Monday, October 31, 2011

“Quickly! Into the air, zombie bird man!”

And at last its time to close out October the same way it was begun. With Boris Karloff. In 1967, the good folks at Rankin/Bass released into theaters a feature-length monster movie done in the same animation style as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Except instead of annually overplayed Christmas joy, it was a swingin’ celebration of misanthropic movie monster madness. Its Mad Monster Party?

Its simple really. Dr. Baron von Frankenstein is getting on in years and wants to retire from the whole “Mad Science” business. So he decides to throw a party for all of his friends/relatives at which he will name his successor. Among the invitees is an unassuming pharmacy clerk who’s a long-lost nephew, and the intended heir. The monsters involved then try to scheme and backstab their way into getting this guy out of the way.

Baron Boris von Frankenstein: Boris Karloff! Dr. Frankenstein lives on a Bond Villain’s island and has developed what is essentially anti-matter that can blow up ANY matter it touches. So yeah, that whole “law of conservation of mass” thing? Irrelevant now. And he’s actually one of the nicer characters. The model he voices looks a little like his Frankenstein’s Monster around the forehead.

Felix Flankin: Allen Swift voices Frankenstein’s nebbish nephew who works in a pharmacy and has a catastrophic case of allergies. Nearsighted and generally oblivious to the nature of the monsters.

Francesca: Gale Garnett voices the Doctor’s mind-bogglingly proportioned (essentially Christina Hendricks) assistant with a sultry voice. She wants to inherit Frankenstein’s fortune, and can scheme with the best of them.

The Monster/“Fang”: He’s mute and strong, and a henpecked husband.

The Monster’s Mate: Phyllis Diller voices the Monster’s bride if instead of a bird-like, screaming woman, it was Phyllis Diller and the two settled down.

Dracula: Allen Swift (Allen Swift pretty much voices everybody else in the movie, so I’ll leave it off to save time) voices Dracula…oddly. I can’t quite place the accent, but its not Bela Lugosi-like. The design kind of makes me think of Sid Caesar, which…is random.

The Invisible Man: The Invisible Man walks around in a smoking jacket and fez and speaks like Sydney Greenstreet.

Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde: Pretty much your standard Jekyll/Hyde thing, except he sure loves drinking his transformative serum out of the flask hidden in his cane.

The Mummy: Mummy’s got some sweet dance moves.

The Werewolf: He howls a lot and likes stowing aboard ships to not have to pay.

The Creature: The Gill-Man, basically. He garbles and gurgles a lot.

Quasimodo: Also mute, he and the Mummy become roomies for a while. I’d pay to see more of that. One’s a mummy, the other’s a hunchback. They fight crime.

Yetch: He’s basically a zombie version of Peter Lorre, which…is a bit odd, since he’s not playing a Lorre character. Anyway, Yetch is Frankenstein’s butler/steward/whipping boy who’s madly in love with Francesca and his limbs tend to fall off a lot.

“It”: Not referred to by his real name because of copyright reasons, “It” is the one guest Frankenstein didn’t want to invite because he always made a mess of things. A giant, hairy, ape-like mess who likes girls and tall buildings.

Directed by Jules Bass, it’s the same “Animagic” style that marks other Rankin/Bass productions. However, it’s a refreshing difference from the Christmas ones, and the art department gets to go wild with crazy designs. A lot of the designs were based on the Mad Magazine artist Jack Davis. There’s a lot of physical comedy and there’s a hell of a lot of intricate and detailed work for the sets, and the movie delivers a few things I’ve never seen before, like a squadron of zombies flying biplanes.

Written by Arthur Rankin Jr., Len Korobkin, Harvey Kurtzman, and maybe Forrest J Ackerman, though there’s varying stuff I’ve read about Forry actually being involved or not. The script really, really, really feels a lot like an issue of Mad Magazine, which makes sense because Kurtzman founded it. Be ready for a lot of puns, a lot of physical comedy, and a lot of saucy that slips in under the radar.

What, me worry?
Original music by Maury Laws. The extremely James Bond-esque title song is by Ethel Ennis, with a few songs by Phyllis Diller and Gale Garnett dashed in for good measure. The soundtrack is actually quite amazing, with the swingin’ jazz combo sound working surprisingly well for a group of monsters that date back to the turn of the century. The songs aren’t quite as memorable as the Christmas special ones, but they’re not bad by any means.

Mad Monster Party? is actually quite awesome and I was pleasantly surprised by it. Yes a lot of the jokes fall flat and Felix’s character is not a particularly bright or likable protagonist, but the movie oozes style, features good-natured camp, throws in pretty much every major monster, and has ZOMBIES FLYING BIPLANES. If you don’t think that’s awesome, then you have murdered your inner child and there’s no hope for you. Totally recommended.

Mummy's got a theme song, yo.

Friday, October 28, 2011

“My mission, to which I am fully dedicated, is to fight against evil.”

Its my understanding that they filmed the Aztec Mummy trilogy back to back, sort of like Lord of the Rings, only…not. La maldición de la momia azteca AKA Curse of the Aztec Mummy, also from 1957, was the middle film and…it is every bit as crazy as The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy.

So Dr. Krupp is being interrogated by the police after being caught and outed as the criminal mastermind The Bat. Except Krupp denies everything and his henchmen develop the clever plan of sending a note to Krupp and the police with a bat picture on it, which raises doubt that the scientist actually is the Bat. That doubt doesn’t last long because Krupp’s goons continue to take the initiative and bust him out of the bus taking him to jail, despite the interventions of a masked Luchador named the Angel.

Wait, what?

Yes, the movie throws in a mysterious caped Luchador who seems to drive a Morgan convertible. Right, so, Krupp and his gang get away and after a lengthy flashback of what Krupp knows of the previous movie’s plot, Krupp decides that the lost Aztec treasure the heroes found would perfectly pay for his mad science experiments. So he kidnaps Flor and hypnotizes her, then we get a cycle of Dr. Almada & the Angel getting caught and escaping and caught again. Then they finally DO find the Aztec treasure again and at the very end of the movie, the Aztec Mummy shows up to claim what’s his.

Dr. Eduardo Almada: Ramón Gay is still our hero and despite everything that happened in the last movie, he thinks the Curse of Popoca will no longer have anything to do with his family. Boy is he wrong. Most of the movie has him working in opposition to Dr. Krupp, who’s kidnapped his woman.

Flor Sepúlveda/Xochitl: Rosita Arenas spends most of the movie kidnapped by Dr. Krupp and kept in a drugged-up state to make her mind susceptive to hypnosis, so she can tell him where the Aztec treasure was buried…even though he himself has been to the same Aztec pyramid as everybody else and…never mind, Mad Science. She’s the only one who really suspects that Popoca isn’t done yet.

Pinacate: Crox Alvarado continues to be the comic relief guy, gets beat up a few more times, and then is largely absent from the movie. Hmm…

Pepe Almada: Jaime Quiñones actually has a larger part in this movie, as he becomes an unofficial sidekick for the Angel, calling him on his wrist phone to alert the hero of danger and eventually rescuing the luchador from a deathtrap.

Dr. Krupp/The Bat: Luis Aceves Castañeda really starts to ham things up. No longer required to pretend to be a sane scientist, he goes into full Mad Science mode, devising bizarre schemes, trying to throw luchadors into snakepits, and determined to get that Aztec treasure. Not because he wants it for himself, oh no. In true Mad Scientist fashion, he only sees the priceless relics as a means to an end: the financing of his experiments so that he may (somehow) achieve immortality! He’s actually great in this.

Tierno: Arturo Martínez continues to be Krupp’s go-to henchman (and will stick around for the third movie). He’s the one who basically organizes his boss’ prison break. Good henchmen like that are hard to find.

Popoca: Ángel Di Stefani is barely in this movie (unless you count flashbacks). For most of the movie, nobody has the Aztec treasure, so Popoca doesn’t have anything to do. He’s guarding it and there’s no problems for him. The only reason he gets involved at all in this movie is because the breastplate and bracelet were stolen, so he busts some heads at the end of the movie, throws Krupp into the snakepit, and leaves with the treasure to go guard it again. Popoca is very dedicated to his job.

