Writer, Director and Master Of Horror Tom Holland talks with TV STORE ONLINE about creating such fan favorites as CHILD'S PLAY, FRIGHT NIGHT, and PSYCHO II.
TV STORE ONLINE: Tom, I've seen rumors online that claim that your related to Dexter Holland, the leader singer of the 90's So-Cal punk band, The Offspring?
HOLLAND: Oh..No, I'm not actually. I don't have any idea why that's out there. I've seen that rumor going around as well, it's been out there for years, but I don't think it's true. Has anyone asked him?
TV STORE ONLINE: You started out as an actor. How did you progress from acting, to screenwriting, to finally directing?
HOLLAND: Well, it really was a progression, you're right. I started out as an actor. But I became a writer, cause I wanted to be a director. Back then, if you wanted to become a director, it was thought that you had to be a writer or film editor first, or somehow direct television commercials. So during that time period, it seemed that those professions were really the only way you could progress into being a film director, so that's why I started out that way.
TV STORE ONLINE: I've seen you mention in other interviews how you "Just fell into this or that..." But surely as a kid growing up you had an interest in film?
HOLLAND: I wouldn't say that I feel into anything really. You have to understand, there wasn't anything such as a film school back then. I became interested just before film schools started popping up. So I actually went to theater school at Northwestern University. I started out working in theater when I was sixteen. And at that time, working in the theater was what I viewed as a way to get into movies. I know it doesn't make sense, but at the same time it really does. One thing lead to another, and by the time I was eighteen, as an actor I had one of the last seven year contracts at Warner Brothers.
TV STORE ONLINE: As an actor you got to work with Ingrid Bergman...
Yeah..I did. I worked with her and Anthony Quinn on a film called A WALK IN THE SPRING RAIN (1970).
TV STORE ONLINE: Did you get to spend a lot of time with her? Did she share any stories with you about making CASABLANCA (1942)?
HOLLAND: Oh God yeah! She talked about how they couldn't find an ending for CASABLANCA when they were shooting the film. Also, she told me that none of them at the time had any expectations that what they were making would of course, become an important film. She also shared stories about her and Gary Cooper sitting in the back of a limousine singing bawdy songs while they were filming, FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS (1943) together. One thing that you may find interesting, was that the stunt coordinator on the film was Bruce Lee. He choreographed my fights in the film.
TV STORE ONLINE: How did you come about getting the chance to write the script for the film, THE BEAST WITHIN (1982)?
HOLLAND: God...It was my first movie that was ever produced. Harvey Bernhard producer of THE OMEN (1976) bought the rights to a book that hadn't even been written yet because he liked the title. It was called The Beast Within. The writer never wrote the book because he was in the middle of a divorce. Eventually it came out, but it wasn't released until after I had written the screenplay. So the book has little to no resemblance to the screenplay. That's why in the film it says: Screen Story and Screenplay By: Tom Holland.
TV STORE ONLINE: Prior to FRIGHT NIGHT (1985), you had written films like CLOAK AND DAGGER (1984), and PSYCHO II (1982)... Being on the sets of those films... You're watching "your babies" get made into films. Was it difficult for you to be involved in those projects as the writer and not be able to input anything in regards to how the films were being directed? I mean you were in process of becoming a director yourself....
HOLLAND: Yes...Yes...laughing....Sure. I wanted to direct in the first place as I mentioned. I was more involved in PSYCHO II than the other. In that situation, you have to just bite your tongue. Being a director is a tough job. So the last thing any director needs is a jealous writer in the background. So any arguments you're gonna have you need to get outta of the way before starting the film. Because once that ship has sailed it's all for one. You need to support the director because it should be everyone's goal to make the best movie possible.
TV STORE ONLINE: What was the inspiration behind FRIGHT NIGHT for you?
