Friday, April 30, 2010

Elm Street Week Day 7: The One Where They All Play Themselves

So we've come to the end of the Elm Street series (admittedly in a somewhat in-ordered way) and today it starts over full circle.  People everywhere are being reintroduced to Freddy Krueger, who is now being played by Oscar-nominee Jackie Earl Haley, and the reviews are disappointingly mediocre so far (though for me it is disappointing how predictably closed minded they are...more on that when I actually discuss the new Elm Street tomorrow).  However, we still have one more of Englund's turns at bat to go and it is my personal favorite.  Picture it, its 1993 and Freddy had been killed off 2 years ago...yet people still wanted more of the Springwood Slasher.  Enter Wes Craven, who is approaching the 10 year anniversary of his first entry in the series and who has started mulling around the effects that horror has on those who both watch it and create it.  What is horror and is it harmful?  It certainly was to Heather Langenkamp who, due to her popularity as Nancy in Craven's original as well as on the TV series "Just the Ten of Us", had her own stalker who gave her plenty of chills.  It effected Robert Englund too, who no longer could be identified as anything but Freddy Krueger (which was lucrative to his career, but also kept him from being cast in anything else).  Then there is Wes himself, who was type cast into the horror director mold after Nightmare and never quite produced a movie that a critical and a financial hit quite like Nightmare again (yes, his later films all have their fans...myself included, but lets be honest here).  Freddy himself has become a hero of sorts to his fans...a fun, wisecracking guy who kills with flare...a far cry from Craven's original image of the evil child killer....which added fuel to all those cases of people blaming horror movies for glorifying violence and for causing real life accidents and deaths of themselves or others.    With all these ideas rolling around, its no wonder that Craven decided to dip back into the Elm Street well just in time for the 10th anniversary.  So lets check out Wes Craven's first postmodern masterpiece, Wes Craven's New Nightmare.

The film begins similarly to the original Nightmare, with dirty grimy hands creating a claw for a new generation...mechanical, intelligent, and deadly.  Something meant to be part of the body rather than worn, which makes the maker of this claw cut off his own hand in order to attach it to himself.  Then Wes Craven yells "Cut!" and we see that we are on a movie set.  Craven, playing himself appears to be directing a new Nightmare movie with Langenkamp in the lead.  Everything seems to be going well, until the claw goes berserk and kills two crew members and nearly eviscerates Heather's husband Chase while her son Dylan disappears.  At the crucial moment, Heather wakes up and finds herself in the middle of an Earthquake in her Los Angeles home.  She and Chase hurry down the stairs to Dylan's room to keep him safe until the quake subsides.  It turns out that Heather's nightmare is the result of a series of threatening phone calls she has been receiving from a man pretending to be Freddy Krueger, which has put her and her family on edge.  She thinks nothing of it at first, but when Dylan begins dreaming about Freddy as well (even though he's never seen any of the movies) and her husband is killed, she begins to wonder if there is something much more sinister going on.  She soon discovers that everyone involved in Elm Street, including producers Robert Shaye and Sarah Risher, actor Robert Englund, and even Wes Craven himself are dreaming of this "darker and more evil Freddy", and she soon realizes that Freddy has become something much more than a screen villain...he's become a force that is threatening to rip from the film world and into our reality.

Wow...just wow.  There's a name for this kind of creativity and ingenuity...genius.  Wes Craven is a genius pure and simple.  No, he doesn't write the best endings and he is often much better directing work that other people have written rather than his own, but when he has an original idea he really goes after it.  New Nightmare was the perfect film to usher in a new generation of horror that really came into its own with 1996's Scream (also by Craven) that examined not just the horror cliches and conventions and how they work with audiences but also tackled the effect that horror films have on the people in them.  In this film Freddy is much more than just a villain, he is the flesh and blood embodiment of how the character changed the lives of everyone around him but also how the character got away from his creator's control.  It is well known now how New Line was built on the back of Freddy and how if it were not for him, they would not have produced some of the most quality films in both the horror genre but also of all time (Lord of the Rings and Hairspray come to mind)...and some will even say it is common knowledge that Craven was never happy with where New Line took the character in the sequels that followed his original and wasn't paid for his contribution to the character's beginnings and middles (Part 3).  However, Shaye and Craven met up in the early 90s and worked out their problems and Craven was both paid retro actively and also convinced to come back and resurrect Freddy.  It was quite the gamble for Shaye, buying a concept that was such a risk (would people take Freddy killing 'real' people seriously or find it campy?) but he also took a risk on the original Nightmare and look where that got him.  As a result, we get a story that is literally about how the creator loses control of his character who then lashes out and tries to destroy the creative minds who have the power to keep him imprisoned in the world of fiction.  Craven also works in Langenkamp's real story of being terrorized and turns it into her journey to try and escape the stigma of being associated with a famed horror icon.  Robert Englund's arc in the film mirrors his real life issue of always being seen as Freddy, with him disappearing without a trace once the 'real' Freddy begins appearing in full...suggesting that Freddy has replaced him in the world (afterall, the two cannot exist separately from one another in the public eye anymore).  And Dylan's arc is the representation of how horror's effects, as well as family problems, manifest themselves in a child's erratic behavior.  It is a rich and layered film that is, in many cases, better than the source films that it deals with.  It is adult and grown up, hardly a slasher film (since Freddy only kills 4 people in the whole thing) and moves with a slow and suspenseful gait that is unusual for the series (which is used to getting right to the dream carnage) which is probably why fans didn't take to it quite so quickly.  This is Krueger rewound to his dark beginnings and ramped up...which after Part 6, wasn't what people wanted.  They wanted a villain to root for, not someone who would scare them.  They also wanted something more jokey and carnival esque, which also isn't what this film is.  Critics however, loved the film (those who 'got' it) and today it is often considered the best or the second best Elm Street sequel.  I urge you, if you only see one Elm Street film (after the original of course)...see this one.  If it doesn't give you chills, then you simply cannot be reached.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Elm Street Week Day 6: The One With Jason

I know, I know...I'm late.  I should have had this one up last night and I never got to it thanks to a large buildup of Netflix discs and long rehearsals....we're doing our spring musical right now, so I obviously have no life.  So I'm just gonna cheat and do this one today and part 7 tomorrow, which should work just fine.  Anyhoo, this is part 8 of this series, but also part 11 of another.  Yes, the infamous match-up between Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger...an idea that had started as a fanboy's wet dream (no pun intended) and then morphed into a real idea that was trapped in development hell for years.  Many of us thought it would never happen, and for a long long time it didn't.  However, when Scream revived horror in the 90s and the 80s icons like Michael Myers began being brought back...then it seemed that the time was ripe for Freddy and Jason to retake the scene.  Finally in 2003, almost 20 years since the original Elm Street opened, horror fans got to see the battle they had been waiting years for.  The only question was, was it worth the wait? Lets find out as we examine Freddy vs. Jason.

