Monday, September 15, 2014

Revenge Reconsidered: A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2

Revenge Reconsidered

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985) 

By David Kempski

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is not a good movie. It commits the worst of horror movie sins by being slow and boring. There are some positive reviews on IMDb, but it’s the second worst rated Elm Street movie, charting just above Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, the entry that features cameos by Roseanne and Tom Arnold, a Freddy version of the Nintendo Power Glove, and a third act in 3-D. Despite this, Freddy’s Revenge is one of the bravest, most unique slasher films of all time.

The most talked about aspect of the movie is the homosexual subtext. This film stars Mark Patton as Jesse. In slasher films, it’s unusual to have a male lead in the first place. It’s not only unique for the Nightmare franchise but for all three major slasher franchises – Nightmare, Friday the 13th and Halloween -- saving only Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, in which Thom Matthews plays Tommy Jarvis in the last of a loose trilogy of films featuring the character.

Freddy’s Revenge features a scene where the sadistic Coach Schneider is seen dressed all in leather in a S&M bar, then is stripped naked, lashed in a shower, pelted with sporting balls, has his ass snapped with a towel, and only then does Freddy appear for the requisite knifing. In a later scene, protagonist Jesse is just about to have sex with his girlfriend Lisa, when he feels an attack of the Freddies coming on, and he turns to his best male friend Grady for help. It is only then that Freddy literally emerges from Jesse’s body to kill Grady. Even at the end, normality is ostensibly restored when Jesse is saved by a kiss from Lisa, in a subversion of gender roles, where Lisa is the “prince” that saves Sleeping Beauty from her slumber.

In Never Sleep Again, the documentary about the making of the Elm Street series, screenwriter David Chaskin says all this was purposely put into the film. Inspired by the burgeoning cause of gay rights, he imagined how scared a young man coming to terms with his sexuality might be. The fact that he snuck it into a major horror franchise is the most unbelievable part.  According to the same documentary, no one else working on the film was aware that this stuff was barely beneath the surface.

Sequels, from a commercial point-of-view anyway, should be easy to make. To cash in on the success of the first film, just keep the formula and add more of everything: more superheroes, more explosions, or, in the case of horror movies, more kills and more gore. The fact that this movie was rushed into production and was released less than a year after the first would make it seem like it might follow this get-rich-quick equation.

This film is a little more psychological than the first. If not that Freddy was an already established horror figure, we might not be too sure that what Jesse is experiencing is real or not. The closest analog might be Psycho II, where Norman Bates leaves the mental asylum after 23 years, but as murders occur around him, starts to wonder if he is slipping back into madness. In the same way, it’s not so much the external, physical threat of Krueger but the threat to Jesse and his sanity which drives this story.

But another reason Freddy’s Revenge is so brave is in its decision to not get as big and wild as sequels tend to go. In fact, you could argue that it is almost smaller. At least until the wrong-headed pool party scene where Freddy escapes Jesse’s body and enters the real world. The website GeekTyrant lists the official kill count for this movie at 10. If accurate, eight of those must happen in that pool scene. In the entirety of the rest of the movie, there are only two kills, the first one happening 36 minutes into the movie. Neither are particularly gory. Nothing even close to Johnny Depp getting sucked into a bed and being spewed out.

Lastly, Freddy’s total screen time is restricted to just 13 minutes of an 87 minute running time. For you math nerds, that just 14% that features newly minted horror icon Fred Krueger. Hell, even one of the best horror sequels Aliens gave you more aliens.

Some may look at all these things and say that these are just the reasons why Freddy’s Revenge is so terrible and they might be right, but it seems worthy of admiration and respect that so many new things were tried in a genre that’s known for its blatant repetitiveness. While it will never be a classic, Freddy’s Revenge is nothing if not courageous and fascinating in its distinctive place in the horror movie world.

- David Kempski
Staff Writer

Follow David on Twitter

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Classic Italian Horror Review: Demons 2 (1986)

Demons 2 (1986)
Director: Lamberto Bava
Writers: Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava
Starting: David Edwin Knight, Nancy Brilli, Bobby Rhodes.

