Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996)

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There are two names of interest in this, the fourth instalment of what is almost by default the best of the long-running horror franchises. First up is Adam Scott, comedy superstar, in what I think is his first movie role (he’d been in a few TV shows before this); and second is Alan Smithee. Smithee is the pseudonym adopted by directors who want their name taken off a particular film, usually to do with an extreme amount of interference from the studio or the producer, and is almost always a message to the savvy cinemagoer “this is going to suck”. It seems the principal issue with part 4 – the last in the series to have any input from Clive Barker, or to get a cinema release – was Pinhead. Audiences wanted more of him, and earlier (it is a bit weird how little he’s in the first movie, if we’re being honest), which wasn’t the way original director Kevin Yagher was going.

 

Although it was reviewed more favourably than part 3 at the time, the years have been unkind to part 4, perhaps because it’s partly set in space. Both “Friday The 13th” and “Leprechaun” have similar instalments, so it was a trend for a while there with the joke being that once you’ve run out of ideas for your fictional killer, send them to space! Or maybe the bad reputation’s because it’s no good? You’ll have to wait a few hundred words to find out (unless you’ve already seen it and are just reading this for a bit of entertainment, of course).

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In the year 2127, Dr Paul Merchant has hijacked the space station Minos, for reasons unknown. With a rather interesting remote control robot device, he’s trying to open the Lament Configuration – the fancy name for the puzzle box, apparently – and just as he does so, the front door is kicked in (metaphorically speaking) and in rush some marines. He’s captured, while screaming that he needs to be let free to complete what he started, and eventually is questioned by Rimmer (Christine Harnos), who he tells his family story to.

 

This story is, actually, pretty interesting. In late 18th century France, his ancestor Philippe L’Marchand (all the Merchant men are played by the same actor) has been commissioned to make a puzzle box for a wealthy aristocrat who has some rather unusual tastes. Scott plays Jacques, the aristo’s servant, and he’s the guy who procures a peasant girl for them to use in their experiments. The box is opened, the skin removed from the peasant girl gets filled up with the demon Angelique and the aristo very quickly breaks one of the rules of possessing a demon and is killed, leaving Jacques to control Angelique and enjoy the wonders of rough sex with a bag of demon-filled skin. Philip learns what the box is about quite quickly, and even creates a design for a “reverse box” which will close the gate to Hell forever, but he’s offed by our evil duo before he gets the chance to do much of anything about it.

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In the “original cut” of the movie, as much as this can be said to have one, there was a lot more of this storyline (and there’s a cut circulating online which puts a lot of these deleted scenes back in); but people wanted Pinhead, so we need to race ahead to 1996, where Angelique and Jacques are still having weird sex in France. This is where the movie quite cleverly dovetails with part 3, as we see the building that was “created” when the box was placed in the foundations of a building site. Well, it wasn’t just the power of the box, it was also John Merchant, direct male line descendant of Philip and architect, who was drawn to the box due to some dumb bloodline curse or something. He’s married to Bobbi, played by Kim Myers (“A Nightmare On Elm Street 2”, and a youthful crush of mine), and rather than just going “this is a pretty decent life, I’m an architect and I’m married to someone who looks like Kim Myers” he starts dreaming of Angelique, then she shows up at his office after Jacques rather foolishly got in Hell’s way, and tempts him with her alluring demonic ways…

 

Pinhead eventually shows up when the box is opened (by a tricked security guard), and he’s got kind of a funny office co-workers vibe going on with Angelique when they first meet. She’s old-school Hell, having been away for 200 years, he’s more new-school, but they both want to use the building, which has become a sort of ultimate cube, in order to…well, Pinhead wants to throw the gates of Hell wide open and let all his old mates out, but I’m stumped as to Angelique’s motivation. Perhaps the same? It’s not really important, anyway. I was surprised Pinhead wouldn’t have popped in to say hello to Angelique during one of his visits “topside”, but Earth’s a big place, I suppose. They have very different methods, she favouring seduction and corruption, him favouring lots of pain and misery, and if this idea had been developed any more than it was (ie. Not at all) then it would have been a cool thread running through the stories. Instead, they have a bit of a fight and Pinhead wins.

