As a full moon rises in the autumn sky, a chill wind blows about you. A jack o' lantern flickers dimly on a darkened porch. Skeletons appear and start making bad jokes about how they've got no body to hang out with. It can mean only one thing - it's the beginning of October, and thus it's time for the Sixth Annual VGJunk Halloween Spooktacular! Yes, it's my favourite time of year again, a time when it's all horror-tinged games all the time. There'll be monsters, blood, haunted castles, ghosts, goblins and sometimes ghosts and goblins. Maniacal laughter, lightning crashes, the sound of a large metal door creaking open, etc, etc. To start the sinister season, I present to you Microdeal's 1988 Amiga suck-em-up Fright Night!
Man oh man, just look at this artwork. It's beautiful. I feel like I've come home, and not just because my home also has terrifying spectral monster floating over it at all times.
As the horror movie aficionados amongst you will have realised, Fright Night is an adaptation of the 1985 movie of the same name. Fright Night tells the story of Charley Brewster, a young man with a problem: a vampire has moved in to the house next door, and said vampire wants to kill Charley and his friends. It's a movie of two halves: the first is essentially The Boy Who Cried Vampire, as Charley attempts to convince those around him that his neighbour really is undead and not just a captivatingly charming chap who likes to sleep in late. Charley enlists of a washed-up horror movie actor famous for playing vampire killers to help him, and then the second half of the movie becomes a battle against the vampire and his minions. Good prevails, the vampire is defeated and Charley's girlfriend becomes un-vampired. It is a fun movie and one I personally enjoy immensely, so if you haven't seen it then now's a good time to check it out. So how did the developers translate the movie into a computer game?
Unexpectedly, that's how, by having you play as the vampire. I know, I would have expected a shallow Castlevania knock-off too but Microdeal went the extra mile on the concept and here we are controlling Jerry Dandrige, the master vampire. Yes, the vampire's name is Jerry. Yes, I know it's probably quite low down on your mental list of cool names for a vampire. Maybe it's an Alucard thing and Jerry is merely the alias of Yrrej, the hideous bloodsucking menace that brought terror to Eastern Europe for generations before crossing the Atlantic and buying some comfortable slacks.
To reiterate, in Fright Night you have the rare experience of playing as a character that is one hundred percent unambiguously evil. Not an anti-hero, not misunderstood, just a monster who eats people. Neat. A good start to the Halloween festivities, then, but what does Jerry actually do?
"Hey, you're going to come into my house and imply that I don't do anything? That's just rude."
As an extra Halloween bonus, Jerry is played by Chris Sarandon in the movie so Fright Night is also giving you the opportunity to play as Jack Skellington. Well, Jack Skellington's voice. His talking voice, I mean. Danny Elfman does Jack's singing. What I'm saying is you're getting to play as at least 20% of Jack Skellington.
Where was I? Oh yeah, the gameplay. You wander around for a bit, that's what you do.
While wandering, be sure to take in the sights of Jerry's mansion, including his well-appointed Mad Science lab, complete with a workbench that has coiled snakes for legs. In the movie Jerry seems like a very vampire-y vampire, mostly focusing on the blood-drinking and "swishing about in long coats" aspects of undeath, but everyone has to have hobbies and I wouldn't be surprised if Jerry's involved glowing beakers full of unidentified chemicals.
The second floor landing is where Jerry stores his knick-knacks, including a heart pinned to the table with a knife, a decomposing skull and a cross. A cross. Jerry, you dumb son of a bitch. A cross? Have you got a garlic-scented air freshener plugged in down there, too? C'mon, man, you're giving vampires a bad name here. This is only going to backfire on you, it's like if I made all my home furnishings out of cat hair and pollen.
Ah yes, the family portrait room. Grandpappy Satan, Puffy Uncle Varolek the Despoiler and little cousin Jimmy, all present and accounted for. There will now be a short break in the article while I go and see whether I can find somewhere online that will sell me a green leather sofa decorated with bats.
