Movie Review: Fright Night 2: New Blood (2013, Dir. Eduardo Rodriguez)

Fright Night 2: New Blood

On August 2nd 1985 a movie called, Fright Night, opened nation-wide in movie theaters. It was about a high-schooler named Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) who learns his new next-door neighbor is undead. Writer/Director, Tom Holland, breathed new life into the vampire mythology with this film. I was sixteen and a junior in high school when it came out; I recall seeing the many commercials for it and having no idea what it was about, watching Sarandon saunter slowly down the stairs and utter the now iconic line, “Welcome to Fright Night . . . . for real.” It wasn’t until I was in school one day, that this kid who sat behind me whom I talked to on occasion told me he had seen it, and I remember saying to him, “Oh, it’s a vampire movie?!”

I was thrown by the fact that Holland’s vampires looked demonic and that Dandridge only looked that way when he got angry. Seeing that huge, weird, flying creature was stupefying as well. Before this flick, vampires in movies typically changed into normal looking bats. Dandridge did no such thing; his bat form was hairless, huge and looked more like something that had flown straight out of hell.

I finally saw Fright Night for the first time a year later. My best friend was sleeping over that night and my mother had just rented it. Like many of those cult classics from the 80s, I loved it upon first sight.

In 1988 Tommy Lee Wallace helmed a direct-to-video sequel called, Fright Night Part II. It involved Charley Brewster (Ragsdale) heading off to college, getting a new girlfriend (Tracy Lind) and tangling with another vampire. This one came in female form and went by the name Regine Dandridge (Julie Carmen). That’s right, Jerry had a sister, and she was pissed and wanted revenge. Not just on Charley but also on Peter Vincent (Roddy MacDowall), who returned for the follow-up. The sequel has its detractors, but for the most part it’s now reached cult status like it’s predecessor.

If you wait around long enough Hollywood will end up doing a remake of just about any movie that it has ever made, Fright Night being no exception. Hoping a new generation would embrace it like the Gen-Xers did with the original, twenty-six years later that inevitable remake finally reared its ugly head. In this version, Anton Yelchin plays Charley Brewster and Imogen Poots plays his girlfriend Amy. The three standout characters from the first film, along with the respective actors who played them are now owned by Christopher Mintz-Plasse as “Evil” Ed, Colin Farrell as Jerry Dandridge, and David Tennant as Peter Vincent.

The basic premise was retained but undead Dandridge is now younger, buffer, and a loner, while TV Horror Host Vincent has now been reimagined into a Criss Angel-type Las Vegas Illusionist whose side hobby is an interest in the occult. Mintz-Plasse has that suitable nerdish/outcast vibe, but does not come anywhere near the level of creepiness, menace and compassion Stephen Geoffreys generated when he got turned into a vampire. Farrell’s performance as Dandridge wasn’t as bad as I had feared it would be, and he actually comes off rather creepy in several scenes. Scottish born Tennant was a very good choice for the role MacDowall perfected but the script has changed Vincent’s character into a narcissistic asshole.

As tends to happen nowadays in genre movies, CGI managed to get in yet another appearance, totally wiping out any need for an actor in the final confrontation with Dandridge as he’s replaced with a computer generated monster.

The box office was not kind to this remake, but as tends to happen these days, Hollywood no longer moves on when certain movies bomb at the theaters, they simply wait a few years and literally remake them again. This finally brings me to the topic of this review—Fright Night 2: New Blood!

In Fox’s second remake, a direct-to-DVD one this time, Charley (Will Payne), Amy (Sacha Parkinson) and “Evil” Ed (Chris Waller) are American exchange students in Romania, changing up the plot and putting the kids on the vampire’s turf this time. The basic structure, however, of how Charley learns of the “vampire-next-door” is still retained. He spots some girl-on-girl action going on in an apartment next to door to the hotel he and Ed are sharing a room in. The vamp this time, like it was in the ’88 sequel, is female and in the form of British actress Jamie Murray, who does a very outstanding job playing Gerri Dandridge, a local professor who’s teaching Charley’s class about Romanian culture. Her ‘human’ role is alluring and sexy while her ‘vamp’ persona is very menacing and at times a little creepy, especially when it comes to her ‘echo-location power.’

