A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010)

APRIL 30, 2010


So far, I have gotten at least some enjoyment out of every Platinum Dunes production. I genuinely like their first four films (the two Chainsaws, Amityville, and of course The Hitcher), and thought Friday was problematic but at least better than the last 4-5 Jason movies. Hell, I even liked the first 45 minutes or so of The Unborn and a few moments here and there of The Horsemen. But A Nightmare On Elm Street did absolutely nothing for me. Not once in its entire 95 minute runtime was I given any reason to care about a single thing on the screen, and the only emotion I ever felt was anger every time the script by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer insulted my intelligence.

Unlike Friday, this one follows the plot of the original fairly closely in a general sense, and even recycles a few names (Nancy, and even a Jesse), and the Kris character is a complete copy of the original's Tina (right down to the body bag school hallway nightmare). Some key moments are re-staged, such as Freddy's glove rising out of the bathwater, Kris/Tina's death, and her boyfriend being blamed for it, etc. As I've said before, this is not my preferred way of going about a remake - keeping the basic concept is fine, but redoing major scenes just seems lazy. But it's twice as bad here, because a lot of the "iconic" things that they repeat don't actually make sense in the context of this story, which has some major changes (which I will now "spoil", so turn away if you don't want the film's ill-conceived "twist" "ruined").

This time around, Freddy is not a child murderer, he's a child molester. So then why would he still have a razor sharp glove? Wouldn't he have trouble doing his thing with a bunch of knives for a hand? We get a glimpse or two of him cutting the children, but this just seems like an excuse to justify the glove, since it doesn't really make any sense (why would he cause visible harm to the children if he intended to keep his sick habits a secret?). They also repeatedly bring back the boiler room, which also has no significance to the plot as Freddy died in a warehouse and took the children into a hidden room.

That's just one of the major idiotic holes in this script. We are also expected to believe that the parents would (very poorly) hide incriminating evidence that depicts what happened to their children, despite the attempt to keep them from knowing about it (one even keeps a sliced up shirt, in a box labeled "Kids stuff" or something of that nature, right in the middle of the attic). And there's an unexplained throwaway line that no one knows Freddy existed, but if that's the case then why did the school get closed down, if there was no known crime? And why didn't anyone remove things from the school when they closed it to boot? Our heroes go there at the end of the movie and there are parts of his glove in plain sight.

And why even go after the kids? The parents were the ones who killed him, but again, he wasn't a murderer this time around. In the original series, we just assume he's finishing what he started (killing off the Elm Street kids), but there doesn't seem to be any purpose for killing them here while leaving the parents alone. Then again, maybe he DID - it seems everyone only has a single parent; the Nancy standin has a mom (Connie Britton, completely wasted) but no Donald Thompson replacement. Clancy Brown is the apparently single dad of Kyle Gallner's character, but he is ALSO wasted - they should have just combined Brown and Britton into one character, so they'd only be wasting one good actor instead of two.

The kids are a dreadfully boring lot too, and for some reason it seems the more dull the actor, the longer they live. Kellan Lutz seems interesting (not to mention the only one who looks like he could take Freddy), but he dies in the first scene. Katie Cassidy (in her third remake at least, after When A Stranger Calls and Black Xmas) and Thomas Dekker are at least competent, and they have a previous relationship that is hinted at, but they die off in the first half as well. That leaves Gallner and the cute but woefully boring Rooney Mara (sister of Kate), neither of whom manage to create interesting heroes, and they barely have any chemistry either. And despite being in the entire movie, neither of them have any character development whatsoever - Mara jokingly asks Gallner what his favorite color is, and I swear it's supposed to be a "fuck you" to the audience for expecting them to try to create a character we would get to know a little and thus care what happens to them. And they're all incredibly dour people. Think about the original, with Johnny Depp screwing around with the tape player trying to convince his mom he was at his cousin's, or Nick Corri playing a prank on them - they were believable, enjoyable characters. These goons are all bitter (or in Nancy's case, just plain dull) even before Freddy comes along. I defy anyone to give me one reason why we should even care about Nancy, let alone the others.

And it might sound stupid, but the movie suffers greatly from an over-abundance of nightmare scenes. I swear, more than 50% of the movie takes place in the dream world, to the extent where it became more of a surprise when a scene was actually really happening. Not only does it get dull, it also makes Freddy less of a threat, because everyone falls asleep, encounters Freddy, and survives at least 3 times before finally getting killed (even Lutz, in his 5 minutes of screentime, manages to escape once). To their credit, they keep his jokes to a minimum (and they're a bit darker in tone to boot), but ultimately he's even less threatening than the quipster Freddy from Dream Master.

As for Haley, well, he's OK I guess. With a script this terrible, it's hard to tell if he's just a lousy Freddy or if the script prevented him from being a good one. His diminutive size is definitely a problem - not that he needs to be a hulking brute, but he should at least look menacing compared to the very petite Thomas Dekker. And the makeup is frigging awful; he looks like a hamster in a hat.

The one good thing I can say about the movie is that it's at least competently shot by Samuel Bayer and Jeff Cutter. The widescreen imagery (all of the original Freddy movies were 1.85:1) is quite nice, and there are a few nice visuals to enjoy, such as when Cassidy falls asleep in her classroom and it turns into decrepit ash around her. And the nightmare scenes are believable, instead of the high concept style of the later sequels. Had there not been about 30 nightmare scenes, it would actually be hard to tell when one was occurring, because they are thankfully grounded in reality, or at least, with fantastical elements kept to a minimum (no comic book avenger or "roach motel" scenes here).

And, not to knock anyone's intelligence, but the concept of Nightmare on Elm Street is really just too heady for Platinum Dunes' brand of horror. Wes Craven's original film is rich with philosophical ideas; this one has sound-based jolt scares every five minutes. The film does nothing to reflect the current times - Gallner's character is on Ritalin, but that's about it. Nowadays, in addition to a highly medicated world, we hear stories about kids staying up playing video games for so long that they actually die, suicides because of internet bullying, etc, all of which could be tied into Freddy's world in interesting ways, because there SHOULD be some real world explanation for the kills in the movie, but they're all skipped over in favor of more boring "micro-nap" sequences. A good filmmaker team working with a creative script could have made a fantastic Nightmare movie, instead they all just settled for doing the absolute bare minimum.

Hilariously, the film's opening credits serve as a metaphor for the entire movie. Over some chalk drawings of strange things, we see all of the credits scrawled onto the pavement. It's a cool concept. But for whatever reason, they put regular Times New Roman (or whatever) credits over them. Which is just like the movie itself - a creative idea (not their OWN idea, but still) obscured by pointless, lowest common denominator blandness.

