I enjoy horror movies, so it really came as a shock to me when I realized recently that I had somehow managed to get through life without having seen this before. Maybe it was the release of the remake that reminded me. Who knows?
Anyways, because of the recent remake, and because this isn't the most obscure film out there, I can be pretty snappy with the synopsis, which is this: a teenager named Charley believes that a vampire named Jerry Dandridge has moved in next door. He ends up being correct, but when no one believes him, he decides to get help from an elderly actor who played a vampire killer, but now hosts a horror television show, akin to Ghoulardi or Elvira. Charley believes that, even though this guy is an actor, he can at least give some insight into how to deal with his problem.
What I really loved about this movie is how it is really reverent to the genre, and is filled with all kinds of tributes, references, and homages. The actor, Peter Vincent, is named about Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, and comes from the Hammer vein of horror pictures. There's some tweaking with the vampire mythology, but there's also a lot of keeping up the status quo of the mythology as well.
This film has great pacing, a slow build with lots of suspense, great atmosphere and art direction, and a good mix of wicked humor and scares. It's got some pretty nifty and effective special effects and makeup, too. Where it really shines though, is in the characters and the acting. William Ragsdale is pretty good as Charley, doing a terrific job at playing a guy who knows he's right, but really struggles to get support. Chris Sarandon is very suave and creepy as the villain Jerry Dandridge, being both seductive and malevolent. Amanda Bearse suffers from a bit too much "80s hair", but she's got believable chemistry as Charley's girlfriend and Jerry's obsession (she resemles his long lost love). Stephen Geoffreys is really annoying as Ed, and is the main reason this isn't getting a higher grade, but thankfully he's just a side character. The highlight though, is Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent. He's just a really great and memorable character. He's well rounded and developed, and he's the most compelling one of the bunch. They could have just played him off as a caricature, but instead they take him serious and the movie is all the better for it.
I'm a little hit or miss with 80s movies. I'd like them a lot more if I was a bigger fan of 80s pop culture, but generally I judge them on a case by case basis. This is one of the better ones, and it holds up moderately well. I can see why in the remake they tweaked Vincent's characters since tv horror hosts aren't (unfortunately) culturally relevant anymore. Anyways, this is a really fun and entertaining film, and you should give it a watch. It's good stuff.