Each month in Horror Queers, Joe and Trace tackle a horror film with LGBTQ+ themes, a high camp quotient or both. For lifelong queer horror fans like us, there’s as much value in serious discussions about representation as there is in reading a ridiculously silly/fun horror film with a YAS KWEEN mentality. Just know that at no point will we be getting Babashook.
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***SPOILERS for Fright Night Part 2 to follow.***
Synopsis for Fright Night Part 2: Three years after the vampire Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) was destroyed in Fright Night, his sister Regine (Julie Carmen) – in the guise of a mysterious performer – seeks revenge on Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) and Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell), the heroic duo who carried out the staking.
Queer Aspect: Regine has a rollerblading New Wave genderqueer henchvamp named Belle (Russell Clark).
Related Article: The Curious Case of Fright Night Part 2
Honestly Joe, I can’t believe we didn’t have Fright Night Part 2 on our list of films (big thanks to Gaylords of Darkness podcast co-host Anthony Hudson for suggesting it), but I sure am glad we decided to cover it! This was especially exciting for me, because Tom Holland’s original Fright Night is one of my absolute favorite movies. AMC used to play it all the time when I was growing up and my sister and I would watch it every single time we came across it (we were both in love with Stephen Geoffrey’s Evil Ed). It’s just that good.
I never got around to seeing Fright Night Part 2 however, because it is extremely difficult to find! The Artisan Entertainment DVD from 2003 is now out of print, and it was pulled from Amazon’s streaming services despite being added to it last year. Luckily, three different accounts have uploaded the film in its entirety to YouTube. Phew! I guess that’s not entirely legal, but whoever owns the rights must not care because they’ve been uploaded for years.
Comparing Fright Night Part 2 to Fright Night is a fool’s errand. The original can’t really be matched in terms of quality. It’s iconic. It’s perfect. There was never any way a sequel would live up to it. And yet I couldn’t help but be won over by Part 2’s charms.
It does have its issues, mind you. The chemistry between Charley and Peter is sorely lacking in this film, mostly because they hardly share any screen time together. In fact, Charley isn’t really all that involved this go-around. His role is extremely passive since he is Regine’s target rather than her hunter. Alex (Traci Lind) is a rather bland replacement for Amy (Amanda Bearse had just started an 11-season run on the hit Fox sitcom Married…. with Children when Fright Night Part 2 was in production). And, despite all of Julie Carmen’s best efforts, Regine just isn’t as effective a villain as Chris Sarandon’s Jerry Dandridge (though her verbal take-down of Peter Vincent shortly after he realizes she’s a vampire is glorious).
So how does the queer representation in Fright Night Part 2 compare to the representation in Fright Night? Unfortunately not as well, which isn’t necessarily surprising considering Fright Night was filled to the brim with queerness. The majority of the original film’s cast is comprised of queer actors (Stephen Geoffreys, Roddy McDowall and Amanda Bearse), though none of them were out at the time (also not surprising, considering it was 1985, aka the height of the AIDS epidemic). Jerry Dandridge, despite his love for Amy, is most definitely a queer villain. I mean, his whole cover is being an aristocratic antiques dealer with a live-in interior decorator (Jonathan Stark). In the words of Brittany Murphy’s character from Drop Dead Gorgeous: gaaaaaaaaaaay. And then we have Evil Ed, played to over-the-top perfection by Geoffreys (who famously moved on to gay porn films shortly after appearing in Fright Night). A number of things can be said about Ed’s queerness, but let’s just say he dresses in drag in one of the film’s more memorable scenes.
The queer themes present in the original (vampirism as a metaphor for queerness) are eschewed in Part 2 for a more surface-level approach. This doesn’t ruin the film by any means. It just makes it less interesting to analyze. So what queerness does Fright Night Part 2 give us? A genderqueer rollerblading vampire henchperson named Belle (RIP Russell Clark) who also happens to be a person of color. Say what you will about Fright Night Part 2, but that is some progressive shit right there. Does the fact that he’s rollerblading for the majority of the film have any significance? Probably not, but it’s hilarious.
