and other heavily religious relics. Again, Charley’s terror is in the questioning of his sexuality, and the resulting guilt has led him to overly compensate by surrounding himself with symbols of sin and repentance.
Amy and Ed go to Peter Vincent and explain the situation and Peter, hearing the story and recognizing telltale signs of a man (Jerry) trying to hide his homosexuality (judging from his, Peter’s, own experiences of having to do so) decides that Charley is simply fearing what he doesn’t understand and is projecting this whole idea of ‘my neighbor is a monster’ onto an innocent man. The vampire test scene, where Peter Vincent is trying to convince Charley that Jerry is not a vampire, is really Peter trying to show Charley that homosexuals are not inherently monstrous murderers; that you don’t have to be afraid of them. But it backfires because Peter realizes that Jerry is only posing as an homosexual and is in fact a vampire.
At this point, Peter Vincent is terrified and ready to skip town. Enter "Evil" Ed. Jerry’s turning of both Ed and eventually Amy symbolize sexual awakening (Amy’s hesitance, pain, and obligatory blood trail). This is what Charley is most afraid of. Not Jerry killing him or turning him into a vampire but conclusively discovering that he is in fact a homosexual, something that would immediately marginalize and essentially condemn him in 1985. It’s the discovery that is terrifying, even more so than death, especially at the time, when it basically was death (again - coffin).
Ed, on the other hand, embraces his awakening and revels in it. The most telling evidence is when he tells Peter “I used to admire you, you know that? That is, until I found out what a fake you were!” - an allusion to, perhaps, not Peter Vincent’s films but Peter’s posing as heterosexual all his years in Hollywood rather than being honest about who he really is. Peter still manages to temporarily hide behind that illusion with a crucifix (again - repentance) which burns and scars Ed, a direct comment on organized religion’s stance on homosexuality. Later, Peter only truly confronts himself during his showdown with Ed. He stakes (phallus) Ed and therefore fully accepts his sexuality for the first time. This is further supported given the very intimate, tearful, and long goodbye between Peter and Ed as Ed dies on the floor. Peter comes out of the house (closet) fully embracing his true self and ready for the final showdown.