I had just finished CLOAK & DAGGER. That was a remake supposedly of The Window,
which was a short story that was written by Cornell Woolrich. It had been made into a movie once before but it wasn't strong enough. I was trying to reinvent The Boy Who Cried Wolf
story which is basically what that story is. So I came up with the idea of the little boy who some spy's come after because he has plans for a phantom jet. FRIGHT NIGHT came out of that too, because I started to kick around the idea about how hilarious it would be if a horror movie fan thought that a vampire was living next door to him. I thought that would be a interesting take on the whole Boy Who Cried Wolf
thing. It really tickled my funny bone. I thought it was a charming idea, but I really didn't have a story for it. It was just a premise until I came up with the "Peter Vincent" character. He was important because he was the person that the boy would go to and cry wolf.
TV STORE ONLINE: How long did it take you to write FRIGHT NIGHT?
HOLLAND: I wrote it very quickly. I wrote the majority of in about three weeks time. But I hadn't fleshed out the story with "Amy" yet like I wanted it to be. I wrote in very quickly but I had been thinking about for about a year before I even started it.
TV STORE ONLINE: FRIGHT NIGHT was the first film that you were going to direct...What type of work did you do in pre-production on the film that insured a easy transition from screenwriter to director?
HOLLAND: FRIGHT NIGHT was a script that really worked on the page. So I took it and put it on it's feet by staging it out as if it was stage play. We rehearsed it for two weeks that way. I did the same thing years later when I did THE LANGOLIERS (1995) too. I worked with the actors on their parts and their characters and who they were. We started going through it on the stage and we started to tape up the stage so we could get the dimensions of the room. My Director of Photography Jan Kiesser was there and we started to develop our camera moves and we story boarded everything out so by the time it came time to shoot I didn't have to work much with the actors because they were all very well prepared. They all really knew what they were doing.
I also had Colin Higgins there during the rehearsals. Colin wrote SILVER STREAK (1976) and he directed NINE TO FIVE (1980) and he came out of UCLA just as I had. I really looked up to him and he gave me the confidence that we were ready to start because he could see the story tracking up on the stage. So there was a very unusual amount of work that went into the pre-production for FRIGHT NIGHT. Before I even started to shoot FRIGHT NIGHT it was completely planned out down the final shot in the film.
TV STORE ONLINE: Your take on the vampire in FRIGHT NIGHT is pretty inventive....Your vampire isn't an evil or bloody thirsty killer like we had seen in films before FRIGHT NIGHT...He has a sense of humor and he likes to toy with his prey...
HOLLAND: Yes, and we made room for the sexual overtones in FRIGHT NIGHT too. Part of me thinks that all great stories are basically biblical. All stories really deal with very strong human emotions. What's really going on in FRIGHT NIGHT is that you have a younger man and an older man and then the younger woman and the older man is trying to steal the girl away. When FRIGHT NIGHT came along, the vampire genre was completely dead. It had turned into a farce. Having anything to do with vampires was a death sentence. The genre had turned into a farce in 1981 with the George Hamilton film LOVE AT FIRST BITE. I was just lucky at the time that Columbia Pictures took a chance on FRIGHT NIGHT. It really allowed me to create a new type of modern vampire with "Jerry Dandrige". I don't think people had seen that type of vampire before.
Chris Sarandon as Jerry Dandrige really brought a very unique tone to that character. He brought that undertone of sexuality to it. You could tell that the biting and the penetration and all that for Jerry and the Amy character was completely sexual. Everything was in play in FRIGHT NIGHT. The "Charley Brewster" character saw that his girlfriend was being stolen away from him and he had to get her back.
TV STORE ONLINE: Where did the title "FRIGHT NIGHT" come from? Was it always intended to be called that or did you have another name in mind when you were writing it?
HOLLAND: No! When I started on it I though that it was going to be called "Night Shadows". I wasn't really happy with that title though. I knew I had a great story but I thought that the title needed to be punched up. I don't know how I can up with the title "FRIGHT NIGHT" but it all worked out for the best because it's a title that people always remember.
TV STORE ONLINE: How did you come up with the cast? Roddy McDowell is such a smart choice for the Peter Vincent character...
