Tuesday, October 18, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/15-16

SING ALONG WITH ME, EVERYONE: A-ONE-AND-A-TWO…


Nightmare on Elm Street, A (1984)
(5th viewing) d. Craven, Wes (USA) 91min
Horror Hall-of Famer Wes Craven created this hugely successful fright flick, which spawned multiple sequels, launched New Line Cinema, and introduced the moniker of “Freddy Krueger” into pop culture consciousness. Attractive (if acting-talent-challenged) Heather Langenkamp plays a teenager plagued by dreams of a horribly scarred figure wearing a distinctive red-striped sweater, battered fedora, and a glove with knives attached to the fingers. Robert Englund, in the role he would forever be identified with, creates an original and frightening villain in Freddy, an executed child-murdering psychopath who has found the means to keep up his gruesome work by entering his prospective victim’s dreams. Not yet the wisecrack-spouting centerpiece of future installments, Englund’s minimal appearances pack a darkly effective punch. As Langenkamp and company (including Johnny Depp, in his feature film debut) struggle to stay awake, Krueger’s sinister history is gradually revealed, along with the small town’s dark and horrifying secret. There is certainly much to applaud in the film’s fiercely innovative concept, nightmare imagery, and gory special effects; but the line between Craven’s real world and dream counterpart becomes so blurred in the end, there is no logic remaining except dream logic. Consequently, it often feels like the viewer is being cheated of a legitimate story for the sake of some “really cool kills,” (many of which are admittedly memorable, particularly one in which a character is swallowed and regurgitated by their own bed). This aspect, along with stiff performances and a really weak ending, lands Nightmare on a slightly lower rung than other modern horror classics.




Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, A (1985) (3rd viewing) d. Sholder, Jack (USA) 87min
Picking up five years later, this slapdash sequel violates what few rules the original had to offer, storming into bloody senselessness and not letting up until the end credits roll. Sensitive teenager Mark Patton’s family moves into the Elm Street house, and begins to experience unsettling nightmares featuring that knife-fingered wonder boy, Freddy Krueger (again portrayed by Robert Englund, who also cameos sans makeup as a school bus driver.) Before long, Englund is possessing Patton’s body, forcing the boy to commit grisly murders with the slice-n’-dice glove while sleepwalking. Wes Craven’s “don’t go to sleep” mythology is thrown out the window here, as Freddy can inhabit the hapless adolescent sleeping or waking, even going so far as to gruesomely emerge from Patton’s body like a snake shedding its skin. Frequent visual references to heat and flames are scattered throughout, ostensibly to accord special effects opportunities, including one of the more absurd sequences (and there are many) where a killer canary explodes in an inexplicable fireball. While acting has never been the series’ strong point, Clu Galager as Patton’s papa seems to be in a completely different movie, alternating between unpleasant and unpleasantly goofy. The numerous homoerotic references present throughout the film will raise as many eyebrows as any of the gory slayings. Jack Sholder takes over the directing reins from Craven, managing to create a few interesting visual stunts amidst the lunacy. Truth be told, though, one could easily skip right to Part 3 and not miss much.




Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, A (1987) (6th viewing) d. Russell, Chuck (USA) 96min
Picking up as though Part 2 were a bad dream itself, everyone’s favorite slashing sandman, Freddy Krueger (played with increasingly psychotic zeal by Robert Englund), is back in this, the third and strongest of the popular series. Writer/director Chuck Russell, and his writing team (including Wes Craven and Shawshank Redemption’s Frank Darabont) finally get all the right elements, combining a strong story, interesting characters and whiz-bang-boom dream effects. Heather Langenkamp reprises her character from the original, now a dream specialist assisting psychiatrist Craig Wasson with troubled adolescent patients. Seems Wasson’s subjects (“the last of the Elm Street children”) are suffering from nightmares of The Gloved One, and subsequently dying in their sleep. Patricia Arquette is terrific as a scream teen with the gift of pulling other people into her dreams, and through her, the survivors unite to battle Freddy in a slumberland slugfest. Russell strikes just the right balance of gory fright and fun, introducing the concept of “dream powers” and adding a dash of sly humor (as opposed to the trowel-like gaggery of later installments) to the mix. There’s a real sense of rooting for the sleep-addled misfits, and a genuine sense of loss as the merry band fall victim one by one to Freddy’s razor-sharp claws and fatally pithy zingers. The acting is more than capable across the ranks, and the plot introduces some intriguing Krueger family history. A thoroughly entertaining venture, with the added pleasure of tough guy John Saxon (returning as Langenkamp’s father) trying to look intimidated by the wimpy, puffy-haired Wasson.




Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, A (1988) (3rd viewing) d. Harlin, Renny (USA) 99min
After the impressive and cohesive Dream Warriors, this is a serious drop-off in all departments, with much of the responsibility lying with hit-and-miss director Renny Harlin. Admittedly, the script by future Oscar-winner Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) and “Scott Pierce” (an amalgalm of five other writers) doesn’t do anyone any favors, least of all the audience. When Freddy Krueger is revived (courtesy of flaming dog urine, no less), he sets out to polish off the survivors from Part 3 – and the rest of the film’s attractive teenage cast, just for the heck of it. Robert Englund can thank his agents for getting him billing above the title, but he is given little to do here except cackle and wisecrack while messily dispatching his victims (backed by a pop music soundtrack). Tuesday Knight appears as Patricia Arquette’s character from DW, despite bearing no resemblance to her predecessor either looks or talent-wise (she also sings the awful “Nightmare” song over the opening credits). With logistics and mythologies from previous installments mangled and muddled beyond recognition, the horrific deaths, the most gruesome thus far, are the only gooey glue holding the movie together. No longer content with simply slashing, Freddy now utilizes outlandish dream methods to execute his hapless prey, with the “roach motel” sequence taking top gross-out honors. But it all feels as fake and rubbery as Englund’s makeup, with heroine Lisa Wilcox inexplicably acquiring attributes from her fallen classmates in order to “suit up” for the inevitable showdown. Yawn, yawn, yawn, time to put this tired series to bed.



Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, A (1989) (2nd viewing) d. Hopkins, Stephen (USA) 89min
While Dream Master badly stumbled, this one just falls on the ground and flails wildly. For about five minutes it seems like there might be hope, as the film opens with an intriguing shower dream sequence that gives way to a flashback of the moment of conception of Freddy, “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs.” And then, the dream ends, returning heroine Lisa Wilcox awakens, and the sheer awfulness that is the remainder of the movie begins. Plot? The vanquished Freddy attempts to be reborn in the budding subconscious of Wilcox’s unborn child. Does it work? No. Oh, heavens, heavens, no, it does not. But since all director Stephen Hopkins and screenwriter Leslie Bohem are concerned with is how to best utilize their dumpy special effects (which have been shopped out to a half dozen different effects houses), it hardly seems to matter. Robert Englund is barely in the movie, and when he is, it only makes things worse. Not through any fault of the actor, but because the worm has turned and Freddy is in full-on stand-up killer comedian mode now, delivering not one, but eighteen “zingers” for each kill and they’re all awful. As Wilcox’s insufferable circle of friends decreases (though honestly, Freddy seems to be doing her a favor, all things considered), further history regarding the unfortunate Amanda Krueger comes to light and oh, who cares? Unless you’re an incurably masochistic completist, this is not for you. You have been warned.




Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) (2nd viewing) d. Talalay, Rachel (USA) 89min
Skip the agonizing first hour of this monstrosity, and here’s what you’ll miss: pointless cameos from Tom and Roseanne Arnold, a yacker of a soundtrack comprised of songs with “dream” lyrics, a stoner kid being attacked by a huge road map, an absolutely hateful videogame dream sequence, a killer Q-tip, and red herrings galore. Whew. While the final third of the movie does not redeem it by any stretch of the imagination, it does provide some morbidly fascinating insight into the evolution of the man who would be Freddy. Watching the troubled Krueger child deal with abusive classmates and his sadistic father (Alice Cooper), one almost sympathizes with the future child-killer. (Though the ultimate motivation given for Krueger’s crimes doesn’t hold up under examination, it is interesting for a moment or two.) Yaphet Kotto lends welcome strength to his few scenes as a feisty teen counselor, though one wonders to whom the fine actor owed a favor. Best of all though, Robert Englund thankfully shifts out of merry jokester mode in the final reel to recover a bit of his original dark nastiness. Rookie director Rachel Talalay gives the deplorable special effects sequences center stage over the characters; but considering that Michael De Luca’s execrably unfunny, unscary script offers nothing to work with, who can blame her? (As an added bonus, there is a headache-inducing 3-D sequence – in “FreddyVision” – in the final reel.) When the best part of the film is a “Freddy’s greatest hits” montage while the closing credits roll, you know it’s time to hang up the glove.




Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) (3rd viewing) d. Craven, Wes (USA) 112min
Wes Craven returns to the Elm Street director’s chair, creating an intelligent, worthy sequel that manages to stimulate more brain cells than gag reflexes. Ten years after the release of the original, actress Heather Langenkamp, star of ANOES 1 and 3 (played by Heather Langenkamp), is approached by New Line producer Robert Shaye (played by Robert Shaye) to recreate her role of “Nancy” in a new sequel written and directed by Wes Craven (played by—guess who,—Wes Craven). Problem is, Langenkamp and her son (Miko Hughes) are being plagued by nightmares of Ol’ Filet Fingers himself, nightmares that are beginning to exhibit increasingly corporeal symptoms. It seems that Freddy Krueger is really an existential form of evil held captive by the films, and now that the series is over, the cinematic boogeyman is attempting to cross over into the “real” world through Hughes. Craven’s clever, self-referential screenplay blurs not only the lines between dreams and reality, but also between the movie world and the real world, with alumni John Saxon and Robert Englund playing both themselves and their onscreen alter egos. For the first time in many a Nightmare moon, the focus is given to characters and suspense rather than effects and ghastly one-liners, and while there are a few stellar scenes of bloodletting, they do not overshadow the dramatic tension of the story. Sadly, the innovative film failed to capture an audience at the theatres, too chatty for the gorehounds and “just another Freddy flick” to the general public, but has gained increasing respect over time.




Freddy vs. Jason (2003) (2nd viewing) d. Yu, Ronny (USA) 97min
Since the closing shot of 1993’s Jason Goes to Hell, fans had been clamoring for this “Slash of the Titans.” A decade later, New Line Cinema answered their nightmares with a flick that is exactly the low-brow monster-mash masterpiece that the two screen legends deserve. Screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift concoct a storyline that builds upon history from the previous films (17 in all) and manages to generate a few new twists of its own. Freddy (Robert Englund, basking in his scar-tissue glory) is trapped in Hell after the parents of Springwood finally cover up all trace of his existence, thereby eliminating their children’s fear (which the dream killer needs to exist). In a stroke of demonic inspiration, he revives that misunderstood orphan of Crystal Lake, Jason Voorhees (Ken Kerzinger), to unleash a reign of terror substantial enough to allow Krueger to pick up where he left off. For a while, the satanic symbiosis works wonders, with expendable Elm Street teens being split, splashed, and splattered right and left, sleeping or waking. Trouble starts when Jason proves a little too efficient, robbing Freddy of his prey, and the stage is set for the climactic battle royale that combines high-flying wire work, CGI, and good old-fashioned Japanese monster-style mayhem. True, it’s a certain brand of fun, one with a core of casual misogyny and plentiful gore-laced violence. But since these elements have been integral to both series from the beginning, there’s little point in taking the moral high ground now. Hardcore F13 fans may be disappointed with director Ronny Yu’s decision not to cast veteran Kane Hodder as Jason, but Kerzinger swings a machete ably enough, and his towering, hulking presence is a nice counterpoint to Englund’s wiry chatterbox.

RUNNING TOTAL:
First Time Views: 32
Repeats: 38
Total Films: 70

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