El Ángel: While you would think the addition of a masked wrestler would lead to a climactic showdown between a Luchador and Mummy, you’d be wrong. The Angel is a friend of justice, and has a mutual enemy in Dr. Krupp. The Angel is also not particularly good at his job of actually stopping crime. He’s persistent, I’ll give him that, and certainly hard to kill, but he doesn’t really succeed at stopping our villain at anything. He’s more like a big-talking speed bump of justice than an actual deterrent to crime. He’s also secretly one of the characters above. And its not Popoca (though that would be sweet).

Rafael Portillo still directing, and the movie is probably the one with the most action and movement of the trilogy, even if it is mostly backtracking. There’s plenty of action sequences featuring the Angel, which is a plus. The Aztec ceremony from the first movie is flashed back to in pretty much its entirety.

Ah, and I should mention that when Krupp’s goons spring him from the police, Krupp picks up a Tommy Gun and shakes it around like he’s firing it and you hear stock audio of machine gun fire with absolutely no muzzle flash or actual recoil. Cheese at its finest!

Story still by Guillermo Calderon & Alfredo Salazar, and, well, it’s a mummy movie with a luchador. It is much less serious than the first movie yet still more coherent than the third movie. Basically its cheese with pulp-novel sensibilities.

Antonio Díaz Conde still did the music and its pretty much the same story. A lot of standard B-movie cues with a lot of shrill sounds thrown in. That Aztec ceremony is a real pain for the ears to sit through.

Curse of the Aztec Mummy might actually be the best of the trilogy because of the good ratio of on-screen craziness to recycled footage from previous installments. I wouldn’t call it a good movie (nor would that apply to the series as a whole) but for Mexican cheese (I guess queso would be more accurate) its very entertaining. The only real complaint is that Popoca has maybe less than five minutes of actual screen time, which is a shame.

No trailer for this one, so here's the overly-long flashback to Aztec times, complete with human sacrifice accompanied by ear-piercing music! If I had to hear it, you should to!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

“How far can the human mind fathom the mysteries of the hereafter?”

Now this is something I’m disproportionately excited about. Way back here, I watched The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy, which turned out to be part three in a Mexican Mummy Trilogy. Well, a few months back at Half-Price Books, I found “The Aztec Mummy Collection” which collects the entire trilogy in one surprisingly respectful boxed set. No way in hell I would pass that up for five bucks.

So off we go, where the magic began, with 1957’s La momia azteca AKA The Aztec Mummy AKA Attack of the Aztec Mummy. I should not nearly be this excited.

So we have a scientist who’s got a lot of weird ideas about how hypnotic suggestion can get people to regress and remember past lives. He gives a lecture on this before an august congress of scientists in Mexico City and when he says this is all theoretical right now because nobody wants to volunteer to try it, he is essentially laughed out of the conference. I should note that the congress was perfectly fine with therapeutic hypnosis to help patients, just not this kooky brand our hero suggests.

Where a villain would “get a volunteer” our hero bucks the trend by actually getting a willing volunteer: his loving fiancée. She gets hypnotized and the scientist learns that she was once an Aztec princess who was slated to be a sacrifice to the gods, but fell in love with a mighty warrior, got caught, and both of the them were punished by being sacrificed, so…that was kind of the plan from the start, right? Anyway, the memories of her death are traumatic and almost kill her, but the heroes do learn the location of the sacred Aztec treasure that was buried with the Aztec princess. So they do what any science-minded heroes would do: Grave Robbing!

Well, tomb raiding turns out to have negative consequences, because it awakens the mummy of the Aztec warrior cursed to protect the artifacts for all time. Then the mummy realizes the woman is his lost love reincarnated.

And there’s a subplot of a criminal mastermind organizing a crime spree and then he gets interested in all this stuff, but oddly enough, its actually pretty unimportant to the main plot.

Dr. Eduardo Almada: Ramón Gay is our scientist hero. He’s got a crazy idea, experiments on his loved ones, robs graves of sacred artifacts, and somehow, someway, he’s actually not a villain. He also doesn’t believe in curses, which bites him in the ass.

Flor Sepúlveda/Xochitl: Rosita Arenas is our female lead. A supportive fiancée for her Eduardo, after her ordeal with hypnosis she gets very worried about the curse of the mummy coming down on them for stealing ancient Aztec treasure.

Pinacate: Crox Alvarado plays the comic relief. A friend/assistant/sidekick to Dr. Almada, he’s a big ol’ fussy coward with Clark Kent glasses. That’s pretty much it.

Dr. Sepúlveda: Jorge Mondragón plays Flor’s father, another scientist and a close friend of Dr. Almada’s.

Pepe Almada: Jaime Quiñones plays Eduardo’s adolescent brother. He likes tagging along for adventures, though doesn’t really bring much to the table.

Dr. Krupp/The Bat: Luis Aceves Castañeda is our villain. At first he seems to be just another respected scientist skeptical of Dr. Almada’s theories, but it turns out he’s the mysterious Bat who is terrorizing the city. He doesn’t really do much in this movie though.

Tierno: Arturo Martínez plays the Bat’s right hand henchman. While the goons might not be particularly smart at much, they are fiercely loyal to their boss, and he seems to treat them well in return.

Popoca: Ángel Di Stefani is our mummy, though Popoca in his full splendor is only at the end of the movie. In life, he had a giant hat, in death, an adequate but not great costume. Popoca doesn’t like lights shining in his eyes (though to be fair, who does?) and doesn’t like dynamite much either.

The Bat knows the value of wearing a fedora at a rakish angle

Directed by Rafael Portillo, the movie is…well, a low budget Mexican 50’s monster movie. The mummy isn’t around very much, there’s a lot of talking, and a fair amount of stock footage. So like a lot of stuff from contemporary America, just in Spanish. Unlike the sequels this doesn’t have any long flashback sequences, so that’s a plus. Unfortunately, the Aztec ceremony that gets flashed back to in the sequels is much longer and more annoying in this one. Seriously, that’s a long, annoying stretch of film to sit through.

Story by Guillermo Calderon & Alfredo Salazar, adaptation by Alfredo Salazar. First thing to notice is that the Popoca storyline borrows HEAVILY from the Universal Mummy movies. Mummy cursed with undeath because he messed with private stock? Then when he gets reanimated, he learns that his lost love is reincarnated? Yep, seen that before. The subplot with the Bat is new, though reminiscent of movie serials.

Still, the movie does take the novel step of using an Aztec mummy instead of an Egyptian-style one.

Original music by Antonio Díaz Conde. Most of the time its standard 50’s monster movie fare, but when they do the Aztec ceremony flashback, man it gets annoyingly shrill. Actually, it tends to get shrill more often than is required.

So I’ve finally seen La momia azteca and it is everything I expected it to be: a low budget monster movie. There’s lots of cheese, lots of bizarre conversations that try to sound pseudo-scientific, and there’s an Aztec Mummy. It definitely has an Aztec Mummy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

“A superior intelligence has come from Venus in MY satellite, established residency, turned off the world’s power, and is about to take over the world’s population.”

Roger Corman. Oh dear. Well, this 1956 alien invasion movie features two very well-known actors contending with a monster from another world, only on Corman’s infamous shoestring budget. It Conquered The World in only 71 minutes. 71 very long minutes.

In the rural hill town of Beechwood, there’s a space research station that is preparing to launch the first man-made satellite into orbit. The lead scientist’s best friend, another scientist, tries to stop the launch with dire warnings of the potential of alien intervention keeping mankind from entering space. They go ahead with the launch anyway, and some time later, the satellite disappears mysteriously (having been transported to Venus) and returns to Earth orbit much, much quicker than a round trip like that would take. The rocket then crashes to Earth and the Venusian passenger within starts deploying bat-things to take over the minds of assorted important people to begin conquering the world. He’s aided in this (over the radio) by the hero’s best friend, leading to an ideological, as well as physical confrontation.

Dr. Paul Nelson: Peter Graves is our standard-issue science hero. A man of ambition and exploration, he also values human independence and free will, and really hates the idea of something that would or could limit human freedom. Despite the movie’s massive downer ending, he gets a surprisingly good speech about the need for mankind to feel emotions.

Dr. Tom Anderson: Lee Van Cleef is Dr. Nelson’s best friend and someone who’s been laughed out of most scientific circles for his crazy ideas. Well he’s had it with your primitive Earth bullying! He’s got a friend that he talks to on the radio who lives on Venus and who’s coming to Earth to solve all the problems that human emotions cause. Figures that would be when the crackpot is actually right. Regardless, he gives a pretty good performance, all things considered.

