Many horror movies have seen comic book tie-ins, from the expected franchises like Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, to very unexpected adaptations like Dr. Giggles, Waxwork and House II: The Second Story. But after the release of Fright Night, before there was even a Fright Night Part II, the movie was granted a full, ongoing comic series. And it was amazing.
I discovered the film and its comic counterpart at virtually the same time. The comic kicks off with a two-part adaptation of the movie, which is a nice way to bring readers up to speed on what this world is and who these characters are. From there, it leaps right into the further adventures of Charley Brewster and Peter Vincent, which as a fan of the movie was exactly what I wanted to see.
But the comic didn’t want to retread the same territory as the film. They wanted to make it clear, right off the bat, that Charley and Peter would be facing all-new, all-different kinds of threats. So things got weird and they got weird immediately. They fight brain-sucking bats from outer space, they meet a friendly giant, an alien turns Charley into Theseus and makes him battle the minotaur, and at one point Charley is even turned into a dog.
Yet as often as the comic could be weird and stupid, it could also be really damn good. It just expanded the mythology into a monster-of-the-week format allowing our heroes to battle things beyond vampires, even though vampires never lost their focus as recurring antagonists. In that respect, it was Buffy before Buffy and I think that’s kind of fascinating. Sometimes there would be completely stand-alone stories, sometimes they’d continue the ongoing narrative. I won’t pretend that the series wasn’t a mixed bag, but as goofy and stupid as it could be sometimes, it could also be really damn good.
My favorite issue of the comic series is also—I’m not kidding, I swear—one of my favorite horror comics of all time. Issue #13 has nothing to do with the rest of the series, it’s totally standalone. Charley and Peter play no part in the story, which is cleverly presented as an episode of Fright Night. I’m gonna give away the whole story here because I just want to show what the comic could be capable of when it wanted to.
“Pup-Pet” is about a little girl who wants a pet more than anything, but her father won’t allow her to have one. He simply doesn’t allow pets under any circumstances, but he’s not presented as a cartoonishly coldhearted figure. He otherwise seems like a pretty cool dad. Because she can’t have pets of her own, she spends a lot of time in her secret playroom, which is basically a little fort she’s made for herself, where she talks to these cartoony imaginary animal friends. The more time she spends in there, the more her imagination grows and the more animal friends she makes.
Until he father notices the smell and discovers that this special playroom is filled with dead animals. The girl hasn’t been making imaginary friends, she’s been killing neighborhood pets and stringing their bodies up in her fort so that she could have pets of her very own. It’s some pure Tales from the Crypt shit and I absolutely love it, especially for a comic that could often be pretty tame.
Issues #13-16 are pretty much the masterstroke of the series, I think, because right after that issue it jumps back into an honest-to-goodness Fright Night story that’s exactly what I would have wanted Fright Night Part III to be had it ever been made. This arc brilliantly ties back into Peter Vincent’s roots as a character primarily inspired by Peter Cushing, who was defined by his friend and onscreen rival Christopher Lee. Realizing that Peter needed the Lee to his Cushing, they introduced his old co-star Boris Christopher.
Peter ropes Charley and his girlfriend Natalia into joining him at an acting retreat using hypnotherapy to produce an immersive production of Dracula. Naturally, Peter is cast as Van Helsing and Boris is cast as Count Dracula himself. Evil Ed, pure to form, sees an opportunity to just come in and fuck things up for no other reason than the sake of fucking things up, by turning the actor playing Dracula into an actual vampire.
It’s fun, it’s inventive and it feels like a step forward for these characters and this world. It’s pretty much the essence of Fright Night. The comic was not always as good as that, but it was always entertaining. It never stopped being a pure joy to read the continued adventures of Charley & Peter, no matter how strange or bizarre those adventures would often be. It was awesome to, in the middle of that, see the return of characters like Evil Ed and Jerry Dandridge, who’s return was smartly saved toward the end of the run.
I’m still shocked that a Fright Night comic not only existed, but managed to run for nearly two years, amassing 22 issues in total, and that’s not including a couple of specials—like a 3D issue and a Halloween issue—and an adaptation of the second film.
If you’ve always felt like we should have had more Fright Night—and honestly, who hasn’t—I definitely suggest going back and uncovering this little forgotten treasure trove in the murky corners of horror comic history. Tom Holland keeps talking about reprinting them at some point, but even if not, the whole series can still be found online, and pretty cheaply to boot.
The comic manages to deliver on both promises made at the end of the first film, with Peter’s “I thought we’d give the vampires a little rest for awhile” and Evil Ed’s return. That in itself is an impressive feat that speaks to the tone and imagination of this long-forgotten joy of a comic.