Shock Therapy (Shocker, 1989)

Shocker, Wes Craven’s follow up to the Serpent and the Rainbow is the entirely opposite animal. The story is that one night high school jock has a nightmare that a serial killer is murdering his family. He awakes and rushes to his family’s house where he is met by his police detective father who informs him their family has been slaughtered by the notorious local serial killer.

Using his dreams, Jonathan and his father ultimately identify and catch TV Repairman Horace Pinker. The evidence is damning and Pinker does not plead innocent, so it is a pretty slam dunk case. On the day of his execution, the guards find he has some elaborate set-up going on in his cell with his TV. While they fear he is killing himself, the audience can see he is performing some sort of ceremony.

Once in the chair, he uses his final words to to reveal that he is Jonathan’s real father. After the electrocution seems to go very wrong, they find Pinker is dead. But it turns out, Pinker’s body may be dead, but his spirit is alive and he can take over bodies.

Pinker and Jonathan begin a game where Jonathan hopes to find a way to stop Pinker’s new rampage, one where he can be anybody.

Where Serpent and the Rainbow was an attempt at a more serious film, and just a one off tale, Shocker feels like a blatant attempt to start a franchise with a new Freddy Krueger in Horace Pinker. But the inspiration is obviously from the late era Freddy. Pinker is a violent psychopath with a one liner for any situation. The dream connection feels like Craven was not even trying to set Pinker apart.

I enjoy a lot of the characters, even though the majority of them are fodder for Pinker to kill in his attempts to destroy Jonathan’s life. But without a doubt, Mitch Pileggi seems to be having a good time in the role.

Shocker gets incredibly goofy, as Horace can jump through TV signals as well as bodies. So when we see him outside of bodies he is transparent and has a static effect applied to him. When a person is possessed, the tell is that they have Pinker’s limp. I am not sure why his spirit would have a limp…but whatever, it is his tell. The goofiness goes off the rails when Jonathan and Pinker are flying in and out of TV shows and TV’s (landing in random living rooms, impacting television shows). And honestly? This is what kind of saves the movie.

While it lacks any nuance or deep themes, Shocker is a ridiculous and fun movie with a rock and roll soundtrack. I am almost a bit sad we never got Shocker’s two through six.

Camping On Elm Street (Freddy Vs Jason, 2003)

Freddy-vs.-Jason-2003-movie-posterFor about a decade Newline tried to come up with a movie bringing Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees together in a single film.  There were a lot of false starts.  It had been awhile since we saw film franchises cross (Aliens v Predator was still a year away).  You had to expect that in the end, this would probably be terrible.  When they announced Ronny Yu would be directing, that offered some hope, as his Bride of Chucky was actually quite entertaining.  The news that while Englund was back, Kane was not left more than a few fans disappointed.  Watching the completed film?  I actually had fun. Sure this ain’t high art. But it was funny, energetic and kind of interesting. The effects were pretty solid overall, though some moments were clearly computer generated. And the Jason Mewes clone(I kid you not…I expected him to yell “Snootchie Bootchies!”) was a bit ridiculous.

I think Kane Hodder brings a bit more personality to Jason than Ken Kirzinger did.  Part of that is that Kane is a six foot, broad wall of muscle.  His Jason is large and powerful looking.  Kirzinger is a bit taller and less broad…his Jason look much taller and sleeker.  The same can be said for Derek Mears from the 2010 remake of Friday the 13th.  These guys were not bad…but they were not Hodder.

There was a generous amount of nudity, for those who feel that is important to a slasher flick(I do not fall into that camp I am afraid). This is clearly more of a carryover from the Friday the 13th series…there’s nudity in the Elm Streets of course…but not to the degree that there is in a Jason flick.

For Jason, this is a redemption of sorts from the painful Jason X. Thankfully, that took place far in the future and this movie could happily ignore it.  The writers found a pretty interesting way to bring the characters together.  Freddy had lost access to his power, the kids of Elm Street are drugged and no longer dreaming.  So to cause them to fear again, he resurrects Jason and sends him on a murder spree.  but when Freddy is finally strong enough, he finds Jason out of control-killing Freddy’s intended victims.

So Freddy embarks on a mission to take down Jason so he can get back to his own killing spree.  Meanwhile, Lori (Monica Keena) and her friends are trying to figure out how to stop Freddy and Jason with the help of a local cop (Lochlyn Munro) who transferred in from the Camp Crystal Lake area.

Englund slipped right back into the role of Freddy. Cracking wise and being generally vicious. But he pulls it off…Freddy seems a little darker than in the sequels that followed the original. Not a comedian who kills…and some of the facial reactions he pulls off under that makeup is great.  There is a great moment where he suddenly realizes he has been pulled into the real world, and Englund’s expression is that of genuine fear.

As I said towards the beginning, this is a fun movie with a lot of energy, mostly for fans of the franchises, but horror fans in general should be able to find stuff to like.

Every Town Has an Elm Street Part 8 (A Nightmare On Elm Street, 2010)

nightmare-reboot-posterThe best two things about the reboot of Nightmare on Elm Street?  Jackie Earl Haley and the opening credits.

Otherwise, as with other recent franchise rebooting remakes it is pretty by the numbers.  It jumps in quick, and a bit disjointedly.  Kids apparently hang out late night en mass at the diner where Nancy works.  A kid falls asleep and then appears to kill himself.  The kids go to the funeral and it’s off to the next death.  This is inspired by the highly effective sequence in the original where Tina dies in bed with her boyfriend.  But where that was gritty and uncomfortable and painful…this sequence feels safely faked.

While the police are quick to arrest the boyfriend of the dead girl, he gets a chance to warn Nancy.  Unlike the original, the kids figure out instantly that if you die in your dream you for realz!  The first movie had Nancy and Glenn (Johnny Depp) trying to determine the truth of the situation, but not sure they could trust Tina’s boyfriend.  Here it’s no challenge and they are on their way to figuring out the truth about Freddy.

Kids die, but it is hard to care, because they lack distinctive identities.  Though, in one well written moment, after destroying a kids heart, Freddy gently explains that a brain can function for seven minutes after the heart stops.  Freddy notes, with relish, that they still have six minutes to play.  End scene.  And had the entire film played out like this?  It would have been one of the most unnerving films of the year.

After all, Jackie Earl Haley makes Freddy menacing.  At no point is he campy-even when delivering a typical Freddy-esque line.  Haley was perfect casting, and yet, he is working with a cast that is Twilight-lite.  Sure, you have good character actors in the adult roles (always nice to see Clancy Brown in a movie).  But much like another remake of a Wes Craven Film (The Last House On the Left) the improved effects and technology results in a glossy and less effective film.

One thing that stood out was the trailer suggested Freddy was possibly an innocent victim, and while the film briefly flirts with this, it quickly makes it clear that Freddy was a child molester.  Not a child killer, mind you.

Frankly, I think I would have given the film more credit had Freddy been an innocent.  If Freddy had been a kind and gentle man who loved kids, only to be killed by a mob of angry folks whose righteous anger was fueled by a falsehood that led to the cruel death of a decent man… and that action created a monster worse than what they thought they were ridding the world of?  That would have been a rather daring take on the character.

But instead, the filmmakers go for gloss and a safe veneer.  Unlike the Friday the 13th remake (I’ll discuss that one later), the film is more conservative in things like gore and nudity.  This of course is not really a bad thing, they tried a less exploitation fueled approach, and I would have applauded them for it had they made a more effective film.  But instead, it just makes it clear what a bland approach was taken here.

I mentioned the opening credits, and they are downright beautiful and artistic.  We see shadows of children playing, hands stretched to mimic Freddy’s infamous claws.  It’s highly effective imagery and a real shame that the new film could not match up to it’s opening credits.

Every Town Has an Elm Street part 7 (Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, 1994)

wes-cravens-new-nightmare-movie-poster-1994-1020399753So…Freddy’s Dead ended the franchise on a disappointing and sour note.  Three years later, Freddy was back.

Sort of.  As far as Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is concerned?  It is outside the continuity of the six films that came before it.  Wes Craven crafted a clever horror film with thrills and also a philosophically challenging work of Meta fiction.  What does horror do to the people who create it?  How does it impact the people who watch it?  What separates the real from the fantasy?  Wes Craven returned to make a horror film to make you think.

I must admit that I just cannot take the snarky tone I did for the other sequels.  I really want to avoid spoilers as well, because of the entire series, this is the most clever and really worth giving a watch.

When New Line brought Wes back as writer and director, they did not stand in his way, and with clear reason.  What Craven delivered was intelligent, scary, chilling and exciting.  The film opens to reveal there is a new Nightmare film being made.  Heather Langenkamp (as herself) is not initially aware of it, because her special effects man husband has kept it hush-hush.  Heather is invited on a talk show where she meets up with Bob Shaye (former head of New Line, again playing himself) who tries to sell her on coming back to the role of Nancy.  She declines, but starts to find her world seemingly encroached upon by Freddy.  And it seems to be impacting her young son.

Craven explains that the original series tapped into an ancient evil.  It’s an evil that is kept at bay by being the inspiration in stories.  Apparently, it became very attached to Freddy, and the only way to cage the beast is for Craven to tell a new story.  He explains it much better in the film.  Heather finds herself going head to head with the Freddy monster (who is more beefed up and ominous than in pervious films-his claw is a boney extension-resembling the movie posters of earlier Elm Street films- and he wears a flowing trench coat) in several confrontations that culminate with a final battle in Freddy’s lair (which is a fantastic looking set).

Part of what works so well is that most of the cast is playing themselves (Langenkamp’s husband and son are fictional and portrayed by David Newsom and Miko Hughes-you might recognize him as the creepy little kid in Pet Cemetary).  Some are even duel roles (Robert Englund plays himself and Krueger, John Saxon plays himself and Don Thompson from the first and third films).  The effects are really nicely done, as is the set design.  Well worth renting.  Heck, Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars.

Every Town Has an Elm Street Part 6 (Freddy’s Dead: the Final Nightmare, 1991)

nightmare_on_elm_street_6_posterYou know…the movie poster claims they saved the best for last.  I am not sure in what weird coked up world this would qualify as the best.  You see apparently, the sixth and final movie in the seven movie (eight if you count Freddy Vs Jason) series originally carried on from the fifth film.  It would focus on Alice’s son Jacob (now sixteen) and would have seen the return of Kincaid, Joey and Taryn (from the Dream Warriors) as Dream Police. According to director Rachel Talalay, this was not a good script and the new script that gave us the final product “saved the day.”  Seriously, that original script had to be incredibly bad for this movie to have “saved the day.”

Oh, I’m sorry; I may have tainted your view of the film a bit unfairly.  The film we got begins with the Last Kid in Springwood, called (rather creatively) John Doe (Shon Greenblatt) trying to outwit Freddy Krueger in a series of nightmares.  In the end, Freddy hits him with a bus, which does not kill the kid, it just shoots him out of Springwood.  This leaves him an amnesiac that ends up in a youth shelter run by Dr. Maggie Burroughs (Lisa Zane) and Doc (Yaphet Kotto).

Maggie discovers some clippings referring to Springwood, and thinks it might help John if they visit.  On their way, they discover three stowaways trying to ditch the youth shelter.  Spencer (Breckin Meyer) who would rather sit around smoking weed and playing video games than live up to his dad’s yuppie lifestyle, Tracy (Lezlie Deane) who was molested by her father and Carlos (Rickie Dean Logan) whose parents beat him severely enough that he was left deaf.  Yeah, which one of the three is not like the others?

Once they get to Springwood, they run into its scary citizenry…such as Tom & Roseanne Arnold.  There are no children, just adults in a Freddy obsessed psychosis.  Little known fact, in 1492, Freddy Krueger discovered America.  Anyways, unable to leave Springwood, the kids enter an abandoned house.  Guess whose?

Once in the house (yes, Freddy and Nancy Thompson’s old home), the kids start falling asleep.  The dreams are so over the top in this one, they kind of make the previous films look like they lacked imagination.  You have Spencer killed in an old school video game (almost like a lame version of Donkey Kong) and Carlos killed via blades scraping a chalkboard.  While this is happening, John and Maggie have been doing some research.  Apparently, Freddy had a kid who was taken away from him.  John suddenly realizes he is Freddy’s.  I mean, Freddy has not actually killed him, it must be true.  Freddy would not have any other motive to let John live…right?

Oh, you are so wrong…as John finds out when he tries to save Spencer.  John finds out he was merely a pawn to get Freddy’s real kid back to Springwood…his daughter.  Guess who his daughter is…go on…guess!  Yup!  It’s Doc!  Okay, just kidding.  It’s Maggie (since she is the only woman in the movie long enough to qualify as a central character who is remotely close to being of age to be Freddy’s kid)!  And as she and Tracy drive home, they shatter the barrier and set Freddy free.

Freddy, it turns out, is almost as powerful as God.  When Maggie and Tracy return, no one can remember Spencer, Carlos or John Doe.  Freddy has wiped all memory of them from existence.  Except for one other person; that other person would be Doc.  See, Doc is in touch with his dreams, see, and he can, like, totally control them.  This will come in handy, and makes it much easier to convince him that there is mad man killing persons in their dreams.

Freddy comes to Maggie in a dream and reveals he is her father.  Freddy then thanks her for helping him get out of the boundaries of Springwood.  Yeah, total thanks, Maggie…thanks for loosing the crazed dream killer on the world!

In the meantime, Doc has done some research into mythology.  Apparently that did not work, so he makes up mythology about Dream Demons who keep helping bring Freddy back.  They devise a plan that includes Maggie pulling Freddy from the dream world into the real world (that again?!).  But first she has to find Freddy-which involved entering his mind.  Yeah, it makes as much sense while you are watching it.  This sequence occurred in 3-D, which just never worked when I watched the DVD with the 3-D glasses at home.  I should try it with the hi-def TV.  But I digress, this was a good nine to ten years after the 3-D fad had died out.  I mean, Jaws 3-D, Friday the 13th 3-D and Amityville 3-D were all between 1982 and 1983.  I thought New Line was a bit more forward thinking.

So, we get to see Freddy’s sad pathetic life. Like when the kids teased him as the son of a hundred maniacs.  It’s not like he did anything wrong, well, other than bludgeoning the class pet to death.  And then there is Alice Cooper.  I am a fan, so I will give the abusive step father memory a pass.  Then Maggie has all sorts of happy family memories flood back to her, for instance, that one time?  When her dad Freddy totally killed her mom because she found out Fred was killing little kids?  I mean, look at it from Freddy’s side, folks.  She totally was being nosy and not letting him have his guy time!

Freddy tries to win Maggie over, which can’t be that hard for a murdering sociopath, but she stays strong and pulls Freddy into the real world.  Fred dukes it out with Maggie, Tracy and Doc.  Maggie manages to stab Freddy in the gut with his own claw, which I guess is supposed to be poetic.  Then she jams a lit pipe bomb in Freddy’s chest.  She gives him a kiss and runs away. Freddy’s last words?  “Kids…”  Okay, that is really just a “last word”.

OK, I will grant that this is a nice inversion of the franchise rules.  If Freddy dies in the waking world, he is dead in the dream world.  So, the film has a brief moment of clever success.  And it has one of my favorite lines of the series.  After Freddy gets free from Springwood, he says to Maggie, “Every town has an Elm Street.”  The film might-and I repeat- might make for good “get together with friends and mock without mercy” movie night… but that may also be overly generous.

Every Town Has an Elm Street Part 5 (A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: the Dream Child,1989)

MPW-34013That old soul whore Freddy is back.  This time under the direction of Stephen Hopkins (Director of the theatrical Lost In Space, Predator 2 and the Reaping) and written by Leslie Bohem (Screenwriter on the Alamo and Dantes Peak), Freddy gets back to business.  The Dream Child is the least successful of the franchise, and has its detractors, but it does have some devoted fans.

Alice (Lisa Wilcox, reprising the role) is now much stronger and self confident.  Maybe it is because she kicked Freddy’s ass.  Maybe it’s because she gets to have sex with the hottest guy in school (Dan-again played by Danny Hassel).  Maybe it’s because she does not realize she is in a sequel, and that usually means the people who survived the previous film are killed in the first fifteen minutes (hey!  It happened in the fourth film).  Luckily for Alice, the entire plot hinges on Alice lasting through the film.  Dan, on the other hand…he is expendable.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  The film opens with an artsy sex scene.  You know what I am talking about, close up shots of backs, thighs, hands…all in a deep blue light.  When Alice wakes up, Dan is already gone, and she goes to take a shower.  Showers are, of course, very dangerous places in the horror movie world.  Alice’s shower fills up with water, before the floor gives out and she finds herself in a nun’s uniform, and a nametag that says Amanda Krueger.  She appears to be in a creepy old institution of some sort.  Suddenly she is in a crowded room full of “maniacs”.  She sees a couple guards doing a head count and starts to make her way towards them.  These guys are clearly the best money can buy, since they give up, turn around and lock the nun inside.  The maniacs close in and…Alice wakes up and goes to school.

You would think the Krueger name would worry her, but hey, whatever.  Its graduation day, Alice’s dad is twelve stepping it, her replacement friends have enough credits to graduate with her.  She has totally upgraded her friends…now she hangs out with aspiring Model Greta (Erika Anderson), athletic diver Yvonne (Kelly Joe Minter) and comic geek Mark (Joe Seely) who is in love with Greta.  Alice decides to cut through the park on her way to the diner where she works when she finds herself on a stretcher dressed as a nun being wheeled down the same dingy asylum from earlier.  Then she finds herself in the crowd of doctors, and sees Amanda Krueger on the table giving birth.

As if taking a cue from It’s Alive, little Freddy bursts free of the doctor’s grip and scrambles out of the room.  Alice follows ugly Freddy baby as it scoots through the maze of hallways.  She finds herself following him to the same room from the fourth movie where she fought Freddy (a church rectory).  The baby finds Freddy’s empty clothes, as apparently, in dreamland?  There are no janitors.  Baby Freddy (how did they not cash in on Baby Freddy as a Saturday morning kid show?!) crawls into the musty old Christmas sweater we viewers know so well.  And just like when a little boy puts on mom’s dresses, Freddy becomes a real man.

Alice runs and finds herself four hours late to work.  She calls Dan and tells him Freddy is back and that she entered the dream world while awake.  Dan leaves the party and hops into his truck.  While driving, Dan finds he has a passenger…can you guess who it is?  If you said the first President Bush, you clearly have not been paying attention.  Of course it is Freddy, who for no reason that makes sense proceeds to pour champagne on his shoulder.  Apparently, champagne is horrifically acidic, as Freddy’s arm melts off.  Then he smashes the stump into the back of the trucks cab and creates a makeshift seatbelt…instead of simply using the one in the truck.  Freddy probably failed drivers ed.  The truck crashes and throws Dan out-uh…into the empty pool area of the school that was full of students when he left it a minute ago.  Now, instead of trying to wake of, Dan runs out to his truck to try and drive to Alice.  Because, nothing about the current situation apparently screams “YOU ARE ASLEEP!”  But he no longer has his key, and the truck is locked…

Conveniently, there is a snazzy red motorcycle with the keys in it.  Yeah, that should not have been a warning sign.  As Dan races to Alice, the motorcycle starts to attack him.  It basically attaches itself to Dan, which makes for a pretty gruesome scene, as his flesh is ripped off by wires and engine parts.  Suddenly, a metal Freddy face appears and says, *ahem* (and I quote) “Hey Dan-don’t dream and drive!” and Dan opens his eyes and sees a big truck.  Not to mince words, but his little truck is no match for the semi.  Dan is splattered over the street in front of Alice’s diner.

Alice wakes up in the hospital with Yvonne (who works there) a doctor and her dad.  Turns out, and if you haven’t figured it out from the poster, the less than misleading ads and Freddy asking Alice if she want’s to make babies a couple moments ago?  Alice is pregnant.  No, Freddy is not the father.  That would be Dan.  That night, Alice is visited by a little boy named Jacob (Whitby Hertford-you would also recognize him as the chubby little boy Sam Neil freaks out towards the beginning of Jurassic Park).  Jacob is your standard mystery kid, a little creepy and totally cryptic.  But not cryptic enough for me to figure out that Jacob is the soul of Alice’s unborn baby.  He pleads with Alice to love him, because his friend with the “funny hand” says she does not like him.  Alice is not as quick as me… it is only when Yvonne notes there is no Jacob in the children’s ward-in fact, there is no children’s ward(!!!) in this big hospital in Springwood.  And that is when Alice figures out what Freddy is doing.  She learns that he is feeding her baby the souls of her friends.  Um…yeah.  Gross.

As the friends drop off-all of them disbelieving in Freddy until practically the last second- Alice is determined to save her baby from the man with the knives for fingers (wholly crap-in the wrong hands, instead of just a crappy horror film, this could have been a crappy pro-life screed!!!!  Dodged that bullet) and starts trying to figure out how to stop him.  Along with Yvonne, who Freddy fails to kill (in quite a stunning Hollywood reversal, the non-white kid makes it through the film alive) Alice realizes she must locate the body of Amanda Krueger.  That should be easy, as the third film showed she was buried in a cemetery.  But that is less dramatic…it turns out for no reason that makes any real sense, Amanda Krueger was sealed in a tower all Cask of Amontillado-style*.  Why did someone seal her body in a tower in the asylum you ask?  Did I not just explain that there is no real reason that makes sense?  I mean, I am sure that the film makers thought it would be cool and scary.  So, anyways, Yvonne gets the thankless task of corpse hunting.  Alice gets to use her super powers to fight Freddy and try and save her baby.  In a stylish sequence Alice finds herself in an M.C. Escher drawing(Freddy is totally hip to art).  Freddy has almost fully corrupted little Jacob and is nearly able to turn him against Alice.  Alice finds out Freddy has been hiding inside of her throughout the film.  Ewwww.  She expels Freddy (again with the “ewwww”) and is left weakened, near death.  But Yvonne, scrappy teen she is has just freed Amanda’s soul!  Amanda shows up just as Freddy appears to be victorious and tells Jacob how to fight back against Freddy.  Freddy gets age reversed back to an infant and Amanda picks him up and stuffs him into her tummy.  Freddy keeps trying to get out, but is not successful. Then the movie jumps ahead to Alice with her baby Jacob and everyone is happy.  Until, you know…the next sequel.

I will say, while I am not all that fond of this film, it has one really cool dream sequence…Mark the comic geek is sucked into a comic book all like the Ah-Ha video.  The use of colors is really nicely handled in the sequence.  It’s all in black and white-except Mark who is in total vibrant colors.  If the rest of the movie had this much creative care put into it?  It would have been a great movie.
In fact, here…(no worries, it’s not very gory-though, still probably not work appropriate)

Every Town Has an Elm Street Part 4 (A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, 1988)

a-nightmare-on-elm-street-4-the-dream-master-1988Renny Harlin has not made many great films, oh sure, he is no Uwe Boll*, and he can at least lay claim to directing Die Hard 2: Die Harder (until a Good Day to Die Hard, the least of the Die Hards, yet still quite entertaining).  But with NoES 4: the Dream Master, he helped push the Nightmare Franchise farther down the goofy tracks it was put on by the third film.  At this point, Freddy is more a prankster whose punchlines always end in a cruel death for the audience.  Kind of like Larry the Cable guy, but all crispy.

Kristen (Patricia Arquette unwisely did not return…look what that choice did to her career.  But Tuesday Knight-not kidding- stepped in to take over the role.  Blondes are pretty interchangeable, right?) and the other survivors of the last film have been skating along okay and are in school, making friends.  Kristen even has a boyfriend, martial arts enthusiast Rick (Andras Jones).  The film wastes no time, because the audience sure isn’t going to care about the new characters, they want to see Freddy get all stabby.

For no discernible reason, Freddy does get back. First he kills Roland Kinkaid (Ken Sagoes), whose tough guy exterior fades real fast when he wets his pants.  Then Freddy pays a visit to Joey (Rodney Eastman)…now if you saw the last Elm Street, you know Joey cannot refuse a attractive topless blonde.  He is also delusional enough to think these women want him-rather than he is in a dream.  Here, he looks at a pin-up on his wall, and the water bed starts to shake, and when he looks up, the poster is blank.  Yeah, Joey, that is not a good sign.  He pulls back the sheets to see the hot blonde in the water waving to him. Yeah, not a good sign either-especially when she swims away.  Joey’s last incident with a hot almost naked blonde went badly…this one goes worse, because Freddy pops through the mattress and cuts little Joey to ribbons.  Now, usually, the movies try and make the death “appear” natural…not this one…mom walks into the room pulls back the sheets and Joey is trapped under the plastic-drowned.  Huh?  Is this a danger of water beds I was previously not aware of?!

Anyways, Kristen freaks out, she starts telling her friends about Freddy.  This time around, it is not the adults, but the kids who laugh Freddy off.  Kristen’s gone nuts! Just because her two friends died overnight is nothing to be weirded out by.  But Rick’s shy sister Alice (Lisa Wilcox) tells Kristen about a poem that speaks of the Dream Master-but she can’t remember how it ends, and that sucks for Kristen, because she might have been able to defeat Freddy…and the audience would have benefited, as the movie would have been shorter.  Alice recommends that Kristen just go to her happy place if she finds herself in a nightmare.  Ah, yes, that will do the trick.  In the meantime, Alice daydreams about boldly hitting on her brother’s football buddy Dan (Danny Hassel).  Alice is teased by her buff, weightlifting friend Debbie (Brooke Theiss) who also has the hots for Dan.  Hen there is the bookish friend Shelia (Toy Newkirk).

Kristen has an argument with her mother after work and discovers that her mother has drugged her (a very popular move by parents in the Elm Street films).  After yelling at her mother “You just murdered me, mom!”  (Heh, kids can be sooooo melodramatic) she stumble into her bedroom and finds herself at Freddy’s dream house.  Crap.  She remembers Alice’s recommendation and goes to her happy place-the beach!  Of course, if you see a little blonde girl you do not know building a sand castle?  It is not a good sign.  Apparently Freddy can find Kristen’s happy place.  Freddy is not actually ready to kill Kristen, as it turns out, if he does so now?  He can’t keep killing.  Kristen is the last Elm Street Kid.  Lucky for Freddy, Kristen has a dream power to pull other people into her dreams, allowing Freddy a loophole.

And that means poor, shy Alice is pulled into Kristen’s dream, Kristen passes her power on to Alice, making her the new dream conduit Freddy needs.  And Alice is not empowered enough to stand up to Freddy…at least, not before a bunch of her friends are dead.  Freddy works his way through her friends and brother, and each time a friend dies?  She gets their dream power.  No wonder she does not try to hard to save them!  Anyways, after Shelia and Rick get killed by Freddy, Alice Dan and Debbie decide to fight back.  Alice picked up her brother’s martial arts abilities, so she isn’t any wimp.

Unfortunately for Debbie; Freddy traps Alice and Dan in a repeating dream loop so they cannot get to her.  This, of course, lets Freddy enact another gruesome kill.  It turns out the dream loop was happening in a vehicle and Dan ends up in the hospital (you can see where this is going, right?).  Alice is in full bad ass mode and flies into Dan’s dream to save him from being diced.  The doctors, being somewhat more efficient than in other Elm Street films, save Dan-leaving Alice to fight on her own.  It takes the whole movie-but she remembers the end to the poem-evil is going to see its reflection and will die.  Yes, she shows Freddy his face in the mirror and that is how she defeats him.  Seriously, all the souls he collected over the years from Elm Street (apparently it is a really, really, really long street) crawl out of Freddy just leaving his clothes on the ground.  Then Alice and Dan start to date and forget about their dead friends.

Unlike three, the Dream Master has a somewhat less pedigree behind the camera.  The writers include William Kotzwinkle (this was his first movie), Brian Helgeland (okay, he did go on to write L.A. Confidential) and Jim & Ken Wheat (who wrote the Ewok Adventure: Battle for Endor and wrote Elm Street Four under a single pseudonym) and the previously mentioned Renny Harlin.  This is certainly a slick and imaginative film, with extravagant dream sequences where girls turn into cockroaches, a girl gets the life sucked out of her and a kid gets sucked into a water bed.  But it is just not good.  The story is very on the nose.  Alice has a mirror crowded with photos, as her friends die, she removes them and sees more and more of herself in the looking glass (get it?!).  The special effects are the strongest part of the film, and in the end the dream sequences overwhelm any story and character development possible.

Oh, and by the way, if you are going to create a poem?  Show some freaking originality, people.  Seriously, this is the poem that Alice has trouble remembering:

“Now I lay me down to sleep,
the Master of Dreams my soul to keep,
in the reflection of my mind’s eye,
evil will see itself…and it shall die!”

I remember that one from:

“Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
And If I should die, before I wake
I pray all my toys break so none of the other kids can play with them.”

This addition of the reflection theme just does not work…and it never returns to the franchise…because previous films had Freddy able to look at his reflection and…well, not die.

Every Town Has an Elm Street Part 3 (A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors, 1987)

nightmare_on_elm_street_3_posterNow let us take a look at the third Elm Street Film.  The Dream Warriors is easily one of the best of the series and one of the best loved.  Dream Warriors deftly handles horror, fantasy, action and comedy in one solid package.  Not entirely surprising, the cooks include Wes Craven, Frank Darabont  (writer of Shawshank Redemption, Green Mile) and Chuck Russell (who also directed, he is primarily known for directing the Jim Carrey film the Mask).

It’s a pretty effective story.  The last remaining Elm Street kids have been institutionalized, suffering from horrific nightmares.  No one seems to know what to do, because, again, in horror movies?  Adults are dumb and do not listen to anyone.  They presume the kids are really just, you know, suicidal.  Because suicidal people always claim a guy is stalking them in thei9r dreams and trying to kill them.  And they tend to do so en mass.

But these kids are lucky, you see, Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) is back to save the franch-uh-  I mean, the kids.  She, with help from Dr. Neil (Craig Wasson, of Ghost Story, Body Double and most recently, Sasquatch Mountain), work against an uncaring world to save the kids.   They do not of course, because frankly, that would be a boring horror movie.  Instead, Freddy kills a few of the kids rather creatively.  Nancy discovers that young Kristen (played by young Patricia Arquette) can pull people into her dreams.  This manages to give the surviving kids an edge.

Nancy and the kids manage to fight back against Freddy, while Dr. Neil meets a mysterious nun who conveniently knows a lot about Fred Krueger.  We also see the return of Nancy’s pop, Donald (John Saxon).

At Nancy’s funeral, a heartbroken Dr. Neil receives another visit from mysterious old nun woman.  Dr. Neil follows her through the cemetary, where she disappears…but then Doctor Neil sees a headstone…the nun was the ghost of Amanda Krueger-FREDDY’S MOTHER!!!!

This film is notable for many reasons.  For instance, this film introduced the concept of the “dream power”, in which kids have a unique power-usually based in their self image- which they can use to fight Freddy.  The fourth and fifth films fail to put this to good use though.  It also introduces the back story for Freddy that he was the “Bastard Son of 100 Maniacs”.  His mother was a young nun who worked in an asylum and was locked up for a weekend with 100 depraved maniacs who raped her.

The film also introduced far more elaborate dream sequences.  The first two films had dream sequences that challenged you to figure out whether the character was asleep or awake.  In the Dream Warriors, the dreams are more fantasy adventures.  This is easily one of the top three films of the franchise, and worth watching, it is not scary, but it is full of adventure, fun, solid effects ( a very nice stop motion fight is reminiscent of Harryhausen) and pretty nicely played.

However, the film is also guilty of starting the film down the path the series took that bothered so many fans, specifically, Freddy the Comedian.  This is the film that gave us the line, “Welcome to Prime Time, Bitch!!!”  And while it works in this film, it clearly took the character down a road of self mockery.  So, in spite of the snark, I really do recommend this as a entertaining film to watch.

Every Town Has an Elm Street Part 2 (A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge, 1985)

Okay, from here on out, spoilers fly with no regards as to whether you have seen the movies or not.  These will mostly be…well, not so much reviews, as observations.  And probably more than a bit snarky.

nightmare_on_elm_street_2_poster_01So, Nightmare On Elm Street was a huge hit.  Not all that surprisingly, New Line rushed out a sequel.  A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2:Freddy’s Revenge.  Revenge on who?  Don’t really know.  It is not Nancy, because she is not in this one.  Luckily for the story, her diary is though.  When young Jesse’s (Mark Patton) family moves into Nancy’s old house, he starts getting tormented by horrific dreams involving Freddy.

Turns out Freddy has a plan, and that plan includes using Mark to maybe kill people.  Like his creepy leather loving gym teacher.  But Mark, see, he is a good kid.  Oh, a little wimpy.  And his parakeet is prone to bursting into flames.  But Mark doesn’t want to help Freddy.  Instead he just wants to hang out with his friends and meet girls.  He starts to hang out with Lisa (Kim Myers), and spends much of the film struggling with his teachers and parents (Clu Gulager and Hope Lang), because frankly, Parents (and teachers) just do not get what it is like to be a teenager haunted by the death of a child killer.  By the way, in life Freddy killed little kids, why did he switch to teens after death?  Anyways, Freddy is using Jesse to try and get back into the real world.  His friend Grady laughs it all off, but thankfully; new girlfriend Lisa takes him seriously.

When you get right down to it, this film is a real mess that makes almost no sense at all in the context of the other sequels.  For example, the film establishes Freddy’s boiler room is in the factory he used to work at.  This factory never comes up in later sequels.  This is the only film where Freddy is trying to break out and live in the real world, a motive he lacks in other all other incarnations, which makes sense; he is more powerful in the dream world.  It also does not help the film that, as a lead, Jesse is pretty unsympathetic.  At best he is whiny and annoying, which is not good for your protagonist.  I am not sure if the main problem lies with the actor or the script. Though, one wonders how different the film would have been if Jesse were played by Christian Slater or Brad Pitt (both auditioned).  Craven avoided the sequel partly because he did not, actually, intend to create a Franchise with Elm Street and also because he felt they were going to far astray of his original concept, especially with having Freddy make Jesse kill people.  And it shows.  This film just feels entirely out of place in the series.

It is interesting that the least loved* of the films has a central lead that is male.  The strongest films of the series feature female protagonists.  As I noted, Jesse is not a sympathetic character, and honestly comes across as very weak and easy to manipulate.

But in the end, what makes it really stand out?  Basically, this is the most homo-erotic horror film ever.  In fact, comically so.  I don’t mean this in a denigrating way towards the gay community, or even homo-eroticism in films.  But in the Elm Street series, it just feels…well, out of place, mainly because the film plays everything straight.  It is not like it is a wink and a nudge.  I am not even sure that they realized at the time (Jack Sholder, the director states they did not, however, he sees it now).  And it is this unintentional aspect just makes it oddly humorous.  I mean you have lines like, “Something is trying to get inside of me” and “He’s inside me… and he wants to take me again!”  You just cannot miss the subtext.  And we all know unintended subtext is comedic gold, people.

When it comes down to it, this is a terrible film, not worth watching on your own.  However, it is a hysterical comedy when watched with a group of friends.

*Oddly, for as much as it is derided, it is one of the highest grossing of the series.

Every Town Has an Elm Street Part 1 (A Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984)

In 1972, college professor turned aspiring film maker Wes Craven produced the low budget horror film Last House on the Left to some small success, in 1977, he got more horror cred with the survival flick the Hills Have Eyes.  After that it was a string of mostly forgettable TV movies and the like.  But in 1983 or so, Craven hit paydirt.

a-nightmare-on-elm-street-posterHe met with Bob Shaye of the indie studio New Line Cinema.  There he pitched the idea that would put New Line on the map.  Craven told Shaye about the idea of a killer who hunts kids in their dreams…and if you die in your dream, you die in real life.  Based on a series of news stories Craven had read, in which people had told loved ones of terrifying nightmare they were having, and then died in their sleep (all involved young people, in at least one case, the kid secretly went days without sleep, hiding coffee in his room).

Shaye saw the potential there and green lit the project.  What came about is one of the most memorable icons of 80’s horror.  Named after a childhood bully, Craven created Fred Krueger, a child murderer who got freed on a technicality and then was killed by the parents of Elm Street.

Years later, high school student Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) and her friends find their dreams haunted by a creepy man in a green and red sweater, oblivious to the fact that their parents murdered Kruger years before.  And, of course,  the parents would prefer to keep it that way.  Nancy’s mother (Ronee Blakely) is a fall down drunk, estranged from Nancy’s police lieutenant father (John Saxon) who is determined to keep the truth from coming out.  But the sins of the parents are threatening the lives of the youth in this story.  And the parents do not want to face the truth (hey, it is a horror film, parents never believe the kids).

As Nancy’s friends start dying, the police right them off as murders and suicides, but Nancy knows better.  She starts trying to fight the need for sleep, and manages to avoid Freddy’s claws.  But her mother is certain her daughter is just going crazy, while her father sticks to what he can see and is unwilling to accept his daughter’s claims.

In fact, truthfully, the greatest threat to Nancy is her parent’s unwillingness to listen to her.  In that regard, the film becomes, at times, unbearably preachy.  But ultimately, Nancy stands up to Freddy, apparently defeating him at his own game.

Overall, the original Nightmare On Elm Street holds up quite well.  Freddy was not yet as campy, and Robert Englund plays him with a real grim vibe.  Freddy’s voice is a guttural, throaty growl that is immensely threatening.  The first reveal of Freddy walking down an alley with distended arms, scraping his claws along garages is hauntingly creepy.  The practical effects and make up still are effective.  The music is one of the few things that really does not hold up over the years.  Those synthesizer based soundtracks rarely do.  One exception is that the main theme is pretty creepy.  The thing that truly risks ruining the movie though? The final scene is clearly tacked on for sequel possibilities and it really makes no sense.  Wes Craven has disowned that ending that was forcd on his work.  Producers should trust their directors.

But overall, this remains a solid effort, even if it is somewhat tainted by a slew of much lesser sequels (though there are a couple worth catching).

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