At the end of September, Encyclopocalypse goes wild Fright Night: Originsa book presented as the definitive literary adaptation of Tom HollandThe 1985 comic creature feature. Straight out of the inkwell of Holland itself with the help of a novelist A.Jack Ulrich, Origins is a (mostly) unabridged retelling of the events you remember from the original film. It’s the teenage vampire comedy you know and love, but more – for better and for worse.
Conceived as a springboard for a new trilogy of novels, Fright Night: Origins is Tom Holland’s attempt to course-correct the franchise after the creative and financial disappointments that have been Fright Night Part 2 (1988), the 2011 remake, and the 2013 direct-to-video sequel. None of these efforts had direct Holland involvement, so one would imagine bringing it back to the scary night crease would serve to avoid similar missteps. Unfortunately, Origins of the Spooky Night suffers from many of the same problems as those franchise failures: it’s hard to give more weight to a story that never had much of a narrative to begin with.
Before OriginsI always thought of myself as the kind of guy who was just happy to have more scary night. The franchise has always trod similar territory as Stephen King Salem Bundle (both plots being a virtually identical asset swap of Bram Stoker Dracula), but Holland had the temerity to make his version a conscious satire of both sex-obsessed Victorian horror stories and Reagan-era teenage mating rituals. decades before Scream and Faculty combined young adult boredom with bloody genre clichés, scary night blended Hammer horror and high school horndoggery to major critical and financial success.
The problem with such conceptual horror as scary night is that the premise always trumps character and plot. In a fast 106 minute runtime, Tom Holland creates a hilariously chilling story from the narrative question “What if rear window had teenage vampires instead of a sexually repressed middle-aged Jimmy Stewart?
scary night (1985) uses its parody of suburban thrillers as narrative sleight of hand. Holland keeps the film moving at an absolute clip so as not to draw attention to the fact that its characters are little more than cut and pasted archetypes of the film genre. scary night lovingly mocks. Good girl Amy is Mina Harker through Molly Ringwald, heroic protagonist Charlie Brewster is a stuffy Victorian idiot turned pragmatic vampire slayer, and “Evil Ed” takes a comedic archetype of Anthony Michael Hall into the tragic territory of RM Renfield. Pair it with Jerry Dandridge’s yuppie Dracula and a Van Helsing coward who doesn’t buy his own kayfabe and you have the ingredients for a seminal vampire movie viewing.
In the cinema, everything works. The deliberate, driving pace of the story and the magnificent performances of actors like Chris Sarandon, Amanda Bearse and Roddy McDowell combine to keep scary night to collapse under the weight of its own ridiculous derivative. As ghost hunters, scary night is more of a framing device for jokes and special effects sequences than a compelling stand-alone narrative. Following in those blockbuster footsteps, Holland’s film laid a solid enough foundation for a good time and (perhaps) a sequel of tie-in products, but never showed the makings of horror literature.
Forcing a premise to a joke like scary night into a 300-page novel written with respect, it’s like trying to transform Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein in a six-hour drama miniseries. There just isn’t enough meat scary nightthe bones to grow into something other than bloody vampire broth. Building on the action, reach and tradition of scary nightthe autonomous scenario of Origins shows how slim a setup like “Dracula Meets Hitchcock” can be when not enhanced by the lightning-in-a-bottle performances, razor-sharp editing, and dazzling special effects of its cinematic ancestor.
Sure, Fright Night: Origins isn’t the first novelization of the 1985 film to hit bookstores. For decades, collectors have spent ridiculous amounts of money hunting down paperback copies of John Skipp and Craig Spector’s original 1985 Link, which was released alongside the film. Then, in 2020, publisher Origins Encyclopocalypse reclaimed the rights and republished Fright Night: The Novelization in paper, digital and audio format. Although this older version lacks the fleshed out backstories included in Origins, Skipp and Spector’s romance “basically gets the job done” in a way that Holland and Ulrich fail. Without forty years of classic horror status weighing them down, Skipp and Spector create a bloody, frenetic page-turner that stands at the feet of the likes of their seminal splatterpunk novels. The light at the end and The Scream. In fact, it is this juxtaposition of styles that elevates Fright Night: The Novelization as one of the best cinematic tie-ins of all time, a less wacky, more horror-centric take on the story fans know and love.
This does not mean Origins is an unworthy successor, or completely misses the mark. Holland and Ulrich craft their expanded version of the story as if it had always existed as a novel – the only logical move given the previous novelization’s notoriety for its sinister approach. Narratively, Origins is a simple adaptation of the source material, but neither Holland nor Ulrich uses it to create the (often tragic) inner lives of the story’s protagonists. Without spoiling the meat of the novel, Origins’ mileage may vary for fans when it comes to Jerry Dandridge’s expanded backstory. Holland and Ulrich humanize the character at the expense of his shark-like on-screen persona, but also set the stage for a potential triumphant return.
While Holland’s more romantic approach to the material alone isn’t a recommendable reading experience, fans of the 1985 film (surely the target audience) will find Fright Night: Origins be required reading. Both Encyclopocalypse novels are now available wherever great horror books are sold.