Review by Will Woolery

Demons is probably one of the best pieces of gory grindhouse ever, and mostly because it ended with a bang.  The hero Samurai-Sword fought demon zombies to the sound of 80s rock, before having to kill his new girlfriend, on the back of a jeep, while escaping an overrun city.  What better sequel setup could you ask for?  Demons 2 could feature a whole world overrun by demons and a few select survivors trying to live through the last hours of an apocalypse.  That’s not what Demons 2 does though. 

Demons 2 follows the “give’em more of the same!” tradition of sequels. While the first movie was a bunch of people stuck in a movie theater, being threatened by a demon zombie plague, the second one features a group of people stuck in a large apartment building.  The events of the first Demons are slightly referenced in yet another ‘movie-within-a movie’ narrative device.   This time they push the angle, that these monsters come from the film your watching, in a much bigger way.  Even as far as to show the first major demon coming out of the TV to attack an unsuspecting viewer.

Wait so… what?  Oh screw it… whatever I didn’t come here for this to make sense.

If you’ve read my review of the first movie, you know I’m in love with it.  Everything from the goofy acting, the crazy pimps, and demon puss pimples, fills me with glee like a 9-year-old boy.   That love floods over to this sequel as well, but only a little bit.   Demons 2 takes the building blocks of the first and tries to do the same thing, but with just a little extra. It sadly misses its mark.  We spent just too much time making back-story for characters we know are going to die.  We have subplot after subplot in different locations in the building.  They all have their so-bad-its-funny sort of charm, there’s just too many though.    We have body builders fighting demons, a house party turned into ground zero, a pregnant couple, an old lady with a dog, and a child left home alone. 

Luckily Tony the Pimp is back too… but with a different name and an obsession for fitness.

Sure, we get the more of the great creature effects, like the demon baby, but we also have the horrible demon dog, which starts with promise and eventually just turns into a dog with a mask on.  It’s all still gory fun, but its not as much gory fun.  If you liked the first one, you’ll stand to get a kick out of this, but it doesn’t have nearly the same amount of heart.  I will give it credit for killing both the dog and the kid; two characters you always just assume will live.
Then there’s the whole meta-plot ‘movie within a movie’ stuff.  It’s ultimately pointless and hard to follow. So, was the first movie just a movie IN this movie, and they are watching the sequel while we’re watching them in a sequel?  Is the movie from the first Demons in any way related to the movie in the second Demons?  Are the events in the movies within the movies, real life? Is this like The Ring where if you watch the movies you die like in the movies? Why the hell would you show this movie on TV? What about the mask in the first one? Why is demon blood acidic now? Those questions alone made my brain explode a little bit.  We’re not supposed to worry about that stuff in a cheese-ball gore fest like this. My best advice is to just turn off all of your brain, every brain cell, you just need to destroy it. 

Still, it’s a decent movie to watch at 3 in the morning, when you come home intoxicated, but it’s not good for much else.  Basically, if you like Demons, you’ll at least get a kick out of Demons 2.  If you didn’t like Demons, you should just step back and leave it be. 

Now, just don’t get me started on the rest of this franchise's supposed sequels.

Jesus… I can’t… I just won’t. 

- Will Woolery
Staff Writer

70s Horror Review: The Evictors (1979)

The Evictors (1979)
Director: Charles B. Pierce
Writer: Charles B. Pierce, Garry Rusoff, Paul Fisk
Stars: Jessica Harper, Michael Parks, Vic Morrow

Review by Peter DiGiovanni

Never as popular as Pierce’s other 70s horror classic, The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976), The Evictors (1979) feels like it could almost be a spinoff of its much more beloved predecessor.  Both films have very atmospheric qualities and share a very similar look, like they were shot in the same town over the same weekend. It’s no wonder its featured as a B-Side to the DVD/Blu-ray release of The Town That Dreaded Sundown.  But, I think this particular release, from the always awesome Scream Factory, should be advertised as a Charles B. Pierce Double Feature, instead of treating Evictors like a mere bonus feature.  

