When I see the name Platinum Dunes attached to a horror remake, I hang my head in a wholly disheartened state. While I did enjoy their remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on its own merits, everything after that has been stuck in the mud sinking further and further into uninspired junk. I’ve given them fair chances, but they have failed in such colossal ways. The final nail in the coffin was this remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street. A cluttered, drab, plodding mess is what this film turned out to be, and even not comparing it to Wes Craven’s original classic, it’s still a poorly executed film.
Five teenage friends living on one street all dream of a sinister man with a disfigured face, a frightening voice and a gardener’s glove with knives for fingers. One by one, he terrorizes them within their dreams – where the rules are his and the only way out is to wake up. But when one among them dies, they soon realize that what happens in their dreams happens for real and the only way to stay alive is to stay awake. Buried in their past is a secret that has just begun to be revealed. To save themselves, they must plunge into the mind of the most twisted nightmare of all: Freddy Krueger
Okay, remaking A Nightmare On Elm Street is not an outright terrible idea. There are certainly ways to expand upon the original idea, enhance the effects, and execute it with a new, yet still effective style. Surely, a sequel could just as easily do the same, but for whatever reason, despite the massive success that was Freddy vs. Jason and the fact that Robert Englund could easily reprise his iconic role, New Line Cinema chose to just remake the original. However, no one involved in this film did anything to make this a film worth making. I think it’s easier for a franchise to recover from a bad sequel than a bad remake. With a bad sequel, you still have better moments in continuity and filmmaking efforts to build upon, and if the sequel is bad enough, like Highlander II bad, you can disassociate it from continuity. A bad remake stops progress dead in its tracks because the beginning of this new continuity is not well received, fans don’t like the direction the property was rebooted into, and the general fan base doesn’t want to see more of it. There’s next to nowhere to go, and that’s why you rarely see sequels to remakes.
Jackie Earle Haley is an excellent actor, and I have very much enjoyed him in a couple of roles. There was a potential for him to deliver something impressive and unique here. There are a few things he does that were new and original in terms of mannerisms. However, by no fault of his own, neither the script nor director gave him anything worthwhile to sink his talent into. Krueger is poorly developed as the filmmakers try to take him in a different direction, but the entire premise backfires in such a sloppy, brain dead way. Trying to suggest that Krueger was wrongfully accused and unjustly murdered could work under more talented screenwriters and filmmakers, but it’s just handled stupidly and with no forethought. However, the biggest issue, for me, was that Haley was too recognizable even under that very good make-up job. When I saw this theatrically, I had just seen Haley regularly on the Fox television series Human Target, and so, his face was very familiar to me. Even the voice he uses is essentially that of Rorschach from Watchmen with a slur. It feels like a half thought out package, at best, which is an accurate blanket statement for this entire movie.
A problem arises with the performances by its young leads. This film does quite a good job accurately portraying sleep deprivation with people being frayed, exhausted, drowsy, and essentially very drained of energy. Unfortunately, that also creates a set of performances that are drab, lifeless, and generally disinteresting. The thing is, in none of the previous Elm Street movies did I ever have a problem with the actors actually putting energy into their performances when they were meant to be sleep deprived. For one, the make-up department did their jobs in weathering the young actors to look the part, much the same is done here, but secondly, energy and conviction are exactly what are needed to make these performances not just good but engaging.
Honestly, I don’t even think the lackluster acting is the fault of the cast. There are some very strong talents here such as Rooney Mara as the film’s lead Nancy Holbrook and Thomas Dekker, who I know well from the Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series. I think the blame is entirely in the hands of director Samuel Bayer. My point of proof here is Clancy Brown. Let’s put The Kurgan aside. Go watch Kathryn Bigelow’s Blue Steel, and you will see a charismatic, lively, and excellent performance by Brown in a very grounded role. The main difference is that’s Kathryn Bigelow, an Academy Award winning director who has done increasingly incredible work over the years. Samuel Bayer is making his feature film directorial debut here after almost two decades of directing nothing but music videos. This movie does look fantastic, but beyond the great visuals, there is nothing here that impresses at all. That’s what I keep seeing from all of these Platinum Dunes directors – movies that have excellent visuals and polished cinematography, but are very hollow, uninspired, and unimaginative. Music video directors know how to make a good looking product, but have next to no experience working with actors to craft anything more than superficial performances. Surely, sometimes you get a Russell Mulcahy or David Fincher, but there are far more directors like Samuel Bayer and Jonathan Liebesman that come around who just have little to no talent working with actors and drawing out a strong performance from them. They are good visual storytellers, to a degree, but lack the multi-facetted skills required to be a full-fledged filmmaker.
I think the biggest shortfall of this film is the lack of genuine suspense and tension. I was only afraid of another jump scare coming out of nowhere, and frankly, it kept me too on guard. I kept bracing myself for another cheap scare. This film just throws jump scare after jump scare after jump scare at you. It takes no talent or skill to have someone jump out of the shadows with a loud musical stinger behind it. It’s cheap and worthless. And some of the gags are so blatantly setup that I called them before they even happened. The result of all this is the fact that Freddy doesn’t feel built up enough. He’s not a looming figure screwing around with you making you squirm. He’s the boogeyman jumping out at the shadows every chance he gets like a kid on Halloween, and that’s simply a hollow, go-nowhere idea that shows the difference between a blunt, shallow filmmaker and someone like Wes Craven or James Wan who knows how to build up atmosphere, tension, suspense, and manipulate the nuanced aspects of a film to truly scare you.
Aside from the respectable, moody cinematography, I will give credit to the film in that the tone is kept serious. There is no camp humor or jokey qualities to it. The filmmakers try to keep it very solid, focused, and dramatic. Sadly, the skill of the filmmakers is too thin to hold the weight that the film should have. The entire film does feel like a product designed to grab dollars and be forgotten. There is no artistic passion behind any of it, and the quality of the story suffers for it.
As I said in a previous Elm Street movie review, I do applaud that the various filmmakers always tried to introduce new, fresh ideas into the franchise, and never just laid back on carbon copy sequels. The downside is that the new ideas haven’t always worked, and the entire plot of misdirection regarding Krueger’s possible wrongfully accused back story is poorly handled. The way Krueger acts throughout the picture doesn’t lend credence to a man who was dealt a grave injustice, but an evil, sadistic man who enjoys torturing and slaughtering people. All the while, our lead characters are running around trying to unravel a mystery that ends up being a red herring, and thus, it was all just a giant waste of the audience’s time and attention. The idea is not executed well to misdirect an audience, and there is ultimately no pay-off for it, regardless. Not to mention, it’s an extreme plot contrivance that every single one of these kids blocked out the memory of Fred Krueger and their time at that school. So, it was a potentially interesting idea, but with how short-sighted every idea is in this film, it had no hope of actually developing into anything close to its potential. That is another easy, blanket statement to apply to everything in this film.
The visual effects of this remake are really not very good. For one, there’s no excuse whatsoever for CGI blood in an A Nightmare on Elm Street movie. NONE! It looks cheap and unconvincing. There are a number of effects here that are passable, but the bad stuff really just jumps out at you. Also, this movie proves that a simple practical effect and some artistic vision trumps digital effects. The scene of Krueger pushing through the wall, which was achieved in the original with Robert Englund literally pushing himself against a latex wall above Heather Langenkamp, looks like flat, uninspired garbage in this film as a digital effect that seems like a leftover from The Frighteners. And on a similar level is Platinum Dunes’ regular composer Steve Jablonski’s score. Where Charles Bernstein’s score for the original was fresh and inspired with a perfect nursery rhyme style theme, Jablonski’s score is forgettable and entirely typical. The original Elm Street theme appears only once, and that is when the film’s title card slams onto the screen. It’s never heard again, and once again shows how little reverence these filmmakers had for the property they were dealing with.
And while the supporting cast is decently well acted, no one stands out. No one really takes the stage and defines themselves apart from anyone else. I do think it was a poor decision to not have a John Saxon style character here. A mature adult character with compassion and a level head who could carry substantial weight with him. Yes, there are actors here with that capability, but the writing and directing take no advantage of the talents that it does have to make these characters anything but mediocre, drab, and shallow. The whole film does feel like it’s playing it a little too safe, including the acting. If they pushed the boundaries further, maybe it would be more engaging and potentially scary. Craven’s original film did things that were original, new, and innovative. This remake just comes off as a tired, passionless piece of merchandise.
Quite frankly, there was no one trying on this film. They followed the script like a blueprint and just created a film as flat as the paper that script was printed on. One of Platinum Dunes’ big problems is that they keep getting music video directors who have no experience with a script, actors, or crafting scenes, only in creating a three minute long marketable image for a band. They really need to get a real director who knows how to create an engaging ninety minute story with dimensional characters and coherent plotting. Not to mention, a filmmaker who can actually make a suspenseful, scary horror film.
So, over twenty years later Rick Rosenthal would return to the Halloween franchise for this entry. I honestly have never liked Halloween: H20 for a multitude of reasons, and I don’t wish to sit through it again to review it. Thus, I was so immensely glad that this film promptly retconned the ending of that movie, and allowed for Michael Myers to live again and not die like a punk. I know there are those who disagree with that feeling, but so be it. While I do find this sequel enjoyable to a degree, it does have valid issues to critique about it.
For the first broadcast of the new reality website Dangertainment, a group of college students are hired to explore the ruins of the house of infamous murderer Michael Myers. Six cash-strapped friends decide to explore the home, but what they don’t know is that Michael is on his way home back to Haddonfield after a fateful confrontation with his sister Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). Now, being broadcast across the internet, these unsuspecting victims will fall prey to Myers’ methodical blade.
If this movie was made ten years later, it probably would have been a found footage horror movie. Very little would have to change to accommodate that approach, but thankfully, that’s not the case here. I can understand why this story idea was used. This is the eighth movie in this franchise, including Season of the Witch, and a studio is going to feel like they need a fresh gimmick to drive in audiences. Paramount felt the same thing when they made Jason Takes Manhattan. The problem is that these ideas are usually not all that favorable with audiences. I love slasher movies, but I do like someone doing something fresh with the formula every so often. Frankly, I think Halloween: Resurrection executes this idea as well as it can be. In fact, it has some strangely honest commentary on reality television. Dangertainment mocks up the entire Myers house with false clues about Michael’s upbringing because they know actual reality is boring. No one would watch a bunch of people wandering through an empty house. The head of the company, Freddie Harris, has to dress it up and create an illusion and sell it as reality so to make it entertaining. I like that the Freddie character does come around to denouncing that illusion and the using of Michael Myers as a sound bite to drive viewership up. It shows an effort on the part of the filmmakers to make something of the premise, which is indeed dated. Halloween: Resurrection might be far from the pinnacle of this franchise, but it’s far more consistent than the rushed mess of The Revenge of Michael Myers.
If you watched the trailer for this you might believe that Jamie Lee Curtis had a larger role in it than she really does. Her story is confined to the opening sequence at a psychiatric hospital where she has her final confrontation with Michael. A quick summation at the film’s start states that Michael Myers had switched outfits with a paramedic before the last film’s climax, and it was that poor soul with a crushed larynx that Laurie decapitated. What ensues in this opening sequence with Laurie and Michael puts the storyline to rest. I’m sure there are fans who did not like this at all, possibly as much as I hated the ending of H20, but taken on its own merits, it is a well done sequence that is to the point. Laurie doesn’t go out in a blaze of glory, but really, you shouldn’t set your expectations that high for this movie. It’s just not that ambitious.
I do really like the look of this sequel. It makes great use of atmospheric lighting. It has the polish of a major studio feature, but Rosenthal and his cinematographer just know how give it that shadowy, moody quality. True to the John Carpenter roots, there’s some very solid use of blues and fine steadicam work. The video camera footage of the internet broadcast is about what you’d expect in the pre-high definition digital era. We get more and more of it as the film progresses, and you could take it or leave it depending on your disposition towards it. It has some effectiveness in certain sparse moments for us to see things from the characters’ point of views, which is evocative of the found footage genre like The Blair Witch Project had already shown, but there’s nothing special to witness here in that regard.
The biggest highlight of this movie is that I absolutely LOVE the score by Danny Lux. I honestly believe it is the best score of the sequels. Lux adds a heavier punctuation to the familiar themes, and overall, he crafts a more haunting, partially gothic aura to the film. It’s a score that really soars far above the quality of the film it is attached to. Regardless of what you think of this movie, you should definitely give this score a standalone listen. It is immensely effective. Danny Lux does an amazing job with it.
Now, I don’t think this is a bad cast. For the most part, they do come off as fairly standard slasher film fodder, but this cast does seem like they are putting forth an honest effort. Each one tries to make their character enthusiastic, charismatic, and somewhat entertaining. There’s no real standout, but everyone essentially delivers a performance of a consistent, equal level. I wouldn’t say this new cast features anything approaching greatness, but it’s good for the expectations you would likely have.
Bianca Kajlich does well in making Sara a relatable and sympathetic lead. There’s very little to the character, same with everyone, but there’s enough of a decent, vulnerable person in her performance for it to work. She has this internet based relationship with the high school freshman Myles. Through that, they’ve built a foundation of trust and friendship, and it plays fairly well into the movie near the climax. Ryan Merriman is endearing as Myles. He’s definitely the audience’s conduit into having sympathy for the victims. He and his friends are at a Halloween party watching the online stream of the Myers house expedition, and witness the horror as it progresses with little to be able to do about it. Despite Myles and Sara being strictly internet pals, Merriman does a fine job creating an emotional connection between both characters. It’s almost a shame that the film never allows them to actually see each other face-to-face.
The role of Freddie Harris is indeed filled by Busta Rhymes. Clearly, he didn’t need to be in this movie, but I will give him credit that he doesn’t slack off. He portrays a role that’s within his ability as a charismatic salesman, but also does a fine job with the more fearful, regretful moments later in the film. We surely could have done without the Kung Fu fight against Michael, but at least the filmmakers did enough to set it up earlier on. In the fiery climax, he’s certainly played up for the sake of his fans, and it does feel rather out of place. You might as well have Arnold Schwarzenegger charge in there for as much as its played like an action hero moment. It would be essentially the same effect.
The role of The Shape is filled by Brad Loree who I feel does a decent job. It’s definitely Dick Warlock inspired, but not quite so rigid. His performance is simply okay. It doesn’t standout, the same as the rest of the cast, but it works fine for the demands of this film. Also, while he is listed as 6’2”, I think the baggy coveralls make him appear smaller in stature than he likely really is. The mask for his Michael Myers could have done with a little less airbrushing detail, but really, no sequel has really gotten the mask to look right compared to the original film. I’m not sure why that’s been so difficult.
The most important question, though, is if this film is scary. Well, it has the potential to be depending on how weathered of a horror fan you are. Rick Rosenthal really does a lot to set a strong visual atmosphere conducive to scaring an audience. There are plenty of spooky moments of Michael Myers lurking in the shadows, only seen in glimpses. It certainly has moments that could scare certain people, but generally speaking, it’s not going to do much for the seasoned horror fan. Especially ten years on, with the far more intense films we’ve gotten in this genre, regardless of your preference, Halloween: Resurrection is fairly tame. Even John Carpenter’s original is not really an effective horror film anymore to me, but I respect it immensely on every artistic level. It is, after all, the movie review of mine that launched Forever Cinematic in the first place.
The Halloween franchise is kind of a mess. There are a lot of subjective ups and downs depending on what storylines you enjoy. For me, I really liked where things were potentially going with the sixth film, The Curse of Michael Myers, mainly in its Producer’s Cut form, but so much tanked that potential resulting in Halloween: H20. I hated that film for killing the continuity and storyline that I loved, and intending to dispatch Michael Myers in an unimaginative, bullheaded fashion. This sequel ultimately feels like a weak whimper trying to extend the bankability of the franchise just a little further without enough ambition or unique talent to elevate it. It just tries to be a fun slasher flick, and if you take it as that, it’s fine. I can sit down and burn ninety minutes with it on a whim, but it’s entirely forgettable and dismissible. Aside from the potentially divisive opening with Laurie’s death, it really plays it safe with an either fun or lame premise. Essentially, you can take this film or leave it. If it’s on cable, and you’ve just time to kill, it’s a decent watch. I would like to give it a better recommendation, but knowing that there are a some far stronger films in this franchise, I can’t give it any further credit than this.
There has been one conspicuous omission from my reviews of the Halloween franchise, and it is this first sequel. The reason for this is, one, I have never really written a full review of it before, and secondly, I’ve never really cared for it at all. This stems from the fact that it has very little to offer me as either a fan of John Carpenter’s original or as a big slasher movie fan. Simply said, so much of it just doesn’t appeal to me. From the reworked score to the bland hospital environment to the clear shift from atmospheric horror to a reliance on gore, this isn’t the Halloween sequel that I want to see. Even the ones that are technically worse films, they have an entertainment value that I can indulge in on some level. There are many reasons why this film doesn’t even give me that much.
Picking up exactly where the first film left off, it seems the inhuman Michael Myers is still very much alive and out for more revenge as he stalks the deserted halls of the Haddonfield Memorial Hospital for Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). As he gets closer to his main target, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) discovers the chilling mystery behind the crazed psychopath’s actions
It might sound somewhat unfair, but the vast majority of my gripes with this film are in comparison to John Carpenter’s original. However, with the fact that this film picks up exactly where the first left off, it demands that comparison because it is trying to convince us that this is a seamless continuation of that movie. The problem is that it doesn’t feel seamless in many aspects, and they are largely on the technical side. Still, there are issues with the quality of the script, and just the effectiveness of Halloween II as a horror movie that I wish to address.
To be straight up honest, I do not like the score for this movie at all. Yes, they are the same themes with John Carpenter and Alan Howarth doing the score, but the overly saturated synthesizer sound has never been to my liking. It doesn’t sound like a horror movie score to me. It sounds silly and over bloated. The first film’s score felt far more subtle and artistically applied. To me, the score for Halloween II just evokes no sense of tension, suspense, or chilling atmosphere for me. There are many instances where a strategic use of score could have been utilized to craft great suspense and nerve-racking tension, but instead, it’s dead silent. This score relies more heavily on the musical stingers, and feels poorly implemented overall. Carpenter’s scores usually craft a brilliant soundscape for a unique auditory experience, but there seems to be a significant lack of score in the moments where it should flourish.
Now, this is a very well shot movie, done so again by acclaimed director of photography Dean Cundey. It has some very good lighting schemes in certain scenes, and the continued use of the Pana-glide camera work is excellent. Director Rick Rosenthal does make an effort to emulate John Carpenter’s visual style, but I have always felt that the color palette of Halloween II was never quite right when compared to the first film. The hospital interiors feature a terribly bland color scheme, as most hospitals do, and because of this, it doesn’t have any of the visual pop of the first movie. There are no daytime scenes to soak in that late autumn feeling as this is all set at night, and really, it feels like it could be any night of the year. The film also lacks the atmospheric blue tones that Cundey used in the original as well as several other films he’s shot. Also, when I look at this film in certain instances, the lighting just doesn’t look quite right. The feeling, the mood, the balance of light and dark, at times, doesn’t feel consistent with the first film. This is especially evident when new footage is spliced into the revisited footage from the ending of Halloween. It’s not even knowing that it is new footage married with old footage. Back to the Future, Part II did this sort of thing seamlessly, and was also shot by Dean Cundey. These issues, I think, also stem from the fact that the first movie was a late 1970’s independently produced film while this is an early 1980’s studio produced sequel. It is inevitably going to have a slightly different visual feel due to extra money, studio mandates, a shift in filmmaking aesthetics, and a change of directors.
