It shouldn’t have worked. From the second I picked up the Blu-ray and read the synopsis on the back, I was absolutely certain I was holding a misfire of monumental proportions in my mitts, and I was loathe to even put the disc into my player. For god’s sake, man, who makes a reboot of a well-received (at least critically) two year old reboot and calls it a sequel? It was a mantra I repeated until I realized that not only was I actually enjoying the hell out of the flick, but that, in a lot of ways, it was actually superior to the film that preceded it.
So yeah, welcome to Fright Night, again.
Charley Brewster (Will Payne) is an American college student studying abroad in Romania. When he’s not trying to win back the heart of his ex-girlfriend, Amy (Sacha Parkinson), he’s skulking around castle ruins in Bucharest with his horror-obsessed friend, ‘Evil’ Ed (Chris Waller).
Upon his first night in country, Charlie witnesses a rather hot make-out session in the building across from the street from his dorm between two exotic locals that, to his horror, culminates in one of the lovelies (the absolutely astonishing Jaime Murray) making eye-contact with him just before chomping into the neck of her unsuspecting paramour. A panicked Charley rushes off to get his roomie, Ed, but by the time he and Ed return to the window, the women across the street are gone, and Ed laughs it off. Later that evening, however, Charley attends his first class at the university and is horrified to discover that his new Professor, Geri Dandridge, is the spitting image of the woman he saw feasting on her friend earlier. Of course, everyone else is absolutely gobsmacked by their gorgeous and enigmatic new teacher, but Charley knows better, and it’s obvious that the lovely Mrs. Dandridge knows he…um…knows.
Later that night, whilst on a tour of the former home of Countess Elizabeth Bathory with Ed, Charley once again happens upon Geri, this time at play with one of his fellow students. Geri sees Charley, smiles, and then spirits her boy-toy away into the bowels of the castle, with Charley giving chase to no avail.
The next day, Charley returns to his dorm to discover the police handing out “missing persons” fliers with the picture of the same young man who was in Geri’s company the night before. Charley returns to his room just in time to see Geri scale down the side of her building, a body bag slung over one shoulder, and drive off into the night.
With Geri gone, Charley decides to break into her apartment, where he discovers, amongst other things, a large room with a bathtub filled with blood and a very old coffin emblazoned with the Bathory crest. Convinced that his professor is not only a vampire, but also one of the most notorious and prolific serial killers in history, Charley once again turns to Ed, who, this time, gleefully plays along, detailing the history of the Countess (in a really neat animated sequence) to Charley. While Ed doesn’t truly believe his friend, he does have a potential solution to Charley’s problem in the guise of foremost authority on all-things-occult, paranormal adventurer Peter Vincent (Sean Power), who just happens to be in Romania filming a new episode of his show, Fright Night.
It won’t take long to find heaps of negative reviews and puzzled comments about this film online, and, perhaps, some of the criticisms are deserved, but, personally, I really enjoyed Fright Night 2: New Blood. Yes, it makes absolutely no sense that the series would undergo yet another reboot so soon after 2011’s excellent reinvention, but, that being said, I found that this new vision of the Fright Night mythos actually did a lot of things better than the aforementioned film, and, despite the gender and locale changes, is actually more faithful (at least in terms of tone and character) to the 1985 original. While I loved Farrell’s animalistic take on Jerry Dandridge, Jaime Murray brings back the more refined nature of the character from the original, imbuing her Geri with a class and sex appeal more befitting a demonic entity of royal lineage. Charley and Ed are much closer to their 1985 counterparts, as well, especially the latter, who is once again an obnoxious and obviously unstable outcast, barely tolerated by the slightly less uncool Charley. As with 2011’s version of the film, Peter Vincent undergoes yet another career change, and I quite like the idea of him being one of those loutish ghost-hunting charlatans that are currently in vogue. Sadly, Sean Power certainly won’t make you forget about Roddy McDowall or David Tennant’s take on the character as he’s barely onscreen for fifteen minutes of the film, and, like Amy, relegated to something of a minor supporting role.
The thing that really struck me was just how unlike your typical direct-to-DVD fare Fright Night 2: New Blood is. The film’s cast is almost uniformly excellent - especially the likeable young British actor Payne (who bears more than a passing resemblance to a young Tom Hardy) and the ethereally gorgeous Dexter vet, Murray – and the direction by Eduardo Rodriguez is exceptional, making the most of his low budget by exploiting the gothic beauty of their Romanian locale. What’s also impressive is the film’s use of practical effects over CGI. My one major issue with 2011’s Fright Night was its overreliance on occasionally shoddy CGI work, with everything from Jerry’s transformation to the trickle of blood down a victim’s neck seemingly done digitally. This time out, the bulk of the FX work is done practically, with gloriously gory appliances spewing out all manner of viscera. It looks great, and is such a welcome sight in this day and age where it seems practical effects artists are an endangered species.
Fright Night 2 isn’t without its problems. There’s the issue of the underwritten parts for both Vincent and Amy (who later proves to be a vital cog, but is given so little development that we don’t really have any investment in her), a neat-but-overused gimmick revolving around vampire sonar, and a seemingly non-existent day/night cycle that makes it difficult to keep track of time, at least until the film’s conclusion, where we finally see what passes for sunshine in Romania! Then, of course, there’s the biggest problem of all; the title! Calling a film “part 2” denotes a continuation of the events of the first film in a series, but, of course, this one wipes the slate clean and starts all over again. Here’s the point where I usually suggest the filmmakers/studios simply call the movie something else entirely and let it stand on its own, but, this time, the movie doesn’t just NEED to be called Fright Night; it actually deserves the moniker. Surprisingly, it’s that good! I just wish they dropped the numerical designation and called it Fright Night: New Blood or something to that effect as casual fans of the 2011 film are going to go into this one rightfully expecting a traditional sequel, not a total reinvention.
Fox brings Fright Night to Blu-ray in a gorgeous 1.78:1 transfer that, as one would expect from a digitally shot film, looks absolutely pristine. Unlike most recent horror offerings, this film is actually quite colorful, with lots of emphasis on ancient golds and bloody reds, and some neat Bava-esque lighting that really pops against the otherwise dark, shadowy aesthete. The film’s 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is equally impressive, with deep, rich bass, crystalline highs, and organic sounding dialogue.
While the set isn’t exactly loaded with extras, this one fares better than most direct-to-DVD offerings, and includes an entertaining feature-length commentary with director, Rodriguez, and producers, Michael J. Gaeta and Alison Rosenzweig, as well as an EPK style featurette (HD), and trailers for other Fox releases (HD).
If you go into Fright Night 2: New Blood expecting a proper sequel to 2011’s Fright Night, you will be sorely disappointed, but, when viewed with an open mind, this film proves to be a welcome and deserving new entry into the Fright Night mythos (which, let’s face it, was no great shakes to begin with). With solid performances, assured direction, and some great old school spatter effects, Fright Night 2: New Blood really exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations, and comes recommended!