Aww nuts, there's no time to shop for home décor because Jerry has found an intruder in his home! It's Charley. I think. I mean, I assume it's Charley and not just some random kid standing in Jerry's house and throwing bibles at him. Anyway, yes, Charley throws bibles that will drain your health if they hit you - you can see one near the knees of the suit of armour on the right - but the bibles, and every other projectile that's thrown at you in this game, follow a strange bouncing pattern of movement. Therefore, Jerry has to close the distance to his would-be slayer by predicting when the object will be at its lowest point and jumping over it. And when Jerry reaches his prey?
He drains their blood, of course. The Misterioso Pizzicato plays, blood squirts from the neck region, Charley fades into nothingness and Jerry burps, because he is a real class act.
"Ain't I a stinker?"
So, I ate an innocent person. That was fun. Sadly it's really all there is to Fright Night's gameplay: there are a certain number of intruders in Jerry's house, and he has to eat them all and get back into his coffin before the sun rises and destroys him. You can see the moon-o-meter at the bottom-left of the screen, and it ticks by slowly enough that once you've learned the layout of the house you should have plenty of time to complete your feastings. Also on the status bar is Jerry's face, which serves as a health gauge. Touching anything hostile will drain your health very quickly, changing the face icon from "full of vampiric vitality" to "what's under Jason Voorhees' mask" to "nothin' but bone" in the blink of an eye, but fortunately you can restore it by killing people or hanging around near your coffin. Speaking of coffins, now that the house is free of people who want to jam a stake into his heart while he sleeps, I guess it's time for Jerry to hit the satin-lined hay.
When you approach your coffin, the music changes to "Home, Sweet Home," which I thought was a nice touch. After a hard day's slaughter there nothing as pleasurable as sinking into your own casket and letting your cares drift away, secure in the knowledge that even if someone else does dare to interrupt your rest they'll probably go for the decoy vampire over on the right and wake you up before they manage to get to makin' with the stakin'.
Kinda feels like you're channelling Garfield here, Fright Night.
Unsurprisingly, the next stage takes place on Tuesday. After that, Wednesday, then the 6th of June 1944 - D-Day, and Jerry risks exposure to help the war effort on the beaches of Normandy. No, not really, it's Thursday, and so on until you reach Sunday, at which point the game loops around into a never-ending vampire buffet simulator. Some things do change between days, though.
For starters, there must have been some major construction work during the day because Jerry's house now has an additional two floors, both fully decorated, as though Fright Night takes place in an alternate (and frankly far superior) universe where the Addams Family are the hosts of 60 Minute Makeover.
There are also a lot more things trying to kill Jerry, in the form of grasping hands that reach up through the floorboards and a variety of floating, legless ghosts that drift around the screen getting in the way. In a display of the shocking double standards involved in depictions of male and female nudity, I've had to censor this lady ghost's exposed breasts because I didn't want to risk being tarred as a provider of not safe for work content by the search engines. The last article proves I can show you all the male nipples you'd ever care to see and many, many more besides, but I just couldn't take the chance with these boo-bs. Because she's a ghost, you see. Was this whole paragraph just a lead-up to that terrible pun? Friend, this whole article was a lead-up to that pun.
The number of people you need to exsanguinate before you can go back to bed is greatly increased, too, so let's meet some of them, starting with Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent, the horror-actor-turned-horror-TV-host who gets roped into the terrifying world of the undead... for real! He's trying to kill Jerry by throwing stakes at him, but unless Jerry's heart is located in his thigh I don't think he has much to worry about. Mind you, Peter Vincent doesn't have to worry about dying either - and neither does anyone else in this game who isn't an immortal creature of the night, ironically enough - because the characters you kill reappear, well and unharmed, on the next day.
The next victim is "Evil" Ed, Charley's awkward, twitchy friend who he doesn't seem to even like all that much. Here come some Fright Night spoilers, by the way - young Edward's nickname of "Evil" becomes appropriate when he's turned into a vampire during the course of the film. I presume that's why his sprite looks like it's been carved from a block of lard, it's supposed to represent Ed's necrotic flesh. I felt a little guilty about eating Ed, because he gave the world one of my favourite horror movie lines of all time when he reveals where Charley's dinner is. Not guilty enough to spare him, though. Hey, he's a soulless monster, technically I'm doing the world a favour.