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As we get back to 2127 and the space station, the problem then becomes we know exactly what Merchant’s plan is and are merely waiting for him to press a button. What takes up 20 minutes of screen time could have been dealt with easily in five, but I guess we need some Pinhead pontificating and / or ripping people to pieces or the “fans” won’t be happy. The ending is pretty cool actually (I always like it when super-powerful beings are tricked by modern technology) but it’s a long walk for a relatively small reward.

 

Let’s try and make some sense of the Hellraiser universe. It’s really quite good, starting from a small dingy bedroom on a nondescript London street and spreading all the way to outer space. Humanity tries and fails to close the door on the Cenobites, because they represent temptation and there’s always going to be temptation, and it takes a mad genius with cursed blood to finish them off – he has to build a massive space station to do it. It’s surprisingly logical in terms of overarching story, if you don’t sweat the little things, like how the box became a portal to Hell, or the gradual change of the Cenobites from creatures from outside our realm to demons who were once human. Although…given the hack Clive Barker turned into from the early 90s on, I’m sort of glad they simplified the story of the Cenobites from whatever it was to creatures of a dimension called Hell, but which was just a place where weird entities with a thing about skin hung out.

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There are little visual touches I enjoyed too, like the way Hell is shown as light through cracks in a building, the same as it was right at the beginning of the first movie. The ties to the previous movies are clever, and Pinhead remains one of the all-time great horror antagonists, even if he’s not the most logically written character – for example, he sort of betrays his own previous commitment to not mess with the innocent by kidnapping John’s son in the 1996 story.

 

The problem with the way it was weighted, with all three stories given roughly equal time, is that it feels a bit like “stories from the Hellraiser universe”, an anthology movie. Considering this was edited by professionals who are presumably told to make sure things make sense, there are a ton of dropped threads in this, ideas which show up and disappear again in short order, and it’s tough to shake the thought they really ought to have trimmed one of them down a bit.

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I was going to talk about the Alan Smithee credit, but I think I’ll leave that to a longer review of the workprint version, which I’ve managed to track down. But even in this hacked-about-with story, it’s a great deal better than many movies where the director was happy to leave his name attached. It’s got real ideas and wants to explore them, and while I’m not as down on studio interference as some (having no particular admiration for the vast majority of directors), it will be interesting to get a little closer to what the director was trying to do.

 

Rating: thumbs up

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A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)

Revenge on who? Isn't the first movie his revenge?

Revenge on who? Isn’t the first movie his revenge?

Once your eyes are opened, some things come into a wonderful new focus. As a kid, I watched “A Nightmare On Elm Street 2” and thoroughly enjoyed it, a different turn from the “hey, Freddy is after some other group of kids this time” that I’d been trained to expect from slasher movie sequels. Then, after watching the excellent documentary “Never Sleep Again” about the series, which said outright “it’s about homosexuality” I was like “oh, of course!” It’s slightly embarrassing that I didn’t notice it before, how obvious it was, but you, dear reader, will not have that problem thanks to this review.

 

Star Mark Patton has had an interesting life. He was an out gay man while living in New York early in his career, but when he moved to Hollywood found it a very homophobic place – some of the stories are terrible (like certain agents posting people in gay bars to get blackmail material on up and coming stars with other agencies); and was forced to largely go back in the closet, despite playing a gay character in “Come Back To The Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” and…well, more on his character in this movie later. He found the homophobia so bad that he quit acting altogether, becoming an interior decorator, but since appearing in the documentary “Never Sleep Again”, has started making appearances at conventions and discovering how beloved this movie is with the LGBT community. Well, some of them, it’s sort of ridiculous to say “all” LGBT people like anything. He’s been living with being HIV+ for some time, too, but is controlling it and is healthy and well.

