I grew up in the 90’s watching the X-Men animated series, and that’s what my main knowledge and fandom of the property stems from. It’s been sorry to say that the live action movies have, to me, failed to be remotely as faithful. Simply said, I have had a number of issues with all of the previous films of this franchise, and I was skeptical about The Wolverine going into it. Color me pleasantly surprised – I REALLY liked this movie. I have barely a major issue to levy against this film, directed excellently by James Mangold. While Wolverine has been a very central character in all the previous films, save for First Class, this film actually puts forth the honest effort to make him more than just an action bad ass. Some might find the film less than exciting, but for me, this steers this character into the right direction.
After the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) has become a vagrant lost and detached from society until he is sought out by Ichiro Yashida, the man whose life Logan saved at Nagasaki in 1945. This now powerful businessman seeks to repay this debt to Logan by absolving him of an unending life via his mutant healing factor. Regardless of consent, Wolverine is left physically vulnerable by secretive forces as he attempts to protect Mariko, Yashida’s granddaughter and heir to his empire, from the Yakuza and a band of deadly ninjas. Wolverine is now pushed to his physical and emotional limits as he confronts not only lethal samurai steel but also his inner struggle against his own immortality to emerge more powerful than ever before.
This is one of those reviews where I’ll address my minor issues with the movie first before delving into what I very much enjoyed. The Wolverine has a rather good tone keeping things mainly dramatically based, but it does inject some humor and levity. However, it possibly could have pulled back in a few places. Stuff like Logan and Mariko hiding out in a hotel which ends up being a “love hotel” where couples go to get it on. Some humor comes out of this which is rather gratuitous. The first half of the movie has these moments where there’s already been a fine balance of levity and drama, but adds in just a little more humor that makes it feel a tad extraneous. It throws that balance off just enough to slightly detract from the dramatic progression of the film, but by the halfway point, these issues evaporated.
Also, I wouldn’t begrudge this movie if it intentionally disavowed X-Men Origins: Wolverine from its continuity. I say this because in that film we clearly see that Wolverine’s memories were robbed from him via an adamantium bullet to the head. However, in this film, Wolverine easily remembers events from Nagasaki, 1945, more than thirty years before his memory loss. While the previous X-Men films have shown him recovering memories, particularly from the Weapon X program, it’s a bit of a shady area as to how he is able to so clearly remember these events. Even then, if you went by the continuity of Origins, he was still going by the name James Howlett at that point in time, but Yashida knows him only as Logan, which he doesn’t adopt until the 1970’s. This franchise’s continuity is extremely shoddy, and it’s that reason why I both eager and skeptical about how next summer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past will possibly resolve these continuity issues.
However, a more significant issue is very valid. Wolverine’s healing factor is repressed for the bulk of this film where his wounds heal at the rate of a normal human being. Yet, he is constantly extending and retracting his claws with not a drop of blood or sight of a wound on his knuckles. I did buy many X-Men comics in the 90’s including X-Men #25 where Magneto ripped the adamantium from Wolverine’s body, and his healing factor is overloaded to where to stops working. Thus, his knuckles continually bleed out every time he unsheathes his bone claws, and he keeps them wrapped in bandages. I can understand that the PG-13 rating would never allow Wolverine going around bleeding profusely in graphic fashion through most of the runtime, but it is a serious oversight. It didn’t take me out of the film at all, but it’s a definite flaw in the film’s logic that I felt should be addressed.
Now, onto the good stuff. Undoubtedly, this is Hugh Jackman’s most dimensional performance as Wolverine. The film takes him on a journey from this man living in the wilderness, cut off from everything after Jean Grey’s death, and vowing never to hurt another person. We get an arc for Logan where he rediscovers his purpose, and finds a reason for living. He reinvests himself in a reason to fight for someone else, and become that honorable, yet animalistic warrior that he once was. Jackman does an excellent job showing the rugged anger early on, but he contrasts that with the vulnerable, physically weakened Wolverine. There’s a great balance in his performance that really shines through, likely due to James Mangold’s smart direction. I also like that despite having no healing factor, Wolverine still proves to be one of the toughest bad asses on the planet. He gets shot up, slashed, and beaten, but does he ever push forward with everything he’s got. And of course, Jackman is in the best shape of his life here as he finally achieved the lean, muscular physique he always wanted for Wolverine. He is totally ripped, and that creates a real raw, intimidating presence. The fight scenes are some of the best he’s ever done as this character.
Tapping into the vulnerability of Logan are two women. The first is Yukio who seeks him out, and seems to have a great deal in common with him. They are both warriors who have lost loved ones in their pasts, and are brought together by Yashida as wayward souls. Yukio is able to keep Logan on his toes as she is as smart as she is deadly, but has formed a bond of trust and respect with him. Rila Fukushima does a very, very good job in this role handling all the physical demands amazingly well, and making this a character who is enjoyable as well as dimensional.
Mariko is the one who peels back the vulnerability of Logan’s heart. While there is never an overt romantic connection between them, the film builds an intimacy with these two. They get very deeply involved with each other learning the pain and love that have affected them. Logan is driven to protect her at every cost, and the emotional bond is built up with a lot of subtlety and grace. I really found this to be the main cog towards exploring Logan. Through Mariko, we see the change in him from the lost, fractured man to the fiercely determined warrior. The chemistry between Jackman and Tao Okamoto is really sweet and endearing as the two characters grow closer.
I feel this film is filled with a strong set of characters that are well cast. Will Yun Lee impressed me thoroughly as Harada, a ninja and archer who has dubious allegiances, and demonstrates some amazing physical feats early on. When the Yakuza are chasing Logan and Mariko through the Tokyo streets, he’s jumping and flipping from one rooftop to another and picking guys off with his bow and arrow. To me, he essentially put Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye to shame with just that one sequence. Beyond that, Lee simply grabbed me right from the start with his edge and presence. Plus, Harada has a really enjoyable arc as his loyalties and honor are certainly in question as he is associated with certain underhanded individuals, but has the best of intentions.
There are many characters that have their own personal sense of honor, however misguided it might be, and it creates this very strong gravity to each character. Shingen Yashia, Mariko’s crime boss father, is really damn good exercising authority and conviction with a really imposing presence. Ichiro Yashida is also solidly portrayed with a more honest breadth of honor, but he still has some turns to show for himself later on. These characters all have depth and dimension making them intriguing and engaging.
However, the femme fatale villain of Viper was possibly the least captivating character. The character is very well portrayed by Svetlana Khodchenkova giving her plenty of juicy material to wrap this venomous character up in, but ultimately, she’s just a hired villain with little purpose or motivation of her own. So, she’s not nearly as interesting as all these characters who are enveloped in honor, tradition, culture, greed, and betrayal. Their stories are much more strongly interconnected because there is family involved, and it is all tangled up in a treacherous web of deceit. Regardless, there’s not a single weak link in this cast, and they all put forth great efforts that truly impressed me. I cared about so many of these characters due to the strong performances behind them, and a solid writing by Scott Frank, Mark Bomback, and the uncredited Christopher McQuarrie.
What I really found refreshing in The Wolverine is that is doesn’t feel the need to have to throw action sequences down your throat to engage you. I believe some may disagree and find the film lacking, but it really hit the spot for me. Like I said, these characters are compelling enough all on their own for me, and it is quite a while before we get a real action sequence here. The film invests you in following Logan, and seeing what kind of man he is now. It peers you into his mind and pained heart as its central focus, and introduces action where the story requires it. Especially with superhero films, we tend to see action thrown at us right from the beginning telling you that action is the central focus of this movie. Director James Mangold tells you otherwise with how this film begins and progresses. It has important substance to introduce you to so that when the action occurs, you can be invested in the danger faced by these characters, and that is highly admirable in my view.
And the action here is rather stellar. From the trailers, I thought the bullet train sequence would not be very good, but I was so proven wrong. I found it exceptionally well constructed especially with how Logan and his combatants have to keep dodging the overhead structures that keep flying over their heads. Sometimes they duck, sometimes they jump over top, and sometimes, an unfortunate adversary goes on a very rough flight goodbye. There’s more to it than that, and every clever element just made it work very well for me. While it is all clearly CGI settings and backgrounds, there was still a sense of danger involved considering this is a train rocketing along at hundreds of miles per hour.
There are also some excellent fight scenes. I have to love me some samurai sword fights mixed in with perilous acrobatic martial arts maneuvers. When Wolverine faces off with Shingen, claws versus sword, it’s really the moment where the bad ass hero that we know re-emerges, and it’s a great moment and pay-off. There is plenty of slashing and impaling of Yakuza upon Wolverine’s claws early on. Now, I didn’t think of it at the time, but really, Wolverine never gets a full-on bezerker battle with ninjas. I know that’s appalling because that’s practically the signature moment every die hard fan would want to see. There is a confrontation leading into the third act, but there’s very little close range combat in it for Wolverine to start ripping at ninjas. Also, the use of blood on his claws is rather inconsistent. Sometimes, we’ll see blood on them after he impales a guy, but most times, we either don’t get a good look at them or there’s simply nothing shown. James Mangold did do an interview this past week hinting at a bloodier, more violent unrated cut of the film on Blu Ray, but we’ll have to wait and see. He supposedly did remove a more elaborate fight between Wolverine and the ninjas. Why, I couldn’t tell you.
