Tom Holland’s 1985 vampire flick FRIGHT NIGHT is a bonafide horror classic. Almost every genre fan remembers that poster or VHS box art from childhood. They’ve most certainly quoted the film’s many memorable catch phrases or worn a T-shirt that read “You’re so cool, Brewster!” Or “Welcome to FRIGHT NIGHT… for real.” And while it did eventually become a franchise spawning a 1989 sequel, followed by a 2011 3D remake and then another semi-reboot/sequel in 2013, the road to making a series of the FRIGHT NIGHT films has been an extremely difficult one.
Rights issues were always a problem, along with the constant change of guard at the studios. Over the years, many obstacles would get in the way of properly continuing the FRIGHT NIGHT franchise, but the one interesting tid-bit that has never been publicly shared is how a shocking true crime murder case derailed the proposed FRIGHT NIGHT 3 in 1989, which would’ve been helmed once again by series creator Tom Holland and produced by star Roddy McDowall, reprising the role of Peter Vincent.
Let’s go back to the beginning of the sequel drama before we get to FRIGHT NIGHT III. The initial pitch for a sequel began 3 months before the original was slated to hit theaters on August 2nd, 1985. Below is an original letter drafted by producer Herb Jaffe and sent to the then head of Columbia Pictures Robert Lawrence regarding immediately putting into production a “FRIGHT NIGHT 2.”
Obviously, the sequel to FRIGHT NIGHT wouldn’t happen until 1989, 4 years later and it would be with director Tommy Lee Wallace behind the camera. We asked Tom Holland about this letter and why his version of FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 never came to be.
“I was aware and I remember that letter. Guy McElwaine would have made the sequel and he wanted to make it. But he got fired or forced out, and it had something to do with Ray Stark who basically ran Columbia Pictures at the time. They brought in this big English producer David Puttnam, who produced CHARIOTS OF FIRE, and he immediately killed FRIGHT NIGHT 2. He probably killed everything that Guy McElwaine had in the pipeline at the time, because that’s what happens when these new guys come in. They want the glory of their own projects. And David absolutely destroyed Columbia’s commercial list of projects because he was a snob and if it was a movie that wasn’t going to be a possible Academy nomination, he didn’t want to do it.”
Years later, the FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 without Holland’s participation opened on May 19th, 1989 and pulled in (according to box office mojo) a total of $548,231 on opening weekend, finishing it’s theatrical run with a domestic total gross of a little under $3 million. It was not a huge commercial success, but Roddy McDowall loved the character of Peter Vincent and felt there was more to be done with him if he could convince Tom to come back into the fold, with Roddy producing.
“This was at the point when Roddy’s career as a producer kicked off,” explains Holland. “Roddy was the one that put together & produced OVERBOARD, the Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell movie. He was upset over that movie because he lost control of that. Roddy and William Ragsdale were terribly disappointed with FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 and not because of director Tommy Lee Wallace, who did a great job. But because there wasn’t enough money to do that movie right. (Producer) Herb Jaffe didn’t invest enough money into making FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 the way it should’ve been made.”
The first time the prospect of a FRIGHT NIGHT 3 was brought up was during a social gathering at Roddy’s home. “I would go over to Roddy’s for dinner, because he’d have weekly get togethers at his place. He loved to entertain at home and was very social. He had a couple of meetings with Jose Menendez, who had somehow acquired the rights to FRIGHT NIGHT and was setting it up for us to go in and make FRIGHT NIGHT III. Roddy really wanted to do it.”
In 1989, the VHS market was still huge and it wasn’t uncommon for horror sequels to be produced as direct-to-video titles, so although Holland’s memory is fuzzy on what the release plan would’ve been for FRIGHT NIGHT 3, it most likely would’ve been catered to the home video market. And Holland’s involvement would all hinge on a meeting with the new producer and rights holder Jose Menendez. Roddy had already met with the movie mogul several times, and based on those interactions was trying to prepare Tom for would inevitably be an interaction with a very, very difficult man.
“What stuck in my head was that Roddy said Menendez was the worst human being he had ever met. Just a terrible man. He was very insulting in their meetings and Roddy was very concerned that I be prepared for that and not walk out of our meeting. There was something beyond just being a tough business man in him. He was personally offensive, but I don’t know, I never met him. Two weeks before our meeting which was scheduled, Menendez was killed by his two kids.”
That’s right. If you remember the highly televised case of the Menendez Brothers, this was the murder that put a halt to Roddy’s producing endeavors, and that included FRIGHT NIGHT 3.
On August 20th, 1989, while sitting in his living room watching the James Bond film THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, Jose Menendez and his wife Mary “Kitty” Menendez were murdered. Jose was shot point blank to the back of the head. Kitty ran for the kitchen, but was shot in the leg and then shot several more times. Both were then also shot in the knee caps in an attempt to make the murder appear mob related. Several months later, the police arrested Jose and Mary’s sons Joseph Lyle Menendez and Erik Galen Menendez for the crime. The Menendez Brothers case ended up being a huge media event, and highly publicized on broadcast TV in 1993 when it went to trial. After the murders took place, Roddy never spoke about them with Holland again.
“I asked Roddy about it, and Roddy never wanted to talk about it. I’ve never experienced that before, but there was a darkness around that man that even affected Roddy. And Roddy was a very lovely, effusive man. There was something really, really wrong with Menendez. That whole story is a horror movie. And Roddy would never speak of it after that.”
When asked if Holland had worked out a story for FRIGHT NIGHT 3 in leading up to that meeting that never happened, he replied, “I never thought about what to do with FRIGHT NIGHT III. This meeting was supposed to be a general meeting, but it was a done deal and it didn’t matter what we were going to do with FRIGHT NIGHT III, just that we were going to do it.”
Even to this day, the rights to FRIGHT NIGHT and its sequels remain a bit of a mystery. After cutting through a lot of red tape, Dreamworks was able to acquire the remake rights for their 2011 interpretation starring Colin Farrell and Toni Collette. But in 2013, Dreamworks licensed FRIGHT NIGHT to 20th Century Fox and they made their reboot/sequel FRIGHT NIGHT 2 starring Jaime Murray. The home video rights for 1989’s FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 are also a huge mess making the now long out-of-print DVD a much coveted item.
While we unfortunately never got a proper FRIGHT NIGHT sequel from the same creative team behind the original, at least we can take comfort in the fact that the classic will always be there.
* Behind The Scenes photos courtesy of Tom Holland