Even then, Rick Rosenthal’s film was tampered with by the studio and Carpenter as they felt it was too tame in comparison to other recent slasher films. While I can see the clear evidence of that since there is a definite lack of suspense, although much of that is, again, due to the absence of a score in key scenes, this is a sequel that didn’t stay true to its predecessor. Yes, of course, this is a slasher film that is going to follow many of the tropes of the genre which were originated in Halloween. However, this sequel feels like it’s trying to fit in with the Friday The 13th style slasher film craze instead of staying true to the Halloween style slasher. The genre exploded after the success of Friday The 13th, and it became very indulgent in gore and sexuality. It essentially became exploitative in that regard, and this film embraced that mentality whereas Halloween was a film built entirely on suspense and atmosphere. There is some suspense here, but it is especially sparse. Instead of holding to what made Halloween successful and effective in the first place, Halloween II tries to conform to what was popular at the time, and thus, feels second rate to me. Rick Rosenthal tries to match Carpenter’s style in many regards, but then, Carpenter comes in and tries to veer it away from what he originally did. It’s certainly not a film that is one director’s vision, and even then, Rosenthal isn’t given much to work with to make this as good as the first movie. I really didn’t get the feeling that there was enough creative effort put into this film to make it succeed in the creative vein.
One of the bigger problems here is that Halloween II feels scattered. The first film had a distinct plot progression as elements gradually converged with one another in a tight, cohesive way. This sequel is extremely loose in that regard. Laurie is essentially a stationary target throughout the movie, spending a good chunk of it asleep or screaming, but Michael Myers roams about the hospital killing everyone else while Loomis is out scouring the streets for Michael. No longer is Loomis in sync with his prey anticipating his psychology and instinctual impulses. He’s tagging along with the police instead of driving the narrative forward. Even the majority of his dialogue feels retreaded from the first movie as he re-explains the history of himself and Michael, and his talk about evil incarnate. It entirely feels like it is only there in case someone watching this movie never saw the first one. Even Donald Pleasance seems a tad monotonous delivering this reworked dialogue. While his performance is still of a high quality, there’s just nothing new for him to do here. The film also hardly feels like it’s building any momentum. John Carpenter reportedly had a very difficult time coming up with a story for this film while writing the script, and it really does show. Dr. Loomis and Laurie Strode have next to nothing to do here except uncover newly conceived secrets about Michael and Laurie’s past, which amounts to nothing. There’s no mounting tension heading into the third act, and Laurie’s chase scene earlier on is very mild and slow paced. This film doesn’t offer a sense of escalating threat until the last few minutes before Loomis engulfs himself and Michael in an inferno. The pacing is very monotonous because the story is very loose and lacks directional momentum.
The supporting characters here are mostly a lot of interchangeable hospital staff going about their mundane duties getting killed, and an audience likely couldn’t care less about any one of them. They feel like standard, hollow slasher film fodder, but without even the crutch of a stereotype to make them funny or entertaining. Carpenter’s original was smartly and greatly cast filling out very lively characters, but here, there are just so many throwaway characters with very little personality that very little care was needed to put together a memorable supporting cast. Even Sheriff Brackett vanishes from the film after learning of his daughter’s death, and so, we get new police officers who have really nothing fresh or pertinent to contribute to the story.
And it really is a shame that Jamie Lee Curtis got hooked into doing this film. It is an utter waste of her talents. She spends the majority of the film either laying in a hospital bed, running away from Michael Myers, or hiding in a parked car. This is a sequel that brings people back to simply do nothing new or challenging. To me, it’s another sign that there was a lack of creative drive behind this. Every character feels either generic or wasted. Also, since Jamie Lee Curtis had since adopted a shorter hairstyle, she had to be fitted with this blatantly obvious bad wig. This just further adds to the nagging inconsistencies between the two films.
Now, I know there are people who are fans of Dick Warlock’s Shape, but I have never liked his lethargic, robotic movements at all. If this movie is supposed to pick up at the exact moment the first left off, there should have been a demand for consistency. Nick Castle’s Shape moved with a relentless fluidity. He felt like a shark hunting his prey with a fierce single-minded focus. Warlock is so horribly stiff that I see no ferocity or cunning intellect here. Before, Michael’s actions had a clearly evident intelligence and deliberateness behind them. He stalked his prey with patience and purpose. He observed them before striking. Here, he just shows up and starts killing like a mindless machine, and to me, that’s just not interesting or intriguing at all. Warlock is a great stuntman, but as Michael Myers, he does nothing good for me.
I can appreciate some bad slasher movies because many of them at least show that they are trying. Their end result might not be creatively successful, but the filmmakers put forth a visible effort to make a somewhat effective horror film. For me, Halloween II doesn’t even give me that much. I find it to be a very dull, bland, and boring slasher movie. It has none of the atmospheric tension or magic that John Carpenter harnessed for the first movie, and the story is very lazy even for a slasher film. I think Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers is the vastly superior sequel in every aspect. Also, released the same year, I passionately believe that Friday The 13th, Part 2 is one of the best slasher films ever made. I don’t hate Halloween II. It just doesn’t do enough either way to motivate a passionate response from me. Any other films in this franchise I don’t end up reviewing are simply because I don’t wish to subject myself to them again or even for the first time.
RavensFilm Productions presents the Forever Cinematic Friday The 13th movie retrospective covering all twelve films in the slasher franchise. Reviews by Nick Michalak.
Friday The 13th (1980)
Friday The 13th, Part 2 (1981)
Friday The 13th, Part 3 (1982)
Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Friday The 13th, Part V: A New Beginning (1985)
Friday The 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Friday The 13th, Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
Friday The 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
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.
Many attribute the birth of the slasher genre to John Carpenter’s Halloween. However, a small Canadian film from 1974 laid the groundwork for the genre and especially Carpenter’s seminal classic. Black Christmas is likely known to younger horror fans by way of the remake that I never saw. You do yourself a serious disservice if you have never seen the original because it is still a greatly effective piece of horror filmmaking with a collection of surprisingly notable talents involved. Who would have ever thought that the director of the beloved family film classic A Christmas Story would have once done a Christmas-themed slasher movie?
The college town of Bedford is receiving an unwelcome guest this Christmas. As the residents of sorority house Pi Kappa Sig prepare for the festive season, a demonic stranger begins to stalk the house. A series of grisly obscene phone calls start to plague the residents of the sorority and soon they will each meet their fate at the hands of the psychotic intruder. As the Police try to trace the phone calls, they discover that nothing is as it seems.
Watching this film you will see right from the start its influence. The killer, Billy, as he refers to himself, is hidden almost entirely throughout the film through the use of a point of view camera. Clearly, this trick would be re-used in both Halloween and Friday The 13th, but neither achieves it quite as well as Black Christmas. That’s because of what more is added to it in terms of the killer’s psychotic behavior. Director Bob Clark creates an amazing sense of unease with the point of view camera work. The wide angle lens coupled with the slightly unsteady camera movement reflects the psychosis of this killer. The completely deranged phone calls are still frighteningly disturbing. They got right under my skin from the start, and continue to escalate as the film progresses. The radically unhinged psyche of this deranged killer is manically on display throughout the film, and Clark wastes no time establishing the nerve-racking suspense and horror. The fact that we know there is a crazed killer hiding out in the attic, unknown to everyone in the film, immediately injects suspense and terror into nearly every scene in that house. I will admit, it’s been a very long time since I’ve watched this film, and damn is it still insanely creepy and effective.
Black Christmas was an especially low budget film, and so, it has a rough, grainy quality. However, it is photographed very solidly showing the talent involved, and even then, the rugged quality of the film stock adds to the dark, unsettling tone. The pacing might feel slow to a certain audience, but this is not a film that drags along. Every methodically paced moment is used to great suspenseful effect, and Bob Clark knows so immensely well how to elicit these spine tingling feelings. Each scene builds story, character, or towards the terror of the picture. Yet, the film still features a few fine moments of levity to give it a needed contrast on a rare occasion. It also has a collection of stunningly solid talents in front of the camera.
Olivia Hussey is a wonderful lead portraying Jess with a lot of compassion and vulnerability. Hussey has a sophistication and warmth to hear in addition to maturity and intelligence. This builds Jess into a relatable character to worry about on multiple levels, and she plays terrified exquisitely well. She also does feel like a woman coming into her own as Jess deals with her boyfriend Peter. He wants to have a baby with her, but she’s against the idea creating a troubling friction between them. You might think this is a frivolous subplot, but it directly ties into the mystery and paranoia about the film’s killer moving forward. Keir Dullea, most well known from 2001: A Space Odyssey, is quite superb in this very conflicted and emotionally aggressive and unstable role. He’s very intriguing to watch as the relationship between Peter and Jess is torn apart, and begins to become a perceived menacing threat. Dullea and Hussey work exceptionally well with one another laying out the drama between them smartly and poignantly.
And yes, this film has John Saxon. That automatically increases its coolness factor. I just love the authority and weight he brings with him in anything I see from him. As Lieutenant Fuller, he’s everything you’d expect – confident, level headed, and concise. He really echoes this performance in A Nightmare On Elm Street, but surely builds upon that. As Fuller, he’s rock solid, just the way I want my John Saxon, but still has a moment of two of levity that is very much welcomed.
Margot Kidder puts in a surprising performance. Sorority sister Barb is meant to be rather crass and heartless, and Kidder hits that right on the mark. Add in the constant smoking and drinking, and you’ve got a character that is not endearing. Yet, she makes a definite impression. The rest of the cast is not particularly notable, but everyone does a very solid job with their distinct characters. They make this a horror film with likable characters who you can easily fear for as lethal danger stalks them from the shadows.
Black Christmas definitely feels like a 1970’s horror film. Beyond the aforementioned dark, grainy look and the obvious fashion and hairstyles, this film has almost a similar style as The Exorcist. There’s very little score except in exceptionally key moments as Bob Clark uses the silent unease of the house to great effect. The phone calls are jarring enough without overcompensating with a score. The use of the Christmas music sets the tone wonderfully using the serene sound in an unexpectedly haunting way. Scenes like when our killer is stalking through the house while Christmas carolers sing outside is simply brilliant. Juxtaposing these angelic voices with a moment of suspense and violence is truly inspired, and is filmed gorgeously.
There are terribly creepy moments all throughout such as seeing just a shadow creeping into the background while Jess is on the phone with the police, or simply anytime the POV shot has our killer spying on these young ladies from upstairs. And the shot of the eye through the door jam has become iconic and chilling as it sets off the film’s final act. And the climax is brilliantly crafted with a great use of shadow, misdirection, and taut tension. Just when you believe all is laid to rest, this ending gives you one final ominous moment of terror. Wrapping it all up together, you see the brilliant touches that Clark and screenwriter Roy Moore put into this film. In later years, it likely would’ve been a film of high body count, gratuitous sex, and little character. However, in the same year that brought us The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, you get a film that is very well written that connects you with these characters, gives you something to care about with them, and then, set them against a very deranged and unseen killer. It is a film of great suspense and ratcheted up tension that will leave prone audiences choked up in their seats, and wanting to turn all the lights on in the house while checking every room and locking every door when its all over.
From Black Christmas, you can definitely see evocative elements for Halloween and When A Stranger Calls. This is absolutely one of the most influential slasher films without many people knowing it. Maybe the influence was a time or two removed, but this was the genesis of that genre in a clearly defined form. This is a classic that doesn’t get the recognition it so very much deserves. This was director Bob Clark’s final foray into the horror genre, and it’s odd to see his career veer into comedy in the 1980’s, then very silly and wretchedly received kid’s films in the final years of his life. Regardless, we will always have this amazingly effective horror and suspense film to scare us on a dark, quiet evening. As this film’s tagline says, “If this movie doesn’t make your skin crawl… It’s on too tight!”
Urban legends in general are quite fascinating to me. I’ve spent many late night hours reading through whole websites dedicated to these modern day myths, and they are a fertile ground for an imaginative horror movie. Of course, this movie came out in the wake of Scream and does a lot to follow in that style. Unfortunately, it was an extreme rarity that any of those types of trend cash-ins were any good. I clearly remember seeing this on opening weekend and regarding it as not scary at all. In no way do I expect that sentiment to change after fifteen years. I’m reviewing this because it was high time I got back to some very critical reviewing, and nothing’s better than a disappointing post-modern slasher film for that task!
When New England college student Natalie (Alicia Witt) finds herself at the center of a series of sadistic murders seemingly inspired by urban legends. Natalie and her friends are all involved in the Folklore class being taught by Professor Wexler (Robert Englund). Wexler regales his class with urban legends, which include Pendleton’s own urban legend about a Psych professor who murdered six students at Stanley Hall 25 years ago. As the fraternities prepare to celebrate the macabre anniversary, and Natalie’s friends fall victim to this axe wielding murderer, she discovers that she is the focus of the crazed killer’s intentions in the ultimate urban legend – the story of her own horrific murder.
This is not a badly made movie. It has respectable, polished production values and top notch gore effects. Cinematography is wholly competent with solid compositions and smart camera moves punctuating the dramatic moments. The editing is mostly great, side from the gimmicky flash cuts. So, I think the problem with the effectiveness of this movie is that these urban legends are so terribly familiar to us that the movie becomes damn predictable. There’s little tension or suspense when you know how the kills are supposed to be plotted out. While playing them out verbatim perfectly fits in with the killer’s ultimate motives, creatively, it would have been more effective to put a fresh twist on them. Have them play out not exactly as you would expect them to, but still be evocative of the classic tales. Of course, the various false jump scares don’t help matters either.
The red herrings we get as to the identity of the killer are also quite underwhelming. They are dashed about as quickly as they are brought up. This sort of thing worked better in Scream where no one was ever entirely absolved of potential guilt in the eyes of the audience. Everyone was an equally viable suspect, but here, the suspects are not very credible nor are they main characters. They show up for two or three scenes total. The main characters are not implicated as the potential killer, and that evaporates a lot of heightened tension and paranoia that could have existed in the movie. As it is, there’s not much focus put on who the killer is, but more the methods that this killer uses.
And one last negative critique would be that the look of the killer is not all that intimidating. A relatively small statured person in a hooded parka leaves a lot to be desired in the realm of chilling imagery. All the great, iconic slashers have not only a instantly recognizable, unmistakable look to them, but they also have a distinct personality in how they move and act. This slasher, which doesn’t even have a name to its credit, comes off entirely generic with no distinct personality in its movements. This takes away a lot of the menace this killer could have had, and thus, further adds to the lack of effective horror in this movie. While Ghostface was a different person in each Scream movie, the image of Ghostface was iconic and carried a strong weight of horror with him. The Urban Legend slasher is just terribly forgettable. If this killer wasn’t wielding an axe, you wouldn’t feel any serious imposing threat from him/her at all. I think my critiques hold weight with the makers of the sequel Urban Legends: Final Cut since they entirely revamped the look of their killer.
Still, the film has a few exciting sequences such as when the killer is chasing Tara Reid’s Sasha. It’s fairly intense and suspenseful as Sasha tries to evade this axe wielding maniac. Shortly thereafter, the climactic chase sequence in the storming rain is pretty good with some good tension and strenuous physicality for Alicia Witt. Proving my point, this is when the killer turns away from urban legend themed kills, and just starts going after people full boar. These are the scenes that work because they’re not so predictable. They keep an audience more on edge in the midst of random peril. They’re surely not wholly original inventions in the slasher genre, but they are staples of it because they are effective. So, it is that final 20-30 minutes which actually become intense and suspenseful, but for a 100 minute horror movie, that’s not very adequate.
On the acting end of things, Alicia Witt delivers a solid leading performance making Natalie sweet, vulnerable, smart, and tough. I like when she punches Joshua Jackson’s Damon Brooks right in the face after a bad come-on in a parked car showing there’s some assertiveness in her. Witt is a strong actress with a lot of talent to her credit. Plus, she’s a beautiful redhead, and I absolutely adore redheads. Jared Leto has a decent performance here as college newspaper reporter Paul Gardner, but his character just doesn’t have much personality on the page to speak of. Paul’s constantly trying to pry information out of everyone for his news story, but he doesn’t come off as the least bit imposing or ethically objectionable as that statement would suggest. Rebecca Gayheart is a fine talent working well as Natalie’s best friend Brenda, but offering little more, initially, than the qualities of the supportive friend. The latter end of the film gives her a lot more juicy material to work with that she really sinks her teeth into, and does an excellent job with.
Now. Michael Rosenbaum is plain awesome. After seeing him for so many years as Lex Luthor on Smallville it’s great seeing his comedic charisma in full swing here as the fun loving Parker. He’s charged up with energy and personality to spare, but Rosenbaum has enough charm to shy it away from becoming obnoxious. Tara Reid has a great promiscuous role as the saucy, sexually charged radio talk show host Sasha. Halloween franchise alumnus Danielle Harris clocks in as Natalie’s Goth roommate Tosh. It’s a good minor performance, and she looks quite hot in all that black garb.
Urban Legend features some notable horror legends in Robert Englund and Brad Dourif. Both of which put in solid performances. Dourif portrays a stuttering gas station attendant at the film’s start, and he’s sufficiently creepy. Englund gives Professor Wexler plenty of dignity and a little bit of theatrical edge for a strong, respectable performance. Both actors put a good measure of enthusiasm and quality into their roles here, and are small highlights that gave this film particular notoriety upon release.
The film’s score is provided by Christopher Young, who also did the music for the first two Hellraiser movies and last year’s highly effective horror film Sinister. Here, he does a far more understated but still admirable job. It has plenty of strong, tense cues throughout, and is probably a notch above the standard slasher film fare.
Now, I do really like the dark, shameful secret that Natalie has in her past, and how it ties into the motivation of the killer. It is all smartly and realistically put together. It makes for a nice twist in the climax that does get setup from Natalie’s story earlier on. The climax itself is pretty decent and typical for a slasher movie, but it’s surely far from terrible. It delivers some satisfaction, but it’s nothing that will stick with you like the endings of Halloween or Friday The 13th. The somewhat quirky coda fits for the movie, but also, doesn’t make a lot of sense. It could’ve used a better resolution that was more pertinent to the actual characters and story. It kind of goes with the half-baked feeling of the movie. It had good ideas, but just didn’t do anything worthwhile with them.
Ultimately, this is a real disappointment of a slasher film that just isn’t scary at all. They had a very talented cast to work with, and a premise that could’ve worked very well if it injected some original thinking into it. Instead, it just comes off as generic and predictable. The killer is entirely forgettable, and offers no menace or threatening presence. Director Jamie Blanks does a respectable job with Urban Legend, but the script is just devoid of ambition. He handles his cast exceptionally well, knows how to shoot a film very cinematically, and shows some talent for suspense. Yet, the film fails because the script uses a gimmick purely at face value without trying to add anything fresh or innovative to it. A killer offing people using urban legends is a clever idea, but screenwriter Silvio Horta progressed it no further than that. I know Jamie Blanks can make a good slasher movie because he did it with his next film Valentine, which I think is quite underappreciated. Given a stronger script, he can certainly deliver a much more effective product. It certainly won’t hurt you to watch Urban Legend, but it’s nothing special you’re missing out on. It did spawn two sequels that really were rather horrible that I would strongly advise avoiding. I saw them each once, and that was more than enough for me. This film is decent enough if you just need a mild way to kill 100 minutes. It likely won’t make you cringe, depending on your slasher film tastes, but it likely won’t excite you either.
