Wednesday, 31 August 2011

VHS Quest #11. Fright Night Part 2 (Tommy Lee Wallace, 1988)

The nightmare continues for Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) in Fright Night Part 2 (1988)

Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) just doesn't have the knack with girls. He's forever lusting after their attentions, but whenever one (inexplicably) falls for his charms he's too busy spying out of windows or tailing suspected vamps to notice. The first Fright Night (Holland, 1985) saw him dating the lovable Amy (Amanda Bearse, absent here), who finally decided to sleep with him the night he started playing Rear Window (Hitchcock, 1954). From here he continually harasses her with tales of neighboring bloodsuckers, ultimately leading her into the path of danger. His girlfriend in this movie (Alex, played by Traci Lin) gets much the same treatment; embarrassingly stood up on dates and frequently subjected to paranoid ramblings. By the end of the movie she saves him, and I can think of no good reason for them to stay together. Indeed, Charley might be the most hopeless lead in a horror series I've ever seen.

But then, I have a confession to make: I don't actually like the original Fright Night. In fact, I think this oft forgotten sequel is substantially better than its predecessor, which musters neither the scares nor laughs required of a quality horror/comedy, à la Evil Dead II (Raimi, 1987). The saving grace of the original was Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell, channeling Peter Cushing), but he's actually given much more to do in this installment. In one (fleeting) subplot the Hammer-style thespian-turned-vampire hunter is committed to a mental asylum, where he's helped to escape by a loon who thinks there's a movie shoot underway. Superfluous? Yes. Fun? Heaps. Always on hand with a jumper and a crucifix, Vincent is one of the most purely enjoyable horror creations of the 1980's, and Fright Night suffers for not making him the lead. If only he'd had his own spin-off series. I guess the box office just didn't allow for it.

So, I should probably establish the plot (hah!). After three years in therapy Charley has denounced his belief in vampires, labeling it a "defence mechanism", supposedly triggered by learning that his neighbor was a serial killer. Soon after reconciling with Peter Vincent (still haunting unwatched TV channels) Charley notices some suspicious coffin-based behavior occurring around the neighborhood. Shrugging it off, he later becomes convinced that this is more than just a case of déjà vu, and the vampires, led by performance artist Regine (Julie Carmen), might now be after him. Also on hand is Louie (Jon Gries), a creepily lovelorn vamp who wouldn't look out of place on a sex offenders list. He's entirely incidental to the plot, and probably doesn't bear mentioning, but Gries' performance is so hysterically bad that he really makes the film more fun. Actually, he lands most of the laughs and scares, often simultaneously.

The fact is, Fright Night Part 2 isn't particularly good either, and works best as a guilty pleasure. The screenplay is godawful, but Charley's underdeveloped moodswings (his mini rant about horror literature is hilarious) are a shining example of bad writing, and the film works better for their inclusion. The effects are much better this time around, largely due to a bigger budget, but consequently they're used less inventively. There are some really cool deaths in this film (melting faces ahoy), and some gruesome makeup, but too many scenes seem to rely on the expanded accountancy sheet, and take that as an acceptable substitute for character development. The biggest genuine improvement is the ending. Rather than reaching a budget-constrained anticlimax Wallace's film actually showcases a pretty exciting set-piece finale, eliciting genuine tension from a suspended elevator and an against-the-clock coffin sabotage. But, as karma would have it, for that extended treat we're made to suffer an awful romantic epilogue, with dialogue that would make a daytime soap wince.

But when all's said and done, Fright Night Part 2 has a vampire bowling montage. Who am I to argue with that?

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