I usually don't actually encourage people to not see a movie, but this is one time I will. This is the worst type of remake, where they clearly didn't actually have any real ideas, but wanted to make money off the title and concept. It's a cynically made movie from start to finish, and as soulless a major horror film as I can recall (only Stepfather 2009 may be more creatively bankrupt). The optimist in me would like to think that if the film is a major box office failure, that Andrew Form and Brad Fuller will rethink their business strategy and start making low budget horror films again (remake or not), made by people who genuinely want to make them. Marcus Nispel was jonesing to take on Chainsaw - and it turned out pretty good (IMO). Samuel Bayer actually turned this movie down 2-3x before Michael Bay convinced him to do it (I'm guessing with hookers). And they actually tell this story as if it's a good thing. Maybe next time they'll work harder to generate a good script instead of apparently spending all of their energy trying to convince a guy to direct a bad one.

What say you?

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The Butcher (2007)

APRIL 29, 2010


I’ve had Kim Jin-Won’s The Butcher sitting at home for about a week or so now, but I had to wait for the right situation to watch it, which would be A. my wife not being home and B. it being cool enough, weather-wise, to keep the windows shut. Because, despite the lack of an IMDb page (really weird), I knew enough about the movie to know that it was 75 minutes of screaming and torture, so I didn’t want to risk a Martyrs situation where I watch the first hour before realizing that my window was open (even by horror standards, that movie just sounds like someone being murdered for real), nor did I want my wife - who once got upset enough to cry at a certain smash PG-13 J-horror remake - to put up with it.

Today, the stars aligned, and I was able to watch a bleeding man be sodomized by a guy in a pig mask in peace.

The surprising thing about The Butcher is that it actually features very little onscreen violence. Due to the nature of the film’s presentation (POV shots, very long takes, etc), it would be impossible to pull the usual camera tricks of swinging a knife toward a guy and then editing in a dummy or fake appendage to show the impact. So we see Pighead swinging a hammer around, but what he’s hitting is a mystery. Our guy makes an escape attempt, and he gets about a foot from the window before screaming in pain, but it’s not until 20 seconds later that we understand why (his foot is in a bear trap - which he escapes from via some unknown means). And two of the four victims are killed off-screen entirely.

This is not a complaint, by the way, just an observation. It’s still a disturbing movie, and should be only viewed by the strong-stomached among you. The POV gives the “this is happening to YOU” feeling more often than not, the sound effects easily take the place of the visual impact, and there isn’t a frame in the film that doesn’t have some sort of bodily fluid (puke, blood, pee, and possibly excrement) strewn about. And the “director” of the film is so casual about everything, it makes it all the more disturbing. If it was just the pighead guy doing this shit, it would just be repulsive and boring, but having a very normal looking guy in control gives it that unsettling edge. Regardless, if Hostel and its ilk disgust you, then this won’t change your mind. But if you, I hate to say ENJOY, but I guess, can stomach these movies, then this one is at least one of the more interesting on a technical level.

I just wish Jin-Won had stayed with the main victim’s POV the entire time, since the film is ten times more effective when we are seeing it through his eyes. Whenever the camera POV switched from him to one of the villains, or (briefly) one of the other victims, I totally snapped out of the movie, and also started to feel a bit bored (there isn’t really any plot - the director kidnaps folks and kills them for his movie, and our main guy is trying to avoid being next). In these shots, it’s just another generic torture film. I’m sure there is some intentional “Now YOU are the killer!” metaphor that I’m supposed to learn from in these moments, but to me all it does is disrupt an unnerving but successful experience in favor of making a generic point.

I liked the little jab at America though. At one point the director is saying that he’s having a tough time getting his movies picked up for distribution, but notes that it won’t be an issue in America, because they’ll buy anything. Hahaha, yes! USA! USA! USA!

Another issue with the POV is that it’s sometimes difficult to know who is talking. We hear disembodied voices often, and even when the characters are on-screen the POV is moving around too much to really make out which one’s lips are moving. That said, for the most part the camerawork is very easy to follow, but largely realistic in terms of how much it shifts around. Sometimes the guy will look at things for no reason other than to make sure we see them, but otherwise it’s one of the least headache-inducing “found footage” movies I have seen.

The DVD is pretty slim, just some stills and storyboards, and a deleted epilogue in which Pighead prances around in a field, sort of like the end of Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It was a good decision to cut, since it doesn’t seem to be from anyone’s POV, but since it’s the only extra of any real note, I’m glad its here. Tartan used to put more effort into their DVDs; it’s kind of a bummer to see so many on the bare-bones side of things. Then again, since the movie doesn’t even have an IMDb page, I guess I should be satisfied they released it at all.

What say you?

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Shriek Of The Mutilated (1974)

APRIL 28, 2010


As it turns out, Shriek Of The Mutilated was not an ideal candidate for HMADLiveTweeting (though it didn’t stop me from once again hitting a posting limit). Not that it was a good movie or anything, and everyone seemed to be having a good time playing along (I think we had a record high for participants!), but it was so goddamn TALKY that I had to re-watch most of the movie again later so I could write a feasible review. I honestly had no idea what the hell was going on for the final 20 minutes, and even a second viewing didn’t explain why the movie takes a detour into the very troubled marriage of a pair of alcoholics.

I also probably would have been able to see the “twist” coming a lot earlier if a few key lines didn’t pass me by, like that the group was treated to the same strange dish that our hero was given by his professor the night before. And if I wasn’t laughing so hard and writing “HOLY FUCKING SHIT”, maybe I would have used my noggin and figured out that the Yeti looked so much like a guy in a dog suit because it WAS a guy in a dog suit per the movie’s plot.

In what could almost be considered a meta-joke on other Bigfoot movies (even though it’s older than most of them - oh well), the real villains of the film are a cult of cannibals who use the legend of a Yeti to lure people in, because if movies have taught us anything, it’s that a legendary monster in the woods will always result in groups of hopeful scientists, fortune seekers, etc traveling to the area to find/capture/whatever him. And when they disappear (read: get eaten by hippie cannibals, some of whom wear generic Native American headdresses for some reason), it can be blamed on the Yeti. It’s actually a pretty awesome plot. And in the same vein, the requisite local who warns the folks about “going up there” is sort of resigned to never being listened to. He basically says something like “I always tell kids like you not to go, but you always do, and regret it. (sigh).” It’s like the movie is a response to a whole bunch of films that hadn’t been made yet.

Sadly, it’s largely wasted on a very clunky production. For starters, the film’s editor is apparently some sort of insane person, as he often cuts away from things before they really register, or from responses (someone will ask how another character is doing and we’ll cut away before we hear the answer), or cuts TO things for no reason, like a shot of a faucet after the aforementioned marital “spat” (they kill each other over a beer). Also, for every attack, we merely HEAR (at length) about a few others. There are at least three scenes in the movie where a character will drone on and on about something that sounds pretty exciting and eventful, but we have to settle for quick “Yeti” attacks and a batshit finale where our hero is attacked with forks. As I commented on the live-tweet, this is the rare film where the prequel could actually be a more compelling and exciting movie.

