Sound SHOCK: In Praise of the FRIGHT NIGHT Soundtrack Album

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Celebrating the FRIGHT NIGHT soundtrack album.

It’s not a controversial statement, or at least, it shouldn’t be, to say that FRIGHT NIGHT is the best horror film of the 1980s. Released in 1985, the same year other enduring masterworks like RE-ANIMATOR, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and DAY OF THE DEAD were perverting screens across the planet, FRIGHT NIGHT is the ideal mirror of its decade, of its youth, of its newfound innocence after surviving the bacchanalia of the 1970s and of its sound.

And sound is where we place our focus here, now, in the space.

For those of you who (gasp) have not seen FRIGHT NIGHT yet and might dismiss it as a relic, please stop. It’s not. To love FRIGHT NIGHT is not to laugh at it, to giggle at just how dated it is. It aint BREAKIN’2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO. Rather FRIGHT NIGHT mirrors everything slick, designer-dangerous, frothy and covertly erotic of the period. It’s not a crass MTV cash-in like its (cry) little sister fang flick THE LOST BOYS, it’s a Hammer Horror film, elegant, Gothic and old-fashioned, penned and directed Hitchcock disciple and PSYCHO II writer Tom Holland (its set up is a quote on REAR WINDOW, after all) and juiced with state of the art prosthetic and visual special FX. It just happens to take place in the middle of the “ME” decade…

FRIGHT NIGHT boasts an appealing, intelligent young cast and a narrative that doesn’t force them to debase themselves, to focus squarely on partying and getting laid. Instead, these kids (led by William Ragsdale’s Charlie and supported by Amanda Bearse’s Amy and Stephen Geoffreys‘ Evil Ed) are young adults, people who take life rather seriously and end up fighting for their lives against ultimate evil, here in the form of suave, handsome predator/vampire Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon), with the aid of reluctant monster slayer Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall)

Everything about FRIGHT NIGHT works and it’s one of a handful of films whose replay value cannot be capped. It’s always a joy to watch.

And listen to…

The score is the secret spine of the film, a haunting, sexy Giorgio Moroder meets Tangerine Dream meets Jan Hammer synth, piano and electric violin soundscape by composer Brad Fiedel, who was hot at the time, having just come off THE TERMINATOR. It’s a stunning achievement, oozing mystery and sensuality, slinking around in the shadows like Dandrige, seducing and then striking.

Here, listen:

On my 11th birthday, I asked my dad to take my friends and I to see GODZILLA 1985. We went to the Woodbine Cinema (no longer in existence) and the Woodbine Mall (still in existence) with a handful of my mates to see the picture only to find out that it wasn’t playing anymore. Crushed, I scanned the marquee for a back-up and sure enough, FRIGHT NIGHT was scheduled to go on screen any minute. I didn’t know much about the movie but I had seen the trailer and I loved the poster so, after a quick huddle with the lads and the dad, we decided to try our luck.

And that decision changed my life.

For the next 100 minutes we sat transfixed. We all loved the movie, but it spoke to me, personally, even deeper. I was a huge MIAMI VICE nut, my mother letting me stay up every Friday night to watch the show with her, a program whose violence and intensity was far above what an 8 year old normally should watch. But I was not a normal 8 year old. Anyway, VICE really woke up my interest in the use of music in filmed entertainment, of letting songs just play out in their entirety of action and drama (something VICE pretty much invented). The appreciation of this led to a later interest in the Italian giallo film, a sub-genre known for turning up the music louder in the mix than the dialogue, seducing its viewers sensually, not necessarily intellectually.

But back to that theater, to FRIGHT NIGHT.

FRIGHT NIGHT was alive with this same sensibility.

Fiedel’s music was arresting and still is. But it was also the use of the songs on the soundtrack themselves that struck me, an eclectic and carefully curated selection of tracks written for the film and assembled by frequent Tom Holland collaborator David Chackler, that helped propel the narrative and echo the emotional state of its characters.

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A week later, my Nana (RIP) bought that soundtrack for me on cassette from the Records on Wheels store (no longer in existence) at the Cloverdale Mall (still in existence, more or less) and I remember lying in her living room on a brown corduroy couch, with the curtains drawn while she sat in the other room, smoked menthol cigarettes and spun Zamfir records, listening to that tape on my Walkman for the first time.

