Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master (1988)

And it continues as the survivors of Dream Warriors are back and still attending high school in Springwood. Unfortunately, the three have what are basically extended cameos as Freddy rises again and offs them all with relative ease (what happened to that fighting spirit?). This includes Kristen who is only able to use her power to bring people into her dreams to screw her bookish friend Alice into taking over said powers and thusly, drawing Freddy's wrath. We are also reminded that Kristen is the last of the Elm Street kids therefore marking Freddy's triumphant switch from vengeance demon to just plain 'being a dick' demon, as he sets his sights on any old teenager that comes his way. Luckily for him, Alice graciously keeps dragging friends into her nightmares so that Freddy may dispose of them...and the town can have a funeral. Seriously, there is a funeral scene directly after almost every death. People are sad...we get it. Anyway, Alice also starts to possess whatever skill her dead friend's had before their untimely demise and will use all that she has acquired in her final battle with Freddy. This includes, but is not limited to, kung fu and weight lifting. In the end, though, it is "mind over matter" that sends Freddy back to hell not unlike Nancy's tactics of conquering the fear that gives Freddy all his power.

Also, Freddy is resurrected with the assistance of flaming dog urine and one of the dead teenagers turns into a cockroach. There really wasn't a sufficient place to add these two facts to the above synopsis, but they should be known.

Interesting trivia fact: The cockroach girl went on to play one of the many daughters in the 'Growing Pains' spin-off 'Just the Ten of Us.' One of her sisters on the show? Heather Langenkamp

Interesting trivia fact (if it was still 1995): Director Renny Harlin went on to make a series of semi-popular but astounding bad action thrillers. He has only gotten worse with age. Hell, NOES4 might actually be his crowning achievement.

There is little redeeming value found in Dream Master. The re-emergence of the survivors from Dream Warriors is likely the most egregious error as they are given no reason to be there other than to act as hapless victims. Meanwhile, the new kids are nothing more than generic, one-dimensional characters who are dead long before they can ever establish themselves. Freddy has officially hit full-on, stand-up mode (He might as well have been standing in front of a brick wall, microphone in hand, opening for Emo Phillips).

As well, there is never an adequate explanation as to how Alice is absorbing her dead friend's abilities nor really what the Dream Master is exactly. Alice's long forgotten mother taught her as a child that she could control where her dreams took her by reciting a nursery rhyme that is "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" just with slightly different wording. This does not help Kristen at all as her beach dream turns sour when a "Freddy shark" shows up nor is Alice ever able to manipulate her own dream environment through the use of this prayer. Still, somehow she uses it to defeat Freddy. Honestly, I didn't really get it. Feel free to explain if it made more sense to you.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors

A rash of "suicides" amongst the children of Springwood have led desperate parents to commit their troubled kids to the local mental facility. According to the medical staff, they all share a "group psychosis" of a boogeyman though as one of the kids expresses, "no one seems too impressed that we all dreamed of him before any of us ever met." Enter Nancy, now a graduate student specializing in dream therapy and keeping herself alive through the use of Hypnocil, an experimental dream suppressant (which will come back into play in Freddy vs. Jason). Once the hospitalized youth start turning up dead, Nancy is able to convince their lead physician, Dr. Gordon, that they are dealing with more than simple mental problems. Gordon also meets a mysterious nun who offers Freddy's conception story and suggests that they must bury his remains in hallowed ground to forever defeat the monster. Through the use of one of the teen's special power of bringing people into her dreams, Nancy and the remaining kids face off against Freddy while Gordon sets about tracking down Freddy's bones to lay him to rest.

Widely considered to be the best sequel of the franchise and frankly, my personal favorite in the series, Dream Warriors continues to evolve Freddy's mythology in interesting and provocative ways while still remaining true to what made the original so great. The kids are all strong with well-developed personalities to differentiate them and with the added bonus of them all possessing a "dream power" to fend off Freddy's actions ("I am the Wizard Master!"). As well, bringing Nancy back (after she was rather bluntly written out in Part 2) and in a mentor role was brilliant though her death was a little too low key for such a central and overarching character in the series.

The effects continue to progress with some especially interesting stop motion thrown in for good measure. Freddy is still (barely) holding on to his malevolence though the one-liners are beginning to get more and more frequent. He remains frightening mostly due to the mental imagery that comes with how he was conceived ("bastard son of a hundred maniacs") and the first we see of the souls of his victims screaming to be released from his torso. Unfortunately, Freddy will become a joke in and of himself for the next few rounds of Nightmares.

