Three years after fighting vampires Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale) is in therapy, inexplicably convinced what happened before was a traumatic hallucination. Now dating a pretty psych major named Alex (Traci Lind), he tries to leave the past behind and distance himself from the one person who knows the truth: has-been film star turned horror host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall). That is when Regine (Julie Carmen), slinky and seductive vampire sister of the slain Jerry Dandridge, arrives on the scene with her undead entourage. Bent on revenge, Regine puts the bite on Charlie who then turns to a skeptical Alex and Peter to save his life.
Given the 2011 remake spawned its own direct-to-video sequel there are two Fright Night II's out there although this one came first. While much beloved by some the original Fright Night was arguably a great special effects reel in search of a great movie. Hampered by a profoundly muddled outsider subtext and grating supporting performances (Stephen Geoffreys mercifully declined to return as 'Evil Ed' opting for a lead role in Robert Englund's 976-EVIL (1988)) it failed to subvert or satirize vampires the way The Howling (1980) did with werewolves. Yet both original Fright Night films remain key texts in the evolution of the vampire from a classical to contemporary horror archetype and sowed the seeds for ideas that reached full bloom in Joss Whedon's far superior Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series.
Interestingly both films were directed by established horror writers. The sequel swaps Tom Holland for regular John Carpenter collaborator Tommy Lee Wallace. He already had one horror sequel to his name with Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1983) and went on to direct Vampires: Los Muertos (2002), the follow-up to Carpenter's lacklustre Vampires (1998). Trivia buffs note: he and John Carpenter also co-performed the theme song to Big Trouble in Little China (1986)! Fright Night Part 2 opens with a sepia-tinted montage of the climax to the first film then commits the cardinal sin of all sequels by trying to press the reset button. Yet after establishing this role reversal with Charlie now the non-believer and Peter Vincent the paranoid occult expert, halfway through the film inexplicably switches back to the original set-up! Thereafter the plot replays key motifs (re-staging the dance sequence with the gender roles reversed), serves up potentially interesting but half-formed ideas (Charlie slowly turning into a vampire) while increasingly relying on dream logic or vampire lore to paper over nonsensical plot cracks.
If the theme of the first Fright Night was homoerotic fascination, the sequel deals in sexual frustration. Charlie cannot get to first base with Alex and so proves susceptible to Regine's seductive charm. As before the subtext is muddled at best (girls, make sure you put out lest your boyfriends stray with exotic vampire women) and Charlie comes across a smarmier, less likeable hero this time around. Maybe it's the mullet. Fortunately good old Roddy McDowall carves a thick but delicious slice of ham that, for fans of old school horror, is hard to resist. Also of interest is new addition Traci Lind who improves on her awkward predecessor Amanda Bearse as a smarter, quirkier, more interesting heroine. This time it is the girlfriend who must save the hero from the vampire's influence. She still cowers behind Charlie when it is time to slay the undead but it is a step closer to Buffy. There are annoyingly dumb moments like the bowling sequence and Regine's inane interpretive dance as the new host of the Fright Night show. How does she appear on television when she casts no shadow? Yet the effects laden, vampire slaying third act proves as fun as before. Fans of Napoleon Dynamite (2004) should look out for future Uncle Rico Jon Gries as a goofy werewolf minion. Wallace racks up the atmosphere with his prowling camera and suffuses the film in that oh-so-Eighties, over-stylized, fog-shrouded MTV ambiance that these days induces a little nostalgia.