I think this is supposed to be Charley's girlfriend Amy. She wears a white dress during part of the film, but I'm still not totally convinced. I mostly think she's Amy because the other candidates for the position look even less like the movie version of Amy, such as...
This woman, who looks far too motherly to be the teenage Amy. She's even doing a "Wilma about to scold Fred Flintstone" pose, so I'm going to assume she's meant to be Charley's mum, popping over to harangue Jerry for breaking her bedroom door and trying to kill her son.
This victim is a real deep cut, and it was only after flicking through the movie again that I realised she must be the prostitute that Jerry kills early on in the film, a character who only appears very briefly and says a mere six words. At that point you might as well just start inventing completely new characters to fill Jerry's house with, really. It could have been an extremely unlucky week for any gas meter inspectors / newspaper delivery boys / girl scouts selling cookies in the area. Oh well, at least they didn't just fill the house with palette swaps.
As I've said, the gameplay in Fright Night is very basic and the whole experience is more shallow than a Smurf's bathwater, but one thing that was almost an interesting gameplay mechanic is represented by the combination cross/ Star of David on the status bar. This shows the victim's faith - an oft-repeated idea in the movie is that things like holy water and crucifixes will only harm a vampire if the wielder believes in them. This lady is totally convinced that crosses she's throwing are going to work, so her faith indicator glows brightly and her attacks do more damage. It could be an engaging idea with a bit of work, but all it means in practise is that some victims are randomly much more powerful than the rest. Maybe if you could scare them into losing faith, or their faith increased if they saw Jerry taking damage from a similar attack to theirs, you'd have the foundations of a fun little gimmick, but that's not the case in this game.
What else can I say about Fright Night? Not a whole lot, actually. If you manage to survive Tuesday then you've seen the entire game, as far as I'm aware. What little gameplay there is all handled well enough: the collision detection is solid and the controls are responsive - having to hold down and the fire button to duck takes a bit of getting used to, but I suppose the compromise was unavoidable when you use up and on the stick to climb the staircases.
The main thing I took away from playing Fright Night is that it paints a terribly unappealing portrait of life as a vampire. You wake up, you need to drink blood almost constantly or you'll melt away, your mansion is full of people trying to kill you in your sleep and even the ghosts - displaying a heartbreaking lack of supernatural solidarity - are trying to stab you in the back. If you somehow survive the night, it's back into your coffin to do it all again, and again, and again. Sleeping all day, mooching around and eating all night, never going outside: what I'm saying is that Fright Night hits a little too close to home.
Fright Night looks really nice and it's fun to play as an unmitigated bastard for once, but what little gameplay there is becomes incredibly repetitive very quickly. There's just nothing much to do - for instance, you don't even have to press the fire button to eat people, you just walk into them and bam, the game takes over. You get to walk and jump, that's it. I would say try it for a little while, but stop the second you start getting bored because it's not like there are any spooky twists or thrilling surprises waiting around the corner. A more solid recommendation would be to watch the movie, or if you don't have time for that then at least check out the soundtrack - it features some classic 80's horror movie soundtrack cheese from Autograph, the J. Geils Band band performing an eponymous track that'll slot nicely into any Halloween party playlist and best of all an obscure and rather good track by Devo that has absolutely nothing to do with the movie.
That's Fright Night, then: as a game it's admittedly poor, but as an introduction to the Halloween season it couldn't be much better, which leads me nicely to the return of...
The VGJunk Halloween-O-Meter! As always, this is a measure of how Halloween-y a game is and not how good it is, which explains why Fright Night gets a big nine out of ten. It's got vampires, a haunted mansion and occasional tables decorated with body parts so it was never going to be a low scorer, although it misses out on a full ten out of ten for not including any pumpkins. I'm not saying pumpkins are mandatory for a perfect score, it's just that it feels like that's what Fright Night is really missing, you know?
And there we go, the 2015 Halloween Spooktacular is underway. I'm excited, and I hope you're excited too. I'll be back soon with more spooky videogames, always remember to double-bolt your coffin from the inside because vampire killers lurk in every shadow. Goodnight!