Of all the kills in the series, I don't think any is more disconcerting than the 'bloody veins marionette' death of Philip. For whatever reason, that is one that has always stuck out to me and continues to creep to this day. Dream Warriors is heavily stacked with some of the series' best kills if only because this is the only one (that I can remember at this point) that seemed to fully embrace the fact that in a dream you can make literally anything happen. While all of the kids are pulled into one dream at the end, they all see things and set the stage around them based on their own experiences/fears/etc. and this allows them to exploit their created environment the best that they can to take on Freddy. This was the only time in the series where a minor character's death did not seem inevitable (unless of course you've seen it already).

Sigh. It's just downhill from here...


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)

Five years have passed since the original and Nancy's house on Elm street is now home to a new family and Jesse can't even get a single night's sleep in his new abode before Freddy is invading his dreams. With the help of his best girl, Lisa and new friend (the douchebag that wasn't Robert Downey Jr. in Weird Science), Jesse quickly learns that Freddy is trying to possess his body in order to satiate his bloodlust. Will Jesse be able to fight off the demon inside of him? By demon, do I mean Freddy or the homosexual undertones that are prevalent throughout the film? Also, where can I get a black leather comforter?

A much-maligned, but not terrible rushed sequel to the original, the main difference here is the possession story. Freddy is back and suddenly not all that interested in revenge (despite what the title may suggest) as none of these kids or their parents are linked to his murder (though I guess he's always just kind of held all of Springwood responsible). I find it odd that he is apparently powerless when 1428 Elm is vacant and now seems to need the body of a teenager to do his bidding for him.

Meanwhile, Jesse is clearly a little confused. He is thrust into a relationship with Lisa though he seems far more interested in his buddy Grady. Add to that, the PE coach who "gets his rocks off" working the boys out to exhaustion and spends his nights at S&M bars (where Jesse randomly shows up to one night under Freddy's will). Not to mention when Freddy interrupts his alone time with Lisa in the cabana and he runs Grady's house. But lo and behold, it is Lisa who he must turn to in the end to overcome Freddy's influence.

There are some outstanding effects throughout, most notably when Freddy literally tears through Jesse's body and some other not so great ones; why would Freddy's guard dogs have human baby heads? Wouldn't that make them less effective? The scenes with Freddy invading the big pool party are probably the highlight of the whole affair. He saunters in with that child killer swagger and slices his way through a few random teenagers (including one that tries to reason with him...great stuff). But then the ever relentless Lisa who follows Freddy back to his old digs and coaxes Jesse out of him...with a kiss? And before you can say "Christian conversion therapy," Jesse and Lisa are back in love. All in all, the whole possession angle did not bother me much though it is not handled very well and makes the final confrontation pretty anti-climatic.

Interestingly, director Jack Sholder made two fantastic movies prior to and right after NOES 2: Alone in the Dark (1982) and The Hidden (1987). Both of which I would recommend over this one, even with its positives.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

(In anticipation for the Platinum Dunes hundred maniac raping of the Nightmare franchise due out April 30th and just because its been awhile, I've decided to revisit the series over the next week or two. We'll see how far I actually get.)

Four teenage friends discover that they are all dreaming of the same razor-clawed, disfigured man leading to one of them, Tina, being savagely murdered in her sleep. Her boyfriend, Rod, is charged with her death as he was the only one in the room at the time and his explanation of the events leaves quite a bit to be desired for the local authorities. Meanwhile, Nancy is continuing to be stalked by this man in her dreams and comes to the realizations that she can be physically hurt in these dreams and she can bring things out with her. Somebody pass the coffee.

As I view it today, there are an awful lot of goofy choices throughout A Nightmare on Elm Street that routinely pull me out of the experience. Granted, it will forever hold the distinction of being the one horror film I can remember having to turn off as a child because I got too spooked for comfort. If memory serves, Tina's body getting dragged through the school corridor is what ultimately did it. Nevertheless, as I watch it now, there are a number of effects that are either unnecessarily humorous (not because of budgetary constraints) or just flat out perplexing: Freddy's extendo-arms in the alleyway, Tina pulling his face off to reveal a laughing skull, the unplugged phone that licks Nancy, the marshmallow fluff stairs, Nancy's drunk mannequin getting pulled through the peephole, etc. I understand that much of this was done to show the power that Freddy has within his world that these kids were thrown into. I just wish it were simpler because at its base, the premise is about as good as can be.

At the same time, this does not wholly get the treatment it deserves either. The idea is that Freddy is getting his revenge by attacking his killer's children where they cannot be protected yet never once do any of the parents take his existence seriously, a theme that will run throughout the course of films (not counting Freddy vs. Jason). Without recognition from those that wronged him, Freddy's actions lack any real significance. And what kind of self-respecting monster lets a guy named Rod take credit for his murders anyway?

