First Ten Page Breakdown: Fright Night (1985)

Screenplay by: Tom Holland

Tom Holland wrote this campy horror screenplay about a teenager named Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) who discovers that his next-door neighbor Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire. Unlike a lot of horror films from that time period, the screenplay for Fright Night is smart and, within the first ten pages, evokes Aesop’s fable of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. The script creates intrigue and suspense as no one believes Charley while he fights to protect himself from Dandrige.

CHARACTER INTRODUCTION

One of the hallmarks of a strong screenplay is an opening scene that introduces the main character. This helps to communicate to the audience who the story will revolve around. In Fright Night, the first scene shows Charley doing what teenagers routinely do; having sex.

Except, in Charley’s case, he’s ALMOST having sex. The scene also introduces the character of Peter Vincent, an actor who typically works in cheesy, horror films – one of which is showing on television as Charley makes out with his girlfriend Amy.

PAGE 2

INT. BREWSTER HOUSE – CHARLEY’S BEDROOM – NIGHT

The CAMERA MOVES THROUGH the window, past the billowing
drapes to find itself staring at a TV, the flickering
screen the only light in the room.

One of those terrible AIF/Haininer horror films is on the
tube, a woman, obviously a vampire, talking to one of those
vapid juveniles used so much in these types of films, the
two of then standing on a veranda to some huge, old house.

The young man rests his head against her breast, incredibly
enough, unaware that she is bending toward his neck with
these huge fangs.

Just as she is about to sink them into his jugular, a tall,
saturnine man steps out of the darkness., wearing a rather
daffy Victorian suit and carrying a stake and mallet in his
hand. His name is PETER VINCENT.

PETER (V.O.)
Stop, you creature of the Night!
The vampiress leaps to her feet, her hapless, intended
victim forgotten. She faces Peter with a hiss, her fangs
sparkling in the moonlight.

MISS NINA (V.O.)
Who are you who interrupts my nightly
feeding?

PETER (V.O.)
(drawing himself up to
his full height)
Peter Vincent, vampire killer.

He rushes her, the stake held high to plunge into her
breast and the CAMERA TURNS AWAY from the TV as the sounds
of the movie CROSS FADE with the SOUNDS OF HEAVY BREATHING,
LIPS MEETING, TONGUES INTERTWINING in the room itself.

Only the room, a typical teenager’s lair, seems devoid of
life, the bed empty, schoolbooks untouched sitting on the
desk. The CAMERA BEGINS TO SEARCH the room, looking for
the source of this new sound, much more interesting than
the old flick on the tube.

And then it finds them, CHARLEY BREWSTER and AMY PETERSEN,
two sixteen-year olds, on the floor to the far side of the
bed, wedged between the bed and the window. They are both
as American as their jeans and making out like crazy. They
twist and turn on the floor. Amy alternating between enjoy-
ing it and fighting Charley off, both of them white hot
with their mutual need. As he tries to slip his hand under
her blouse, she catches a glimpse of the TV.

We can assume Charley is a virgin, and since losing one’s virginity is a rite of passage, Charley is at a pivotal moment in his young life. But just as Charley rounds third base on his way home to score with his girlfriend, Holland does something clever.

PAGE 5

She nods, stepping into his arms again, kissing him like
he’s never been kissed before, the two of them slowly turn-
ing, Charley seeing the TV first with its grave digger
scene, then the wall, and finally out the window over Amy’s
shoulder.

And he freezes. There, below in the side yard, he sees two
shadowy figures carrying what looks very much like a coffin
toward the storm doors to the Dandrige house next door.
His mouth drops open as Amy’ slips put of his arms and onto
the bed, completely unaware of what he’s seeing. She
starts to take off her blouse, Charley no longer looking at
her, his gaze glued to the weird scene he’s seeing out his
window.

Introducing a coffin being carried by two strangers is totally unexpected, but not totally surprising. After all, the previous four pages clearly establish this as a horror screenplay. The first paragraph describes a full moon “streaked like a killer’s face” and off-screen dialogue from a horror film fills the pages as we hone in on two teenage lovers.

Also, when Charley sees Dandrige and Cole, it shatters the lust-filled picture that has been painted hitherto. Now, we glimpse something totally different, something shocking, something horrifying. The coffin represents death, the complete opposite of the steamy tryst in the making.

TONE/GENRE

Horror films are a distinctive genre. They have built-in expectations, and audiences who prefer these films have cravings that the horror genre must address, and satisfy. The sooner a screenplay establishes itself as a horror piece, the better it will be for the reader. Tom Holland makes clear what kind of story Fright Night is in the first two paragraphs on the first page.

