Horror Movie Review: A Nightmare On Elm Street (dir by Wes Craven)


Damn, this is a scary movie.

That may seem like an obvious point to make when talking about the original A Nightmare On Elm Street but it’s still one that needs to be made.  I always seem to forget just how scary the original is.  I mean, there’s been so many sequels.  And there was that kind of silly movie where Freddy Krueger fought Jason Vooerhees.  And then there was the fairly forgettable reboot.  Freddy Krueger is something of a cultural icon.  Even people who have never watched any of the movies knows who Freddy Krueger is.  Freddy has become so well-known for his quips and his puns and his bad jokes that it’s easy to forget that the reason he put razors on his gloves was so he could kill children.

Despite the fact that Jackie Earle Haley took over the role in the reboot, Freddy Krueger will always be associated with the actor who first played him, Robert Englund.  What’s interesting is that, whenever you watch or read an interview with Englund, he comes across as being literally the nicest guy in the world.  (His autobiography is one of the most cheerful Hollywood memoirs that I’ve ever read.)  Before he was cast as Freddy, Englund was a fairly busy character actor.  It’s always a little odd when he pops up in some old movie on TCM because, inevitably, he’s always seems to be playing a nice and often kinda shy guy.  Supposedly, when Englund auditioned for the role of Freddy, he darkened his lower eyelids with cigarette ash and he purposefully said very little while meeting with director Wes Craven.  Craven, who based Freddy Krueger on a childhood bully, was impressed enough to cast this very likable actor as one of the most evil killers in the history of horror cinema.

And make no mistake about it.  In the first film, Freddy Krueger is terrifying.  He’s not the joker that he would become in later installments of the franchise. When he does laugh, it’s because he’s taunting his latest victim.  This Freddy isn’t quite as quick-witted as the Freddy who showed up in Dream Warriors and other films.  This Freddy keeps things simple, popping up in your nightmares, chasing you, and, once he catches you, killing you.  It’s not just his glove and his burned faced that makes Freddy terrifying in this film.  It’s how determined and relentless he is.  He’s not going to stop until he catches you and, seeing as how he’s already dead, there’s really not much you can do to slow him down.  Englund plays Freddy as being the ultimate bully.  The only joy he gets is from tormenting the rest of us.  It’s a testament to the strength of Englund’s performance that memories of Freddy dominate our thoughts when it comes to A Nightmare of Elm Street, despite the fact that Freddy is only onscreen for seven minutes.

It’s an effective film, not just because of the nightmare scenes but also because of the scenes that take place in the waking world.  The majority of the film follows Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), Glen (Johnny Depp), Tina (Amanda Wyss), and Rod (Jsu Garcia, who is credited as Nick Corri in this film) as they try not to die.  And let’s be honest.  None of these characters are particularly deep.  Rod’s the bad boy.  Tina’s the rebellious Catholic.  Glen’s the nice guy.  Nancy’s the good girl.  They’re archetypes that should be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a slasher film.  And yet, you really do care about them, especially Nancy and Glen.  (Admittedly, everyone that I’ve ever talked to about this film seems to care about Rod the least.)  Langenkamp, Depp, and Wyss all give such likable performances that you really do find yourself worrying about what will happen to them when and if they fall asleep.

I rewatched A Nightmare on Elm Street last night and I was shocked to discover that, even though I knew what was coming, the movie still scared me.  The sight of Freddy straining against the wall over Nancy’s head was still unbelievably creepy.  The gory scene where Freddy attacks Tina still frightened me, as did the famous geyser of blood scene.  Even the much-parodied scene where Freddy’s glove rises up between Nancy’s legs while she sleeps in the bathtub still made me shudder.

It’s easy to take for granted just how good and scary the original Nightmare on Elm Street actually is.  For horror fans, it’s a film that deserves to be watched this October season.  Just don’t fall asleep afterwards.

Horror Film Review: Wishmaster (dir by Robert Kurtzman)


Remember the Wishmaster films?

There were four of them and they all deal with this ancient Djinn (Andrew Divoff) who, during each film, would escape from his magical prison and then wander around granting people their wishes.  Of course, since the Djinn was evil, there was always a catch.  He would either interpret the wish very literally or he would manipulate people into asking for the wish in the wrong way.  As a result, people would always get their wish but they’d get in a way that would make them suffer.

For instance, a typical Wishmaster conversation would go something like this:

“I wish I was a better actor.”

“Am I to understand that you wish you were John Wilkes Booth?”

“Wait …. what?”

“As you wish.”

Sic semper tyrannis!”

