Different Perspectives: Fright Night 2: New Blood (Review)

Let’s get this out of the way … Fright Night 2 has no reason to exist. Yawn.

There’s probably gonna be a lot of narrow-minded fans and critics telling you the film is “shit” or “a typical direct-to-video waste” and so on. We’ve all heart that crap before. It’s the boring mantra lazy journalists like to spin when they’re phoning in a review they didn’t have much interest in working on. Sometimes it’s true. And sometimes it isn’t. Trust me, I’ve been that guy. I was handed dozens of films over my years as a professional film critic that I had ABSOLUTELY no interest in reviewing, and my reviews were not always very kind to those films. That’s the nature of the business and it’s one of the reasons why I vacated the career. I wanted to talk about things I loved, not things I hated. I wanted to create and respect, not destroy.

With that in mind, the criticism that Fright Night 2 is a retread is valid, on some level. Hell, anger was my first knee-jerk reaction to the film after I saw the trailer. It didn’t look good. When I watched the film with my wife I even said to her, “Now, keep in mind, this will probably be really terrible.” Just take a look at the trailer (below) and you will see exactly what I mean.

The film is practically a beat-for-beat riff on Fright Night, with elements and ideas borrowed from the original sequel, Fright Night Part II, and the remake. As far as the story template goes, Fright Night 2: New Blood is creatively empty.

Yup .. and so was Evil Dead 2, and a plethora of other horror classics.

Retreads are not that uncommon in the horror genre. Just look at the Friday the 13th series. Virtually every film sports the same narrative template. People go into the woods. People are warned of their doom. People are killed by Jason. Someone survives. Rinse and repeat for about ten sequels.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t gems within that series (there are) and that doesn’t mean Fright Night 2: New Blood should be passed by simply because the story borrows from it’s big brothers and sister. Because, in truth, there’s A LOT to like about the film. You just have to get past what it is, and focus on what it’s trying to be.

For one, Fright Night 2 is mostly done with practical effects. No crappy CG vampires. No silly monster faces that look like cartoons. Nothing. This film was shot on the cheap, and the filmmakers do their best with practical effects and lighting. And they even have enough money in the budget to scrape together a fully vamped-out vampire monster at the end of the film. This is a big win for those of us who complain about too much CG in monster movies. Fright Night 2 had the balls to stick with the practical stuff (or the lack of money, perhaps) and it pays off. There’s a sonar hunting sequence in the film that’s seriously unnerving, not because of CG, but because of old school trickery, like stylish lighting, editing and shot composure. It all works, and it works well.

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In fact, the film is actually pretty scary at times. There’s a scene in which Charlie Brewster and co. end up stuck in a subway train with a rather powerful vampire. What works is that they can’t leave. They’re totally and completely trapped there with this horrific beast, who wants nothing more than to tear them apart. Again, that scene works like gangbusters because it is seriously inventive.

The story itself tries to actually have some surprise to it. On the surface, the Peter Vincent character (played here by Sean Powers) felt a bit flat, mostly because it seemed as though someone on the production didn’t even want to include him. And, to be honest, the way it was handled actually gave the film some suspense, albeit probably accidental. I wasn’t sure how Peter Vincent would factor into the finale (if at all) since he wasn’t as integral a character to the film as previous chapters.

By altering Peter Vincent, the filmmakers actually created tension. Most criticisms you might hear about his character won’t be guided in the right direction. Most will complain about what his character isn’t (a copy of the first iteration of Peter Vincent) while complaining about how the rest of the film is copying the first one. Oh, the irony of that.

Now, obviously, the film isn’t flawless and I could nitpick. Here are a few gripes: the cast isn’t all that great (sorry). The heroes come off a bit bland. I’m guessing it’s a mixture of bad character development mixed with limited availability to a wide range of actors (the film was shot in Romania). Also, Fright Night 2 could have very easily been a sequel to the remake with literally less than one hour of re-writing. Change a few plot details (maybe the vampires lured Charlie to Romania to kill him), alter Evil Ed so he’s someone new, and make Peter Vincent a reality star now who actively hunts vampires on a TV show because of what happened in the first film, and you’ve basically got a sequel instead of a retread.

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But there are more positives, like Jaime Murray, who kinda owns her role of Gerri Dandrige. Groan all you want about her playing a character who was not only male, but died in the last film. Sure. But Ms. Murray knocks it out of the park, giving us the film’s best vampire lead since the original role, played by Chris Sarandon. Murray is terrifying, seductive, sexy and foreboding. Her Jessica Biel-like chiseled features make her a great choice for the role — a combination of alluring and powerful. She really is good in the film, and almost worth the price of admission alone.