I honestly think this is the best score I’ve ever heard from Marco Beltrami. Up until now, I don’t think he’s ever done anything this diverse or exceptional. He really captures the flavor and feel of Japan in subtle ways throughout his score. He never seemed to go for anything easy or expected in that realm. It’s a very fine piece of work that also highlights some great moments with due weight.
The cinematography is indeed damn good. I had desired a Wolverine film that was dark, gritty, and raw from when Darren Aronofsky was attached, but Mangold and his cinematographer did a lot to make this more polished look work. The Wolverine gives us a strong, vibrant color palette, and the nighttime scenes have a pleasing neo noir quality. It gives the film some mood where needed. I especially found some beauty in the Wolverine / Shingen fight with his dim blue backlight, and the ninjas converging upon Wolverine in the snowy landscape. The action sequences are essentially filmed very well keeping things steady and competent.
I can definitely say that the digital effects of The Wolverine are superior to those of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Surely, there are places where it’s not superb, but it’s fairly on par with your general effects-heavy summer film. Believe me, I saw worse CGI in the trailers before this film, but there were areas for improvement at times. Frankly, I can forgive some undercooked CGI if the film surrounding it is damn good enough. That very much applies here because this is exponentially superior to its Gavin Hood-directed predecessor on every level.
The Wolverine might not reach the level of greatness, but I feel it is an almost perfectly solid piece of work. The film takes its time to explore its characters, and give us a sense of depth and emotion with its title character. Even the dream sequences with him and Jean Grey are very poignantly handled starting out as something that haunts Logan, but slowly reflecting his ability to absolve himself of the burden he has at the film’s beginning. As you can likely tell, I very much respect and like this film’s focus on character instead of action. It also doesn’t overload us with more and more mutants, trying to cram every last cameo it can into the runtime. It takes the characters it needs, and builds the story around them tightly. I can only imagine how insane X-Men: Days of Future Past is going to be with somewhere in the range fifteen to twenty characters populating the story. Speaking of such things, stick around for a few minutes after the end credits begin. There is a special scene that you will certainly not want to miss that sets up next year’s big sequel.
When I woke up this morning, I didn’t even have this movie in my mind, but a great endorsement by another review motivated me to switch off the spoiler filled review and look up showtimes. The Conjuring is directed by James Wan, the man behind Saw and Insidious, a couple of horror films I have yet to see, but I’m more motivated to do so now, especially the latter. When a director demonstrates the level of tight grasp on taut, wicked suspense and horror that Wan does here, it puts him emphatically on my radar.
Based on a true story, the film tells the horrifying tale of how world renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Verma Farmiga) were called upon to help a family, the Perrons, terrorized by a dark presence in a secluded farmhouse. Forced to confront a powerful demonic entity, the Warrens find themselves caught in the most terrifying case of their lives.
I love many kinds of horror from slashers films to vampire flicks and beyond, but what really gets me excited is a film like this. A film that is all about the careful art of suspense and tension, and just thinking about what this film does to an audience gives me chills now. As with any “based on a true story” movie, there are potentially some embellishments from the filmmakers for dramatic or storytelling effect. Thus, that can allow an audience to slip a suspension of disbelief into this viewing experience. However, whether it’s all dead bang true or not, this movie is terrifying as living hell. My heart was pounding for five minutes after the film ended. James Wan is clearly a master at this craft because I’ve rarely seen anything this well executed. There is so much he doesn’t show you that utterly chokes the breath right out of your throat. He uses the pitch black dark corners of a house, making you project your own anticipations and imaginations into what lurks there. What these people say they are seeing will stand your hair on end, and when eventually Wan does reveal something to you, it will set your nerves on fire and jump start your heart like nothing else. Yet, this is not a film of jump scares. Every terror is subtly and brilliantly crafted and entirely earned. Things don’t just jump out of the darkness at you, they creep their way in under your skin, and scare the crap out of you. Wan does such a remarkable job showing you just enough to creep you out, and have the tension choke you up. A demonic face will ease its way into the frame, but will smartly cut to the next shot, keeping you on edge.
The film does have moments that could have been false jump scares, if handled by a much lesser filmmaker, but this film has so much better stuff waiting for you that it doesn’t need to fall back on cheap tactics. This film starts out ready to slam the fear factor into full gear. From the guy who made Dead Silence, it’s no wonder that a creepy, demonic doll jump starts the looming, pounding terror, and weaves its way back into the film later on. I just love that Ed Warren knows the doll is so dangerous, he has to keep it in a glass case with a sign that says, “Positively do not open,” in a room full of demonic artifacts completely out in the open.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga do an amazing job as Ed and Lorraine Warren, respectively. You can tell these are two people who have been through some intense circumstances because their bond is extraordinarily strong. All of these people, based on real life individuals, feel like fully dimensional, deeply human people. The emotions are strong, and the depth of belief in one another between Ed and Lorraine shows that a rare love would have to exist to keep these two people together through the hell they have experienced, first hand. Ed cares deeply for her safety after a terrifying exorcism incident really traumatized Lorraine, but seeing her strength constantly show through is amazing. If this is at all an honest representation of these two legendary paranormal investigators, my respect goes out to them just for their unwavering dedication to one another and what they do.
This film does a great job of balancing the story between the Warrens and the Perron family. Both of their stories are being told side-by-side and are interconnected. The fact that this entity latches onto both families compounds their problems makes for a greatly more intense story, and Lorraine getting more and more visions that frighten the hell out her just drives the terror forward incredibly intense.
Lili Taylor is taken on a real rollercoaster ride, and she handles it incredibly well. As Carolyn, she’s a wonderful mother and wife, but as these horrific experiences befall her and her children, Taylor sells the fear with grave importance. She and Ron Livingston work very naturally together, and no one here feels cheated on character or substance. All of the daughters are magnificently portrayed by an array of solid young actresses. Everyone feels like a real human being, and have very realistic chemistry and dynamics amongst them. Joey King has an amazing moment of paralyzing terror seeing something terrifying in the shadows that is never revealed to us. There is solid talent all throughout this cast that is absolutely impressive creating a very grounded, convincing realism to this extraordinary series of events.
The Conjuring also looks excellent as James Wan works with his regular cinematographer John R. Leonetti. They use light and especially shadow to brilliant effect. Few horror films really utilize the unseen mystery of darkness remotely as well as this film does. There are many moments where light bulbs are busted out, or very little light is present down to a mere match lighting up a whole creepy, spider web filled basement. It puts you so precariously on edge that you don’t know where or when the terror will come at you through that thick blackness. The cinematography really starts to get stylistic, in very good ways, during the climax. Many unique angles and good movement is utilized to surprising, clever effect. Yet, overall, the film is shot wonderfully never trying to distract or dazzle you with frenetic movement. Instead, there’s a lot of great still shots and flowing steadicam work to make this feel like this is a horror film with its feet firmly planted in the ground. It would’ve been easy for another filmmaker to make this feel like a 1970’s movie with a lot of film grain and handheld camera work, but again, this film doesn’t need much in the way of stylistic visuals to be amazingly effective.
And the score is greatly crafted and perfectly utilized. Most commonly used is a very low rumble that will rattle you with an ominous, foreboding feeling. The score never tries to over accentuate the scares. It’s right there in line with the intensity of the moment, and only strikes out at you when needed. This is a horror film that knows the value of silence, and the right time to tweak your nerves in the right direction with an appropriate music cue. You won’t find any clichés in the work of Joseph Bishara here.
And as any haunted house movie begs the question, this movie clearly answers why this family doesn’t just pack up and haul ass out of there. They’ve poured all their money in this new home as a family of seven in a new area where they don’t know anyone else. They have no alternative but to stay here. Yet, even if they did, the film has that great hook that the demonic presence has latched onto them. It doesn’t matter where they go, this thing is going to follow, and so, there is no escape. They have to confront and defeat this entity in order to move on with their lives. This is a horror film that has good doses of exposition, but it is handled so damn well that you are intently invested in every word that Ed or Lorraine relay to the Perrons. We see all of this come greatly to a head in a riveting third act.
When things ultimately go all to hell, the film ramps up the intensity so damn tightly. Anyone who has seen their fair share of horror films is quite familiar with the exorcism scene formula. While The Conjuring doesn’t do anything that will revolutionize that aspect of horror, James Wan still executes it will a lot of artistic merit and vision. Having the possessed individual covered in a sheet the entire time allows for the audience to project their frightening imaginations upon it, and think of just what this demonic entity is doing under there screaming and shrieking. The house shakes, birds crash into the windows, things are going insane, and just when you think the calm is setting in, it’s only elevating to the next level. There is so much hair-raising terror to be sucked into throughout this film, but I think it’s best sequence is when the Warrens’ daughter is being haunted by the entity and the possessed Annabelle doll from the opening sequence returns. Just thinking about it sends chills all over me. Typed words simply don’t do it justice. This is a film designed to tighten your every muscle, and strain every nerve across your skin. If you read my review of Sinister from last October, you’ll know how much that film scared me, and I would put The Conjuring right up next to that if not above it. The heart pounding terror continues to amplify throughout the film, and even the final moment of the movie still gets you in a really smart way that is never cheap. This is a high grade horror film with sophisticated filmmaking by a director who is clearly a master of the genre.