Retrospect can bring clarity. You see, back in 2003, I had never been more excited for the release of a movie than Freddy vs. Jason. I could barely get to sleep the night before its opening. I saw it twice on opening day and a third time later that weekend. It was a massive experience for me, and I was even in contact with an executive at New Line Cinema while running Forever Horror at the time. Posters, soundtracks, magazines, and the novelization quickly came into my possession because I was so enthusiastic and in love with this movie. It was a monumental moment in time. That was a long time ago, and even a few years after the film’s release I realized what this film truly was – a major disappointment. The hype is dead and buried, the anticipation is a vague memory. What I see and know now is that Freddy vs. Jason was a monument of missed opportunities due to a poor script “clean up” by David Goyer and the over-the-top comic book stylings of director Ronny Yu. This film was barely what it should have been, and did not portray Jason to his fullest potential.
Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is in hell, and can’t get out. Everyone has forgotten about him, he has no power over anyone in the dream world. He’s searched throughout hell for someone that could help him reignite people’s fear of Freddy, and he has in Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger). Freddy, posing as Jason’s mother Pamela Voorhees (Paula Shaw), manipulates Jason into reawakening and doing Freddy’s dirty work for a time. Jason goes to Elm Street in Springwood, Ohio to lay the seeds of fear that will re-empower Freddy, but when Jason becomes uncontrollable and continues to take Freddy’s thunder and victims – the two immediately come at odds and the battle for 80s horror icon supremacy begins.
To be plainly straight forward, Ronny Yu does nothing with this film to make it remotely resemble anything horror-related. While we have monsters and gore and murder, he doesn’t even try to make anything scary. He just turns this entire concept into a comic book adventure with larger than life action like a Michael Bay film. It’s all ridiculously overblown action with absolutely no attempt at building tension or suspense. Ronny Yu didn’t care to take these characters back to their truly horror-driven roots. In fact, he demonstrates very little to zero knowledge of the characters at all. Ken Kirzinger’s performance is forced by Yu to be a slow lumbering Frankenstein’s Monster at times, and then, as an animalistic enraged killer. Kirzinger does the best he can, but Yu forced him into a very specific, narrow portrayal of Jason that does not display the character at his best. Ken was Kane Hodder’s stunt double in Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, and so, he knows how to do Jason justice (even if it is Kane Hodder’s version). Ronny Yu simply knew nothing about the best aspects of Jason’s character, about what worked best in previous interpretations – let alone display Jason’s creative diversity with different weapons. He may look like Jason Voorhees, but there is little here that resembles the character fans have come to enjoy. I also severely hate the comical context Jason is thrown into repeatedly throughout the film.
Robert Englund, on the other hand, is allowed to put in possibly the best performance as Freddy Krueger since the original A Nightmare On Elm Street. Freddy is sick, sadistic, and just totally vile here. Unfortunately, the wisecracks and one-liners still do pop up to form some very cringe inducing moments. It seems as if the lame humor aspects of the character will never die, but compared to the portrayal in Freddy’s Dead – this is evil incarnate. When Englund’s in the moment of the most terrible acts, he delivers something we’ve hungered for way too long – pure, serious villainy. Freddy may have been given only one kill in this film, but it truly is memorable. The entire sequence is vintage Elm Street. The slur in Krueger’s voice is new, but it also adds a touch of sickening evil. Overall, Freddy is given a far better treatment here than Jason. I believe that’s mainly because New Line was still the ‘House That Freddy Built,’ and he was their icon. There’s nobody on board this production that was just as devoted to Jason as others were to Freddy. I can surely hear the cries for “Kane Hodder,” but he had some ego issues with the role that did not serve him well in the aftermath of his departure. He certainly had great reason to be upset for being canned from the film, but at some point, you have to be a professional and let it go.
The weakness of this film lies with Ronny Yu and the script. Screenwriters Mark Shannon & Damian Swift reportedly had a lot more Jason-centric elements in the story, but David Goyer came in, eliminated many good things about it, cheesed up the dialogue, and ultimately made it a worse script overall. When I saw Blade: Trinity, I saw how bad Goyer’s screenwriting could be when there’s no one to fine-tune it. The guy isn’t as great of a scriptwriter as we’ve been led to believe. The level of cheesy, horribly poor dialogue is out-right obscene. It is cringe inducing to sit through it. Still, a really good actor can make bad dialogue workable, even tolerable, but the cast we have here was a long way off from winning any awards beyond a Razzie. Jason Ritter is stiff, boring, and shallow. Monica Keena has a very ample upper body that’s used to laughable ends, but she displays no decent acting skills whatsoever. Also, don’t get me start on Kelly Rowland – terrible, horrible, a pure crime against cinema. It’s acting like this that could make great and proud B-movie actors like Bruce Campbell or Jeffrey Combs ashamed to be associated with the genre. Although, there are some good efforts here, but unfortunately, they’re gone all too early. These performances come from Brendan Fletcher as Mark Davis and Zack Ward as Mark’s long-dead brother Bobby. Freddy uses Bobby to haunt and torture Mark to creepy effect, and Ward does a fine job mimicking Englund’s mannerisms. Fletcher does very well despite having the burden of tackling most of the exposition in the film. His character is smarter than all the other teenagers combined, as is Fletcher’s acting talent. Too bad he’s disposed of once all his exposition dialogue has been delivered. Lochlyn Munro clocks in as Officer Stubbs, and while his character seems to have some bit of potential, at least in story development, it’s dashed halfway through the film when he’s made into another statistic on the body count list. That’s the failing of the characters in this film – if you have exposition dialogue in this film, you’re going to die right after you’ve served that purpose. If you have nothing at all to contribute to the film in character, story, or acting talent, you’ll survive to the final act.
The effects in this movie are decent, but there’s way too much CGI employed. Visual effects have always been a major element in the Nightmare films, but this is more than enough and too cheesy. The volume of blood here makes everything very silly and hardly scary. Also, the fact that Freddy has always had green blood in all previous film entries, and he now has regular red blood shows how little anyone cared for continuity. Plus, Jason is undead – he has no blood pumping through his veins, yet it all spurts out like geysers. Ever since undead Jason debuted in Jason Lives, his blood has been a black, gooey substance that oozes out of his wounds, when he did bleed. The design of Jason is different, and while I like the hockey mask, it becomes too battered by the end ruining the visualization of Jason’s moral blankness that it’s meant to symbolize. The raggedy clothing he’s draped in makes him look like a homeless derelict. Why they couldn’t stick with the coveralls or the classic green shirt and tan khakis is beyond me. He really does look like Frankenstein’s Monster in this film, minus the neck bolts.
Also, the level of comedy here is just wrong. Even when Freddy is beating down on Jason in the dream world boiler room, it’s all done comically. Jason’s just hurled around like in a pinball machine complete with sound effects and wisecracks. I just hate that they couldn’t keep Freddy as a sick, detestable bastard, but instead were so tempted to make a wisecracking “fun” villain. Freddy Krueger is setup from the very first moment of this movie as a child killer and possibly something even more sickening, but not long after, he’s being played up as a jokey villain. This doesn’t jibe with me. Certainly, nothing should be taken too seriously with a film that pits a wisecracking dream demon against an undead killer wearing a hockey mask, but there are certain character traits that should be weighed in when dealing with the character overall. As a human being, Freddy Krueger kidnapped, violated, and killed children – not a laughing matter at all. Of course, if anyone had made any attempt to make the majority of the teenage characters in this film any bit real, let alone sympathetic, Freddy would seem more villainous by attempting to kill them all. Beyond just the portrayal of Freddy, the quality of the comedy is horribly cheap and childish. It’s just badly written puns that add to the pile of garbage dialogue that this film dumps upon us. The fact that they blatantly ripped-off the character of Jay from Jay & Silent Bob in the form of Freeberg just shows the laziness of the writing and casting. While stoners have been a slasher mainstay, I cannot condone them carbon copying a character from a comedy franchise for a few weak, cheap laughs. It’s a blatant sign of being creatively bankrupt or simply lazy.
The score created by Graeme Revell is grossly disappointing. It sounds like he composed the thing during a ten minute coffee break in between films. The same weak musical cues are used a dozen times over, and no real thought out themes exist here. There was only one Jason “vocal effect” produced for the film, and any bit of Charles Bernstein’s Elm Street theme that appears in the soundtrack was injected in the aftermath of Revell’s scoring. Knowing that Revell did the brilliant, beautiful, and very gothic score for The Crow made me hopeful that he’d deliver something equally as epic, but sadly, he phones this work in. I would’ve preferred someone along the lines of Christopher Young scoring this as he did amazing work on the first two Hellraiser films and subsequent motion picture scores. Regardless, whatever I had hoped for, this score is the most disappointing of either series. Revell wasn’t even trying here.
The only good part of the film is the end when Freddy and Jason finally battle in the real world, but I’m only speaking of when they get hands-on. Only when the two are chopping and tearing away at each other – ripping chunks of flesh from their bodies – does it get really damn good. Everything previous to that is either a ridiculous WWE style brawl with flying elbows and such, or Freddy hurling heavy objects at Jason. The real meat of the entire encounter is Freddy and Jason dropping the bullshit creativity, and just ripping each other apart! This doesn’t last long enough, though, and it takes a third party to really allow for a winner of any kind to prevail, despite no one actually winning at all.
Again, another failing of this film is abandoning any sense of horror or suspense. It’s just a monster movie meant to splatter blood across the screen, and that just doesn’t hold my interest. There are a few frightening moments and a slew of excellent kills, but a little less time spent over indulging in comical farce and more time spent building up atmosphere and tension could’ve gone an exceptionally long way. There are also numerous missed opportunities. There could’ve been a great story with characters from both franchises coming together to deal with Freddy and Jason. Shannon and Swift had mentions of Tommy Jarvis in the script, but he did not appear. I think bringing together Tommy and maybe Alice from Dream Master and The Dream Child could’ve made a blockbuster combination. In the least, we would’ve had a lead cast that could actually act.
On my horror movie website Forever Horror, I had an ever-growing article on the history of Freddy vs. Jason from the beginning of both franchises past the point of this film’s theatrical release. It’s an insanely long article due to how long the film was in development. It had been trying to get made since 1987, and for all the stacks of scripts, screenwriters, and directors that were attached to this film over those many long years, I cannot believe this is the best script New Line Cinema could come up with. I cannot believe that Ronny Yu was the best director they could find to helm this. There must’ve been a half dozen or more horror filmmakers out there craving to do this project that would’ve done an extremely better job with it. Again, Yu essentially knew next to nothing about either character or franchise, and it just shocks me that New Line Cinema would hand this film over to someone like that. I can understand wanting to avoid hiring someone with a bias towards Freddy or Jason, but the film still turned out more like A Nightmare on Elm Street sequel guest starring Jason.
I will admit that Friday The 13th is my favorite slasher film series, but even from an objective point of view, it’s easy to see the lack of Jason-centric elements here. Crystal Lake doesn’t show up until the third act, and there’s a gross lack of creativity in Jason’s weapons and most of his kills. Practically having that machete glued to his hand the whole film again displays the shallow knowledge the filmmakers had for Jason. Also, claiming that Jason has some subconscious fear of water is preposterous. We’ve seen Jason submerged in water numerous times in multiple films without so much as hesitating to do so. He walked underwater halfway from Crystal Lake to Manhattan without a problem. Also, regardless of the tone of the Friday The 13th movie, Jason was always portrayed as entirely serious and lethal, but this film pokes too much fun at him. It puts him into comical moments that could’ve been reworked to be suspenseful. It’s horrible direction and campy screenwriting like this which also turned Alien vs. Predator into such an abomination. Both of these films could’ve had so much potential to be absolutely grisly, frightening, and intense films, but bad directors and screenwriters with no sense of respect for the material destroyed those hopes. While AVP is undeniably the worst of the two, Freddy vs. Jason demonstrated you could get away with showing only little to no respect for the source material, and still be greatly successful at the box office.
What more can I even say about this in a summation? The movie hit like a wild fire, but all that excitement and praise was just hype. Today, I don’t buy into hype. Either the film looks good or it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t deliver on my more matured tastes, no amount of hype is going to overshadow that. There are films I can admit are bad, but still gain some degree of enjoyment from it. While Freddy vs. Jason is a more tolerable film than Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare or Jason X, I have not had the genuine urge to watch it in many years. This is not a film to vehemently avoid, but it is one where your expectations need to be drastically lowered to avoid severe disappointment. If for nothing else, the horrible, vacuous acting is something you need to brace yourself for because it will make you cringe. Overall, this movie was a gimmick, plain and simple. It wasn’t about being faithful to the characters, fans, continuity, or franchises. It wasn’t about good acting, directing, scoring, or scriptwriting either. It’s strange that a film built out of the idea of fan service really has little to offer the fans that know the franchises the best. It’s even worse that after this film was such a huge success, New Line Cinema decided to inflict the curse of the remake upon both Freddy and Jason. So sad.
Paramount Pictures had run their course with Jason Voorhees, and gladly sold the rights to New Line Cinema for them to do with it as they pleased. What they gave us was something that remains a mixed result for many fans. Personally, I really love Jason Goes To Hell. I believe it to be a great, original storyline that dared to do something drastically different with the franchise. The filmmakers populated it with a very solid and impressive cast, and put together an inventive script.
An FBI sting operation at Crystal Lake succeeds in blowing Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder) to pieces, and all believe he is permanently dead, except for bounty hunter Creighton Duke (Steven Williams). Interviewed on the news program American Case File by Robert Campbell (Steven Culp), Duke claims that Jason is not dead, and that he is the only one who knows how to send him to hell for all time. He sets a bounty of $500,000 to paid for doing so. Meanwhile, Jason’s demonic heart takes possession of person after person on a path of death back to Crystal Lake in the effort to be fully reborn in the body of another Voorhees. Coincidentally, Robert Campbell is dating Jessica Kimble (Kari Keegan), the daughter of the woman Duke seeks out in Crystal Lake, but he doesn’t get far as he is locked up for insulting the town Sheriff. The father of Jessica’s daughter, Steven Freeman (John D. LeMay), eventually encounters Duke after Diana Kimble (Erin Gray) is accidentally killed, and he learns the truth about Jason and what it will take to destroy him forever.
Many fans are content with just leaving all the origins and explanations for Jason being whatever he is unknown. However, at a certain point, a franchise has to look back on itself, and realize that some sense has to be made of its menacing slasher juggernaut that continually comes back from the dead. In this case, I believe Dean Lorey and Jay Huguely succeeded in conjuring a story that takes itself seriously while dealing with some fantastical ideas. This film turned the franchise around from its campy decent into cheap horror, and back into a far gorier and violent direction. It lays several implications upon Jason’s undead origins such as with the Necronomicon from Army of Darkness sitting inside the Voorhees house. Granted, it was likely a prop happenstance due to the same effects company working on both films, but it’s presence alone enhances the occult and supernatural implications of the film. It certainly helped spark the idea for a Freddy vs. Jason sequel, ultimately adapted into a comic book, featuring Ash Williams fighting against both slasher foes.
The addition of the Creighton Duke character was pure brilliance. A hard edged bounty hunter with the secrets to what Jason is, and what became of his family lineage injects that air of mystery and urgency into the plot. I have become a big fan of Steven Williams from 21 Jump Street to The X-Files. He’s an incredibly talented actor capable of a wide range of characterizations. As Duke, he’s got charisma that really grips an audience. He can have an mischievous wit when he offers answers to Steven Freeman in the jail, but also has an intense, captivating energy when finally delivering those answers. Duke’s a man with a dedicated purpose, and a confident, bold attitude backed by his rugged skill set. He doesn’t offer trust easily, thus, reinforcing a sort of loner attitude. He doesn’t back down from anyone, but has the intelligence to remain focused and level headed. He’s not blindly obsessed with destroying Jason. He knows he cannot do it by himself, and must come to trust that others will do what is necessary when the time comes. Creighton Duke is one of my absolute favorite characters of the entire franchise, right up there with Tommy Jarvis. Steven Williams’ performance is immensely entertaining and compelling.
On the opposite side of the hero spectrum is John D. LeMay as Steven Freeman. He’s very much just an average guy with no special skills, but has his motivations. He desires to see and hold the child he helped father with Jessica, and wants to see both of them protected from this murderous evil out stalking them. LeMay starred in the unrelated Friday The 13th: The Series where he solidly played a similar protagonist, but Steven is even more unlikely. He’s not at all a man of action, but when forced into extraordinary circumstances, he rises to the challenge by doing whatever it takes to survive and protect those he cares about. LeMay gives the role plenty of light-hearted charm, and an audience easily feels for him when things go terribly awry.
This is undoubtedly the best cast assembled for a Friday The 13th movie. There is just a wealth of credible talent throughout the ranks, and they are all handled excellently by director Adam Marcus. For the most part, they project a grounded feeling that works towards the very serious dread and horror that is present in this film. The diner owners, Joey B. & Shelby, are kind of comical, but in a way that sells Joey’s heartless exploitative nature and Shelby’s warmer sensibilities. However, Steven Culp is probably the best of the supporting cast giving us a very sleazy, unscrupulous news anchor in Robert Campbell. This is a guy who has deceived Jessica into a romantic relationship only for the chance to exploit her family for his own personal gain. Culp puts in an excellent performance as a character you love to hate, but there’s more to it that I will touch on later.
This is undoubtedly the goriest movie of the entire franchise. The filmmaker made the blood thick and plentiful. The scene of the coroner consuming Jason’s enlarged heart is beautifully disgusting and graphic. The gooey black blood oozes and splatters all over. It’s an amazing effect, yet again provided by the masterful talents at KNB EFX Group. They really went all out for this installment creating very elaborate effects which are seen in all their glory right there on the screen, in the unrated cut, of course. New Line Cinema was the first to officially release an unrated version of a film in this franchise, and this couldn’t have been a better film to do that for. The practical effects work is absolutely spectacular, and the visual effects are also highly impressive. There is nothing at all that is just mediocre or sub-standard in this film. Everyone was fully dedicated to making a high quality feature, and I applaud each and every one of them for that commitment and hard work.
Yet, this isn’t just a mindless splatter flick. There is plenty of classic Friday The 13th style suspense. Adam Marcus shows a talent for crafting solid atmosphere and tension. The film has a dark visual tone creating a gritty feel that tells you this is going to be straight-on horror. Lighting is quite moody with rich, deep blacks that really strengthen that hardened atmosphere. It’s a hell of a great look for this film that really sets it apart from the rest of the series in a very good way.