Then there’s Eduardo Rodriguez‘s sharp direction and Yaron Levy‘s equally effective cinematography. Fright Night 2 was clearly a cheap production, but Rodriguez and Levy give life to nearly every scene, taking full advantage of the film’s gothic Romanian architecture, while injecting a nice Italian sense of color to the film, with vivid reds, blues, greens and neons splashed across the screen. Again, whenever the story or characters fail this sequel, there’s something else about it that seems to overcome the obstacles.

Frankly, I don’t care if you watch Fright Night 2: New Blood or not. If you like the series, it’s well worth a look. But I wanted to defend the film against its growing league of unfortunate haters. I wanted to defend the film for being a creatively clever, occasionally very refreshing little engine that could. Fright Night 2 is making the very best of a bad situation. It’s visually appealing, there’s a great villain, a few solid set pieces and a few clever bits of makeup effects and gore. Sure, the story could be more original. It could actually have tired to be a sequel. And the characters (or actors portraying them) could have been better. But Fright Night 2: New Blood is among the very best direct-to-videos efforts I’ve seen (and I’ve seen A LOT), not because of the story, but because the film is daring to be different. It’s daring to be real cinema.

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The Blu-ray: The disc sports an unrated version of the film, an above-average transfer with terrific 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio. Bonus features include a commentary with director Eduardo Rodriguez and producers Alison Rosenzweig and Michael Gaeta, webisodes and a featurette.

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Welcome!

Welcome to The Awkward White Man, a site created by writer Randy Shaffer.

Some of you may know me as that sniveling critic, R.L. Shaffer (insert insults here), from web zones such as DVDFuture or IGN. Yes, I am a former critic, but this site will be largely dedicated to my observations on the world of writing and film. I will also highlight old reviews I worked on, add a few more reviews every now and then (generally of stuff I dig), and offer news on any upcoming projects I’m working on.

Randy L Shaffer

Randy L Shaffer

About me:

All right. Let’s get real. For years I was a film critic. It was a job that I deeply loved, but eventually grew to loathe … not the profession, of course, though it does have its downsides (like getting paid dirt, for example). I greatly appreciate critics and the value that many of them offer to professionals, fans, upcoming artists and culture itself. But, it wasn’t a world for me. After more than ten years of writing reviews, I grew to deeply loathe myself for being a destroyer of creativity and art, the occasional spinner of negativity.

I absolutely loved reviewing content that I personally enjoyed. I relished in giving the camp classic, StarCrash, a perfect 10 score at IGN. But I hated tearing down films and TV from professionals who worked very hard to get something (even something bad) made. Creation, especially film production, is a feat that is not so easy, believe me.

I felt like I was part of this cultural movement comprised of destroyers. Purveyors of negative energy. That might sound corny, but just sit back and examine how we judge and ridicule ourselves, from the food we eat to the music and movies we enjoy. Some of this is necessary for cultural advancement and growth, but often it is largely mean-spirited and destructive. And most is just endless white noise. So, I made a conscious decision to choose the path less traveled — I wanted to be a creator, personal finances be damned.

For years I have been writing screenplays and stories, though none have been produced. I’ve gotten very close a few times, but no cigar. To my credit, I do have a music video to my name (see video below).

I’ve always been annoyingly afraid of success and, to be frank, I haven’t tried very hard to sell my work (yet). I could give you excuses as to why that is, but there’s no point. The past is the past. I reached a turning point in late 2012. I broke my hand in an embarrassing accident and found myself in a state of existentialism, re-evaluating who I was and what I wanted to be.

I decided to begin a book project centering on the world of swing culture (not dancing, mind you). This was a lifestyle I knew absolutely nothing about. I was, and still am, a big nerd and a huge movie geek, and the idea of people openly swapping spouses and attending sex clubs was about a foreign to me as things could get. That book was meant to segue me from the world of journalism to the world of book writing, and it worked! In 2013 alone I have completed three books: the non-fiction tale about swinging and sex culture, and two fiction novels. I’ve also completed several short stories, polished a screenplay, written an entirely new script, and I’ve got a few other projects up my sleeve before the year’s end, including one more book.

I’m not writing this blog to brag about myself, though I will shamelessly promo stuff I’ve worked on. But honestly, I write this blog to encourage. That’s what this site really is about. Any reviews I’ll post on here will be positive in nature. They’ll be pieces of entertainment and art that I like; things I love, and things that are important to me … or to culture. I’ll offer a different perspective than one you might have read about elsewhere. I might even defend some of those films I would have torn down in the past. I’ll also share with you books that I’ve read, from indie authors to well-known artists. I’ll offer news on any personal projects I’m working on. And I’ll discuss some great films on Blu-ray that I’m watching.

If you want some additional rants from me, follow my Twitter. I can certainly still be a critical bag of ass at times. After all, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and as a writer, I have more than a few. But this site is about the positive spirit of creativity, and all the wonders, perspective and joys of art. I hope you like what you find, and I hope this site inspires you to go and create.