But it certainly works as a laughable “crowd” movie, and I can guarantee it would be a legendary screening at the New Beverly on par with Pieces or Raw Force. We have the hero who makes out with his girlfriend at the drop of a hat, a guy singing a song about Yetis, a mute Indian slave who spends the entire movie shirtless, a Janine-from-Ghostbusters-esque hipster sleeping with her giant glasses on, and lots of unmotivated angry outbursts, like when the hipster offers one guy a drink and he furiously pours it out before going off to hunt so that they didn’t have to eat “bear pie” (which, for the record, I would eat in a heartbeat). And again, the Yeti is a guy in what appears to be what they’d use for the Shaggy Dog to appear at kid’s birthday parties or something - it looks ridiculous even when you already know it’s SUPPOSED to be fake.

I also enjoyed the schizophrenic score, which mixed classical music, bombast that didn’t quite match the visual (they play these majestic, sweeping strings over the dinkiest and ugliest waterfall I’ve ever seen), and, in some versions (not mine, sadly - damn rights issues!), Hot Butter’s awesome “Popcorn”.

So it’s kind of weird. On one hand, I don’t like that a cool plot was “wasted” on such a clunky movie. On the other, it’s a riot; the best MST3k movie that they never watched. I’m so torn!

What say you?

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Fraternity Massacre At Hell Island (2007)

APRIL 27, 2010


Ever watch a movie when you’re kind of tired and become convinced that you dreamt part/all of it? That was how I felt with Fraternity Massacre At Hell Island. The narrative was as loose as could be, and featured enough concepts for 4 or 5 movies, and since director/writer/producer Mark Jones seemingly has no understanding of pace or structure, scenes would come and go and I would wonder if my “I should go to bed” mental state was causing me to just imagine them. “Did they really just cut away from a scare scene to show two guys trying to steal each others’ pants?” Yes. Yes they did.

The camerawork is the polar opposite of a dream world though. In dreams, things are constantly in motion, but the only time the camera moves in this entire film is when a character moves out of frame and the camera operator plays catch up. I know people rag on Kevin Smith for his “turn the camera on and leave it there” approach, but its ten times worse when it’s for a horror movie. Entire kill scenes will play out in one master shot, and not in any meaningful way like say, Exorcist III’s scissors scare. It would be an ideal movie to convert to 3D - not only are there only like 200 shots in the entire movie, but nothing moves in them either. They could bang it out in a week!

There are a lot of attempts at pop culture humor that seem overly forced as well, further hurting matters. There are a lot of Star Wars references that are seemingly aimed only at people who have heard of Star Wars, since they’re so basic and lifeless, and at one point an old lady actually utters “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”, with an expression on her face that seems to suggest she’s practicing and looking to the director to make sure she has the saying right. There’s also a very odd joke late in the film:

Guy: “There’s a clown going around killing people!”
911 Operator: “That’s not a nice way to talk about the governor’s health plan!”

Now, maybe if I was a resident of Tennessee, this would make a lot more sense and be a lot funnier, but even then it’s not a very good joke, because it would only apply to the time it was made (and being that this is a not very good independent horror movie, means it was made 3-4 years before it was released). So we have a dated AND geographically specific joke!

Some of the humor does work, however. During the climax, the soundtrack seemingly turns into a dance remix, with dialogue being repeated over and over (sort of like the “Cool Beans” sequence in Hot Rod), and there’s a guy using a fake snobby voice throughout the whole movie for some reason, which ultimately amused me (mainly when I realized it reminded me of “Jerem” from 30 Rock). And the whole thing is rather ridiculous, with the guys trying to steal each others’ clothes and the ghosts who are trapped until they can find someone to take their place singing "Yankee Doodle" and other patriotic songs for eternity (another plot element that I momentarily thought I was dreaming up).

The big hook for the film, however, is that it’s a “gay” slasher, in that many of the fraternity brothers are either openly gay or closeted. It’s not as much of a plot point as say, Hellbent, and it does provide a few laughs, like when they spend about 3 minutes on a guy trying to make sure no one “finds out” what he’s about to do and then we see he’s just worried about being seen in the library. And it’s not really in your face either, though I am unsure if that’s because they wanted to keep it as commercial as possible, or if the multiple story threads just didn’t allow any more time for it. It seems like there is a lot of humor potential in taking the piss out of homoerotic fraternity practices, but its largely glossed over in favor of things like a barbershop quartet singing the "Star Spangled Banner".

According to my screener, the DVD was released last week, but if so it doesn’t seem to have found its audience. The IMDb page is a ghost town (not a single thread on its messageboard as of this writing) and I only found 3-4 other reviews for it, all of which were posted a while ago. It’s not a terrible movie by any means, just an uneven, blandly directed one. But it does have its moments, and a certain goofy charm. And besides, I’ve seen worse this week!

What say you?

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Neowolf (2010)

APRIL 26, 2010


I’ve certainly watched a few movies that might not qualify as horror movie in the eyes of others, but Neowolf (originally the equally stupid The Band From Hell) is the first time where I’m not sure I can qualify it as a movie, period. The director took his name off and let Alan Smithee take the fall, and he didn’t even do that right - it says Alan Smith on the DVD case and Alan Smythe on the film itself (the IMDb sees through their ruse and gives the traditional Smithee spelling). It was also shot in 2007, and some extras were trashing the movie even then, so who knows if what I’m watching is actually even a completed film?

Also, it’s less a narrative than a poorly assembled mix of plot points and general concepts from other, better movies. The Lost Boys, Black Roses, Rock Star (really), The Wolf Man, a touch of Near Dark... if there is a single original idea in this movie, I must have missed it. Some guys can pull off this sort of thing (Tarantino), but he brings something unique to it, and also draws on a variety of influences from an extended period of time, whereas this movie is pretty much drawn from 80s horror movies, with only the subpar digital video giving it any sort of modern edge.

Well whatever it is, it’s not very good. The main problem is a pace that threatens to redefine sluggish. I mean, I know that they are a band and that we are going to hear a couple songs, but there are like a half dozen, and it seems like we hear the complete song, instead of maybe just the first verse and then they do a montage over the rest of the song so that the plot/characterization can move along (they have those too, such as when our heroine learns to shoot a gun, but they’re separate sequences from the band performances). Nope, even an hour into the movie, we’re still stopping cold to watch the band play one of their terrible, terrible songs. And for me to say they’re terrible, you KNOW they must be - I can tolerate pretty much any rock song (see: my iPod, which has more songs from Hinder than I bet you even know existed). And yet, we have to watch this instead of, you know, werewolf action.

Of course all that stuff is pretty lousy too. Bad CGI and fake looking body parts are to be expected, but most of it is dreadfully dull, and a major character is taken down via gunshot delivered by a werewolf. As with the Underworld movies, I don’t want to see werewolves or any other monsters shooting people! BE A MONSTER. And there’s precious little of it to boot, which makes its shoddy presentation all the more insulting. If you’re going to make a werewolf movie that only has like two werewolf attack scenes, then the least you can do is make them fun/good, Smithee (actually Yvan Gauthier, apparently). And whoever decided that the werewolves should all have scary (read: poorly processed in pro-tools so that they all sound like a particularly stern GPS) voices should have his license to work on movies revoked.