Unfortunately, Part 2 doesn’t offer much else in the way of queerness. I suppose Regine could also be viewed as queer (vampires have an inherent queerness and sexual fluidity to them), but with the exception of her awesome hairstyle in the climax, the film doesn’t give her any explicitly queer moments to work with, so I’ll leave that to you, Joe, in case you got a queer reading from Carmen’s performance.
Joe, what did you think of Fright Night Part 2? Was Alex as good of a girlfriend as Amy? Did Belle fill the queer standards (quota?) set by the first movie? And what was up with the way Alex was reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula? It was so weird!
Sadly you are correct, Trace; Fright Night Part 2 simply doesn’t compare to the original. As I mentioned in the first episode of our podcast (“Speed Dating”), the original is pretty much the definition of a perfect queer horror film to me, so I had to temper my expectations for this sequel because…what could possibly live up to that ideal text?
A quick context note before we dive into the film proper. Because it’s Black History Month (in addition to Women In Horror Month), I really wanted us to cover a film with a prominent black queer presence and I was genuinely shocked at how challenging this proved to be.
Black horror films? Easy to find.
Queer horror films? Easy to find.
Combine the two and suddenly it’s like we were looking for a goddamn four-leaf clover.
Sure there are a few supporting characters here and there, but apparently asking for a horror film featuring a lead black character with a strong queer presence or (even better) a queer black lead was asking for the moon! (Sidebar: A ton of folks recommended Good Manners, a Brazilian lesbian werewolf film, to us, but it is literally impossible to find in Canada outside of a $25 bare bones DVD. Licensing folks – it sucks).
Okay, back to Fright Night Part 2!
The sequel is definitely a lot of fun, though I’d probably throw it into the “camp” category before I’d really call it queer. It’s mostly filled with bizarre and hilarious elements that have lots of appeal for Horror Queers fans, but outside of Belle, who is genderqueer but also surprisingly asexual, there isn’t a ton overtly queer elements on display here.
One queer element to include is the presence of Merritt Butrick as Charley’s new bestie, Richie. According to IMDb, at the time of filming Butrick had just been diagnosed with AIDS (he was rumoured to be gay or bisexual) and despite his failing health, he really wanted to shoot the film, but because the disease was still such a mystery he felt compelled to tell everyone in order to protect their safety. Apparently, the crew was so fearful/diligent that they created special fake vampire teeth for him that didn’t cut his gums. This is what life was like back in the 80s at the height of the AIDS crisis, when information about the disease was uncertain and getting infected was tantamount to a death sentence. (It doesn’t come across on screen, but it’s a fascinating factoid to consider, especially in a vampire film filled with practical effects).
I do feel like the main reason to watch this film is that there’s a ton of batshit crazy on display. The sense of humour is much stronger in the sequel, particularly in sequences like the dormitory attack sequence (which is preceded by Regine laying on Charley’s car roof decked out in purple leather before introducing Belle on wheels and Jon Gries’ Louie’s nails get clipped in a windowsill). Hell, there’s even a montage where the henchmen pass the time bowling!
Narratively, you’re right that there are some weird logic gaps and whole sections of the cast seem to be continually separated or excluded for stretches at a time. My main complaint is how poorly the sequel treats its new villain. Chris Sarandon gets A TON of screen time in the original, whereas Regine feels like she’s barely in this. I was (lamentably) bemused that she isn’t even named until well into the film and the screenplay seems entirely unclear what her plan is for roughly 60% of the film. Still, her “performance piece” dance with Belle and the moment when she takes over Peter Vincent’s Fright Night show are beguiling, thanks to Carmen’s screen presence and her faaaaaabulous late-80s wardrobe, which look like a collection of expensive silk nightgowns.
