The Curious Case of ‘Fright Night Part 2’: How Setbacks and Real Murders Buried the Sequel
I’ve long sung the praises of Fright Night Part 2. It’s one of those rare sequels that still has the spirit of the beloved original that came before it, and it should have been a bona fide classic. Instead, it’s more like an estranged relative who has an endearing quality about them and everyone loves them, they just don’t get invited to the all the formal reunions and get-togethers.
What’s even more peculiar about it is that Fright Night 2 doesn’t seem to be a target for haters of other sequels such as Friday the 13th Part 5 or Halloween 3, even when Halloween 3 and Fright Night 2 share the same director. People just seemed to either quietly love it and accept its obscurity and strange inaccessibility or never even know there was a very faithful sequel to the quintessential vampire horror comedy of the 1980’s in the first place.
With Fright Night 2 (briefly) streaming on Amazon recently, not only was I hopeful that it would make it to the masses proper, but it also got me thinking (again for the umpteenth time) how bad the universe has treated the film. My own experience with discovering the existence of Fright Night 2 was suddenly finding it in the video store with that box art that looked like the inner sleeve of a Prince album. Something just didn’t add up. No theatrical release that I knew of, no television spots, and not even much VHS hype in the new release preview magazines that were free from a pile on the video store counter. At that point in the late 1980’s (about fall of 1989), the original Fright Night had already achieved cult status. Why the sequel slipped under the radar was quietly pondered by horror fans everywhere in a time when social media would’ve come in handy for such a hot-button topic. I never saw it then, but there was a trailer for Fright Night 2.
The real story of why Fright Night 2 is obscure is a complex tale of Hollywood politics, sweet deals that sadly fell through, and even a high profile murder case.
The first Fright Night was a hit. The timing couldn’t have been better. The horror comedy formula had already been proven by Ghostbusters the previous year, and both films were released by Columbia Pictures. The director, Tom Holland, lovingly crafted it even down to personally selecting the songs for the soundtrack. The producers were even ready to start filming the sequel before the original was released. Everyone involved believed in continuing the story as soon as possible. So what happened in those four years until Part 2? The changing of the guard at Columbia Pictures saw new leadership that lacked the enthusiasm for horror films held by their predecessors. The new suits favored more high-brow Oscar worthy fodder such as previous projects like Chariots of Fire. That extremely bad timing put the kibosh on the immediate sequel everyone was ready to do. The rights to the future of Fright Night ended up with a smaller company called New Century Vista Film Company through original producer Herb Jaffe. (That company name may not ring any bells, but they did have some cred in genre cinema with releases like The Gate and The Wraith.)
When the script for Fright Night 2 was first developed, Evil Ed and Amy were coming back. By the time Tommy Lee Wallace came on board, the script had been re-tooled in a new direction that didn’t include Ed and Amy. Stephen Geoffreys went on to be in Robert Englund’s directorial debut, 976-Evil and Amanda Bearse was starting a very long tenure on “Married With Children:. Tom Holland and Chris Sarandon were also committed to another future franchise, Child’s Play. Tommy Lee Wallace made the best of it and still sought Tom Holland’s input to make it as proper a sequel as possible. He and the New Century Vista staff added the Regine storyline arc along with characters like Belle, Bozworth, and Louie.
The budget was also shaved about a million and a half from the original and when everything was finished, Fright Night Part 2 was rumored to be released internationally in 1988. By the time it made it stateside on May 19, 1989, it opened on a mere 148 screens and barely made a ripple.
Between Fright Night 2’s theatrical release and when I first discovered it in my video store is where things turn both very interesting and very tragic. The head of New Century Vista was a man named Jose Menendez. He was a self-made immigrant from Cuba who worked his way up the Hollywood ladder from humble beginnings and then on to high profile stints at RCA music, and executive vice president at Carolco Pictures. By most accounts, he wasn’t very nice, and not the easiest to deal with. He was, however, open to filming a third Fright Night, even after the lackluster performance of part 2. Tom Holland and Roddy McDowall were in talks with him on the prospect of coming back into the Fright Night fold when on August 20, 1989, he and his wife were fatally shot by their two sons, Lyle and Eric (the Menendez brothers). The trial would have major media coverage and allegations would surface of verbal and physical abuse as motives for them to kill their parents.
Fright Night 2 was then caught up in a panicked regrouping of New Century Vista, and has been in rights hell ever since. It made it quietly to VHS, and then an out of print and really expensive DVD, and finally a Blu-Ray. I’ve always thought that part 2 was a proper sequel to one of mine and everyone else’s most beloved horror films. It was more a victim of circumstance than of its own shortcomings. Maybe one day we won’t have to give every other fan a heads up when it briefly surfaces on any other format besides the bootleg variety.