What many fans count as a negative mark against the film is that Jason himself is barely in it. He spends most of the runtime jumping from one temporary body to another in pursuit of a permanent resurrection. However, this does allow for an unexpectedly menacing and kick ass performance by Steven Culp while possessed by Jason. He tears through the diner massacre sequence savagely. It’s absolutely awesome. Of course, there is no discounting Kane Hodder, but he does appear lethargic in this film. Possibly, this is due to the padding added to his costume to reflected a bloated and malformed Jason. It definitely adds more bulk that works well in contrast to everyone in the film, but Hodder just seemed to have a harder time throwing himself into the end fight scene. Regardless of that, he still delivers a performance up to his established standards for Jason Voorhees.
Now, Harry Manfredini’s score in this film is a split opinion for me. It is quite good, and might be one of his best of the series. Unfortunately, instead of using an orchestra, the entire score is synthesized. He takes what he regularly would have done with an orchestra and apply it to a synthesizer, and it just loses far too much in that transition. While the composition is very good, the sound of shrieking strings on a keyboard sound like the score to some cheap direct-to-video horror flick. There are times it doesn’t sound that bad, but certainly from the opening credits and elsewhere, it has always given me that feeling.
I know I am not the only one who believes there are many places to take the Friday the 13th concept outside of its formulaic comfort zone, and to me, this film shows it can be done with the right ambition and talent. It’s certainly a concept that you will either like or won’t, and it’s understandable if you don’t. Many are happy to revisit the standard formula, and just see Jason killing innocent campers. However, I find that many franchises could use an infusion of new ideas. It’s only unfortunate that most times, those new ideas become bad ones that result in poor movies. Thankfully, the right talents were employed that did love the series, and wanted to do something more supernatural, graphic, and demonic with Jason without betraying the core of his character. Many would argue otherwise, but this is my opinion on Jason Goes To Hell.
I do hardly believe that even New Line Cinema was serious about this being The Final Friday considering they just picked up the rights to the character. The ending of this film blatantly and cleverly sets up Freddy vs. Jason, so, there were obvious plans to keep utilizing Jason however they could. Regardless of that issue, Jason Goes To Hell is one of my top favorite Friday The 13th films, and I feel it is one of the best and most successfully innovative of the series. There’s a first rate cast here that really push the film towards that more serious, convincing tone instead of one of camp, which is refreshing. The make-up effects are off the chart incredible giving us more gore than any other film in the franchise, before or after, but it has no lack of genuine suspense or terror. If you care for a return to more serious horror for this franchise, and don’t mind more fantastical ideas injected into the concept, I strongly recommend giving Jason Goes To Hell an honest chance.
After the horrendous Freddy’s Dead, New Line Cinema was willing to entertain ideas from series creator Wes Craven on a new entry to the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. This film is partly a return to form for the series, but also ventures into a completely and radically new direction. The entire film is set outside the realm of the franchise in our reality. Many of the main characters and cameos are people playing themselves, to a degree. Heather Langenkamp, the heroine from the first and third films in the series, plays herself. We also have appearances by Wes Craven, John Saxon, and Robert Shaye – all playing themselves with some creative licenses. Robert Englund is of course here, playing both a more eccentric version of himself and the demonic incarnation of Freddy Krueger.
Heather Langenkamp lives a content life with her husband Chase Porter (David Newsom) and son Dylan (Miko Hughes). However, her sense of safety is compromised by a series of unsettling phone calls which Heather believes are from an anonymous stalker. Coupled with this is some increasingly strange behavior from Dylan. Heather gains little comfort from her former co-stars Robert Englund or John Saxon about either her paranoia or concern for her son. While she does not allow her son to watch any of the A Nightmare on Elm Street films, with her promoting the ten year anniversary of the original, she cannot escape its looming shadow. She soon finds out that Wes Craven is planning on making the definitive Nightmare movie, and that he has been plagued by nightmares of his own. It has practically become an epidemic as the same disturbing dreams have come to Heather as well as Robert Englund himself. Craven eventually tells Heather that what is haunting them is an ancient demon that has been roaming from story-to-story since the beginning of time, but has come accustomed to Freddy. Now, it wants into our world, and Heather is the perceived gatekeeper betweens the realms of fantasy and reality since she was the first to defeat Freddy. Dylan is a key focal point of this demon’s plan to lure in Heather. As all the elements begin to converge, the world around Heather starts to transform into the twisted existence of this guised Freddy Krueger.
New Nightmare is a creatively successful film that was not a financial success in 1994. I don’t think New Line Cinema knew quite how to market this concept in a way that was concise to an audience. It’s a far more cerebral concept than had been introduced into the series prior, but even then, it still requires a good amount of exposition to get a handle on. It’s very strange that at the time of release I had never even watched any of these films, and hadn’t spawned my horror movie fandom, yet. Still, I was entirely aware of this film while no one else seemed to be. Thankfully, time has given it the respect and admiration it deserved.
Wes Craven absolutely wrote an ambitious and smart screenplay. I think this shows a maturing of his artistic sensibilities. This is very high concept employing ideas that could not be competently handled by just anyone. There have been plenty of poorly conceived and/or executed reality-bending films, but only a special few that have done it with inspiring results. While that’s mostly true of any genre, this is one that doesn’t have as high of an output, and is usually only tried when a filmmaker feels ambitious. Most fail because they don’t have the right intellect behind them to pull it off without becoming pretentious, contrived, or fall into a style over substance trap. The films that do succeed have visionary filmmakers behind them who know how to convey the concept smartly and effectively. In New Nightmare’s case, it connects you directly with the characters, and invests you in their plights while methodically building up its premise with fine dashes of foreboding tension and suspense. It treats its horror and gruesome deaths with real human emotion and grief. These are real people experiencing real terror and pain. Thus, it increases the dread and danger of their situation with a heavy weight that an audience can truly feel.
This film is exceptionally solid while it’s not so much slasher horror as supernatural, psychological horror. Craven relies more on subtle atmosphere and a series of creepy, unexplained events, much like a haunted house story, to scare an audience. There is some gore, but it is only in a few scenes. So, on a slasher film level, New Nightmare does feel very starved for gruesome bloodletting, and that does detract from the film for me. There’s not enough visceral pay-off for the building up of suspense and atmosphere. Heather is truly terrorized by what this demon does to her life, tormenting her at every turn, and claiming the lives of a few people closest to her as well as traumatically manipulating her son. Those elements are executed outstandingly well. You can feel her fear and frayed psychological state increase throughout the movie. Freddy has very restrained screentime, which is a pleasant change from his overexposure in previous sequels. Wes Craven instead uses the screentime to intelligently and clearly setup the reality transcending premise before unveiling the revamped Freddy Krueger.
This ancient demon has decked Freddy out in a generous use of leather, and a frightening new glove of razors. It’s no longer rusted, but very shiny and skeleton like showing off Krueger’s burned hand. The new make-up design is certainly fresh, but still looks like prosthetics instead of an organic piece of burned flesh. It’s certainly better than the very rubbery appearance we got in the last few films, but I’ve still seen better burned flesh effects elsewhere. Generally, the redesign does give the character a darker edge which supports the premise of the film, and that this is not actually Freddy but a demon taking on his appearance and persona.
All the actors are as great as could be imagined. Langenkamp is even more beautiful here than ever before, and her performance is very true to the situation, despite its fantastical nature. I refer mostly in regards to the parent-child relationship, and how she does whatever is necessary to protect her child. Now, while this film blurs the line between reality and fantasy, this applies to the presentation of the people. Much of the stalking elements in the story were taken from the real Heather Langenkamp’s own experiences with a stalker, and so, there’s a personal element to this story for her. Overall, she brings a great weight of maturity and strong emotion to a role that was likely challenging for her to grasp. It was bold and brave of her to put as much of her personal life on screen like this as she did, and if it wasn’t Wes Craven asking her to do so, I don’t think she would have done it. On a related note, Miko Hughes shows a wealth of talent, and is really endearing. Most kids in horror films tend to be annoying or worse, but he managed to be very likable and endearing.
Robert Englund, as always, clocks in with all he has. This time, his Freddy performance is intimidating and fearsome. There’s not a wisecrack to be had, and he still remains engaging as a dark villain. His screentime is quite limited until the final act of the film, but enough is done throughout the picture to increase his menace and power. I know for a fact that Englund did prefer portraying Freddy as darker, but most directors preferred the comical approach. Thankfully, Craven brought the character back to where he works best, and Englund did a great job there.
John Saxon also returns in a supporting role, and I’ve always had a fondness for him. He’s just such a captivating and marvelous actor with a very fatherly or commanding aura about him. He always inspires confidence, and consistently does solid work. I thoroughly enjoy every bit of work I have seen of him. Tracy Middendorf stars as Julie, Dylan’s babysitter, and really comes off as sweet and caring. She’s definitely the ideal babysitter. I could easily go on and on about the cameos and solid acting, but to sum it up, the acting in this movie is wholly satisfying and exceedingly far above slasher genre standards, as is everything with New Nightmare.
This is definitely one of Wes Craven’s best and most modern looking films. Director of Photography Mark Irwin gave the film a lot of visual integrity, firmly grounding it in a dramatic reality. There’s a nice use of blue tones that add to the atmosphere that Craven nicely crafted. This looks like a serious, intelligent film for a more mature audience, contrasting the more juvenile sensibilities of previous Elm Street sequels. Mark Irwin really showed a great ability to artistically shoot a suspenseful film, and it’s great that Wes Craven used him again on Scream. It’s only a shame that most of Irwin’s filmography after this were comedies, many of them rather stupid comedies.
The story behind the inception of New Nightmare is also interesting. The concept was spawned from a meeting between Wes Craven and New Line executive Robert Shaye. He wanted to know, from Wes, what he thought was done wrong with the series, and if the company had offended Wes in anyway. Craven made a number of valid points about Freddy becoming a comical buffoon, and Bob offered Wes the chance to rectify these errors. I’ve always liked that cordial mentality from Mr. Shaye who never cared for burning bridges, only building a better company built on professional integrity and respect. With that, New Nightmare came into being.
Even without comparison to the wreckage that was Freddy’s Dead, this film shines and soars high as one of the best of the series right behind the original film. The only major drawback of the film, I feel, is that this demon-as-Freddy is not dispatched in a very clever way. There’s really no fantastical element to it, as one would expect from such a fantastical concept. It is more of a physical method of defeating him instead of a supernatural, metaphysical, or psychological one. And even though I’ve never taken much note of J. Peter Robinson’s score, it is widely recognized as one of the best horror film scores around. Ultimately, this is still one to highly recommend alongside the 1984 original and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Those are the definitive classics of the franchise, and those reputations are rightly earned.
You didn’t think I could let Forever Horror Month go by without a look at old Fred Krueger, did you? I think A Nightmare on Elm Street came out at just the right time. The slasher film craze had exploded, but then, began to water itself down with all the imitators. There were still good ones out there, but it was already time for something fresh to shake up the genre. Something to bring it back to a terrifying and original concept that was conceived by a master in Wes Craven. Where the effectiveness of some other horror films have diminished over time for me. A Nightmare on Elm Street still holds a chilling nerve in my spine.
In the town of Springwood, on Elm Street, Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) and her friends are experiencing violent nightmares where they are stalked by a badly scarred man with a clawed glove of razors. When Nancy’s friend Tina (Amanda Wyss) is brutally murdered in bed one night, Nancy believes that it wasn’t Tina’s boyfriend who killed her, but the man who terrorizes their dreams – Fred Krueger (Robert Englund). Unfortunately, her claims are dismiss by her father, Police Lieutenant Donald Thompson (John Saxon), and her alcoholic mother (Ronee Blakley). So, Nancy, aided by her boyfriend Glenn (Johnny Depp), Nancy fights to stay awake to discover the truth behind Krueger, and find a way to stop him for good or never sleep again.
Right from the start, the film sets a dark, gritty, frightening tone with Freddy’s construction of his bladed glove. This film truly is a nightmare come to life with the shadowy boiler room being the perfect backdrop for Krueger. It’s damp, steamy, and filthy – a dangerous industrial environment for a sleazy, twisted killer. From there, the film haunts you with creepy, surreal images that touch your deepest fears. Once you are in Freddy’s realm there is no safe harbor. He wants you to know you’re trapped and ensnared in his sick, demented reality. He’s the master of the domain that is your dreams, and that’s what’s most frightening of all. He can violate you deep within your mind, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t go forever without sleep. Eventually, you are going to fall asleep, and that’s all he needs to have his way with you. Unlike other slashers, Freddy doesn’t just stalk and kill. He gains vast pleasure by psychologically tormenting his victims so that when he finally goes in for the kill, it will be all the more sweeter for him. Freddy is a glorious sadist. He both literally and figuratively feeds off your fear. It’s what gives him his power and pleasure. The glove was also a brilliant idea by Wes Craven. Most slashers just kill with whatever’s handy, but Freddy puts his own signature mark on his victims with a weapon custom built for himself. It’s a direct and distinct extension of his twisted personality.
Robert Englund instantly created an icon here built off of Wes Craven’s imagination. He absorbed himself into the weight and feel of this character through the amazing make-up effects, and the dingy, distinct wardrobe. The body language alone conveys a sickening individual who takes perverse pleasure in everything he does. Every little gesture with the blades, every wiggling of the tongue, every slinking movement creates a terrifying performance that burns itself into your psyche. The fact that Craven keeps Krueger so secluded in shadow, and only highlights certain aspects of his figure or face, enhances the intimidating power of him. This is the most vile rendition of Fred Krueger we have ever gotten, and I think it’s a real disservice to horror audiences that he became so campy and cheesy in the later sequels. I know Englund preferred going the darker route, but most directors preferred the comical punch. I cannot fathom why because Freddy proves to be his most frightening in his purest form.
Beyond just Robert Englund, the film is packed with a great cast. Heather Langenkamp steps into a strong lead role as Nancy. I love that the film sets up Tina as the potential protagonist, but swerves the audience when gruesome tragedy strikes. This allows Nancy to overcome her own grief and build herself up to a confident, smart heroine. Yet, she never loses her honest sense of compassionate emotion. Nancy does feel fear, very intensely, but she fights to conquer it every step of the way. Langenkamp looked and felt like a genuine fresh faced girl next door which made her performance vulnerable and realistic. The strength she brought to Nancy was incredible making an audience believe in Nancy through every terrifying moment.
Johnny Depp, in his very first acting role, is also great showing off the charm and talent we’ve come to know from him. As Glenn, he’s funny and sweet. I also believe casting John Saxon is always a rock solid choice. He brings a fatherly warmth to Donald Thompson showing concern for his beloved daughter. He’s also entirely believable as a commanding police officer with a fine screen presence which just exudes strength and confidence. Ronnie Blakley is quite remarkable as this drunken mother who is clearly unable to cope with the crime she helped commit. Amanda Wyss puts in a great performance selling the intense fear of Tina, and showing the subtle terror that trembles underneath. Overall, everyone in this cast does an immensely solid and greatly admirable job. They make this a film filled with character you can genuinely cared about, and thus, seriously fear for.
Wes Craven shows such a talent for suspense here. He carefully unnerves an audience with subtle sounds and glimpses of terror, firstly. Then, when Freddy finally reveals himself, it’s a truly scary sight as he torments Tina with a grin and a despicable laugh. Just as Freddy torments his victims, Craven uses those moments to freak out his audience to build up the suspense and tension. He prolongs the fear with masterful skill so that the pay-off will be frightening beyond your imagination. The kills are gruesomely brilliant with no lack of gore or blood. The screen is soaked in crimson many times in the movie., and the violent impact of those four blades slicing into flesh is always terrifying and shocking.
All of the special effects in A Nightmare on Elm Street are absolutely impressive and truly ambitious. Today, as the lackluster remake proved, a lot of these effects today would be done with severely unconvincing and unimpressive CGI. Back in 1984, everything was done practically, and the results are just astonishingly excellent. Even knowing how they did it takes away nothing from the viewing experience of the film. The movie magic is still there, and it is still massively effective. From Tina being dragged up the wall and ceiling of her bedroom to Freddy’s form pushing through the wall above Nancy as she sleeps to all the subtle tricks and slight of hand to achieve so much, these are timeless, classic images that are the result of talented, innovative minds. They entirely sell the chillingly surreal qualities and power of Krueger. It’s amazing that they achieve so much on a budget that was less than $2 million. Compare that with the $35 million budget of the 2010 remake which couldn’t pull off the same effects with even a fraction of the artistic quality or effectiveness.
Charles Bernstein beautifully score this film with just the right approach. The main theme is instantly recognizable with its sort of nursery rhyme melody, but has a haunting, foreboding quality lying behind it which is purely brilliant musicianship. The score, in general, is purely enveloping with a wide, rich range using synthesizer in gorgeous fashion. It disturbs and unsettles at nearly every dark turn. The sound design works in tandem with the score by fully immersing an audience into Freddy’s world. The sounds of the boiler room come to magnificent life in a full surround sound experience. I think it’s one of the best audio presentations of any horror film I’ve ever heard.
Again, what really sets this film apart from its slasher brethren is the psychological aspect. Freddy isn’t a killer you can simply outrun. He’s lurking in the dark recesses of your dreams, waiting for you to fall into his clutches. It’s amazing to me that Wes Craven is such a sweet, easy going, regular guy, but is able to delve so vividly into the chilling imagery and nature of nightmares. Scary experiences from his childhood forged many of these inspirations, but so much touches a frightening nerve, such as the bloody corpse of Tina in the body bag beckoning to Nancy, that it demonstrates Craven’s creative brilliance. He taps so deeply into the mechanics of horror, and is able to craft beautifully gruesome images that could dig their way into your own subconscious. I think Craven is at his best when he’s pushing horror to a higher level beyond the visceral. Whether it’s the psychological aspects of this franchise, or the mystery aspects of the Scream films, he has a unique quality to inject into horror films that I really enjoy.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is a horror classic that goes beyond just the slasher genre. It was created by a team of greatly talented and dedicated individuals in front of and behind the camera. No other film in the franchise quite matches up to the dark, pure horror quality of Wes Craven’s original. While there are sequels with their own enjoyable and respected qualities, there are many which simply lost sight of what horror was, and diluted the powerful and effective tone of fear the franchise was built upon. Regardless of disappointing sequels or poor remakes, the 1984 original will always stand as an eternal horror classic.
This has become a very well known version of Halloween 6 to fans over the years, most deeming it superior to the theatrical cut. It has never been officially released by Dimension Films, and can only be found in bootleg form on both VHS and DVD. Today, you can actually find the full cut freely on YouTube. Among other things, the altered ending is also due to the passing of Donald Pleasance following principal photography, but that was hardly the catalyst for the extent of these changes. As explained in the review of the theatrical version of this film, Halloween 6 was turned into a mess of a film in post-production following poor test screening reactions and severe creative differences between director Joe Chapelle and the film’s producers. Thus, this version of the film was dubbed “The Producers’ Cut.” Suffice it to say, there are distinct and dramatic differences between this version and the theatrical cut.
The setup and premise for the film remains basically the same as the official theatrical release, but this cut follows a slightly different chain of events. There are alternate death scenes with some happening later in the film, allowing characters to survive longer than in the theatrical version. One of those is that Jamie Lloyd is not killed by Michael, but rather, dies in the hospital later on by the hands of the Man in Black. This adds back scenes of Loomis and Wynn in the hospital that better explain how Tommy runs into Dr. Loomis there. Overall, the film gives more time to developing the relationship between Doctors Wynn and Loomis. Right from the start there is an extended introduction scene, and as the story goes along a different chain of events, there are more scenes of them together which build them into a stronger, more prominent part of the plot. More foreboding seeds are planted towards the rune of Thorn as well.
