Written by: Matt Venne
Directed by: Eduardo Rodriguez
Starring: Will Payne, Jaime Murray, and Sean Power
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“Welcome to Fright Night for real, bitch!"
When it was released in 1985, Tom Holland’s Fright Night was a noteworthy highlight for the decade’s preoccupation with transplanting vampires in a contemporary milieu, with The Lost Boys and Near Dark later reimagining bloodsuckers as a band of cool hoodlums and outlaw gangs, respectively. Fright Night, however, literally hit closer to home by moving the vampire next door, all the while retaining the creature’s gothic trappings. Three decades later, Fright Night has become nothing more than a brand name, as evidenced not only by 2011’s ill-conceived remake but also by the fact that it has spawned another redux that couldn’t be any further removed from the franchise’s original concept since it relocates to the heart of central European vampire lore.
Some clarification is in order: despite the numerical title, this isn’t a sequel to the 2011 film (or another pass at the original Fright Night II) but instead another reboot, albeit one that takes things in another direction, so it once again features the exploits of Charlie Brewster (Will Payne), his buddy Evil Ed (Chris Waller), and his estranged girlfriend Amy (Sacha Parkinson). This time, however, they’re foreign exchange students on a trip to Romania, where they come under the tutelage of professor Gerri Danridge (Jamie Murray), an art history professor who moonlights as a centuries-old vampire. After stumbling onto her lair and her feeding habits, Charlie uncovers this secret and desperately attempts to convince his friends to take action, especially when Gerri makes Amy her next target.
Despite presenting a complete inversion of the franchise formula, Fright Night 2 still gets more right than its 2011 predecessor. This one might not be as thematically ambitious as that film, but it at least sticks to its guns when regurgitating all the familiar bits (whereas the 2011 effort squandered an intriguing premise and leaned on familiarity with no regard for logic). The result is a perfectly lightweight but satisfying exercise in pulp that blends classic vampire mythology with teen movie drama. In other words, it’s Fright Night for real, especially since it does make some attempt to recapture the vampire’s gothic roots, something that went largely forgotten the last time out.
The original Fright Night accomplished that with Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), a former horror movie star turned late-night horror TV host, a concept that allowed Holland to pay reverence to Hammer and its ilk. Fright Night 2 doesn’t feature that same reference point but instead tackles the granddaddy of vampire lore in Dracula by exploring Gerri’s backstory (complete with a cool comic book-styled animation sequence). It’s typical tragic, forlorn vampire stuff involving an undead countess looking to cure herself of her vampiric curse (well, the inconvenient parts of it anyway) by searching for a virgin born at the stroke of midnight under a blood moon or some such nonsense. The mythology is admittedly convoluted, particularly towards the climax when Gerri has to explain the various rules, but it’s a fairly interesting diversion that allows the film to skirt around the otherwise familiar proceedings (always a plus when you’re dealing with a formula for the fourth time).
Of course, this shift in motivation also misses the sexual angst underlying the original film, which presented every teenage boy’s worst nightmare to a horrifying degree. Gerri’s interest in Amy here is asexual and utilitarian, and her intrusion doesn’t serve to create any more relationship drama between the couple; instead, she’s the means by which the two eventually reconcile, as the two have split up due to Charlie’s infidelity (a premise that’s otherwise a non-issue, much like Charlie and Ed’s estranged relationship in the 2011 film). But the good news is that the characters otherwise work well enough. Payne does a decent replication of William Ragsdale’s sadsack routine, while Waller recalls Stephen Geoffrey’s spazzy turn as Evil Ed. Murray represents the fourth Dandridge to grace the screen and continues the franchise’s good run of memorable antagonists; she’s not only wholly believable as a bloodsucking seductress, but she also relishes the villainous, predatory nature of the role.
Caught in the middle without much to do is Parkinson, who is sweet and doe-eyed enough as Amy; disconcertingly, she’s joined by this film’s take on Peter Vincent (Sean Power), here re-imagined as a wannabe lothario who stars in a reality television show dedicated to investigating supernatural haunts (which makes a whole lot more sense than a Vegas magician). His performance isn’t all that far removed from David Tennant’s in the previous film, as he’s still a reluctant sham who borders on being an asshole; for the most part, he’s only here to serve that purpose and dole out some arbitrary rules for the climax, as there’s never a sense that he’s ever truly part of the proceedings outside of being a hired gun (er, stake). He’s one of the few instances where the film just seems to be paying fealty to the original out of obligation—I almost feel like you could excise him completely and not lose a whole lot, especially since this feels like an inferior Xerox of Tennant.
But for its few missteps, Fright Night 2 compensates well enough with an ample amount of gory effects (some digital but many practical) and fun sequences that never try to outrun the film’s small budget. The constraints are occasionally evident (it’s shot in Romania not out of authenticity but out of necessity), but the film wisely avoids an over-reliance on cheap digital effects in subtle ways; for example, when Gerri flies off to her castle, we only hear it, which is preferable to some CGI monstrosity that other films might have gone with. For a direct-to-video effort, it’s impressive enough, and it gets more mileage out of this franchise than its bigger-budged predecessor, if only because it’s more entertaining and less cluttered. Fox Entertainment’s Blu-ray does it justice with a sleek high-def transfer and an engaging DTS-MA track; a handful of extras also adorn the disc in the form of some webisodes, a “Dracula revealed” featurette, and an audio track with director Eduardo Rodriguez and producers Alison Rosenzweig and Michael Gaeta. Usually, the combination of “sequel-in-name-only” and a reboot arriving in such close proximity to a remake would be troubling, but Fright Night 2 carries the torch better than any film since the original (but would it kill anyone to dust off Brad Fidel's "Come With Me" to truly recapture some more of the franchise flavor?) Buy it!
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