PAGE 3

EXT. FULL MOON – NIGHT ( AND CREDITS. ROLL )

Clouds obscure the starless heavens for a moment, heavy and
ominous in the black firmament. Then suddenly they clear,
exposing a full moon streaked with red like a killer’s
face, a stalking moon staring down at man’s evil on the
earth below.

A HOWL breaks the night, a wolf pursuing its prey perhaps,
or perhaps something much, much worse. VOICES break the
perfect stillness.

This first paragraph is a set-up. We develop an expectation that we will be reading a story filled with death, shadows, monsters, and blood – all the things one would expect in a horror screenplay. The pay-off comes in the rest of the screenplay where we see these elements combine together to tell a gory, yet riveting story.

DRAMATIC SITUATION

On page 5, Charley sees the coffin that Dandrige and Cole are carrying. On the next page, he tells Amy.

PAGE 6

AMY
Charley, I said I’m ready.

CHARLEY
(still glued to his
binoculars}

Amy, you’re not going to believe this,
but there are two guys in the yard
below. And I think they’re carrying a
coffin.

AMY
(glancing at the TV and
seeing the very same scene)
Sure, and they’re on the moors,
right.

CHARLEY
Amy, I’m serious.

AMY
So am I. Do you want to make love or
not?

Charley is still peering through the binoculars, the two
figures below having gotten the storm doors open and now
carrying the coffin into the basement of the house next
door.

CHARLEY
Amy, quick, come here, you’ve got to
see this.

All he hears is his bedroom door slamming shut. He whirls
to find Amy gone. Tossing the binoculars on the bed, he
dives after her.

CHARLEY
Amy ―

Holland uses the horror film playing on television in the background as a convincing excuse for the reader to accept Amy’s incredulity. This testy exchange between Charley and Amy reinforces the underlying premise of Fright Night. This story is about a boy who cries wolf, and no one believes him. This is the dramatic situation of the screenplay.       

WORLD OF THE STORY

Visuals are vital to a good horror screenplay. In the horror genre, darkness is used for several reasons. It sets a mood. It obscures things. It evokes feelings of helplessness since human beings need light to be aware, and in control, of their surroundings. In Fright Night, Holland wastes no time painting a vivid picture of where this story will take place.

PAGE 2

EXT. DANDRIGZ AND BREWSTER HOUSE – NIGHT

The CAMERA PAUSES TO STARE AT the Dandrige house, so dif-
ferent in look and feel from all the other houses on the
street. It’s huge, almost for boding, its windows dark and
vacant, its lawn overgrown and weed-infested, a home that
has obviously been untended for a long time, unlived in and
uncared for. However the “For Sale” on the lawn has a
“Sold” sign just beneath it.

The CAMERA PANS to the Brewster house next door, still
SEARCHING for those voices. It’s in sharp contrast to the
Dandrige house, newly painted, its lawn neatly shorn, a
house almost dwarfed in comparison to the Dandrige house,
but a happy home, its windows lit and smiling out warmly at
the night.

The voices seem to be coming from the Brewster house, spe-
cifically from a dark second-story window that is open to
the night breeze.

After reading the first 10 pages, the reader understands where the blood-soaked drama of Fright Night will unfold. We are in a neighborhood under a full moon, where voices from an offscreen TV horror show can be heard as we follow the camera through the streets and up to a horny teenager’s room. Holland uses words like “dark”, “boding”, and “evil” to clarify this is a world where monsters lurk in the shadows.

THEME

The moment Charley sees Dandrige and Cole carrying a coffin, a theme common to the horror genre begins to take shape. On one side, we have Charley, a normal teenager sharing passionate kisses with his girlfriend. On the other side, we have two men, carrying a symbol of death, who have turned Charley’s world upside down with their menacing presence. This will be a battle of good versus evil.

The interruption of Charley and Amy’s lovemaking on page five is symbolic. The coffin symbolizes death, the residue of which will permeate the rest of the screenplay as Charley deals with his new predicament. On the screenplay’s final pages, Holland puts Charley and Amy back in Charley’s room. Only this time, their lovemaking will consummate. This scene represents a return to tranquility, where the screenplay would have been and stayed had Dandrige and Cole, now vanquished, not shown up carrying a coffin.

Ultimately, Fright Night is a smartly written screenplay with a precise, finely tuned opening ten page salvo. It sets up an original premise for a horror screenplay and delivers the goods.


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