If you love being scared at the movies, and really enjoy something that is taut, chilling, and suspenseful, it is all here in The Conjuring. This film will indeed scare the living hell out of you. It is one of the most frightening horror films I’ve ever subjected myself to, and I look forward to being scared by it again and again. You should absolutely go see this as long as you’re not weak of heart because it will put a toll on it, for sure. This film earns every scare so brilliantly. There is just so much great terror on intense display that I could never cover it all, and there is no way I would spoil a single scare for you. Backed by a stunningly strong cast, especially in the case of Patrick Wilson and Verma Farmiga, you cannot go wrong with The Conjuring. This movie keeps giving me chills thinking about it. It is worth every penny you spend on your ticket and then some. This is one of the best horror films I’ve seen in years. Based on this film alone, I am going to check out Insidious, and then, hopefully look forward to Insidious: Chapter 2 coming this September.
I wouldn’t have thought of myself ever really checking out this movie out of self-ambition. However, I came across a video review of it from a usually trusted source. So, I gave it an honest chance, and to my pleasant surprise, I did indeed enjoy this movie a great deal. There are two main reasons why I write reviews. The first is because I love film in many of its forms, and I enjoy sharing my passions for it. The second is to open up others to films that I feel are worth discovering, and in turn, I enjoy other people opening up my horizons to new, good films. So, it’s great when others do the same for me. With Snow White & The Huntsman, there’s a really solid fantasy picture here worth giving a chance to.
Years ago, the noble King Magnus fell prey to the enchantment of the evil Ravenna (Charlize Theron) who killed him and took reign over his kingdom. Sustained by draining the life from others, Queen Ravenna remains forever young and beautiful, but the King’s daughter, left alive and imprisoned, has now come of age as the fairest of all in the land to threaten this darkness. Snow White (Kristen Stewart) soon escapes the castle, and the Queen sends a rugged Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to track her down. However, the Huntsman soon joins with Snow White on a journey to see her father’s kingdom reclaimed through a land of treacherous enemies.
While watching this, I was really pleased that it kept selling me on it all the way through. I liked the narration by the Huntsman who gracefully sets up the details of this story taking us through Snow White’s youth and the kingdom’s fall. The movie is tightly paced, propelling its story forward in a lean matter, but still with plenty of meat to the characters and their stories. In fact, despite watching the extended edition while writing this review, the film seemed to move along even faster than on my first viewing of the theatrical cut. The extended version has a few good, new scenes that add a little extra depth and detail here and there. There is a scene between the Huntsman and William, Snow White’s childhood friend and archer, in the extended cut that better sets up and pays off another scene with the obligatory poison apple. Of course, we also get some very good action sequences, which are also tight and to the point. They exist long enough to serve their purpose, and are solidly satisfying and exciting. It all feels real and consequential. The battles are never taken lightly, and there are casualties beyond just the obligatory background soldiers.
Now, really looking at this, I feel this is a fantasy film that could’ve hit in the 1980’s next to Highlander or Excalibur. This movie has some stunning imagery and inspired cinematography. Early on, I love how bold the blood reds are. They standout as really symbolic. Overall, this film has grit, murkiness, and dramatic weight. Many scenes are smoky and moody. It creates a tangible, grounded world that still allows for the fantastical to live and breathe. It’s a dark world reflecting the grim bleakness the Queen has cast over it, and that just creates a very engaging look for me. It has a lot of that same texture found in The Lord of the Rings movies, but with more of its own gritty mystical atmosphere and mood. Snow White and the Huntsman is a really beautifully shot film helmed by a director who clearly has vision.
Surely, for some, Kristen Stewart would be an obstacle for them due to her work in the Twilight movies. I have not subjected myself to those films for many reasons, but I believe this film shows that sometimes it’s not the actor but the material that should be questioned. I am very pleased to state that Kristen Stewart does a very wonderful job here. It did not take me long to see that she was a young woman of admirable talent. There is a lot of depth to this character, and there is a strong arc for her that Kristen Stewart conveys remarkably well. The fear is something she sells very realistically early on, but there is a hope and strength that grows out of that fear. As Snow White progresses through this adventure, you see her mature into a stronger, more active character. There is subtlety and beauty to what Stewart accomplishes here. She really shows a lot of heart, warmth, but also a tinge of sorrow along the way. And indeed, she has touching chemistry with Chris Hemsworth which also really drives this film forward on many great levels.
I am really a believer that Chris Hemsworth is on the verge of having an amazing career. While my exposure to him has been very minimal outside of Thor, he continues to demonstrate a powerful presence and great depth of talent in everything he does. Clearly, he handles the physicality here greatly. The Huntsman surely has his humor stemming from his attitude and Hemsworth’s rich charisma. Yet, there is a heartbreak to him stemming from being a widower, and Hemsworth really digs deep inside to evoke those potentially tear-jerking emotions. It’s a very dimensional character backed by a performance that quickly and easily endears himself to an audience. The only off thing comes from his accent, which I couldn’t place, but turns out it was supposed to be Scottish. In the least, he puts forth more effort into his accent than Sean Connery has with any other accent in his entire career.
Charlize Theron is perfectly cast as the evil Queen Ravenna. She plays it as someone on the frayed ends of manic obsession. Ravenna is insanely consumed with her outward beauty, but surely, inside, she is a horrible monster. Theron has more than proven her talent over the years, and this is an absolutely excellent performances. There is a tragic quality to this twisted character, and you see that soaked into every fiber of Theron’s performance. There’s complexity and depth to her that runs very deep. However, what sells it all the most is simply her eyes. The glaring, crazed, unflinching stare is downright scary. You can see just how far off the deep end she is between that and her explosive rants. Theron even tore a stomach muscle because she was screaming so intensely, and I can believe it.
And there are still dwarves in this tale. These roles are filled by great actors such as Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, and Ray Winstone, among others. The same sort of techniques used for similar smaller statured characters in The Lord of the Rings films were used here, and done so with seamless results. Hoskins is essentially their leader, and has the most dialogue. However, while his line deliveries are quite good, I found it odd that he was practically stone-faced throughout. I don’t think he registered a single actual facial expression in his screentime. Regardless, the dwarves tend to add the needed levity to the heavier, dramatic story being told. They never make things silly, just a little fun and light-hearted at times in the latter half of the movie.
I would say that the only segment of the film that didn’t wholly appeal to me was the latter half of the Fairy Sanctuary. This is the land that has been untouched by Ravenna’s darkness, and it is flourishing with a lush landscape and fantastical wonders. However, there’s just a lot of peculiar CGI woodland creatures that simply weren’t to my liking. With so much gritty realism in the film, this just felt pushed too deeply into the vibrant, slightly cartoonish fantastical realm, but it’s not long before it shifts back into the dark, grittiness.
This does bring up the issue of the digital effects. Most are really good, especially in the Dark Forest with all the almost pitch black creatures that slither and crawl out of the darkness, but in the Fairy Sanctuary, it is very obvious CGI that feels like it came out of another film. That’s another reason why that sequence didn’t work too well for me. Also, the withering age make-up on Charlize Theron is especially good, but some of the more elaborate morphing effects shots on her have room for improvement. Generally, the digital effects are fairly good with some really good stuff, but there is some more prominently on display work that doesn’t come off all that well. Thankfully, this film has very practical stunt work, and the realistic locations like the castles were actually built for the film. The filmmakers didn’t rely on digital matte paintings.
This film, while taking a new approach to the material, still hits all the classic beats of the Snow White story, but uses them to propel this story into larger territory. The poison apple from Ravenna to Snow White gives Hemsworth his best scene pouring out his heart over the dead Snow White. When she returns from death, it inspires and motivates herself and everyone else to take up arms and charge into battle. Kristen Stewart delivers a strong, inspirational, rallying speech to these people The fire and passion she projects is great. It is the moment where the character comes into her own, and becomes a leader to take back the kingdom that was stolen from her father. Snow White and The Huntsman still has that fairy tale simplicity, but adds in significant depth to mature the content, which is what makes it work so well. Every character has their sense of realism and dimensionality, and they serve both the gritty realism and the fantastical elements of the movie.
This film’s exciting, entertaining, it has a good, solid story, fine substance, satisfying character arcs, and overall, just has a great look to it. Also, from the opening logos to the end credits, the score is just enveloping and moody. That comes as no surprise from James Newton Howard, one of the best film score composers around today. Directed Rupert Sanders simply does a very solid job with this material, and hones his actors into bringing this darker fantasy take to life. I would say this is a hell of a good feature film directorial debut, and I hope he continues to deliver this kind of tight, cohesive quality. I know a sequel has already been planned, and while there’s not much precedent for further Snow White adventures, I will be eagerly interested to see what story these filmmakers conceive for it. There’s a great set of characters here that were well developed and filled by strong, rich talents. So, there is potential there, but until then, I will be happy to revisit this adventure quite a few times. I highly recommend it!
I am so glad that I did see this animated feature in theatres twenty years ago. Being a major fan of the animated series, there was no way I couldn’t be excited for it, and it has become a very respected high mark in the DC Animated Universe. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm does tend to get lost in the mix when discussing the best Batman or even best superhero movies because it was an animated feature. The film didn’t perform well in theatres, likely do to a less than aggressive marketing campaign. Even professional film critics Gene Siskel and Robert Ebert did not see it in its theatrical run, but when they did eventually watch it, they indeed loved it. So, with this preface, I think it’s easy to deduce that this is a definite favorite of mine.