Now, I will say this - Smithee/Gauthier, or at least, his DP, does seem to be trying to make the movie stylish and somewhat visually interesting. There are a lot of time lapses, some Raimi-esque tracking shots, etc. The script is so bad, even Michael Bay couldn’t have made it look exciting, but Gauthier at least doesn’t sink to the script’s level and just phone the entire thing in.

Another odd thing about the DVD box art (which for some reason doesn’t use the same Twilight-y font that the trailer does - isn’t the attempt to sway in Twi-fans the only reason this movie has finally seen the light of day?) is that it doesn’t mention its only two names (Veronica Cartwright and Tiffany Shepis), instead listing all the “who?” folks. I mean, I’m sure Michael Frascino, whoever he is, enjoys seeing his name above the title in the video store, but who else is going to be swayed by it? Usually, the covers of these things are about their only bright spot, but for once, perhaps ironically, it’s 100% honest (boring and completely lacking anything that draws the eye).

The only extras on the DVD are trailers for other LG releases, many of which are better (Summer’s Moon, for example). I would have loved an “Alan Smithee” commentary. Oh well. Maybe in Neowolf 2: The Tribe.

What say you?

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Terror In The Aisles (1984)

APRIL 25, 2010


I really didn’t know what Terror In The Aisles was until I sat down to watch it at the New Beverly this morning. I thought Donald Pleasence and Nancy Allen were sort of hosts, presenting a bunch of scenes from classic horror movies. But it’s really sort of a basic documentary, with Pleasence and Allen sitting in separate crowded theatres, talking about some basic principles of horror movies and showing a bunch of context-less, untitled clips from a variety of horror movies, including Halloween, Jaws, and... To Catch A Thief?

Yeah, they get pretty lazy with their selections. I mean, I can sort of accept This Island Earth, because it has aliens, but To Catch A Thief? It’s probably the LEAST horror-y of Hitchcock’s well known pictures. Marathon Man, Midnight Express, Nighthawks, and Klute are also included (the first three in a long segment that is practically sans narration entirely, so it's like a different movie entirely for a while). But yet, despite being released in 1984, only one of the three Friday the 13th films (Part 2) are accounted for, and it skips over a great number of the slasher films of 1980-1982. One might argue that they were trying to stick to classier movies, but they have The Funhouse, which is not a classic, or even a big hit. I assume that they simply couldn’t get the rights to certain films, but even that can’t really explain the lack of Friday 1. Paramount gave them Part 2 (and several other films, including To Catch A Thief) but not the first?*

But who cares? The movie is a delight! Over 80 minutes you get to see a lot of key moments from a variety of horror films, which is all the more fun in a theatre, because people will cheer when their favorite movie shows up. You can also gauge how much they really know about certain movies - a scene from Scanners showed up early on and no one made a sound, but 10 minutes later when the head explosion scene began, everyone cheered. It’s like when you go to see Meat Loaf in concert and half the crowd stops singing along with "Anything For Love" when the 2nd, usually edited verse kicks in. REAL FANS KNOW THE FULL VERSION!

And you also get the surreal experience of watching Donald Pleasence watch Halloween in a crowded theatre, even yelling “Get him!” at Laurie Strode at one point (but Donald, if she does, you’re not going to be able to SHOOT HIM SIX TIMES! in a few minutes!). I kept hoping someone else in the crowd would be like “Yo, Pleasence, shut up!”, or that he and Nancy Allen would ultimately share a scene, but alas, we have to settle for them doing their thing solo, and with no one in the crowd seemingly noticing that they’re going on and on while they’re trying to watch a movie. Also, Allen has far less screen time, and added with the fact that she appears to be in a different theatre, I suspect that they needed more of these segments and couldn’t get Pleasence to come back for more, so they got Allen to do a few instead. And Pleasence is far more fun to watch; Allen is hot, yes, but she’s got nothing on Sir Donald, who occasionally bugs the other patrons, overacts (his depressed expression when he talks about how the real world is scary enough is worth the price of admission alone), and generally just plays up his usual batshit persona. His “it’s only a movie!” outcry at the end, before realizing that the movie is indeed over and that he’s the only one left in the theatre is so awesome, I didn’t even mind that it ended without really giving Allen a sendoff.

Also, Allen has to deliver one of the more ridiculous sentiments, that the victim (singular?) in a horror movie is usually a woman. Statistically, a female character is more likely to survive a horror movie than a male. I can think of a few where the male and female leads survived (like the later (post-Aisles) Friday the 13th movies), and obviously a ton of them where just the female lived, but apart from Shocker, I can’t think of too many that have only male survivors. There’s also a rape scene (from Ms. 45) and a lot of Jack terrorizing poor Wendy in The Shining, so if someone were to watch Terror in the Aisles without knowing much about horror movies, or even having SEEN one, they would probably think that they were just excuses to attack/kill women, instead of the opposite, which is that it’s the only genre in which women regularly get to be strong and courageous (if only in the final 10 minutes, but it's still more than usual. It’s not like Jamie Lee was the one who took down the terrorist in True Lies).

Otherwise, basic and “yeah, no shit” as they may be, the movie makes some decent points about why people like horror movies. Dealing with fears in a manageable way, cheap thrill for a date, etc are all addressed here, and when delivered by Donald Pleasence, they even sound classy (more evidence that Allen wasn’t part of the plan - a British guy makes anything sound good). Sure, I can think of better examples for some of the sentiments - Pleasence notes that you don’t have to “go looking for trouble to find it” over clips from the 1978 Body Snatchers, instead of something like The Funhouse, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, or Suspiria (all movies used in other sections) - but I like that they didn’t just stick to slasher movies or whatever; I could probably match a movie to each of my genre tags. Even musical - Phantom of the Paradise pops up (as do several of De Palma’s films), which reminded me that I need to watch it again.

Halloween purists such as myself are likely to be annoyed with the presentation of the film, however. They play the synthy version of the score from Halloween II over clips of the original, or play some crappy knockoff version. I’m not sure if it was an editing decision or some sort of rights issue (“you can have the video, but not the audio!”) but just about every clip from Halloween is presented with “alternate” audio, something that doesn’t seem to affect the other films (though to be honest I probably wouldn’t be as privy to it for other films).

Sadly, the film is unavailable on DVD (in region 1 anyway), due to the various clips being used (many of which are now owned by different companies than the ones listed in the end credits, i.e. Halloween now belonging to Anchor Bay), and the VHS is obviously out of print (plus cropped - I don’t know how the split screen segment from Carrie would look in 1.33:1, and frankly I don’t want to!). Not only would I love to throw the film on from time to time (it'd be great background stuff for a party), I’d also love to hear the filmmakers talk about the process of putting it together, or why they even did it in the first place. And I love that it was a theatrical release, ironically opening against, and besting, De Palma’s Body Double in October of 1984 (America said “We don’t want to watch your new movie, we want to watch a bunch of edited, largely out of context clips from your old ones!”). In fact it was very close to being on top overall; according to boxofficemojo, its take was only 11k less than the #1 movie (The Terminator), which has to be one of the narrowest photo finishes at the box office ever. I wonder if people even knew what they were getting into then, since 26 years later I was still a bit fuzzy on the movie’s purpose as I sat down. No matter, I had a damn fun time watching it, and that’s more than I can say about a lot of stuff (even some of the movies featured). Bring on the remake! Maybe they can get Malcolm McDowell to yell at Zombie's Halloween along with the rest of the crowd.