It has been years since Freddy last terrorized the children of Springwood.  All of the evidence of him has been covered up and no one speaks his name anymore.  Turns out, fear of him kept him alive for all those years and without the stories and whispers of his existence, he wasn't able to draw power from the fear.  So he has been confined to wandering Hell, where he has found the perfect tool for continuing his reign of terror...Jason Voorhees.  It seems that Jason, for all of his evil deeds, has been rewarded with an endless killing spree in Hell that looks just like Camp Crystal Lake.  Freddy creeps into his subconscious and impersonates his mother, telling him to go to Springwood and kill the kids there.  Jason starts killing, and the adults naturally assume that Krueger is back.  The whispers start, and the lead kids led by Lori and her friend Kia begin to dream of Krueger...giving him the power to come back.  However, when Jason starts taking victims from Freddy and hogging all the carnage, Freddy decides that this town isn't big enough for the both of them.  This gives the kids the idea to pit the two monsters against each other, setting the stage for a battle of epic proportions.  Freddy vs. Jason...place your bets.

Freddy vs. Jason is one of those horror sequels, like The Rage: Carrie 2, that is much better than it has any right to be, considering its concept.  I mean the whole idea is an excuse to get two horror icons together in a battle akin to the Universal Monsters pairings back in the day, and yet the screenwriters really took the time to make the story plausible.  Well, plausible within the realms of the slasher film.  I mean, we are expected to believe that one can drive from central Ohio to Crystal Lake, New Jersey (yes, that's where Crystal Lake is) in a matter of hours and that Jason, who cannot be killed, can be tranquilized.  However, the setup is very clever...I thought...having Freddy use Jason to kill kids for him like Frankenstein's monster, and then finding it very hard to turn his monster off once he's started.  Also, the screenwriters sneak in some fun references to fans of the Elm Street series, such as having all the kids at Westin Hills (the hospital from Part 3) on the dream suppressant Hypnocil (which Nancy used in Part 3).  They also are sure to have Lori living in the newly remodeled 1428 Elm Street (Nancy's and Freddy's house).  There are some things that weigh the movie down, like a subplot involving Lori's father who may or may not have killed her mother (did we really have any doubt about the turnout?) and the stoner character who is a rip off of Kevin Smith's Jay character.  It also would have been nice if they had gotten Betsy Palmer to return as Mrs. Voorhees, but I understand she wanted too much money to do it.  It also moves a little too fast, I'd have liked to see a film that was two hours long rather than a brisk hour and a half...it would have given us more time to get to know the characters and might have saved us a few illogical jumps.  However, as I said before, for a film that was just made for fanboys...it was surprisingly good.  I still enjoy watching it even now...and the battle at the end is everything that you would hope for.  I won't spoil the ending, but I will say that its a lulu.  Tomorrow, I'll backtrack to part 7 and explain why I saved it for last and also why its my favorite of all the Freddy films.  Until then, enjoy life and get plenty of rest...because tomorrow, the terror doesn't stop at the screen.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Elm Street Week Day 5: The One Where Freddy Dies (Syke!)

Part 6 started out as a much more ambitious project with several main characters, the return of Alice and Jacob Johnson as characters, and a big subplot dealing with Freddy's past and his eventual demise.  However, like all ambitious horror sequels of that time...the budget was cut and the studio interfered in the creative process.  They also decided to add a gimmick to the mix...3D, and that meant neutering the finale even more so that they could film the scenes properly.  Sad thing is, the 3D effect didn't turn out all that great in the end and so cutting the finale down came to nothing...and the way they finally "killed" Freddy was really stupid.  Still, there's a lot to like about Part 6 if you look closely.  So here we go...day five and movie 6.  Say hello to Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare.

When the film begins, an unidentified teenage male is having a nightmare where he is thrown from a plane, falls down a hill, and is then hit by a bus driven by the always funny Freddy Krueger who throws the boy out of the dream when he reaches the edge of town.  It seems that Krueger is confined to the town of Springwood and cannot venture further and he is sending this last surviving teen of Springwood out to 'fetch' something for him.  The boy, who is called John Doe for the remainder of the film because he has amnesia and cannot remember who he is, is taken into a youth shelter where he meets Maggie Burroughs who works with the kids there.  She convinces him that he needs to return to Springwood so he can find out who he is and what happened.  Also, he holds a news article that contains a watertower that she has seen in a recurring dream of her own.  Together Maggie and John journey to Springwood, with three stowaway teens (Carlos, Spencer, and Tracy) and are freaked out by the towns people's odd behavior.  There are no kids anywhere and the adults appear to all have gone crazy.  Soon, the stowaway teens succumb to sleep and are killed by ol' Fred while Maggie and Tracy survive.  Freddy then hitches a ride in Maggie's mind and she takes him to the youth shelter where he can kill a new batch of kids.  It turns out that Maggie is Freddy's long lost daughter and he needed her to release him from Springwood.  Now she must face her evil father in combat to defeat him once and for all.

