Fright Night Part 2
So ingrained on my memory is the trailer for Fright Night Part 2 – I can only assume it was a regular on rental releases at the time – that I’d half recollected it being for the original, rather than a flick I’d never seen. Until now. I probably shouldn’t have bothered, for while Fright Night has modest charms, its sequel is all but bereft of them, and so – getting back to the point of my first sentence – entirely at odds with its trailer, which makes it seem even broader, wackier and funnier than the first.
Returning are Roddy McDowall and William Ragsdale as, respectively, no-budget-movie-turned-real-vampire-killer Peter Vincent and teen Charley Brewster, who last time discovered a vampire not quite living next door. But they’re the only ones. Tom Holland and Chris Sarandon were off making Child’s Play – earlier plans for a sequel had been quashed by the high-minded David Puttnam’s accession to the Columbia throne – so in stepped Tommy Lee Wallace, with prior horror sequel form.
Unfortunately, not of the most illustrious kind. He helmed Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the franchise’s ill-fated attempted to detour into an anthology series that, despite a Nigel Kneale screenplay (rewritten by John Carpenter) suffered from clodding, paceless direction. Not unlike Fright Night Part 2 (Wallace would go on to make the TV version of It along with a cheap sequel to John Carpenter’s Vampires). Wallace also rewrote the screenplay, by Revenge of the Nerds storysmiths Tim Metcalfe and Miguel Tejada-Flores. It isn’t up to much.
The device of the hero now in denial feels like it’s been done a number of times, and super-mulleted Charley, being out of therapy, now at university and encouraged to put his fears to rest by visiting Peter Vincent again, means the picture’s in a holding pattern for far too long. Second-spin moments that could have been used for Die Hard 2-style disbelief (Charley seeing coffins outside of Vincent’s window, Vincent getting fired from his show) only really come together the once (“Such a thing simply couldn’t happen twice, Charley”).
Instead, there are lacklustre replacements for the absentees; Evil Ed is now Jon Gries’ Louie (who does at least have an amusing moment with a mouth full of wild roses), Jerry Dandridge is now his attractive but rather bland sister Regine (Julie Carmen), and Amy Peterson (who by this point was in Married with Children) becomes forgettable squeeze Alex (Traci Lind).
There are a few point scorers on the periphery. Brian Thompson (The X-Files’ alien bounty hunter) is (vamp servant) Bozworth, given to reeling off the Latin names of bugs as he snacks on them (he’s memorably reduced to a heap of maggots when killed). Ernie Sabella’s Dr Harrison indulges in analysis after Alex stakes him. Merritt Butrick (most famous as Kirk’s son) has a minimal role as Charley’s friend Richie, and there’s the sense of much of it ending up on the cutting room floor (Butrick died of AIDS before the picture’s US release).
Generally, though, Kim Newman (yes, him again) summed it up best in The Virgin Film Yearbook Volume 8, when he noted “It is quite an achievement to leave an audience totally unmoved by a black, bisexual, mute, roller-skating, disco-choreographer vampire”.
Charley spends much of the movie suffering the early stages of vampirism (I’m not quite clear on the logic here, as I don’t recall him sucking anyone, but I may have zoned out), having a vile reaction to garlic pizza and wearing sunglasses round the clock. At least, until galvanising himself at the climax.
Unsurprisingly then, what nuggets there are in Fright Night Part 2 mostly derive from McDowall’s irrepressibly cowardly Vincent. After suffering the indignity of having his show given to Regine, he attempts to stake her live on air and is sent to the state mental hospital (“It’s like he’s stuck in one of his movies”). This is the best passage of the picture by some distance, with Vincent asserting his mojo (“If you really want to help me, just go out there, catch the vampires and bring them here so I can kill them”), receiving a round of applause from the inmates when he arrives (“I believe you, Mr Vincent, I believe you… They’re the ones who are wackos”) and aided I his escape by one of their number (Josh Richman, of River’s Edge).
Alas, the sequence is too short, and it simply isn’t enough. The lore behind the picture’s release is more interesting than the actual movie, with McDowall and his director lunching unproductively with Live Entertainment chairman Jose Mendendez prior to his murder by his sons the same evening; McDowall reportedly phoned Wallace the next day, and said “Well, I didn’t do it. Did you?”
It was also this development that put the kibosh on a tentative Fright Night 3 (with Holland returning). The picture, which had received only a limited release, was pushed quickly out of theatres and onto video. Wallace considered the original script for Fright Night Part 2 too campy. Ironically, it could have done with more of exactly that, as the results are mostly over-anaemic.