What say you?

*There IS a shot of Jason popping out of the lake to drag Alice under, but this is apparently the shot from Part 2, as the first film is not listed in the end credits with all the others. Unless it was an oversight on the credits, but if so it is still the only clip from the film that is present.

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Conjurer (2008)

APRIL 24, 2010


You ever have one of those days in your home where you decide to do one minor thing and it turns into an all day, expensive project? I had one of those days today. Since acquiring a 2nd cable box a few weeks ago, it had just been sitting on my floor, and so I decided to finally make some room in the entertainment center and hook it up. Doing so, I realized that I didn’t have any more inputs in my ancient TV (on which S video is the most high-quality connection), so I spent the next two hours trying to MacGuyver a series of splitters and “if I connect the Playstation to the VCR and then go out from the VCR into the TV I can hook the cable up...” type ideas, only to finally say “Fuck it” and run to Best Buy to buy a new TV with a wealth of inputs, which added 2-3 more hours to the process. By the time everything was done, I had a giant mess on my floor (much more of an eyesore than a lone cable box) and was 90 minutes away from going out to a birthday party, which is why I watched Conjurer, as it was available On Demand and I could watch it in my room, on my brand new TV/cable box, while I wrapped up wires and such. Stupid BC.

Anyway the movie’s not that great. It's watchable, and well made on a technical level, but there are major flaws in the story and acting that kept it from ever being engaging or suspenseful for me. To explain why would be very spoiler-ish, unless you share my amazing sense of horror movie perception, that is. So if you're a spoiler-phobe, stop reading now! Just scroll to the bottom to see the pic of my awesome gamer corner!

See, it’s sort of a haunted house movie, except there are only two occupants (husband and wife), plus a dog. So you know the dog is a goner, and that nothing bad will happen to the couple until the end, if that. And it doesn’t share Paranormal Activity’s ability to gradually build on basic scares until all hell breaks loose, which is why that movie worked so well even without the possibility of any real harm coming to the couple until the final moments. But that’s not even the main problem. The real thing that hurts the movie is that the wife is never seen being spooked in any way. Everything only happens to the husband, so it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it’s all in his head. A better filmmaker would have TRIED to make us think this, only to show us that it was indeed all real at the end (a trick employed by another genre film in the past few years, though I wont say the name because it SHOULD be seen and has largely been ignored), but no. There is a suggestion that there really is some sort of supernatural presence, but not one that really was causing all of the stuff we saw before (at least, that’s not how it played to me - it just felt like a shoehorned “hey let’s have a final spook moment” idea).

The main actor isn’t very interesting either (I think I commented that he made Sam Worthington look fascinating in comparison), which doesn’t help since he’s the only one anything is happening to. Not that it had one, but a movie like Poltergeist could get away with having a weak link, because there were four others in danger (more if you count the paranormal investigators). But when only one character is seeing creepy things and trying to solve the mystery of his house or why his hand won’t heal (this movie is a lot like For Sale By Owner, now that I think about it), that guy needs to be a Robert Downey Jr or Johnny Depp - an actor who can make even a lousy film enjoyable with his presence. Andrew Bowen is not that guy.

Weirdly, the scariest moment in the movie for me is when he finds what appears to be a face pushing out of a wooden door (or wall, I forget now). Along with fish, I also have an unmotivated fear of bumpy trees/wood (the picture of that guy who was literally turning into a tree scared the shit out of me), so this disturbed me. Attention independent horror filmmakers - if your movie is about someone or something with little wooden “growths” all over it, I guarantee I will be scared by it.

The movie also botches some ripe opportunities. At one point the guy sees his digital clock fading in and out, and the time is 3:12. Now, everyone and their brother knows that 3:15 is THE time in the Amityville movies, so why they didn’t just switch the digit is beyond me, as its close enough to trigger the reference in your head (whereas if it was like, 10:48, I wouldn’t even have thought of it other than possibly “This isn’t as good as Amityville”). Also, the wife’s brother (John Schneider!) is eerily protective of her, and when she finds out she’s pregnant, she tells them both at the same time (?). Since they were going the whole “He’s just crazy” route anyway, they should have pulled a 1960s horror movie route and had Schneider (either alone, or his sister) intentionally trying to make the guy crazy for whatever reason, which would have at least helped explain his behavior.

Another thing that would have improved the movie is better dialogue. Maybe then we wouldn’t have such awkward lines like “I don’t care about that cabin. In fact, I think we should keep it.” If you don’t care about it, why keep it? The conversation is about getting rid of it, so why argue if you don’t care about it? And again, a character is acting oddly for no reason. These things do not work as red herrings, because they’re all far more interesting than the actual reveal.

But it looked nice on my new TV.

What say you?

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An American Haunting (2005)

APRIL 23, 2010


When I announced on Twitter that I was watching An American Haunting for my daily movie, someone responded that they were surprised I hadn't seen it. It's a simple enough explanation though - it was released prior to the birth of HMAD, and thus I presumably had much better things to do with my time than go see the new film from the guy who made the fucking Dungeons & Dragons movie (which I saw in theaters!). That, plus I thought it was a period haunted house movie, something I have little interest in even now.

So I was sort of pleasantly surprised to discover that it was a hodgepodge of a whole bunch of movies, including The Exorcist, The Entity (yes, in THAT way, though it's not a recurring plot element), Exorcism of Emily Rose, and Evil Dead (I guess Courtney Solomon only had access to the "E" section of his alphabetized DVD collection when writing his script). The movie wasn't very good, but I can say this much - I never knew what the hell could happen next, since it didn't fit the template of any particular subgenre. Though now that I realize the "E" thing, I am retroactively disappointed that the film doesn't have any obvious reference to Eye See You, the Sylvester Stallone slasher film that went DTV.

Anyway, the film definitely suffers from two major flaws. First is an unfortunate wraparound that takes up screentime, a big problem when the main part of the film ends so suddenly and we go back to the present to wrap up THEIR storyline (also in a rushed, unfocused way). So we have two vague and anticlimactic endings instead of one good one. It also starts the movie off on an odd note, as we see a teenaged girl's room with a poster of Monster. Now, I'm not going to assume that no 16 year old girl has a poster of the Charlize Theron serial killer movie in her room, but I WILL assume that it is pretty rare, and when you're drawing characters in broad strokes so you can quickly identify with them (since they don't have enough screentime to be developed properly), it's best to go with something a little more traditional. I actually suspected that the films shared a producer or something, and looked at the resumes for each credited producer (there are many) to see if that was the case, but none appeared to have worked on Monster (nor did the production designer or any one else in a position to work in a little in-joke, that I could find anyway), nor were the films released by the same studios. Weird.