Music cues are also different in mostly eliminating the false scares throughout the film, and you will find no trace of wailing rock guitars anywhere. The score is more in the traditional Halloween style with a focus on atmosphere and tension. A definite difference from the start is Donald Pleasance doing the opening narration instead of Paul Rudd’s Tommy Doyle. We also get a flashback to a never used, never seen ending to Halloween 5 where Jamie, portrayed by Danielle Harris, is abducted by the Man in Black. Of course, where this version of this film departs from the theatrical version is more in the final act. I won’t go spoiling much, but everything after Tommy and Loomis are knocked unconscious is almost completely different. The film follows through on the occult aspects it establishes instead of the nonsensical genetic cloning swerve the theatrical outing offers. Several scenes throughout the final twenty minutes were re-shot with a heavily revised script, leading to the more ‘by-the-numbers’ ending we eventually got. The Producer’s Cut ending is less action-oriented, and more plot centric using the idea of the runes to cancel out Michael’s own power to allow for a potential escape for some.
I believe this version is a definite improvement over the theatrical cut. The film follows its own logic throughout whereas the theatrical cut veers off track, essentially disregarding the development of the story at the start of the final act. The Producer’s Cut retains a consistency and continuity within its own story, and with its predecessors. While it requires the story to delve further into bizarre territory, it seems more satisfactory. More importantly, it is all rather well explained through the course of the overall film. This is mainly done by Tommy, but in the final act, Terrence Wynn goes further in depth about the motives behind it all. The film doesn’t envelop itself in clichés or formulaic horror film scenarios building up to or during the film’s conclusion. It presents a climax and ending which respects the development of the story, serves the tone and themes appropriately. It also leaves a much clearer opening for a sequel with a definite storyline to follow down. Unfortunately, this storyline and its continuity were shelved and ignored by the makers of the subsequent sequels. While I would’ve liked to see such a proper continuation, I don’t believe it would’ve been successful. Any non-fans would be turned off and lost with such a continuation. This is merely by the fact of long-stretching mythology and continuity that newcomers would be unaware of. Of course, this would allow for even lower box office numbers. I’m sure the death of Donald Pleasance wouldn’t leave much confidence in the franchise’s future along this path, either.
I don’t see a real point in reviewing the acting since the quality of the performances don’t change from one cut to the other. Rarely, if at all, does an alternate take appear, and it’s more a fact of extended and additional scenes appearing throughout. Although, aspects of the editing should be addressed. Whereas the theatrical version is far gorier than previous Halloween films, this cut removes a good deal of the gratuitous bloodshed. This helps to put it back on track with the other Michael Myers outings, and much like with Alan Howarth’s score, keeps the horror focused more on atmosphere and suspense than on shock gore value. I believe both cuts of the film were done by the same editor, Randolph K. Bricker, and so, the quality of the editing is quite consistent between both versions. Of course, without a doubt, the story flows much better in this version. This is probably because there’s more story here to work with between various characters. Even the timeline alteration of Jamie’s death offers up a well-timed plot turn, and a slightly tighter pace about one-third of the way into the film. It also keeps the idea of the Man in Black alive where he’s barely present in the theatrical cut. Also, bare in mind, the Producer’s Cut was put together first. So, the theatrical version’s gratuitous gore was all added in later, but still, several small character moments were excised in the theatrical version. In regards to the Strode family turmoil, while they are nice touches, I don’t think either cut is exceptionally better or worse because of their presence or absence. Still, it helps to give an extra touch of depth to one or two characters.
I can honestly say that I do find more enjoyment in watching this version of the film, but watching a multi-generational bootleg copy, no matter what lengths skilled fans go to improve the experience, is not something I would do often. I really feel that if Dimension Films had any intention of releasing the Producer’s Cut officially on a properly mastered DVD or Blu-Ray release, they likely would have done it already. Still, it is an investment in time and money, and there’s no guarantee that they still have all the necessary elements to present the complete film. Sometimes, audio tracks or film elements are lost. Beyond that, who knows what condition the master print is in. I’m not saying these are absolute certainties, but there are numerous factors to take into consideration. Of course, if they don’t show the initiative, we’ll never know. Regardless, if you ever have the opportunity to view this version of the film, I believe it is worth your while if the more occult aspects of the story intrigue you. Like I said, it’s readily available on YouTube, for the time being, so it costs you nothing to give it a look.
The early-to-mid 1990s were generally not a good era for horror films. The slasher craze of the 80s was dead, and the few surviving franchises were really limping along, creatively and/or commercially. Now in the hands of Dimension Films, who had already begun tarnishing the Hellraiser franchise, Moustapha Akkad pushed forward with a sixth installment in the Halloween series. It would explore the origins of Michael Myers, and follow-up on the events in The Revenge of Michael Myers. It had good beginnings, but what could’ve been a very solid and satisfying film for certain fans, turned into a real mess with an obscured potential. It just goes to show that certain franchises shouldn’t be given to certain studios.
Following six years later, much has changed for our familiar characters. Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) has retired after suffering a stroke during his last encounter with Michael Myers. Almost everyone believes that Jamie Lloyd and Myers died that night. Although, it is October 30th, 1995, and things are about to change further. In actuality, Michael survived, and Jamie (J.C. Brandy) has been held captive by the Man in Black and his cohorts all this time. Jamie has since been impregnated, and is now mother to a newborn baby boy. In an escape attempt, Michael pursues her relentlessly. Meanwhile, shock jock Barry Simms (Leo Geter) holds a radio broadcast about the return of Halloween to Haddonfield, and one of his callers is a panicked Jamie Lloyd, calling out for help. Among those listening are Tommy Doyle (Paul Stephen Rudd) as well as old friends Dr. Loomis and Dr. Terrence Wynn (Mitch Ryan). Of course, it is not long before Michael claims his niece’s life in quite a gory fashion. While the child is lost to The Shape, Tommy soon tracks the baby boy down, and chooses to protect him. Loomis & Wynn soon join the hunt for Myers, but ulterior motives loom in the shadows for some. Meanwhile, relatives of Laurie Strode – including Kara (Marianne Hagan) and her young son Danny – now occupy the old Myers home, and are in danger of Michael’s boundless evil. Tommy, quite obsessed with the truth about Michael Myers, believes he has discovered the origin of his evil, but how this version of the film progresses, it eventually becomes irrelevant.
It is rather easy to see how this entry in the series failed to be a serious success. The main factor is that, after poor test screenings, Dimension Films ordered the third act to be re-shot and much of the film to be re-edited to be a much less intelligible story. However, the original version survives in the bootleg market as “The Producer’s Cut.” In this, the theatrical cut of the film, there’s much left to be desired regarding the plot. What begins as a supposed occult plot surrounding Michael eventually takes a sharp swerve towards some form of genetic cloning, and all things occult are bafflingly washed away. The film also goes for a lot of cheap, false scares which only degrade the quality of the film. Re-casting or dispatching with the character of Jamie Lloyd didn’t win any fans over either. However, Danielle Harris did not like the script, or what happened to Jamie in it. So, she passed, forcing the role to be given to another actress who did a fine job, but the re-casting does affect the impact of what does happen to Jamie here.
What I do enjoy a great deal about this film is what many don’t like – the entire Thorn / occult plotline. Many despise it, but it’s much the same as I like Jason Goes To Hell. It offers up a better explanation than just “he’s evil.” Evil alone doesn’t make you immortal and impervious to injury or pain. There has to be a reason, and after a while, you need to add something more to the stalk and slash formula to keep it interesting. Whether it succeeds or fails depends on how well the explanation is integrated into the established mythos. For me, I think screenwriter Daniel Farrands did a very exceptional job tying all the little bits and pieces scattered throughout the films into a credible storyline. While the entire Thorn mark on Michael in Halloween 5 was purely random, trying to give Moustapha Akkad some thread to continue with into the next sequel, I find it is quite a valid revelation. Like it or not, John Carpenter did set this up, partially, years ago. When filming additional scenes for the network television broadcast of the original Halloween, he introduced the plot twist that Laurie was Michael’s sister. He also introduced the idea of Michael being linked to Samhain in his and Debra Hill’s script for Halloween II. Despite which belief system you categorize it under, Samhain is directly linked with an array of paranormal and supernatural events and rituals. All of which involving the relationship between the living and the dead. Therefore, while none of this origin came from a singular stream of consciousness, it all eventually fit together with perfect logic. If for nothing else, in my honest opinion, it’s a better and more creative origin for Michael Myers than what trash Rob Zombie tried to feed us. I don’t believe in making evil incarnate a sympathetic figure. You shouldn’t feel sorry for evil, but you should respect its power and legacy. The one person who survives throughout these films is the one who respects and never underestimates the evil that is The Shape, namely Dr. Loomis.
The film has a solid setup giving us plenty of mysterious and haunting elements that create suspense. Having the Man in Black haunting Danny Strode was handled nicely, and created a driving plot element which passionately involved Kara Strode. She’s not being randomly stalked. She is fighting for the safety of her son, and thus, naturally forms an allegiance with Tommy Doyle. Bringing back a character from the original film, and developing him down this path is something I’ve always strongly enjoyed. He could’ve been the Halloween franchise’s allegory to Tommy Jarvis from the Friday The 13th films – a young protagonist who has dedicated himself to understand the evil that once stalked him, and seeks to destroy it, once and for all. Doyle is very smartly handled in this story giving the character enough weight to bring credibility to everything he says. Just as how Dr. Loomis could come off as very preposterous if wrongly cast, the same goes for Tommy Doyle. Where Loomis has always brought a dreadful urgency to the plot, Tommy brings a scary vibe of mystique as he explains the truth of Michael Myers. The addition of Dr. Terrence Wynn mixes both of those into a heavy, frightening threat, regardless of which cut of the film you view.
While all the Strode family drama was quite unnecessary, it at least has some bearing on the story and the characters. It creates enough emotional turmoil for Kara which makes her more vulnerable and emotionally open for an audience to connect with. However, on the down side, I definitely get that John Strode is not meant to be likeable in the least, but he actually comes off as far too stereotypical, dumb, and tiresome. He’s a dull thud of a character that I just wanted to be rid of, and if the film spent less time with him, I would have been perfectly all right with that. That is really the only character which fell flat for me. Actor Bradford English just didn’t seem like a very solid fit for this role, and does little with it for anyone to take him very seriously. He comes off like a bull-headed buffoon. Even the crass shock jock character of Barry Simms is vehemently unlikeable, but he’s supposed to be, and Leo Geter hit the role perfectly on the mark.
Now, what further drives this away from the tone of a Halloween film is the excessive gore. The splatter level here is more akin to that of a Friday The 13th film. The Halloween films have, generally, been more focused on atmospheric horror than shock gore. I can only fault director Joe Chapelle for a good measure of this. He was the one Dimension Films called on to re-shoot sequences for Hellraiser: Bloodline. Thus, essentially butchering everything that film had left going for it after the Weinstein’s kicked Clive Barker and original director Kevin Yahger off the project. He’s clearly not a filmmaker who strives to fight for his vision or establish his own identity. He does what the studio wants him to do, even if it means butchering his own film or someone else’s. Chapelle also perceived Donald Pleasance’s performance as “boring,” and cutout several of his scene from the film, further showing Joe Chapelle’s lack of sense for good talent. Clearly, there was a good movie under all these re-shoots and re-edits that Chapelle deserves some credit for, but he really loses a lot of that credit and respect due to his track record with this film and others.
Fortunately, the acting rises far above anything that might be lacking in the director’s chair. Donald Pleasance, as always, delivers what had always kept this film series so unique. He provides a dramatic and emotional weight which brings an honest credibility to the film, despite what strange turns it might take. Paul Rudd and Marianne Hagan bring equally real and solid performances. Rudd fashioned a definite eerie quality for Tommy making it quite apparent that he’s had a weird time of it since Halloween, 1978. I always find myself especially intrigued by his character, hoping that a subsequent film would follow him in more depth, but that really became a dashed hope. Beyond just the change of direction in the franchise, Paul Rudd emphatically made it known he’d never work with these filmmakers again. He signed onto what was supposed to be a high caliber suspense film, but the studio ultimately decided to take the low road. That being said, aside from my previous comments, there’s hardly a weak link amongst the cast. Mitch Ryan was a welcomed addition adding some extra strength and stability. He does an immensely effective job in his plot twisting role as Terrence Wynn.
Lastly, George P. Wilbur returns as The Shape. He previously took on the role for Halloween 4. The performances are about the same, but he gets to do more walking here. You see more of his movement, but it doesn’t have that natural fluidity that Nick Castle had in the first film. It seems everyone who portrays Myers always tried to emulate the robotic and rigid performance of Dick Warlock. I cannot explain this approach as I believe Castle’s more natural movement made Michael seem more eerily human, and in a way, more frightening and relentless. He seemed to move with more purpose, more determination, and thus, showed he was more motivated.
Alan Howarth, a frequent collaborator of John Carpenter’s, and the man responsible for the scores of Halloween 4 & 5 returned here. He takes things in a different direction this time out. This is a much heavier score with the synthesizers regularly slamming into the soundtrack with a more overbearing presence, at times. The familiar themes of the series have a more atmospheric or polished synth sound, which I do enjoy. It gives this film more self-identity that works, but there are undesirable elements of this score. The music in the climax is overwhelming with shredding electric guitars in a very 80s pop-metal style. It’s like a second rate Eddie Van Halen wannabe took over the scoring job on the film and did a terrible job at it. This is not scary or suspenseful. It’s just obnoxious Now, this is something exclusive to this cut of the film. It was another decision made by people less interested in creating a coherent and effective horror film, and more interested in just making whatever’s going to give them one extra dumb dollar – even if only makes the film worse.
Thankfully, the film is shot very well, in most part. The cinematography has a serious approach with focus on dramatic weight and eerie atmosphere. The lighting creates some uneasy moodiness. The bleak visuals create a sense of foreboding and unease. You get the feeling all the way through that this is a film that is taking itself seriously with intense, unrelenting horror, and a storyline that’s supposed to have dire consequences. I really love how the film was shot. It takes the blue tones of the first and fourth films, and adds an extra layer of depth and grit to enhance the more grim tone of this film. I give much praise to cinematographer Billy Dickson on this production.
Generally, I feel this version of the film is less fascinating than its bootlegged counterpart. Based on its own merits, the film boils down to a mindless slasher with a messed up plot progression which ultimately negates itself. While it does have strong acting and solid production values, the studio heads botched it all up to cater to stupid fourteen year olds who wouldn’t end up being able to see the film in theatres anyway. The whole film seems meant to build up towards answers and revelations regarding the origin of Michael’s evil. Sadly, it’s all thrown out to introduce a new ending which makes no sense, and doesn’t bother to explain itself. I’m not one who demands that all mysteries be solved, and all questions be answered thoroughly and definitively in a film, but things need to make some degree of coherent sense. Simply said, the fact remains that this ending does not fit to this story. It washes away all plot points and hints at answers the film establishes, and introduces brand new ones which come to no light. It’s a cliché, shallow, and hollow conclusion to a film which laid the seeds for so much more. Satisfaction, at least for me, does not come from this version of Halloween 6.
Another sequel, released approximately one year later. Clearly, it was a rushed production, and the pitfalls of that are blatantly obvious throughout this film. It’s not a pure failure, but the volume of problems and bad ideas are impossible to ignore. Director and co-writer Dominique Othenin-Girard is probably responsible for many of them. His résumé consists mostly of French films, but he was also responsible for the generally panned and dismissed Omen IV telemovie. The films’ other two screenwriters, Michael Jacobs and Shem Bitterman, have nothing else of note on their filmographies. If this film is any indication of their talent, it seems to make sense.
One year after the events of Halloween 4, things are not as expected. Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) is merely locked up in a children’s psychiatric hospital, acting weird, but not homicidal in anyway. Michael Myers, ultimately, is still alive, and has been laying dormant in the company of a derelict by the river. With the coming of Halloween, he rises once again, and starts on his killing spree towards Jamie all over again. This time, Jamie has a psychic link with Michael, able to see what he sees, and generally know where he is. Of course, most everyone doesn’t believe her wild claims, believing she is indeed insane, and ultimately, allows for many more to die because of it. Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance), as usual, is there to head up the endless fight against The Shape. Meanwhile, a mysterious man in black makes his way into Haddonfield for unknown reasons as Michael maliciously slashes through the town.
I have to say, first off, that this film suffers mostly from an underdeveloped script due to the rushed production. Where Alan McElroy put together a rather intelligent script for Halloween 4, the three screenwriters on this film did everything possible to make it stupid and stunted. From the pair of lame, dumbass cops to the annoying character of Tina to most any other new characters, it’s a real chore to consider anyone likable here. Aside from the returning cast of Harris, Pleasance, Cornell, and Starr, the acting is rather poor and irritating at times. Don Shanks’ Shape doesn’t really stand out. There’s not much for him to really work with, and the mask he’s saddled with is terrible. Granted, it follows within the continuity that this film establishes, but the filmmakers weren’t forced to make it dirty and ugly. Part of the symbolism of the mask is to reflect a blank, emotionless visage of the killer, and scuffing it up takes away that stark, striking visual.
The direction that Othenin-Girard takes the film is very visually gothic. Everything appears grittier, dirtier, and more grim. Although, the most horrendous and objectionable change is that of the Myers’ house – which bares zero resemblance to any other Myers’ house throughout the series, before or after. Obviously, continuity wasn’t a real concern for Dominique. I will give him credit where the film’s tension and suspense is concerned. He handles it very well, and creates many scary sequences throughout various parts of the movie. It’s simply the harsh and drastic departure of visual style and art direction that detract from its quality in the overall series. The entire film has a far more cryptic than atmospheric style compared to the rest of the franchise. This doesn’t tend to go over well with the fans, and considering the film’s other stated flaws, it’s stance within the franchise is quite expected.
Halloween 5 also planted the seeds for what became Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers with the mysterious Man in Black. However, as another example of a rushed production and poor screenwriting, even the screenwriters themselves didn’t know who the hell he was supposed to be. They just decided to throw in some ambiguous character with no idea of what to ultimately do with him. That’s sloppy work to pawn off onto another screenwriter who would work on the next sequel. I’m sure that’s something screenwriters of sequels hate – cleaning up the undeveloped or unresolved garbage left over by the last screenwriter. At least the Friday The 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street movies had the courtesy to kill their respective slashers off at the end of every movie allowing for a generally clean slate for the next movie. In Halloween 5, the Man in Black was partly portrayed by Don Shanks at the thought that the character might be a blood relative of Michael’s, possibly a brother. Obviously, any intentions these filmmakers might’ve had about the Man in Black’s identity were irrelevant by the time of the sixth film’s production. During this production, tensions and conflicts were abound. Pleasance and Akkad disagreed with each other, and they both disagreed with Othenin-Girard about the direction of the story, and the direction of the film. Not many were happy with the outcome, and it resulted in a rather uneven and terribly unpolished film.
