Jose and Kitty Menendez settled into their den on the evening of August 20, 1989 to relax and watch The Spy Who Loved Me, the Roger Moore-starring James Bond flick based on the Ian Fleming novel of the same name. Their two sons, Lyle and Erik, went out that night hoping to see Tim Burton’s Batman. But a month after the film’s release it had still been selling out at the box office so the two boys went to go see License to Kill instead. Lyle, 21, and Erik, 18, decided to do one thing before going to see Timothy Dalton’s take on James Bond; they murdered their parents with a 12-guage shotgun.
It’s no surprise that movies played some role in that tragic evening. Jose had been the CEO of LIVE Entertainment at the time. A year prior, LIVE Entertainment had been born of a merger between independent video distributor International Video Entertainment (IVE) and another distributor, Lieberman. This became Carolco Pictures’ home video distribution method. Carolco, of course, was a fairly successful production company that had put out the first two Rambo films and was on the verge of producing blockbuster films Terminator 2 and Total Recall.
One of the home video releases that LIVE Entertainment put out was a coffin-shaped VHS of Fright Night II. Soon after this, one of the film’s stars, Roddy McDowall, had arranged a meeting with Jose Menendez to discuss producing a third Fright Night movie. Joining Roddy at the meeting would be Tom Holland, who wrote and directed the first Fright Night movie.
“Roddy had set up the meeting. And Roddy was pursuing it because he loved the part so much. He wanted to recreate the part of Peter Vincent,” Mr. Holland said in an interview for an upcoming episode of the Movies and Stuff podcast dedicated to the 30th Anniversary of Fright Night.
It’s never nice to speak ill of the dead but Roddy also said [Jose] was the worst human being he had ever met.
Fright Night 3 also would have give Holland a chance to bring back a character he really loves. “If I ever get a chance to do a sequel, I would bring Evil Ed back because Stephen Geoffreys did such a terrific job with him.”
That meeting would never happen and would set forth a chain of events that Mr. Holland describes as a true “Hollywood story.” After Menendez’s death, the rights to Fright Night ended up with Carolco but soon after that, Carolco went under. A Florida-based company, whose business is securing copyrights and selling them for a profit, then bought up the rights. They eventually sold the rights to Dreamworks who then remade Fright Night back in 2011 and released a straight-to-video sequel in 2013.
Mr. Holland still can’t really believe these murders happened. “That’s one of those situations where you hear the story and your mouth falls open. You can’t believe any of it. It’s so horrifying. I could never imagine murdering my parents. Menendez himself must have been the devil incarnate.”
Long before the OJ Simpson trial did it or countless other court cases aired on TV, the trials of the Menendez brothers captivated the United States, as millions of viewers tuned in to watch it all play out on Court TV in 1993. The brothers actually admitted to killing their parents but claimed it was horrible abuse that led them to do it. No verdict could be determined during their original trials as both juries became deadlocked between murder and manslaughter convictions. They were later retried, found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
And while their guilt was never in question, it was at least one person’s belief that Jose Menendez could have been capable of pushing his kids over the edge.
“It’s never nice to speak ill of the dead but Roddy also said [Jose] was the worst human being he had ever met. The guy, apparently, was a terrible human being. That’s not to excuse what the kids did,” Mr. Holland said regarding the tragedy. “When Roddy said that, I was at his house eating dinner and I thought he just meant the guy was extremely difficult to bargain with. But it must have gone way beyond that because Roddy was a kind man. Roddy was not someone who would say that casually or as an aside. The guy must really have had emotional problems.”
While Mr. Holland was never able to get Fright Night III made, he still has so much love for Fright Night, an idea he came up with while writing the family adventure movie Cloak and Dagger. “There is something very gratifying about having a movie that seems to transcend generations. It’s being passed on from parents to children to grandchildren. It is very satisfying. I’m very, very thankful,” Mr. Holland said.
Mr. Holland even got himself involved in You’re So Cool, Brewster, the documentary being made about Fright Night, with the hopes that it will raise even more awareness to this great cult, horror film.
“Fright Night has been a wonderful experience in every way and I definitely want more people to see it.”
The full interview with Tom Holland will air on the Movies and Stuff podcast on July 7th. Make sure to tune in and check it out!