The 2nd flaw is far more crippling, however - they don't spend enough time developing anything or anyone before the ghost starts attacking the girl. The family dynamic isn't even completely clear yet, and the film already switches to "3rd act of Exorcist" mode. There's also a crucial subplot involving the patriarch (Donald Sutherland) screwing someone with tax payments for some land, but it's presented so abruptly I had completely forgotten about it by the time Solomon returned to it, which is a big problem when we're supposed to be shocked by its revelation. When any "haunting" type movie focuses on one person, it's crucial to develop that character as well as the ones who are being affected by it (in this case, her parents). We never really see the girl being normal, so what do I care when she starts being haunted? Exorcist may be slow at first, but the movie simply wouldn't work without a few scenes of Regan AND her mother living their life as normal, so you can really see how Pazuzu fucked things up for them.

Atmosphere is also pretty important, but Solomon provides very little. I have no idea what purpose it serves to constantly switch to the ghost's POV (in black and white no less) and zoom around, or at one point do a full blown "fly" through the woods and house scene (there's the Evil Dead stuff for you). It works for Raimi because the plot itself is wacky. This is a movie that's ultimately about the pain of being sexually abused by one's father (really), and the revelation seems even more tasteless when you consider how "exciting" Solomon tries to make a lot of the scare scenes. If he was trying to misdirect us, he succeeded, but I'm not sure if it was the right approach - the movie didn't even hint at the idea that Sutherland may have been abusing her. You can't throw someone off track when they weren't looking in that direction to begin with.

Oh and the score always sounded like "Making Christmas" from Nightmare Before Christmas, and "Tender Shepherds" from Peter Pan (the latter being all the more amusing since the girl being haunted is the same one who played Wendy in the 2003 update of Pan). And in the former's case, this just exacerbated the fact that they didn't do a very good job of selling the early 19th century period. The costumes and set dressing is fine, but everyone acts and sounds like they do nowadays. In fact, all I could think of was that Solomon and his team should have made The Village, because this movie came across like that one was supposed to be - modern day folks pretending its the 19th century.

All that said, it's never really boring, and it's short enough (again, to a fault) to make for some decent at home entertainment. Sutherland and Sissy Spacek are always welcome on my screen, and while they are ultimately inappropriate, the ghost attacks are frenetic and ridiculous - the ghost is fond of slapping the girl around and tossing her around the room (I wonder if psychiatrists use this approach when dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder patients, since we are told the ghost is essentially just trying to make her remember being abused). So if you're watching the movie for the first time, it's perfectly OK to laugh! Second time though, you're kind of sick.

What say you?

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The Toxic Avenger (1984)

APRIL 22, 2010


I really wish I had a DVD of the released version of The Toxic Avenger (and the time to watch it), because the cut they showed tonight at the New Beverly was some “director’s cut”, and by pretty much everyone’s account, the added footage more or less killed the movie. What was probably a really fun and fast paced 82 minute movie became a sluggish, repetitive 100 minute one that felt even longer. Even with the lowered standards one should set for watching a Troma movie, I just didn’t get the same experience its legions of fans likely got with the final cut.

For example, there are two montage scenes that go on for what seems like at least 5 minutes. The first is when Toxie and the blind girl fall in love, which just keeps going and going (and the music is noticeably looped), killing the humor of the scene. And near the end, which is disappointing no matter how you look at it, we’re treated to endless shots of the army jeeps closing in on Toxie, which would have been OK if he actually fought with them/their occupants, but no. The finale has him kill the mayor and that’s it. It’s the rare “action” film where each sequence is less and less impressive, as if they filmed the movie in sequence and blew all the money on the first few action scenes.

There are also seems to be two plots to the movie, something that was likely exacerbated by the longer version. The idea of Toxie going after the assholes that got him into the literal mess in the first place is fine - not only is it a fun spin on the usual “outcast gets revenge on the bullies who fucked with him” movie (Carrie, Terror Train, Slaughter High, etc), but the scenes in the gym have more inherent potential for humor than the ones with the mayor and his cronies. Most of the laughs I got were during scenes in the gym, with a dude smoking as he worked out, and two ditzy blondes admiring the photos they took of a kid that they ran over. But the mayor stuff mostly relies on us finding the fact that he is overweight to be funny.

And who cares if he’s corrupt? I mean, yeah, he’s responsible for the toxic waste being in the city, but it seems like a concept that’s worthy of its own movie (Toxie goes after the scum who destroyed his city!). Instead, the film keeps shifting back and forth with little cohesion - Toxie goes after one of the bullies, and then he takes on some street punks. Takes another bully down, and then he goes after a slave trader (?). Etc. And the main “bad guy” with regards to the bullying incident has the most anticlimactic death in the entire movie - you don’t even really see him die! After a typically overlong car chase, his car just goes over a hill and blows up in plain view of some continuity errors (is that the crew down there?). Toxie drops a bunch of weights on the head of a drug dealer, and rips the arm off of a guy robbing a fast food joint, but his biggest enemy just dies due to movie physics. It also happens with about 20 minutes to go in the movie, where it should have been the finale regardless of how exciting/climax-worthy it is (and for the record, the chase is certainly more exciting than the standoff with the mayor).

But it’s certainly got enough of that Troma spirit to warrant a view. Melvin (Toxie’s human form) is the most pathetic character in Troma history (which is saying something), and Mark Torgl really goes for broke in his portrayal. And the various, Robocop-esque scenes of Toxie taking on criminals, or simply helping people open their jars of popcorn seeds, are a delight. And I never failed to laugh whenever Toxie would use his very normal, newscaster-y voice after doing some horrible things to wrong-doers. There are also a number of odd sight gags that I really loved, like when the cops investigate the killings at the fast food place while stuffing their faces with tacos. And really, if you don’t laugh at the part where the two bullies beat up an old lady (“Did you see the look on her face when I punched her?”), you have no business watching Troma movies, or reading this site.

Lloyd Kaufman, of course, was on hand to introduce the movie and do a Q&A afterward, and as usual was flanked with a variety of Tromettes and assorted weirdos doing their annoying shtick (rule of thumb for Los Angeles events - if you see “Count Smokula” around, you’re going to be muttering and rolling your eyes a lot that night). It was mildly amusing for a few minutes, but by the time it got to be around 8:15 (on a scheduled 7:30 start time), I really just wanted all of them to go the fuck away. The Q&A was pretty annoying too, as Lloyd can never be bothered to answer a question normally, settling instead for making corny jokes or handing the mike over to someone else (the guy who wrote Poultrygeist answered someone’s question about “his script” for the Mother’s Day remake - I can assure you he had nothing to do with it). I really wish Lloyd didn’t always feel the need to be “on” - he’s been steadily making independent films for 35 years and helping a lot of people get their start. It would be interesting and helpful (especially in LA) to hear him offer actual advice and discuss his years in the film business, instead of making Justin Beiber jokes and hocking his DVDs. And if he’s not interested in actually answering questions, why bother? Just put the next movie on (which was indeed Poultrygeist, however I didn’t stick around due to the late time and the fact that I only knew two people in the crowd) and do your thing outside. On that note, I must give props to Allyson Sereboff from Poultrygeist, who was trying her best to just get things moving along for those people who were there to see a movie.