The first Wishmaster was released in 1997 while the fourth (and, to date, last) installment was released in 2002.  They’ve never gotten as much attention as some of the other horror franchises from that period, largely because there was really only so much that you could do with a character like the Djinn.  Part of the problem was that almost every scene depended on someone not understanding the importance of being clear when making a wish.  There’s only so many times that you can watch the Djinn trick people into saying, “I wish I never get old,” before the whole novelty of it all wears off.

That said, the Wishmaster films did have one thing going for them and that was Andrew Divoff.  A veteran character actor (and one who you might recognize from Lost, where he played a member of the Others who was both Russian and who had only one eye), Divoff was always creepy as fug in the role of the Djinn.  Whenever someone made the mistake of making a wish, this little smile would appear on Divoff’s face and you knew that someone was about to learn an important lesson about being careful what you wish for.  Divoff was seriously frightening of the Djinn, so much so that you regretted that the films themselves could never quite keep up with his performance.

Last night, I watched the first Wishmaster film for the first time in six years and it was actually a little bit better than I remembered.  The plot itself is typical Wishmaster stuff.  The Djinn is trapped inside of a gem that eventually makes it way to the United States.  An idiot lab worker attempts to experiment on it, which leads to the gem exploding, the Djinn getting free, and an epidemic of mass wish granting.  Nobody seems to have learned the lesson that the first thing you wish for is more wishes.

Wishmaster is stupid but fun.  The first film was produced by Wes Craven and perhaps that explains why the film is full of cameos from everyone who was anyone in low-budget 90s horror.  As a result, you’ve got Kane Hodder saying that he would “love it if” the djinn “tries to go right through him,” and Robert Englund playing a businessman and Tony Todd showing up as a doorman.  It’s nice to see them all, though ultimately the main reason to watch the film is for Andrew Divoff’s wonderfully smirky turn as the Djinn.  It’s hard not to wish that he had another horror franchise to dominate.

Be care what you wish for!

(Sorry, had to do it….)

 

Music Video of the Day: Dream Warriors by Dokken (1987, dir. ???)


Dokken had a total of three songs, including Dream Warriors, released for A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987). They had their 1984 song, Into The Fire, played at the beginning of the film. I recently watched the movie on DVD, and that was the song played over the opening credits. According to Wikipedia, in theaters, it was also played over the opening credits, but for some reason, the original VHS release used the song Quiet Cool. Maybe there was a rights issue that was resolved by the time they got to the DVD release.

That brings me to the next thing. Not only is this video officially posted, but it’s in 720p. You don’t see that everyday on older videos–no matter how well-known they are. They appear to have done that for all the Dokken music videos that were put up in 2015. I’m really glad they did because it helps this video significantly. I know there’s movie footage in here, but because of the quality of the video, it blends in more with the stuff they shot for the video.

For those of you who haven’t seen Dream Warriors, the film takes place in a mental institution with the last of the offspring of the parents who burned Freddy to death. What happened to Jesse from part 2? Who knows. The best guess people seem to have is that Jesse is the kid they refer to as having cut off their eyelids to escape the nightmares.

A girl named Kirsten, played by Patricia Arquette, has the ability to pull people into her dreams. She’s havnig nightmares about the Elm Street house where Freddy is hanging out with numerous things to remind you of the first film such as a sticky floor.

She ends up getting committed to a mental institution where she meets a variety of different people. The gist is that they all have dreams that transcend their physical conditions, such as the kid in the wheelchair being able to walk, the nerdy kid who plays the movie’s version of D&D actually being a wizard, and Kirsten doing martial arts/gymnastics.

If you go through the different alter-egos of the kids and remember the 1980s, then you quickly realize that they are all things that adults in the 1980s would call hopeless, Satanic, you’re imagining your life away, get real, etc. Despite the emergence of Jokester-Freddy, he does act as a stand-in for parents, faux-Christians, news media, and others who would come up with some excuse to crush the dreams of these kids.

In the end, only a few survive in order to be killed by four screenwriters and director Renny Harlin in the 4th film. At least that’s the way I read it.

Oh, and Nancy is there so that they can leap over part 2 and tell us for sure that her mother did die at the end of the first film. John Saxon also shows up so that we can find out that Freddy’s remains were kept in the trunk of what I swear was the same model car as Christine–no joke.

I understand those parts. Why we needed to find out that Freddy is the child of a nun who was raped hundreds of times–again, who knows.

Anyways, only Kirsten, Freddy, and Dokken are in this music video, so forget about any of that showing up.

The video starts the same way as the movie, with Kirsten making a model house of the Elm Street one. Except this time she remembers to put on protective Dokken wards.