When Gotham City’s most feared gangsters are systematically eliminated, the Cape Crusader is blamed, but prowling the night is a shadowy new villain, the Phantasm, a sinister figure with a vengeful agenda. Meanwhile, Andrea Beaumont, the one time love of Bruce Wayne’s life, returns to Gotham City stirring up memories including those of how he almost didn’t become Batman. As all of this unfolds, and the Phantasm becomes a more imminent, lethal threat, the Joker is brought into the fold as a major wild card. Now, can the Dark Knight elude the police, capture the Phantasm and clear his name?
If you’re unfamiliar with the 1990’s animated series, you need not worry. This film works entirely as a standalone feature, but for those who were serious fans, there’s a great sense of expansion and increased depth that this film offers. This is a great story interweaving all threads into an excellent Batman origin, romance, and superhero action movie. The heart of it is the romantic and heartbreaking story between Bruce and Andrea. It starts with so much hope and passion, but as with many of Bruce’s loves, it ends in despair and some tragedy. It’s a beautifully crafted tale that does touch an audience’s heart, and truly shows the emotional depth and humanity of Bruce before and after he becomes Batman.
This film shows us the events leading directly up to Bruce Wayne actually becoming Batman. I love seeing his first outing as a crime-fighter. It’s just him in black street attire and a ski mask. He has the skills, but not the persona, yet. Batman hasn’t been born, and thus, the key essentially elements of intimidation and mystique aren’t in play. He’s not the haunting creature of the night that will frighten the criminal element, and afterwards, Bruce realizes that is what he’s missing. It’s a thrilling action scene as Bruce takes down a group of thieves, and then, hangs off the back of an open van during a police chase. Yet, the very moment where Bruce Wayne dons the cowl and becomes Batman for the first time is a quintessential moment in my Batman fandom. No other film has ever matched this moment for me. Done wholly in shadows, it is a purely simple scene, but perfectly effective and iconic in my eyes. When he turns to reveal himself to Alfred, the reaction from Bruce’s loyal and lifelong butler is pure shock and fear. That still sends chills all over my body.
Now, I absolutely love how the stories of Bruce and Andrea intertwine. The flashbacks to their hot and fast romance are beautiful and classy. You can see that Bruce is ready to give up the vigilante nightlife to be happy with Andrea forever, but the shady elements of her father, Carl Beaumont’s business dealings forge an inevitable wedge between Bruce and Andrea. Smartly, these elements are the core of the present day story between Batman and the Phantasm. It’s also a great turn that the Phantasm’s murders are framed on Batman simply by misidentification. This forces the Gotham Police to begin a manhunt against Batman, but strongly true to his character, Commissioner Gordon refuses to be apart of it. He knows that Batman doesn’t kill, and that little moment shows the bond of trust between Gordon and the Dark Knight. It’s only a shame that that is Gordon’s only scene in the film. Every aspect of this story flows organically and tightly. With a 76 minute runtime, it could move at no other or better pace.
By no doubt, Kevin Conroy has been the definitive voice of Batman for over two decades now for legions of fans. Whenever I read a Batman comic book, it is his voice that I hear as Bruce Wayne and Batman. Conroy reflects all the best qualities of the character from the upbeat playboy, the serious businessman, the dark, brooding man in the shadows, and the powerfully imposing Dark Knight. The most important thing is he brings life, depth, and intelligence to Batman. Producer Bruce Timm and co-writer Paul Dini perfectly understood the character, and throughout this DCAU from Batman: The Animated Series to Batman Beyond to Justice League Unlimited, they stayed true to the core of Batman. The ideals of justice, humanity, and undying determination have always thrived in this animated interpretation. Beyond anything else, we see the world’s greatest detective at work, which is something none of the live action films have ever fully embraced. Batman unravels the mystery of the Phantasm and these crime bosses with cunning and perceptive intelligence. Conroy embodies all of these subtle, inspiring, and engaging qualities of Batman with a lot of heart and care. It might only be voice work, but this still stands as the best adaptation of the character to date.
And I couldn’t discount Mark Hamill’s Joker. Much like with Conroy, he has been a definitive voice for the character to many fans for so long, but has had real competition from great actors in this role. I am a fan of all versions from Ceasar Romero to Jack Nicholson and beyond. With the Joker, there’s almost no wrong way to go with him because he is such a radically unpredictable character that he could be very Romero one day and very Ledger the next. What Hamill does is make the Joker this insane clown who will do whatever hits the biggest punchline in his own twisted mind. He will still likely kill you, but he’s going to laugh his ass off doing it. Hamill brings the jovial zaniness meshed with a lethal intimidation that forges a colorful maniac that is endlessly fun and entertaining while still being a major threat.
Beyond the fact that I do really adore Dana Delany, I believe she was a perfect choice to voice Andrea. She brings a touching beauty of heart and soul to the character. As the younger Andrea, she’s very optimistic and vibrant. She’s a young woman with everything to love and embrace in life. In the present day, she’s a little more heartbroken and tender. There’s a great emotional complexity to her by the end which is very sad and sympathetic. Delaney is a wonderful, charming actress, and she does a remarkable job voicing Andrea Beaumont.
The animation style of this feature film is definitely a solid step upwards from the series with more dramatic shading, and a bit more dynamic action sequences. The opening title sequence even features a beautiful CGI fly through of the Gotham City skyline. The entire series was heavily inspired by the classic Max Fleisher Superman cartoons, and that is very evident, especially with the great art deco designs. Adapting this style to Batman pushed everything into a great film noir realm that works stunningly for him.
The main theme from Danny Elfman for Tim Burton’s Batman movies lived on in this DC Animated Universe. They were reworked by the great, and now late, Shirley Walker. For this feature, she makes it even more gothic and haunting with a beautiful chorus. Yet, that’s only just the start of her stunning work. It’s a fantastic score that rouses an audience, and nails all over the wonderful emotional beats.
And there is plenty of thrilling action throughout this movie. The Phantasm’s stalking of mob bosses are dark, shadowy, and even a little scary. They have a looming, ominous presence. The film unfolds some rousing and even explosive moments at a regular interval, but they entirely flow from the progression of the plot. Nothing’s extraneous, and it really wastes no time crashing you headlong into the action and story. The climax with Batman and the Joker at the abandoned World’s Fair is pretty fun. It shows the Joker’s dangerous playfulness, and creates an escalating sense of peril as he has rigged the whole place to explode. Yet, the movie ends on the appropriate emotional beats remembering that the story is paramount, and it treats its character with due respect.
Unlike many live action movies, this animated feature was given a lot of creative freedom to its production team, and they were able to deliver a very well fleshed out, wonderfully balanced story. This is entirely reflective of the quality that was consistently on display with the animated series and its spin-offs and follow-ups. If you’ve never seen Batman: The Animated Series, this is a great introduction to it, and if you’ve watched and loved it, this is a gem that will satisfy your fandom. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is a delightful and amazing animated Batman adventure that is well worth your time.
To me, there is no defending this movie. It is the worst film of this franchise, and a terrible supposed ending for Freddy Krueger. As the progression of these films showed, Freddy transitioned from being a chilling icon of horror into being a jokey, cheesy clown, and this film goes right off the deep end of comedy in the most wretched ways. Worse yet is that that’s just the beginning of this movie’s problems. It tries to do something quirky and new, but the ideas it runs with are just so stupid that I cannot fathom how anyone embraced them as good ideas. What stuns me more is that this film was written by the same person, Michael DeLuca, who wrote my favorite horror movie of all-time – John Carpenter’s In The Mouth of Madness. Of course, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare has nothing at all to do with the horror genre.
Dream monster Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) has finally killed all the children of his hometown of Springwood. One amnesiac teenage survivor, known only as John Doe (Shon Greenblatt), is allowed to escape so that Freddy may expand his power beyond the town. John soon comes into the care of a youth shelter and Dr. Maggie Burroughs (Lisa Zane), who has a forgotten past of her own as Krueger’s own daughter. This revelation is what can facilitate Freddy’s freedom to engulf the world in nightmares. However, she discovers the demonic origin of his powers and meets him head-on in a final showdown.
This is a cluttered mess of a movie, but I’ll tell you what I like about it which isn’t much. Since Freddy’s Dead is set a decade in the future, there’s obviously a detailed history that we are unaware of, and thus, it creates an inherent mystery. It lays a foreboding mystique over Krueger’s motivations and schemes. Of course, this film squanders all of that hint of potential by not exploring any of that untold history at all. It concerns us solely with this bland, boring mystery about Freddy’s kid and Krueger’s origins. The misdirection of who is Freddy’s kid is terribly weak and completely uninteresting. John is a teenager, and it is stated in the movie that Freddy’s child was taken away from him in 1966 – thirty-five years before the time this film is set. Even then, Freddy was probably already dead by the time John was born. There was an early idea that John would have been Jacob, Alice’s son from The Dream Child, but that is clearly impossible as he’s too old. Maggie being Freddy’s daughter is also a completely new thing that comes out of nowhere. Obviously, this is a brand new thing created for this movie alone, but it doesn’t take into the thought that if Freddy had this child out there all this time that he would’ve taken advantage of her far earlier than now.
