I ALWAYS rub a little extra garlic on the stakes when I'm expecting vampires. It makes them so much easier to skewer. Of course, everybody has his own technique when it comes to dealing with neck-biters.

Roddy McDowall employs a splintered stair rail to kebab the vampires in "Fright Night," a chiller that, except for the last half hour of ghoulish effects, is undeadly dull.

First-time director Tom Holland, usually a screenwriter, does deserve some credit for trying to upgrade the horror genre, even though he's imitating Spielberg. His story occurs in a small town in California -- very clearly on a backlot -- and it stars pleasant young William Ragsdale as Charley Brewster, an average teenage hero in conflict with the paranormal world.

Charley and his girlfriend Amy, a virgin, are about to take care of the situation once and for all, warley spies a vampire in the house next door. He tells the police who pooh-pooh his report; his mom prescribes hot chocolate and a Valium; and worst of all, Amy gets a crush on the charming fiend.

Finally Charley takes his story to former horror film star Peter Vincent, who aids the youth in his battle with the demon. Alas, McDowall, looking pale and drawn, is no match for this part, which calls for high camp physicality. And the actor tries a Vincent Price parody, which only reminds us of how much the high prince of darkness would have done for this bungled film.

Metaphorically, vampire movies deal with fears of lost virginity, submission and the metamorphosis sexual capitulation might bring. And Chris Sarandon plays on all these perfectly as a sexy, haughty middle-aged vampire, who easily seduces young Amy (Amanda Bearse) with a couple of steamy looks in a disco. He also turns Charley's best friend into a fang-toothed disciple, played completely out of control by Stephen Geoffreys.

Geoffreys undergoes a horrific, expensive, slow-mo transmogrification in the special- effects finale. If you like melting flesh, skeletal remains and that sort of thing, well, here you go.

And always remember: Never give a sucker an even break, especially a vampire.

FRIGHT NIGHT (R) -- At area theaters. The Ontario will Screen an English-subtitled print for the hearing-impaired at Saturday and Sunday matinees and Monday and Tuesday evening showings.