Kiss of death (Fright Night YouTube video script)

click here for the video version

Charley Brewster had such a tough time staking his claim to the discovery of a genuine urban vampire on Fright Night in 1985 that when Microdeal won the license to produce a spin-off Amiga game they decided not to even attempt it. In fact they assumed it would be such a pain in the neck they turned the cliched ‘play as the good guy’ trope on its head.

Embodying the bloodsucking neighbour from hell, Jerry Dandrige, we’re tasked with traipsing through our house of horrors, sinking dripping fangs into the local residents to sustain our fragile life force. Goal-wise it’s all geared towards staying alive for seven days, retiring to Jerry’s coffin slumber pit each morning as soon as the sun rises to avoid being liquefied into a steaming ooze of green pus. Well, you’ve got to take care of your complexion, haven’t you?

Day one begins at a leisurely pace ushered in by a comedic rendition of ‘There’s No Place Like Home’ with few wannabe vampire slayers to tackle. Don’t get too comfortable though – the easy ride won’t last long. Before you can say “would you mind not ramming that crucifix up my nose?” all and sundry are ramming crucifixes up your nose and dousing you with a concoction of holy water and garlic as David Whittaker’s death march ditty accompanies the bloodshed.

Charley even ropes in erstwhile celluloid vampire hunter and Fright Night TV show host, Peter Vincent, to shine a light on proceedings. Because a horror movie actor is bound to be an expert in vampirology! He is as it turns out, which is handy.

As the movie teaches us, those of faith (in the power of their ability to vanquish the undead using the traditional tools, not god) make much more effective assassins. Represented by a lighter coloured pentagram in the status bar, this belief grows with the passage of time until the pesky, meddling cast become real forces to be reckoned with.

If you can reach and survive day seven you’re ‘rewarded’ with a swift return back to square one with no conclusion. Perhaps coder, Steve Bak, assumed no-one would ever make it that far so the omission wouldn’t matter. That or the game was never truly finished for reasons we’ll get to later.

For fans of the movie it was a bit of a disappointment, notwithstanding Pete Lyon’s exceptional graphics, witty animation, and the wonderfully eerie soundtrack composed by David Whittaker. A tedious, shallow, repetitive affair with little flesh on the bone to justify its ‘arcade game’ assertions.

CU Amiga went a step further, including Fright Night in their list of ‘The most abysmal Amiga games of all time!’; an article you’ll find in their 1994 Buyer’s Guide. This will be the quotey bit then…

“The roll call of calamities includes such ‘gems’ as Fright Night, Moon walker, Jaws, Pink Panther and The Munsters – pathetic one and all. Of these, Microdeal’s Fright Night must get a special mention as it was obscenely awful in almost every respect. The actual Fright Night films are fairly enjoyable affairs, but the game was a travesty.

Written by industry veteran, Steve Bak, it involved guiding a huge, apparently tip-toeing vampire sprite through a sprawling mansion, jumping on people and sucking their blood, and…er, well, that’s it basically.

Fright Night was set within a six room house, and all the player had to do was pounce on the unfortunates wandering around it. Just to add a little variety to the proceedings, bats attacked the main sprite every now and then (which is odd, as the ‘hero’ was a vampire in the first place), and the only real goal was to score as many points as possible by biting people before your energy expired.”

Of course the only verdict to really count is that of the Amigos, Aaron and John. Luckily they covered this one in podcast episode 14. You’ll find a remastered version of it on YouTube, complete with video footage.

Despite development work commencing on the Atari ST, as fate would have it, only an Amiga version materialised due to the data-crunching constraints of the former. A slideshow preview is all that remains to evidence the initial progress made. Somehow, I think Atari owners had a fortunate escape when this one slipped through the net.

These preview images are nowhere to be found online so I dredged up the Atari ST magazine cover disk they originally appeared on, and braved the world of Linux based Atari emulation to capture them for myself. Getting ‘Hatari’ installed was easy enough, though as with UAE it didn’t come with the operating system. Bizarrely, I first had to enable root access in order to place a separately acquired TOS image in the emulator’s folder before it could be booted. With that mini hurdle leaped, Hatari was as straightforward to use as WinUAE or FS-UAE. Sadly, it emerged that no game-play screenshots had been included in the Fright Night slideshow, only a small selection of what appears to be title screen material.

