A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)

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To entertain myself, I started making a note of every time Freddy Krueger, child murdering bastard son of a hundred maniacs, made a bad pun. Out of his total of about 40 lines in the entire movie, 24 of them were “jokes”. Now, I don’t mind a gag or two in my horror movies, unlike some other reviewers, but that is going slightly too far. If you add in the dialogue free segments where Freddy skateboards, and turns into a superhero, then…well, you’ve got this mess.

 

Lisa Wilcox is back as Alice, and it’s high school graduation time. She’s still with Dan from part 4, and he’s about to head off to college to become an American Football star; there’s a bunch of other people around too, who seem to replace the archetypes that Freddy offed previously. Unfortunately, she starts having dreams she can’t control, including the asylum where Amanda Krueger was trapped and raped by the inmates – wow, do I hope even the worst real asylum in history didn’t look that grim.

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I was about to avoid spoilers, but damn! It’s too weak to deserve that treatment. It turns out Lisa is pregnant, and Freddy wants to take over the baby’s soul, or something, so he can continue killing more people. As “nightmares” start happening when the characters are wide awake, they figure out it’s the baby’s dreams that are causing everyone to die – a development that sounds even dumber than it was, when written down. The trick to finishing him off this time is to find the spot where Amanda Krueger committed suicide and…it’s really not clear, but it’s a subplot that takes up an appalling amount of time and is dull as ditchwater.

 

The setpieces, unlike the previous movies, are pretty embarrassing. With the aforementioned skateboarding and superhero stuff, there’s a scene set in an MC Escher painting, which is a bit wackier than I like my child endangerment and murder to be, as a rule. There’s a bit where one of the victims turns into a paper version of himself and gets sliced up. It’s so witless and boring, which is pretty unforgivable in a series like this.

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Then we’ve got those scenes which indicate no-one bothered having a second run at the script. Lisa’s pregnancy is revealed to a room full of her friends and relatives, when I’m pretty sure that’s the sort of thing you’d tell a high school student on her own, for one. There’s the way that despite the town they live in, and its warzone-level teenager mortality rate, no-one believes Lisa, again. In fact, her best friend remains a committed Freddy skeptic until she’s attacked herself at around the 1:00 mark, and every single line out of her mouth is incredibly annoying. If you think your friend would make something like that up, why are you her friend?

 

I think the blame can be apportioned pretty equally throughout, with this one. We’ve got the producers, cutting out the gore to get it a more multiplex-friendly rating but leaving those death scenes as just confusing; we’ve got the writers, none of whom seemed to have much idea of what they were doing; we’ve got a cast full of people who don’t seem to be trying (Wilcox especially looks she’s doing this at gunpoint); and then we’ve got director Stephen Hopkins. He’s gone on to a career as a TV director / producer, but directed a surprising number of big budget genre pictures too, most of which sucked (“Lost In Space”, “Judgement Night”). Perhaps it’s that he was only given 4 weeks to do principal photography on this?

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I’ll just say it was a perfect storm of badness, starting with the idea that Freddy should be both a wisecracking 90s pop culture juggernaut, and a child murdering psychopath; and ending with a few special effects looking for a movie to attach themselves too. Even positive reviews (most of which boil down to “I was young when I first saw this”) can’t seem to figure out what Freddy’s endgame is, and why he never bothered doing it before if he could.

 

And part 6 is going to be even worse!

 

Rating: thumbs down

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Christmas Movies: Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 (1987)

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GARBAGE DAY!

I have, no fooling, seen the above video over 500 times. It’s impossible not to smile at the sheer joy with which Ricky shoots a guy through a bin, and now knowing the context of it, it’s even funnier. Even if the rest of the film were boring (which it’s definitely not), it’s almost worth it for this blissful 30 seconds alone.

At the end of part 1, Ricky is a young boy at the orphanage who witnesses the very end of his brother’s Santa-themed murderous rampage; and at the beginning of part 2 he’s all grown up and in an interview room with a psychiatrist. Ricky, it is safe to say, has been a bad boy, or just a bad actor, but because we don’t need to know about that yet we get a brief recap of his brother’s activities in the form of an interview.

Oh, did I say brief? What I meant to say was, apart from the odd few seconds of Ricky and some snatches of voiceover, we’re treated to the entire original film in 40 minutes. 40 minutes! While this is small potatoes to people who’ve made it through “Sleepaway Camp 4” and “Puppet Master: The Legacy”, it’s still a fairly substantial chunk, but we do get to see some of the stupider parts of the original movie again, with its exceptionally heavy-handed tying of sex to punishment to death. It makes a fun 40 minute movie!