This is indicative of how this film presents ideas and questions, but the filmmakers put in no time or effort to think them through. They don’t pull from the established continuity or characters we’ve connected with through the previous five movies. While a few of the films have introduced new ideas to Freddy’s origins, they’ve been largely smart ideas that flow organically from what had come before. These filmmakers also don’t rationalize the motivations or thought processes of its characters to have anything really make any sense. Beyond that, it constantly embraces the ridiculous as if this was meant to be a horribly bad comedy. The story has a very shaky foundation, and anything built upon it is constantly crumbling apart. By the end, it’s an eye sore of a disaster.
Also, this film brings up an intriguing question of whatever happened to Alice from The Dream Master and The Dream Child? This character that defeated Freddy twice, and clearly had the power to keep him at bay is never eluded to once in this movie. Freddy’s wiped out the child population of Springwood, and turned it into a bizarre wasteland of delusional adults. Did Alice get killed, or did she just runaway and let it happen? If Freddy killed her, that would be an extremely pivotal thing for fans and audiences to know and actually see. If she turned her back on him, that’s also a story I’d like to see explored. Why would his biggest, most powerful nemesis not be there to combat him to the bitter end? These questions have no remote answer to them. Instead, we’re burdened with a couple of lead characters that I couldn’t give a damn about.
I cannot say that Shon Greenblatt was a very good casting choice. He’s not terrible, but he just has nothing charismatic or special to offer in this role. He has practically the same expression through every single scene regardless of he’s confident, angry, afraid, or confused. He fails to elicit any sense of caring from me. This is also due to how stupid and flat his character happens to be. He exercises no perceptive intellect, and kind of comes off as arrogant once he thinks he’s Freddy’s kid. He forms this conclusion based on nothing definitive, and just jumps around from one idiotic, self-important conclusion to another. Neither Greenblatt nor the direction do anything to make this a character you’re going to care about one way or another.
Lisa Zane’s character is also someone I couldn’t really care about. The film takes almost an hour before it starts going into any detail about Maggie, and even then, it’s extremely minimal stuff just to facilitate a weak connection between her and Freddy. Beyond that, I ask myself the questions of why am I supposed to care at all about this brand new character that this film takes next to time to develop? What’s so special about this character that she is meant to be the one to put the supposed final nail in Freddy’s coffin? And again, why the hell aren’t we following Alice Johnson charge headlong into a final, epic battle with Freddy? The filmmakers didn’t need to manufacture a child for Freddy in order to explore his back story, and even that idea is so lazily implemented. No one puts forth any effort to make that anything an audience should invest themselves in. Most importantly, Lisa Zane really does nothing with this character. The performance is very hollow, and like Greenblatt, she essentially has one facial expression for every emotion in every scene.
The only cool and bad ass member of this cast is Yaphet Kotto, and that’s because he is Yaphet Kotto. I don’t think it’s possible for him not to be awesome in any role. They should’ve made the film more about his character, who is only named Doc. He’s the one that figures everything out, and has the knowledge and perception to battle Krueger on his own ground. Unfortunately, he probably has the least amount of screentime, and his talent is almost entirely wasted opposite such bland characters and cast members. With this film, it seems that the less significant your character is, or the less screentime you are given, the better your performance will be.
For instance, this film’s new set of teens are pretty good characters filled by charismatic actors. The most notable among them is Breckin Meyer in his first feature film role. You can see all of his signature personality and talent on display here. Lezlie Deane is the most proactive of them all as Tracy showing a lot of fight and toughness. She doesn’t take much attitude from anyone. Ricky Dean Logan has a nice dash of attitude while still being quite likable as Carlos, the kid with the hearing aid. Freddy ends up screwing with him royally via his hearing aid by amplifying every little sound to deafening levels. It’s too bad that it’s so undermined by the absolutely cartoonish behavior of Freddy.
Knowing that even Englund himself agreed to make this movie like a Bugs Bunny cartoon makes my head hurt. Up until this point, he was able to maintain some integrity with the character, but here, it just all gets flushed right down the toilet. There is no menace, no sense of a frightening killer anywhere within this movie. Englund jumps the proverbial shark with this performance making Krueger a total, cringe inducing cartoon that really craps all over the entire franchise. The make-up job also follows that mentality with a horribly cheap and rubbery prosthetics job constantly exposed in bright light.
The visual effects, in general, are largely bad. They tried to use some low budget CGI, but it looks no better than mid-grade optical effects, at best. There are a few shots that are fine, but the visual effects do take an obvious nose dive decline in quality from the last few films. Mixed with the poor 3D sequence, it just becomes cringeable to look at. The dream demons themselves are horrendous and laughable in their brief appearance. The practical effects from master John Carl Buechler are very good in most respects, but the film is so terribly light on kills and good imagination that there’s hardly much of a showcase for Buchler’s brilliant talents.
I really like the soundtrack for this film to the point where I tracked it down years ago on CD. It has many great tracks mainly from the Goo Goo Dolls, and a solid end titles track from Iggy Pop. I can’t say I’m all that keen on how, early on, the film drives this soundtrack right into the blatant forefront. Every few minutes another song kicks in undermining the score. For certain types of films, this sort of thing works, but for what should be a horror movie, it doesn’t at all. Of course, even the score that this film has is almost entirely dismissible and hardly noticeable.
The third act of this movie is such garbage. First off, the horrible 3D gimmick of Maggie putting on 3D glasses to enter Freddy’s mind is face palmingly bad. Again, Freddy’s a horribly bad joke in this movie, and so, I don’t give a damn about his back story at this point. Maggie is a hollow, boring protagonist that I care even less about. So, I simply don’t care about her traversing through Freddy’s memories, or seeing how he became a serial killer or a dream demon. The only highlight is Alice Cooper appearing in a cameo as his father, but it’s nowhere near being a saving grace. The entire fight between Maggie and Freddy is just crap. It’s essentially a street fight with conventional weapons with absolutely no fantastical qualities whatsoever. After all of the supernatural, paranormal, metaphysical ways they’ve defeated Freddy in the past five movies, these filmmakers resort to a damn pipe bomb. Maggie pulls him into the real world, and blows him up with a pipe bomb. You have got to be kidding me. How creatively bankrupt must you be to go forward with that, and have it end with Maggie being all smug about it? I’ll take the toxic waste bath in Jason Takes Manhattan over this insulting garbage. At least that showed a semblance of imagination and effort.
Any of the lesser grade sequels could at least be chalked up to poor execution, but this movie is a disaster from the concept and script onward. I don’t think this is a well directed movie by Rachel Talalay at all. It’s not well conceived, not well written, and it’s not well acted where it counts. Freddy’s Dead bares no resemblance to a horror movie at all. It doesn’t even put forth the smallest effort to establish a mood or atmosphere conducive to scaring even the most timid audience. There’s so much cartoony garbage stinking up the movie that you couldn’t break out of it if you tried. This movie SUCKS SO FUCKING BAD! I strongly avoid using that kind of profanity in my reviews, but when a movie elicits that strong of a negative emotion from me, there is no way I could express my vehement disdain any other way. It’s like a middle finger pointed straight at the audience in crappy 3D. This film also has no sense of transition. There are a few scenes that just abruptly end, jarring us into the next scene without a single mind towards a segue. You feel the scene is building towards something more, but it takes a sharp turn into a completely different scene. This is bad plotting, poor pacing, and just sloppy editing. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare has no qualities that could possibly redeem it because it was so royally screwed from its inception.
From here, the only salvation for Freddy Krueger was Wes Craven and Jason Voorhees. The first was a creative salvation, and the second was a financial salvation. Sure, this movie was a box office success, but there is nothing within this film that deserved that success. It is one of the absolute worst sequels I have ever seen, regardless of genre. I would log it next to Alien vs. Predator because it is that insulting in its ideas, and piss poor in its filmmaking competency. Also, this film absolutely did not need an obnoxious cameo by Roseanne and Tom Arnold. They standout like a sore thumb, but thankfully, it’s only for a minute. However, it’s just another stamp of the filmmakers not taking this film seriously or respecting where this franchise came from. Even separated from the franchise, this is still a terrible movie through and through. So many of those creatively involved with it should be ashamed that they did this to Freddy Krueger. Instead of shifting gears and bringing the icon back to his serious roots of horror, they plunge off the deep end, and drown him in a comedy sewage. I could go on and on calling this film every bad name in the book, but I think I’ve said plenty. Thank goodness that Wes Craven would bring respectability back to the franchise with New Nightmare, which I did review last October. Skip this movie and watch that one. It’s a massively, exponentially superior film on every level.
This is where the film franchise took a serious slip and fall misstep. Someone realized that Freddy Krueger was on the verge of becoming a bad punchline, and so, steps were taken to make this a darker, more mature sequel. Rushed out into theatres just under a year after The Dream Master, director Stephen Hopkins did all he could to deliver a solid film, but there was too many misconceived qualities to be what the studio desired. This was the lowest grossing film of the series up to that point, and the reasons why are evident here.
Having survived and seemingly defeated him, Alice Johnson (Lisa Wilcox) finds the deadly dreams of Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) starting once again. This time, the taunting murderer is striking through the sleeping mind of Alice’s unborn child. His intention is to be “born again” into the real world at the expense of Alice’s new circle of friends. The only one who can stop Freddy is his dead mother, but can Alice free her spirit in time to save her own son?
