Though Fright Night turns 35 this year, writer/director Tom Holland (Spider-Man be damned!) feels like his 1985 horror-comedy is more popular now than ever. Which may be why he’s finally getting around to writing his own sequel (that apparently doesn’t account for 1988’s Fright Night Part 2)... well, that and the fact that he wouldn’t want someone else to screw it up.
“I’m still trying, I’m writing a sequel to Fright Night now... I’m calling it Fright Night 2: Resurrection. Well, it’s the only way to protect myself: If you wanna see something done right, do it yourself,” Holland told SYFY WIRE while discussing the original in honor of its big anniversary.
“Of course, Charlie’s back, and so is Evil Ed. I’m bringing back everybody I can. I’m calling it Resurrection because we’ve got to resurrect Billy Cole and Jerry Dandridge. And now I’ll say no more,” Holland says, though he did note that he’s 31,000 words into the sequel.
While Holland stayed true to his word and said no more about Fright Night 2, he did have plenty to say about the 1985 original and its continuing haunting power. That’s thanks in part to bloody rich characters like teenage horror fan Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale), who, aided by his girlfriend, Amy Peterson, (Amanda Bearse) and an even bigger horror fan, Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys), tries to thwart the evildoing of the charming vampire next store, Jerry Dandridge (inconceivably handsome Chris Sarandon), and his willing assistant Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark). Alas, when Ed gets turned actually evil, Charley and Amy must convince television horror host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) to help them get rid of the bloodsucking neighbor for good.
Or at least until a proper resurrection can be performed. Granted, the high body count from the original film might be a tricky thing to navigate for a sequel, but the Child’s Play writer/director and two-time Saturn Award winner has a long history of pulling off good horror.
Writing a taut Psycho II script in 1983 when no one else could seem to figure out how finally afforded Holland the chance he’d been looking for to make the move from acting to writing and directing. But while horror in general — and vampires specifically — were at a low point, Holland picked Fright Night to be his directorial debut.
“I was lucky enough to pull off Fright Night, which was sort of amazing because no one wanted anything to do with vampires at the time,” Holland says, while noting the “huge failure” of 1979’s Dracula starring Frank Langella. “And then George Hamilton spoofed it in Love at First Bite, and if you go into farce, it means the genre is dead. It means that it’s exhausted itself, and that’s where we were the moment that I did Fright Night."
“At the time, movies didn’t last, certainly horror movies didn’t last. In fact the horror genre at that time was sort of the red-headed stepchild of Hollywood,” Holland continues, recalling the genre’s “low repute” due to “sequelizing summer camp, and Halloween, and April the first, whatever it was.”
But if you’ve got the goods, you’ve got the goods, regardless of the times.
“If I say so myself, the script was pretty good. And I got very, very lucky and it found a home [at Columbia Pictures],” he continues.
As far as why the script, and ultimately the film, worked though, it’s arguably because the vampire tale was also deeply personal for Holland.
“The story of Fright Night was very specific. It’s about a teenage horror movie fan who becomes convinced the neighbor next door is a vampire. OK? That was me. And I was writing about the movies that I loved when I was 15, 16, 17, and they were the AIP and Hammer Horror films, which starred Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Vincent Price... that’s how you get Peter Vincent, the horror movie host,” Holland says. “And so I was writing about myself and my growing up. And I thought the story was so strong and had such human values, especially in the person of Peter Vincent, the Roddy McDowall character... the story was strong, and the vampires were right for that.”
So, being “sick of slashers,” Holland wanted to get away from that, and he wanted to “expand the horror genre” back into what he’d grown up with. So he leaned into the nostalgia, frequently wondering what he’d do in Charlie’s situation. And since Holland religiously watched the Friday Night Frights on the independent television channel “every Friday night at 11 o’clock,” Peter Vincent became the obvious choice.
And that’s when the endearing tone of the horror truly started to shine.
“Well, what I did is I, inadvertently with no forethought, mixed horror and comedy. But that’s because the concept of the movie was delightful… it was a giggle. I mean, who’s going to believe you when you say the next door neighbor is a vampire, especially when you’re a horror movie fan? I mean, it’s a funny situation. And I found the humor in it before I got to the horror and the effects.”
Of course, those effects were pretty important too.
“I was so lucky, I inherited the effects crew from Ghostbusters, which was the No. 1 effects crew in Hollywood, that was Richard Edlund and Steve Johnson and Randy Cook, and they were brilliant,” Holland says. “So my little film all of a sudden had effects that were equal to Ghostbusters... That’s called dumb luck.”
Though Holland wrote the “totally vital” effects into the movie script, he really didn’t know how they would get pulled off. “You have no movie without ‘em. But I didn’t know how to do ‘em, I wrote ‘em, but I didn’t know how to do ‘em."
Holland also recalled the scene where Jerry dives off the bannister and then turns into a bat to attack Charley and Peter.
“I didn’t have a clue how to do that. That was Richard Edlund who said, ‘Let’s take the stuntman, go to a shadow on the wall, we’ll redraw the shadow on the wall, and then when it turns around and we see what’s flying at ‘em, we’ll have the bat,’” Holland says. “I didn’t know how to do that. I was very lucky that I had people who took me by the hand, but they were really, really talented.”
To really bite into that point, Holland brought up his favorite effect, and perhaps the film’s most iconic image: the scene down in the basement when Annie first reveals her vampire teeth to Charlie. “I didn’t have anything written in there for her turning around with a shark’s mouth, but I watched it play, and I said, ‘There’s a huge scream here.’”
So he asked Steve Johnson to make Amy’s teeth over a weekend. “And he did it, and it worked. Of course, I promised him that I’d always make sure it was covered, that if he did a bad job he wouldn’t have to worry about it. And then it turned out to be the graphic on the one-sheet!”
It’s just one of the many memorable scenes that have continued to capture the imagination of happy horror fans around the globe.
“It feels to me that Fright Night is hotter now than it’s ever been,” Holland says. “All I know is that people love that movie, it’s heartwarming. I mean, it’s a family movie. That’s what’s amazing about Fright Night.”
Well, there’s a family in it. And it’s a relatable family at that, which is another reason the film stands the test of time.
“If you can find themes that are understandable worldwide... with Child’s Play, what little kid hasn’t looked around his room as he’s falling asleep and wished that his play things came alive? Right? I mean, everybody’s experienced that. That’s why I did Child’s Play, one of the reasons... because this is what happens if your plaything comes alive,” Holland says.
For Fright Night, Holland sunk into the simplicity of the set up of what if you’re a teenage horror fan and you become convinced your next-door neighbor is a vampire, “and nobody is going to believe you!”
“And that’s just a very funny situation, but it’s also a situation where you have no safe spaces. There’s nobody you can go to, you can’t go to the police, you can’t go to your parents, you can’t go to your best friends, or they’ll think you’re kidding them or you’re nuts. And I thought that was a very edgy situation,” Holland says. “So much of horror is about cutting off safe spaces. You take ‘em out one by one. You’re trying to find people caught in those situations that the audience is going to sympathize with. I mean, you like everyone in Fright Night; you like Charlie, you like his girlfriend Amy, you adore Evil Ed and Peter Vincent.”
Sounds like it’s a good time for a Resurrection, eh?