Fright Night, Part II (1989)
Sequels are a tricky business. In horror, they tend to be rather formulaic. However, there’s a big difference between a formulaic slasher film that follows a loose stalk and slash concept, and a sequel that just carbon copies every plot point and story turn from the first film. If you’ve seen the original Fright Night, you’ve already seen a better version of this movie.
It’s a few years later, and Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) has been in therapy, attempting to recover from the incidents of the original film. Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) is still the host of “Fright Night”, and an adamant believer in the undead since the vanquishing of Jerry Dandridge. Charley is attending college and has new girlfriend in the beautiful and attractive Alex (Tracy Lin). Charley has attempted to put the events of four years ago far behind him, but the past has just caught up to our two heroes. Meet Regine Dandridge (Julie Carmen). Sexy, seductive, alluring, just like her brother Jerry. Regine has come to avenge her brother’s death upon Charley and “the Great Vampire Killer”, Mr. Vincent. Regine ensnares Charley with her blindingly seductive aura, and good old Charley can’t resist her mesmerizing beauty. Brewster tries to deny what’s happening around him, but Regine wishes to make Charley into one of the undead to eternally torture him.
From here the movie takes beat-for-beat reprises from the first film. Peter Vincent, despite his true believer status, is still somewhat cowardly and skeptical as to Charley’s eventual claims. The tables turn quickly as Charley is truly dissuaded in those claims only for Mr. Vincent to peer into his pocket mirror once again to reveal the non-reflection of their vampiric adversaries. Some things vary from the original’s plot path, but there are numerous parallels such as Peter Vincent getting fired as host of Fright Night. Then, there’s essentially a replication of the first film’s climax.
Fright Night, Part II is directed and co-written by Tommy Lee Wallace. I don’t believe he is a particularly bad director, but he hardly ever seems to get films that have good enough or original enough content to really breakout as anything special. His scripts vary in originality. With Halloween III: Season of the Witch, he did a fairly good job with the concept, but it lacked enough compelling content to maintain dramatic momentum. With Vampires: Los Muertos, he has better luck with a more polished production and decent ideas, but with a direct-to-video budget and the cast to go with it, he just fell too short of reaching the quality of Carpenter’s 1998 original. Fright Night, Part II simply has a severe lack of creativity as it more tries to remake the first film instead of attempting to be a smart, natural continuation of it. It’s as if Wallace didn’t know what to do with the characters as they were left at the end of the first film, and just tries to reset everything so he can have them do it all again.
Visually, the movie certainly looks a great deal better if you can locate a widescreen version of it, but it’s not an easy find since the only North American DVD released for it is in pan-and-scan. I’ve only seen a few clips from the widescreen version, and it was a vast improvement in appreciating the visual quality of the movie. Regardless, this sequel focuses more on gore and being more outlandish in its concepts, which is a poor replacement for innovative creativity.
Regine Dandridge is joined by an extremely offbeat band of creatures of the night that are easily more badly comical than scary. The male vampire seems more werewolf like, but it’s quite implied that he is a long-toothed bloodsucker. There is another vampire who is portrayed by a man, and certainly looks like it, yet dresses in drag throughout the entire film, gliding around in roller-skates. It’s utterly ridiculous and an ugly sight to behold. Then, there’s Brian Thompson who is some bug eating brawn of the bunch. He never happens to be anything of note as he hasn’t anything more to do than to say “You’re supposed to bite her on the neck,” and munch on an array of bugs. This group never adds anything particularly positive to the movie. There might be people who enjoy some of their humor, but it just left a terrible impression upon me rather quickly. In the first film, Jerry Dandridge made every attempt to blend in, to be inconspicuous so to not attract undo attention to his horrific nocturnal activities. This group does everything possible to attract as much attention to themselves as possible. Not to mention, the film tries to feed us the weakest of excuses for Charley Brewster to dismiss the obvious truth about them.
Julie Carmen is quite beautiful and seductive. She fills her part well, but doesn’t reach the levels of Chris Sarandon’s Jerry Dandridge. Sarandon just oozed a sexy and seductive charisma, not to mention, a fine level of sophisticated charm. Carmen doesn’t have a rich enough charisma or presence to rival him. The dynamic between Regine and Charley also never really clicked for me. Charley’s characteristically a little awkward and comical, and him being under her trance is played more silly than sensual. Thankfully, both Ragsdale and the late Roddy McDowall maintain great consistency with their return performances. They had their characters locked in for the first film, and four years later, they easily slipped right back into them. It’s a fine thing to witness, but the level of fun cannot measure up to Tom Holland’s Fright Night.
The script has some definite flaws in logic. First off, there’s no way Regine could know who it was that killed her brother. She wasn’t there when it happened, and there was no one left alive to tell her who did it. A revenge plot certainly works fine, but this plot hole is never addressed. Charley seeing a psychiatrist doesn’t make any rational sense, either. He was perfectly fine at the end of the first film, and it was blatantly obvious that Jerry Dandridge was a vampire. There is no disputing that, and there were eye witnesses in Peter Vincent and Charley’s now ex-girlfriend Amy to confirm that. This idea seems to be in the film only for the filmmakers to reset everything so that they can retread the same plot progression as the first movie, which is lazy and sloppy screenwriting. Also, Regine’s revenge plot doesn’t really sell. She’s going to seduce Charley in order to turn him into a vampire – an immortal being of great supernatural power. Revenge plots aren’t usually designed to make your adversary stronger and more capable of defeating you. I get that it’s a turnaround from Jerry seducing and turning Amy in the first movie, but it’s not the most clever scheme for exacting revenge on the person who killed your brother. It lacks innovation and smart screenwriting.
Again, the film doesn’t end in a much different way than the first. In fact, the ending may leave you a bit unsatisfied. It’s slightly clever, but doesn’t equal the dramatic build up in the basement of Jerry Dandridge’s house from the first film. Director Tommy Lee Wallace just isn’t very innovative, and that becomes worse when he’s directing sequels to films helmed by great filmmakers. The makeup effects certainly don’t rival those of the original’s. They look rather hokey and lack either an artistic beauty or solid terrifying quality. Fright Night, Part II only made a few small million at the box office in ’89, and it doesn’t surprise me at all given the time it was released and the quality of the film. It provides some extra gore, but lacks in the fun factor that the original was so rich with. Surely waiting four years to do a sequel didn’t help either. Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers all suffered bad box office in this year with their respective critically panned sequels, and so, why should this late arriving sequel have been any different?
The film’s stars, McDowall & Ragsdale don’t lose anything from part one to part two, but everything else falls down, at least, big one notch. The effects, the direction, the script, the fun / humor factor, and certainly the villains fall well below the quality of Tom Holland’s original Fright Night. It is worth, at least, a rent, but the first Fright Night is where all the gold lies. Part II simply isn’t as fun, fresh, or nearly as satisfying as its predecessor. There’s far too much bizarre and corny quality throw into this one to really feel polished and smart. Even if I judged this as a standalone film, I still wouldn’t like it based on those qualities alone. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully watch the 2011 remake of Fright Night basically because I’ve already seen one grossly lacking and disappointing remake of the movie, and it was called Fright Night, Part II. I don’t think I have the desire to see another one.