We also get to ponder just how Ricky found all this out. The spree lasted a day, give or take, and the two brothers didn’t speak in that time, and I personally like best when he has traumatic flashbacks to events he can’t possibly have seen or known about. As it gets rumbling with new material, we have a little bit of Ricky as a kid with his new foster parents, then a segment where Ricky is, presumably, a teenager, but he’s being played by a different actor, despite this Ricky and the actual Ricky looking roughly the same age. What? He does find a couple who’ve driven out into the wilderness to have sex, despite them both being in their 30s and presumably having homes to go to, and kills the guy because he tries to rape the woman. I’m not entirely sure this isn’t test footage from a different version of this film.

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In a rather strange move, the majority of the new film, which you remember has the title “Silent Night, Deadly Night 2”, is set in the summer. Ricky (now at least played by the right actor) gets a job and a girlfriend, but he just can’t stop putting people on the naughty list. In one truly magnificent scene, he takes his date to the cinema, where they’re showing the first “Silent Night, Deadly Night” movie! Plus he murders two people in the cinema and no-one notices!

The scene that will forever be etched in the annals of bad movie lore, of course, is after he fries his girlfriend’s ex with jumper cables, she calls him crazy, he strangles her with a car aerial, kills a cop, takes his gun, goes on a bit of a spree and, of course, gives us full GARBAGE DAY. Shall we watch it again? Let’s!

We then catch up with the interview framing device, but Ricky has decided that all his problems stem from the old Mother Superior and decides to go and pay her a visit. But as I’ve spoiled the hell out of everything up to now, I’ll leave that last section to you, patient viewer.

Even if you leave out the half-the-movie flashback, this is a really weird one. Eric Freeman (Ricky) is a spectacularly bad actor – “Garbage Day” is the pitch he operates at the entire time; and it’s not like anyone else is tons better. The film is a complete mess structurally, although with all the gore from part 1 added, a pretty gruesome one. The ending is at least satisfying though, with the Mother Superior being the oldest Final Girl in slasher film history – also, her house number is 666, just in case you weren’t quite sure if she was a bad ‘un or not. We’re unfortunately left with the same miserable problem the first one had – it’s about a kid twisted into murder by circumstances beyond his control, ignored and abused until he was beyond saving. There’s no redemption, no resolution to any of it – think about it too much and you’ll start to feel quite depressed.

But…I loved it! it’s much better at being so-bad-it’s-good than its predecessor; and it’s just so much fun watching Ricky strut round, killing folk. I’m as surprised as you are, but it;s just so packed with weirdness, with so many odd and counter-intuitive choices being made, that’s it’s absolutely worth watching.

Rating: thumbs up

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)

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Directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

 

Mark has been reviewing a lot of classic slasher films in recent weeks. It has inspired me to look at the remake of ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’. I’m a sucker for masked horror villains, but there’s something extra sinister about a maniac running around with a burlap sack on his head. It’s a lot more terrifying than a hockey mask.

The original ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’ is a cult favourite, and one of those horror films all the more terrifying because it is based on a true story. In a little American town called Texarkana, the Phantom killer murdered five people in 1946. The killer was never caught.

The great thing about Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s remake is that it is able to directly reference both the 1976 original movie, and the murders which inspired that film in ’46. Cleverly there is a nod to a real life tradition of outdoor screenings of the film which occur on Halloween. The whole movie has a jerky, jittery retro feel which faithfully continues the lineage.

Texarkana is a traditional town which hasn’t caught up with the rest of the world, it is the kind of place where the majority of the town still attend meetings and the church is regularly full, particularly in light of a spate of murders which occur, reminding the town of what happened in 1946.

After a showing of the ’76 version of ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’ a young couple named Corey and Jami go to a secluded spot. The couple kiss and fumble before they are disturbed by what they think is a peeping Tom who is watching them from the bushes. They then see a man wearing a sack on his head. It’s the phantom killer! The couple lock the doors but it’s all to no avail as the phantom attacks. The phantom kills Corey and sends off Jami (Addison Timlin), to spread the message about what he has done.

Addison Timlin is good as the plucky & resourceful scream queen who overcomes her trauma by trying to connect the dots between who killed Corey and who was behind the murders in 1946. Jami is a strong young woman who is determined to make the use of our second chance in life. In many ways she is portrayed like a cross between the characters of Sidney Prescott and Gale Weathers in ‘Scream 2’. What I mean by this is that there is an element of poise in her character, and not your typical helpless pretty girl frantically running away from the murderer.

The gore of the film is wonderfully overdone, blood sprays all over the place as the Phantom continues to prey on young couples. The Phantom, and indeed this film is rather progressive, there is even a couple of gay men who are brutally slain in a scrapyard. This scene, perhaps overshadowed by the violent use of a trombone, should not be overlooked. It is progressive in the sense that it acknowledges that Texarkana, and in a wider sense horror movies, are not just populated by heterosexuals.

