Heat of the Night

Today in Movie History: August 2

We have two movies about the night, and what happens in them on this date. We’ll start with In the Heat of the Night Hollywood’s always-late-to-the-party attempt to discuss the changing face of race relations in America. Though straightforward and by-the-numbers in many ways, Norman Jewison’s murder mystery plot — in which a black Philadelphia detective (Sidney Poitier) is tasked to solve a murder in a small Mississippi town where (as you may have guessed) folks don’t much like his kind — remains darkly compelling, and the long hard road to respect between Poitier’s Virgil Tibbs and Rod Steiger’s local police chief is a treat to watch. In the Heat of the Night opened 50 years ago today in 1967.

18 years later, an entirely different kind of evening befell audiences. There weren’t a whole lot of vampire movies on the landscape in 1985, and those that were generally sucked in ways that had nothing to do with blood. Director Tom Holland came up with a nifty variation on Rear Window in which a teen snoop (William Ragsdale) comes to believe that his new next-door neighbor is a vampire. It had a refreshing vibe that set it apart from other fangers — including a subtle nod to the grievances of the LGBTQ community that helped earn it a slew of fans there — but the real juice came with Chris Sarandon’s menacing-yet-tragic monster and the late, great Roddy McDowell as the host of the local TV creature feature reluctantly tasked with taking him down. Fright Night opened today in 1985, and spawned a quiet renaissance in vampire movies in the ensuing years.

 

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