blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Fright Night Part 2 (1988, Tommy Lee Wallace)

At first glance, it appears Fright Night Part 2 is the rare example of a film saved by a mullet. Lead William Ragsdale doesn’t have much more onscreen charisma than last time, but with his gloriously juvenile late eighties wavy mullet, his lack of appeal becomes charming. Or it may be another thing director Wallace fixed this time around; the horrific mullet, which would distract entirely in a lesser film, would still help a lot in that case.

The sequel picks up approximately three years after the first film; now twenty-seven-year-old Ragsdale (the mullet makes him look younger than in the first movie) is a nineteen-year-old college student. He’s been in therapy at the school, which appears to be provided. The film establishes, later on, they’re at a community college; Ragsdale’s got a single and a private bath, the student union has a bowling alley; it’s a very well-funded community college.

Ernie Sabella plays the psychiatrist, who convinces Ragsdale vampires aren’t real. The first movie was his brain protecting him from discovering a serial killer next door who kidnapped his girlfriend and apparently brainwashed his best friend into serial killing too. The sequel will end up being all about the first film in one way, but the continuity’s loose.

Sabella’s the only disappointing performance. It’s like they wanted Danny DeVito and got this guy instead but left the script for the disinterested DeVito. Sabella tries, and his scenes are sometimes really effective thanks to the other actors and Wallace’s direction… he’s just not very good.

Almost the entire rest of the cast is good. Leaving aside Ragsdale, Roddy McDowall’s good (he gets a full arc this time), and Traci Lind’s good (as Ragsdale’s new girlfriend but not the damsel in distress); the villains are all good, with one asterisk. But Jon Gries, Brian Thompson, and Russell Clark, all unqualified good turns as the new gang of creatures come to terrorize Ragsdale and McDowall. The asterisk is main villain Julie Carmen, who doesn’t just try to seduce Ragsdale away from Lind but also has her sights set on taking over McDowall’s horror movie hosting gig.

Since the fallout from the first movie (apparently, the film’s epilogue was a bad dream), Ragsdale has been avoiding McDowall. Sabella encouraging Ragsdale to get back in touch with McDowall is where the film’s main plot seems to start, except unrelatedly to Ragsdale’s therapy breakthrough, vampires are moving into the same building where McDowall lives. It’s a giant, gothic apartment building in L.A., even though the movie’s not set in L.A. (the street opposite the building, which is primarily a composite effects shot, is so L.A.). For a while, it seems like Part 2 is going to be a paint-by-the-numbers retread of the original, sticking to the home locations, but then Part 2 opens up, and then again, and then again. And it keeps opening up, only returning to the building for the excellent finale.

Wallace does a great job directing. His cinematographer, Mark Irwin, isn’t up to many of the shots, unfortunately, but there are still some great sequences in the film.

Now back to Carmen. When she’s a seductive vampire, she’s fantastic. With Brad Fiedel’s “wish I was Tangerine Dream” score and Ragsdale having to wear dark sunglasses for a long stretch of the film, Fright Night Part 2 feels like Risky Business with vampires, especially as it becomes a mystery for a while. Ragsdale and McDowall both investigate the vampires, sometimes to comedic results, usually to bloody.

Of course, Wallace is happy to use dream sequences—and it’s a vampire movie, so why not—which lets them get away with a bunch.

But when Carmen’s just got to drop exposition like a fanged Bond villain, she’s lacking. The first half of the movie, I wondered why she didn’t have a more successful career, then she started talking about something besides Ragsdale being yummy (if only she’d commented on the mullet), and her line reading’s so, so bad. She improves a little afterward, thanks to more seductive vamping, but it’s too bad she’s not better.

The script’s well-paced, the gore’s excellent (though it sometimes goes on just a little long), and Fiedel’s score’s… not without its own charms. The film definitely needs better cinematography, but even though the music’s too much, it might be just right.

Fright Night Part 2’s a surprising success; big kudos to Wallace, McDowall, Lind (who gets to play the real hero, without a jealousy subplot either), the effects people, and Ragsdale’s mullet.

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