A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010)

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About halfway through this remake of the 1984 classic, my wife turned to me and said “I reckon this film would be more interesting if it turned out Freddy was innocent”. The bastard son of a hundred maniacs, child and teen murderer of 8 previous movies? I’m not sure it works out 100%, but let’s go through it and see. In the mid 90s much more than the mid 70s (roughly the dates the two Freddies were operating), the spotlight was on adults who worked with children, and let’s say Freddy, rather than the man we know and love, was just a developmentally disabled man who loved playing with children. A couple of smart kids hear about some Satanic panic from a few towns over, and jealous that Freddy plays with some other kids more than them, make up the beginnings of a story which is seized on and expanded by parents, psychologists, a local Police captain wanting to make a name for himself, and ends up with a gang of angry locals chasing Freddy to a disused factory, where one Molotov cocktail later, he is no more. Even the famous glove could just be a gardening tool, dreamed up by the autistic but smart Krueger.

 

After Freddy’s death, it’s all hushed up (he was never accused of a crime, in this new movie) and the town moves on. The kids who both lied and were lied to grow up to be disturbed teenagers, and the Freddy we know and love could be what he’s always hinted at being – simply an amalgam of small-town guilt and lies, turned from a campfire tale into a “real” force of evil. We know it’s not the same guy, because he quips in a way he never did while he was alive (information that could be dripped out over the course of the movie).

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I mean, it’s not perfect, but it makes the reveal different, at least. Although I suppose they’d say turning Freddy from a straight-up murderer in the first run of movies to a rapist in this one could be seen as that. Ah, who knows? And I’ve not even really started reviewing this movie yet.

 

In quite a lot of ways, this is a cover version of the original, so feel free to go back and read my review of that if you’d like to refresh your memory. We get the iconic scenes – such as Tina being slammed round the room by the invisible Freddy, the bodybag being dragged round the corner, the torrent of blood rising from the bed, and so on; and those bits were great, although they were great the first time we watched them too. 2010’s version is about a group of friends who, coming together for the funeral of their friend (Kellan Lutz, “Twilight”) start to realise that they’ve been friends longer than their memories are telling them is the case, and there’s something so traumatic buried in their childhoods that no-one is talking about it.

 

Anyway, Freddy starts doing his thing, and without a doubt the new version (Jackie Earle Haley) is several orders of magnitude scarier than Englund’s original. Special effects have come a long way, and his face is absolutely hideous – plus, he’s a fantastic actor and given he’s under layers of both latex and CGI, he does remarkably well. He starts killing the teenagers who he originally abused back in the 90s, they stop sleeping, the parents are kept in the dark about what’s happening until about an hour into the movie, you know, the usual. He is a bit more quippy than I expected the new iteration of the character to be, which is a weird throwback to the later, badder, original movies.

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I think this movie is fascinating and irritating almost in equal measure. They’ve clearly thought about the philosophical problems the first movie had – why did Freddy pick that moment to start killing people? How could they possibly hide every news story about what must have been the most prolific child murderer in history? But with those solutions come more problems. Freddy does what he does, at least in the beginning, partly to get revenge on the parents who killed him – on that, I think we can all agree. The problem is, with the alterations they’ve made to the movie, the parents are sort of irrelevant (despite having a couple of brilliant actors such as Clancy Brown and Connie Britton in the roles). The kids get no help from them at all, and not really any hindrance either, and it’s not until pretty close to the end that they have any idea what’s going on. Why doesn’t he pop into one of their dreams and start carving them up? Or leave a few kids alive, but make sure when they wake up, they tell everyone that Freddy is coming to get his revenge?

 

Even the production design has that fascinating / irritating thing going. The way reality crumbles around our two main characters is at least interesting…but then you get something wacky like a photo of all the kids from the kindergarten Freddy worked at, and rather than doing a little red dot by the side of their names (all written on the back of the photo), Nancy (our starlet, who has no similarities to the original other than a name) decides to draw a big red X over the faces of all the kids who’ve died. She is tired and has poor judgement, I suppose.