Joan Nelson: Sally Fraser plays our hero’s wife, a supportive and kind woman who eventually gets her mind taken over by the alien. Paul doesn’t like that one bit.

Claire Anderson: Beverly Garland plays Tom’s wife and is the real female lead since she gets probably the meatiest performance out of the film. She’s torn between love for her husband and hatred for his part in the invasion when she finds out about it. She ultimately decides to go and confront the alien herself, even giving it a fiery little speech about it.

Brigadier General James Pattick: Russ Bender (a Corman film regular) plays a general who gets taken over by aliens fairly early. He then sends a unit of soldiers out on a patrol to keep them away from the lab.

The Venusian: One of only 9 living Venusians, he comes to Earth hoping to conquer it for his people. I think a picture would best describe the creature, so here you go:

That is the "It" what "conquered the world." There’s stories circulating that the effects guys made him squat because he came from a high-gravity planet, but when Beverly Garland laughed at it and kicked it over, Corman told them to make it bigger.

Roger Corman, the B-Movie King, directed this, and there’s a certain “style” to Corman’s films. The films were all shot really fast on low budgets and used a lot of padding. What kind of padding? Well, there’s a fair amount of stock footage and then even more shots of people (usually Peter Graves) going from one place to another; either walking, driving, or even bicycling. Naturally, that kind of stuff bogs the pacing down something fierce, and the movie really slouched along until we get to a pretty big climax (by Corman standards) that ends with a rather hefty body count.

As for the effects, well, you’ve seen the Venusian. The alien also shoots out probes that attach to the back of the neck and take over the mind. They look like rubber bats on string.

Lou Rusoff & an uncredited Charles B. Griffith, the story is actually kind of interesting. A crafty alien lands on earth, shuts down pretty much all power supplies (even wristwatches and water hoses somehow), and starts picking off authority figures so he can use them to keep the rest of the people in line. Add to it a fairly thorough anti-Communist subtext (invaders make everyone equal by brainwashing them sort of thing) and you have some interesting Cold War era sci-fi ruminations. Just not quite interesting enough to pad out 71 minutes, so we get lots of walking scenes.

Original music by Ronald Stein, the score is your standard issue 50’s B movie soundtrack with “spacey” sounds and punctuations of fanfares.

Shabby alien aside, It Conquered The World is actually a pretty dark film for 1956. By the end of it, Dr. Paul Nelson is pretty much the only named character still standing. That’s dark. There’s apparently no way to undo the mind control. That’s dark. I don’t want to give the impression that the movie is good, because its not. It is a cheesy, low-budget 50’s sci-fi flick that’s really boring except for the scenes with Graves, Van Cleef, and Garland, and the finale brings everything together for a brutal and grim ending. It’s an interesting film, and pretty good for a Corman film.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

“Do the dead leave the living in peace?”

Thought I was done with mummies, did you? Well you’re wrong! Vampires and Zombies are horribly overplayed and Werewolves are kind of close, so you know what monster I’ve decided to champion? The humble Mummy. So get ready world, as I force feed you mummies until you think you’re Ramesses the Great.

But why stop at mere mummies? How about GHOST Mummies! And with an added dose of FRENCH GHOST MUMMIES! Which is kind of the premise of 2001’s Belphégor - Le fantôme du Louvre (AKA Belphegor: The Phantom of the Louvre). Sadly, I don't think there's any way the movie can live up to the mental image of French Ghost Mummies I have in my mind now.

In 1935, a French archeologist found a strange mummy in Egypt that zaps him with some kind of energy. He seems unharmed by it, except for the nightmares and sleepwalking and ships the mummy back to Paris, but on the voyage, something drives him and the ship’s crew to madness and suicide.

Cut to the modern day as the mummy’s sarcophagus is found in a back room at the Louvre. This raises a lot of questions. Why was he lost in storage for so long? Why was his name scratched off of everything? Who is he? Why is he extra ugly? Who poisoned him and bashed him over the head to make sure he was good and dead?

After an MRI scan lets his ghost loose, the mummy starts shorting out the museum’s electrical grid, which is inconvenient as they’re doing some remodeling, which borders an apartment building where our protagonist lives. She gets possessed by the mummy’s ghost and starts blacking out at night and a mysterious robed figure stalks the Louvre, which leads to the deaths of several security guards on the night shift. Hmmm…

Lisa: Sophie Marceau is our main character. She runs a perfume shop (that gets seen once to establish that she runs a perfume shop and the lease is going up) and has a grandmother who raised her after her parents died. After the power in the city block starts fluctuating, she meets a young electrician and her grandma tries to hook the two up, then gran dies and Lisa goes a little “manic pixie dream girl” and sneaks into the Louvre at night (because the construction knocked a convenient hole in the wall of her apartment) and gets possessed by the ghost mummy and starts acting all neurotic and switching between normal and possessed modes.

Martin: Frédéric Diefenthal plays the amiable electrician who gets called in a couple times to fix the power in Lisa’s building. There’s attraction there, and he tries to cheer her up after grandma’s death, but after getting a little closer to her, she starts acting all weird and crazy and tossing him through the relationship wringer. He ends up being steadfast enough to see the movie through, but he sure falls for a girl with a lot of baggage. He also plays guitar in a band because of course he does.

Inspector Verlac: Michel Serrault plays a veteran security guard who used to work in the Louvre during the 60’s and encountered the being haunting the place back then. Now he returns, though the museum director is reluctant to bring him back in.

Glenda Spencer: Julie Christie plays an English archeologist called in to examine the mummy and is trying to figure out the corpse’s identity. Eventually she and Inspector Verlac get a nice flirty dynamic going.

Belphégor: Our mummy du jour is both a desiccated, dried out corpse incapable of locomotion (just like a real mummy) and a CGI glowing orange ghost without a lower body that can fly around and bare his skull for the audience. Its worth noting that for most of the movie, only the viewer can see the ghost and the characters cannot. “Belphégor” is not his real name (Belphegor is a name in demonology that also inspired an Austrian metal band of the same name) and the spirit is very upset that his name has been forgotten and wiped away. So upset that he’s possessed a woman, gotten her into a fancy robed costume and has her going around the Louvre at night grabbing artifacts for a ritual and terrifying the guards. There’s also a scene where Lisa and Martin are getting it on before Belphégor intervenes and starts choking Martin. That mummy is into some kinky stuff.

Directed by Jean-Paul Salomé, the movie has two memorable visual things going for it. The first is the CGI ghost of the mummy which spends most of the movie invisible to anyone except the audience. There are times when Belphégor fights those who would stop it, and these induce hallucinations in the victim of whatever it is they fear the most (usually ending in a violent suicide). The effects during these scenes are kind of hit or miss, but they’re brief enough that it doesn’t matter much.

The second is the very, very nice cinematography that makes the Louvre look absolutely gorgeous. If nothing else, this movie serves as a fine bit of cinematographic publicity for one of the most famous museums in the world.

Based on the 1927 horror novel “Belphégor” by Arthur Bernède (which was quite a popular book in France; spawning a movie serial, a 60s TV show, comic strip and other stuff). From what I gather, the adaptation by Jean-Paul Salomé, Danièle Thompson, and Jérôme Tonnerre took liberties with the original in order to make it more supernatural. As it stands, the characters are somewhat archetypal, especially Lisa and Martin. The side characters fare a little better, with Verlac & Spencer as well as some of the security guards getting some nice moments here and there.

Original music by Bruno Coulais. Its quite good and a bit similar to his score for Coraline, in that it throws in a lot of exotic sounds and cues mixed with electronic beats for an otherworldly atmosphere. In this case, said atmosphere is Egyptian infused. I dig it.

In the end Belphégor - Le fantôme du Louvre is more of a straight-up urban fantasy tale than a horror movie, and its more of a ghost story than a mummy movie, but it is an interesting little curio all the same. I wouldn’t call it particularly great or enthralling, but the cinematography is actually very well done and tells its story competently enough. Not sure I’d watch it again, but the experience itself was painless.

Yes, its a German trailer for a French film.

Monday, October 24, 2011

“Greetings my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.”

Two years ago I reviewed Ed Wood, a well-made, heartwarming movie about a bad filmmaker and his dreams of movie glory. Well, its time to let Edward D. Wood Jr.’s magnum opus speak for itself. In 1959 he gifted Plan 9 From Outer Space to the world, and the world hasn’t stopped laughing.

