A LOOK BACK AT: FRIGHT NIGHT II!!
This may be a bit confessionary, but the movie FRIGHT NIGHT played an integral role in my upbringing. Chris Sarandon was undoubtedly the man who pushed me through puberty, and FRIGHT NIGHT completely changed the way I look at vampire films. Had it not been for the perfection that is LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, I’d have no problem declaring FRIGHT NIGHT to be my favorite vampire flick of all time. (Okay, it might have to fight with NEAR DARK, but that is beside the point.) However, with the success of every original film, Hollywood wastes no time generating a sequel. Three years after the success of the first film, Tommy Lee Wallace took over the directing reigns from Tom Holland and created FRIGHT NIGHT II. Following the footsteps of most sequels, FRIGHT NIGHT II is a sophomore slump; definitely not the brilliant piece of work that its predecessor was, but it is in no way a bad film.
The biggest problem facing this sequel was that it had to follow such a beloved film. FRIGHT NIGHT had everything good going for it (memorable characters, hilarious dialogue, great chemistry, a solid through line, just enough sex appeal, Chris Sarandon in that off the shoulder sweater…) and trying to recapture that essence in a second installment is just incredibly difficult to do.
The story follows our protagonist from the first film, Charley Brewster, who has gone through extensive psychiatric therapy and is now convinced that Jerry Dandridge wasn’t a vampire. In fact, despite all of the proof that was shown before his very eyes, he doesn’t believe that vampires exist at all. Out of nowhere, Regine Dandridge (Jerry’s equally vampiric sister) shows up and tries to seduce Charley in an attempt to avenge her brother’s demise. On paper, this is a pretty solid premise for a sequel. Problem being, a lot of what made the original film so wonderful wasn’t able to return for the sequel.
We are given the familiar faces of Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) and Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), but Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) has been destroyed, Charley has broken up with his queen-of-the-bad-hair-accessories girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse), and trusty side-kick Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) was also a casualty of the first film.
Don’t get me wrong, FRIGHT NIGHT II is a fun little film on its own, but compared to the original it just fails. Traci Lind plays Charley’s new girlfriend Alex, and while she’s a bit more of a bad-ass than Amy, and arguably loaded with more sex appeal, what made Amy such an interesting character was her transition throughout the film from meek girl-next-door to bonafide Vampiress vixen. Charley Brewster isn’t as much of a wienie in the sequel, but that’s what made him such a riot in the original. I know I’m usually in the minority with that interpretation, but I prefer the panicky-dorkwad from the first film. Chris Sarandon is replaced by Julie Carmen, and while the sex appeal was a lot less ambiguous in the sequel, losing the homoerotic undertones of the main vampire just didn’t feel right. She’s a bit too over-the-top in comparison to Sarandon’s subtlety and doesn’t possess the same aura that draws you in the way Sarandon did. Trying to follow a character that was so perfected is almost unfair to Carmen. You just, you can’t top Chris Sarandon’s Jerry Dandridge. It’s clear which vampire got the good genes in that family line. There are more vampires in this flick which seem to represent the most popular stock characters of the ‘80s. The best comparisons I can think of are the vampires in the original BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER flick and a cross between a Cyndi Lauper music video. Honestly? I think they saw the success of something like THE LOST BOYS and tried to combine that with the rag-tag appeal of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. I could be wrong, but the sudden burst of vampires in the sequel felt a little forced. As mildly interesting as they are, it completely takes away any sort of power that Regine Dandridge may have had. Really, you need a posse of vamps, one of which is on roller-skates to back you up? Come on, now.
Now that I’ve gotten the “it’s not as good as the first one!” complaints out of the way, let’s look at FRIGHT NIGHT II on its own.
The first film was definitely a horror film with comedic elements, but much like ARMY OF DARKNESS, FRIGHT NIGHT II is almost a straight up comedy with horror elements. The dialogue is a bit ridiculous at times and it forces any attempts at frightening audiences into laughable situations. The entire flavor of the film has been sprinkled with humor, and it makes it nearly impossible to develop any tension, when the audience is waiting for the next pun or punch line. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just needs to be understood that the humor is what is being focused on, not the horror. It’s unfair to say “this movie isn’t scary,” because I genuinely don’t believe it was intended to be. On that same note, FRIGHT NIGHT II doesn’t stand the test of time nearly the way the original does, because it’s definitely, DEFINITELY a product of the late ‘80s. However, if you were around for the ‘80s (or obsessively do your research on the culture of the time period like this writer born in 1990…) this film is totally a walking time capsule for 1988.
Arguably the best part of the sequel is the exploration of Roddy McDowell’s Peter Vincent. McDowell truly captures the essence of the golden age of horror heroes and Hammer icons without ever mocking them. I think some of the bitterness of Vincent has worn off from the first film, and it just makes him all the more endearing the second time around. Watching Vincent and Brewster join forces to defeat the blood-suckers once more help maintain the heart established from the first film, and gives fans of the original something to hold on to.
Is FRIGHT NIGHT II watchable? Yes. Is it this overlooked sequel the way PSYCHO II is overlooked? Not by a long shot. I wouldn’t call this an unnecessary sequel, but it’s just a little bit “close, but no cigar” for my liking.