This is a film that tries to be taken deathly seriously, but there’s just so much bad crap smeared all over it that it’s hard to take it seriously. While I would not speak ill of children with disabilities, they don’t make for good characters in horror films. They simply add to the irritating bevy of new characters we are subjected to. There are the aforementioned bumbling rejects from the Police Academy franchise who couldn’t be more out of place, and they are even given their own silly music theme to go along with their goofy antics. Then, the entire psychic link between Jamie and Michael comes off like something from a Z-grade rip-off of The Dead Zone. Maybe, and that’s a huge maybe, the idea could’ve worked in more talented hands, but the execution comes off as terrible. The entire time Dr. Loomis is shouting at and shaking Jamie like a total madman trying to force her to tell him where Michael is, and that alone is just bad on so many levels. Donald Pleasance does the best job he can with the written material, but there’s just too much incoherent madness for him to make much of it.
While this is meant to be a continuation of Halloween 4, it comes off more like a transitional film meant to segue from Halloween 4 into a different storyline altogether in the eventual Halloween 6. It never feels like a self-contained movie since it hardly resolves anything from the previous movie, and has no resolution to any new plot elements it introduces. I think more than its slasher juggernaut counterparts, the Halloween franchise has been the most mismanaged. There was too much cluttered continuity and mythology that almost every new screenwriter or filmmaker who came in tried to twisted around into a new direction, or simply disregard altogether on a whim. While Jason & Freddy have had their continuity inconsistencies, you rarely ever had someone come into either franchise trying to drastically alter the nature of the characters. The tone of the films might’ve changed, but what you knew of Krueger & Voorhees from the first film or two remained set in stone throughout the franchise. Their origins were plainly known, and anything that was added to them later on felt natural and logical. Not with Michael Myers. Every new film has tried to find a new rationale for the existence of the character whether or not it jibed with what came before. Moustapha Akkad never attempted to put the series on a set path of tone and story. That is very strange considering how thick Halloween 4-6 are with an overarching storyline that’s supposed to make sense, but is really just a fortunate cut and paste job assembled by three different sets of screenwriters. Halloween 5 raised a number of bizarre, ridiculous questions it never intended to answer, and while that’s surely not it’s worst attribute, it does degrade the artistic and creative potential of the film.
As I said, this is not a pure failure, but it’s a real mixed bag of problems. While it is enjoyable if you dumb yourself down and not care much about continuity, it’s far away from being one of the better films of the series. In contrast to Carpenter’s original, this is real schlock. On its own, it’s still schlock, but potentially enjoyable to some varying degree. Suffice it to say, this film could’ve stood from an extra year of development as well as a far more competent and talented director. This was a terrible drop-off from a rather respectable and enjoyable Halloween 4. It’s worth seeing, but not worth any good expectations.
As previously noted, I found the 2003 remake of the Tobe Hooper classic to be a solid horror film on its own merits. It was a successful film, but due to how it left Leatherface, a sequel was less than likely. Instead, the filmmakers chose to exploit an even worse trend in films – a prequel. Generally, it wouldn’t make much difference due to the formulaic slasher style, but intending it to be a sort of origin story for Leatherface was an idea that should’ve been left alone. I must warn you that this review will have some spoilers in it. There are certain issues I will raise that cannot be explored without them. While I will try not to be detailed in my spoilers, they do directly impact the fact of who dies and who survives.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning takes place in 1969 – four years before the events of the previous film. Dean (Taylor Handley) has been drafted into the United States Army in the midst of the Viet Nam War. His brother, Eric (Matthew Bomer), has already had a tour in ‘Nam, and is going back to re-enlist. Chrissie (Jordana Brewster) very much loves Eric, and doesn’t want him to go. Unfortunately, he’s too gung-ho for the war and being a patriot to choose love over volunteering for the war. What Eric doesn’t know is that Dean intends to dodge the draft by hopping the Mexico border with his girlfriend Bailey (Diora Baird). The group of four must travel cross-state in Texas for the brothers to join the army. Meanwhile, changes are occurring in the Hewitt household. With the closing of the slaughterhouse, the family is all that’s left of this town. Charles Hewitt (R. Lee Ermy) assumes the role of town sheriff, the family casually embraces cannibalism, and Thomas Hewitt (Andrew Bryniarski) begins his vicious killing streak. Inevitably, these two stories converge, and total carnage and death ensues. I can’t say you’ll “witness the birth of fear,” but you will be a witness to a lot of visceral violence.
My first main gripe with this film is that the focus is on the wrong character, despite the great actor portraying him. Leatherface is the icon of the franchise, and six films have been produced and released with him as that icon. Whether you call him Bubba Sawyer or Thomas Hewitt doesn’t make a huge difference. Either way, he’s still a cannibalistic homicidal maniac who wears human flesh as a mask, and kills people with a chain-saw in Texas. So, my point is, when it comes time to tell of his origins, to explain to us why he is who he is, and why he does what he does, how come the focus of the film is diverted away from him? Why is he treated as the secondary villain throughout the film when he is the icon of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise? He’s on all the posters, all the promotional materials, and has always been treated as the main attraction in the films. In this film, R. Lee Ermey is given the reigns as Charles Hewitt / Sheriff Hoyt. He has the brunt of the spotlight, and has more of his character explored than Leatherface. As the matriarch of the Hewitt family, it is only natural he’s in a leadership role, but Leatherface is barely in this film. Only when someone is to be brutally murdered, is he brought into frame. We really learn next to nothing more about Leatherface than was explained in the 2003 remake. In fact, far more of Leatherface’s origins were stated in that film than this supposed origins story. This alone makes the idea of a prequel a wasted opportunity. If you’re not going to explore the back story and origins of the franchise’s one and only constant star, then why bother doing a prequel? The film sets itself up like it is making Leatherface the focus of the story, but once Ermey comes on screen, he’s given the spotlight. Now, there’s a difference between stealing the spotlight, and being given it. One occurs out of pure happenstance by an actor’s outstanding performance. The other is fully planned by the filmmakers. The filmmakers chose to put focus on Hoyt instead of Leatherface, and that honestly annoys me. What further annoys me is that the brunt of the back story in this film is glossed over in the main title sequence! A montage of Thomas Hewitt at different ages and some newspaper headlines is the meat of the “beginnings.”
My second gripe is that the ending is a victim of the film’s own trappings. This is a prequel, and we’ve already seen the first film which is set four years after this one. So, we already know who is not going to die in this film. When the biker Holden (Lee Tergesen) has Hoyt at gunpoint, you want to get excited that the tables have turned, and this family may now get their deadly due. Of course, that’s short lived since we already know that Hoyt isn’t going to die because he’s alive (and in one piece) four years later, as seen in the 2003 remake. Thus, there’s no tension, hope, or suspense that the scene is obviously intent on provoking from an audience. And the oh-so-clever way out of this is when Holden does pull the trigger, the gun doesn’t fire, and thus, leaving him defenseless to the subsequent attack upon him. This happens despite two facts: one being that he checked the gun chamber earlier on, and more importantly, he just successfully fired the gun at another of the Hewitt clan no more than a minute ago. The gun works one minute, and then, doesn’t the next. This is the first of two displays of stunted logic by the filmmakers. The second comes from the ending – which is worse because you quickly realize that every potential victim will die. Leatherface magically appears in the backseat of this getaway car stolen by our heroine, despite the fact that he was still trailing behind her when she got in the car. Then, he also is able to maneuver that big ass chainsaw around in the back seat. So, Leatherface must’ve contacted the starship Enterprise, had Scotty beam him into the backseat, and used a retractable chainsaw to kill the girl. Of course, he still has to walk back home. The film ends without a resolution, and thus, feels empty. Even the brief narrated statements by John Larroquette are no real help. This is honestly the flattest ending to a horror film I can recall seeing.
While this film is as intense, brutal, and grueling as everyone has been saying, it feels much less developed than the 2003 remake. I found the young protagonist leads to be less endearing and sympathetic than those in Marcus Nispel’s film. This foursome, more or less, felt like your standard slasher film cannon fodder with only some decent level of character development behind them. I didn’t particularly feel for them because they lacked any degree of true emotional depth. The brutality of their deaths, despite the great impact of their ferocity, did not draw any further empathy from me. The less-than-engaging actors aren’t completely to blame for this because the screenplay doesn’t give them any real personalities to make their characters worth much of a damn – especially the girls. They all seem too cliché and hollow. There’s no emotional roller-coaster ride that these characters are subjected to, or even any straight out mindfuck material to screw with their sanity. You don’t see any of them descend into hysterics or some pit of despair. Nobody seems genuinely traumatized by the insanity and carnage they bare witness to. Jordanna Brewster doesn’t come remotely close to what Jessica Biel was so rich with back in 2003. Biel was exceptionally likeable, but also had a tomboy toughness to her, a touch of grittiness, and a real traumatic out-pouring of emotion. I want to see tears and uncontrollable sobbing when a girl sees one of her best friends or boyfriend get savagely murdered right in front of her. Brewster just doesn’t display the acting chops to pull off that level of overly intense emotional distress. Even the tougher heroines of the franchise have shown a wider range of emotions than Brewster shows any hint of here. Only Holden, the rebel biker, did I actually feel for, but that’s only because I have a real big fondness for Lee Tergesen. He’s always done very exceptional acting, and it’s always an extra special treat when I see Tergesen on screen.
The final gripe is the audacity of these filmmakers to try to recreate the infamous “dinner scene” from Tobe Hooper’s original Texas Chain Saw Massacre film. The version of this scene in this film is about as disturbing as your picnic in the park getting rained on. A quickly slashed throat is as far as it goes to disturb you. This family just doesn’t display enough erratic or demented physical behavior to tap into the raw, psychotic mania Hooper originally captured. Director Jonathan Liebesman’s version is totally forgettable and dismissible. Leatherface isn’t even present until the very end. It’s as pussified as can be imagined without becoming totally laughable. This just goes to show that you cannot recreate a classic, especially when you’re barely trying, and at least Marcus Nispel had the foresight not to attempt to recreate this scene in his film.
Now, after this massive tangent of gripes and negativity, you inevitably ask if there’s anything good here. Well, there is some that goes a long way. The acting from the returning cast remains solid as a rock, and the cinematography is quite good except when the end chase sequence turns into The Blair Witch Project with the shaky-cam bullshit. When will filmmakers learn that this style of shooting is nothing but annoying, disorienting, and detracting to the effectiveness of a scene? Beyond that, nothing in the camera work really stood out for me – good or bad, and honestly, didn’t appear noticeably any grittier to me than the 2003 remake. It’s not as glossy in its lighting, but I personally wouldn’t state much more difference than that. The look of the film is nearly identical to Marcus Nispel’s installment down to the faded, dry color scheme. I’m really indifferent towards the musical score. It doesn’t enhance the film much, but certainly doesn’t damage it. It’s just one of those scores that’s just there. On the editing side, the film cuts away, and ultimately holds back, when the most graphic imagery appears. Whether this was an MPAA rating requirement, or the director’s prerogative is uncertain. For whatever reason, I’m tempted to believe the latter especially after seeing what made the R-rated cut of The Hills Have Eyes earlier that same year, but one of the producers said that seventeen scenes had to be cut down to obtain an R rating. An unrated cut was released on DVD, but the single theatrical viewing was enough for me.
The violence here is indeed more unrelenting and brutal than in the 2003 remake. Every act of violence is so smash mouth that it will have you recoiling and cringing. Flesh is slashed and shredded, bones are crushed, skulls battered, and blood is spattered. It’s intense and tough to take. The first kill, which is by sledgehammer, is so visceral and dead-on realistic that you may suffer whiplash from the impacts. The first chainsaw kill is dramatic, and the sound of it is gut-wrenching. Although, the focus is almost completely on the violence instead of the aftermath. Seeing the end result of all this carnage usually goes a long way to building up the fear and emotional distress of our protagonists. This film does indeed lack tension and suspense. It’s just about making the most violent and barbarous film possible. You can get the very same thing in most Quentin Tarantino films. When I watch a horror film, I want tension and suspense racked up as far as possible, or at least have it delve into pure madness. Director Jonathan Liebesman really makes no attempt at this. He just wants violence upon violence. He’s about the shock and impact which are merely momentary whereas the emotional roller-coaster that the build up and aftermath offer are long-lasting. Still, the savagery of the film does make an impact that you won’t soon forget, but doesn’t do anything to keep you on the edge of your seat. This film is purely about sadism, not terror. It’s a blunt object lacking character or subtlety instead of the finely-crafted piece of terror, tension, and suspense that I was hoping for. Furthermore, despite all this barbarism, this film lacks the whirlwind of insanity that has always been the high marks in these films.
Also, what The Beginning lacks that the 2003 remake had is bravado and an animalistic rage for Leatherface. In Marcus Nispel’s film, Leatherface was like a tank barreling down on his prey, and smashing through whatever got in his way. Here, he barely has any screen presence at all since Ermey’s given all the damn screentime. There was no pay-off for all this hiding Leatherface in shadows and such. By the end, he has less screentime here than Jason Voorhees in Jason Goes To Hell, something fans have always been quite vocal over in that film. In 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Leatherface was a dominant physical presence, and that is sorely lacking here. And where’s the bravado? I was actually surprised and impressed by the 2003 remake because it was a real, straight up horror film that was very well-rounded. I won’t say at all that it measures up on the same levels to Hooper’s classic, but I would hardly say it was a disgrace. That film dared to be what exceptionally few horror films were actually trying to do at the time – be a real horror film. It wanted to scare you, to make you feel the horror, and disturb you to some degree. This prequel doesn’t even try to be that much beyond upping the bar for the intensity of the violence, but still doesn’t kick my ass. Nispel’s film also had a certain consistent adrenaline rush to it, but this prequel lacks even that. No momentum is ever built up.
I will indeed give this film high marks for its guts to not hold back on the violence and savagery, but I honestly feel it falls short in every other aspect. There’s so much that seems carbon-copied from the previous film that it becomes difficult to focus on anything remotely original here. Even the end chase sequence swings through the slaughterhouse, albeit only briefly. In fact, the entire end chase is very brief, sacrificing (again) any attempt at building tension or a sense of imminent peril. The screenplay wastes every opportunity to make Leatherface the focus of the movie, and to mainly explore his evolution from a deformed outcast child to a cannibalistic, psychotic, and vicious butcher, which I thought was the entire point of this prequel. The director foregoes any attempt at creating tension, suspense, or even a passing sense of insanity in exchange for pure blunt brutality. It’s just kill, kill, kill to no end. Just an excuse for a body count. The characters that we should have immense sympathy for really just fell flat for me. I didn’t care if they lived or died. There wasn’t nearly enough emotional depth or personality to them to forge any connection for me. The girls are just there to scream and offer some eye candy. I will also take issue with anyone who freely throws around the statement that this film is terrifying. Unless a movie makes you scream out in terror, has you pissing your pants, or leaves you completely paralyzed with fear in your theatre seat, don’t dare say that this or any other film is terrifying.
Anyway, I have to ultimately say that this film is much less developed than the 2003 remake, but is indeed more intense where the violence is concerned. I don’t see it as a good enough trade-off. Reference Alexandre Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes remake to see how a film of this kind is done right. That, my fellow horror fans, was the true best horror film of 2006. It had all the fear, madness, empathy for characters, suspense, gore, and brutality that one looks for in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre film. No sequel, prequel, rip-off, or remake has yet to do justice to Tobe Hooper’s original, unrelenting, and raw film from 1974. This film is rather lifeless and lacks any genuine human element to connect with – something essential to any great horror film. Ultimately, I cannot recommend The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning all that much. If you just want pure brutality with little else to scare or entertain, this is likely for you, but it’s surely not one for me.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The title is infamous in the history of American cinema. It remains as one of the most disturbing films ever made. It’s just raw unrelenting terror, a psychotic journey straight into the bowels of hell. How anyone could ever believe they could remake such a thing is beyond my comprehension. Of course, you throw in the name Michael Bay, and everything becomes so easily understood. The man makes mindless big budget summer blockbusters, and hardly any of them are worth a second viewing (if even a first). Relegating him to a producer’s role doesn’t seem like a huge step in any positive direction, but surprises can come along. I admit that I was a detractor to the entire idea of this film. Nothing Hollywood-produced can ever equal or even hope to surpass something as purely insane and terrifyingly real as Tobe Hooper’s original film. The trick is not to expect such a thing because it’ll never happen. If you compare this 2003 remake to the original film from 29 years earlier, you will inevitably despise it, and so, I am going to review this film on its own merits – which I find to be surprisingly good.
The setup is pretty simple, and quite formulaic. A group of teens are traveling through 1973 Travis County, Texas on their way to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert. There’s the tough but vulnerable tomboy Erin (Jessica Biel), her affectionate boyfriend Kemper (Eric Balfour), the dim bulb muscle head Andy (Mike Vogel), the sort of hippie hitch-hiker from El Paso Pepper (Erica Leerhsen), and the skittish odd man out Morgan (Jonathan Tucker). They’re singing along with “Sweet Home Alabama” (which actually wasn’t released until 1974), and enjoying a bit of weed. Everything’s all a happy road trip until they come across a very traumatized girl, around their age, trailing along the barren highway. A tragic turn of events with this girl forces the group to contact the local police – Sheriff Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey). This terrible twist of fate soon leads them to a large rundown house to obtain help, but what’s waiting for them there is anything but helpful. What they encounter is a crazed backwoods family, and the murderous, relentless, chain saw wielding Leatherface. The events of this day would become known as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (depending on your disposition).
What really stands out in this film is the great casting. Where to start? Well, what is most important in any slasher film is the heroine. Jessica Biel is so amazing. Her character tumbles through a horrifying bottomless pit of terror, and she sells all of it. She starts out very affectionate, but also tough and take charge. Biel and Eric Balfour really have wonderful chemistry, the love between Erin & Kemper seems very genuine and heartfelt. Early on, there’s so much sympathy built for her and the rest of the young cast. Later on, when the chain saw revs and the terror begins, the grief and fear she emotes is so frightening real. The tension and suspense will get to you, but it wouldn’t exist if Biel didn’t have the acting chops to make Erin such a sympathetic and real heroine. Of course, Eric Balfour complements Biel perfectly. He’s not a macho guy at all, he’s very genuine, and you believe, without question, that he’s fully in love with her. He wants to spend the rest of his life with Erin. Balfour also demonstrates a sense of leadership as well, standing firm in what he feels is best. Mike Vogel plays the stereotypical muscle head, but plays it with a dumb sympathy. He says the complete wrong things at the wrong times, but he really means nothing ill about it. He’s not the brightest guy, but he’s the kind of friend you can depend on when you need him. Jonathan Tucker is admittedly the weakling of the group, and certainly less sensitive. Though, eventually, you can’t help but feel for the poor guy. Ultimately, he’s just scared, freaked out over the situation at hand, and just wants to put it behind him as quickly as possible. Finally, Erica Leerhsen plays a far less stable girl than Erin is. Pepper was only hitching a ride down the highway, and is now in a situation she never wanted any part of. She easily starts to break down after being terrorized by Sheriff Hoyt, and barely holds together.