We open with CRISWELL PREDICTS, where Criswell, the Nostradamus of the 20th Century, babbles some vague and redundant sentences before mentioning grave robbers from outer space. Then we get into the credits and the real plot. After burying his wife, a grieving old man is killed off-screen by a car. An pilot landing at Burbank Airport sees a flying saucer out of his window. The aliens land and proceed to raise the old man and his wife from their graves with SPACE SCIENCE and the undead start killing people in a cemetery, including a cop investigating it (and then reanimating him). The military fires ineffectually on some flying saucers. Things begin to escalate between the humans and aliens and the aliens decide to destroy humanity before its destructive potential can start blowing up a sun and causing universal catastrophe. If you think that plot sounds somewhat reasonable, then congratulations, you haven’t seen Plan 9 before.

Jeff Trent: Gregory Walcott as our square-jawed pilot. He’s the closest thing to a protagonist everyman, I suppose. He lives right next to the cemetery where the aliens have set up base, which must’ve been some cheap real estate.

Paula Trent: Mona McKinnon is Jeff’s wife and loyal and supporting of him. She gets chased around by some of the monsters. She’s also got one hell of a sentence featuring the word “there.”

Ghoul Man: Bela Lugosi, and yes, that’s his credit in this, his last film. Infamously, Wood shot some footage of Lugosi early in the production (as a grieving old man and then in his Dracula costume) and then Lugosi (an old man who developed a heroin addiction later in life) passed away. More infamously, Wood used his chiropractor as a replacement body double who covered his face with a cape but couldn’t cover the fact that his hair was different and he was several inches taller.

The sad demise of Bela Lugosi notwithstanding, the “Ghoul Man” breaks into Paula’s house in the dead of day-for-night and chases her out of her house but then is used as the “expendable” undead. The aliens have him confront the humans and then cut off the ray powering him, reducing him to a skeleton. I’m assuming because even Ed Wood knew he couldn’t keep that up for a whole movie. On the plus side, you can’t really knock Bela’s performance because what little there is of him isn’t bad. Its just badly cut into the movie.

Inspector Daniel Clay: Wrestler Tor Johnson, a staple of several terrible movies from the time period (including several of Wood’s). This movie displays why he normally played silent brutes, because Inspector Clay has a near-impenetrable accent while alive. He does, however, come across as an affable guy, just not one cut out for acting.

Vampire Girl: TV hostess Vampira (Maila Nurmi) plays the deceased wife of the Ghoul Man. She also looks a good thirty years younger than her “husband” so go, Bela, go! Anyway, she just wanders around with her wasp waist and her arms outstretched. Her claim to fame was being a California TV personality that played a vampire-type and showed old movies. A Proto-Elvira, if you will. (So much so that she eventually sued Elvira for cribbing her act).

Lieutenant Harper: Duke Moore plays the cop in charge of the investigation after Clay’s death. He’s got famously bad trigger discipline, using his gun to point at everything, which he apparently did to see if Wood noticed or cared. Wood did not and those shots stayed in the film.

Colonel Edwards: Tom Keene plays a military man who gets sent by the Pentagon to investigate things at the cemetery because he’s had experience in shooting at the aliens earlier in the movie.

Eros: Dudley Manlove is the leader of the alien expedition to Earth. Plan 9, which deals with the resurrection of the dead, is his idea of conquering Earth. He manages to raise three corpses from the grave. Corpses that can’t really tell friend from foe without direct control via electro guns. Plan 9 is not a good plan. Worse, when the humans finally confront him about what’s been going on, he explains that since humanity, even as backward and stupid as it is, is close to discovering Solarnite, a means through which they can explode sunlight itself and destroy the galaxy. Or something. He explains this in the most condescending way possible, so its hard to actually feel bad for him when he gets socked in the jaw.

Tanna: Joanna Lee plays Eros’ much more level-headed (and cuter) sidekick. She’s also less into the plan to wipe out humanity with an army of zombies.

Ruler: John “Bunny” Breckinridge plays the ruler of the aliens. Eros shows off Tor to him as a proof-of-concept for Plan 9 and then Tor almost strangles Eros when the control mechanism malfunctions. Despite this, the Ruler approves of Plan 9. These are really dumb aliens.

Criswell: Criswell himself provides narration for the film, and, well, has the best delivery actually. He spouts nothing but nonsense, but he says it with such conviction that even when he reads “Future events such as these will affect you in the future” from a cue card, you kind of accept the purple prose and his weird haircut.

Edward D. Wood Jr. directed it, and it shows. Wood famously didn’t like re-shooting scenes, so the movie is rife with continuity gaffs and things that would be considered bloopers in other movies (like Tor struggling to get out of his grave). Day-for-night is not just used, but abused, as is stock footage. The flying saucers not only wobble but the strings are clearly visible. Wood also edited the movie, so that’s bad too, the worst examples being soudstage shots set at night intercut with “night” shots shot on location. It would be an unsafe idea to take a drink every time there’s an editing error, which means I’m sure there are already several out there on the internet.

Edward D. Wood Jr. on script duty as well, and it shows. The bare plot (aliens come to Earth and raise zombies to preemptively conquer Earth before it becomes a cosmic problem) is not horrible in itself. But then the plot gets mangled anyway. The sequence of events that actually takes place is more than a bit incomprehensible. For example, the aliens enact Plan 9 in retaliation for being shot at by the army, but before THAT happens, they’ve already reanimated two corpses. Eros is possibly the worst diplomat ever. The dialog itself is also worth noting, because it is sublimely awful. From Criswell’s ramblings to Paula’s repetitious use of “there” in one sentence to Eros’ speeches, the dialog is both tremendously awful and bloody hilarious to the point of quotability.

There is no actual credit I was able to find for a single composer, so I’m going to go ahead and assume that Wood used a library of stock music, which sounds like something he’d do. The music is actually kind of nice and full of energy and verve and completely fails to match whatever scene it is accompanying on the screen.

There’s a reason why Ed Wood’s name has lived on as the king of the worst movie makers. There are actual movies that are quite a bit worse, but Plan 9 from Outer Space is different in that everything is awful. Bad shooting, bad editing, bad dialog, bad writing, bad props, bad sets, bad soundstages, bad (use of) music, bad effects. There’s just a uniform layer of enthusiastic awfulness that permeates the entire movie. And that right there is the Ed Wood Mark of Quality.

This is a very, very, very, very bad movie, but required viewing for fans of bad movies because it has everything you could want in a failure of a movie.

Friday, October 21, 2011

“This is the stupidest damn thing I’ve heard of yet! Eight guys are dead from balling and you don’t even know what’s caused it!”

How does one follow up the Nightmare On Elm Street series? Well, if you’re like me, you jump to a completely random and irrelevant time period. Like the 70s. I am now convinced the 1970s were a time of tremendous amounts of drugs and insanity, because that’s the only explanation for some of the crazy stuff I’ve seen come from that decade. Today’s case in point is 1973’s Invasion Of The Bee Girls, which is essentially softcore science fiction.

And there goes my integrity.

Oh boy, let’s try and figure this out. In a town in California, a noted scientist working for the State Department dies under mysterious circumstances, the government sends agent Neil Agar (William Smith, who played Conan’s ill-fated dad in the ‘82 Conan the Barbarian, not the Fresh Prince) to investigate.

Big surprise, there’s Mad SCIENCE afoot, this time in the shapely guise of Dr. Susan Harris (played by former Price is Right model Anitra Ford). She’s an entomologist (studies bugs, not word origins) who through some process (which involves nudity, bees and goo) has been able to splice insect genetic...whatever with human females. The process doesn’t change them physically except for turning their eyes black and supposedly compound (except when they’re not), leading to the transformed women to wear sunglassses at almost all times.

These “bee girls” are driven by an insatiable desire to mate with doughy, middle-aged, unattractive scientists (and random other men) and they start dying of an “epidemic” of fatal heart attacks brought about through “sexual exhaustion.”

So Agar has to find a way to stop this murderous bout of nymphomania before the whole town is destroyed. Or something. Anyway, he also teams up with the laboratory’s head librarian Julie Zorn (Victoria Vetri, who as “Angela Dorian” was Playmate of the Year in 1968).

Yeah. Not a lick of it makes sense, but, hey, boobs!

