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Frank's Book Log

Literature is a relative term.

Fright Night

1985 | Novel
A cover of Fright Night by John Skipp and Craig Spector (1985)
F: 1 star (out of 5)
on Jan 21, 2023

During a late-night make-out session with his girlfriend, high-schooler Charlie Brewster spies two men carrying a coffin into the basement of the house next-door. Charlie soon discovers his suave new neighbor, Jerry Dandrige, has fangs. When the police don’t believe him, Charlie appeals to the local creature-feature host, washed up horror icon Peter Vincent, for help.

Curiosity prompted me to seek out this novelization. I’m a big fan of the 1985 film. Writer/director Tom Holland sold the adaptation rights before making the film, so authors John Skipp and Craig Spector weren’t working from the final shooting script. This proves consequential, as Holland had the cast write biographies for their characters and incorporated some of those elements into the final script. These changes are absent in the novelization.

Though Roddy McDowell plays Peter Vincent in the film, Holland wrote the part for Vincent Price, as evident in the novel’s description of young Peter Vincent:

Peter Vincent was tall and foreboding, his gaunt features taut beneath his stovepipe hat. Everything about him was dire and sober, from his black suit and cape to the smoldering darkness of his eyes.

An interesting change comes in Charlie’s relationship with his girlfriend, Amy. In the film, Charlie says:

“We’ve been going together for almost a year and all I ever hear is ‘Charley, stop it!’

But the novelization recasts their relationship:

“We’ve been going together for almost a year—”

“Three months,” she corrected quietly.

“Well, almost half a year, then—” he stormed on, inconsolable “—and all I ever hear is ‘Charley, stop it’ and ‘I’m sorry!’ It’s making me crazy. It really is.”

A less welcome change, the novelization displays an unfortunate tendency to tell us things the film shows, often via awkward expositional asides. For example, we’re told Charlie’s dad left the family, and that Charlie and his friend Ed were once close but have drifted apart since Charlie and Amy got together.

It also doles out little bits of harmless trivia. Like the town’s name, Rancho Corvallis. Or Peter Vincent’s real name, Herbert McHoolihee.

The novelization also adds a running in-joke involving place names. The kids attend Christopher L. Cushing High where Mr. Lorre gives pop quizzes. They drive or walk down Rathbone Avenue, Cameron Mitchell Drive, King Street, Romero Drive, Wickerman Road, and Badham Boulevard. And they reference the mental ward at Hammer Memorial Hospital. This gag proves harmless, albeit tiresome.

Less harmless, however, are the details it adds to Jerry’s backstory.

He’d been the first to publicly claim (to the vampire community) that chemical additives had actually upped blood’s nutritional value to the undead: there was something fundamentally unhealthy about it that vampires positively thrived on. Ever since, only nostalgia buffs went out of their way to feed on health-food freaks or members of the Third World.

Coupled with his seductive artistry (which was highly rated in that fiercely competitive field), Jerry Dandrige’s acute sensibilities made him the toast of the town wherever he went. He was afforded a great deal of independence to go with his acclaim. While most chose to stay at home, maintaining the low profile that their society dictated, Jerry was free to roam and explore in an almost unprecedented fashion; on top of everything else, he was regarded as something of an adventurer. His exploits were legend, even within that legendary species.

Yes, there’s a vampire community, and Jerry’s an (un)living legend. We also learn Jerry calls Transylvania home, and that he’s over four-hundred-years-old. Rather than enhance the character, these details only diminish his mystique.

It’s impressive how much Chris Sarandon brought to the role of Jerry. In the film, he’s often munching fruit, an affectation missing in the novelization that Sarandon added via his biography that saw Jerry as descended from fruit bats. Also absent is Jerry’s witty black humor. Indeed, the book replaces two of his best lines (“Welcome to Fright Night… for real,” and “See you Charlie… soon”) with wordier alternatives that lack the film version’s zing.

Indeed, the Jerry character, while described as attractive, lacks the film version’s charm. Instead, he relies on mind-control. Telling us characters find Jerry charming pales next to Jerry charming us. The result reduces him to a one-dimensional predator.

That said, the book proffers one line that feels worthy of inclusion in the finished film. After Jerry receives a call informing him Peter Vincent and Charlie’s friends will come over to prove he’s not a vampire, he hangs up the phone, pauses, then says:

“You know something, Billy?” the vampire said at last. “Sometimes I think that somebody up there likes me.” He pointed a long, bony talon toward the heavens.

I can imagine Chris Sarandon chewing that scene.

And speaking of that scene, it’s also the lone instance where the book’s added detail helped, as it explains why, as a born again Christian, Jerry won’t drink Holy Water. An element presented as matter-of-fact in the film.

But, this scene aside, the novelization affords Jerry too much atrocious dialog. Consider his final words:

“I’ve had it with you,” the vampire spat. “You are dead meat, my friend.” He stood directly over Peter, leaning over to pick him up …

Dead meat? Ugh. Compare the film where Jerry says nothing, instead breaking into a cackling laugh.

“Evil” Ed also suffers in the novelization. His description mirrors the film:

Evil Ed was a certified freako. He was short and spidery, with a Billy Idol hairdo and a rubbery face that could leer and twist itself in a million lunatic ways. He was gloating now, and the smirk on his face would have made Jack Nicholson proud.

But his characterization lacks any warmth or vulnerability. He’s painted as borderline sociopathic and displays little emotion for Charlie outside of resentment. His conversion to a vampire feels more like a villainous evolution than the film’s tragedy. The book even mangles his iconic “You’re so cool Brewster!” line, replacing it with:

“Oooooo, Brewster, you’re sooo cool. You’ve got such a touch with the ladies …”

But the most disappointing aspect of the novelization was its failure to address the Billy Cole mystery. Cole, Jerry’s Renfield-like assistant, is something more than human in both the book and movie, but neither offers further explanation, though in the book we learn he’d been with Jerry for 113 years.

That said, given the book’s weak attempts at original backstory, perhaps it’s best the author’s didn’t try.

Curiosity drove me to this book. To those with a similar urge, contemplating whether the novelization is worth their time, let me recommend caution. If you’re looking for more insight into the film, the You’re So Cool, Brewster! The Story of Fright Night documentary proves more illuminating. If you’re looking to re-experience the fun mix of 80s teen comedy and Hammer-style horror, rewatching the film will prove more satisfying. But if, like me, you’re determined to plumb every corner of the Fright Night mythos, then I can only say I warned you.

Reading History

    Sat Jan 21, 2023 via Kindle (Crossroad Press, 2019)
    Read over 7 Days
    1. 15 Jan, 2023
    2. 16 Jan, 2023
    3. 17 Jan, 2023
    4. 18 Jan, 2023
    5. 20 Jan, 2023
    6. 21 Jan, 2023