On the side of the psycho family, the Hewitt clan, you pretty much have to start with Andrew Bryniarski, the newest Leatherface. This is, by far, the most straight forward and aggressive portrayal of the character, ever. In the original franchise continuity, Leatherface was portrayed in a few different ways, but mostly in a mentally underdeveloped fashion. Here, he’s a ferocious animal. He’s a rampaging bull, but appears to be more focused than ever before. The fact that he is now named Thomas Hewitt instead of Bubba Sawyer would appear to be to distinctly differentiate the two continuities. Still, there’s a moment or two where Leatherface seems a bit like a ridiculed little boy. It gives a hint of character and depth to him. The overall look of Leatherface is very hulking, but not in a Kane Hodder fashion. Leatherface is just BIG! Andrew Bryniarski is a 6’5″ body builder with a decent list of acting roles to his credit. So, there’s no lack of physical screen presence on his part. The design of Leatherface is all-new, but not foreign – the butcher’s smock remains. As with every new film, the mask of flesh is re-designed with more detailed ideas in it. Apart from The Return of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which I have no intentions of ever seeing, I’ve never had any issues with any of the masks I’ve seen as they all offer something unique and different. I mean, Leatherface can’t wear the same mask of flesh for all that long. Sooner or later, it’s going to rot away.
The screenplay by Scott Kosar (The Machinist) introduces some new elements and characters into the world of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. One such new element is Sheriff Hoyt portrayed by R. Lee Ermey, who is very creepy and sadistic. Granted, he seems to be called upon to do the same act in most every film since Full Metal Jacket, but he does it so well. His Sheriff Hoyt is terribly intimidating, frightening, and demented. You just don’t know what he’s gonna do next. He pushes these scared teens to the edge, but doesn’t let them off this ride. It’s all about psychological torture for many of his scenes. The rest of this fucked up family is quite good, but have significantly less screentime. Terrence Evans plays the cranky and creepy Old Monty exceptionally well, and all the ladies really dive off the deep end, too.
Next, there’s the direction of Marcus Nispel. He had no film credits preceding this film, just music videos. That can get people pissing in the wrong direction. David Fincher began as a music video director, and look at the amazing films he’s directed. I honestly feel that Nispel has a great talent for tension and suspense. The way he crafts every scene in this film definitely twisted my muscles up in knots, and had some chills running over me. You may indeed get the jitters here and there. Although, while he did film some very gory and disturbing footage, he felt the need to hold back. Alternate cuts of scenes are present on the Platinum Series DVD, and they really made me twitch in my seat. They would be a gore hound’s dream, but we are left with a slightly tamer final cut. Still, there’s a lot of gore and terrifying violence to satisfy your brutal horror needs. There’s some gutsy stuff that nobody had the gumption to do back in 2003. Horror films had been roaming down the safe road for a long time, and this film chose to get ballsy. It went further with the violence and brutality. Still, it held back some for fear of overloading the audience with too much intensity and visceral gore, but as time has told, genre audiences of today can handle a lot of intensity brutality. However, it takes a talented filmmaker to craft suspense and tension, which Nispel achieves here.
Daniel Pearl, the cinematographer of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original, returned to lense this remake. The difference is striking, but the difference of $9.1 million in budget and 30 years of artistic evolution tends to do that. It has a gritty beauty to it. In the light, there’s a dry, desolate, but wide open landscape to the film. The big Texas sky goes on for eternity creating a grim isolated feeling. In the dark, there’s this striking, but beautiful lighting. Probably too slick and polished for something baring this title, but it’s high contrast and very effective. There’s a density to the darkness that enhances the isolation. Overall, I really enjoyed the look of the film. It’s very rich and detailed. It sounds wrong to call it gorgeous, but that’s just how I feel about it.
The musical score by Steve Jablonsky intensifies all the tension and suspense. It truly aids the film without overwhelming it. I found it noticeable, but not at all in a bad way. It really drives home the terror, as does the entire sound design. When that chain saw revs, it’s louder and fiercer than ever before. Also, despite the fact that the soundtrack album is filled with modern day heavy metal bands, all you hear of any of them is in the latter half of the end credits. Rather unnecessary and out-of-place for a film set in 1973, but the studio’s just gotta have their commercial soundtrack.
Overall, I honestly find this film to be very good. It’s not perfect as the filmmakers’ felt the need to hold back a bit on the intense violence and gore in the editing stage. If an unrated cut were ever released, I think this drawback would be remedied. Ultimately, standing on its own merits, Marcus Nispel’s first film is impressive and the kind of film most directors would kill for as the start of their feature film directing careers. Sadly, Nispel’s remake of Friday The 13th ended up being a terrible failure. Again, if you go in this film with the intent of comparing it to Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original film, I don’t see how you’re gonna like it. Your mind is probably already made up that this remake is inferior, and I agree that nothing’s ever going to measure up to that film on the same levels. The 1974 and 2003 movies are two entirely different beasts. No modern day $9.2 million Hollywood studio film is going to be like an $80,000 independent film from the 1970s years ago. More importantly, you can’t recreate what Hooper accomplished, and nor should you. I think it was wise for the filmmakers to not try to emulate anything specific from that movie, especially certain scenes. With the way this remake was approached and shot, such a thing could only fail. In any case, this version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is definitely worth your time. Whether you will view it as a worthy remake is purely subjective. It’s a good, solid horror film that does what a horror film is supposed to do – scare the crap out you. On a final note, I found it to be invaluable and a beautiful homage to the original film to bring back the greatly talented and beloved actor John Larroquette to narrate the opening and end of the film. His voice is as much a part of the history of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as Leatherface and Tobe Hooper.
By happenstance, it seems that I prefer the even numbered Paramount Pictures’ Friday The 13th films over the odd numbered ones, and this is no exception. I won’t deny there are large flaws with this film, but it basically comes to whether or not I have an enjoyable time watching the film. For Jason Takes Manhattan, I find a great deal of enjoyment from this, and tend to find myself watching this one most often when I just need a fun, easy slasher to watch.
The graduating class of Lakeview High is setting out on a cruise to New York, but after a late night diversion by two students out on Crystal Lake, Jason is electrified back to life for an unexpected journey. Rennie Wickham (Jensen Daggett) is among the classmates with her uncle and biology teacher Charles McCullough (Peter Mark Richman), her caring literature teacher Colleen Van Deusen (Barbara Bingham), and boyfriend Sean Robertson (Scott Reeves). Unfortunate for everyone on board is that Jason has hitched a ride on this ship which is sailing straight into a storm. Jason stalks through the ominous, closed quarters of the S.S. Lazarus until the survivors are forced to abandon ship, but even the harbor of Manhattan, New York is not safe for them. Jason Voorhees continues his muderous rampage through the streets of New York as Rennie continually gets chilling flashes of a young Jason which will lead to a personal revelation from her past.
The reason why I like this entry while so many trash it is because it’s quite fun. There plenty of enjoyable characters portrayed by actors who do seem like they were having a fun time making this film. I also truly like the idea of trying out some new ideas and breaking free of the old environments. Unfortunately, there was vast potential wasted due to the film’s budgetary constraints. Writer / director Rob Hedden explains in the film’s DVD commentary track that his original script had sequences taking place at numerous New York landmarks including Madison Square Garden and the Empire State Building, and the New York part of the story would dominate the film, leaving a much abridged section on board the S.S. Lazarus. Regardless of what might’ve been, the film we are left with has definite problems which have to be addressed.
The lack of gore is obvious. Too many off-screen kills make for a more bland slasher movie, but at the time, the MPAA were being very unrelenting with horror films. Filmmakers had to hack n’ slash the gore from their films so badly, the entire genre suffered. Granted, these slashers becoming more campy and less scary attributed to their lack of effectiveness, but the low gore levels didn’t help matters. Still, this film has a few memorable kills with both the electric guitar and boxing decapitation kills. It really is more in their inventiveness that make them memorable than any use of blood or gore. Of course, the entire toxic waste flood taking out Jason with the intent of this being last Friday The 13th movie, ever, is very cringe inducing. Some of the greatly more horrid footage from this scene was very thankfully discarded. New Line Cinema does have to be thanked for not allowing this to be the ultimate cinematic demise of Jason Voorhees.
I will surely admit there is some bad acting in this film, but I feel it’s limited to a few minor roles. Our main array of characters are very lively and amusing. I highly enjoy spending time with someone like Julius who has some bravado and charisma, even if the performance can be a little over the top at times, but I don’t view that as a negative in this film. Saffron Henderson’s J.J is a vibrant 1980s hot rocker who I felt departed the film far, far too early. Wayne, the aspiring filmmaker, is also nicely geeky without becoming stupid or obnoxious. These are characters that just add charm and a little bit of heart to the film. Peter Richman’s stern, uptight McCullough is a great foil in the film that you can love to hate, and his veteran acting skills really benefit the role nicely. Barbara Bingham brings some heartfelt motherly concern to Ms. Van Duesen as she tries to be an emotional counsel to Rennie. Scott Reeves meshes decently well with the film’s female lead in Jensen Daggett. Of the whole main cast, he’s probably the least noticable likely due to not having as much on the page to work with.
I do strongly feel that Jensen Daggett is among the best heroins of the series. Rob Hedden gives her a very nice psychological storyline to deal with that ties into her own personal history, and links it up with Jason at the same time. This gives her a sense of personal determination later on to defeat Jason. Daggett gives Rennie a nice breadth of innocence and likability without losing her strength. At the time of this film, she felt like a fresh faced young woman with a lot of potential and warmth. There’s a fine range of emotions built into the character of Rennie, and Jensen Daggett proved to be a nicely talented choice to handle those demands. I’ve always enjoyed what she had to offer in this role, and I feel she carries the forefront of the film very well.
Kane Hodder steps into the Jason role for the second time, and does what he does. He surely looks more into the performance than in his later outing where he would over-accentuate certain character traits. The only thing I think makes this return performance a little inferior to the debut one is just the trappings. The violence is not as hard edged, the tone is not as heavy, and the appearance of Jason is scaled back a great deal. So, it is a consistent Hodder performance, and a rather effective one, regardless. I do have to say that the “teleporting Jason” style of editing does not strike me very well. It simply succumbs to no logic. The dance floor scene could be explained by an artistic license to reflect the disorientation of Kelly Hu’s character amongst the blaring music and flashing lights, but Jason consistently shows up in places ahead of other characters were he should be lagging far behind. It does tend to bother me when watching the film, but only in those brief instances.
Regardless of such facts, I do feel Rob Hedden did an admirable job directing this film. He had the imagination and initiative to try something new with transplanting Jason into new locations, and it feels refreshing. Eight films in, and you need some new ideas to keep it interesting. Of course, you can take it into really bad territory, such as with Jason X, but I digress. I know Hedden could’ve made the film one thousand times better if he had the budget to realize his original script and ideas. Not to mention, a chance to retain more of the blood and gore in the final cut. Unfortunately, what’s done is done, and you’ve gotta live with it. The suspense in the film is decent, but is compensated for by a nice array of exciting or startling sequences. Instead of the usual third act chase through the woods, we get Jason stalking Rennie and Sean through the urban landscape of Manhattan on the streets, in the subway, and ultimately, through the sewers. That money shot of Jason standing in the middle of Times Square is just priceless. Even though most of the film was shot Vancouver, British Columbia, this moment in the film truly adds a sense of credibility and scope to the film.
Fred Mollin takes full reins as composer for this film, and like his work in The New Blood, I find it very good with a heavier, more haunting and relentless style than Manfredini’s work. Both Mollin and Rob Hedden worked together on television’s Friday The 13th: The Series, and I think that helped their creativity to jibe well together. The tone of the film is definitely enhanced by the score, offering one of the better works of the series. Manfredini’s work has never really impressed me. It tended to feel very one-dimensional, ringing the same bell over and over again. There would be beautiful moments on rare occasion, but Mollin’s work seems to have a bit more depth, accentuating different styles of tension, suspense, and horror with more effectiveness. Mollin also co-wrote the two songs that J.J. jams on early in the film, but it’s been revealed by his collaborator Stan Meissner that pretty much everything that was recorded for those tracks appear in the film. That’s a bit of a shame since they are very stellar hard rocking tunes with a great 1980s pop sensibility. They really have “hit song” written all over them, and I would buy them up in an instant if they were released as complete songs. Mollin would reuse one of these tracks when he scored the pilot episode of Forever Knight a few years later. The track “The Darkest Side of the Night” by Metropolis is one that I really love, and sets a good, yet different tone for the opening and closing of this film. It is commercially available from their “Power of the Night” album, but not widely or easily so.
While there are instances of a lighter tone sort of playing up Jason’s iconic status, much of the film has a rather haunting and unsettling tone due to the psychological and hallucinatory aspects of the story. Rennie’s visions of the young, deformed Jason are creepy, and give the film some dramatic weight. Rennie herself doesn’t know what’s happening, and the audience has to learn the reasons why alongside her. I just find the tone fresh and inviting along with much of the ideas Rob Hedden mixes into the old Friday The 13th formula.
All in all, the film really is entertaining and enjoyable. It offers some good brutality, but lacks the proper gore level for a Friday The 13th film. By today’s standards, these severely cut down slasher flicks are rather tame. They could almost pass for a PG-13 rating these days, but there are enough creepy and unsettling moments to sway it otherwise. In any case, despite the poorly conceived ending for Jason, I do find this to be a good, worthwhile way to spend a fun, laid back 90 minutes. With the consistently shrinking box office takes for the franchise, Paramount Pictures decided that this would be the end of Jason for them. I’m sure anyone anticipating a glorious swan song for the character would’ve been grossly disappointed even more than the failure to widely deliver on the film’s New York-based premise.
I fondly remember catching Jason Takes Manhattan late night on the USA Network in the early 90s, and it was always great when there would be a Joe Bob Briggs MonsterVision marathon of the films in the late 90s. Despite all the ups and downs, strengths and weaknesses throughout the Friday The 13th films to this point, they are all classics of the genre, and sparked the whole 1980s slasher film trend that it rode out to the very end of the decade. By 1989, it was hard to call any franchise the reigning king of the genre, but Friday The 13th surely was the juggernaut and iron man of the bunch. While Jason Takes Manhattan is not the strongest film one could’ve hoped for, it’s a decent entry with a few flaws that I can generally overlook. Kane Hodder maintained Jason as a force to be reckoned with, and unlike a character like Freddy Krueger, the integrity of the character can never be damaged by humorous or off-beat approaches. Jason will always be as bad ass as he ever was no matter what type of film you put him in. Of course, it’s still hard to get over Jason X, but thankfully, I have one more favorite in the franchise to spotlight before confronting that film, again.
Now that the Tommy Jarvis storyline had concluded, it left the door wide open for anything to be attempted in Friday The 13th, Part VII. Paramount had a great decision by hiring the awesome make-up effects master John Carl Buechler to direct the film, and then, there was the debut performance of Kane Hodder as Jason. There were workable elements in this film to make it great, but whenever I watch it, I just feel this doesn’t hit the mark. I don’t even think it’s a fault of MPAA censorship on the gore, of which there was an excessive amount. It just sort of feels like a poorly executed concept with not enough talent behind the script or in front of the camera to make it what it could’ve been.
Tina Shepard (Lar Park-Lincoln) has the ability of telekinesis, but this ability has haunted her for years now as it caused the death of her father on the docks of Crystal Lake when she was a little girl. As a young woman, she has returned to the lake with her caring mother Amanda (Susan Blu) and the deceitful and manipulative Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser), who wants to exploit Tina’s powers for his own fame. However, the teenage residents of Crystal Lake have something more to fear than Tina’s emotionally charged powers as she accidentally frees Jason Voorhees from his watery grave. He begins yet another killing spree, but is not prepared for the challenge Tina’s powers pose for the undead killer of Camp Blood.
I believe what I don’t like about this movie is the lack of worthwhile characters and fun. There was always a sense of levity in these movies from even a few light hearted characters. People that were just fun to spend some time with before the slaughter began. The only characters in this film making any jokes are the insensitive jerks that are not worth spending time with. Our female lead of Tina is far too troubled of a character to gain any levity or much relatability from. There’s really nothing accessible about the character in how she’s presented. I really don’t think Lar Park-Lincoln was a good casting choice in this instance. She really does nothing interesting with the character, and spends most of the time with very dour or pouty expressions on her face. The film starts out when Tina’s ten years old, but her behavior never matures beyond that of a child when we flash-forward. While she is an active part of the story, it still falls back into that trap with Tommy Jarvis from A New Beginning in trying to make a hero out of a depressed, introverted character. The potential of what this character could’ve been really required an actress of more textured emotional ability. I don’t have an issue with the telekinesis idea as it’s something that really could’ve worked very well, but I don’t think it was well realized here. It feels like a concept that was nothing more than something on the page. It wasn’t developed with a sense of depth in concept or with the actress. Like so much in this film, it’s flat and hollow. The various effects are good for it, but it just needed a stronger character and performance behind it to really sell that this is someone worthy of combating the powerful undead Jason.
The rest of the cast is rather forgettable due to the uninspired writing. These characters are once again shallow stereotypes played up for one note gags or bland character conflicts. Not much effort is put into writing them. I’ll grant that they are better realized stereotypes than most, maybe due to the decent acting talents here, but that doesn’t make them good. I’ll certainly take this cast and its characters over the boring, disjointed group from Friday The 13th, Part 3, but I’d still rather spend my time with a more entertaining array of people. On a side note, it’s an interesting retroactive quirk that Terry Kiser happens to be in this movie, and does get killed since he’s partly best known for playing a corpse in the two Weekend at Bernie’s movies. Kiser is a solid actor with a fine range, but the role of Dr. Crews is such a badly written, one note, obvious bad guy that there was nothing substantive here for him to work with.
The music of the film is terribly uneven. It features Manfredini cues recorded for Jason Lives and original pieces of score from composer Fred Mollin, and they don’t mesh at all. They have very different tones and approaches. Clearly, the Jason Lives music is a little lighter and more fun than the usual Friday The 13th scores mostly utilizing horns, and Mollin’s stuff is very heavy, dark, and menacing primarily using percussion and strings. It suits the more grim, merciless, and dark edge of the film’s tone. I have no idea why this mish mash of different scores were used, let alone why they used recycled recordings from the previous film. This would be fine if they were comparable, but they clearly are not. It would’ve been better to solely use Fred Mollin’s music throughout as I love everything he did in this film and in Jason Takes Manhattan. Mollin also did some fine work as the composer on the unrelated television show Friday The 13th: The Series. I think he took this film and the next into a far more dynamic and foreboding musical realm than Manfredini ever demonstrated.
The climax of this film, how Jason is defeated, is just a horrible idea that is terribly executed. There’s just so much possibility that could have been taken advantage of with the film’s premise, but what the filmmakers do is just plainly bad. I mean, you’re telling me that no one ever fished the body of Tina’s dad out of that lake to have a proper funeral? They just left him to decay at the bottom of the lake forever, and he just happens to come back to life without a bit of decay on him? In theory, it’s a nice reversal of the dream sequence ending from the first film, but I can’t buy Jason getting taken down in this ridiculous, piss poor manner. The build up to this moment is excellent. Great action beats with high production values really ramp up the danger and menace of Jason. So much is thrown at him, and he just keeps coming back, more pissed off than before. Kane Hodder even does a full body burn in a rather long take (slow motion or no). Buechler really makes the whole third act impactful and visually impressive, but to have it end the way it does just feels like someone’s slap dash idea who got too tired to write a proper ending to the film. It’s just a bad idea, through and through, which makes me want to forget I ever saw it.