It is great also to see a horror movie with a well-developed supporting cast and not just nameless victims. Newspaper archivist Nick (Travis Tope), a cynical veteran policeman played by Gary Cole, the son of the director who made the ’76 film Charles B. Pierce Jr (Denis O’Hare) and Anthony Anderson as Lone Wolf Morales all add so much to the film. It’s also not entirely obvious who the Phantom is, with a host of possible suspects, and this makes the big reveal a genuine shock. Though I felt the reveal was a bit of a rush job, it’s a minor gripe about an otherwise gripping retro flavoured slasher movie.

– RJW

7/10

 

 

The Town That Dreaded Sundown on IMDB

Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film (2006)

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Remember, when you’re listening to the people in this documentary pontificate about the socially useful things that slasher films do, or their artistic merits, that they’re a bunch of worthless bottom-of-the-ladder Hollywood slimeballs who would make literally any sort of film if they thought it’d turn a quick profit. Also, that this doc is from 2006, but most of the modern franchises are at least mentioned (Saw, Paranormal Activity).

After a bit of a preamble, we’re right in with a discussion of “Halloween”, and the style of the film becomes immediately apparent. It’s a series of talking head interviews combined with footage from the films in question, onscreen information about box office takings, and a voiceover. But the style of the interviews is annoying and offputting – John Carpenter is filmed walking through a cemetery, as is Amy Holden Jones, and an exec from New Line Cinema is filmed walking through what looks like a back alley. I guess it’s an attempt to make it a bit visual? I don’t know.

Really, the film is in three sections. Firstly, it’s “Halloween” to 1983. Then it’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” to the 90s; and finally, “Scream” and beyond. The first section is clearly the most interesting, because really most of the slasher films you know and remember are from that era- plenty of people are interviewed, my favourite being Tom Savini, the special effects mastermind who’s made a lot of terrible films at least look okay.

I don’t think you really need me to review this documentary on its technical merits – it’s cheaply made and you’re only really going to find it or track it down if you have at least a passing interest in the genre, so I can get into some of the more meaty stuff. For what it’s worth, I think they do a good job of breaking down the tropes of slasher films and recapping most of the history.

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It’s the position the film takes on certain issues that’s the biggest problem. We see film reviewing legend Roger Ebert in the first few minutes, but it’s not in his role as one of the earliest champions of “Halloween”, when most other reviewers had dismissed it as garbage (in fact, they credit its early success with a positive review from elsewhere). It’s from his exceedingly negative TV review of “Silent Night, Deadly Night”, and the enormous furore that built up around it on its release, from parents who were upset that Christmas was ruined because their kids thought Santa was a serial killer. The really annoying thing is this film is absolutely right about the furore – parents should have talked to their kids about what fiction is, rather than going onto the street to demand censorship. I always thought Siskel and Ebert were wrong to be so offended, going as far as putting up the companies that had funded it on their show for people to complain to, even if it was a miserable, depressing slice of horror; but what they were absolutely right about was the genre’s treatment of women.

This film goes out of its way to tell us, over and over again, that these films did not treat women badly (the footage over the end credits is an uninterrupted stream of women at horror conventions telling us how empowering they are). Amy Holden Jones wrote and directed “Sorority House Massacre” in 1983, and she calls herself a feminist. But it’s the idea that because one feminist created one film where women have stronger roles, the entire genre, with its hundreds of killers murdering and sexually threatening women, should be given a free pass, that is ridiculous. That there’s a five minute section at the end of the average slasher film where the woman, who’s spent the whole movie screaming and running away while all her friends die, displays some competence and “kills” the slasher, does not excuse the genre. There have been plenty of studies done on it, but they’re handily summarized here. It’s not as simple as “well, the Final Girl is a thing in horror movies” and anyone trying to tell you it is has something to sell.

If you’re a big fan of the genre, you’ll be a bit puzzled by some of the choices they make. The film essentially starts with “Halloween”, even though you could make a decent case for “Black Christmas” both predating it and being important to the evolution of horror. They show the sequels to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” without mentioning the original too, which is a bit strange.

The enormous majority of slasher films are cheap, badly acted pieces of garbage and while this doc at least attempts to address this, by showing posters for the long-forgotten ones inbetween the sections on the more famous films, you could be forgiven for leaving this film with a skewed vision of what the slasher movie was. The increasing gore as we go along isn’t a statement about Reagan’s 80s, it’s because they were trying to one-up the awful film that was released the week before, or generate publicity by angering some Moral Majority group into protesting them (which finally happened with “Silent Night, Deadly Night”).