As I said, part 6 has a lot going for it.  It takes an ambitious premise, like jumping 10 years into the future to see what would happen to the town if Freddy was left to continue roaming free.  Obviously, the town would be wiped clean of any children or teenagers and the adults left would be forced to either deny what had happened or cope with trying to understand the illogical truth...both of which would require some sort of psychosis.  It also asks a "What If?" on Freddy's pre-dream life.  Did he have a family?  What would have happened to them?  However, the film doesn't use any of these ideas to any real effect as it quickly becomes bogged down in more of the same.  Carlos and Spencer exist only to give Freddy a chance to have a few cook dream set pieces while John (the other death) is the only character who dies that you actually care about since we've been with him since the start.  I understand that John used to be Jacob in the original script...one of the many ideas that was lost in the rewriting and retooling process.  And they killed Freddy with a pipe bomb...after numerous supernatural deaths and much worse mishaps (like being set on fire or ripped apart), the thing that kills him is a pipe bomb.  Its just a little ridiculous...add to the fact that they ripped off the ending of part 1 as well, with Maggie pulling Freddy into the real world just like Nancy did in the first.  It really feels like they simply ran out of ideas and just needed to end the movie quickly.  Another misstep of this film is how cartoony Freddy has become.  He is literally copying whole moves from the Looney Tunes playbook, like pushing a Wile E. Coyote bed of spikes out under a falling victim and then pausing to look at the camera and pant. His puns are also the worst ever...I mean my Dad literally tells jokes like these (he loves bad puns).  However, I often find myself enjoying the first half of the film at the very least and then finishing it out of respect.  I guess I like to look at Freddy's Dead like a great 'what if' conundrum...I watch it and wonder to myself what might have been if the film had been given the budget and talent it deserved as Freddy's finale.  Tomorrow, I'm going to skip ahead to Freddy's famous heavyweight bout with another famous horror icon and save the true "best for last" on Thursday...so be ready for more Freddy!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Elm Street Week Day 4: The One with the Baby

Ah, another day...another Nightmare.  This time we will be looking at Part 5, a dark and gothic little entry that tried (perhaps too late) to return Freddy to his darker roots and concludes the little trilogy that began with Part 3.  The nightmares were shot in dark, 'James Cameron' blues and hues of sickly yellows and browns and featured particularly gruesome ends for their characters (without being overly bloody).  Freddy was still jokey, but he's a bit more mean-spirited like in Part 3 and his very appearance inspires dread...rather than cheers and whoops.  Also, Freddy's plan is a bit more icky this time out...using the dreams of an unborn child to bring himself back to life and start anew.  Part 5 always gets a very bad rap...often lumped together with the worst of the series and I've never understood why.  It advances the story once again into something a little different, and it tries to make the whole affair dark and spooky again.  I honestly think that that is what the fans reject, since audiences were really starting to love the fun 'anti-hero' Freddy from Parts 3 and 4, and Part 5 (like Alien 3 following Aliens) sucks the fun out of what came before. Also annoying to fans (because even they don't get what really is important to this series) is the fact that there are only 3 kills in this film as opposed to the large numbers in the last one.  Well, I'd better stop yapping and get to talking about the actual movie...so let's take a little snooze and explore A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child.

Freddy has been dead and gone for a whole year and Alice Johnson and her boyfriend Dan Jordan are readjusted to normal life...and apparently shagging like rabbits.  Yes friends, mousy Alice from the last film has gotten hot thanks to killing Freddy and is quite fond of making love with her hot boyfriend...which is where we find them at the start of the film.  Following this, Alice begins having strange nightmares again and...while they don't feature Freddy...they are very vivid and she isn't able to control them.  The following day, she finds herself in a dream (despite not having gone to sleep) and witnesses the rebirth of Freddy Krueger through the memory of his real mother.  Soon after, Freddy kills Dan and several of Alice's new friends, and Alice begins seeing a little boy named Jacob in her new dreams.  It turns out that Freddy's return has been brought about by the conception of her own unborn child...whom Jacob represents in the dreams.  She has passed her dream-jumping power to the baby and Freddy is using him to get to her friends.  Alice must now find a way to stop Krueger from controlling her unborn son, who is being fed the souls of Freddy's victims and is becoming more and more like Freddy.

Part 5 has a lot of things going for it...it has some of the best production design yet, likable teen actors that you really don't want to see get killed, and the clever addition of Freddy going after an unborn child.  The fetus idea makes sense, as unborn children spend most of their time in the womb sleeping and dreaming which would make one an easy target for Mr. Krueger.  The idea was going to be used for the first sequel, but assistant producer Sara Risher was pregnant at the time and was highly uncomfortable with the concept...so it got saved for a later time.  Coming hot off the success of Part 4, this entry was very different in tone and look and audiences didn't take to it.  In fact, audiences were already beginning to grow tired of Freddy's antics...as Part 5 didn't make nearly as much at the box office as Part 4 did.  Perhaps this is why they chose to kill Freddy off in the next installment.  I've never really understood the hate this movie gets, seeing as it does many things that the other more popular entries do, and does them well.  A lot of people simply state that it was getting to be "too much" by the time this one came out.  Things like Baby Freddy, were too much...the gothic atmosphere was too much...Freddy's jokes were too much...and so on.  I think another one of the reasons people hate on Part 5 is that, villains messing with children (babies in particular) just makes people uncomfortable on a gut level.  They also are put off by the 'sickly looking' visuals of the film.  I mean, some scenes have a palette of serious 'baby shit' yellow...and given how much this film deals with 'inner bodily functions'...that also makes people uncomfortable.  But like I said, this one is one of my favorites simply because it gets back to the darkness of the first few films (as much as others might say otherwise) and I actually feel some suspense for the characters in this...unlike in Part 4.  I dunno, I guess I just see things differently.  I only hope that more people revisit Part 5 and find something to like in it because like all the Nightmare films...it has more layers than people give it credit for.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Elm Street Week Day 3 (Part 2): The One that's the Most "80s"

