Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Review : Fright Night 2 (1988)
FRIGHT NIGHT is my favourite vampire movie of all time. It often feels like my favourite film of all time, period. I see it at least four or five times a year and it never fails to enthrall me with its potent mix of King-esque suburban horror and Gothic, romantic sensibilities. I see the film as a love letter to the Hammer Horror movies I grew up with, and a perfect encapsulation of all that the vampire mythos has to offer. I semi-reviewed it here, for those of you who want my perspective on why its so damn delightful.
Now, its sequel is another matter. I hadn't seen this film since its original release back in the day, and with the new film on the way I figured it'd be a good time to have a look at it with fresh, (or, more accurately, less fresh) eyes. It never shook my world on its release, so could it charm me in the same way the first film did as an adult?
The answer of course, is no.
FRIGHT NIGHT 2 isn't a bad film. it has a lot going for it that many of the late 80's knock offs couldn't come close to touching. Its a slickly directed little film, with some genuinely funny dialogue and a few great idea's, but its doesn't come together in any way close to the original. Magic is rarely captured twice in any franchise, no matter how many sequels are churned out, and although they made a real attempt at capturing the essence of what made the original so great, they missed the mark by quite some way. Its a noble effort that was always gonna lose the fight to the bigger kid in class, but at least it throws a few punches in there. There are many similarities between the two films, but the sequel can't stand up to comparison.
Where the original film had an iconic vampire for the ages, the sequel has three of them, (four if you count a random vampyric encounter with a psychiatrist that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever). And none of them registers onscreen with anywhere near the power than Chris Sarandons 'Jerry' did. The main vamp, Jerry sister, is interesting enough, but her entourage come off as a mix 'n' match gang of 80's stereotypes. You have the muscle bound familiar to appease the action hero crowd, you have a stoner 'comedy relief' vampire who grinds down your patience in every scene, and the last one, a roller skating 'New Romantic' vampire, would look more at home in a Duran Duran video, and serves no purpose at all. With this gang by her side, its hard to take Regina, (Jerry's sister) very seriously as a significant threat. And she doesn't exactly eat up the screen anyway. Her character is a rough approximation of a female Jerry, and as we all know, theres only ONE Jerry Dandridge. Where Jerry smoldered, she looks stoned. Where he seduced and charmed with poise, wit and quiet confidence, she dances around the screen in ridiculous outfits, looking like she's out of her eyeballs on Grade-A weed. The girl just doesn't cut it.
The film also leans far more towards Comedy than Horror, and as the original is considered by many a Horror/Comedy, its understandable to see what they were going for, but the first film humor is very subtle. Its born of the situations the disparate characters find themselves in, and for my money, its not really that funny. I find the original to be a straight Horror with some dark comic undertones. FRIGHT NIGHT 2 seems to have discarded the scare factor for chuckles, and it really undermines any tension or scares the movie is going for.
FRIGHT NIGHT 2 tries very hard to live up to predecessor, but in following its basic template, it fails to stand as a film in its own right. The originals brilliant soundtrack is mostly replaced with a score that frequently tips its hat to it, but never comes close to matching it. You cant help but compare the two films, and as semi-familiar synth effects play over the action, you find yourself impulsively reaching for your FRIGHT NIGHT DVD, just so you can experience the real deal. Its just one example among many of the choices the director has made in tribute to the original that make you hungry for the full steak, (no pun intended) and not the cheap, junk food burger.
On the good side, we do see the return of two very beloved characters. Peter Vincent and Charlie Brewster. And both are every bit as endearing and interesting as they were the first time around. There are some nice reversals of behaviour, and some very funny moments between the two, and despite the lacklustre material surrounding them, they remain a joy to watch. Roddy McDowell's Vincent is one of my all time favourite Horror characters, not least of all because he represents the best and the worst of the vampire killers of old. He has a truly heroic heart, and your with him all the way. Every scene he features in lights the film up, briefly. William Ragsdale's Charlie Brewster remains a great underdog character, and goes through some interesting changes. He knows the character well, and fans of the original will love seeing him suffer through a second vampire onslaught. Together, these two have fantastic chemistry, and really do bring something special to the table. Imagine a whole series of films with these guys, hunting down mythical beasts side by side. Heaven.
FRIGHT NIGHT 2 is a noble attempt at bottling lightning twice, and while it fails, it doesn't insult what came before. Other than the two brilliant leads, theres little to recommend here. It's nice to hang out with these guys again, its just a shame that we couldn't have seen them reunited in a film so bogged down in its time period's fashions and fad's. The original is timeless because it exists in a strange dimension where past and present often cross each others paths. Its both modern and classic. Sure, it's an 80's film with all the goodies that entails, but its so much richer than that. FRIGHT NIGHT 2 serves only to make you cherish the magic of the original all the more.