The video gets weird almost immediately because we quickly cut to Dokken being in the house. Did she pull them in?

They seem to be there to bother both Freddy and her. At one point, Freddy even seems to be pissed off that the band is scaring Kirsten more effectively, so he turns one of his stock jump-rope kids that she is holding into a skeleton.

At another point, one of the band members intersects with a scene from the movie to do a guitar solo, which I guess bothers Freddy because he drags him away.

Without the movie in front of me, I’m about 80% sure that Arquette didn’t shoot footage specifically for this music video. Englund on the other hand, definitely did, not only because of his interactions with the band, but because we see Freddy wake up at the end after being defeated by hair metal.

“What a nightmare! Who were those guys?” –Freddy Krueger

I hear you, Freddy. It isn’t fair. Jason gets Alice Cooper and you get Dokken. Don’t worry, he’ll show up as your father a couple of films down the road.

I guess that means we were in Freddy’s nightmare. I haven’t watched parts 5, 6, and 7 yet, so maybe it will make sense then–but probably not. I’m just going to assume that throughout the 1980s, Freddy had nightmares about heavy metal bands.

Enjoy!

Horror Book Review: Hollywood Monster: A Walk Down Elm Street With The Man Of Your Dreams by Robert Englund and Alan Goldsher


What type of actor does it take to bring to life one of the scariest monsters in horror film history?

A damn good one!

Seriously, Robert Englund is a truly underrated actor.  Of course, we all know him best as the original Freddy Krueger.  Whenever I watch the original Nightmare on Elm Street, I’m always surprised by just how scary Englund actually was in that role.  Some of the sequels got a bit too gimmicky and Freddy sometimes seemed to spend more time coming up with one-liners than actually killing people but, in the original Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy is truly terrifying.  Wes Craven deserves a lot of credit for that, of course.  But Robert Englund truly throws himself into that dark role, bringing Freddy to nightmarish life.  Reportedly, Craven’s original choice for Freddy was the British actor David Warner.  It’s nothing against Warner (who is a very fine actor who has played many memorable villains) or, for that matter, Jackie Earle Haley (who took over the role in the 2010 reboot) to say that, after watching the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, it’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Robert Englund in the role.

What is often forgotten is that Robert Englund was a fairly successful character actor before finding fame as Freddy.  It’s not an uncommon occurrence that I’ll be watching an older movie from the 70s and suddenly, out of nowhere, Robert Englund will pop up in a small role.  Interestingly enough, pre-Nightmare Englund seemed to specialize in playing nice guys.  Sure, he played an occasional creep but, usually, it was far more likely that Englund would be cast as the hero’s best friend or sidekick.

Add to that, I have never heard anyone say a word against Robert Englund.  I have never once heard about him being a jerk to his fans.  I’ve never heard any stories about his being difficult on a set.  Every story that I’ve heard about Robert Englund describes him as being friendly, gracious, and easy-going, almost the exact opposite of Freddy Krueger.

That’s certainly the impression that I got from reading Englund’s autobiography.  Published in 2009, Hollywood Monster is quite literally one of the most likable Hollywood memoirs that I’ve ever read.  This memoir is full of stories about both Englund’s early career and his time as a horror movie icon and yet, never does Englund seem to have a bad word to say about … well, anything.  Instead, he writes about encouraging his friend Mark Hamill to audition for Luke Skywalker in Star Wars or how his co-stars all dealt with being victims in the latest Nightmare on Elm Street film.  The book’s tone is cheerful even when talking about what it’s like to be typecast as everyone’s favorite dream killer.  For a Hollywood monster, Robert Englund comes across as being disarmingly likable.

If this memoir was by any other actor, I would complain about the lack of cynicism and bitterness.  But, in Englund’s case, it’s actually kind of sweet.  It’s also rather impressive.  Who would have guessed that such a nice guy could give everyone nightmares?  That’s the power of good acting.

Anyway, Hollywood Monster is an entertaining and often very funny Hollywood memoir.  It’s a fun read and one that I suggest for horror fans everywhere.

 

 

A Movie A Day #174: St. Ives (1976, directed by J. Lee Thompson)


Raymond St. Ives (Charles Bronson) is a former cop-turned-writer who desperately needs money.  Abner Procane (John Houseman) is a wealthy and cultured burglar who needs someone to serve as a go-between.  Five of Procane’s ledgers have been stolen.  The thieves are demanding a ransom and Procane believes that St. Ives is just the man to deliver the money.  But every time that St. Ives tries to deliver the money, another person ends up getting murdered and St. Ives ends up looking more and more like a suspect.  Who is the murderer?  Is it Janet (Jacqueline Bisset), the seductive woman who lives in Procane’s mansion?  Is it Procane’s eccentric psychiatrist (Maximillian Schell)?  Could it be the two cops (Harry Guardino and Harris Yulin) who somehow show up at every murder scene?  Only Ray St. Ives can solve the case!