...And we're back with the second half of today's Elm Street coverage, covering the second of the 'Dream Fighter' trilogy as I'll call it, Part 4...the one where the production values went way up and you could feel the 80s dripping from every pore.  Well of course you can...it was released in 1988 when the bright colors and crazy hair of the 80s was reaching its apex and the 90s were quickly approaching...every movie had a hard rock 80s soundtrack (including this one) and Freddy's popularity was rivaling Jason.  In fact, this summer saw the two horror Juggernauts battling each other for box office dollars (ok...so maybe one movie came out in June and the other came out in August but still) and there were already people who were either Freddy fans 'or' Jason fans...not both.  It was like liking either Star Trek or Star Wars.  This was also the summer that it was rumored that a Freddy vs. Jason movie would happen, but when neither studio could reach an agreement on how to divvy up the rights and the money, they did what studio heads do best...churn out another movie as quick as possible.  However, where Friday the 13th Part VIII: The New Blood was more of the same (with even less identifiable characters and gore that was eventually cut down to neuter the film entirely) part 4 managed to come up with likable characters (who might be cookie cutter...but were acted with gusto), amazing dream set pieces, and a natural extension of what began in part 3.  So lets perm our hair, put on some Drama Rama, and fall into A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

When we last left our survivors from Dream Warriors, Kristin, Joey, and Kincaid, they had defeated Freddy Krueger and were released from the psychiatric hospital to lead normal high school lives.  However, Kristin keeps finding herself in Freddy's dream world...despite the fact that he is no longer in it.  She is convinced that he is coming back to get them and refuses to believe Joey or Kincaid when they tell her that he is gone for good.  They even warn her that if she keeps going into his world that she might inadvertently bring him back.  Before you can say "I told you so" Kincaid witnesses the resurrection of Freddy in his own nightmare and dies at Freddy's hand.  Freddy then takes out Joey and Kristin...but not before Kristin can bring her friend Alice Johnson into her dream and pass her dream jumping power to her.  With Kristen, Joey, and Kincaid dead...all the Elm Street kids are dead and none of the new kids need to fear.  However, it seems that every time Alice falls asleep...she inadvertently brings someone into the dream with her and they meet a gruesome death, passing a special ability to her in the process.  With Alice unable to control the dream power and with lives on the line, she must find the hero inside of herself and face Freddy alone, using the collected power of her dead friends to help her.  Has the Dream Demon finally met his match?

I LOVE The Dream Master.  I know a lot of people don't like it because they say that it wasn't scary, that Freddy joked too much, that the characters were disposable, and that Freddy was brought back to life by flaming dog urine (get over it guys....its just a wacky dream thing like the inexplicable sheep in Wes's original) but I simply cannot fault a movie that is so much damn fun to watch.  Part 4 is like a comic book movie, you have a villain who has an ultimate evil plan and a hero that comes from humble beginnings and inherits a special ability that is an asset in fighting the villain.  Alice is like Peter Parker that way, and that's part of why I like her.  I was like her in high school, odd and mousy with close friends but no love life and no distinguishable characteristics...and like Alice, it wasn't until I discovered an inner ability that set me apart and gave me an identity that I became much more special (in my case it was theater and singing, rather than dream tricks).  I was also a big daydreamer, and so is Alice.  Those are some of the scenes that are the best, as they give us an idea what Alice dreams for and wants but cannot achieve on her own because she is so afraid of what could happen.  Alice is also like Nancy, in that she isn't set up as the lead in the beginning and isn't given the opportunity to become a hero until the lead heroine is axed (Tina/Kristin).  Once she is backed into a corner, she takes control and fights back against Freddy instead of running from him.  Another interesting part of this film is how it uses Alice's story arc as a metaphor for how a person copes with loss.  She loses several close friends over the course of a short period and grieves over them...but she also gets stronger in the process, using the things that were best about each of them to keep her strong through hard times.  Here, Freddy represents untimely death and Alice is any person who is left behind in the aftermath and who must persevere in order to keep getting through her daily activities.  Truly, what doesn't kill her makes her stronger.  Many detractors of this film miss this I think...or they think it is too ham-fisted to be mentioned.  But what other horror films at the time were adding layers like this to their stories?  The Elm Street scripts, even when they weren't as good as they could have been, always felt like they were written better than any others at the time.  New Line really paid people to think about what would look best on the screen and it shows.  Even when Elm Street is at its worst or most maligned, its still better than the rest.  Come back tomorrow for part 5 and be ready for Freddy.

Elm Street Week Day 3 (Part 1): The One with Morpheus in it

Today's post is going to be a two-parter mainly because I have to watch two films today in order to get all 8 Freddy films done by next Friday so I can cover the remake...so I hope you guys are in for a lot of Freddy!  If you haven't already guessed, I'm going through the films in chronological order so today is gonna be Parts 3 and 4...which are two of my favorites, particularly part 4.  The third film in this series begins something of a trilogy which consists of parts 3, 4, and 5 and introduces the idea that, while Freddy can manipulate the dreams of his victims, so can the teens who go into these dreams and thus, special individuals emerge who can fight Krueger on his own playing field.  It also introduces the wise-cracking Freddy that began to become more and more prevalent in the series.  So lets dive in and enter the world of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.

The film begins with Kristen Parker building a model house and fighting sleep, forcing herself to eat instant coffee crystals and drink Diet Coke to in order to keep her going.  Finally she has to succumb and she wakes in front of the real version of the house she was building (which just so happens to look like a dilapidated and boarded up version of Nancy Thompson's house).  After following a little girl inside, she is confronted by Freddy Krueger who attacks her and cuts her wrist.  When she is awakened by her mother, it looks as though Kristin has cut her wrists.  She is immediately sent to Westin Hills Psychiatric hospital where she is patched up and put in a ward with other teens who, coincidentally, are also suicide survivors and are having the same dreams about the same man.  The hospital staff, worried about the dreams and the suicide epidemic they seem to be causing, bring in a new psychiatric specialist...Dr. Nancy Thompson...to help the kids cope.  Luckily for them, Nancy knows much more about what is going on with the kids than they think and she encourages the kids to band together and use their individual strengths to defeat Krueger.  The key to her 'Dream Warriors' is Kristin, who has a psychic ability that allows her to pull others into her dreams.  Using this, they can battle Krueger together in the same dream.