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Because they stick so closely to the original movie in some ways, the changes they make end up feeling a little contrived and stupid. Jesse, you may remember, was the older, sleazy boyfriend of Tina, and it was at least a little believable when Freddy pinned Tina’s murder on him . In this movie, he’s a bland, baby-faced teenager, and their attempts to give him a “troubled” past feels like a last minute, “whoops, we forgot this glaring plot hole” decision. Then there’s the end, where we see Freddy’s apparently real room, in the old kindergarten. I can buy that the place where a child molester worked would probably shut down fairly quickly; but when you see it’s still full of his stuff, including the beginnings of his famous glove, you wonder how quickly did they leave that place? Also, thinking about it, if Freddy didn’t actually kill the kids, why did he have that glove?

 

The more I think about it, the more I realise it’s a weak rehash of a non-classic, with a nothing central performance (sorry, Rooney Mara). Unlike the other famous horror remakes from the same time (“Fright Night”, “My Bloody Valentine”), it pretty much follows the plot of its original, rather than trying to do something more interesting using that plot as a launching off point.

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Rating: thumbs down

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Youtube Film Club – Nemesis (1992)

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We review all sorts of films here – from comedy to horror to oddball documentaries to martial arts. My real love, though, is for the B-movies of the 80s and 90s – when video rental meant that there was budget enough for even relatively cheap films to look great (compared to movies of a similar ilk from today). If it’s vaguely sci-fi-related and was made in the era of straight-to-VHS, chances are I’ll give it the time of day.

Even though he’s not even the star of this movie, the same applies double to Tim Thomerson. We’ve long admired his stuff at the ISCFC – from the “Trancers” series, to “Metalstorm”, to “Dollman” (with which this film shares a director and a few cast members) – he’s a former standup who made the move into acting, and has been busy pretty much constantly since the early 80s.

In this one, he’s the police commissioner Farnsworth in the year 2027, trying to coax Alex (Olivier Gruner) out of “retirement”. Now, things will immediately get complicated, and if you want a badly written recap of the film you can just go to Wikipedia, so I’ll try and sum it up quickly for you. Alex is a cop, who is forced by injury to get more and more cybernetic enhancements, and feels a bit ambivalent about this. He meets a group called the Red Army Hammerheads, who realise there’s some cyber-armageddon coming and want to save humanity from robot clones and so on. He quits the police, then becomes a smuggler, then is captured by Farnsworth and sent off to try and track down his former partner, who’s stolen some cybernetic secrets or other.

There’s double-crossing, and discussion about what it means to be human, oh and Alex has a bomb implanted in his heart on the off chance he doesn’t want to help Farnsworth out. You know, normal stuff. The majority of the film, just about, is set in a place called Shang-Lu, which is designed to represent the melting pot that is the future (Japan and the USA have merged, with the USA the weak partner, which tells you the age of this film better than a birth certificate). But you’re left on the back foot a little by the direction – he goes from being a cop, to being a burnout in some remote village, to being an undercover cop in Shang-Lu, and there’s no real sense of transition between the scenes. You have to be on the ball to follow it, that’s for sure.

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The one thing this film absolutely nails is the action scenes, though. Gruner is a former kickboxer and Army special forces guy, and despite this being only his second film, he does what he needs to do pretty well. He was probably never going to be a star on the level of a Schwarzenegger or a Norris or even a JCVD, but he’s a reasonable actor and great at the physical stuff. He’s helped with some surprisingly inventive special effects and stunt work – them running from a gigantic collapsing industrial tower is absolutely real (and must have been pretty terrifying), and a scene where Gruner takes a very short route to the ground floor of a building has been copied in bigger-budget films since.

Along with Thomerson, this film also features some B-movie royalty, in the shape of Brion James, and two people who went on to bigger and better things, Jackie Earle Haley (who was also in “Dollman”) and Thomas Jane. Jane is entirely naked during his performance, even though you only see a back view, should that be your cup of tea.

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Albert Pyun is renowned as one of the worst directors ever, apparently, but I’ve rather enjoyed the films of his I’ve seen. His original idea for this film was to cast a 13-year old Megan Ward as the Olivier Gruner character, but his backers told him he could do whatever he wanted as long as he changed the star to their prefered person. I think he slipped in a few references to this – there are a lot of androgynous names in this, or women with traditionally “male” names. There’s some oddities, like he can’t do transitions worth a damn (Gruner and his sidekick go for a run near the end, and go through jungle, forests and a snowy mountainous region all in the same jog). But otherwise he’s made a tense, action-packed sci-fi thriller whose only flaw really is the plot is a bit too dense.