That being said, there are clear reasons as to why the film is highly regarded in most circles. As noted above, the premise is unmatched in the uneasiness that it creates for the viewer. You just can't not sleep. If Freddy wants to get you, you will have to deal with him eventually. The kills are all effectively brutal and gruesome and unlike any of the rest of the series, the majority of the second half of the film maintains a dream-like quality where the viewer can never be certain if anything they are seeing is really happening. Heather Langenkamp also gives one hell of a knock-down, drag out performance that holds the whole thing together and sets her apart from the typical one note, run screaming final girls that tend to dominate the genre.

A few remaining questions:

Is it me or is Nancy's mother's skin almost as bad as Freddy's? If that's the ravages of excessive drinking, I think I've just been scared straight.

Is Glen narcoleptic? He couldn't stay awake 20 minutes if his life depended on it. And yes, Glen, your life clearly depended on it.

And who keeps a souvenir from the serial murderer they played a part in hunting down and burning alive? Seriously, Nancy's mom was a weirdo.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Real Life Horror #1: Canadian Game Show Host Edition

Because there are too many things in this world far creepier than any horror movie...

Edit: That didn't last long. Found it elsewhere, for now, here's the link: The mothers are so easy...

The Midnight Hour (1985)

On Halloween night, some teenagers who earlier had stolen attire and a trunk from the local witchcraft museum, head out to the cemetery to randomly read a parchment found within the trunk. Despite the fact that one of them had done an oral report just hours before highlighting the history the town has with witches raising the dead, they stand around for about three seconds, decide nothing it going to happen and leave. Well, the dead do rise, in all kinds of shapes and sizes and slowly the town starts to get taken over.

Made for television back when networks still did that sort of thing (though strangely Joanna Kerns is nowhere to be seen), The Midnight Hour is at times deadly serious, at times kid-friendly comedic and packed to the gills with way too much going on with way too little explanation. The teenagers (a term loosely used here, Shari Belafonte being the worst offender, clocking in at 31 years of age at the time of filming) return to their homes after the cemetery incident to prepare for the big Halloween bash. Meanwhile, the undead are working their way into town and this is where my initial confusion surfaced. While some are highly decomposed as you would expect, others like the 300 year old witch that initially tried to doom the town and the 1950's cheerleader who was buried in her uniform (Now, that's school spirit!), are fresh faced and completely intact. Also, there's a random werewolf...and the witch is also a vampire. Yeah, they don't bother explaining any of this.

So the teens go to their non-alcoholic, chaperoned by teachers, house party (the TV influence I might expect though apparently there is no issue with kids being savagely murdered on camera) and dance the night away at a safe distance from one another. A handful of zombies crash the party and don't try to eat anybody. This is sort of explained by the 1950's cheerleader who seems to randomly have essential information as to all the glaring questions that arise throughout The Midnight Hour. In this case, some of the dead wish to feed on the living while others simply want to experience things they missed out on in their own lives (like neutered, Christian-friendly parties). She also knows exactly what needs to be done to stop the madness down to the most intricate of details and with the help of the lone remaining teenager they set about reversing the curse.

And I think everyone dies. The entire town has been infected by either zombie/vampire/werewolf when they finally do send the demons back to hell and in an instant, everyone vanishes, including the dead cheerleader. This leaves one kid in the middle of town surrounded by vast expanses of nothingness. I guess you could still consider that a victory.

In the midnight hour, I cried no more, no more, no more...


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sisters of Death (1977)

At an initiation ceremony for an organization known simply as The Sisters (and which apparently has a whopping 5 members), the final act of courage for the newest inductees is to kneel before a pistol while one of the members pulls the trigger. I am not exactly sure what is courageous about taking a blank to the back of the head (and I am pretty confident that's still highly dangerous). Of course, something does go wrong and one of the girls gets "Brandon Lee'd," if you will. Seven years later, the remaining five Sisters each receive an invitation to a reunion. They meet up at a hotel, but are quickly escorted by two hired goons to a resort in a remote desert locale surrounded by an electrified fence. Meanwhile, only one of the Sisters is concerned about how strange it is that none of them know who set this up and the clear fact that they are being isolated from civilization.

Filmed in 1972 (though not released until 1977), Sisters of Death is actually a lot better than one might expect from that fact. More than anything, the film takes a few choice turns that I was not expecting. Contrary to what one might think based on the set-up, the film does not merely go about dispatching the girls one by one until the killer is revealed in the final reel. Rather, he introduces himself shortly after they arrive as the father of the dead Sister to be and states that one of them is responsible for her death and did so willingly. He also suggests that one of the Sisters is working with him to determine the guilty party. I apologize, Sisters of Death, for assuming you were just another run of the mill slasher.

