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Entries in Fright Night Part 2 [1988] (1)

Tuesday
Jun082010

Fright Night Part 2, 1988 (Home Video Review)

College is for Suckers

For some reason, Fright Night Part 2 never got a proper home video release. It was put out a few years ago as a full-frame, ripped-from-cable-quality disaster that quickly went out of print. So when a friend lent me a bootleg DVD, I was excited to watch the movie again. I hadn’t seen it since I was eleven years old, and my memories weren’t too fond: whereas the original Fright Night is one of my favorite re-watchable horror films, my recollection was that the sequel was rather dull.

Having just re-watched Fright Night 2, I acknowledge that it’s not necessarily a good movie, but it’s definitely not dull. There are too many awesome, awful, awkward things that happen in it to simply write it off as a cash-in. Though not everything works, the fun spirit of the original remains intact.

Set three years after high school student Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) and late-night horror-host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) vanquished suave vampire overlord Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon), Fright Night Part 2 finds Charley in both college and therapy. His shrink has convinced him that the events of the first film never happened. In some ways, the movie tries to do the same.

Charley’s girlfriend from the first film, Amy (Amanda Bearse) has been replaced by psych major Alex (Traci Lind), with no mention of their breakup (or their relationship); it’s jarring at first, but Alex is a smarter, cooler character than the perpetually distressed/whiny Amy—so I let it go.

The second major development is that Peter Vincent has followed Charley to college, living in a creepy old mansion of a hotel that appears to have two tenants: Peter, and the gaggle of vampires who move into the penthouse suite. But these aren’t just any vampires: their leader, performance artist/model Regine (Julie Carmen) is Jerry Dandridge’s sister; and she’s recruited a posse of moth-snacking, roller-skating, bowling-obsessed bloodsuckers for a revenge mission. Her introduction (laying atop Charley’s car while he and Alex make out) is beautiful and somehow sad—and a testament to director Tommy Lee Wallace’s ability to insert moments of great filmmaking into an otherwise iffy production.

Regine’s plan is ingenious. Instead of outright murdering her rivals, she uses her seductive vamp mojo to get Peter fired from his Fright Night TV show; she then takes over as host, scrapping the cheese-ball horror movie format in favor of a bloody rendition of the African Ant-Eater Ritual from Can’t Buy Me Love.

As for Charley, she invades his dreams and somehow uses this “in” to begin turning him into a vampire. The idea is for him to be reborn into eternal life as Regine’s sadistic plaything. As Charley transforms, his intolerance for sunlight, allergic reaction to garlic, and newfound bloodlust draw the attention of Alex and Peter—who ultimately have to rescue him from Regine’s sexy grasp.

If there are bright lights popping off in the back of your mind, welcome to the joy of discovery that Fright Night Part 2 is a remake of the Jim Carrey comedy Once Bitten (which came out the same year as the original Fright Night). From the seduction plot to the oddball assortment of vampire flunkies, down to the last shot of the film, the only thing missing is the virginity angle. But you know what? None of that bothered me.

Probably because it was such a weird choice for the filmmakers, I found myself glued to the television, wondering if I was imagining things, or if, in fact, I was watching a movie that could’ve been called Twice Bitten. The film is derivative, but it’s also a Fright Night movie. I love Charley and Peter as characters, and I love how Julie Carmen channeled Chris Sarandon in her mannerisms and speech. Most of all, I dug the elements that were lifted from the first movie and slightly tweaked.

Charley is the damsel in distress here, with Alex and Peter having to fight their way through the vampire lair; Stephen Geoffreys' Evil Ed sidekick from Part One has been replaced by the sufficiently wacky and endearing Louie (Jonathan Gries)—a pseudo-biker, pseudo-druggy vampire who tries to seduce Alex (this is particularly brilliant casting, as Louie’s vampire self is hairy, lanky, and dog-like—which recalls Gries’ role as the Wolfman in 1987’s The Monster Squad).

The point is that Fright Night Part 2 learned a very valuable lesson about ripping off movies: if you’re going to do it, make your film a mish-mash of genres and fill it with bizarre choices so that the audience at least doesn’t feel cheated and bored (the exception is the therapist-as-vampire sub-plot, which comes out of nowhere and ends, unbelievably, with a vampire suicide; that’s too much to swallow).

That said, I can see why I hated this movie when it first came out. The first reason, in fairness to the film, is that, at the time, I was reading the Fright Night comic book series; somehow I got it in my head that the new movie would have something to do with the “Return of Evil Ed” storyline. The second reason is that the sequel is not as fast-paced and horror-movie-ish as the first. Its characters are older and damaged, and they’re working through issues. That kind of horror doesn’t work until adulthood.

Fright Night Part 2 is a flawed, campy 80s romp, and I think the producers of the forthcoming Fright Night remake had better ensure their script and cast is very, very tight. Given the quality of the re-imagining machine lately, I say they’d be better off re-releasing the classic Fright Night films, back-to-back in theaters, rather than embarrass themselves with something disposable and bloodless.