It was directed by Denis Sanders, and it seems like the movie’s budget was spent on boobs. It sure as hell wasn’t spent on lighting or audio equipment (though both might be the fault of the bad print I watched). There is one laboratory set that is interesting, and there’s this gloop that gets poured over the initiates into the Bee Girls. Which I’m pretty sure is an actual fetish with its own proper name but I really don’t want to open that Pandora’s Box.

There’s a script? Difficult to believe, but yes, there is. Its written by Nicholas Meyer, who wrote the screenplays for Star Treks II, IV, and VI (aka, “the Good Ones” of the original crew, so hey, he got a lot better). This movie’s got a lot of bad puns, leaps of logic and excuses to get actresses naked. That’s really all the substance here. The rest of the plot is just window dressing. Tension? Nope. Sympathy for the characters killed? Maybe one of them, but otherwise, Nope.

Audio’s not good, at least not on the version I saw. Original music by Charles Bernstein, who’s actually got quite a body of work to his name, including A Nightmare on Elm Street. Huh. This is one of his early scores and the “main theme” is infectiously catchy in its cheesiness. There’s even a lot of the ol’ “wacka-chicka-wacka” sound so crucial to 70s movies.

Well. It has boobs. Lots and lots of boobs. That’s about the only thing the movie does well. That and the poster. It’s a groovy poster. The rest of Invasion of the Bee Girls is just plain old bad sci-fi mixed with softcore porn, which kind of has an entertainment value all of its own. Its not good by ANY means. But a bizarre, cheesy slice of 70s drive-in cinema.

Be warned: the trailer sort of, kind of, almost skirts the line of NSFW.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

“The only way to stop him is to make another movie.”

And here we are, the end of our little odyssey into Elm Street. There’s been good, there’s been bad, but all of its been surreal. 1994 brought about another final sendoff for Freddy Krueger, this time with Wes Craven returning to the help of the Good Ship Elm Street. The result was Wes Craven's New Nightmare, the real finale of original ideas for the character (since after that, the series only begat crossovers and reboots).

We open, as always, with a nightmare sequence. This time its of an updated version of Freddy’s glove being made by special effects guys on the set of a new Nightmare on Elm Street movie, then the glove goes on a rampage and Heather Langenkamp wakes up during an earthquake (since this is LA) and sees her son has got some scratches that are suspiciously similar to those he got in the dream. She’s also been getting harassing phone calls from someone who sounds like Freddy.

Anyway, the 10th Anniversary of the Nightmare on Elm Street series is coming up and Heather & Robert Englund are both really popular on the interview circuit and she also learns that Wes Craven is in the middle of pre-production for a new Nightmare movie. And then her husband dies in a car wreck falling asleep at the wheel. She goes to Craven to hear more about the project, and Wes gives her an explanation that the entity now known as Freddy Krueger is a spirit of pure evil that has been (temporarily) trapped within works of art (namely the Nightmare movies) and sees Heather’s character Nancy as his greatest obstacle to getting free. So Freddy is attacking Heather’s emotional weak spots, i.e. her family, and has his sights set on her young son. Ok, now this is getting a touch complicated.

Long story short, Heather has to save her son (and the world) from Freddy while the line between Heather and Nancy blurs.

Heather Langenkamp/Nancy Thompson: Heather Langenkamp playing herself playing Nancy for one last go around. The southern accent is gone again.

Chase Porter: David Newsom plays Heather’s husband, an effects tech working on pre-production for the new film. He doesn’t get much characterization before he gets offed in a manner that reminded me of The Dream Child, and I don’t know if I want to be reminded of The Dream Child.

Dylan Porter: Miko Hughes plays Heather’s son, an innocent little kid who starts to hear Freddy in his head and starts getting a bit Freddy-like in some of the things he says. He’s not happy about it either, and connects to his stuffed dinosaur as a shield against the evil. It sort of works.

Wes Craven: Wes Craven plays himself (and lives in a nice house). He’s having fresh nightmares about Freddy and using them to work on the script for the new film, though of late he’s been having writer’s block. Its as though Freddy doesn’t want the movie to be made.

Robert Englund: Robert Englund as himself (and also lives in a nice house), and he’s a close family friend of Heather’s. Nice guy and not at all murderous like his screen counterpart.

Freddy Krueger: Robert Englund plays his own screen counterpart, only this time (aside from one early scene in the real world) Freddy is his own separate entity and lacks most of the charm that made him such an interesting antagonist for most of the series. In terms of malevolence, he’s up there with Freddy’s Dead, but he’s also considerably less funny this time around. It seems like they tried to make him a completely serious threat, which…kind of takes away the characteristic that made him such a standout movie monster in the first place, doesn’t it? He still makes lame jokes, but there’s a twinkle in his eyes missing.

John Saxon/Lt. Donald Thompson: John Saxon in a smaller role as both himself and Nancy’s father, showing that reality is starting to blur around the edges for Heather.

Julie: Tracy Middendorf plays Dylan’s babysitter. She’s somewhat competent (for a horror movie character) and tries her hardest to work with Heather to keep Dylan from falling asleep at critical moments. She gets a death pretty much identical to Tina’s, bookending the series.

Wes Craven directed, and the film definitely has more in common with Nightmare 1 and 3 than the others. The dream sequences area as always a high point, but a few of them seem more like mundane life. Likely to blur the line between dream and reality, but the dream sequences that go back to the boiler room and so on are much more memorable. There are a surprisingly few kills in this movie, and the ones that there are either direct callbacks or reminiscent of previous movies.

Now, here’s the thing that actually kind of did bug me about the movie. Freddy’s look goes through a serious overhaul. Yes he still wears the sweater and fedora and yes his body is still burnt. HOWEVER, the sweater isn’t as ratty and the fedora looks like a new felt hat they pulled from the costume department. Worse, the makeup effects for Freddy’s face seem more…plastic this time around. Before his face looked like hamburger and had a wet quality to it, now it looks like a latex mask with more clearly defined bits of flesh and muscle. The claws being part of his hand I can understand as a different type of character, and I actually quite liked the trench coat they added, but man, visually Freddy took a step down.

Written by Wes Craven, I certainly have to give the movie points for doing something new and different. But here’s the thing, it seems like its more interested in exploring themes and concepts and being…meta than it is in presenting interesting characters. Heather Langenkamp and Robert Englund are both interesting to watch since they’re playing themselves, but all the other characters, like Chase and Julie (and…uh, I’m sure there’s other wholly fictional characters with speaking parts) aren’t particularly interesting or memorable. The concepts are interesting, as is the meta-commentary, but the execution feels a little flat. Child characters in horror movies generally annoy me as well, and this is no different (but that’s just me).

J. Peter Robinson on score duties. The music is certainly a product of the mid-90s, eschewing the series’ previous use of heavy use of electronic effects. It works.

New Nightmare is problematic for me, because its not bad, its just a gigantic lateral move from the series in general. I get that its intentional and not a part of the "continuity" of the series. It’s not as cheesy as the previous movies, not as funny, and not quite as interesting as 1 and 3. It’s an adequate movie, sure, and plays with interesting ideas, but I didn’t enjoy it enough to really recommend it.

Scorecard time! Here’s the rundown from best to worst, in my own arrogant opinion:
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare ( I Make No Apologies)
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Nightmare on Elm Street 4; The Dream Master
Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

“Every town has an Elm Street!”

By 1991, the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise decided to put out a final movie in the series, and why not? The last couple were adequate at best. So the series decided to go out big, with lots more effects and lots more of Freddy on screen before killing the horror icon off, presumably for good. The result was Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare and it is CRAZY.

So ten years have passed since The Dream Child, making it 1999. After Alice and her boy Jacob moved away, Freddy came back and went on a massacre in Springwood, Calif--, oh right, “Ohio.” The movie starts with the last surviving kid in the entire city confronted by Freddy in a dream but he gets knocked past the Springwood city limits, which acts as a barrier that Freddy can’t cross. But what about when he?…never mind. The kid gets amnesia from the close call and ends up at a shelter for troubled youth. There, we meet a few said troubled youths and their counselor, who decides it would help jog John Doe’s memory with a road trip back to Springwood. A trip to the orphanage reveals that Freddy had a child of his own, so the race is on to find out who that kid is and if they’re still alive and somehow try to find a way to stop Freddy for real this time.

Oh, and all of the Springwood adults have gone completely insane from the previous massacre of Freddy.

John Doe: Shon Greenblatt is our first protagonist who gets amnesia and is essentially sent out into the rest of the world to find whatever it is Freddy wants. He becomes convinced that he’s Krueger’s long lost scion, so its kind of funny when that backfires on him.