Still, the end result is a mixed affair. The reveal of who was helping the father and the sister who did indeed kill the girl intentionally is rushed and does not really add up. How was the father confident that the girl assisting him was not the one that killed his daughter on purpose? As well, there is a lot of manufactured tension that seems completely out of place. We get a tarantula, rattlesnake and German Shepherd attacks, all of which basically come out of nowhere. As well, a good chunk of the middle of the film relies on the girls (and the horny hired goons who snuck back into the complex unwittingly) trying to determine how to escape, yet no one thinks for a second that four, five, maybe six of them could try to overpower the old man who is openingly walking the grounds. To be fair, he is pretty menacing looking, but it was probably a better option than trying to dig their way under the fence using a plastic funnel.

Favorite Line: "Yeah, well, I don't trust light bulbs."


Monday, April 12, 2010

Fred Krueger: A Wronged Man?

NOES 2010 Trailer

There is something that has struck me in one of the trailers airing endlessly these days for the soon to be released 'Nightmare' remake. During the scenes that are clearly spelling out the origin of Freddy, we see Fred Krueger being chased and trapped within an abandoned factory building. He slams the door behind him and in a rather whiny tone, wails "What do you think I did? I didn't do anything!" Am I the only one that gets the impression from this that Krueger is not going to be portrayed as pure unadulterated evil from the start and may even go so far as to question whether he committed the heinous crimes against children while in his human form?

Frankly, I am not sure if this intrigues me more or not. The idea that Freddy could have even a mild level of justification in wiping out the younger generation of Springwood certainly could add some depth to the story (and seeing as much of the rest of the previews look to be little more than re-shot highlights from the original) this might be all we get in terms of an original vision. And yes, I see the irony is using the phrase "original vision" when discussing yet another unnecessary remake. As it stands, I have always rooted for the bad guys anyway so maybe it won't come off as abhorrent this time around if Freddy was indeed innocent...

(And on a mostly unrelated note, it can't possibly be any worse than everyone's favorite oversized, retarded man-child suddenly disposing of evidence and keeping hostages as was seen in last year's atrocity that was Friday the 13th. Nevermind the fact that Jason's cognitive reasoning skills were always more akin to a dog turning their head to and fro in a feeble attempt to understand something well past their means than any kind of rational thinking human being. Alright, count to ten...)

Friday, April 09, 2010

The Runaways (2010)

A change of pace from the usual fare that typically gets discussed here, The Runaways focuses on the rise and all too quick downfall of what was arguably the first all-girl fronted rock band. The "too much, too fast, self-destruction as if on cue" story is certainly not a new one, especially in the all too fickle entertainment world, so why exactly is The Runaways story worth telling? I'm not sure I can answer that. It is a mildly successful biopic and they were smart enough to focus less on the music and more on the manufacturing of the band itself. From the beginning, The Runaways were more marketing ploy than anything else (a trend in music that just seems to get more and more rampant). This is not to say that the girls did not have genuine rock star dreams. The problem is Joan Jett cannot get a simple lesson without the teacher telling her "girls don't play electric guitar," and their producer is constantly reminding them where men want their women...and its not on a stage. The girl's ultimate response? Taking drugs. Making out with one another. Missing their trailer park...that'll show 'em.

The biggest issue though is that I really don't feel like I know much more about those involved as I did going in. The girls are literally thrown together with little to no experience in even playing their instruments, but then suddenly are selling out clubs up and down the West Coast and getting a record deal. Was it really that easy? Things immediately start to fall apart while touring in Japan (Seriously, those schoolgirls will freak out over anything). There is a strange argument about how it should be about the music, not their sexuality, despite the fact that the movie clearly gives most of the songwriting credit to their manager, or at least, the fact that he came up with their one true hit single, "Cherry Bomb." Another big blow up in the recording studio (well-timed) and that is that. The great experiment that was tough as leather, ass kicking girl group blows up...and somewhere, someone decides to start The Go-Gos. Gee, thanks, Runaways.

On the plus side, the performances are all fairly excellent. I have not really been tracking the progress of Dakota Fanning's career nor have I bothered to watch those Twilight movies, but both girls are clearly full of talent and not afraid to strut around in their underwear, both traits that should suit them well in the future. Michael Shannon outshines everyone as their manager (horror fiends will remember him from the criminally underrated Bug from a few years back). And say what you will about their musicianship, while The Runaways may be but a small blip on the punk rock spectrum, I've always kind of dug them. And, yes, there is lots of good mid-70's music throughout (Stooges, Bowie, etc.). All fairly obvious choices, but then there is a reason these songs are classics.