Charles Bronson is best remembered for playing men of few words, the type who never hesitated to pull the trigger and do what they had to do.  St. Ives was one of the few films in which Bronson got to play a cerebral character.  Ray St. Ives may get into his share of fights but he spends most of the film examining clues and trying to solve a mystery.  The mystery itself is not as important as the quirky people who St. Ives meets while solving it.  St. Ives has a great, only in the 70s type of cast.  Along with those already mentioned, keep an eye out for Robert Englund, Jeff Goldblum, Dana Elcar, Dick O’Neill, Daniel J. Travanti, Micheal Lerner, and Elisha Cook, Jr.  It’s definitely different from the stereotypical Charles Bronson film, which is why it is also one of my favorites of his films.  As this film shows, Bronson was an underrated actor.  In St. Ives, Bronson proves that, not only could he have played Mike Hammer, he could have played Philip Marlowe a well.

St. Ives is historically significant because it was the first Bronson film to be directed by J. Lee Thompson.  Thompson would go on to direct the majority of the films Bronson made for Cannon in 1980s, eventually even taking over the Death Wish franchise from Michael Winner.

A Movie A Day #165: Big Wednesday (1978, directed by John Milius)


If there is a male bonding hall of fame, Big Wednesday has to be front and center.

This episodic movie follows three legendary surfers over twelve years of change and turmoil.  Jack Barlowe (William Katt) is the straight arrow who keeps the peace.  Leroy “The Masochist” Smith (Gary Busey) is the wild man.  Matt Johnson (Jan-Michael Vincent) is the best surfer of them all but he resents both his fame and the expectation that he should be some sort of role model for the younger kids on the beach.  From 1962 until 1974, the three of them learn about love and responsibility while dealing with cultural turmoil (including, of course, the Vietnam War) and waiting for that one legendary wave.

After writing the screenplays for Dirty Harry and Apocalypse Now and directing The Wind and The Lion and Dillinger, John Milius finally got to make his dream project.  Big Wednesday was based on Milius’s own youth as a California surfer and he has said that all three of the main characters were based on different aspects of his own personality.  Expectations for Big Wednesday were so high that Milius’s friends, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, exchanged percentages points for Star Wars and Close Encounters of  The Third Kind for a point of Big Wednesday.  The deal turned out to be worth millions to Milius but nothing to Lucas and Spielberg because Big Wednesday was a notorious box office flop.  Warner Bros. sold the film as a raunchy comedy, leaving audiences surprised to discover that Big Wednesday was actually, in Milius’s words, a “coming-of-age story with Arthurian overtones.”

I can understand why Big Wednesday may not be for everyone but it is one of my favorite movies.  It is one of the ultimate guy films.  Some of the dialogue and the narration may be overwrought but so are most guys, especially when they’re the same age as the surfers in Big Wednesday.  We all like to imagine that we are heroes in some sort of epic adventure.  The surfing footage is amazing but it is not necessary to be a surfer to relate to the film’s coming-of-age story or its celebration of the enduring bonds of friendship.  Katt, Vincent, and Busey all give great performances.  Considering their later careers, it is good that Big Wednesday is around to remind us of what Gary Busey and Jan-Michael Vincent were capable of at their best, before their promising careers were derailed by drugs and mental illness.  Be sure to also keep an eye out for infamous 70s character actor Joe Spinell as an army psychiatrist, a pre-Nightmare on Elm Street Robert Englund, playing a fellow surfer and providing the film’s narration, and Barbara Hale, playing the patient mother of her real-life son, William Katt.

One final note: At a time when the shameful stereotype of the psycho Vietnam vet was becoming popular and unfairly tarnishing the reputation of real-life vets, Big Wednesday was unique for featuring a character who not only joins the Army but who appears to return as a better person as a result.

Insomnia File #24: A Star is Born (dir by Frank Pierson)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you found yourself awake and unable to sleep at 2:30 this morning, you could have always turned over to TCM and watched the 1976 film, A Star is Born. 

A Star is Born gets off to a good start by having Gary Busey give Kris Kristofferson a hit of cocaine.  As I pointed out on twitter, no movie that starts with Gary Busey offering cocaine to Kris Kristofferson can be all bad.