I will credit the film for having a distinctly darker tone than the rest of the series. Visually, it’s very dark and imposing. It surrounds Jason in far more presence and aura than ever before. This is also a credit to Hodder’s performance. He created a very thorough body language and mentality for Jason, and it truly penetrated through the screen. It truly made Jason frightening again, even if the film itself lacked suspense, a decent plot, or good lead acting. I get that people are supposed to scream in horror movies, but Lar Park-Lincoln seems to inappropriately scream at the top of her lungs at almost everything in the third act. It’s like she’s not there inhabiting the scene as an actor enveloping herself in the mood, but just screaming as if that’s the only reaction people are supposed to have in a horror movie. There’s just no genuine fear or intensity in her performance, despite how purely menacing Kane Hodder is as Jason. I think his debut performance was absolutely his best. It’s just unfortunate that it wasn’t in a better movie.
Hodder is greatly aided by the stunning make-up design Buechler created for Jason Voorhees. Seeing the bones stick out from underneath the decayed flesh, and making use of the partially shattered mask to show just a glimpse of Jason’s zombified face are brilliant touches. This is a masterwork of special make-up effects artistry and craftsmanship, and is something that has not even been remotely challenged anywhere else in the franchise since. What gore we do get after the MPAA’s severe slashing of this film is exceptionally good, but even still, you hardly see any of it. This really was the most heavily edited down entry in the whole series of films, and I’m sure an uncut version would be filled with hardcore gore and graphic violence. That surely feeds into the overall darker, more aggressive tone of the movie. John Carl Buechler does give us a film that is nicely and consistently paced with a lot of creative kills that have become classics. However, it all does just feel like a blunt instrument due to a lack of real suspense. Anyone can show brutality and gore splattering across the camera lens. It takes a skilled filmmaker to tightly craft suspense, and Buechler hardly makes an attempt to deliver that integral part of good horror.
It’s been said that Paramount Pictures and New Line Cinema considered the crossover idea of Freddy vs. Jason at this time, but the two studios simply could not come to an agreement. Thus, what ideas Paramount had for the film were adapted for The New Blood – which is a horribly generic title for a slasher sequel. It’s hard to picture it aside from a protagonist with a supernatural ability, but I doubt they had anything more than a vague thought of a plot for a 1988 Freddy vs. Jason movie. Maybe just the thought of it got the screenwriters anxious to throw a more powerful adversary at Jason this time, and really push the supernatural angle further. Of course, I think the script could’ve used more work overall to develop its premise and characters beyond just base concepts.
The New Blood had some potential, and did deliver on inventive kills and a hard edged approach. It feels like a brutal horror movie, but without the graphic visuals to complement it, due to the MPAA required cuts. However, it really comes down to a weak script, and some uninspired casting choices that just make this an unimpressive sequel for me. This could’ve delivered it all, but ultimately, delivered very little of anything, in my view. There’s not much entertainment value that I take from this sequel as the characters are often yawn inducing with the lead of Tina Shepard being the biggest offender. Again, it is very difficult to give a damn about who lives or dies when the characters are badly written or poorly acted. I know this film has its big fans, but I just need more than edited down, suspense deprived brutality and Hodder’s great debut performance as Jason to win me over.
This has always been one of my absolute favorites of this franchise. It delivers largely on entertainment value, and a far superior script and cast than A New Beginning had to offer. This wraps up the Tommy Jarvis trilogy of films with a very satisfying climax, and there is so much that goes into making it such a great film.
Crystal Lake has been renamed to Forest Green in order to distance the town from its blood soaked past, but Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews) is not yet free of his past. Tommy and his friend Allen Hawes (Ron Palillo) return to the town to dig up Jason’s corpse and cremate it to eradicate the nightmare that’s plagued Tommy since childhood. However, an iron rod and a lightning strike resurrect Jason as an undead juggernaut, and he immediately resumes his killing spree. Tommy attempts to motivate the local police into action, but knowing of Tommy’s institutionalization, Sheriff Mike Garris (David Kagen) writes him off as disturbed and has him locked in a holding cell. However, the Sheriff’s daughter, Megan Garris (Jennifer Cooke), becomes intrigued and invested in Tommy while she and her friends re-open Camp Forest Green for the weekend to host a bus load of kids. As Jason closes in on the camp and builds up his body count, Megan chooses to aid Tommy in bringing an ultimate end to Jason’s reign of terror.
Slasher films of the mid-to-late 1980s were getting tamed down by the MPAA requiring a lot of gore to be cut to gain an R rating. That hurt the quality and effectiveness of so many horror movies at this time, but Jason Lives was able to offer more entertainment value beyond the gore. Writer / director Tom McLoughlin approached this film with a love for classic horror, but also, a desire to add some appropriate humor to liven up the movie. Bringing Jason back from the grave required a bit of leap for the franchise, but it was handled very smartly with the use of some classic monster movie ideas. Jason being resurrected by a lightning bolt much like Frankenstein’s Monster is a clear example of that. The atmosphere McLoughlin added stands out amongst the franchise. The whole film has this wonderful blue tone with shadow and fog which sets a great visual atmosphere that is evocative of those old noir like Universal monster movies. Unfortunately, the Deluxe Edition DVD of the film screwed up the color timing so the blue tones are now green, and if this ever gets a Blu Ray release, this is possibly the transfer they will use.
Thom Mathews is my favorite Tommy Jarvis. He’s finally a full fledged hero taking action to combat Jason directly. Mathews has plenty of diversity to easily handle the dramatic, action, and lightly humorous demands of the script. Tommy’s presented as a stronger character than before, but still with an underlying twinge of obsession. Still, he is ultimately driven to destroy Jason in order to prevent him from killing more innocent people. That is the right turnaround from the previous film where Tommy just stood around and did next to nothing. He’s still haunted, but is taking action to rid himself of this waking nightmare once and for all. Thom Mathews is a strong lead that really shines through, and sparks up a wonderful chemistry with his female lead Jennifer Cooke. She provides a very spirited and strong willed young lady that is hard to handle for her father or Tommy. Cooke has charisma, energy, and allure to spare. She carries herself very well amongst this fun and talented cast – always standing out but never eclipsing anyone. Megan Garris is a tremendous lively addition to the formula as a smart, fun, assertive, and sexy female lead.
David Kagen is very impressive as Sheriff Garris. He’s smartly written to be a well-rounded character that is never dumbed down for convenience’s sake. Kagen makes a big impression right from the start as an assertive man of authority. Yes, he’s antagonistic to Tommy Jarvis, but anyone would be hard pressed to buy his story of Jason rising from the grave. Looking at it from Garris’ perspective, he’s acting entirely properly since he doesn’t know what we know as an audience. He’s an excellent protector for the people of Forest Green and his daughter. Kagen does a great job making him both a realistic hard ass that you don’t want to mess with, and a rational and often fatherly man with a heart. It’s wonderfully diverse from McLoughlin’s writing to Kagen’s acting. Certainly by the third act, he becomes a solid heroic figure that you’re rooting for all the way.
The rest of the cast is a lot of fun. They feel very much of the 1980s with their fashions, haircuts, and just their general personalities. Each character has plenty of richness to them to feel like fully realized people, and the cast have plenty of chemistry and charisma to remain entertaining and pleasant to spend time with. This is one of the most talented casts of the whole franchise, and truly the most fun of them all.
The role of Jason Voorhees eventually fell to C.J. Graham in this film. However, there are a few scenes, most notably the paintball one, where Jason is portrayed by someone else, but he was quickly replaced with Graham. That was a very good choice because C.J. truly defined the undead Jason. He gave the slasher a more menacing body language that was just enough zombie while still being aggressive and intimidating. He’s definitely one of my favorites.
To aid Graham’s notable turn behind the hockey mask, Jason Lives offers up a slew of creative kills and substantial gore. While a good deal of graphic content still had to be cut, the horror aspects still sell very well. Hawes getting punched through the chest, and Jason ripping out his heart is very shocking early on. It’s an excellent first impression of the strength of this resurrected Jason. Tom McLoughlin definitely showed he had fun conceiving and creating this film with all the original kills, and indulging in some nice action sequences. An RV gets flipped on its side driving down the road, and there’s a nice car chase between the cops and Megan’s classic red Camaro. It’s all very exciting and new stuff injected into a franchise that needed a breath of fresh air at this point. The addition of several great Alice Cooper tracks from his Constrictor album was just brilliant. It gave the film an additional promotional boost, and for Cooper, it gained him me and many others as fans. However, the song “Hard Rock Summer” didn’t see release until the 1999 “The Life & Crimes of Alice Cooper” box set along with the Movie Mix of “He’s Back.”
I’m sure the dark humor of the film turned a number of people off in 1986. The box office takes of the films steadily declined after Part 3 until the big success of Freddy vs. Jason, and so, this was no bigger of a hit than A New Beginning. However, since its release, Jason Lives has gained a strong standing in the franchise. It’s regularly praised as one of the best, and it is easy to see why. Again, it’s very exciting and filled with a strong visual atmosphere. Of course, it’s the story and its pacing that are the strongest. The film has almost a constant urgency about it with Tommy facing the obstacles of Sheriff Garris and the police while Jason is out slaughtering people. There’s enough going on with the Tommy / police conflict to keep it exciting with him being escorted out of town, getting apprehended in the car chase, and then, having to breakout of his cell with Megan’s help. It’s a very solid build up to a especially fresh, strong, and fiery climax. Intercutting between two stories is usually the most surefire way to maintain momentum and rhythm in a film, and McLoughlin shows a great sense of both. Editor Bruce Green deserves a lot of credit for also keeping the pacing tight and sharply to the point.
Composer Harry Manfredini’s music changed distinctly with this sequel. I’m sure there are those that would have preferred him sticking with the classic sound of Friday The 13th, but I have no particular preference either way. It’s become part of the overall identity of the film which tonally sets it apart from most of the other films. While I’m sure a first time viewer might have difficulty adjusting the new sound, I still feel it’s appropriate for the film Tom McLoughlin made.
While Friday The 13th Part 2 is my favorite of the classic formula, Jason Lives really is my favorite of the undead Jason era. I believe writer / director Tom McLoughlin put together a thoroughly satisfying sequel which strongly wraps up the Tommy Jarvis storyline, and is filled with a fun 1980s style. After the creative failure of A New Beginning, he gave us a film that felt lively and entertaining with some highly memorable and enjoyable characters. The self-referential humor is nicely balanced with the horror aspects, and careful avoids falling into self-satire or parody. It remains light and realistic, never making the characters appear dumb or foolish. It is a very smartly written film that is executed with an equal level of intelligence. I give this film glowing praise all around, and I highly recommend it.
So, Jason Voorhees has been hacked to pieces, and Paramount decided to launch a new direction for the franchise. Fortunately, it was short lived with this lower grade, poorly conceived sequel trying to position Tommy Jarvis as the new killer of the Friday The 13th films. Quite frankly, this has a lot wrong with it right from the start, and it’s easy to see why Paramount quickly rebounded with the far superior Jason Lives. I’ve just never really liked this entry much because of it’s very direct-to-video production quality, bland execution, and lack of decently written characters. The director and screenwriters simply did not have the talent to make this a good movie, regardless of the MPAA cuts.
A few years have past for Tommy Jarvis (John Shepard) since he saw Jason Voorhees killed, and after some time in a mental institution trying to recover from those horrific events, he’s been transferred to a halfway house far from Crystal Lake. Unfortunately, soon after his arrival, a volatile young patient named Vic Faden suddenly murders the young, obnoxious, and obese Joey with an axe. Shortly thereafter, it seems as though Jason has been resurrected from the grave to murder more people. Meanwhile, Tommy suffers from hallucinations of Jason repeatedly, and they are slowly driving him mad. As the bodies stack up, and Tommy seems to have disappeared, suspicions intentionally fall upon him. However, it eventually becomes clear to the audience that this is not the work of Jason, but of a mysterious imposter using the Jason lore as a façade for his murder spree. The aftermath of this violent experience hints at a new direction for the franchise that would quickly be discarded after backlash from the fans.
Firstly, John Shepard does a partially good job as the new Tommy Jarvis. I think a lot of the hallucination scenes are excellently handled giving Tommy an obvious mental imbalance. However, a lot of Shepard’s screentime is him standing or sitting around silent and introverted. Shepard doesn’t put any effort into making Tommy seem like a troubled young man outside of those hallucinatory freak out scenes. The screenplay doesn’t give him anything to do to showcase such behavior. He also has almost no character interactions in this movie, and thus, it doesn’t give Shepard much to work with. So, it’s a fine line to divide this issue which can also cut towards director Danny Steinmann’s way since he also co-wrote the script. Instead of directing Shepard to demonstrate that internal turmoil, he just has him be a blank slate that shows nothing of what Tommy is going through. Still, in the vast majority of his screentime, John Shepard just fills up the frame, and even in the big climax of the film, he still comes off as a waste of space. Corey Feldman, who does cameo as Tommy in the opening dream sequence, did a stunningly impressive job with the diverse range the character of Tommy Jarvis offered in the previous film. He hit everything dead-on-the-mark, and made a powerful impression throughout the movie. There is nothing within John Shepard’s performance to remotely equal that exceptionally well-rounded and captivating performance from Feldman. In the following film, Thom Mathews would serve as an excellent hero for this franchise, and do so much more than Shepard even tried to do in this sequel.
The mood and scares are decent enough. I especially feel Violet’s stalk and slash death scene is exceptionally effective with the soundtrack of “His Eyes” by Pseudo Echo behind it. Unfortunately, you definitely get very little gore due to the MPAA’s stringent standards of the time. Still, the big problem of this film is the lack of decent characters to give a damn about. There are a lot of random people added to the body count who only show up for one scene to get killed. That’s one sense of why I feel it comes off like a bland and cheesy direct-to-video movie. You can contrast the characters in this film to those in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. The main characters in both are all in a mental health facility with their own quirks and personal issues. In Dream Warriors, the roles are smartly written and greatly cast to create a very strong ensemble of young characters that add vibrancy and emotional relatability to the film. In A New Beginning, the characters all seem very under-developed as if they are just there to just fill up the screenplay. They are not given any depth or background, let alone particularly likable aspects They either come off as too weird, too irritating, or just uninteresting. They bring no life to the film for an audience to really get scared for them, and the casting is not all that memorable. There are some decently entertaining bits here and there with one or two characters, but other characters are just blandly written or underwhelmingly acted. Nobody stands out. They all blend into the background creating a film with no real tension, energy, or charisma. Considering The Final Chapter and Jason Lives have two of the best young casts of the series with nicely fleshed out characters that are memorable and enjoyable, this makes A New Beginning even more of a sore thumb in the franchise. Horror and suspense work best when an audience cares about the characters in the story, and I really could not care less about these.
While, like I said, the mood is decent, I do feel this movie is lit a little too brightly. It feels a little too slick and polished taking away the dark and gritty feeling the series had up to this point. That takes away from the effective, harder edged horror atmosphere the previously films generally had. Plus, without having some abundant, high end gruesome gore effects to elevate the graphicness of the film, it all just feels cheap. The Final Chapter felt like a franchise high point as a standard bearer for what a slasher film should be. This film is just the opposite. It shows the bottom of the barrel quality of what the genre should avoid becoming.
The direction of Danny Steinmann is just not very good. I know there are far worse, more ineptly made movies out there, but for a mainstream horror franchise, this is as bad as you’d ever fear it would get. Again, everything is cheap – the characters, the gore, the cinematography, the story, and the screenplay itself. Steinmann co-wrote this with Martin Kitrosser, one of the writers of Friday The 13th, Part 3, a film that shares many of the same problems as this one, only not to this degree. The third writer, David Cohen, wrote two other films no one’s heard of and that was it. Steinmann never made another film after this one, and it is severely evident why. This is not a theatrical release quality film. It does reek of direct-to-video quality with its abundant cheesiness, poor script, and bland direction. The attempt to make Tommy seem like the killer in this is lazily handled. The film tries to throw a number of red herrings into the mix, but really, it plays up no mystery aspect whatsoever. It’s entire intent is to push Tommy to becoming the new killer of Friday The 13th, but puts nearly no effort at all into fooling you into believing he might be the killer at large. Anything that is dropped in to allude to that seems like a weak afterthought.
I’m not singling Steinmann out for any personal reason. His 1984 revenge exploitation film Savage Streets has a strong cult following, and while I have never seen it, I am generally intrigued to see it. With that cult following, it does seem to say that Steinmann was capable of making a satisfactory film filled with violence, sexuality, and grit. Maybe Friday The 13th, Part V: A New Beginning was just a wrong choice of film for him, or he worked with the wrong creative team. Anything is possible, but the fact remains that he did not handled this movie well in any creative aspect. Even if the gore was re-instated into the film, it would not make up for the poorly executed story, the flat characters, or the overall cheesiness of the film he made.
And it’s hard to even be fooled into thinking this is Jason Voorhees back from the dead. Frankly, he looks and moves more like a poor Michael Myers imitation than a decent Jason Voorhees ones. The blue coveralls, the slender build, the more mechanical movement, and the lackluster hockey mask just scream “bad imposter.” Even the old VHS box cover couldn’t get the hockey mask right. It looked like some cheap plastic mask you’d buy at the corner drug store. Everything about this film just drives home the fact that this isn’t Jason, and we’re not even trying to fool you. Conversely, the Jason seen in Tommy’s hallucinations looks very authentic in every detail. Now, that clearly shows that the filmmakers could have given the imposter a more faithful design to heighten the second guessing of whether this really was Jason or not, but chose to just cheap out on that aspect. They even still give this regular mortal man superhuman strength, just like Jason, but in every visual aspect, he clearly is not Jason Voorhees. It’s simply bad conceptualization and poor execution.
The climax is easily one of the weakest of the franchise. I really did not like having some wise-ass kid running around this film in Reggie, and him being part of the climactic action is just cringable for me. He’s treated like a big hero in the whole thing, and there’s even a big music cue to support that intention. I simply couldn’t get invested in these weak characters to really care who survived or if there was a true protagonist here. Tommy is such an inactive part of the story that the film, in order to build suspicion that he’s the killer, is able to have him disappear for a good long while, and it doesn’t make a single bit of difference at all. It’s very hard to sell Tommy as a potential hero when, at the same time, you are lazily trying to sell him as the potential villain. It just comes off as very shoddy work. This is a script that just meanders from one death scene to the next with no idea of what story it’s trying to tell.
All in all, this is really a sad sequel that delivered next to nothing worthwhile, and Paramount heard the cries of fans everywhere regarding it. They ignored what this film attempted to setup for the Tommy Jarvis character, and took the following film into a far more satisfying and enjoyable direction. I think it was a very fortunate turn of events that Corey Feldman was already working on The Goonies at this time, and could only do a single scene cameo. It undoubtedly gave his career a massive boost to be working with great filmmakers like Richard Donner and Steven Spielberg on an eventual blockbuster instead with Danny Steinmann on a low grade slasher sequel. Again, there are vastly worse films you could subject yourself to, but there are also so many better slasher films around than this sad entry in the Friday The 13th series. However, there is one worse entry in this franchise, in my opinion, but it’s much, much further down the line in the New Line Cinema era.