Following my previous entry discussing Michael Pare, I thought it only appropriate to do a quick piece on Fright Night star William Ragsdale (especially for you folks coming out to see him on the big screen tomorrow night). Much like Pare, Ragsdale made a big splash in his first film. Fright Night was a late summer release (actually opened theaters August 2, 1985), and really came out of nowhere to be a surprise hit. I remember going to see it with zero expectations, and leaving the theater in absolute awe. It featured great performances across the board, imaginative special effects from master Richard Edlund (Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back, Die Hard, etc.), and a very clever script. Ragsdale portrayed the main character Charley Brewster in such a way that he was likable, sympathetic, and very real. Additionally, his onscreen relationships with partner Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) and nemesis Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) were pitch perfect. In my opinion, he made a far better debut than Pare (and many others of his ilk), worthy of attention.
After Fright Night, Ragsdale had a small part in the film Smooth Talk (also 1985) before reprising his role as Charley Brewster in 1988’s Fright Night Part 2. Essentially, the man went without film work for 3 years! Fright Night Part 2, while not a bad film, just didn’t live up to the promise of the original (although the chemistry between Ragsdale and McDowall was still great). Consequently, it came and went quickly in theaters before consignment to the video wasteland. Sadly, Ragsdale was then cast in the horrid sequel Mannequin 2: On the Move, which doomed his big screen career (sequels were just not kind to him). He caught a brief reprieve as the star of the cult sitcom Herman’s Head, which ran on Fox for 71 episodes in the early 90’s. Ultimately though, his future as an A-list star was finished.
I did some checking and was surprised to find that Ragsdale has been working steadily over the years in supporting roles on television series, and has also appeared in schlocky films such as Road House 2 and The Reaping. Glad that he’s getting jobs, but such a waste that they’re no better than a sequel to Road House . . . and just what is the deal with him appearing in second installments to bad movies?!? My theory is that he was at a disadvantage having such great co-stars in his debut film. His fine performance is often overlooked due to the performances of McDowall and Sarandon (who really hit career highs with Fright Night in many respects). As such, Ragsdale’s solid turn as Charley isn’t given the proper credit. In my mind, Fright Night Part 2 only proves this point. With Sarandon gone, the film really rides on the chemistry of Ragsdale and McDowall, which is still as terrific as it was in the first installment. In fact, as my friend John lamented a few months ago when we discussed Part 2, it was a major missed opportunity. Based on the wonderful chemistry of the lead actors, Fright Night could have become a dynamic series with Brewster and Vincent chasing down new monsters in each outing. Oh what could have been . . .
But all is not lost! You can still come out tomorrow night and see Ragsdale, McDowall, and Sarandon at their best in one of the great horror films of all time. Hope to see you there!