I remember the haunting joy of being transported back into the movie, but also imagining myself IN the movie. That FRIGHT NIGHT soundtrack album became the soundtrack of my pre-teen years, my friends wondering why I wasn’t listening to Kool Mo-Dee or whatever was hot then, instead grooving to a soundtrack to a movie they may or may have not seen with songs by bands they didn’t know.

I tried to explain. I gave up. I didn’t care. I loved what I loved.

I still love that soundtrack. Do you know it well?

Let me break it down for you, track by track…

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Side One

FRIGHT NIGHT (The J. Geils Band) – This upbeat theme song wisely appears during FRIGHT NIGHT’s end credits. It’s a fun track and its lyrics mirror the plight of poor Charlie Brewster and it’s a fine send off, the perfect exit music for fans needing a lighter moment after the mind-melting mayhem of FRIGHT NIGHT’s final reel.

YOU CAN’T HIDE FROM THE BEAST INSIDE (Autograph) – A killer, screeching hard metal tune, raging about an evil that “gets inside of you”. The track plays over the tail end of the “nightclub scene”, when Jerry steals a disoriented Amy away and a now vampirized and scarred Evil Ed cackles at his former friend from the back of Jerry’s jeep.

GOOD MAN IN A BAD TIME (Ian Hunter) – Mott the Hoople’s Hunter contributes this slick, New Wave-tinted tune that serves as Charlie’s theme, a good man trapped in a terrible situation. Great production and throbbing electro bass that ascends and descends erotically. Also appears in the legendary nightclub scene, where Charlie confronts the vampire for stealing his girl.

ROCK MYSELF TO SLEEP (April Wine) – Later covered by Jefferson Starship, this meat and potatoes track by Canadian band April Wine is my least favorite on the album and thankfully, it only appears briefly in the background, if memory serves, during the scene where Amy shoves a chili burger into Charlie’s face. “Oh, you’re so cool, Brewster! I can’t stand it!”

LET’S TALK (Devo) – Another track I can take or leave and one that, despite being on the album and listed in the end credits…I can never locate it in the body of the film itself! Any insight into this absence would be welcome…

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Side Two

ARMIES OF THE NIGHT (Sparks) – One of the highlights of the album, a killer electro-based track by veteran band Sparks with a great chorus and hook that plays during the street chase, luring Charlie and Amy to the nightclub. The ultimate 80s nightlife anthem.

GIVE IT UP (Evelyn “Champagne” King) – More erotic nightclub sequence bliss, this one figuring into Jerry and Amy’s first dance, that twirling, sensual , mirror ballet that is still one of the most seductive scenes in any film ever. Great song by veteran disco queen, King.

SAVE ME TONIGHT (White Sister) – A pretty, chest-pounding metal ballad, played during one of Charlie’s darkest hours, late at night and only in passing.

BOPPIN’ TONIGHT (Fabulous Fontaines) – A track cobbled together by producer Gary Goetzman who invented the name Fabulous Fontaines, a non-band that never made another track. As the band handle suggests, this is a’50s styled do-wop rock tune that only appears briefly during the sequence where Charlie pulls his car into his driveway and meets Jerry’s first victim, a pretty prostitute (“Is this 99 Oak?”). Charlie also sort of sings the chorus as he steps out of the car.  

COME TO ME (Brad Fiedel) – One of the greatest scenes in the film is the “first bite” sequence, where Jerry seduces and essentially penetrates a willing Amy for the first time, biting into her neck, a thin drip of blood running down her back. Fiedel’s COME TO ME plays over this sequence in its entirety, but it’s instrumental. I loved that music, which is in essence the theme music of the movie. I was initially bummed to discover that the track included on the album features a Fiedel vocal. This was due to a deal between Chackler/Private-I records (a sub-label of Columbia) and the composer, who insisted that his vocal version appear on the platter after Holland only used the instrumental in the picture. After a few listens, Fiedel’s soft croon grows on you. Years later, when Intrada Records dug into the vaults and claimed the moldering tapes that housed the original Fiedel music and released a remastered CD of the full score, I was in heaven, finally getting COME TO ME in its raw state. It’s a beautiful piece of music, used again (albeit re-orchestrated) in the middling FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 with a Deborah Holland vocal.

The FRIGHT NIGHT soundtrack initially only ever existed in that cassette and original vinyl format, never making an official appearance on CD (though bootlegs exist). Thankfully, Night Fever records re-released the album on vinyl recently.

It’s the perfect ‘80s soundtrack to the perfect ‘80s horror movie, the rare case where the songs were specially prepared for the movie and thus, essential.