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Deep Cuts: Fright Night Part 2
The world of horror is vast. With so many films across the spectrum of budget, studio involvement, quality, availability, and, above all else, pure scare-the-living-s***-out-of-you-ness, it helps to have trained professionals parse through some of the older and/or lesser-known offerings. That's where Team FANGRRLS comes in with Deep Cuts, our series dedicated to bringing the hidden gems of horror out of the vault and into your nightmares. This week we're looking at underappreciated horror sequel Fright Night Part 2.
The original Fright Night is a well-loved B-movie that pulls out all the stops. Though many great horror comedies have come and gone since its initial run, it would be hard to argue with its status as one of the more influential genre movies of the '80s. Lesser known is Fright Night Part 2. Though the sequel generally equals the first film in its meta-humor, its emotional maturity, and its scares, the drop-off in critical reception was extreme.
This is an outrage because Fright Night Part 2 is extremely great. Charley and Peter team up again to fight vampires with the slight benefit of both knowing that vampires do indeed exist and that they can be killed this time around. The sequel introduces new villains, a new girlfriend for Charley, and doubles down on the camp aspects that made Fright Night such a beloved movie. In a franchise that spawned not just a remake but a sequel to that remake, Fright Night Part 2 generally goes forgotten. Finding a copy of the film is usually a chore in and of itself, yet it is easily one of the best horror sequels from the decade whence it came.
Fright Night Part 2 is one of those movies that barely got made for a number of reasons. Initially, writer/director Tom Holland and Chris Sarandon were supposed to return for the sequel, but that didn't work out due to their mutual involvement with an obscure little film called Child's Play. Directorial reins were passed to Tommy Lee Wallace, who is perhaps less known among horror fans than Holland but who directed the famously off-kilter Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Alongside screenwriters Miguel Tejada-Flores and Tim Metcalfe, the story of Fright Night Part 2 was born. Distribution was a mess due to the fallout caused by the tragic murder of José Menéndez, a chairperson of Carolco Pictures at the time, and the box office suffered as a result.
The story begins with a slightly older, slightly more fashionable version of Charley sitting in his therapist's office, confirming that he clearly imagined the events of the first Fright Night. Dandridge was a serial killer that he mistook for a vampire, the script reasons. We meet his new girlfriend, Alex, a psychology major who takes her studies seriously and encourages Charley to put his troubles behind him. Naturally, it doesn't take long for Charley to discover a whole new vampire — the beautiful Regine, who seduces him immediately. Whereas in the last film Charley's girlfriend Amy had been victim to Dandridge's control, here Charley falls under Regine's power almost immediately, and much of the sequel revolves around Peter Vincent: Vampire Hunter and Alex attempting to save him.
Charley's comically clueless suburban mom is sidelined, while Amy has been swapped out for Alex. While Amy was great, she was also defined entirely by her interest in Charley, while Alex gets significantly more time to shine on her own merits. She's studying psychology and plans to become an analyst, and she thereby takes nowhere near the level of guff that Amy tolerated. She gets herself out of various entanglements that are entirely caused due to her affiliation with Charley. An unsavory werewolf stalks her, and she fends him off until Charley arrives to shove him out of a window.
Commentary around the queer coding in the first Fright Night has been explored at length, with "roommate" and "live-in interior decorator" Billy Cole striving to serve Jerry Dandridge's every whim. There is no questioning that the film has been iconic for queer horror audiences, and that is as it should be. Meanwhile, Fright Night Part 2 features Regine, who rolls with an entire crew including Belle (played by Russell Clarke), whose whole style, from hair to sequins to rollerskates, is intentionally queer.
Regine is at least as captivating as Dandridge, and though she has fewer lines, her dance numbers are unforgettable and iconic. She seduces Charley and commands her crew with ease, projecting an air of authority that even brutal werewolves and bugmen bow down to. Her queerness is more coded than Dandridge's all-but-text bisexuality, but there is a scene when she signs the autograph of a fan who then strokes Regine's collarbone as Regine puts an arm around her. Many horror critics have said the queerness was significantly toned down in this sequel, but there are plenty of smaller moments that communicate an intrinsic queerness to the franchise — such as the scene where Peter Vincent meets the incredibly attractive Regine and enthusiastically praises her performance while everyone else in the room is busy falling in love with her.
Fright Night Part 2 may be destined to be the forgotten film of this franchise, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have its own dedicated cult following. Many queer fans who were drawn in by the first Fright Night's raw sexual energy in contrast to the hokey suburban life of Charley Brewster will still find plenty to love in this film as the story shifts location and cultivates a slightly larger rogues gallery. In all the Fright Night movies, the credit for their greatness boils down to the dedication from the crew and the actors' ability to go all out playing these fun, archetypal heroes and monsters. As familiar as all these characters feel, they come with a twist, and that is a major part of why this sequel works just as well as its predecessor.