Many Elm Street fans have cited this as their favorite sequel, and that is understandable as it brings so many interesting ideas to the table.  First, it continues the idea of Freddy as a mental manipulator and shape-shifter begun by Wes Craven in the original and it keeps Freddy where he is strongest, in the dream world.  Its no surprise that Craven turned in the first draft of this story and script and like any good sequel, it builds on the precedent established by the first while expanding the universe to include new ideas (unlike the previous sequel).  Second, the film brings back Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson...a character who was loved nearly as much as Freddy himself and who was not included in the first sequel due to reasons unknown (to me at least).  Langenkamp is very much a favorite of Craven and Nancy is Craven's idea of the pure and resourceful hero.  Nancy in this film has grown since the first and she has learned how to suppress her dreams (through medication) so that she can be the best opponent for Freddy that she can be.  Adding to the mix is Kristin's (Patricia Arquette) ability to take people with her as she dreams.  This is a great tactic and allows for safety in numbers, rather than the solitude that the characters had to deal with in the first two during the dreams.  Of course, some could say that this removes some of the danger and suspense...but Freddy is still plenty dangerous and the threat is real (unlike later entries when he became Henny Youngman with a claw).  Another aspect of the film that touches the social climate of the nation at that time is the idea of the suicide epidemic among teenagers.  Young people seemed to be killing themselves a lot more than they had in the past and the media was latching onto these cases and putting them out there for everyone to see (the rate probably hadn't risen all that much...but with mass media, we were more able to hear about it).  Why couldn't Freddy be a part of this disease that was affecting teens of the late 1980s?  He could kill them, but make it look like an accident or a suicide and no one would think different of it.  What if...?  That was the spirit of the first Nightmare and here it is again.  Celebrity appearances are all over in this film as well (including rising stars, like Laurence "Morpheus from The Matrix" Fishburne and Patricia Arquette)...we get to see Dick Cavett turn into Freddy and kill Zsa Zsa Gabor, and others as well.  This was the film that turned Elm Street into a franchise and made merchandising Freddy a huge business.  There were masks, costumes, toy gloves, dolls, buttons, and the like all over the place.  People loved Freddy, which is ironic...given the country's general attitude to child killers...but somehow he had become an icon.  The stage was now set for the next adventure, where Freddy would meet his next recognizable adversary and where he would attempt some of his craziest dream set pieces yet.  Stay tuned kiddies!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Elm Street Week Day 2: The One with the Gay Subtext

Ok, I know I'm making a post F aux Pas by making two posts in the same day and calling them day 1 and day 2...but the reason for that is because I meant for day 1 to be yesterday when I watched the first movie and day two to be the today when I watch the second movie but I didn't write day 1 yesterday because it was late and I was really sleepy (ironically enough) so day 1 was written earlier today and now I'm writing day 2 to coincide...are you sufficiently confused?  Because I think I just went cross-eyed.  Anyway, let's get right to talking about the second film in the Elm Street series, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge.

Jesse Walsh has just moved into 1428 Elm Street, the house that Nancy Thompson lived in in the first film, and five years have since passed (which means this movie either takes place in 1989, if movie one took place in 1984...or, since the graduation caps in movie five say 1989, it means that the first film took place in 1980...putting this film in its release year of 1985...horror fans think A LOT about their movies people).  Jesse is trying to adjust to life in Springwood, OH and isn't having the best time between getting in fights with Ron Grady, the school's star athlete, and trying to get to know Lisa Webber better.  Also, he keeps having odd nightmares about a man named Freddy Krueger who is trying to take over Jesse's body and use it to kill people who are awake.  Sometimes being a white-male middle class teenager is so very, very hard.

If you can't tell by my short synopsis (short compared to yesterday's(er, today's?) mammoth post), this is not one of my favorites of the series.  Oh yes, its still a fine film and much better than any of the Friday the 13th or late Halloween sequels (excluding H20), but that's just the problem.  After such a spectacular first round, people we're lining up to see "The man of their dreams" back in action for more dream jumping terror, but instead the filmmakers decided to almost completely depart from the first film's established formula and make a film not about a man who kills people in their dreams...but about a man who does it in real life after possessing a teenager, which put Freddy in the same camp as Jason or Michael Myers.  There aren't even any really cool dream sequences in this film, aside from a few of the early ones, and all of them only feature Mark Patton (Jesse) being persuaded or used by Freddy.  Freddy only attacks the other characters in reality, which makes for a very dull and un-fantastic film...the complete opposite of what Wes Craven started with the first.  And there are so many WTF moments...like what's up with the demonic parakeet?  And the baby faced dogs?  Sure, the original had trippy visuals too, but they made sense with the dream environment.  This film's stuff just feels weird.  One thing that is improved from the original is the interaction between the romantic leads.  Mark Patton and Kim Meyers (Lisa) really do create a special bond over the course of the film and you want to see them succeed...even if the finale is underwhelming.  Also of note is the homosexual undertones of the film, which were very odd and daring for a film at this time.  Most people don't notice the first time through, but they do notice that something about the film makes them inherently uncomfortable.  I think this subtext is it.  There are things that are right in your face, like Coach Schneider (Marshall Bell) who is revealed to be either homosexual or bisexual by both rumors said by Robert Rustler's Grady to Jesse, and also by his appearance in an LGBT bar that Jesse visits midway through the film.  The Coach then forces Jesse to run laps in the gym and then hit the showers...as some sort of kink.  When the Coach takes out some jump ropes while Jesse is in the shower, the implication is that Schneider is planning to tie up and rape Jesse.  This causes Freddy to come out through Jesse and kill the man before he can defile his prize.  Much more subtle is the idea that Jesse is fighting symbolic homosexuality that is manifesting itself as Freddy.  First, Jesse is much more effeminate than other lead males from horror films (partly due to performance by Patton, who is gay in real life and party due to writing).  Second, Jesse has a girl in his life, Lisa, who is obviously interested in him...but Jesse is reluctant to consummate the relationship.  Meanwhile, he is forging a friendship with the handsome Grady and when he fails to make love to Lisa late in the film (due to Freddy's interference) he ends up in Grady's bedroom.  Two men who would be possible lovers for Jesse (Schneider and Grady) are then both killed (penetrated) by Freddy.  Jesse resists Freddy and goes to Lisa for help, who through a passionate kiss, is able to completely destroy Freddy...which makes Jesse normal (well, at least until Freddy/those pesky urges..come back right before the credits).  Some say that people are thinking too hard about the movie, and I say that they are mistaken.  Sure, if you don't see it there...its fine.  But I did, even when I was a young boy coping with my own fears about why I was attracted to men, and I found myself relating to Jesse in a sad sort of way.  The message, if it is there, makes sense too...since a lot of gay men have used girls who were attracted to them to repress the feelings they have because it was not socially acceptable (and even dangerous) to have them...but that doesn't mean the feelings go away.  That's why so many 'married' men can be found at the bars, resorts, and bath houses nowadays on the weekends...to satisfy their inner-Freddies.  Just food for thought friends.  I hope you enjoyed the analysis of this post friends, because it only continues from there.  Wait? you ask...you mean you can find deeper meaning in all the Elm Street films??  That's insane...they're just cheap horror flicks aren't they??  Well friends, that's another thing that sets Elm Street apart from the others...the additional messages that people sometimes get and sometimes miss.  So keep reading and...pleasant dreams!