Someday I’ll get around to watching the released version, which I can guarantee I will like a lot more. As with Resurrected, this “uncut” one (though I hear there’s an even LONGER version floating around!) might have been interesting to die hard fans, but for me, seeing the movie all the way through for the first time (I had seen a lot of the Melvin scenes before, as well as the fast food fight), it was counter-productive. But even when cut down to its normal length, I can’t see ever liking it as much as Terror Firmer or even Poultrygeist (which were ALSO too long, but it wasn’t as crippling an issue as it was here). Supposedly there’s a remake coming along - I’m all for it, as long as it doesn’t try to be two movies again.

And whoever plastered a Troma bumper sticker on one of the Bev’s seats better pray the thing comes right off, or I’ll never buy/rent/watch another Troma movie again (it was in the row with a bunch of Lloyd’s apparently multiple +1s)! I was fucking appalled. I felt like Angelo Pignati coming home and seeing Norton Kelly breaking all of his pigs, and I’m not even an employee/owner! Fuckers! You respect the Bev!

What say you?

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Survival Of The Dead (2010)

APRIL 21, 2010


I’d like to thank my friends who have caught Survival Of The Dead via festival screenings and such and had thus sunk my expectations into the gutter, because it allowed me to more or less enjoy the movie. Sadly, I must admit that this is indeed the weakest of the six Romero zombie films (hell, if not for Miner’s Day of the Dead I could include the remakes and the sentiment would remain true), but it’s important to note that a lackluster Romero zombie movie is still better than most other zombie movies.

Let’s start with the good: the characters of Sarge (Alan Van Sprang, reprising his brief role from Diary of the Dead - this is the strongest tie any of them have had so far) and O’Flynn (Kenneth Welsh) are his best heroes since Peter and Roger from Dawn of the Dead. Sarge is a standard anti-hero badass, but Sprang gives him a life that might not even have been present on the page, and his scenes with the kid (Devon Bostick) are the most, well, I’d stop short of saying HEARTFELT (but along those lines at least) in the movie. And Welsh is a complete delight, as the patriarch of the O’Flynn family who believes that the zombies (called “dead heads” here) should be put down instantly, regardless of personal ties. His Irish accent can be a bit grating (mainly because the film is not set in Ireland, but in Delaware), but he steals every scene he’s in, and while Sarge may have more screen time, it really becomes O’Flynn’s movie.

And I really liked the simple, laid-back premise. Basically, the O’Flynns and another family, the Muldoons, have been engaged in a Hatfield/McCoy esque feud for years, and each side is trying to take complete control of the island from the others. The zombie presence just makes things worse, and, as with all of Romero’s films, eventually the humans have to worry about fellow humans more than they do the zombies. But for a change, it’s not black and white as to who the bad guys are, like the bikers in Dawn or the evil Dennis Hopper people in Land. No, while we are technically “sided” with the O’Flynns, we eventually learn that the Muldoon family is trying to train the zombies to eat something besides humans, so that they can co-exist. The political metaphors aren’t as on the nose as in Land, but they’re there, and I like that George has gone back to being a bit more subtle on such matters, even if this time he doesn’t seem to be choosing a side.

Where it DOES disappoint, however, is - incredibly - the zombie action. It’s much more limited than in the other films; Day might have had less but it was more exciting and interesting when it was there. Here, we basically get a few isolated and incredibly brief attacks, including the finale, which seems to only have about 20 zombies. There’s a moment early on where we see them standing in the water, and while it may have been a bit too much like the end of the 2nd act in Land with all of them rising out of the water, I would have liked to have seen some sort of actual swarm. Granted they are on an island and thus the number of possible zombies (existing and turned-on-film) is limited, but the finale is still pretty weak, and includes a few character deaths that don’t seem earned, but more there for the hell of it. And the closing shot of the film, while metaphorically significant, just looks like a cartoon.

Worse, we’ve apparently reached the point where Greg Nicotero will still turn in his obligatory cameo but not bother making sure the effects look good (to be fair, he’s just a “consultant” this time around, but come on - you can’t do some cheap/free labor for the guy who made your career?). EVERYTHING is digital it seems, and while it pays off with the occasional nice gag (love the guy getting his head blown off with the scalp landing on the bloody stump on the neck), it just looks lousy, and that’s not how it should be with a Romero zombie movie, of all things. It’s bad enough to see it in any movie, but here, it’s like, almost sacrilegious or something. Give us back our melted pink crayon blood!

It’s also seemingly missing chunks of the narrative at times. Sarge loses his best friend, but doesn’t seem to remember him 5 seconds later. There’s a nonsensical plot “twist” with a twin sister that either had a better scene explaining it, or was simply poorly thought out to begin with, and one of O’Flynn’s main guys (Canadian horror movie stalwart Julian Richings) has noticeable cuts on his face that are never explained. And if there was a point to the subplot with the armored car key, it was lost on me. There’s also a really baffling/convoluted thing about O’Flynn tricking people to come to the island that I never fully understood, and it seemed to be forgotten about as soon as it was introduced. I’m sure George didn’t have the money for all of his ideas, which is always the case, but this is the first time it was so noticeable.

He also shot the film in 2.35 scope, which is rare (Land being the only other one). I’m not sure if it was worth the effort - he rarely uses the wide frame for anything meaningful, and from what I understand it’s more expensive to shoot that way for logistic reasons. I can only assume that since he was shooting the film digitally (with the Red camera, and it looks great for the record) he would give it a widescreen image to make up for it, but it seems very out of place, and if its true that it costs more to shoot that way, then that money most definitely should have been used to improve the effects and/or hire more zombies for the finale.

Ultimately, it’s a very mixed bag. I liked Diary the first time around, but on repeated viewings I liked it less, and my feelings on (my first viewing of) Survival about match what I think of Diary now. Usually that means that I’ll like the movie more a 2nd or 3rd time around, but I doubt I will ever see it as a triumph or even a logical “next step” for Romero. I know he’s still putting the effort in, unlike Hooper or Carpenter, but he has seemingly lost his ability to deliver the goods with the limited means he has at his disposal. At this point, I think he needs either a blank check or a gold watch.

What say you?

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Non Canon Review: Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)

APRIL 21, 2010


In my early teen years, my local theater proved to be a terrible indicator of how well a movie was performing elsewhere. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is the least financially successful entry in the entire series, ultimately selling only a few more tickets in its entire run than Freddy’s Dead did in its first weekend. But you could have fooled me, seeing the film in a sold out (some people were standing) screening on Saturday night, with fans running around and generally having a grand old time. It was the first time I had gone to a movie and seen a genuine REACTION in the crowd, not unlike you’d see for the opening night of a Star Wars movie or whatever. Ironically, it was the same sort of atmosphere Craven would create for the opening scene of Scream 2, which played with a lot of the same themes that New Nightmare did.

But the film is actually far less meta than some might expect. After the opening scene (which is just a nightmare), there isn’t really any of the “Freddy goes after the people who make Freddy movies” stuff, which was I originally thought the movie was about. In fact, and this is possibly part of the theme, the only people Freddy kills in the movie (four, though we only see two) are also pretty much the only people playing wholly fictional characters - Freddy doesn’t kill John Saxon or Wes Craven. When I mentioned that I was watching the film over Twitter, a colleague commented that he was disappointed that the film didn’t offer a Freddy vs. Robert Englund scene, but I actually appreciate that. When I was 14 I’m sure it would have blown my mind, but I think movies like Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back (which - WHOA! - has Wes Craven playing himself as well) have soured me on that sort of thing. The best thing about New Nightmare is that it’s actually pretty smart, instead of being cute to make the audience laugh once and never again.

Actually, the most clever joke in the movie might not even be one. Early on, Heather Langenkamp (Heather Langenkamp) is at a funeral for her husband, and a few of her Nightmare co-stars are there for support, such as Nick Corri and... Tuesday Knight? Now, Knight was in Dream Master, and Langenkamp was not. BUT, Knight was replacing Patricia Arquette, who DID work with Ms. Langenkamp in Dream Warriors. So is Tuesday Knight actually “playing” Patricia Arquette in this scene? Is she replacing her in real life? It’s a philosophical sight gag! I mean, it’s not like any of the Nightmare folks are high demand actors (save for Johnny Depp, who Wes was too afraid to ask to be in the movie, which is odd since Depp did a cameo for Freddy’s Dead despite not owing Rachel Talalay a goddamn thing), so they could have had any number of people in this scene, which makes me suspect that Knight’s appearance is more than just a random shoutout for fans.

One thing the movie definitely could have used was a more tyrannical editor. Don’t get me wrong - Patrick Lussier is a fantastic editor - the scares work, the action bits are well constructed, etc. But the movie is just too long (barely under two hours - with only two kill scenes!), and 10 minutes or so could have been pared down easily. There are WAYYYY too many earthquakes in the film, to the point where it’s practically a xenophobic depiction of the phenomenon. I’ve lived here for 4.5 years, but I haven’t seen/felt as many quakes as these folks do over the course of a week. There’s a scene early on, pretty much the first real scene of the movie, where Langenkamp is getting ready to leave for a TV interview, and it just goes on forever - cutting the earthquake out of this scene alone could have helped matters. And the earthquake stuff doesn’t seem to be part of the actual plot (i.e. Freddy isn’t causing them), so I’m not sure why it’s such a presence in the movie.

I also wish he had cast an unknown in the role of Dylan. While Miko Hughes is a terrific child actor, it was sort of hard to buy into the “this is the real world” thing when I recognized the kid from like 3-4 other movies (including another creepy kid hallmark, Pet Sematary). The guy playing Langenkamp’s husband was an unknown (at least to me), so that worked, but whenever they showed the kid freaking out all I could think of was “No fair, Daddy.”

But I loved the overall concept, that Freddy was just the latest embodiment of evil, and that the Freddy in the other 6 movies was essentially keeping it at bay, only to be set loose “for real” when Freddy was killed off in the last movie (once again, the ending of Freddy’s Dead proves to be a disservice to the world). And I like how Englund, Craven, etc are only in a scene or two each, so we can focus on Langenkamp and her son. Not only does it help separate the film from the others, but it, perhaps ironically, gives the series its first true hero since Nancy in the first film. 3-5 were basically ensembles, and Freddy’s Dead was split between John and Maggie. And Freddy's Revenge... well, let’s just ignore that one. But this is Langenkamp’s show start to finish (the only time she’s not onscreen is during those two kill scenes), giving us someone to truly care about instead of just stringing together a bunch of kill/nightmare scenes.

On the commentary, Wes talks about how it’s pretty much the only film of his career that isn’t compromised in any way. He was allowed final cut as long as the film scored a certain number in test screenings, which it apparently easily surpassed. And the MPAA left him alone as well. He also points out that the horror movie-hating nurse is named after Richard Heffner, the then-head of the “censorship board”, a joke I never picked up on (Jack Valenti was the guy in charge when I started paying attention to such things). And I must extend some kudos to Wes for not soapboxing about such matters throughout the film, as he easily could have given the nature of the plot. It’s obviously been a sore spot for him throughout his career, but he basically keeps his thoughts on the matter to himself, settling for just using the Heffner name. In fact, Langenkamp’s real life stalker, which was part of the basis for the film, wasn’t a fan of the Nightmare movies but of her sitcom Just The Ten Of Us, which I’m also surprised he didn’t find a way to point out (i.e. that people are crazy/obsessive over everything/anything, not just horror). He also talks about how he wanted to redesign Freddy a bit to make him darker, though I’m not sure how making his hat green (from brown) qualifies as making him darker. I hate that fucking green hat.

The Nightmare Encyclopedia disc (aka Disc 8 on the boxed set) offers about 15 minutes’ worth of interview with Craven, where he talks about how he got into filmmaking, why he came back, etc. Nothing particularly earth-shattering, fans will already know his backstory and he goes into much more detail on the Freddy stuff on the commentary. However, he does point out that he couldn’t follow the later sequels (we’re with ya!), which is pretty funny/sad. The original teaser trailer is also included on this disc, which is worth a look because of how much the documentary approach was played up on the trailer vs. how it was actually depicted in the film (not at all unless you count the largely hand-held camerawork), and doesn’t even include Freddy coming out and saying “Miss me?”, a moment in the film that seems like it was designed specifically for a trailer. In fact, Freddy doesn’t really appear in the trailer at all, which makes me wonder if there was ever a more traditional trailer, because if not, it’s no wonder that the movie didn’t do that well - the trailer basically only makes sense if you’ve already seen the movie. Weird.

So now I’ve come to the end of my pre-remake Nightmare retrospective. It’s interesting to see how my opinions have changed since my last viewing on pretty much all of the movies, with the exception of this one, which I really liked then and I really like now. My final ranking is: 3/1, 7, 2, 6, 5, 4/FvJ (pre-retrospective was 3/1, 7, 4, 2, 5, 6, FvJ). I just hope I can at LEAST say “Better than Freddy vs Jason” about the reboot.

What say you?

P.S. I used to have the novelization for this movie, but it’s nowhere to be found. I remember the author tried to join in on the meta-fun, in that it was about him being hired to write the novelization, or something? Maybe it was just an epilogue. Anyone have it? Worth yelling at my mom for selling it for 25 cents or whatever (she had a big yard sale when I was away at school and many a “I still NEED that!” item was forever lost)?

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