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So hopefully you’ve already watched it now, because I just wanted to chat about the ending a little. Gruner and his sidekick, having defeated all comers, are on their way to finish off the cyborg baddies. Credits ready to roll, and then as they walk off into the distance we hear a voice saying “shall we kill them now?” and Tim Thomerson replies “why wait?” Even though they’d shot his skin off in one of the more amazing stunts in the film, and then destroyed his robot body, there he was at the end, still alive and kicking. BORING! Why do films feel it’s a cheat to just have a happy ending?

Anyway, that minor criticism aside, this is a fun film, and with three sequels (none of which had any Gruner involvement, apparently), it’s tickled my fancy enough that we’ll be reviewing all four.

Rating: thumbs up

Dollman (1991) – or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Full Moon Films

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Tim Thomerson is the B-movie seal of quality. No matter where he is, you can rely on him to take everything seriously, but with a little twinkle in his eye that lets you know he’s enjoying himself with whatever oddball plotline this film has. As you may have guessed from the title and the poster above these words, he has plenty of opportunities to do so in this.

10,000 light years from Earth is planet Arturos, and Thomerson is Brick Bardo, a cop with an attitude – imagine Dirty Harry, but an even bigger asshole. It seems you can blow a lot of body parts off someone on this world and they can stay alive, so no-one seems especially surprised when Brick’s nemesis is revealed to be a head, mounted on a sort of flying platform. Anyway, they have a disagreement (floaty head is annoyed that Brick keeps shooting him, Brick is annoyed he keeps not dying) so there’s a fight and BRICK’S GUN IS AMAZING. He gets anywhere near you and you’re blowing up in a shower of bits and pieces. Anyway, the fight transfers to little flying car / spaceship things, through a wormhole and…he wakes up crashlanded on some industrial wasteground near New York!

Both hero and villain survive, but unfortunately their world is a bit different to ours, six times different to be precise. Brick is 13 inches tall on our world, and his gun isn’t quite as amazing as it is on Arturos, but he’s still able to help Debi Alejandro, a tough and brilliant young woman who’s trying to bring up a kid, hold down a tough job and fight against the gangs peddling drugs on the streets. Floaty Head helps the villains, obviously, led by Jackie Earle Haley, post-Bad News Bears and long-pre-Watchmen.

Without giving this film too much credit, it has a surprising amount to say about the world. Haley, while undoubtedly villainous, realises that the rest of the world doesn’t care about either him, Debi, or anyone else in the inner city, and has just chosen a different path. Debi’s attempts to organise a Neighbourhood Watch only really kick off when Brick starts killing the gang members, and the local cops obviously couldn’t care less.

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The special effects are actually pretty good. They get round their problems by rarely having Brick share the screen with anyone else, and although there’s an awful model shot in one scene, most of the time they handle things well. The end of Floaty Head is both shocking and hilarious.

All in all, thumbs up for this film. Fun, good action, and even though the Dimension Bomb at the end is a bit of an irrelevance, it all sort of made sense.

Allow me a slight diversion on the subject of Charles Band and Full Moon Films. I’ve reviewed quite a few of their films, and seen even more, but what surprises me is how he gets so much from so little. As much as I hated certain films in the Puppet Master series, the really bad ones weren’t directed by him; and in terms of producer credits, Band is as prolific as Roger Corman ever was. Often, he’ll make a low budget go a long way, and his films usually have a knowing wink to the genre-savvy audience – even though everyone on screen takes it seriously. That the “Puppet Master” films had none of that makes them baffling, but maybe I’m reading too much into them.

Making genre films is tough business, as no-one will turn on you faster than us nerds. That he’s been able to keep at it as long as he is testament to at least some understanding of what people want to watch; he’s never turned into a virtual porn merchant like Jim Wynorski either, and while some of his films aren’t that great, they’re at least entertaining enough to be worth a rental (virtual or otherwise).