Tomorrow marks the DVD release of FRIGHT NIGHT 2: THE NEW BLOOD, a sequel/remake/follow-up/cash-in to the 2011 remake of 1985’s FRIGHT NIGHT. This isn’t, of course, the first time there’s been a FRIGHT NIGHT 2. In 1988, HALLOWEEN III’s Tommy Lee Wallace helmed a direct follow-up to the cult favorite, following the continued exploits of Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) and Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) as the pair become entangled with another bloodsucking conspiracy. While the film was mildly dismissed by fans at the time, it’s since become a minor cult item of its own, and the long out-of-print DVD fetches big money on ebay, even if the transfer Artisan Home Entertainment gave the release was poor, rendering a stylish, visually interesting film fuzzily through an incorrect aspect ratio.
On the eve of the release of the newfangled FRIGHT NIGHT 2, I thought I’d revisit FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2, as I’m a huge defender of the film. (I’m probably one of the few who saw it twice during its original theatrical run – no small feat considering its negligible release.) A different, more stylish and self-consciously silly film than the original, FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 stays true to the original characters and concepts while embracing a unique feel, even besting the original film on several fronts.
FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 opens with Charley reiterating the finale of the original film to his therapist (Broadway performer and voice of Pumbaa Ernie Sabella) as we see footage from FRIGHT NIGHT, much like a standard “Previously on…” segment to a serialized television series. After Charley finishes, however, he explains what happened in less supernatural terms – that Jerry Dandridge, the vampire from the first film, was just a serial killer and cult leader that Charley and his friends had encountered. Thanks to three years of therapy, Charley has now been convinced that vampires don’t exist, allowing the character to start at roughly the same point as he had in the original film.
Peter Vincent, however, has not pursued therapy. During a reunion dinner with Charley and Charley’s new girlfriend Alex (Traci Lin), Vincent reminds them of their time fighting the forces of evil, still convinced that the pair did, in fact, take down a vampire. (It’s best not to consider the logical leaps required to jimmy the messy endings of the vampires in the first films into anything that would make sense from a non-supernatural standpoint.)
The reality of what Charley and Peter have experienced comes into question with the arrival of an odd motley crue of vampires who have recently moved into Peter’s building. Led by the sultry and beautiful Regine (Julie Carmen, in a hypnotic performance), the group also includes a feral horndog (Jon Gries), an insect-chewing muscleman (Brian Thompson) and an androgynous mute who confronts their prey on roller skates (choreographer Russell Clark). Regine soon seduces Charley in his hotel room, plunging her fangs into his neck, but years of therapy have convinced him that this was just a dream, at least until he starts showing symptoms of being the living dead.
Much of the film involves the characters of Charley, Peter and Alex each taking turns as to being convinced whether or not Regine and her clan are vampires, and it’s not until all three are convinced and together that the bloodsuckers can be properly confronted. In lesser hands, the personality twists may seem eye-rollingly forced, but thanks to the performances by the cast and the fact that the characters are enhanced by their differences of belief by having them discuss them rather than just yell at each other in their efforts to convince one another about what’s going on, FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 manages to be faithful to the spirit of the character relationships of the original.
While much of this has to do with McDowall (who clearly relishes his role — Vincent is replaced by performance artist Regine as a horror host, and his subsequent useless attack on her is simultaneously amusing and heart-wrenching), one of the ways FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 bests the original is in the relationship between Charley and Alex. Amanda Bearse’s Amy is one of the weaker traits of the first FRIGHT NIGHT, a character that rarely seems to be much more than a bland love interest to whom stuff happens. The same can’t be said for Alex as played by Lin, a spunky, underrated actress who often lent a mildly badass presence to genre films of the time (even if she sports a hilariously terrible French accent in SPELLCASTER). Alex is resourceful, clever, and ends up being a hero of the film, and though her ability to speed read and the fact that we know that she’s studying psychology may be plot contrivances, but they give her a significantly larger role to play.
Director Wallace’s inclination to go for a more stylized look for the film, including showy sequences shot from a flying vampire’s point of view and deep use of color, was criticized at the time for being too “MTV-esque,” but it works in retrospect, especially coupled with the new vampires themselves. Turning lead vampire Regine into a performance artist may seem odd, but this was a time when Laurie Anderson was releasing concert films and Karen Finley was in the news, and mixing the nature of Regine and her merry entourage of weirdos with a stylistic nature makes for a memorable combination, one similar to the previous year’s neon-lit vampire flick GRAVEYARD SHIFT.
Switching the antagonist from a pair of soft-spoken antique dealers to a batch of entertaining characters is one of the film’s strongest points, helped immensely by the performers who give them life. Jon Gries is, as always, a joy to watch, and Thompson, most known for his action roles in the likes of MORTAL KOMBAT:ANNIHILATION and COBRA, gets to show his tongue-in-cheek side here, complete with massive tongue. Clark doesn’t say a word and still makes for a foreboding presence, and lording over all of them is Carmen’s Regine, a captivating beauty who ranks as one of the most seductive female vampires since the era of Hammer horror.
FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 isn’t a perfect film, and it sometimes delves too far into the “comedy” aspect of being a “horror/comedy,” always a dicey line to walk. A sequence involving the vampires bowling is mildly entertaining, but seems to belong in a goofier movie, and the same can be said for a sequence in which Peter ends up in an insane asylum(!), and much like the first film, we never really get an idea as to exactly what the relationship between the vampire pack actually is, or even exactly what species they are. (They seem to die differently, and Gries’ character is so hirsute that he’s either a werewolf or Dan Hedaya.) It’s still, however, a worthy follow-up to Tom Holland’s 1985 classic, transposing the spirit of the original film to a new setting and style, and adding to the mythology set up by Holland rather than dismissing it.
Will FRIGHT NIGHT 2: THE NEW BLOOD follow the same route and play off of the positive factors of the surprisingly entertaining FRIGHT NIGHT remake? We’ll take a look tomorrow. In the meantime, bug Lions Gate to get FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 a decent Blu-Ray release in the proper aspect ratio.
- JIM WYNORSKI RETURNS WITH THE CREATURE FEATURE ‘GILA’ - May 1, 2014