HOLLAND: Originally I wanted Vincent Price for the role. When I was writing the script I was thinking that the character was a cross between Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. That's why he's named "Peter Vincent". Vincent Price wasn't in good health so he couldn't work on the film. I had first met Price one night at a dinner party at Roddy McDowell's house oddly enough. I had worked with Roddy on CLASS OF 1984 (1982). So I knew that Roddy was a brilliant actor already. He could work across any genre. Even though FRIGHT NIGHT was a studio film everyone knew that it was a B movie and it had the smallest budget of any film on the Columbia slate at the time that it was made. I had trouble casting the film because of that. I had a hard time getting Chris Sarandon because I was a first time director too.
Even though I had worked with Roddy before and I was familiar with his work I hadn't thought of him for Peter Vincent. It wasn't until I talked with Guy McEvoy, who was the head of Columbia, that I realized that I'd really love to get Roddy for FRIGHT NIGHT. Guy McEvoy was friends with Roddy and he called him up and asked him to come in. He came in and read for Peter Vincent and he knocked it out of the park. Afterward, Roddy and I sat down together at the top of a stairway and we agreed that Peter Vincent was really the "Cowardly Lion" from the WIZARD OF OZ (1939). Peter Vincent is a man who is looking to find his heart and his courage. Roddy was just wonderful in FRIGHT NIGHT.
TV STORE ONLINE: Is there any truth to a rumor I heard once that you originally wanted Charlie Sheen for the role of Charlie Brewster?
HOLLAND: That's not true, but Charlie Sheen did come in and read for the part of Charley Brewster. He was great but he was too good looking. He really had those movie star looks and I didn't want Charley Brewster to look like a movie star, I wanted him to be the kid next door. I told Charlie Sheen that he wasn't right for the part. William Ragsdale looked like the kid next door, and that is what I wanted. By casting William Ragsdale, I cast the underdog. I didn't want the audience to be sure that Charley Brewster would be able to save the day or his girlfriend. Had I cast Charlie Sheen, the audience would've not had to worry about the outcome of the story because he looked more like a hero than the kid next door. It took me a long time to find William Ragsdale for Charley by the way. It took forever. I had the same problem finding Amy who was played by Amanda Bearse.
TV STORE ONLINE: What about casting Stephen Geoffreys as "Evil Ed"?
HOLLAND: That was a step off of the bridge. He played that so big. I needed someone who was obviously eccentric. Evil Ed was that kid in the sixth grade that you probably never talked to. I needed an actor who was willing to take chances and Stephen was really wonderful. Evil Ed was a kid that probably later on would've went "Goth" had he not turned into a vampire...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: What about Chris Sarandon? Had you seen him in something like DOG DAY AFTEROON  or LIPSTICK  or Sam Peckinpah's THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND ?
HOLLAND: Oh God yeah. What Chris brought to FRIGHT NIGHT was a caliber of acting. Back then, his level of acting and this is no put down to any of the genre stars of then or today, but Chris's caliber of acting wasn't something you saw often in genre films at that time.
TV STORE ONLINE: The thing I love the most about FRIGHT NIGHT is that wonderful blend of humor and horror...Where do you think that your comic sensibilities came from in order to create something like FRIGHT NIGHT?
HOLLAND: Growing up I loved watching ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN . That's the funniest movie ever made. I paid homage to it in FRIGHT NIGHT. When Peter Vincent and Charley are walking up the stairs in Jerry's house after they've just shot "Billy Cole" in the head...They walk up the stairs and in the background you see Billy sit up, stand up and start back after them. Peter stops suddenly on the stairs and not because he hears Billy coming but because he hears one of the stairs creak under him. That's straight out of ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN.
TV STORE ONLINE: FRIGHT NIGHT was a mega success all around the world when it was released. What kind of doors does that open to you as a director? I once heard a rumor that you were offered directing duties on ROBOCOP (1987) but you turned it down...
That's true, and turning it down was one of the biggest mistakes I've ever made as they say. In between FRIGHT NIGHT and CHILD'S PLAY (1988) I made a film that everyone seems to have forgotten called, FATAL BEAUTY (1987). It's an cop action movie with Whoopi Goldberg. It's a great movie and people should see it.
TV STORE ONLINE: How do you think that FRIGHT NIGHT rates amongst the vampire genre today? Does it stand out as one of the best of the genre? You know how I feel at FRIGHT NIGHT...