Anyway, Kris is playing John Norman Howard.  John Norman Howard is a big 70s rock star, which means that he has a beard and a bad case of ennui.  Despite all of the cocaine and whiskey, his career is on a downward spiral.  Part of the problem appears to be that he only sings one song and, half the time, he still can’t bring himself to remember all of the lyrics.  The song opens with John growling, “Are you a figment of my imagination or am I one of yours?” and John always ends up storming off stage before we can hear the rest of it.

Anyway, John ends up at this club in Hollywood that looks a lot like the place that Ryan Gosling opened up at the end of La La Land.  While at the club, John gets into a fight with Robert Englund (who I assume was playing a young Freddy Krueger) and totally interrupts the performance of the Oreos.

Who are the Oreos?   They’re a folk-singin’ power trio.  There’s One (Venetta Fields) and Two (Clydie King).  (According to the credits, that’s actually their names.)  And then there’s Esther Hoffman, who has a truly horrid perm and who is played by Barbra Streisand.  One and Two are black.  Esther, who stands right in the middle whenever they perform, is white.  And they’re called The Oreos!

Uhmmm, yeah…

Anyway, we really don’t learn anything about One or Two, beyond the fact that they are totally and completely devoted to Esther.  When Esther gets them fired from recording a cat food jingle, they just smile and laugh.  Sure, why not!?  After all, it’s not like struggling musicians need money or anything.  When Esther interrupts a performance to yell at John, One and Two smile and laugh.  When Esther, under John’s tutelage, becomes a big star and basically abandons the Oreos, One and Two show up at a recording session and smile and laugh.

Last night was my first time to actually see A Star is Born, though I had heard and read quite a bit about it.  Of all the versions of A Star is Born, this one made the most money at the box office but it also got the worst reviews.  Reportedly, the film’s production was a trainwreck with Barbra Streisand and then-boyfriend Jon Peters fighting with … well, everyone.

And yet, like so many cinematic trainwrecks, you simply cannot look away from it.  This version of A Star is Born gets so many things wrong that it becomes rather fascinating to watch.  Perhaps the scene that epitomizes A Star is Born comes when John refuses to perform his one song at a benefit concert and instead, brings out Esther and has her perform her songs.  First off, John’s hard rock band suddenly transforms into a Broadway orchestra and John’s audience — who presumably had paid money to hear that growling song about imagination — is overjoyed to instead have to listen to Esther’s style of lite pop/rock.  (Actually, to even call it rock is to needlessly stretch the definition of rock to its breaking point.)  Making the scene even more bizarre is that 1) John is basically exploiting a benefit concert to launch Esther’s career and 2) since the concert was being performed to support the American Indian Movement, the disembodied head of a Native American woman keeps appearing over Esther’s shoulder while she’s performing songs that have absolutely nothing to do with the cause that the concert is supposedly supporting.  It’s kind of the cinematic equivalent of that Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial.

Anyway, things get even better when John buys an empty field and, in a ten minute montage, John and Esther literally build a house.  Seriously, I’m not kidding.  At no point do we see anyone other than John and Esther working on that house and yet, within a matter of minutes, they have an adobe mansion to live in.  I had no idea it was so easy to build a house.  It makes me wonder why people waste money buying houses when they can just buy an empty field and build their own.

(Maybe they’re scared of the poltergeists.  Imagine how different this version of A Star Is Born would have been if it ended with Esther grabbing John and screaming, “YOU MOVED THE HEADSTONES BUT YOU LEFT THE BODIES, DIDN’T YOU!?  YOU LEFT THE BODIES!”)

Kris Kristofferson is well-cast as John Norman Howard but the film is pretty much centered around Barbra.  That, in itself, wouldn’t be a problem if not for the fact that Barbra is completely miscast.  She’s a great singer but she’s not a rock singer.  You never believe that the same people who want to hear John sing his one song would also want to hear any of Esther’s songs.  The fact that the film is basically 140 minutes of everyone insisting that Esther is the future of music only reminds us of the fact that she’s not.  Her style is throwback to the past, which is one reason why everyone’s grandmother loves Barbra Streisand.

This wouldn’t be such a big deal if Barbra and Kris actually had any chemistry but they really don’t.  There’s a scene where Barbra and Kris take a bath together and Barbra puts makeup on Kris’s face.  Between two people who have chemistry, that would be sexy and sweet.  Between Kris and Barbra, it’s just kind of icky and you find yourself wondering who took the time to light the hundreds of candles surrounding them.  Whenever Barbra and Kris kissed, I worried for her just because all I could think of was the stubble burn that Esther would have to deal with later.

Yet, in the end, the film makes so many mistakes that it becomes one of the most watchable movies ever made.  It may not be good but it sure is entertaining.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part