For me, the biggest and most evident issue with The Dream Child is that it tries to tie campy, overblown humorous elements in with a gothic looking slasher film, and that just curls my upper lip in disgust. Stephen Hopkins certainly directs a very well shot movie, but that gothic production design is soaked in so much brown that it’s not inviting to look at. That visual style is really contained within the dream world, but that has always been the more fantastical and visually intriguing aspect of these films. Hopkins does have a great eye for stylish visuals, but it is a very drab film to look at in most cases. If it had a more subtle, realistic color palette like Craven’s original, or followed along the vibrant color schemes of Renny Harlin’s The Dream Master, this may have been a more visually exciting movie.
Lisa Wilcox is able to stretch out and expand upon her previous performance as Alice. She’s able to take that strong fighter, and add the emotional touches of heart and depth into her. It feels very organic from how she initially was in The Dream Master, but just melding that with her new found strength. Wilcox also brings out the heartache and inner turmoil of Alice with endearing charm and sympathy. She’s pushed to new limits, fighting to save not only her friends, but the life of her newly conceived son, which Wilcox embraces with a great deal of depth and motivation. All around, she leads this film with a lot of confidence continuing on as an inspiring hero for this franchise. I feel it’s unfortunate that she is never revisited again because Lisa Wilcox is such a solid and versatile talent, and really gave us a standout character to rival Nancy Thompson amongst fans.
Now, Alice’s new cast of friends are not filled by bad actors. They are quite good, but the characters just aren’t that appealing or entertaining. The closest we get is the comic book artist Mark. He’s decently fun, but is definitely downplayed. He has some good dramatic moments, and showcases some heart at times. It’s a shame that actor Joe Seely has nothing more to work with here because he seemed to have the potential to really breakout with a more entertaining performance. With Yvonne, I understand the idea of the friend that doesn’t always agree with you, but she is too abrasive too often. There is too much friction between her and Alice for my liking to where I just didn’t like the character. With all the teenagers that have been killed by Freddy in this town, you’d think she would actually wake up to the truth and start acting more open-mindedly. Instead, she remains a stubborn minded person dismissing her friends claims instead of trying to help them through most of the film. That’s a friend I wouldn’t care to have. Greta, the more upper class type friend, just doesn’t have much going for her as a character. The actress portraying Greta’s mother, however, is just terrible all the way through. She overacts the part to horrendously cartoonish levels. Her performance is very forewarning of some of what we’d get in Freddy’s Dead.
I found the kid who plays Jacob, Whitby Hertford, to be rather unappealing to look at and rather annoying. There was nothing about his performance that made me feel sympathy for him at all. Even worse is that the make-up department did all they could to make him look uglier, creepier. Surely, that was the intent, but part of the purpose of Jacob is to make him sympathetic; to make him someone you want to see saved from Krueger’s clutches. I couldn’t care any less about him if I tried. I really feel he should have been played more innocently, and have Freddy gradually corrupt him more and more to motivate sympathy from an audience and put more urgency upon Alice to act quickly.
Ten years ago, I was able to do an email based interview with Robert Englund, and from that, I gained insight into the shift in the tone and portrayal of Freddy Krueger from scary and serious to cheesy and comical. He said, and I quote, “I feel Freddy should be dark, but directors and fans like his dark humor. In many cases during the filming of all the movies I would give a dark and a comical take for certain scenes. Director liked the “button” that a laugh gives so they would often opt for the more comical take in the editing room.” The choice to take Freddy into comical territory was indeed outside of Englund’s control, and he simply gave the filmmakers the best performance he could based on what they wanted. This film delves deeply into the comical villain portrayal, and thus, the scare factor of Freddy Krueger is severely drained. He was turned into a twisted clown that might make some people laugh, but is almost guaranteed not to scare you at all. What is scary is that this is not the worst it would get to being.
The make-up work on Freddy does fall down in quality as he appears cheap and rubbery. This is a byproduct of the rushed production schedule. However, many of the various practical effects are impressive such as the motorcycle death sequence that seems straight out of Videodrome. There are some cool visual effects used when Mark gets sucked into his comic books, but it was far from anything new. It was mostly a retread of the classic a-Ha music video for “Take On Me.” The climax features effects and designs directly copying from M.C. Escher’s famous artwork Relativity with all the upside down staircases. It’s a fine idea, but it’s less surreal and just more whacky and silly. I’ve seen it done in Looney Tunes cartoons before, and so, I would hardly associate it with a frightening, vertigo-like nightmare. There are a number of very good visual effects in The Dream Child, but the ideas behind many of them aren’t all that great. Plus, they seem even more dated than those of The Dream Master.
And of course, since this film deals with a pregnancy, I honestly don’t think that A Nightmare On Elm Street movie is the proper platform to debate the issue of abortion. I am not going to inject my feelings on the issue here either. This film brings it up as a serious issue for Alice to contend with, but she remains strong in her decision to keep the child. People don’t go into a movie like this to have hot button socio-political issues debated. They are there to have a fun time being scared. Adding this sort of subject matter into the movie likely turned more than a few people off to it. While it is not an aspect of the film that really bothers me, it’s just not something that needed to exist in a slasher movie.
This sequel also feels uneven in its plotting, and rather thin in certainly places. The film is front loaded with establishing every element of this plot to where it leaves a lot of muddled meandering in the middle. It probably rushes us into the thick of the story quicker than necessary. Then, the film progresses past all of that to where it kind of goes through the slasher movie motions to rack up the body count. It’s not until the final act that any of these plot elements are actively dealt with, and even then, it becomes very repetitive just in order to fill in the remaining runtime. That’s odd to say since the film ends very quickly after Freddy is dispatched with, but still struggles to come in under the 90 minute mark. The third act confrontation with Freddy runs around in circles, both literally and figuratively, to where it just doesn’t feel exciting. Again, I didn’t care a thing for this creepy child Jacob to invest myself in Alice’s desire to protect him, and the filmmakers don’t really do anything to make him anyone to care about. So, having Alice and Freddy chase him around the dream world for the whole third act was just tedious. I generally like the further exploration of Freddy’s origins and bringing Amanda Krueger back into the fold from Dream Warriors. I just don’t think all of these elements have enough impact on the climax as they likely were supposed to. I understand not trying to close the door on Freddy, again, since he always comes back, but not trying to have a satisfying and solid ending to your movie is a terrible approach to have.
While Stephen Hopkins tried to take this into a darker, grittier look, it is the script that fundamentally sabotages that effort. I’m even hard pressed to say if this is even a potentially good concept because it is executed so poorly from a clunky screenplay. This is what you get when you rush the movie into theatres fifty-one weeks after the original. Back in 1989, it took that long just to get a movie from theatres onto home video. When you slow down, and take your time to find the right story and refine the concept, you will get a better movie in the end. Instead, The Dream Child is enough of a mess to call this a major pothole in the steady road of success of this franchise. While it was profitable, it did fall especially below expectations. Thus, New Line Cinema decided to begin plotting Freddy’s supposedly ultimate demise with what would be the most horrendous movie of this entire franchise. As for this sequel, ultimately, neither the attempt at a darker, more mature tone nor Englund’s best efforts could save it. The film is watchable, but not especially satisfying.
With the strong success of the third movie, New Line Cinema struck their biggest gold with this 1988 sequel helmed by Finnish director Renny Harlin. The Dream Master takes a lot of what made Dream Warriors marketable and entertaining and amplified it. This is definitely the most mainstream film in the franchise with many pop culture sensibilities, and that resulted in the largest box office take until 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason. For many years I had formed a much more negative opinion of this film, but now that I’ve watched it again, I can say that this is a very well made movie. However, I cannot say that it’s a very effective horror movie.
Proving there’s no rest for the wicked, the unspeakably evil Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is again resurrected from the grave to wreak havoc upon those who dare to dream, but this time, he faces a powerful new adversary. As her friends succumb one by one to Freddy’s wrath, telepathically gifted Kristen Parker (Tuesday Knight) embarks on a desperate mission to destroy the satanic dream stalker and release the tortured souls of his victims. However, her power will have to be passed to her friend Alice Johnson (Lisa Wilcox) as she has the ability to overcome Freddy’s control, and absorb the power of her slain friends to end Krueger once and for all.
I do enjoy a couple of Renny Harlin’s movies. The Adventures of Ford Fairlane and Die Hard 2 are definite favorites of mine, and I am anxious to watch Cliffhanger very soon. However, I don’t think horror really is his strong suit, despite how gory his early films are. I will certainly hand it to him for having a great handle on gore effects, and his films usually look damn good on all levels. Still, this film is a long way removed from the brilliant execution of chilling suspense and the masterful enveloping experience of terror of Wes Craven’s original classic. However, on a technical level, this is probably the best made film of the franchise until New Nightmare. Harlin just knows how to move his camera in smart, cinematic ways. There seems to be more camera movement overall with some steadicam work, and smart, engaging camera angles. This is a very polished looking film having nearly triple the budget of Dream Warriors, and it shows through in all aspects. It has vibrant colors, but a good mix of light and dark. The whole movie feels just a little more theatrical in its lighting as well. Thus, the mood is a little more artistically crafted, visually, than Dream Warriors, but it does lack a good dose of suspense. The film has its gore, its violence, and its imagination in high gear, but doesn’t make itself all that scary.