HOLLAND: Right. I know what your answer is. But for me, no matter how I answer that I'm going to come across as conceited. I really don't know to be honest. The appreciation I've received from the fans of FRIGHT NIGHT has been one of the great delights of my life. I never expected it whatsoever. What's interesting about FRIGHT NIGHT is that it's a genre movie and Hollywood has always been more interested in doing more prestigious movies. The best part of this all is that fans of FRIGHT NIGHT are showing it to their kids now, and I really love that because it means that the film will live on forever just like vampires do.
TV STORE ONLINE: On CHILD'S PLAY (1988), Don Mancini came up with the first draft of the script. But didn't you take a few cracks at re-writing it? Isn't your version of the script what's actually on-screen?
HOLLAND: Yes, I tried a couple times. I couldn't come up with a strong enough re-write on it. This was before I did FATAL BEAUTY. So I went and did the film with Whoopi, and after I was done, United Artists offered CHILD'S PLAY to me again. So I took another crack at writing the script, and for some reason it just came easy for me. I'll never understand how these things work, and success has many fathers. On a side note... When CHILD'S PLAY came out... In Britain they protested it... and I received boxes of letters from school children in Britain asking me how I could do that to their toys or dolls!
TV STORE ONLINE: Didn't you also try to write the script for FRIGHT NIGHT 2 (1988)?
No..I was too busy working on something else. I really didn't have anything to do with the film, except I gave Tommy Lee Wallace my blessing to go forward. Tommy is a great guy, and he did a great job on the film.
TV STORE ONLINE: Weren't you offered the chance to direct the sequel to FRIGHT NIGHT before Tommy Lee Wallace got involved though?
HOLLAND: Yes, but again, I was busy doing something else. And also, as with all sequels in Hollywood the producer got cheap. They wanted to make it for cheap. They didn't put Chris Sarandon in it because of money issues, and they wanted to pay me less. In those days, anything with a number after the title was looked down upon as well. In retrospect, I wish I would've done it though, just because I love those characters so much. But again, Tommy did an amazing job on the film, so it worked out. But I wish Chris could have been in it.
TV STORE ONLINE: How did you get involved in directing THE TEMP (1993)?
HOLLAND: I was a director for hire. And it was the one train-wreck of my life. The studio and producer changed the ending on me. The film is a disaster. The ending is incoherent, and when they changed the ending, it wrecked the whole movie. I will say that there is some good acting throughout it though. The studio thought they could change the ending to make more money on it. They did the same thing prior on FATAL ATTRACTION (1987) and saw success. While we were making the film, the producer did the exact same thing on that Sharon Stone movie, SLIVER (1991). That was being made at the same time we were making THE TEMP. But that movie wasn't hurt as bad. THE TEMP for me, is every horror story you've ever heard about studio interference.
TV STORE ONLINE: How did you get involved in your succession of Stephen King projects?
THE LANGOLIERS I wanted to do. I loved the novella. Then, THINNER (1996) I liked because it seemed liked a challenge. The ending of THINNER isn't my ending. It's just a tag that they changed and weakened. The story has a very bitter ending. And the ending in the film was changed to be less bitter.
TV STORE ONLINE: Robert Burke is incredible in THINNER... Casting him....Had you see him in the films he did with indie filmmaker, Hal Hartley?
HOLLAND: He's great. He's a very under-rated actor. Yes, I did see his stuff with Hal Hartley and I loved it. He's a brilliant actor.
TV STORE ONLINE: What kind of advice can you give to young screenwriters in today's digital age?
HOLLAND: There are two ways to learn how to write movies. One. Read. Two. Watch movies. It's all very bad right now. The doors are not open to original screenplays. When I was coming up it was different. Over the years Hollywood has started to take less and less risks. All you can do is write and write, and get it out there. The internet can help. You can make something cheaply these days, and put it up on YouTube for $1.95. You have to figure out how to make a scene play, and how to get it up on it's feet. That's the secret.
TV STORE ONLINE: Being a Master Of Horror...What scares Tom Holland?
HOLLAND: Making a bad movie...laughing