Spencer: Breckin Meyer plays a kid who’s a stoner who doesn’t want to be like his father. He gets the most surreal death scene in which he gets transported into a television and, well…just watch.

And yes, that's Johnny Depp at the beginning of the clip

Carlos: Ricky Dean Logan plays a kid with a hearing aid because his parents physically abused him as a kid. He gets a very ironic death.

Tracy: Lezlie Deane plays an angry, violent girl who was sexually abused by her father as a kid.

Dr. Maggie Burroughs: Lisa Zane plays a psychiatrist in her late 20s who is trying to help these kids but doesn’t really understand the whole dream stuff. Though she starts to, which is good, because the movie telegraphs her as Freddy’s lost child. She’s also pretty hot, so, uh, good job, Freddy?

Doc: Yaphet Kotto (who was the Bond Villain in Live And Let Die and one of the supporting characters in The Running Man) plays a dream therapist working with the kids. He’s a source of information and facts that ends up helping the protagonists quite a lot actually. Sympathetic and competent, he gives one of the better performances of the film.

Freddy Krueger: Robert Englund goes into full-blown camp territory here, hamming and cheesing his way from movie references all the way to pop culture gags to, I shit you not, a joke about Nintendo’s infamous Power Glove. Freddy’s played for laughs more than horror in this installment, but he still manages to get a few choice bits of true devilry out of the movie as well.

With a bunch of odd cameos, like Tom & Rosanne Arnold (as Springwood parents driven over the edge) Johnny Depp (in the above dream sequence), and Alice Cooper as Freddy’s abusive dad (in a flashback).

Directed by Rachel Talalay, the movie doesn’t lack for spectacle. Digital effects were starting to be more prominent so those get used quite a bit. The dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream concept gets used for some nice surprises and as always, Freddy’s dream attacks are a true visual highlight. Pacing is another strength of the movie; despite a lot happening, the flick really does breeze by hitting all the classic Elm Street beats. Some of the effects for the video game based attack on Spencer though are very obviously not game graphics, which I can understand, because in 1991 most graphics were only 8-bit anyway. Still, they go through all the trouble of blue screening Breckin Meyer onto what is essentially a cartoon and they don’t even pixilate it. Bit of a shame that.

It should also be mentioned that the movie also features a climax IN 3-D!!! You can tell that’s the part where the 3-D glasses should be put on because Maggie puts them on. Yeah. It’s pure cheese, and since the video release wasn’t in 3-D, pretty obviously nothing more than a gimmick. I have no idea if the 3-D was well done or not.

Characters by Wes Craven, Story by Rachel Talalay, Screenplay by Michael De Luca. Aside from a few “wha-huh?” elements like telegraphing the “twist” insanely early in the movie (and reducing its impact), the script seems to be self-aware that this is an incredibly cheesy horror-comedy and capitalizes on it. After the last two movies, that’s a refreshing thing.

The flick also adds a bunch of backstory flashbacks to Freddy’s origin, showing him as a messed up kid who murdered small animals and Alice Cooper, and I don’t think any of that stuff was necessary at all to bring any kind of “deeper understanding” of Freddy Krueger’s character. Freddy works because he’s a bogeyman, and bogeymen tend to be simply motivated, which, amusingly, is what the flashbacks show. Freddy is a devilish figure because he was always a devilish figure, even before undeath.

Original music by Brian May (not the guy from Queen). More of an orchestral feel to things this time while still retaining the synthesized elements of the series. There’s also Iron Butterfly, Iggy Pop and…the Goo Goo Dolls? Wow. Did not expect them.

You know what? I really liked Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. It’s not as creepy as the original Nightmare on Elm Street and not as thoughtful and polished as Dream Warriors, but it IS a lot of fun. In a lot of ways, it’s a mirror of Dream Warriors. A new entrant to a group of troubled teens is mentored by a sympathetic adult with a past history with Freddy. And much like Dream Warriors was a culmination of the first 3 movies’ heady concepts and extended metaphors, Final Nightmare is a distillation of the latter 3 movies in the series, with the ridiculously over-the-top violence and evil jokester persona of Freddy (lame jokes and all). Dream Warriors made me go “that’s really interesting.” Final Nightmare made me laugh my ass off with childish enjoyment. It’s the funniest in the series, and really shows the flexibility of the Freddy character and I think that’s part of what makes him an iconic film monster; the ability to be serious and clownish at the same time and provide a knowing wink to the audience that there is something inherently weird and goofy about all this bizarre dream imagery.

So yeah. I liked it and recommend Final Nightmare as a cheesy horror-comedy. Haters gonna hate. But this movie was anything but genuinely “final.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

“Faster than a bastard maniac! More powerful than a loco-madman! It's... Super Freddy!”

The Dream Master wasn’t a very good movie, but it was enjoyable enough and made crazy amounts of money for a horror film, so that pretty much guaranteed a sequel. A sequel that builds on what the previous movie did, good and bad. It’s 1989’s A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child.

A year after the last movie, Alice and Dan are a couple and seemingly free of Freddy. Alice starts dreaming of a nun, Freddy’s mom Amanda Krueger. Alice and Dan graduate high school and party with their new friends. Alice also starts having dreams about a baby turning into Freddy. After Freddy causes her boyfriend to fall asleep at the wheel and die in a collision, Alice finds out she’s pregnant with Dan’s baby and starts seeing a kid named Jacob. There’s a bunch of stuff about trying to find Amanda Krueger’s body and something about how Freddy is using the dreams of Alice’s unborn baby to enter the dreams of other people and…yeah, this movie actually makes no sense whatsoever and a lot of time is spent on characters trying to explain the incomprehensible plot.

Alice Johnson: Lisa Wilcox, only now much more blonde. And pregnant. While not nearly as irksome this time around, there’s also not a lot of character development going on. Her boyfriend dies a horrible death and that doesn’t really seem to bother her as much later on as it should. She gets a lot of weird scenes with Freddy and Jacob (her unborn son) and there’s a whole motherhood angle touched upon and how it’s a scary thing. She’s oddly not as competent or heroic as she was at the end of the last movie. And Jacob’s kind of goofy by the end.

Dan Jordan: Danny Hassel is not in this movie much. He’s still a jock and still with Alice, and manages to fall asleep at the wheel. That’s about it.

Greta Gibson: Erika Anderson plays a would-be model. The series has a weird undercurrent of mothers who are either complete bitches or negligent in some other way. Kind of weird. Anyway, she gets force-fed to death because of Freddy’s blunt sense of irony.

Yvonne: Kelly Jo Minter wants to be an Olympic level diver and she’s the resident skeptic. She thinks Alice’s dream thing is crazy.

Mark Gray: Joe Seely is a comic book nerd who’s actually surprisingly helpful at researching information on how to fight Freddy. Sadly, he gets offed in a really weird dream sequence where he confronts Freddy as his dream-powered alter-ego the Phantom Prowler (kind of evocative of the Wizard Master in 3)

Freddy Krueger: Robert Englund is seriously the really only good thing throughout the movie. He continues to be great in this, with some moments of awesome dickery that hammers home the one constant thread throughout these movies: Freddy Krueger is a complete and total asshole with no redeeming qualities other than mugging for the audience watching at home. That’s the simple truth of the character. There is absolutely no subtlety to the character at all. He is evil for the fun of it, unrepentant, and unstoppable and he loves every minute of it. Being a hideously scarred undead creature that can only prowl inside people’s dreams has the tradeoff of giving him nigh-limitless reality warping powers within dreams. He’s essentially a god within his area of expertise. That right there’s the core dichotomy of Freddy Krueger. He’s a destructive, vengeful being with godlike power and a childish sense of humor that can be defeated (temporarily) by waking up. No wonder he’s associated with kids so much, because he’s like the ultimate personification of childish mischief without any limits or controls.

Directed by Stephen Hopkins, the movie continues to be extremely 80s in its style and seems to know that what the audience is here for is the bizarre dream scenes. The movie delivers these in great detail. The effects are nice, and the major Freddy kills are actually pretty damn memorable. Set design for the dreams continues to be pretty cool, including one M.C. Escher-like area where the geometry is all kinds of improbable.

And then Freddy skateboards because skateboards were cool in 1989.