This film loses a lot of potential emotional resonance having to recast Kristen Parker with Tuesday Knight. There was apparently a turbulent experience for Patricia Arquette on the previous movie, and for possibly other reasons as well, she chose not to reprise the role of Kristen. Knight does an okay job, but it really feels like a filler role to motivate the plot along quickly to put Alice in the lead role. It also comes down to how she is written. There is no motivation given for why she’s convinced that Freddy’s coming back to get her, and it feels like a large step backwards for the character. She seemed to evolve a little in last film to a stronger protagonist, and she feels regressed to a more timid, easily spooked person here.
Returning from Dream Warriors are Ken Sagoes and Rodney Eastman as Kincaid and Joey, respectively. They still deliver perfectly to what they did in the previous movie, but their chemistry with Knight is not as good as it was with Arquette. I really like that The Dream Master feels like a direct sequel by bringing back these surviving characters while segueing into a new cast. We spend the first act with them, fearing for their lives from Freddy’s imminent rampage of revenge, but then, it shifts into another gear that once again builds upon the premise of the series. It feels like Freddy is triumphing here as an nearly indomitable force, and we need a stronger hero with special powers to combat him.
This film greatly builds Alice up as our new heroine. We get glimpses into her emotional and mental state, both affectionate and angered, from under her meek appearance. The film nicely balances establishing her as a well rounded character in all aspects while keeping Kristen also in the forefront in a more troubled state. Lisa Wilcox proves to be a solid actress with fine range. We see her take Alice from this lowly, slightly introverted young woman to a vibrant, tough fighter. Yet, we get moments of endearing sweetness and heart making her easy to sympathize with. We follow Alice as she grows into this awesome character, and delivers in spades as an action hero that a film of this sort required.
I think the idea of Alice gaining the powers of her friends as Freddy kills them is great. It creates a fresh dynamic in the story that while Alice suffers the grief of her dying friends, she becomes stronger by them so that she can battle Freddy. He is savagely tearing through them at a fast rate making the situation all that more dire and seemingly insurmountable. It definitely moves the film along at a tight pace, and makes for an entertaining and original sequel. I will hand it to the A Nightmare On Elm Street movies for always seeking out new ideas so that no film feels like a carbon copy of another. The ideas might not always work, but there’s at least an effort put forth most times.
Since this film amplifies all of the entertaining qualities of the previous movie, we get a Freddy Krueger who cracks more jokes, throws out more one-liners, and has significantly more screentime. Robert Englund still does a very good job with this material maintaining his own standards of integrity as an actor. Unfortunately, the portrayal of Freddy in this film just falls further away from that frightening figure that stalks the dark recesses of your worst nightmares. For crying out loud, he is seen in broad daylight on a sunny beach with a pair of sunglasses on. That’s one of my least desirable images from this franchise. It’s the total stark opposite environment to place Fred Krueger in. The scene in question has Kristen going into her own idyllic dream, and then, Freddy crashes it in a very Jaws homage fashion. The better way to do this would be to have the sky go dark and stormy, and have Freddy invade her dream in a more ominous way. Keeping Freddy in the shadows is where he is the most effective, and while there is some of that here, the liberties taken just don’t work to maintaining him as a scary figure.
The effects work here is amazing and rather ambitious. The waterbed scene is great in both concept and execution as Joey tries to reach the naked beauty inside, but then, gets gutted by Freddy. The most shocking and disgusting effects are when Freddy goes after Debbie, and she is transformed into a insect piece by piece. Even for as much gross stuff as I’ve seen in horror movies, this sequence still makes me cringe and my stomach turn. It’s no wonder I haven’t worked up the nerve to watch David Cronenberg’s The Fly. The big ending to the climax where the souls are fighting to break out of Freddy is greatly elaborate and highly impressive. Many different effects were used to pull this off, and they cut together seamlessly and to fantastic effect. While some of the effects are dated and a little cheesy, they still work for the film’s overall style, and were certainly high grade for their time.
The music is very pop oriented with a mostly synthesizer style score creating a great ambient mystique. It is a perfectly 80’s soundtrack with a number of really good rock tracks from Billy Idol, Dramarama, Vinnie Vincent Invasion, and Tuesday Knight herself performing the opening title track “Nightmares.” I really like the sound of all of it because it gives the film energy, style, and a little bit of edge. It helps to energize the movie and the audience as events unfold and build up to a really great climax.
I now do really like this movie. It is fun, entertaining, exciting, and quite smart in a number of ways. Renny Harlin does a great job with the well developed screenplay. Unfortunately, where it fails is in actually in the horror department. I’m not sure what to classify this movie as because it does have gruesome, nightmarish imagery, and great effects along with a solidly put together cinematic atmosphere. There’s just not much here to scare an audience with outside of the graphic scenes of gore. There’s very little effort put into building up tension or suspense, which are key to roping an audience in tightly. It’s a fun, dark fantasy with a pitch perfect pop culture sensibility and excellent violent, gory moments. The Dream Master is a largely fun time spent with a very capable and enjoyable cast, and so, it is easy to see why this was such a big box office success. I just wish there was more to be potentially scared about in this tightly paced 93 minute runtime.
Sequels tend to be an inferior breed of movie, especially in the horror genre. However, sometimes, when you get the right mix of talent together, and especially getting the input of series creator Wes Craven, you can create one the most beloved films in the entire franchise. Freddy’s Revenge fell off-track with the ideas and mythos of Freddy Krueger, but this film, Dream Warriors, got it solidly back on track in stellar, awesome ways.
The last of the Elm Street kids are now at a psychiatric ward where Freddy Kruger (Robert Englund) haunts their dreams with unspeakable horrors. Their newest fellow patient is Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) who has the ability to pull others into her dreams. Their only hope is dream researcher and fellow survivor Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), who helps them battle the supernatural psycho on his own hellish turf.
From the beginning, you can see that this film is again embracing the atmosphere and surreal qualities of Craven’s original. It feels directly in synch on numerous levels. The opening dream sequence is very nerve-racking and visually captivating. The first ten minutes of this sequel is better than anything in all of Freddy’s Revenge. Overall, it features a great and imaginative collection of nightmare sequences that are all shot and lit in very interesting and moody ways to evoke mysterious and frightening feelings from an audience. This is also a greatly paced film balancing its attention amongst this ensemble cast exceptionally well, and moving the story forward tightly.
Bringing back Nancy was a stroke of genius, and it continues her story purposefully and smartly. She’s grown and matured to a point where she can truly help these troubled kids band together and fight Kruger and their own fears. Heather Langenkamp does a lot of great work reprising this role bringing confidence and compassion to Nancy. Teaming her with Patricia Arquette results in a strong pairing that work excellently off one another. Kristen grows stronger through Nancy, as does everyone, but she is clearly the highlight. Nancy fully passes the torch to Kristen in many ways, and Patricia Arquette does a truly standout acting job here. I love that this movie isn’t just about Nancy. It’s about all of these great, dimensional characters coming together to combat Krueger as a force to defeat him in grand fashion.
One of those notably great characters is Dr. Neil Gordon. There is a lot of heart and compassion in Craig Wasson’s performance. You can see how much Dr. Gordon cares for these kids, and even Nancy to an extent. I like that he has an arc of sorts here having his mind open to new possibilities, and growing into a stronger character when he deals with Donald Thompson. He becomes more than just a caring doctor. He becomes one that will fight for what he believes in. The subtle subplot with Sister Mary Helena helps evolve his character in clever ways so he can believe in more than just science to lay Freddy Krueger to rest.
Also returning is John Saxon as a much more down-and-out Donald Thompson. No longer a Police Lieutenant, he’s a drunkard security guard who did go into a downward spiral after the events of the first movie. It’s a stark contrast of a performance, but Saxon is such an incredible actor that he achieves it remarkably well. The progression of the character is handled with appropriate weight and integrity. This film takes its characters seriously and treats them with respect. Thus, it makes for a film with serious weight and integrity on the whole, which I really respect.
The rest of this young cast is absolutely superb. They embody each character’s distinct personalities with a great deal of dedication and talent. It’s a golden example of putting together a great ensemble cast for a horror movie. While each character has emotional weaknesses, they have greater strengths which are expertly bonded together to become the titular Dream Warriors. It’s also a great treat seeing a fairly young and slender Larry Fishburne as the upbeat and charismatic orderly Max. He is very charming showing great energy and enthusiasm.
Now, this film was where Freddy started to become a little lighter in tone and throwing out a few wisecracks. Even the low, deep voice is not consistently present, likely to accommodate that variation in tone. However, he’s still an effective, threatening villain due to Robert Englund’s performance. He still commands the frame, and has a great, imposing presence. While there seems to be less screentime for Freddy here, the fear of him permeates throughout the film, and the threat of him is almost omnipresent. The movie builds him up, and in a way, gives him more impact when he does strike. He is far more powerful than ever before, and that makes for much more elaborate dream sequences and scenarios. Dream Warriors also begins to unveil a little of his back story in regards to being the “son of a hundred maniacs,” which is great stuff.
With the imagination back in full force, the practical and visual effects shine through excellently. There is plenty of gore on display that is effectively designed to unnerve. The most memorable work, both in make-up and visual effects, are when Freddy uses Phillip’s own tendons to walk him to his death like a marionette, and the full-on Freddy serpent that attempts to eat Kristen early on. Even in the climax, we get some really good stop motion animation, and some all around solid visual effects composites. Where the previous sequel was very lacking in imaginative nightmares, this film is packed with them, and they all tie in perfectly with the story. They are all crafted with solid suspense and smart scares. I will grant that this film has more of a fun factor than the first, and that does require a little loosening of the horror tone. However, this movie still delivers on the horror and frightening visuals due largely to the excellent effects work, and the talent of director Chuck Russell.