Elm Street Week Day 1: The One that Started it All

Back in 1992 I watched one of my second horror films ever on VHS...it was a little film you might have heard of called Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, the 6th film in the Elm Street series.  It was fresh to video and I convinced my Mom, against her better judgment, that it was more funny than scary and thus would not cause any bad dreams or deviant behavior.  Plus, it was supposedly the last one in the series and how could she deprive me of seeing that??  It ended up being a lot of fun for my little 8 year old mind, I got to see the main man...Freddy Krueger cut through some teens, make some funny one-liners, and get his butt kicked by Lisa Zane.  Sure, some of the cameos made no sense (Roseanne and Tom Arnold?) and it couldn't possibly have its 3D ending on video, but I didn't really know that the quality was shifty.  At that point, I was in macabre heaven (having loved dark stuff from my early years with Disney's The Adventures of Ichabod Crane) and simply loved this character.  Oh, and I was never scared...not once.  It was after this that I convinced my father...since I had seen the 6th film that surely I could handle the first.  So one summer night, he rented A Nightmare on Elm Street for me from the video store for me and I settled in to watch.  I had no idea that it would be one of the scariest films I would see at my young age, nor did I know that it was something that would haunt me for years.  By the time 1994 rolled around and Wes Craven's New Nightmare opened in theaters, bringing Freddy back to life one more time, I was hooked.  I was a Freddy Fan for life and I avidly ate up everything I could find on him and his films.  Now that New Line Cinema and Platinum Dunes have joined forces to bring him back to the screen in their remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, I've decided to do a week's worth of coverage on the Elm Street series going from number one to the new remake next Friday and all of my 8 readers are hopefully on for the ride.  So lets dive right in!

The first A Nightmare on Elm Street opened November 8th, 1984 in limited theaters and then expanded slowly into wide release, much like Halloween before it.  Wes Craven, who wrote and directed the film, had become known for violent and gritty horror films like The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes and was eager to branch out into something a little more challenging and fantastic (the two previous films being very rooted in reality).  Craven was inspired by several stories in the paper about young Cambodian refugees who had died in their sleep from no apparent causes after complaining of horrible nightmares.  One particularly strange case featured a boy who did everything he could to stay awake because he was so afraid of his nightmare, and then he finally lost the battle.  He fell asleep, his family put him in bed, and then ran in to find him screaming...then he just died.  So, after combining this idea with the image of a creepy derelict he had seen outside of his window as a boy, Craven finished the script and tried to sell it to a studio. However, fantasy horror films were not in vogue at the time...in fact, Warner Bros. had just released Dreamscape, a similarly themed film that hadn't done so well at the box office.  Then one small studio, New Line Cinema, agreed to make the movie with Craven as director.  The rest, as they say, is history.

The story begins with Tina Gray finding herself in a dilapidated boiler room being stalked by a mysterious man in a red and green sweater and fedora who enjoys scraping his long finger razors over metal to create a nerve-wracking sound.  He finally catches her and she wakes up, realizing it was a horrible nightmare.  However, she slowly discovers that each of her friends, Nancy Thompson, Rod Lane, and Glen Lantz, has been having the same dreams about the same man.  They all find this very strange, but not life threatening, and after a small get together (where Tina goes to bed with Rod) she finds herself asleep and in the same nightmare again.  This time, however, Tina cannot wake up and Freddy slashes her with his razors.  Rod, who is awake and seeing Tina simply thrashing about on the bed is shocked to see four slashes appear across her chest.  Then she is lifted into the air, dragged up the wall, and onto the ceiling where she dies and is then dropped to the floor below.  Nancy then goes to school the next day and falls asleep in class, where the dead Tina leads her down into the boiler room and she comes face to face with the man, who calls himself Freddy.  She burns herself on a pipe, which wakes her up, but also leaves a very real burn on her arm.  From this moment on, Nancy is determined to find out what is going on and who Freddy is, before she can no longer stay away and he kills her.

This film was something that many other slashers weren't in 1984...clever.  Every other movie had a killer with a mask stalking kids at a camp, or at a college, or on some calendar holiday...very few of them spoke and most were Agatha Christie-type mysteries.  Craven took a chance by making a fantasy slasher...a movie that delved into the subconscious mind and the unexamined idea of what a dream world would look like on film.  No studios wanted to take a risk like this, introducing a new kind of slasher film into the comfortable realm established by Black Christmas, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween, and Friday the 13th among others.  New Line did, and the gamble paid off.   Nightmare was an immediate success critically and commercially and history was being made, who knew if the film would have the legs to become a franchise...but one thing was clear, Nightmare was a new classic.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

So...some news...