Following the breadcrumb trail seeking answers lead me to ST-Amiga Format magazine issue 7. In January 1989 they reported…

“According to Microdeal games programmer Steve ‘Goldrunner, Jupiter Probe, Leathernecks, etc, etc’ Bak, Fright Night isn’t coming out on the ST. The problem is that the game requires several huge sprites to be animated. The ST can’t cope with this, so the game will only be released on the Amiga.”

A month later, issue 8 of ST-Amiga format featured an interview with the former miner himself…

“Currently I’m working on my last game, Fright Night. This one I am doing only on the Amiga. It started off on the ST in the Summer of 87! Microdeal decided they wanted the game for the Amiga first, and as good as possible. So I am using 32-colour backgrounds with large sprites, 100 by 64 pixels, animating at 25 Hz. I don’t fancy converting this to the ST – it would be a virtual re-write – so I shall pass it on to someone who will enjoy the challenge (hopefully, Tim Purves in the US).”

This wasn’t to be the only unfulfilled promise on Microdeal’s part where Fright Night is concerned. Initially they were planning to release an adjunct to the arcade game, an adventure-based movie tie-in title. While this was alluded to in magazine adverts and preview articles it never emerged for either of the proposed platforms.

“An adventure player’s nightmare or a dream? This fully mouse driven adventure gives you screen after screen of competitive adventuring with gem style multi option dialogue boxes and digitized sound, programmed using our new ‘Talespin’ adventure development system”.

GEM is the GUI layer devised by Digital Research that was built into the Atari’s operating system (TOS), while Tailspin is an adventure game development package published by MichTron – also known as Microdeal – and written by Mark Heaton. So now you know.

In August 1988, ACE magazine took the bait, reporting in issue 11 that Steve’s “Future projects include an Amiga arcade adventure for Microdeal based on the cult horror comedy video Fright Night!”

ST-Amiga Format in issue 6 published in December 1988 followed up the story, printing a preview of the anticipated upcoming titles…

“Fright Night is actually two games – the arcade and the adventure game. The adventure is a GEM-style mouse-and-menu game giving you screen after scream of competitive adventuring and digitised mayhem.”

Lurching ahead to April 1989, the adventure game had yet to crawl out of Microdeal’s coffin, prompting New Computer Express – in issue 23 – to write…

“Fright Night?

Confused? I know I am! Doubtless you’ve heard plenty about Microdeal’s computer version of Fright Night. You’re probably aware that it isn’t coming out on the ST as programmer Steve Bak wants to head a development team rather than pump out code himself.

Well, you’ll be surprised to hear that Fright Night is coming out on the ST. However, it won’t be like the arcade game recently released for the Amiga; instead it will be Fright Night the adventure game. Amiga owners will really be in for a hard time as Fright Night will be available in both arcade and adventure format.”

With Steve Bak missing in action since 2011, I decided to contact Pete Lyon to find out if he could shed any light on the adventuring no-show. Before doing so, however, I spotted that someone had already beaten me to the punch, and sadly Pete couldn’t help.

“Another ST title that visually stood out for myself was Fright Night. Rumours had it that there were plans for a campaign game to be released to go with it, more of an adventure game. Can you recall anything of such plans? (another long shot).

Again, I cannot recall. I just tried to summon up as many of the tropes of the horror movie I felt were expected. There were fewer restrictions on the graphics, especially as I was now able to approach more figuratively realistic figures. This kept me happy, and I think at this point I was just left to get on with it.”

That was an extract from an article entitled The Pete Lyon Interview by Ross Sillifant, also known as Chryssalid. It was published on the Grumpy Old Gamers web site on October 5th 2015, however, has now been eviscerated by a restructure.

Despite the apparent dead end, I did take the opportunity to ask Pete if he’s still in touch with Steve, or knows where I might find him. Alas, no, they parted company decades ago. During the computing glory years Pete alluded to their odd ‘chalk and cheese’ partnership when queried on how the much-revered ‘dream team’ found themselves working together, so perhaps it’s not surprising there was little to maintain the bond once their career paths deviated.

