I revisited Fright Night Part II during the Halloween weekend for the first time since seeing it theatrically in 1989. Tom Holland's original Fright Night is a movie I have a great deal of affection for, a great mix of humour, horror and nostalgia, a notoriously difficult combination to perfect. Tommy Lee Wallace's sequel made in 1988 tries hard to repeat the magic but ultimately falls well short.
Three years on from the events of Fright Night and Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale), thanks to his therapy, believes that Jerry Dandrige was a serial killer rather than a vampire, as vampires don't exist right? With new girlfriend Alex (Traci Lind), Charley is trying to move on, until that is, while visiting Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), he sees four coffins being taken into Peter's building, along with four strange people, led by a woman he seems to have a strong connection with. It can't be happening again, can it?
The strength of the screenplay was one of Fright Night's strong points, so immediately the sequel is set back as the writing in Fright Night Part II is weak. The whole film feels like a disjointed mess of scenes and ideas rather than a strong narrative. This is of course, a common problem in horror sequels and particularly in 1980's ones, but it really stands out here. Without a strong story the film is relying on it's other elements to pull it through and unfortunately they don't quite manage it. Chris Sarandon's vampire was so good in the first film, charismatic and charming, it was easy to see how he managed to do his thing. In the sequel the head vampire, Regine, is played by Julie Carmen. She does a pretty good job but suffers in comparison, her best moments being her dance pieces, which are well staged and quite atmospheric in a horror film otherwise devoid of atmosphere. Presumably the filmmakers weren't convinced she was enough to carry the film, hence her entourage, who do provide some much needed fun, Brian Thompson of Cobra fame and John Gries in particular have their moments, but only really serve to make the film feel even more fragmented.
Fright Night Part II isn't all bad, the chemistry between William Ragsdale and Roddy McDowall is still good, although nowhere near enough is made of this, which would have undoubtedly helped the movie. The practical special and makeup effects are fun, and while maybe budget restricted, I'll take them over todays obsession with CGI.
My biggest problem with the film though is the complete lack of scares and the aforementioned failure to build any sustained atmosphere. As Tommy Lee Wallace was a protege of John Carpenter, this is really disappointing. I didn't like the film much upon seeing it in 1989, but thought time may have been kinder to it, revisiting it now I feel exactly the same way about it as I did then, which in a way, is comment enough on the film.
For a much more positive viewpoint on Fright Night Part II, check out robotGEEK's review here, while you're there, have a good look around at the wealth of cool stuff he covers.