As for Alex? UGH. What I would have given for Regine to make a move on Alex, rather than focus exclusively on Charley… Alex feels like a lukewarm revamp (heh) of Fright Night’s Amy, who convincingly managed to tread the line between innocent and sexualized woman. Traci Lind never manages to endear herself, and the result is that Alex frequently comes across as a bit of an uppity bitch; granted the script does her no favours with some pretty ridiculous dialogue (my favourite is when she yells at Charley that she came to College to “become a clinical psychologist!” Ok gurl, settle down).
So yeah, despite rocking a quintessential 80s boy name, Alex is definitely not my favourite horror movie girlfriend by a long shot, even if she can speed read Dracula like a woman possessed!
Back to you, Trace: what’s your favourite campy element(s) in Fright Night 2? Any wild speculations about why Charley and Peter Vincent are kept apart for so much of the film? And how enjoyable are those amazing practical effects?!
I hope you planned that “batshit” pun because there are a lot of bat shots in this movie!
I’m so glad you mentioned that bowling scene. The whole time I was thinking to myself “It’s a real missed opportunity that they’re not bowling with severed heads” and then BAM! A severed head is ejected from the bowling ball return machine (is there a more concise name for that? Google was no help). That scene serves no purpose to the narrative but it sure is fun to watch!
Fright Night Part 2 definitely uses its henchpeople well (compared to the original’s deathly dull Billy), but it comes at the cost of screen time for Regine. I would have loved to have seen more of her so I’m glad that you brought up her underwritten role. This is mostly due to the fact that, as you said, Regine doesn’t really interact with the protagonists all that much (hell, she barely even speaks to her henchpeople!).
It’s odd because it feels like everyone is kept apart for much of Part 2’s runtime. Charley is all too often on his own, save for the handful of one-on-one scenes he shares with Alex, Peter and Regine. This trend of keeping protagonists apart is a common trope in many franchise sequels (see: I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, The Empire Strikes Back or Scream 3). Why, after setting up a relationship (be it romantic or platonic) between characters, would you deliberately deprive your audience the opportunity to see it continue in the follow-up? It’s one of my biggest pet peeves and it most definitely applies here. If only we had received Fright Night Part 3, which no doubt would have given us all of the Charley/Peter scenes that Part 2 is sorely lacking!
Speaking of Part 3, there is a bit of insane backstory behind it. Part 2 may have had trouble getting made (it was delayed by 3 years and the script had to be re-written when both Tom Holland and Chris Sarandon were busy making Child’s Play), but at least it was made. As we all know, Part 3 had no such luck.
Before Fright Night Part 2 was even released, McDowall set up a meeting with Tom Holland and then-chairman of Carolco Pictures Jose Menendez to discuss a third film. Unfortunately, Menendez and his wife were murdered by their sons before the meeting could take place, thereby derailing any hope for a third entry in the franchise (it even ruined Part 2’s US theatrical release, reducing its widest release to 148 screens). These events aren’t exactly pertinent to our analysis of the film since they don’t really affect the final product of Part 2 (creatively speaking), but I thought it was worth mentioning.
On to a lighter topic: Fright Night Part 2 has plenty of campy elements, my favorite of which might be that awful face-morphing effect imposed on Regine during her big dance number. It’s laughably bad, but honestly, the henchpeople are the stars of the show here. Whether or not that is a good thing is up to you. Belle is a mostly silent, but ridiculously silly creation. Louie gets most of the verbal (and slapstick) jokes in the film. Finally, you’ve got Bozworth playing the Renfield-type role with his constant bug ingestion (fun fact: Bozworth is played by Brian Thompson, who would go on to play the villainous Shao-Kahn in 1997’s atrocious Mortal Kombat: Annihilation). Their scenes together are when the film is at its most campy, and it’s all the better for it.
On another note, however, why does Regine need so many helpers? Jerry only had one, and Billy didn’t really do anything for him other than keep his gay lover cover story. With Regine, it seems like her posse does everything for her, and to be honest, she doesn’t exactly have the strongest hold over them. C’mon movie. Let the woman do something! Louie’s brief relationship with Alex is a bit rapey, too (“You look great scared.”? Yeesh), but that’s 1989 for ya!