There are worse ways to kill an afternoon.


Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Gate II: Return to the Nightmare (1990)

Terry is back and armed with far more than heavy metal liner notes. It has been two years since the original and he continues to be consumed with demonology, working alone as Glen is nowhere to be found (I guess Stephen Dorff must have had a conflicting guest spot on Mr. Belvedere or something}. Terry returns to Glen's house which is where it all began and which is now suitable only for squatters and drug addicts. There's just no resale value in a home once infested with stop motion evil. He goes about summoning the Trinity of Demons when a Trinity of Burnouts break up the fun. Together the four band together to finish the ritual and end up shooting a minion that slipped through the opening created. But you just can't keep a good minion down.

Meanwhile, Terry had some ulterior motives of his own as he has determined that the minions can grant wishes and he is desperate to get his alcoholic father back to work. This is a nice reference to the first Gate where Terry himself is lashing out due to the then recent death of his mother. The middle part of Gate II focuses on this wish fulfillment and the trouble that ultimately comes with easy fortunes. See, the shelf life of whatever is created through these wishes is awfully short and always ends up looking like something your pet minion might leave in the backyard.

Our story concludes with that pesky Trinity of Demons breaking through the Gate through the burnouts themselves. We get a final battle in the Demon dimension which always did pique my interest as we never got to see where they came from in the original. One might imagine that while spending billions of years waiting by the Gate, the Trinity might have gotten around to sprucing up their own dimension as it is all rocks and desolation, but apparently not. The very end is a bit of a head scratcher. Luckily for Terry, Canadians apparently do not embalm their dead and he busts out of his own coffin to walk off into the sunset with his best girl, Burnout #2.

The original Gate is more nostalgic than anything as I watched it many times as a kid. It is a fairly youth-friendly horror endeavor and succeeds mostly due to its small scope and decent effects. This is basically the problem with Gate II as the story is needlessly complicated. When did minions suddenly get genie powers? As well, the effects, a mix of rubber costuming and some stop-motion action, looks a lot cheaper than what I remembered from the first one. It remains a fun diversion, but ultimately not a necessary continuation of any kind.


Monday, April 05, 2010

Hell Night (1981)

The final orientation for four Greek pledges is to stay the night at Garth Manor, the subject of local legend where a prideful father could no longer stand his legion of mentally challenged, handicapped and/or deformed children and murdered all but one some twelve years prior though only three of five bodies were ever found. It is an interesting origin story though immediately flawed by the fact that no one could ever purport to know that one of the children was spared while two corpses were never found as the only remaining members of the family were too dead to give details. I know...nitpicking. Meanwhile, the house has been elaborately rigged by the already inducted fraternity/sorority kids in order to strike fear in the hearts of the pledges. Nevermind the fact that we are told that due to the reclusiveness of its old inhabitants, Garth Manor never received modern luxuries such as electricity though it ends up being used abundantly to pull off the manufactured spookiness. Alright, alright...I'll stop already. Guess what though? Feral beings start offing our merry pranksters and soon set their sights on the pledges inside. Now, that's more like it.

Where are all these stoic, haunted mansions on acres of land filled with family tombs and hedge mazes and are somehow always still fully furnished? Personally, I would be all for an overnight stay if the right opportunity arose. Unfortunately, this may just be a horror movie device of which Hell Night is full of. At the same time though, I have to give it credit for standing out in key areas. The shadows that abound in and around Garth Manor are used as effectively as possible and we get the treat of an atypical hero in Seth, one of the pledges left to die who acts unlike most of our usually hapless victims. Decapitated head found in the bedroom? Seth is not sticking around to ask why. He grabs himself a weapon and books towards the exit. Foreboding spiked gate won't open? You better believe Seth is getting over it. Idiot cops not taking the threat seriously? Seth helps himself to a shotgun and goes back to clean manor. Granted, Seth dies, but damnit if he didn't put it all out there.

This was more disappointing than it really should have been though as Linda Blair's heroine, Marti, is not one to root for through most of the picture. It is only at the very end when everyone else is dead that she finally takes a stand for all those sorority wannabes left to fight mutants the world over. Still, and I am sure I am surprising no one when I say that Marti does indeed defeat evil, but we never get any kind of closure with our recently deceased mongoloids. We only ever see two of them which based on the legend, leaves a third still roaming the hallowed halls of Garth Manor, and what we do see isn't all that horrifying. The origin story told in the beginning makes a point of clearly identifying the entire Garth brood so why in the end do we get nothing but nameless pale skinned goons? I liked you Hell Night, but that was pretty weak.