Well friends, I don't know if I mentioned a new guy I was talking to at the beginning of the month.  It was fun and we enjoyed the flirtations, and the first date even went well.  Then came the 2nd date...well, not so good.  You know how it goes, some things are going well but then it starts to go sour and you begin to wonder if you're really into the person.  Turns out, he was thinking the same thing and so I got the old proverbial dump tonight.  Though, can you really call it dumped if you only had two dates?  I dunno, but I saw it coming.  I probably would have broken it off too, but I was willing to give it one more date.  And you know what ticks me off about the whole thing?  Its not that he broke it off, though that is always disappointing (because you think...who am I gonna go on dates with?), but that I'm gonna be wondering why for a while.  I always want to know why someone isn't interested, mainly so I don't convince myself that the things I'm most insecure about are the reason he wasn't interested.  If I had to make a guess, I'd just say that we weren't clicking 'personality wise' in person.  Online and on the phone we were great, but it fizzled in real life.  Plus, once again he was someone who didn't share my passion for movies...and people who aren't like me can never really 'get' me.  Anyway, that's the latest news.

Changing topics, I saw an odd and gruesome one last night courtesy of Netflix.  It was called Basket Case and it was a true Grindhouse film, grit, sleaze, and all.  It tells the story of a man named Duane, who checks into a sleazy New York City hotel with nothing but a stack of bills and a large basket under his arm.  Everyone keeps asking him "What's in the basket?" and Duane manages to dodge the question each time.  Why, you ask?  Because Duane's basket carries his deformed Siamese twin brother Belial.  It seems that Duane and Belial are seeking revenge against the three doctors who separated them and left Belial for dead.  The movie basically follows them around New York and shows Duane try to forge friendships with normal people while also allowing Belial to mangle and murder the doctors who were responsible.  There's little more to the plot than that, and there are a few scenes that are unnecessary, but one thing that plays well is the strange relationship between Duane and Belial.  Duane obviously loves his brother, but is also at the mercy of Belial's insane jealousy and murderous urges, which creates nice drama that elevates the film to a slightly higher lever.  Don't misunderstand, its a low rent and low expectations kinda film, but it is better than some 'midnight movie' fare I've seen before.  If that sort of thing interests you, then you should definitely check it out.

On another note, I will be starting a new marathon tomorrow...but I'm not going to say what it is yet.  However, enjoy this hint...it was a horror film that came out the year of my birth (1984) and has a remake coming out in a week.  Now enjoy the trailer for Basket Case.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Follow me girls...this is FABULOUS! Simply FABULOUS!

I must say, that part of being a gay man nowadays is using the word fabulous.  I'm not sure what it is, but we all eventually use it in our conversations.  They've even made jokes about it on shows like "Will and Grace" (yes, I know...its not exactly the most accurate of depictions of gay life...but then neither is "Queer as Folk" and the boys just LOVE that)...one of my favorites being when Will and Jack were 'training' a newbie friend of theirs.  He uses the word fabulous for the first time and Jack gets misty eyed and says "Baby's first fabulous!"  Why am I going on so much about the word fabulous?  Well, because it takes me back to the time when I first became enamored with the word, and the age of five, and it was all because of a wonderfully kooky film from 1989.  So follow me 21 years into the past and enjoy romping through the wilderness with the girls from Troop Beverly Hills.

Picture it, Beverly Hills California in 1989.  The sun is shining, the 80s music is playing, the celebrities are making cameos, and Shelley Long is playing Phyllis Neffler...the eccentric mother of one and wife to "Coach's" Craig T. Nelson.  Phyllis is an unfulfilled, spoiled, and selfish woman who is seeking something to do with her empty life now that her marriage is ending and her source of income is going along with it.  So, in order to fill her time and spend more time with her daughter Hannah, Phyllis decides to become the new local troop leader of the Wilderness Girls (a thinly veiled knock off of the Girl Scouts of America).  It is rocky at first, she over does her outfits and the refreshments and she makes an enemy of the regional director, Velda Plendor (Betty Thomas), when she takes the girls on a campout to the Beverly Hills Hotel.  However, as she comes to love the girls and finds the creative person inside of herself, she finds that she is every bit the Wilderness Girl that Plendor is, and she helps the girls discover their strength as well.

By now, some of you are probably gagging over the implications of this corny and somewhat pedestrian summary of the film because yes, it does sound like 'that' kind of film.  The one where misfit and unqualified heroes get to win against much more qualified (yet bitchy) individuals despite ineptness and character flaws.  We've seen so many of these over the years that we can smell the ending coming a mile away, and yet Troop Beverly Hills has always managed to seem a bit more special to me than so many of these films.  Maybe its nostalgia from my youth, maybe its the witty script, and maybe its the effervescent performance by Shelley Long.  My vote goes to Long, who plays one of her least whiny film characters of her career and who really manages to make Phyllis seem like a real person.  Yes, she is spoiled and self-centered...but she also shows real love to the girls in the film and shows clear growth in character.  It is moments like these that make me wonder why Shelley Long didn't have a longer and better career...I can only guess it is because she was typecast in so many annoying and whiny roles.  Oh well, some people hit it big and some people don't and I guess Shelley was one of those unlucky ones.  Oh, she's still working...but she's much more off the radar.  Oh well, at least we fans of hers can still enjoy her 'heyday' of 80s films.  So friends, find yourself a copy of Troop Beverly Hills and prepare yourselves for a few good chuckles and an overall, FABULOUS time.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Oooohoooh...Witchy Woman....