Where Part 2 really succeeds is in its practical effects. The creature design on Louie’s lupine form is exquisite, and all of the henchpeople’s death scenes are ooey-gooey fun. This should come as no surprise, considering that the original is a hallmark of ‘80s effects, but it’s still nice to see that, despite a significantly lower budget, an appropriate amount of time and care still went into those effects (except Regine’s aforementioned face-morph). Richie’s holy water meltdown is awesome and Bozworth’s bug-splosion is particularly inspired, even if it does feel like a riff on the mask kill in Halloween III: Season of the Witch.
Joe, what are your final thoughts on Fright Night Part 2? Does Alex have any redeeming qualities? What is one thing you would change about it to make it better? What would you have liked to have seen in Fright Night Part 3? And what are your thoughts on the remake with Colin Firth (spoiler: I think it’s pretty good)? I haven’t seen the remake of the sequel though…..
Oh lord, Alex…
Honestly, I think one of the main reasons I was so annoyed with her is simply because this film doesn’t need a female lead. In my dream version of Fright Night Part 2, Alex doesn’t exist because it allows so much more screen time for Charley (+ his mullet), Peter Vincent and Regine. Imagine if we didn’t have an unnecessary romance weighing the proceedings down?
With that said, however, if I’m answering your question honestly, I did like that Alex can (mostly) handle herself. She saves Charley’s butt in the library showdown with Louie and she also manages to stake Charley’s predatory therapist using a giant effing train track (this whole section, including the Peter Vincent rescue from the asylum, is kind of cuckoo-bananas because it feels imported from another, very different draft of the film).
Ping-ponging back to a change I would make: I’m picking up your thread about Louie’s werewolf status and Bozworth’s Renfield because I kept waiting for confirmation that the Fright Night universe was expanding to include a “Monster Squad” cacophony of villains. While I, too, don’t understand why Regine needed so many damn henchpeople, I was enamoured by the idea that Peter Vincent’s vast knowledge of the supernatural might come into play in other ways (if only so that we don’t end up repeating the climax of the first film with the light and mirrors…which is exactly what winds up happens). If I could turn back time, I would make this into more of an explicit monster mash and expand the sandbox by leaning into the conventions of other creatures films.
If we’re delving even deeper into speculative fiction territory: in my ideal third entry of the franchise, I would want to change up the formula a little more to explore the world of the vampires. As much as I like the familial connection between Jerry and Regine, it would hardly make sense to have a third family member show up looking for revenge. Instead I propose a third entry that unpacks their mythos – where they come from, if there’s a social contract they must abide by, if they have a leader, etc.
Perhaps it’s just because of the recent news that a remake of Roald Dahl/Nicolas Roeg’s The Witches is about to go into production, but wouldn’t it be fascinating to have Peter Vincent, widower Charley (yes, Alex is DEAD) and his young daughter lured out to a remote location under false pretenses by a convention of vampires determined to get rid of the prolific vampire hunters? How would Peter Vincent, Charley and his daughter survive the onslaught of an entire group of vamps (and their werewolf henchpeople)? Hollywood, hire Trace and I to figure it out!
The remake obviously doesn’t go in that direction, opting instead for a basic reboot of the premise, minus every last vestige of queerness (minus David Tennant’s yummy leather pants). The cast, including Anton Yelchin (RIP), Toni Collette, hot daddy vamp Colin Farrell, and aforementioned Tennant as Criss Angel Mindfreak, is obviously stacked and the film has some decent action, but I do miss the queer (sub)text. Most problematically, this is another one of those misguided attempts to modernize a horror film by replacing quality practical effects with absolutely shoddy CGI. There’s simply no excuse for effects this bad in 2011!
You didn’t mention it, but we talked offline about the atrocious looking 2013 sequel of the remake (trailer), which features Dexter and Spartacus’ Jaime Murray(!) I didn’t even know it existed until you mentioned Fright Night 2 was available on YouTube and I saw the trailer! FN2 2013…doesn’t look good, though perhaps it would have been an even campier watch? If anyone has checked it out, be sure to let us know in the comments!