Retro Review: FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 (1988) A Guilty Pleasure


Tom Holland’s ‘Fright Night’ (1985) stands not only as a great vampire movie, but also as a genre classic with a near-perfect blend of horror and comedy mixed with some great special effects, wit, and likable characters. The story, seemingly inspired by ‘Rear Window’ (1954), told the story of Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale), a teenaged boy who suspects that his new neighbor Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire. After Charlie’s awareness of Jerry’s true nature is revealed to the immortal vampire, Charlie enlists the help of Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), a former monster movie actor who hosts a television program called “Fright Night”, in an effort to save his loved ones from Jerry’s wrath. It’s a fun movie from start to finish, and in my opinion is one of the two best vampire films from the 80’s, just as good as ‘The Lost Boys’.

So, when it comes to a sequel, it’s going to be pretty hard to top the first. Hell, ‘Fright Night’ is one of those movies that didn’t even need a sequel – it works just fine as a stand-alone film, but that’s not how Hollywood operates, so here we are. When I first watched ‘Fright Night Part 2’ (1988), I had watched it as I try to do with any movie, and that is with an open mind. Sure, some sequels have managed to overcome and surpass the originals, but those are far and few between. I didn’t expect this sequel to top the original, so I wasn’t really shocked that it was an inferior film. It’s very flawed, but it wasn’t outright terrible either. There are some truly fun moments and some likable characters, particularly on the villain side, and it’s great to see William Ragsdale and Roddy McDowall interact together again as Charlie “so cool” Brewster and Peter Vincent.

Tommy Lee Wallace, director of ‘Halloween 3: Season of the Witch’ (1982) and the 1990 mini-series ‘IT’, takes over for Tom Holland here, and delivers a sequel that lacks the wit and scope of the original film. The story begins with Charlie Brewster completing a three-year stint in therapy following the events of the first film. Charlie has been convinced that vampires are not real and that his encounter with Jerry Dandridge was exaggerated by a mass-hysteria caused by the delusional Peter Vincent; while the threat of Jerry Dandridge as a serial killer was very much real, the vampire aspect was not. At first, I thought that Charlie was just telling his therapist what he wanted to hear, but nope: Charlie is still a douche bag, ignoring Peter’s calls, and buying into his therapist’s claims.

Charlie is now in college, and has a new girlfriend named Alex (Traci Lin), and the two do eventually visit Peter Vincent. While Charlie does apologize to Peter for not returning his calls, he struggles to tell Peter of his new perceived truth that Vampires do not exist. Peter on the other hand is very proud and living on the high of the glory day of their defeat over Jerry Dandridge. While Peter shows Alex around his place, Charlie goes back to his old days of looking out windows and noticing strange things, this time sees a few wooden caskets being delivered to the same very building that Peter lives in. In the lobby below, Charlie then witnesses the entrance of a woman named Regine (Julie Carmen), who presence entrances him.

Later on, Charlie sees Regine’s face as he tries to make the moves on Alex, causing a fight between the couple. Regine visits Charlie at his dorm room late at night, and prompts an invite into the room. She ends up biting and infecting Charlie, turning him into a vampire. It is revealed later on that Regine is actually Regine Dandridge, Jerry’s sister, and she is seeking revenge on Charlie and Peter for killing her brother.

Visually, this movie is dull. The cinematography and direction feel entirely flat, and the film just seems to have the quality of a made-for-television movie. Maybe it’s just my crummy DVD copy in an era of Blu Ray crispness, but this movie feels ugly to look at. Perhaps it’s the color pallet, the lighting, the sets, or a combination of them all? Either way, this movie severely lacks the visual flare of Tom Holland’s original.

Story-wise, the movie is an acceptable sequel thematically. I think that while the script was not executed to it’s full potential, there are some pretty good story choices: as much as I hate on and speak negatively about, Charlie being convinced that vampires are not real seems like a logical and realistic approach to where this character would be at years later – that he was so effected by the events of the first film that it consumed his life, and even though he was ultimately telling the truth, he was the one in need of therapy, because, well, according to our perceptions of reality, vampires do not exist. The central plot of Regine being Jerry’s sibling and is seeking revenge is pretty generic, but it works for this film and is handled pretty well. I also like the idea of turning the tables and having Charlie infected pretty early on in the movie – kind of raising the stakes in the process.

Some of the jokes landed, and some of them felt forced. Although it’s pretty corny, I do get a chuckle out of the scene where the Werewolf, Louie (Jonathan Gries), climbs up the building, intentionally seeking Alex, and ends up getting his fingers slammed in the window, breaking the nails and causing him to fall. I also like the occasional running joke between Brian Thompson’s Renfield-like character, Bozworth, and Louie where the line “You’re supposed to bite her on the neck” is brought up at a few points. Although these moments don’t occur a lot, to me it seemed like natural banter between the characters. They actually felt like they’ve known each other for a long time.

The special effects were okay. Not too bad considering budget and the time this movie was made. By today’s standards, they are definitely dated.

Composer Brad Fiedel returned for the score, slipping in a few tracks from the first film, which helps the atmosphere of this movie.

Regardless of all of my criticisms, I always feel the need to watch this one after watching the original. Most of all because I actually like the characters, and even with ‘Fright Night’ being a film that never needed a sequel, it’s nice to have at least one more story with Ragsdale and McDowall as Charlie and Peter, and expanding upon their friendship. Had it been like ‘Tremors’ or other franchises where only one-character returns, or other characters are re-cast, I’d probably not like this movie as much as I do.

While the final product lacks the quality of the original film, I still find this to be a fun follow-up.

About Seth T. Miller 90 Articles
I am first and foremost a proud father of two daughters who may or may not be possessed by demonic entities/deadites -- time will tell on that one, but I am pretty confident that one of them translated the Necronomicon. I enjoy short walks to my movie collection, reading in goddamn piece and quiet, and watching the same movies and tv series over and over instead of discovering new stuff.