My best guess is that Steve abandoned the Fright Night adventure game project due to objections over the way he was treated by Microdeal. Maybe they put the second title on hold, and in the wake of the arcade game’s reception decided not to revive it with a substitute coder.

Splashing the names of Pete and Steve across the box cover was often all it took to sell a game. In this case, however, the bad press appears to have outweighed the prestige of the authors. I can’t find any evidence that Fright Night made a dent in the game sales charts in any form. That said, the movie wasn’t a massive success at the box office either, generating a modest 24.9 million dollars. It has since gone on to become a cult classic, with two remakes on the roster… one of them a Bollywood musical! As of 2013 even the remake has a sequel.

Craig Gillespie’s 2011 retread is notable mostly because it stars Anton Yelchin and Colin Farrell as Charlie and Jerry respectively. Oh, and David ‘Dr Who’ Tennant as Peter Vincent doing an impression of Russell Brand. That’s certainly a sight to behold! Anton passed away at the tender age of 27 in 2016. He survived a bloodcurdling, slathering onslaught from the undead representatives of unholy hell, only to be crushed to death by his own jeep as it rolled down the driveway to his Californian home!

Its follow-up, Fright Night 2: New Blood, was released directly to DVD and digital media in 2013, starring a cast of low profile actors. There’s not a whole lot worth mentioning aside from Jerry is now Gerri with an eye at the end, a sexy female vampire who lectures on Romanian history in her spare time. Recognising how vapid it was turning out to be, director, Eduardo Rodriguez, took every opportunity to glam it up with nudity, sex, strippers and pretty, vacuous teenagers. At least Charley’s best friend, ‘Evil’ Ed Bates, was well cast as he’s equally as irritating as he was in the original movie.

Look you, stop derailing my flow, or else. We’re here to talk about Steve and his Fright Night games so if you wouldn’t mind letting me get on with it. So rude. In an article published in ST-Amiga format issue 8 in February 1989 entitled ‘Bak to the Future’ (with no c in ‘Bak’, geddit?), Steve reveals that working for Microdeal wasn’t exactly a bed of roses with cherries on top. Reading between the lines this goes some way to explaining the lamentable fate of the second licensed Fright Night gaming spin-off.

“In the early days I preferred to work (like most programmers) at night. Nowadays, with my own office, I do things differently. I think most people would agree that my output is fairly prolific. In 1987 I completed seven games, in 1988 I completed nine. I’ve also earned a great deal of money – but at a price. I now work around 80 hours a week, drinking coffee and Coke constantly. I smoke around 50 cigarettes a day and get drunk every night – not an ideal lifestyle for a diabetic on insulin! I have had a good time as a programmer, but now is the time to quit. Fright Night will be my last game, at least, under these conditions.

What does the future hold? Well I could buy an ice-cream van. Selling ice-cream in the summer sounds like a nice job. Perhaps I might open a fish and chip shop in Paris. There is a third possibility which, at the moment, sounds the most plausible: I may well start a 16-bit software development house.”

Steve and Microdeal did go their separate ways as promised. Programming, on the contrary, was in his blood. Steve immediately went on to code Spitting Image for Domark and The Sentry – also known as Sentinel – for Firebird, before founding his own company, Vectordean. There he worked with Chris Sorrell to produce the James Pond series, along with Bad Company, Dogs of War, and Yolanda.

Around 1995 Steve joined British console developer, Eurocom, and remained with them until they became defunct in December 2012, following the enforced redundancy of its 250 employees, ending an impressive 24 year tenure in the industry. During his time with Eurocom he worked on a diverse array of titles for various platforms including Disney Universe, Rio, Dead Space: Extraction, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Disney Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Athens, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Crash Bash, Disney’s Tarzan, Disney’s Hercules, and Spot Goes to Hollywood.

Steve is now enjoying his hard-earned retirement in Derby so will hopefully have time to get back to me and shine some vampire-slaying, glaring sunlight on his spooky horror Game That Wasn’t. I’ll reserve this space for cracking open the web-encrusted, dusty tomb of the missing in action title… fingers and toes crossed, rabbit, rabbit with a four-leaf clover on top. In the meantime please breathe normally as we can’t be held liable for your asphyxiation. This interview’s got as much potential to come to fruition as Kevin Spacey’s future career.

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