Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fright Night Part II (1988)

**This review contains spoilers**

Three years after the events of Fright Night, Jerry Dandridge and Billy are dead. And with the help of weekly therapy, Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) refuses to believe in the existence of vampires. Charley’s psychiatrist, Dr. Harrison (Ernie Sabella) convinces Charley Jerry Dandridge was nothing more than a “serial murderer,” “cult worshiper,” or “kidnapper,” who tried to harm Amy and Evil Ed.

Trying to move on with his life, Charley throws away all his garlic, wooden stakes, hammers, and almost every cross he owns, holding on to one for emergencies only. Enjoying his life as a college kid and his new girlfriend, Alex (Traci Lind), Charley decides to have a talk with Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) for some closure. Peter was able to get his job back as the host of Fright Night, but a steep decline in ratings could change everything. During the visit at Peter’s apartment complex, Charley notices a series of coffins being hauled inside at night.

After a while, Charley has a bizarre nightmare about one of Peter’s new tenants being a vampire, and sinking her fangs into the shaving wound on his neck. Dr. Harrison urges Charley to forget the nightmare and the vampire woman and move on, but things change after Charley witnesses his friend, Richie (Meritt Butrick) willingly giving his blood to the vampire woman in his dreams and another vampire. With Peter’s help, Charley blows off his concert date with Alex, and he decides to crash the vampire woman’s horror themed party in Peter’s apartment complex.

At the party, Charley can’t find any bite wounds on Richie. And after seducing him with a dance, Charley lets his guard down, as the mysterious woman removes plastic vampire fangs and fake vampire contact lenses, revealing herself as an actress. Charley rushes out of the party after remembering the concert date with Alex, but Peter discovers the real truth after Charley leaves. The woman and her friends don’t appear in Peter’s mirror, and the woman is using her job as an actress to cover up her true identity as a vampire. Peter tries to run away, but the woman confronts him in the staircase, and she reveals herself as Regine Dandridge (Julie Carmen), Jerry’s sister. Regine vows to turn Charley into a vampire for revenge, but she promises to take it easy on Peter, because he’s a “coward.”

Charley and Peter try to come up with a plan to take out Regine, but they’ll have to fight through her entourage of Belle (Russell Clark), another vampire, Bozworth (Brian Thompson), a supernatural being, who survives by eating insects, and he’s Regine’s limo driver, and Louie (Jon Gries), the lone werewolf in the group. Without any warnings, Peter is blindsided, when the producer of Fright Night fires him, and hires Regine as the new host. Peter tries to kill Regine with a stake to the heart, but security foils his plans, and Peter is taken to an insane asylum afterwards.

Meanwhile, Charley is unknowingly turning into a vampire after Regine snuck into his dorm room one night, and bit him on the neck. Louie attacks Charley and Alex in the college’s library, and Charley is arrested after the scuffle. Preparing to complete the final stages of his transformation, Regine eventually recaptures Charley after bailing him out of jail, forcing Alex and Peter to team up and save Charley from Regine’s clutches.

Replacing Chris Sarandon’s Jerry wasn’t an easy task, but Julie Carmen stepped up to the challenge. In a lot of ways, Carmen’s Regine is the female counterpart for Jerry Dandridge. She’s a sexy vixen, who lures Charley into her trap, and like her brother, Regine wants to slowly torture Charley’s soul  (i.e. Jerry turning Amy and Ed into vampires) by turning him into a vampire, so he can be her servant for all eternity. She could easily rip out Charley’s throat, or murder him in another gruesome way, but no. Regine takes the slow-burn technique for revenge. Carmen is smooth and devious as Regine, and she brings an alluring presence to the Regine character that commands attention. Carmen is a suitable replacement, and she easily takes the honor for the best performance in this film.

Don’t get me wrong. Roddy McDowall and William Ragsdale are still funny and entertaining. McDowall still has his moments, as the jittery and reluctant vampire killer, and Ragsdale takes control of the noble and unlikely hero character again. BUT Peter and Charley didn’t change too much in the sequel (more on that later).

Supporting cast ranges from decent enough to forgettable. Traci Lind is a respectable replacement for Amanda Bearse ’s Amy. Alex looks like your typical hot blonde, but Amy is a humble and  nerdy (not too nerdy, though) character. Jon Gries’ Louie is hilarious. He’s this obnoxious tool, who constantly tries to fit into Regine’s entourage as the only werewolf, and Gries’ funniest scenes are with Alex, as Louie tries to steal Charley’s girlfriend. Brian Thompson is genuinely creepy as Bozworth, but I will never forgive Thompson for taking the part as Shao Kahn in Mortal Kombat Annihilation. Russell Clark has an eccentric look as Belle, but that’s about it. Belle is a mute, and during my first viewing of Fright Night II years ago,  I couldn’t tell if Belle was a he or a she. Meritt Butrick’s Richie is a douchebag, and Ernie Sabella’s Dr. Harrison is pretty boring, until Harrison reveals himself as a vampire. It was a good, surprising shock. Too bad Sabella doesn’t last long after his first and only transformation.

Of course, it’s hard to follow in the footsteps of a great original like Fright Night, but Part II deserves some credit for a few attention to detail changes.

