Artisan // 1989 // 108 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // October 30th, 2003
"Am I going to go to Hell for this?"
Fright Night is a fun -- in an '80s way -- vampire movie. Mixing together the proper amounts of cheese, humor, seriousness, and gore, the film found an audience and became a modest hit. I'm a modest fan of the first film, and it holds a modestly sized fond space in my heart, but I'm not sure why, for it's not the greatest film. Then again, I haven't seen it in years, so I may think it's crap today.
I can recall seeing this sequel and thinking (a) it wasn't that bad and (b) the female vampire was very attractive -- hot had yet to invade our vocabulary. Some fifteen-odd years later, Fright Night Part II still has some modest charms, but it doesn't formidably stand the test of time.
It's been three years since Charlie Brewster and Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall, Planet of the Apes) teamed up to kill Jerry Dandrige, the vampire that had moved into the area and become Charlie's neighbor. Since that day, Charlie has been in counseling, working through the issues related to such a traumatic event in his life. And now he has finally come to the healthy realization that there are no vampires. There never were any vampires. It was all a machination of his young and active imagination fueled by Peter's horror movie career and late-night television show, Fright Night.
Since he's come to terms with his past, Charlie's life is finally getting back on track. Now at college, he's seeing a beautiful and bright young lady, Alex, and working hard to move on.
As part of his therapy, Charlie hasn't visited his old friend Peter in some time, but his rehabilitation now calls for him to make a call to give closure to his ordeal. He brings Alex along for the engagement, and the three of them have a great time talking and reminiscing. But at the end of the night, Peter is unaware that Charlie no longer believes the truth about their fight with the vampire.
But Charlie's new reality is about to be shattered. While waiting in the condo lobby for Alex to come out of the little girl's room, Charlie notices a group of people entering and he immediately knows that the woman in the middle of the pack is a vampire. He doesn't want to believe it, so he shrugs it off.
Back in therapy, his counselor tells him it's a normal part of the healing process and expected, considering his evening spent with Peter. Charlie is soon convinced. Yet as the days go on, he realizes that he was right, and it is all happening again. She is a vampire, and she's out for revenge on Charlie and Peter. It takes some time, but soon Peter believes that the danger has returned. With the help of Alex, the trio is ensnared in a battle against the dark forces, which include not only a vampire, but also werewolves and other devilish creatures.
As is always the case in Hollywood, if a movie does well then there must be a sequel. As is usually the case, the sequel falls short of its predecessor. The problem is compounded here in that the original Fright Night wasn't anything exceptional in the first place. It was a simple story, with some decent turns, some intriguing twists on the vampire legend, and a delightful performance by McDowall. Luckily, they were able to bring back our two heroes this time, but they weren't able to recreate the charm. Fright Night Part II does have its moments of suspense, horror, and humor, yet it feels a bit tired and dated at this point. With such high-profile films as Blade and Underworld, the domain of the vampire has significantly transformed since its humble roots in Dracula by Bram Stoker. And just jumping back a few years, what seemed like action and danger now feels like a walk in the park compared to the frenetic action we're shown these days. Sometimes going back and looking at those films brings some nostalgia, but that isn't the case here. Being such an average film at the time, I never developed any significant attachment. So, now, it's just another inconsequential film from the past.
I don't mean to slam the film, for it adequately achieves its goal in continuing the cheesy horror flick of the '80s. It's just that it won't be remembered as fondly as its older sibling, Fright Night. As a further sign that our memories aren't necessarily perfect and/or that things do change over time, Julie Carmen, our actress who plays the vampire, while moderately eye-catching, certainly isn't very attractive ("hot") by today's standards.
This bare bones disc -- so bare that it doesn't even have subtitles -- from our friends at Artisan lives up to the studio's reputation. Sadly, the best way to describe the quality of this video is to say, "It looks bad for a VHS tape." If I were to hypothesize, I would venture to say that someone at Artisan popped in an old VHS tape, hit record on the DVD burner, and, voila, here's the latest release! You get everything you don't want: muted, washed out colors, grayish blacks, poor detail, lots of dirt, and plenty of grain. It's pretty sad. The audio fares much better, with occasionally muffled dialogue and moderate use of the left and right speakers, giving some appearance of channel separation.
Last, the packaging makes this claim: "Presented in the original 1.33:1 format in which the title was shot." Ladies and gentlemen, according to my research, that is a big fat lie. Everything I've found points to the fact that this movie was filmed in 2.35:1. What is wrong with Artisan? Do they think we're not going to notice this blatant lie? As is my scoring methodology, I halved my video score because the original aspect ratio is not contained on the disc.
This is a perfect successor to a film that surprised and delighted a generation. By bringing back the original characters and showing how their lives have been affected from that fateful evening, Fright Night Part II is more than a simple, regurgitated sequel. It realized that while we loved Charlie and Peter, we needed them to do more than simply kill another vampire. We needed a new peril, a new set of dire circumstances, yet we still needed that morbid sense of humor.
Being true to the leitmotif that audiences so loved yet wickedly expanding upon it, Fright Night Part II is a faithful and wondrous re-imagining of a cult classic.
The trappings of memory: sometimes good, sometimes bad. While I thought I remembered that this was a decent horror flick, Fright Night Part II hasn't held true to my mind. It has aged, but not terribly so. If you've been jaded by today's high-octane interpretation of the vampire genre, then this film is not for you. If you like a slower horror movie with a dash of morbid humor and you get a kick out of the '80s, then this film is for you. The electro-pop music, borderline special effects, and special cameo appearance by Merritt Buttrick all combine to help you delight in that funky nostalgia. At best, rent this movie. If you buy it, you'll be greatly disappointed with the terrible video transfer and complete lack of bonus items. Better yet, just wait until it pops up on cable again some time in the future. Save your money for better DVDs.
Artisan is hereby found guilty of fraud and misrepresentation of product. Fright Night Part II was not a full frame release and should not be marketed as such. The court sentences Artisan $3,079,000 for their grievous transgression.
Fright Night Part II is hereby found not guilty on all charges.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated R