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 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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