1. Regine having an entourage- This was a HUGE change to cover up some holes in logic. Unlike Jerry, Regine has more than one person protecting her, so it’s not so easy to kill her. Charley and Peter have  to fight through Belle, Bozworth, Louie, and Richie after Regine and Belle turn Richie into a vampire.

2. Regine doesn’t show the same levels of arrogance her brother showed in the original- Regine turns Charley into a vampire early on, so when Charley sneaks into the apartment complex to kill her, Regine commands Charley to drop the stake. Regine had Charley in the palm of her hands until the end, and Charley couldn’t do anything about it. Jerry had plenty of chances to turn him, but he decided to toy around with Charley instead, and it ended up costing him his life at the end.

3. Charley places communion wafers in the shape of a cross inside inside Regine’s coffin- If you remember the ending in the original, Jerry was able to hide out in his coffin for a little while, as Charley and Peter tried to kill him. But Charley learned from his mistakes, so during the final confrontation with Regine, Charley used the wafers, before Regine (in her bat form) could go inside, and wait out the attack until sunset.

Unfortunately, I can’t forget about the major gaps in logic for Part II.

1. Vampires don’t exist? Seriously???- Yeah, this approach didn’t work for me. Also, it doesn’t help when you open the movie with clips from the original showing Jerry as a vampire and a vampire bat. Sure, Charley and Peter eventually realize vampires are real (again), but trying to seriously convince the audience vampires don’t exist? Just…no.

2. Uh, Regine is Jerry’s sister, right?- I’ve seen this movie a handful of times over the years, so stop me if I’m missing something. But Regine only reveals her identity as Jerry’s sister ONCE. She tells Peter after the party, and guess what? Peter never tells Charley, ever. Regine is going after Charley and Peter, because she wants revenge for her brother’s death. That’s her sole motivation. It’s a huge plot point, and they just ignore it after the one and only time Regine mentions her ties to Jerry, because Charley doesn‘t know Regine is Jerry‘s sister. So instead of the story of a sister plotting revenge, we get “Peter and Charley have to stop and kill another vampire” as the main story. Ugh.

3. Why is Peter a coward again?- Peter found his courage at the end of Fright Night, but for the majority of Part II, he’s the jumpy and scared wimp again? Yeah, Peter finds his courage in a bar after someone unintentionally reminds him of who he really is, but McDowall’s resurgence doesn’t happen until the final stages of the movie.

4. Charley is….just the same guy- His hair looks different, and there’s nothing wrong with Ragsdale’s performance, but Charley is just the same guy we all saw in the original. And it’s painful to watch Charley of all people go through the “vampires aren’t real!” phase for a good chunk of the movie.

Tommy Lee Wallace is the director for this one. Wallace tries to capture the essence of Holland’s work behind the camera in the original, and he succeeds for the most part. Fright Night II has a spooky eeriness to it (two great examples would be the scene, where Alex is attacked by a transforming Dr. Harrison at the train tracks, and the scene, where Belle attacks his first victim at the college during nighttime), and Wallace pays homage to the original, when Regine lures Charley into the erotic dance. It’s a wink to the dance between Jerry and Amy at the night club, and using music from the first film was a great touch.

Wallace brings more violence, blood, and gore to Part II, but it’s nothing too extreme. In fact, the only scenes where you can notice the changes are Belle’s attack on the college student, and Bozowrth’s death, when Charley uses Belle’s claws to cut open his stomach, and a bunch of bugs come pouring out.

Fright Night Part II isn’t as bad as most horror sequels, but on the other hand, it’s nothing to brag about. The gaps in logic and Belle’s slow motion roller skating attacks (for some odd reason, Belle has to wear and use roller skates during a few of his attacks, and Wallace shows the roller skating attacks in slow motion. Cool trick, when you see it for the first time, but after that? Not so much.) are annoying, but again, Fright Night Part II isn‘t a bad film.

There’s a noticeable decline in overall quality, but Fright Night set the bar high, and I usually give certain sequels a pass, when it comes to ridiculously high expectations. Plus, we had Julie Carmen filling in for Sarandon, and she didn’t disappoint as the main villain. And Fright Night Part II has some enjoyable hokey 80’s horror comedy humor. Not as funny as the original, but I don’t have any legit complaints about the comedy side of this film.

They’ve already started shooting a remake/sequel for Fright Night (2011), and when it hits home video, I’m HOPING they’ll finally release the original Fright Night Part II on DVD. It’s been out of print for years, and I’m not stupid enough to go on Amazon or Ebay and pay $70 or over $100 for a copy on DVD. On top of that, I’ve heard so many horror stories (complaints about the terrible VHS quality picture) from reading other reviews online from people, who actually own the out of print DVD copy of Fright Night Part II. I’ve seen numerous copies of Fright Night Part II, and yeah, the picture quality is horrendous, so there’s no way I’m throwing down that type of cash to buy a “rare” DVD.

Hopefully, they’ll follow in the footsteps of Silent Night, Deadly Night. When they released the Silent Night remake last year, they re-released the combo pack DVD with the original and Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 to help promote the remake. And on top of that, Part 2 and the combo pack containing Part 2 were out of print for years. Keeping my fingers crossed for a new Fright Night 2 DVD, because I’ve been dying to see Charley and Regine’s dance scene on a bigger screen for years.


Rating: 6/10

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