What is the fascination with supernatural vixens in movies?  Over the course of many years we've seen the woman as the magical manipulator of men in films like Bell, Book, and Candle, Hocus Pocus, Fright Night: Part II, and Practical Magic.  Some have called this sexist, on one hand they have a point.  The woman in these films is commonly wicked, is trying to seduce and/or kill the lead male, and uses passive-agressive tactics to get what she wants.  Many critics say that these familiar manipulatory actions simply reinforce the idea that the woman has no power except through her sex and through making a man think he has the upper hand.  Others would say that this portrayal of the woman comes from the male fear of being manipulated into unwanted situations (like marriage), so therefore the woman is a predator waiting to trap unsuspecting men.  Either way, it paints the woman as a villain...however, people still love films like these and enjoy seeing the women get the upper hand in a situation...even if it means resorting to manipulation.  Regardless of these prejudices, some of these films are really hard to not enjoy.  One of my favorites was on television last week when we were visiting my grandmother, and Mom and I had a fun time watching it before hitting the hay.  It features three fabulous 80s women and one "horny little devil"...so dive in and enjoy this summary of The Witches of Eastwick.

Alex (Cher), Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer), and Jane (Susan Sarandon) are three recently divorced women coping with daily life in the small town of Eastwick, Rhode Island.  They enjoy the small town atmosphere but hate the pius and self-righteous attitude of several of the citizens such as Walter Neff (Keith Jochim) and Felicia Alden (Veronica Cartwright), so the tend to keep to themselves and hang out only with each other.  Also, unbeknownst to themselves, they appear to be manifesting supernatural powers that increase in potency when they are around one another (the first such instance being when they manage to 'rain out' Walter's opening speech).  On a rainy night, they collectively wish for the perfect man...someone mysterious, someone sexy and funny, and someone you could talk to...and suddenly a strange enigmatic man arrives in Eastwick and moves into the ancient mansion on the hill.  After several days of trying to find out the name of the man (no one in town seems to be able to remember his name) they finally meet the mysterious Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson) who proceeds to seduce each woman based on her personal likes and dislikes and makes each of them learn to use their powers to the fullest extent.  Little do the ladies realize that something much more sinister is going on.

This film contains those standard witchy stereotypes...the magical powers, the sexuality, and even the coy tricks...however it rises above the stereotypes as well by having Daryl as the villain, seducing the women in order to use their power for his own enjoyment rather than the women trying to use him for their own gain.  Also, the women learn over the course of the story that they are just as powerful as a group of women as they are when a man is around...therefore learning to be independent without him.  There's also quite a bit of weirdness in this story too, for those who enjoy special effects pictures and horror...Veronica Cartwright has a particularly 'gut churning' scene that is unforgettable.  Some of you more learned readers may be already waiting to leave comments along the lines of..."Hey, why didn't you mention John Updike?? For shame!"  Well yes, its true that Mr. Updike wrote the book upon witch The Witches of Eastwick is based and yes, the main characters' names came from it...but the similarity largely stop there.  That's not to say that you shouldn't read the book of "Eastwick", but just don't expect the same experience that one gets from the movie (ditto if you've read the book and are just now getting to the film).  However, despite the film being a poor adaptation, it is a fun and smart romp that showcases the wonderful talents of Cher, Michelle, and Susan.  Oh, and Nicholson's Daryl is a scene stealing marvel that simply must be seen.  There's a reason we love to keep watching him from film to film...he's amazing.  So, enjoy the trailer below and check it out if you get the chance.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Rose by Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet...

I know what you're thinking (besides wondering where I've been for so long)...you're thinking that I'm about to talk about one of the film versions of Romeo and Juliet.  Afterall, I did just quote Juliet. Well...THINK AGAIN!  BWA-HA-HA!  Seriously though, it was a good guess.  I am, however, going to talk about another film in which the word 'rose' figures into the title.  Its a dark and moody little gem from the mid-80s that features a post-Bond and yet pre-comeback Sean Connery and a 15-year-old Christian Slater as Benedictine monks in Medieval times.  It didn't do very well in the cinema and has recently become somewhat of a cult favorite on video and DVD, but its story of mystery and church hypocrisy is certainly worth anyone's time be they casual viewers or big film buffs.  So sit back, relax, and listen to the story of The Name of the Rose.

Brother William of Baskerville (Connery) and his young novice Adso (Slater) have traveled to a distant Benedictine abbey in order to oversee a debate between the Benedictine order of Monks and the Franciscan order.  When they arrive, William notices a fresh grave in the courtyard and asks who died.  This leads William and Adso into a thrilling investigation of the death, as well as into trying to solve the other bizarre deaths that seem never ending.  The monks believe that the deaths are the work of the devil, but William is convinced that more earthly powers are at work in the abbey and is certain that the reason for the deaths surrounds a certain book that is hidden in the abbey library.

The plot seems very simple and believe me, my short description doesn't do it justice.  The tale originally comes from Umberto Eco's novel "Il nome della rosa" and the mystery is merely a front for Eco to educate the reader on how controlling and hypocritical the church was...even in the face of unwavering logic.  We also learn of how homosexual urges were sometimes felt and exercised within the walls of the abbey, and how something as simple as laughter was punishable by death.  There are so many complex layers within the story and that is why I keep going back to it.  The mystery is a good one too, and is one of the more clever and witty ones I have seen (even if the killer's identity is a little obvious).  One think you need to not be afraid of when viewing the film is odd and grotesque looking people.  The abbey is full of them and while it grounds the film in a realm of realism, some of the faces might give you nightmares.  Watch for a young Ron Perlman as a demented hunchback named Salvatore...yes, he's always been that ugly (and yet, sometimes I find him strangely attractive...don't ask, I don't know why either).  So give this one a spin if you get the chance.

Oh and just to give you an update, we've started rehearsing our spring musical...which is now "Grease".  Its going well, and I can't wait until showtime in May.  I think its going to be a real powerhouse show. Also, I've starting talking to someone who looks promising in the relationship department.  We still have to meet, but I have a hunch that its going to go well (unless for some reason we don't find each other attractive...in which case I guess he'll be another good friend I have in the city and I shall keep doing the single shuffle).  I also just visited my grandmother in Oregon, and had a lovely time.  I need to travel more...perhaps take a weekend visit to someplace I've never been...like San Francisco.  It would be great to do something spontaneous like that.  Oh, and I got a new iPod Touch....love it :)  Well, the trailer for The Name of the Rose is posted below and don't worry if it makes the movie look terrible...its not.  Enjoy and happy viewing!