[We're celebrating some of the most memorable horror and sci-fi movies of 1989 this month in Daily Dead's Class of 89 retrospective series! Check back on Daily Dead throughout the rest of August for more special features celebrating the 30th anniversaries of a wide range of horror and sci-fi films!]
Even as a kid, I was always super precious over my favorite horror movies. So, when Fright Night Part 2 was released, let’s just say that 11-year-old Heather was less than enthused. Thankfully, I’ve come to my senses over the last several decades and now recognize that the Fright Night sequel, when judged entirely by its own merits, is actually a super fun creature feature that exploits Charley Brewster’s healthy libido by utilizing a seductive temptress named Regine to torment him as he does his best to distance himself from the events of the original Fright Night in an effort to move forward with his life.
And that’s the thing I didn’t really understand at the time: that the world of Fright Night was moving forward, too, whether I was ready for it or not, and while it was a bitter pill for me to swallow some 30 years ago, these days, I’ve come to embrace the things that make Fright Night Part 2 a memorable follow-up effort, and certainly one of the more enjoyable genre films to be released in 1989.
Right off the bat (pun intended), Fright Night Part 2 begins with our beloved Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) recapping the events of the first film to his psychiatrist (played by venerable “That Guy” Ernie Sabella) and declaring that after everything he’s been through, his previous adversary Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon) was really a psychotic serial killer and not a vampire after all. Admittedly, it’s a pretty jarring way to start a sequel, where you’re essentially telling viewers (and fans) that everything you love about this world is basically a lie, and doing it via your protagonist to boot, is without a doubt an incredibly ballsy way to entice audiences to want to watch what is supposed to be a continuation of the first film’s story.
As a kid, it was a big part of my problem with FNP2, but now that I’ve had three decades to absorb that extremely bold decision from co-writer/director Tommy Lee Wallace, I’ve come to realize that it was a rather ingenious way to frame the sequel. As a movie fan, the last thing I want from any sequel (genre-related or otherwise) is a story that just retreads the same ground as its predecessor, and whether you like it or not, Fright Night Part 2 could not be any more different from the first film, which is the earmark of a sequel that’s doing something right. Wallace is effectively removing the thing that made Charley such a compelling hero the first time around—his blind belief in the existence of evil—and in FNP2, we see a paradigm shift between himself and “Fearless Vampire Killer” Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), who firmly believes that vampires and other creatures of the night do actually exist.
This time, our investment in Charley’s journey comes from a very different place, as he unknowingly becomes the prey of the mysterious performance artist/vampiress Regine (Julie Carmen), whose interest in the college co-ed is a bit more complicated than her desire to turn him into yet another tasty snack. As Regine reveals to Peter, what’s motivating her interest in Charley throughout FNP2 is blood – more specifically, the blood that Vincent and Charley spilled a few years prior when they killed her (equally sexy) bloodsucking brother, Jerry. Regine wants them to suffer, but mostly Charley, and with her vengeance coming from a very personal place, it helps her character stand out against the original Fright Night’s formidable vampiric foe, and allows Regine as a character to become something totally and completely its own, even if she does share ties with the now-deceased Jerry Dandrige.
Which brings us to Julie Carmen as the villain in Fright Night Part 2. There are so many reasons why Fright Night OG became a bona fide genre classic, and Chris Sarandon’s smoldering and commanding performance is certainly one of them. So, how on earth do you even begin to follow that up in a sequel? You bring in an intoxicating siren who can get under Charley’s skin in ways that Jerry never could, both figuratively and a bit literally. Also, what I love about Regine’s motivations is when she decides it’s time to screw with Peter, she doesn’t necessarily go after his palpable fear of supernatural forces, she hits him where it really hurts: she takes away his spot on his long-running Fright Night show. And honestly, I love that because it pulls back the layers on Peter’s previous professional insecurities in a whole new way.
Her performance on the revamped (HA!) fictional Fright Night show is rousing (and slightly arousing) at the same time, and Carmen’s background in dancing serves her well throughout Fright Night Part 2, as the way the actress carries herself and utilizes her movements as a means to draw people (and potential victims) in works perfectly here. There’s a quiet elegance to Regine, making her feel like a character that’s truly out of time, and we get a sense of the life she’s led without being beat over the head with any sort of elongated backstory because, quite simply, we don’t need it. Carmen’s performance tells us everything we need to know.
Regine doesn’t work alone in FNP2, though, and her cronies are another aspect that makes the sequel stand out from its predecessor. There is the mysterious Belle (Russell Clark), a roller skating vampire who challenged gender norms in 1989, Louie (a scene-stealing Jon Gries), a gregarious and love-struck werewolf who takes an interest in Charley’s girlfriend, Alex (Traci Lind), and bug-eating driver and muscle, Bozworth (Brian Thompson, who many fans know as the Alien Bounty Hunter from The X-Files). They engage in all kinds of shenanigans throughout FNP2, but their bowling night excursion is undoubtedly the most memorable, especially when Louie razzes Bozworth with a severed head gag while he’s preparing to take down some pins.
As I’ve grown to love Fright Night Part 2 over time, another aspect of it that I’ve come to enjoy the most (beyond all the monster mayhem) is Ragsdale’s performance in the sequel. Don’t get me wrong—I think his acting in the first film is absolutely wonderful: earnest, likeable, charming with a rare sense of vulnerability that we didn’t get all that often during the 1980s with male genre characters. But in FNP2, we see Ragsdale let down his proverbial hair a bit. There’s a bit more of a boyish charm to his portrayal of Charley this time around, and his vulnerability comes from a different place now. He’s not acting out as a protector; he’s facing a danger in Regine that for most of the film, he isn’t quite sure he’s actually facing, and I think it makes for a fascinating performance. Plus, Charley’s pushback to his girlfriend shaming him over his love of “low-grade melodramas” (i.e. horror movies) is yet another reason to love him as a genre fan, because we’ve all had that conversation at least once in our lifetimes.
While it might be missing the polish of the first film, and the intimacy in how its story was told, Fright Night Part 2 still remains a largely overlooked sequel from the ’80s (an era in which sequels ruled supreme), and that dismissive attitude towards it was definitely something I was guilty of for so many years myself. And I’m glad it’s something I’ve come around on, because when it comes to the horror comedies of 1989, FNP2 was a pretty damned good one, and it not only gave us yet another memorable vampire adversary in Regine, but we also got some wonderfully weird monster moments to boot, and that in itself makes Fright Night Part 2 worth the watch.
Check here throughout the rest of August for more special features celebrating the Class of 89!