Pierce is a master of mood and atmosphere, and that of The Evictors is of the utmost unnerving.  Things kick off in the summer of 1928, as a shootout ensues at the country home of a band of violent hillbillies.  According to some exposition: the lead hillbilly killed three people the last time he was served foreclosure papers.  Seems like they should be more concerned about putting this guy in jail than showing up with court documents, but that’s beside the point.  Fast forward some years later, as a happy young couple, Ben and Ruth, acquire the same idyllic estate for themselves.  In pristine condition and not a murderous hillbilly in sight, the young couple are more than excited to start their new life, promptly christening the bedroom.  What could go wrong?  

For one thing, their shady realtor, played by the amazing Vic Morrow, fails to mention that since 1934, each tenant has been met with a violent demise.  The locals are anything but welcoming and a fedora wearing prowler keeps showing up, acting like he owns the place.  Once Ruth begins piecing everything together, things only escalate, culminating in a brutal encounter, which takes away what Ruth cares about most.  With nowhere else to go and nothing left to lose, Ruth turns to the shady relator for help.  But can he be trusted?  

- Peter DiGiovanni
Staff Writer

Horror Film Review: American Psycho (2000)

American Psycho (2000)
Directed by Mary Harron
Writers: Mary Harron, Guinevere Turner
Stars: Christian Bale, Justin Theroux, Chloe Sevigny, Willem Dafoe

Review by Stacie Adams

Based on the seminal Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name, American Psycho examines the complexities of being rich and successful in NYC in the late 80s, while also being a raving lunatic. Since its release in 2000, the film has struck a chord with numerous viewers for its effective portrayal of criminal insanity in action.

While the source material is top-notch, Christian Bale’s performance is the definitive reason why American Psycho remains a cult obsession for die-hard horror fans. A lesser actor would have imbued the character with overwrought menace and mayhem. Conversely, Bale’s characterization runs the gamut of emotions, from gut-twisting rage to something close to melancholy. While many of those enamored with the movie tend to play up the more manly aspects of the character, most of the time, Patrick Bateman is an awkward dork, prone to loneliness and isolation.

Younger fans of the film may not realize the impact the book had upon its release. Ellis had been thought of as a serviceable young author up to that point, at times a bit heavy on the ennui-ridden sleaze. American Psycho changed all that. This was his master work, elevating him to god-like status in the writing world, while simultaneously destroying his career. His output since have all been thinly-veiled iterations of the book that made him famous, with incrementally diminishing results upon each publication.

Ellis’s vision is quite different from director Mary Harron’s. In book form, American Psycho reads like a gory retelling of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey. With Harron at the helm, the film concentrates on the larger social issues of the Reagan-era 80s. As far as aesthetics, the film comes across like a perfume commercial. Shots of beautifully-prepared meals at world class restaurants are interspersed with high-end apartments and the occasional headless corpse. The movie is also much more cohesive than the wildly disjointed book, which is literally written from the perspective of a madman.

Harron often holds back when it comes to the more ghastly aspects of the book (keep an eye out for a scene at the end of the movie, where Patrick’s secretary Jean looks through his date book to see many depraved drawings). These omissions don’t lessen the impact; in retrospect it appears to have been the right choice, as the film was able to reach a wider audience as a result. This would not have been the case if the film included the infamous Habitrail scene, or Patrick’s ill-fated date with Bethany.

While the film ends ambiguously, it’s not an unsatisfying conclusion. Patrick confesses his numerous crimes, and is met with little more than a shrug. He is also told that his version of events counters reality, which throws much of the film into question. Is Patrick really a deranged killer, or is he just certifiable? While Ellis has verified that at least some of the events of the novel actually happened, this is left up to the reader/viewer to decide.

Like all of us, Patrick Bateman just wants to fit in. He wants to be appreciated by his peers, adored by the opposite sex, and lauded for being an efficient and productive worker. When these pursuits are impeded, Patrick will make use of whatever power tools are in the immediate area and summarily fuck your shit up.

- Stacie Adams
Staff Writer

Follow Stacie on Twitter
Stacie's website