Characters by Wes Craven, Story by John Skipp, Craig Spector, & Leslie Bohem with Screenplay by Leslie Bohem. Here, the script is definitely a mess when it doesn’t involve Freddy murdering people in their dreams. The teens are fairly uninteresting, the dialogue is boring and a lot of scenes are spent on exposition. The plot itself is a horribly convoluted thing that just doesn’t make sense. Freddy wants to be a father so he can give birth to himself so he can do what…? He’s using Jacob’s dreams to attack other people. I get that. But from there it just gets confusing. And kind of goes in a weird Freudian direction.

Original music by Jay Ferguson, which continues the fine tradition of a very 80s style horror score. Other music includes tracks from MAMMOTH, WASP (their capitalization, not mine), Schoolly D and Kool Moe Dee, because rap/hip-hop was just newly discovered by white people in 1989 (see Ghostbusters II) The soundtrack works and there’s nothing bad or wrong about it.

The Dream Child is probably the lowest point for the Nightmare On Elm Street series by virtue of being really, really boring when Freddy’s not around. Freddy’s Revenge might be harder to sit through because it goes completely off the reservation, but The Dream Child is just plain forgettable. If you’re going through the series like I did, then yeah, its worth a watch, but for a standalone experience, avoid it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

“Tell ‘em Freddy sent ya.”

1988, A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. Direct sequel of the story of the previous movie. Made a lot of money. Let’s just get into it.

So the three kids who survived the last movie have been released from Westin Hills and move out of Elm Street to a new high school where they live normal lives and develop a new circle of friends one year later. Naturally, this idyllic life comes to a crashing end as Freddy returns to haunt teens in their dreams. He wants to tie up loose ends, so he goes after the Elm Street survivors, finally finishing off Kristen, but not before she passes some of her dream power off onto new protagonist Alice, who tries to find a way to stop Freddy as he starts killing off all of HER friends.

The Three Survivors of the last movie:

Kristen Parker: Tuesday Knight instead of a pregnant Patricia Arquette this time. Kristen starts off as our main character and a gateway to the next set of characters. She still has the power to suck her friends into her dreams and I have to admit, I didn’t see the switch coming with Kristen’s death. It kind of works, but on the other hand, I don’t think Alice is a better protagonist than Kristen. Oh, and I guess she smokes now too.

Roland Kincaid: Ken Sagoes again, and he’s still got super strength in his dreams. Remember how he’s a black character who survived the previous horror movie? This time he’s the first to die, but at least he goes down swinging.

Joey Crusel: Rodney Eastman again, and since the events of the last movie, he can speak again. His dream power is a powerful voice/sonic thingy. He’s kind of a perv now, being a horny teenage boy, and gets drowned in a waterbed.

Alice Johnson: Lisa Wilcox plays our new protagonist. Her dad’s a drunk and she’s a meek girl who is a compulsive daydreamer. Alice tries to advise Kristen that when she dreams, to make happy dreams. Naturally this doesn’t work. After she gets Kristen’s powers, this turns out to be a bad thing, since someone who involuntarily daydreams is able to pull friends into said dreams (yeah, they lump daydreams in with regular dreams here). This isn’t so bad by itself, but its compounded by the fact that A) Alice isn’t exactly guilt-ridden or even realizes that her being able to bring people into her dreams is exactly what Freddy wants, and B) she continuously gains new powers from her friends that die, so that in essence, she gets more powerful and less useless the more people around her die. I find that…problematic in a hero.

Sheila Kopecky: Toy Newkirk plays a glasses nerd with asthma. Could they have made a more vulnerable character? Anyway, she gets dragged into one of Alice’s daydreams and Alice uselessly watches Sheila get asphixiated.

Debbie Stevens: Brooke Theiss plays a somewhat bitchy girl who’s into fitness, big hair and a fear of bugs. She dies the most Kafkaesque death in the series.

Rick Johnson: Andras Jones plays Kristen’s boyfriend & Alice’s sister. He likes martial arts. Alice ends up pulling him into a dream and again, Freddy slaughters him too. But Alice ends up getting his leet kung-fu, so its okay!

Dan Jordan: Danny Hassel plays the tall jock that Alice has the hots for. He’s loosely connected to the circle of friends at first, but progressively gets more involved as Alice starts to absorb the positive traits of her friends.

Freddy Krueger: Robert Englund is the best part of this movie. The puns are ramped up a bit further in this film, but I think that works here because the stereotypes and cheesiness of everything else is also broadened. Here’s also the point in the series where Freddy’s personality completely outshines the heroes, who become broadly realized archetypes who only serve as symbolic humans and are therefore much more difficult to feel bad for. Freddy’s plot, that of using Alice as a fishing lure to draw fresh souls for him to feed on and torment is kind of neat, but nothing spectacular. And its just funny seeing Freddy burst out of a sand castle on a sunny beach and put on shades.

Renny Harlin? The man who would go on to direct Die Hard 2: Die Harder, Cliffhanger, and Cutthroat Island? Yes, he directed The Dream Master early in his career. Sure, it would be easy to make jokes, but honestly, the cinematography is fine in this and the pacing works reasonably well. The movie does swap protagonists, essentially splitting it in two parts, which is a bit odd, but nothing horrid. Moreover, the effects remain impressive and the dreamscapes continue to be highly imaginative. Despite its flaws, several of the sequences are really iconic, like the roach motel and the waterbed. My favorite scene has to be the part where Alice and Dan try to rush to Debbie’s rescue but are caught up in a dream that loops over and over until if slowly dawns on them. That's actually really inventive. And I will admit, the final showdown between Alice and Freddy is actually kind of kickass in a music video sort of way. Oh, and Freddy gets resurrected in a dream when Kincaid’s dog Jason pisses fire on his grave. Don’t see that every day.

Characters by Wes Craven, Story by William Kotzwinkle & Brian Helgeland, and Screenplay by Brian Helgeland, and Scott Pierce. I think its here that the movie really suffers. From inconsistencies with the previous movie to ill-defined characters and really vague plot elements like some kind of a spell to stop Freddy and turning him and Alice into guardians of the gates of bad and good dreams respectively. It makes The Dream Warriors’ super powered institutionalized teens seem restrained and plausible in comparison.

Original music by Craig Safan, which continues the whole “it’s the 80’s” thing quite well. There’s also a significant licensed soundtrack, featuring the Divinyls, Dramarama, the Fat Boys, Blondie, Sinead O’Connor and a bunch of bands I hadn’t heard of. The theme song “Nightmare” is actually kind of nice, and its sung by Tuesday Knight.

If there’s a slippery slope for the Nightmare series, its definitely The Dream Master. Freddy remains as entertaining as always, but you can tell that various ideas were thrown around to see what stuck. Despite the marked downturn in quality from Dream Warriors, this one’s still fairly entertaining and really maintains the quality of the dream sequences, which are the bread and butter of the series at this point. It’s just that anything outside of Freddy and the dreams doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny.

Friday, October 14, 2011

“In my dreams I am the Wizard Master.”

So despite the horrid mess of a movie that Freddy‘s Revenge was, the Nightmare series survived and even brought Wes Craven back. The results are a marked improvement in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.

So now it’s 6 years after the first film (the events of the second being quietly swept under the rug) and a teen girl is so haunted by a strange house in her dreams that she makes a replica house of it. It’s the Thompson house on Elm Street and after a dream attack that leaves her wrists slashed, she gets institutionalized at Westin Hills Hospital. In said institution, she meets a bunch of other kids similarly plagued by nightmares. These are the “last of the Elm Street children” and Freddy wants to finish cleaning house, so to speak. Despite opposition from the chief of the hospital, Nancy and Neil start working with the kids to be able to control their actions in their dreams (essentially lucid dreaming), and they all kind of develop specific “dream powers” that will hopefully help them combat Freddy and stop him from coming back to the real world.

Nancy Thompson: Heather Langenkamp returns a bit later in the movie. She’s an adult now and after her previous experiences, she’s gone into psychiatry to help other kids tortured by bad dreams and whatever. She’s the shock of white hair she‘s got has somehow migrated to the other side of her face and for some reason has picked up a southern accent OUT OF NOWHERE.

Kristen Parker: Patricia Arquette plays our protagonist. She’s an average teen who’s misunderstood, but she’s also got moxie and initiative. Her dream power is the ability to pull other people into her own dreams.

Jennifer Caulfield: Penelope Sudrow plays one of the kids at the institute who’s offed fairly early on. She’s a wannabe TV actress and a couch potato and probably gets one of the most memorable deaths in the movie. Welcome to prime time, indeed.

