Written by: Tim Metcalfe, Miguel Tejada-Flores, & Tommy Lee Wallace, Tom Holland (characters)
Directed by: Tommy Lee Wallace
Starring: Roddy McDowall, William Ragsdale, and Julie Carmen
Reviewed by: Brett G.
ďSuch a thing simply could not happen twice, Charley!Ē
How unlucky can one guy be? Poor Charley Brewster already had one vampire move in next to him in Fright Night, then he had to put up with the undead again a few years later. It was the 80s, man--no one was ever really off the hook if they starred in a moderately successful horror flick. Anyway, everyone knows about the original film, which is truly great, a cornerstone pop culture vampire movie that didnít quite scream for a sequel. Original director Tom Holland obviously thought so, as he ditched this effort to direct Childís Play instead; in his place for Fright Night Part 2 was a guy who knows all about stepping up to the plate to helm sequels: Tommy Lee Wallace, who had directed the third Halloween flick for Carpenter earlier in the decade. If youíve paid attention at all to my insane ramblings for the past few years, you know I think Wallace always got a raw deal about that one, but did he turn the trick twice?
Charley (William Ragsdale) didnít just physically slay Jerry Dandridge in the first film; 3 years later, heís also mentally slayed the vampiric demons of his mind by convincing himself the undead never existed in the first place. Heís alienated himself from his fellow vampire killer and hero Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) who still hosts his Fright Night television series. His convictions are shaken, however, when a cadre of weirdos blows into town; their leader, Regine, (Julie Carmen), certainly resembles a vampire and even tries to seduce Charley; this time, itís up to his new girlfriend Alex (Traci Lind) to team up with Vincent to save Charleyís soul from the bloodsucking menace.
Something about Fright Night 2 just doesnít click. Sure, it returns a lot of the stuff that made the first one great--McDowall is once again terrific as Peter Vincent, and I actually think Ragsdale gives a better, more dialed-down performance as Charley. Plus, Brad Fiedel returns with another great score (again highlighted by signature tune ďCome to MeĒ). But itís also missing a lot too--Lind is an acceptable substitute for Amanda Bearse as the love interest, but the other replacements fall flat. In an admittedly inspired move, the sequel ups the vampire ante by featuring a whole pack of rebellious/outlaw types (perhaps inspired by The Lost Boys?). However, if you added up the combined charisma of all of them, theyíd all only amount to about half of a Chris Sarandon. The movie might break the indoor record for most androgynous vampires with bad hair, though, so it has that going for it.
Evil Edís energy is missing too; he of course perished in the first film, but reports persist that Stephen Geoffreys was offered to reprise the role. Donít ask me how that would have worked logistically, but any absurd narrative gymnastics would have been preferable to the void left by his absence. I guess the closest thing to his replacement is Jon Gries (who youíve seen in a ton of stuff, trust me) as a twitchy vampire that tries to hit on Alex; for some reason he reminded me of a poor manís Clint Howard (which would make him a bankrupt manís Ron Howard), so take that for what you will. Another familiar face among the vampire pack is Brian Thompson, who has the squarest jaw in the history of movies and seemingly never plays a good guy. I donít think heís really a vampire here--his penchant for insect-eating leads me to believe heís a Renfield-like assistant, but he gets to hang out with the vamps anyway and participate in their hooligan activities, which include trashing a bowling alley.
If that sounds random, itís because the garlic albatross hanging around Fright Night 2ís neck is an inert script. See, it canít quite make up its own damn mind about what the characters want to do; Charley starts out as a skeptic, then has to be convinced (twice) that this shit is really happening again. As a result, the middle third of the film really sags while all of the characters piss around: Peter Vincent mopes in a bar about losing his show (again), Charley and Alex go through relationship drama, and the vampires just go around wrecking peopleís shit. The general concept of flipping the script by making Charley the target is more than fine, and the film really avoids just being a simple retread of the original. It lacks the focus of the first one though and could shed a good fifteen minutes of its run-time. Really, something as fun as Fright Night shouldnít be so dull; the fact that McDowallís (well deserved) increase in screen time canít keep this consistently interesting is a telling sign.
Wallace does fine with the hand thatís dealt him, I guess. Fright Night 2 isnít close to being a terrible, unworthy follow-up to a cult classic; however, itís really no closer to being an underrated gem, either. If anything, he gets the effects stuff right--thereís a lot more showcases this time around, as each vampire is dispatched in gruesome and unique fashion (another element borrowed from The Lost Boys?). Itís difficult for me to judge how the film fares visually because Iíve only seen it on its lone, pitiful DVD release from Artisan. Basically a full frame VHS rip, it destroys the scope compositions (and before you laugh, go check out how great Wallaceís Halloween III looks). I was hoping the release of the new Fright Night would prompt someone (whoever got a hold of Artisanís catalogue) to give us a proper release for the sequel because this one is pretty bad. Apparently, Fright Night 2 has popped up in HD on some HBO channels recently, and I imagine theyíll be playing a lot in August, so keep your eyes peeled. Thatíd be a perfect way to catch this one anyway because Iím not so sure even a great DVD release would be a worthwhile purchase for anyone but the most ardent fans of the series. Rent it!
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