We are also treated to a greatly shot film. The cinematographer uses subtle camera movements highlighting poignant moments, and the dream sequences all have great visual vibrancy. Shadowy blues are used for the more haunting or mysterious scenes, and fiery reds are utilized when in the depths of Freddy’s surreal boiler room. The look of Dream Warriors is not as dark and frightening as the first film, but instead, uses visual atmosphere to great effect. Director Chuck Russell really approached this film seriously, not deteriorating it into silly, indulgent territory, and how it is photographed entirely reflects that intention.
Dream Warriors also features some great music, starting with the score from Angelo Badalamenti. He works in the Charles Bernstein theme very well, and builds a great atmosphere beyond that. He reflects the tone of dramatic weight and chilling horror with exceptional skill. It is such a damn good horror film score, as should be no surprise from David Lynch’s regular composer from Blue Velvet onward.
And of course, the classic songs from Dokken helped break the metal band into a wide audience. This film entirely exposed me to them between Into The Fire and the title track Dream Warriors. They are two excellent songs, and they complement this more MTV styled sequel that hits you with more vibrant and stylized visuals. You can definitely tell that Dokken was involved early on as Taryn is wearing one of their T-shirts in her first scene. Of course, there songs are a small part of the movie, and it is Badalamenti’s score that drives the atmosphere and weight of the picture.
This sequel is the proper follow-up to the original. Beyond just bringing back Nancy and her father, this just builds upon the original core ideas, and progresses them into a very exciting new place. Nancy learned how to overcome Freddy in the first movie, but now, she teaches others how to fight him with their own set of strengths. Some do parish, but others live to fight in another movie. Wes Craven did early drafts of the script, and thus, had some creative input on this sequel. Regardless of how much or little of his ideas made it there, I think his presence is still felt. It is a smartly written film with a great cast of stellar young talents, and it still delivers on the scares and horror aspects. Certainly none of the sequels measure up on a pure horror movie level to the original, but in terms of doing what a sequel should do, A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors does exactly that. It expands the ideas and universe to have a fuller, more imaginative experience that entertains in new ways while still being respectful of where it came from. This is an undeniable classic to franchise fans, and is certainly one of the most well loved slashers of all time.
Horror film sequel subtitles are never all that clever, but it’s odd that this is called Freddy’s Revenge considering these are all brand new characters that Freddy has no past history with to seek revenge against. Nor is there any theme or hint at a revenge ideal here. That aside, this is a peculiar film in this franchise. As is no surprise, it was a rushed production since the first film was so financially successful for New Line Cinema. So, it really does lack all of the brilliance of Wes Craven’s film, but what makes it peculiar is a certain subtext that many are aware of by now. There are certainly detrimental qualities to this first sequel, but it’s not a terrible movie. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s particularly good or memorable.
Five years have passed since Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) was sent howling back to hell. But now, Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton), a new kid on Elm Street, is being haunted every night by gruesome visions of the deadly dream stalker. And if his twisted soul takes possession of the boy’s body, Freddy will return from the dead to wreak bloody murder and mayhem upon the entire town.
The subtext in question is a rather obvious homoerotic subtext. It has been talked about at great length, and so, it’s nothing new I’m bringing up here. The 1980’s did have this bizarre homoerotic sensibility in the air, but this film, if any at all, seemed to have galvanized that all into a single 87 minute runtime. Screenwriter David Chaskin did write all of this into the script, but apparently, none were aware of it while making the film. There’s the constant bare-chested, sweaty scenes of Jesse every few minutes, there’s the S&M bondage club, the gym teacher getting stripped bare by Freddy, and the all too close relationship between Jesse and Grady. You’ve got, yet again, a bare-chested Jesse barging into Grady’s bedroom where he is asleep and mostly undressed to talk about Jesse’s sexual inabilities with Lisa. It is very obvious like a punch in the face, and that’s just the start of it. Jesse’s struggle with Freddy is supposedly a struggle with his own repressed sexuality. I will say it comes across loud and clear, but that’s not at all what Freddy is meant to be about. He’s not the manifestation of anything except your own fears, and this film doesn’t deal with that aspect of Krueger at all, ever.
I sort of like the idea of Freddy using someone else as a conduit into our reality. This is revisited in another way in The Dream Child and Freddy’s Dead, but it also doesn’t make a lot of sense for Freddy to transcend into our reality since he is essentially powerless outside of the dream world. The problem here is that Freddy kills no one in the dream world, and instead, goes after them in a slightly surreal waking world. Bringing Freddy into our reality, fully, feels wrong. The scene where he finally does this was so ridiculous to director Jack Sholder that he couldn’t direct it himself because of how hard he was laughing during it. The scene is not really scary at all, and is more silly than anything. Freddy just running around and randomly terrorizing teenagers at a pool party even sounds wrong in concept, and doesn’t work in execution either. Ideas like this are a big reason why Wes Craven stayed far away from this movie.
Even then, the kills are very forgettable and stock. One guy gets whipped to death, and another gets stabbed with Freddy’s razor glove. The rest are just slashed as the party. This grossly pales in comparison to the brilliantly imaginative kills in Wes Craven’s original. The innovative effects work created a darkly fantastical atmosphere of nightmarish deaths. That showed Freddy’s power and enhanced his menace. This film leans entirely on Freddy taking over Jesse as its sole hook of gruesome fantastical captivation, and it’s not remotely enough. There are a few nightmares, but there is not really any haunting or chilling imagery to crawl up under your skin.
What you absolutely have to credit this film with is holding true to the presentation of Freddy even if the concepts behind him are altered. Knowing how jokey and cheesy he became, it’s refreshing to see that this sequel didn’t start that trend. He’s still masked in shadows, and his voice still has that low, salacious quality. He feels concretely scary, and Robert Englund still puts his all into it. This is the most highly admirable aspect of this movie, and becomes more apparent in retrospect looking at the franchise overall. I just wish Englund had a better movie to complement that performance.
What make-up effects we do get are still great here. The best evidence of this is when Freddy crawls and tears his way out of Jesse in gruesome, frightening fashion. It is so excellently done. Also, the make-up on Freddy himself is still fantastic. Even in full light, it never appears cheap or rubbery like it would in later sequels. It’s all very admirable work that doesn’t slack off anywhere, and while there’s not much use of visual effects, they are of a comparable quality. I just wish there was a greater need for them to realize a more fiery imagination to rival the first movie.
The characters here are a divided issue for me. I do feel that Mark Patton does a fine job as Jesse. He’s fairly well written making him vulnerable and relatable. He’s definitely the kind of teenager that doesn’t quite fit in, and is easily picked on. Jesse has definite internal conflicts, but for a horror movie protagonist, he is terribly weak. He is both the intended hero and the main victim. That makes him difficult to invest yourself in because he is the furthest thing from a heroic figure. He is not strong willed at all, and essentially, is the polar opposite of Nancy Thompson. He’s not introverted like Tommy Jarvis in Friday the 13th, Part V, but it’s almost as bad having a main character who is nothing but troubled and full of angst when we’re looking for an inspiring hero. The fact that Jesse is absent from the third act, and it is his girlfriend who releases him from Freddy’s control shows how out of whack the concept here is. There’s really no one here to connect with as a hero or heroine.
Now, no one among this cast is really a poor actor, but the characters don’t really pop out at you. They are fine, but they don’t have that special quality of personality and chemistry to really come to vibrant life. Kim Myers is a potentially decent romantic interest, but despite a few moments of affection, she hardly feels like Jesse’s girlfriend and more like the best friend. There’s no hot spark between Patton and Myers to sell this the way it’s supposed to be by the time they’re making out at the party. The rest of the cast is essentially forgettable. They’re not bad performances, but it all does just feel flat and disposable all on its own. These just aren’t especially entertaining characters to spend time with.
The film deals with Jesse’s psychological elements very well. Mark Patton does put in a solid effort selling the terror and torment that Freddy puts him through. If this film kept true to Wes Craven’s ideas, I think it could have been a more effective and creatively satisfying movie. Making the struggle psychologically based could be very intriguing instead of a physical or ideological battle. Patton clearly showed he had the talent for the role, but even then, as I said, he’s never put into a position of strength to become our hero. He never really fights back, and is constantly running away from every confrontation with Krueger. Even at the film’s end, he’s still afraid and prone to Freddy screwing with him again.
Freddy’s Revenge is not a bad movie, and there are far, far worse entries in this franchise. However, it really is a misconceived sequel taking things in the wrong direction. It takes Freddy out of the dream world so much that you remove so much o the appeal of the original. All of the dream-like qualities are downplayed with only a few nightmarish images, and extremely few actually occur when someone’s asleep. The dream world is Freddy’s domain where he holds the power, and you want to see someone go into that world and battle Krueger on his own ground at his own game. This is Fred Krueger royally screwing with the film’s lead character, and turning him into his own puppet. That’s not very appealing. It’s just an example of rushing a film into production with talents that didn’t have much reverence for Craven’s material or ideas. It’s also not very pleasing that Christopher Young’s score does not include a single appearance of Charles Bernstein’s Elm Street theme, and is rather forgettable. Even if this was its own standalone movie, and not a sequel to a horror classic, I don’t think this would be regarded as very good, regardless.