Sometimes, there are characters in genre pictures that are so darned righteous, you can’t stop thinking about them or their amazing feats long after the movie is over. This column is dedicated to those cinematic bad-asses that keep us coming back for more. And who better to celebrate this week than Peter Vincent as portrayed by the late, great Roddy McDowall.
In 1985’s cult favorite vampire flick FRIGHT NIGHT, Peter Vincent is the late night horror host of “Fright Night,” where he hosts wrap around segments for old movies he used to star in, similar to the Hammer era of horror cinema. When created by writer / director Tom Holland, Peter Vincent was always intended to be an amalgamation of horror greats Peter Cushing (for “Peter”) and Vincent Price (for “Vincent”), so his back catalog of work within the confines of the movie’s universe is probably similar to that of the actors that inspired him. In actuality, he’s an out of work actor. When Charlie first comes to him seeking help to defeat his vampire neighbor, Peter has just been let go by the station that airs “Fright Night” and is bitter by the young generation’s obsession with “demented madmen running around in ski-masks, hacking up young virgins.”
Later, when Evil Ed and Amy come to his place pleading for his help to convince Charlie that his imagination has gotten the best of him regarding Jerry Dandrige’s heritage, Peter immediately accepts the job for a $500 bond. His desperation, coupled with the moment where he’s reminiscing over an old movie prop about the good old days is a sad & lonely beat. Even after he arrives at Jerry’s house and performs the “test” to debunk Charlie’s vampire claims, he’s an unbeliever and doesn’t take the whole thing seriously until the moment he doesn’t see Jerry’s reflection in his pocket mirror. At first, he runs, terrified like the cowardly lion. He is after all, just an actor!
But when he’s confronted by the vamped version of Evil Ed at his apartment, that’s when the shift in Peter begins. He builds up enough confidence to join Charlie and stop Jerry once and for all. Like most heroes, their first attempt is always muddled. At first confrontation, Peter in fact goes running out of Jerry’s house and retreats next door to Charlie’s where he once again goes up against a “wolf” version of Evil Ed. In the heat of the moment he stakes him. And the true pathos behind Peter Vincent can be seen as he watches Ed slowly and painfully transform back to his human form in his final moments. This is the moment where Peter brushes himself off and adopts his on-screen persona as “the Great Vampire Killer.”
After this, he is the bad-ass that he is in the movies. When Peter first attacks Jerry with his cross, the vampire laughs in his face saying “you’ve got to have faith for this to work.” When he returns after his battle with Evil Ed, that faith has been restored and teamed with Charlie, they take out his “Renfield,” Billy Cole, and then have a final showdown with Jerry in full vampire form in his basement. The only shame is that we only got one more adventure with Charlie and Peter Vincent after this film, rather than the dozen we deserved.