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Patton plays Jesse, a teenager whose family move into Nancy’s old house on Elm Street (she’s still alive but has gone insane). Five years have passed since the events of the first movie, apparently, but it’s sort of stupid to say part 1 was set in 1981 as there’s posters for stuff which happened after that on everyone’s walls. Still, nowhere near as stupid as the Friday the 13th timeline! Anyway, he develops a relationship with Lisa (Kim Myers, “Heavy Metal Summer”), who he drives to school…despite her living in a gigantic house which is presumably nowhere near Jesse’s normal suburban home. I never understood that bit.  Anyway, Jesse starts being plagued by bad dreams, featuring that burned child murderer we’ve come to know and love – Freddy must have been weakened or something by Nancy in part 1, as he needs Jesse to kill for him.

 

Jesse is an interesting character. The initial dream sequence has him looking like kind-of a sad sack, the sort of character who’s the terminal outsider; but during the movie, he takes no crap from anyone, befriends jock Grady (Robert Rusler), attracts Lisa and seems a bright, outgoing sort of chap. He does get on the wrong side of sadistic gym teacher Coach Schneider (ultimate “that guy” actor Marshall Bell), and the way Grady just off-handedly remarks about how the Coach is gay and goes to S&M bars is the first really big clue that there might be something bubbling under the surface here. But he’s basically powerless to stop Freddy, relying on Lisa to save the day with good old heterosexual love, so…er…who knows?

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Director Jack Sholder was presumably the only guy available (although he did make the fun “The Hidden”). Everything’s nice and tight here, even if there are a few bits where you wish there was a bit more explanation; but perhaps we ought to blame scriptwriter David Chaskin – who apparently worked in the New Line advertising department – for that. He absolutely packs the movie with gay subtext (my favourite line, Jesse talking about Freddy: “He’s inside me, and he wants to take me again!”) which allegedly the director was unaware of…but there’s just no way! It can’t have escaped his notice that every time Jesse gets close to Lisa, he starts hallucinating Freddy or an attack happens; or that Jesse walks through town barefoot to have a beer, and just by accident ends up in the leather bar. To his shame – and according to IMDB, so this might be apocryphal – Chaskin blamed Patton for playing the part “too gay” when the movie started attracting notice and denied putting any subtext in there, although he finally admitted to it during “Never Sleep Again”.

 

Wes Craven wanted no part of this sequel, because he didn’t want it to become a franchise (and indeed pushed for part 1 to have a happy ending), but it’s head and shoulders above any slasher sequel. It’s certainly not without its problems – first up, I don’t understand why Jesse and Lisa are friends in the first place, if he’s just moved to town; and then there’s a bit where Freddy attacks a pool party full of teenagers, while they’re all awake. Heck, no-one dies in their sleep in this movie at all! Freddy appears to be able to manipulate reality, which when you think about it makes no sense at all. Well, even less sense than the average movie of this sort.

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There’s also the ending, which I guess is just another dream in the mind of the presumably hospitalised Jesse. It seems like a happy ending, but how is that even possible? Jesse killed those people, whether or not he was having a Freddy-inspired psychotic break, and there’s no way they’d just bandage him up and let him go back to school. When you have dreams and reality butting heads in movies like these, there’s a tendency to just handwave away weird plot holes as being dreams, but I think that’s a cop-out. Ultimately, it’s just too confusing.

 

It’s a fascinating movie with a number of fairly hefty problems. Like “Carrie”, it uses the confusion teenagers feel about sex as a driving force, but with the gay themes pushes way further than “Carrie” ever did; it has lots to like (and not just because of my youthful crush on Kim Myers) but it’s all so muddled as if they established a set of rules but kept ignoring them – which I suppose, taking part 1 into account, they did.

