‘Fright Night: Origins’ Review – Tom Holland Revisits and Expands Upon a Horror Classic in New Book

In late September, Encyclopocalypse unleashed Fright Night: Origins, a book touted as the definitive literary adaptation of Tom Holland’s 1985 comedy creature feature. Springing straight from the inkwell of Holland himself with some help from novelist A. Jack Ulrich, Origins is a (mostly) unabridged account of the events you remember from the original movie. It is the teen vampire comedy you know and love, but more of it– 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 were Fright Night Part 2 (1988), the 2011 remake, and the 2013 direct-to-video sequel. None of these efforts had Holland’s direct involvement, so one might imagine that bringing him back to the Fright Night fold would serve to avoid similar missteps. Unfortunately, Fright Night Origins suffers from many of the same problems as those franchise failures: it’s hard to hang more weight on a story that never had much of a narrative spine to begin with.

Before Origins, I always thought of myself as the type of guy who was just happy to be getting more Fright Night. The franchise has always tread similar territory to Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (both plots being a virtually identical asset swap of Bram Stoker’s Dracula), but Holland had the temerity to make his version a self-aware satire of both sex-obsessed Victorian horror stories and Reagan-era teenage mating rituals. Decades before Scream and The Faculty combined young adult ennui with gory genre cliches, Fright Night mashed up Hammer horror and high school horndoggery to major critical and financial success.

The issue with such high-concept horror as Fright Night is that the premise always takes precedence over character and plot. In a brisk 106-minute running time, Tom Holland crafts a hilarious and scary story out of the narrative question “What if Rear Window had teen vampires instead of a sexually repressed middle-aged Jimmy Stewart?”

Fright 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 his characters are little more than archetypes cut and pasted from the sort of movies Fright Night is lovingly lampooning. Good girl Amy is Mina Harker by way of Molly Ringwald, heroic protagonist Charlie Brewster is a stuffy Victorian dork turned pragmatic vampire slayer, and “Evil Ed” takes an Anthony Michael Hall comedic archetype into the tragic territory of R.M. Renfield. Tie it together with Jerry Dandridge’s yuppie Dracula and a cowardly Van Helsing who doesn’t buy his own kayfabe and you have the ingredients for seminal vampire movie viewing.

On film, it all 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 Fright Night from crumbling beneath the weight of its own derivative ridiculousness. Like Ghostbusters, Fright Night is more of a framing device for jokes and special effects sequences than a compelling standalone narrative. Following in those blockbuster footsteps, Holland’s movie laid a strong enough foundation for a good time and (perhaps) a suite of tie-in merchandise, but never displayed the makings of high horror literature.

Forcing a one-joke premise like Fright Night into a reverently written 300 page novel is like trying to turn Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein into a dramatic six hour miniseries. There’s just not enough meat on Fright Night’s bones to expand into anything more than a bloody vampire broth. Building upon the action, scope and lore of Fright Night’s self-contained screenplay, Origins shows just how thin 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 forebear.

Of course, Fright Night: Origins is not the first novelization of the 1985 movie to hit bookstore shelves. For decades collectors spent ridiculous coin chasing down paperback copies of John Skipp and Craig Spector’s original 1985 tie-in, which was released alongside the film. Then, in 2020, Origins publisher Encyclopocalypse picked up the rights and re-released Fright Night: The Novelization in print, digital and audio format. While this older version lacks the fleshed-out backstories included in Origins, the Skipp and Spector novel fundamentally “gets the assignment” in a way that Holland and Ulrich fail to. Without forty years of horror classic status weighing them down, Skipp and Spector create a gory, frenetic page-turner that stands toe-to-toe with the likes of their seminal splatterpunk novels The Light at the End and The Scream. In fact, it is that juxtaposition in styles that elevates Fright Night: The Novelization as one of the best movie tie-ins of all time, a less jokey and more horror-focused version of the story fans know and love.

This is not to say Origins is an unworthy successor, or that it 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 preceding novelization’s notoriety for its grimdark approach. Narratively, Origins is a straightforward adaptation of the source material, but neither Holland or Ulrich phones it in when crafting 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 the expanded Jerry Dandridge backstory. Holland and Ulrich humanize the character at the expense of his shark-like on-screen persona, but also sets the stage for a potential triumphant return.

Though Holland’s more romantic approach to the material doesn’t quite add up to a recommendable reading experience on its own, fans of the 1985 movie (surely the target audience) will find Fright Night: Origins to be required reading. Both Encyclopocalypse novels are now available wherever fine horror books are sold.

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