Taryn White: Jennifer Rubin is a former junkie who’s feisty and sarcastic nature hides a very damaged girl. Her dream power is two switchblades. …Yeah.

Will Stanton: Ira Heiden plays kid who was paralyzed in a previous suicide attempt to escape his nightmares. He’s a fan of a generic equivalent to D&D and his dream power is that he’s got wizard powers. Yeah, sure, okay.

Roland Kincaid: Ken Sagoes is actually quite likable as the aggressive, mouthy black kid who picks super strength as his dream power, which is an entirely sensible choice.

Joey Crusel: Rodney Eastman plays a kid so traumatized by nightmares that he can’t even speak. He kind of becomes a Macguffin, getting captured by Freddy and used as bait for the other kids to try and rescue him.

Philip: Bradley Gregg plays Freddy’s first victim in the movie and as such he’s a bit vague of character. He’s got a penchant for sleepwalking though, and that ends…badly.

Dr. Neil Gordon: Craig Wasson plays the lead psychiatrist in charge of the kids’ cases. He’s a well-meaning chap and does his best to try and figure things out. He gets a subplot where he starts seeing the ghost of a nun providing him with clues to Freddy’s backstory and origins.

Lt. Donald Thompson: John Saxon! He’s back, though somewhat estranged from his daughter Nancy. He’s needed because to stop Freddy, they need to bury his bones

Max: Laurence Fishburne. Yes! Really! He plays a kindly orderly who follows orders but stays charitable to the kids.

Freddy Krueger: Robert Englund really starts getting into the swing of things. Freddy’s personality solidifies as a wicked punster with a dark sense of poetic villainy, and things really take off whenever he’s on screen. We also get backstory. Apparently, his mother, a nun working at the hospital, was somehow locked up in the psych ward and all the inmates got out and assaulted and raped her, making him, in effect, the bastard son of 100 maniacs.

I think everyone's obligated to post this pic when discussing Dream Warriors.

Chuck Russell directed the film. Keeping most of it in a psych ward in a hospital helps to lend a claustrophobic atmosphere to it. However, that’s not where the movie shines. The movie’s absolute strength is found in the truly imaginative special effects. There are a lot of dream sequences in this movie. Some obviously so, other not so much. It allows for a wide range of special effects going from several stop motion puppets (a skeletal Freddy with his glove is a highlight), a bit of early CGI in some places, and a cornucopia of practical effects which are fantastically done. The dream sequences are a real highlight and the Freddy kills start to get really imaginative. You can tell this movie had a budget and it made effective use of it.

Story by Wes Craven & Bruce Wagner, Screenplay by Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont, & Chuck Russell. The story is actually quite complicated. It has to juggle a lot of characters, at least two major plotlines, the introduction of major backstory elements, and has an underlying theme that touches upon mental illness and a little bit of teen suicide. This movie has a lot going on, plot-wise, and manages to pull it off very well. There’s also a high degree of camp in the movie, what with Freddy’s numerous one-liners, several goofy (but imaginative) dream sequences, and the fact that the teens all have highly specialized “dream powers” by the end of the movie. There’s no two ways around it: a group of misfit teens use their super powers to fight Freddy Krueger. That’s GOOFY. And I like it that way.

Original score by Angelo Badalmenti, which is again, fully atmospheric and fully enmeshed in 1987.

Oh yes, and the theme song was written by Dokken. Dokken! Not only does “Dream Warriors” rock out as only 80’s hair metal can, the music video for it is amazing.

So much hair, GLORIOUS HAIR!

Dream Warriors is a great entry in the Nightmare series. It’s got outstanding effects, a capable cast and I think Englund’s straddling the line between menacing and cheesiness is at its height in the series. Entertaining and thoroughly satisfying.

Probably the best trailer for the Nightmare series.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

“Hello, dirtballs.”

1985 ushered in A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge, and brother, let me tell you, it goes off the rails in a hurry.

Five years after the first movie, a new family moves into the Thompson residence in Springwood. They’re the Walshes, and their oldest son, Jesse, is in high school; he gets Nancy’s old room (and finds her diary). Jesse starts to experience nightmares of a similar nature and starts getting both freaked out and sleep deprived. Slightly a social outsider, he’s got a hot girlfriend and an athletic buddy, so he’s not THAT much of an outcast. About the only real problem he’s got is the gym coach doesn’t like him. Anyway, Jesse starts getting possessed by Freddy and Freddy starts murdering people in the real world. This is a problem. It culminates in an abandoned factory that bears a resemblance to the traditional Freddy Boiler Room (there's always a boiler room).

Jesse Walsh: Mark Patton is our rather whiny protagonist. Compared to the very proactive Nancy, he’s just kind of blah. He’s sympathetic enough and you get that he’s tortured by all this, but he is also pretty much a puppet for Freddy to screw around with. Oh, and he screams like a girl.

Lisa Webber: Kim Myers is our hero’s girlfriend, and she’s watching him with those eyes, and she’d LIKE to love him with that body, but lately something’s changed that ain’t hard to define. Her boyfriend is somehow possessed by an undead murderer. Lisa is actually the proactive character, digging for information on how to stop Freddy and so on.

Ron Grady: Robert Rusler is first Jesse’s rival, then closest friend. Jesse’s also more interested in hanging out with him than the cute girl that wants to get up on him. For his part, Ron doesn’t seem as invested in the friendship between him and Jesse as Jesse is. Draw your own conclusions.

Coach Schneider: Marshall Bell is the school gym coach. He’s a jerk and fond of using “Dirtballs” as an insult. He’s also into dressing as a leather boy and going to gay bars. For some weird reason Jesse finds him in one on a night when he wanders into one such place. It’s a bit bizarre and leads to Freddy killing a very much awake adult in the gym’s shower room.

Freddy Krueger: Robert Englund is easily the best part of the movie. Possibly a bit more vicious than the last time around, he’s definitely more manipulative and also more random in his attacks. The whole possession thing and killing people in the real world really doesn’t jive with anything Freddy’s ever done in anything else before or since.

Directed by Jack Sholder, the movie looks fine and shows a little more polish than the first one. The effects are actually quite good and when Freddy does his thing people die in reasonably imaginative ways.

The acting is rather blah and Jesse’s rather annoying. The characters aren’t very interesting and as such, the pacing suffers a lot, since Freddy’s not on screen for most of the time. Jesse, Lisa and Ron are all rather boring people with little in the way of personality. There is a nice little detail of a message board in the Walsh’s kitchen that changes from day to day, helping to emphasize the passage of time. But it makes me want to follow that storyline as opposed to the one we got. Also, Ohio apparently has not only palm trees but a desert too. As a resident of the state, this is news to me.

On the other hand, a budgie goes berserk and then explodes. I can honestly say I’ve never seen that before.

Based on characters created by Wes Craven and written by David Chaskin, the script is kind of a mess. Sequentially, yes it is a direct sequel to the first movie. Functionally, Freddy is completely different in his entire modus operandi. Possessing a teen and killing people who are wide awake? That’s just not Freddy. Now, considering that this was only the 2nd movie of the series, I guess you could argue that if it was just these two movies it might be “valid” but even that’s a stretch for Freddy’s nature. Freddy being defeated by the power of love? Weird.

Also, the homoerotic subtext is more than just present, it’s pretty obvious. The basic metaphor of it makes sense. A teen is tortured by feelings that are frowned upon in his suburban, middle-class culture. It explains why he doesn’t take advantage of a girl that totally wants him and he would rather spend time with a male friend who doesn’t reciprocate the same way. The sympathetic metaphor falls apart rather quickly when said tortured teen becomes “possessed” by the thing inside him and he starts killing innocent people, including the same friend who’s friendship he values a lot. And then he’s redeemed by reconciling with the girlfriend he’s kind of discarded earlier in the movie. So if that IS the metaphor the filmmakers were going for, what’s the actual message here...?

Original music by Christopher Young, and the story repeats itself for the music: Atmospherically appropriate and extremely 80’s.

Yeah. I can see why Freddy’s Revenge is considered the black sheep of the family. It really doesn’t have much in common at all with its predecessor. Its also not a very good movie with dull characters and extremely muddled symbolism. Englund as Freddy is really the only true virtue for the film, as he still does a great job as the villain. But yeah, its not a very good movie. At all.