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Rating: thumbs in the middle

Endless Bummer: Heavy Metal Summer (1988)

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I wonder, sometimes, if reality is constantly changing around us. Like, if anyone ever learns too much about something, reality will change just a little to mess with them, or to teach them some humility. The reason I say this, dear reader, is because I have seen a lot of 1980s “summer” movies – the teen raunch, holiday destination type of thing. A lot. Yet, in 2015, there are still movies from that era I’ve never heard of, much less seen, and I feel a little surprised by that. That brings us to “Heavy Metal Summer” (aka “State Park”, as generic and boring a title as I’ve ever heard, so thank heavens they changed it).

I’m also becoming familiar with the works of Rafal Zielinski, who appears to have reinvented himself in the 2000s as an arthouse director of sorts, but in that brief blissful period of Canadian tax relief for movie companies, was the go-to guy for resort-based laughs. Both “Screwballs” movies, “Recruits”, “National Lampoon’s Last Resort” and this all bear his name, and they’re a weirdly mixed bag in terms of quality, boobs-per-minute, and other real genuine measures.

While a cheap rip-off of Yello’s “Oh Yeah” plays, we’re introduced to the main players in our little tale, and the location which will be their home. Eve, Marsha and Linnie are on their way to Camp Weewankah so Eve (the beautiful Kim Myers, from “A Nightmare On Elm Street 2” and “Hellraiser 4”) can win a “wilderness race” to pay for college; Johnny Rocket and Louis are a couple of heavy metallers, on their way to LA to make it big, but decide to stop off at the Camp to rest up for a day or two; Truckie works at the camp and is disgusted that the state is selling off its asset to a pesticide company for them to build a factory, and is therefore moonlighting as “Weewankah Willie”, dressing in a bear outfit and committing acts of vandalism to expose evil boss Rancewell to the rest of the world.

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What’s surprising and refreshing about “Heavy Metal Summer” is how it’s from the perspective of the women, for the most part. Eve is dealing with her parents’ bankruptcy in a decent, mature way by trying to provide for herself, Linnie is thinking about getting married so decides to play the field a little first, to see if she really likes the guy she’s going to get engaged to, and Marsha just wants to check out guys. Add the female park ranger checking out the naked dudes and you’ve got, for the 80s at least, a feminist movie! Okay, there’s boobs in it, but at such a low level as to be almost invisible by the standards of the time.

Apart from the cartoonishly evil head Park Ranger and Rancewell, everyone sort of seems like a real character too. The old couple who’ve parked up next to the Heavy Metal van are excellent, there’s a good number of supporting characters who do a decent job, and…I probably ought to check myself before I say anything I’ll regret, but this is a pretty fun little movie. If the purpose of the “Endless Bummer” review series is to unearth a few hidden gems, then consider this one unearthed. There’s no particular rhyme or reason to why this one works – the writer is just one of the many unsung hacks who work mostly in TV; the director’s oeuvre has already been discussed; there’s no particularly strong acting work (apart from Kim Myers, I suppose)…it’s just that all the elements chime together, those old standards work because they’re standards sometimes. The subplot of financial crisis seems perhaps more pressing and relatable to our 2015 eyes.

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Okay, it’s not perfect – did anyone ever say “I’ve never even talked to a heavy metaller before?” (although the way the weirdo and the normal girl come together is unusual and good fun), and right-wing gun nut Ted Nugent pops up for a brief cameo, which always spoils things. But it has one of those things for which I’ll resurrect “Is Always Funny”:

“Beach bums who say dude a lot and are perpetually cheerful and stupid are always funny” (this is a subset of the “stupid but friendly jock” archetype)

You may disagree, but I say “bah!” to you. Used in the right proportion to the rest of the movie, the two guys here (so stupid it takes them ages to figure out their boat isn’t moving because they never started the motor) lift every scene they’re in. They’ve been replaced by the stoner in modern movies, but I look forward to the return of the beach bum. While I’m waiting, we’ve got movies like this to enjoy. It’s on Youtube, so as long as you’re not in too demanding a mood, you’ll enjoy this one. One last warning – how big is your tolerance for guys in Speedos? There are a lot of guys wearing very little material in this one.

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Rating: thumbs up