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I don’t hate slasher movies, particularly. I unapologetically love all the “A Nightmare On Elm Street” movies, think the first two “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” films are both great, and at least enjoy plenty of others. But to pretend it was anything other than a bunch of scumbags trying to bleed teenagers of their money by any means necessary is disingenuous nonsense.

Maybe my favourite of all of them is “April Fools’ Day”. The doc mentions it, saying that because it’s mainly a comedy, advertising it as a slasher film was a pretty rotten trick – but to their credit they do produce a dissenting voice saying it was a work of genius. The strange thing is, by the time the film made it to the UK, they’d decided to change tack, as I never saw it billed as anything other than a comedy, and it remains a shining light among films lumped into the “slasher genre”. However, don’t watch this documentary before the film as it gives away the ending (as it does with quite a few others, oddly).

Ultimately, this is a documentary for fans. The footage of conventions isn’t an accident, and the smartest interviewee of all, “Sleepaway Camp” girl with something extra Angela, better known as actress Felissa Rose, gives a long speech about how wonderful the convention crowds are. That some could see them as an echo chamber enforcing all that’s worst about modern horror is, for some reason, never mentioned. Anyway, it’s absolutely worth watching if you’re a fan of the genre, but be prepared to fact-check pretty much everything that most of the interviewees say.

Rating: thumbs up

Halloween 2 (1981)

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Well…mostly new

This film is the beginning of the end. As far as I can gather, it’s the first sequel to a slasher film – a few other “horror” franchises had sequels before this, but they weren’t slashers, and this sets the template. The killer is now effectively indestructible, unstoppable and his motives become more and more hazy, to the point where it becomes “Slasher Film 7 – Just Point Me At The Teenagers”.

It starts the second the first film ends. The police finally get onto the streets of Haddonfield in force, and take Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) to the hospital. Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasence, showing remarkable loyalty to this series) is sure that Myers is out there, and even carries on believing it when someone dressed identically to Myers is trapped between two cars and blown up. “Before they were famous” fans will enjoy seeing future SNL and “Wayne’s World” star Dana Carvey as one of the TV news crew people.

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The interesting things about this movie are things that its imitators didn’t do. A significant amount of this film is about the aftermath of the first one and how the characters deal with it, which is a thing most horror films don’t give a damn about. We see the father of one of the girls murdered in part 1, we see the people at the local hospital discussing the radio news reports, and we get a flavour of how a small town which has this happen would react. But it does also have an unstoppable mask-wearing force of evil, and he makes his way to the hospital, doing a few more killings along the way and stopping off at his former infant school to write “Samhain” in blood on a chalkboard.

We also appear to have the originator of the poorly lit hospital trope which I’ve railed against so many times. Initially, the hospital is brightly lit, and you’re like “finally, a horror film where I can see what’s going on” until about halfway through, when all the lights seem to be on a dimmer. Dammit! What we also have, that the first film had none of, is the fakeout scare – a cat jumping out of a rubbish bin, a boyfriend pretending to be a patient under a blanket, that sort of thing.

John Carpenter wrote the second one, even though one gets the sense he didn’t really want to, and couldn’t think of a sensible plot – hence the “twist”, which is never so much as hinted at in the film before it. Also, for all his great films, he’s made a lot more than his fair share of garbage, so maybe this is from the “minus” side of his resume. The director of part 2, Rick Rosenthal, has zero other credits worth a damn and has been a TV director for the last 20 years, but he does a decent enough job of aping Carpenter’s visual style from part 1 – it looks similar enough that if you compared a few scenes, you’d probably not be able to tell who did what.

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You have to laugh. Myers makes his way through the hospital, thinking of interesting ways to kill people (drowning someone in a boiling hot tub is my favourite) and there’s never a bit of doubt that he’ll make it through everyone in his way up to Laurie and Dr. Loomis. It gets so silly towards the end that comedy must have been what they were going for – well, I hope, anyway. There’s one hilarious death where Myers has drained all the blood from one of his victims, and someone happens upon the scene later, slips in the blood, bangs their head and dies. Brilliant! It’s when you discover that Myers has slashed the tyres and damaged the engines of every single car in the parking lot that you think “okay, I don’t have to worry about taking this seriously now”.

What this film isn’t is particularly scary, because there’s no real tension to it – when someone is shot in the eyes twice but doesn’t stop coming, it’s tough to keep tension; but it does have quite a bit more gore. I’ll leave you with a quote from Splatter Movies, by John McCarty, written around the time. “[They] aim not to scare their audiences, necessarily, nor to drive them to the edge of their seats in suspense, but to mortify them with scenes of explicit gore. In splatter movies, mutilation is indeed the message, many times the only one.”

Rating: thumbs down