The actors chosen this time to portray Charley and Amy are much better than the ones chosen for the 2011 remake, and I was reminded of William Ragsdale and Amanda Bearse from the original. I still, however, think they have not gotten the right actor for “Evil” Ed. Chris Waller is taller and bigger than this new Charley and doesn’t appear as nerdy as the previous two incarnations. He’s more obnoxious as well. I liked this Ed better than Mintz-Plasse’s Ed.

This Gerri Dandridge has a secret. She’s really Elizabeth Bathory, the blood countess who kept herself youthful by bathing in the blood of virgins. And there’s something about Brewster that keeps attracting her attention. That’s all I will say about that, I don’t want to spoil the plot too much.

Another major character overhaul is Peter Vincent. He’s now played by American Sean Power and is the star of the reality series, Fright Night, which is similar to one of those ghost hunting shows that are so popular nowadays, but in keeping with the ’85 and ‘11 incarnations of Vincent, he doesn’t believe in monsters or ghosts, and the phenomena he gathers at the haunted locations is all faked. In the commentary they mention that the inspiration for this new Vincent was Bear Grylls, but to me he looked more inspired by SyFy’s Destination Truth star, Josh Gates. I actually liked this reinvention of his character and it makes a lot of sense to connect him to those kinds of paranormal reality shows.

Director Eduardo Rodriguez even managed to homage the ’88 sequel. For those who recall, Julie Carmen’s Regine from Fright Night, Part II underwent a momentary transformation into a bat-like beast in the final act as she tried to get at Ragsdale and McDowall in that stalled elevator. Murray undergoes a similar transformation in the last act of this film into a similar looking beast. I also saw slight homages to Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula (1992) with some supernatural shadow play and possibly one to Hammer Films’ Taste The Blood Of Dracula (1970). In that film while in his coffin, Christopher Lee opens his eyes and they are all blood red. In this film Murray has a scene exactly like that except her eyes are jet black. Colors are different, I know, but nevertheless Lee’s film popped into my head when I saw that happen.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see CGI was kept to a bare minimum. There are no fully realized computer generated monsters at all in this flick. Murray’s bat-monster was all practically done.

Dandridge’s famous line from the first has been ported over to this version as well, except here it’s given to Vincent and spoken right after he thinks he got the jump on Murray by impaling her on his weapon, but with an added, ‘bitch!’ for dramatic punctuation: “Welcome to Fright Night—for real, bitch!” At least this time it was not some kind of random throwaway line.

I do have a few quibbles about the movie like the growling the vampires do. I get they are monsters but the ever-present growling was too much like stating the obvious. And due to the proliferation of the super hero movie, it seems that mentality has bled into certain other genre movies too. Vampires display powers now similar to ones super heroes and super villains exhibit. In this flick, a car drives straight into Dandridge, crunches up and flips over her without doing any damage to her at all. The motion comic recounting of Bathory’s past and how she became a vampire was obviously too comic bookish for my liking too and, lastly, I found the ending, the whole “ceremony,” just a tad too much icing on the cake. I have to say, though, none of these trivialities ruined my unexpected enjoyment of the movie.

Twentieth Century Fox released the movie on October 1st in a DVD and a DVD/Blu-Ray/Digital Copy combo. Extras on the blu-ray are exactly the same as the ones on the DVD. I had no complaints with the general specs—the 1.78:1 anamorphic HD transfer, or the English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio.

Subtitles are in English, Spanish and French.

The main extra is the commentary with director, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Producers, Alison Rosenzweig and Michael Gaeta. Aside from the usual dissection of the tale and it’s production the one noteworthy revealing was Gaeta mentioning, “Fox has wonderful plans for this series,” which means this new remake is the beginning of a direct-to-video franchise.

‘Fright Night Webisodes’ (11:30) is four short episodes that can be played all at once or separately and they’re faux episodes for Vincent’s paranormal reality series, Fright Night. He investigates Dracula and Elizabeth Bathory’s castles in Romania.
‘Dracula Revealed’ (6:15): Depending on what order you delve into the extras (I chose to watch this one first before listening to the commentary) you might be surprised to learn the three lead kids are all British and extremely adept at faking American accents. Sean Power (Vincent) is the only American in the cast.

Since I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this new remake, I’m now looking forward to seeing where this new series of movies go. I’m also hoping Rodriguez returns to direct, he’s got a visual style I really like.

(Note: The DVD and the digital copy only comes in the R-rated version, while the blu-ray is Unrated. There’s only a minute that was cut incidentally).

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