Freddy Vs. Jason

A transcript from a recent Cavalcade of Schlock editorial meeting:

Micah P: Tom, I’ve read your review for Freddy vs. Jason.

Tom: Yeah, I’m feeling pretty good about it.  I think I nailed it.

Micah P.:

All you wrote was “Greatest Movie Ever.”  500 times.

Tom: I know!  Hook me up!  <Raises hand for high five>

Micah P.: <Stares blankly.  Walks away.>

And now, a “real article” explaining the glory that is Freddy vs. Jason since Higgins will not let me back in the Cavalcade of Schlock building.

To understand: in August 2003, I was sitting in a packed movie theater on a Friday night.  It had been twelve years since Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) and ten years since Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993).  The lights dimmed.  The New Line Cinema logo appeared on the screen and the familiar piano theme from A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) filled the speakers followed quickly by Friday the 13th’s trademark “Ch Ch Ch Ha Ha Ha.”  From a crowd of fans that did not care about whether Neo would free the humans or if Middle Earth was going to burn the ground came a wave of applause and cheering erupted and did not stop for the next 97 gore filled minutes!

Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) has been stuck in Hell since the events of the aforementioned Final Nightmare.  Krueger hatches a plan to reawaken the now officially unkillable Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger) and have him kill teenagers on Elm Street in order to inspire fear in a new generation and regain his own powers.  Jason proceeds to do just that.  However, he will not stop killing, going so far as to kill teenagers that Freddy was going to kill himself.  And, thus, a battle royale begins between the two horror icons for the privilege of killing the unsuspecting teenagers in the Ohio/New Jersey area.

Director Ronny Yu and writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift did not have the easiest task putting these two characters together in one film.  The production history on the film alone could fill up three articles.  While both characters started as straight slashers, Freddy’s films took a different, more effects heavy direction in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (1987) when director Chuck Russell started to take more advantage of the possibilities in attacking a person in one’s dreams.  In addition, the victims in Freddy’s films have traditionally been marginally more intelligent than Jason’s.  Elm Street kids tend to pick up on the fact that they are being picked off more quickly even if they do not know how or why.  Crystal Lake campers tend to have two disadvantages: inebriation and Jason’s brutal efficiency.  Jason usually kills 90% of the film’s victims in a 24 hour period before anyone knows what’s going on.  As a result, FvJ plays more like a NoES film with Jason guest starring.  However, this is balanced by Jason having the majority of the kills and having those kills be quintessentially Jason.

There is an impressive amount of gore and creativity in this film.  Both Freddy and Jason’s style of murder are given equal spotlight.  “Crafts-matic Adjustable Death” is a particular favorite.  But this is all prologue to the titular fight and what a fight it is.  Yu and company do not cheat the audience.  We came to see Freddy fight Jason and what a fight we got to see!  I have timed it, it lasts a solid half hour.  The fight is equal parts WWE and Looney Tunes and never stops being fun.

There is so much Jason and Freddy violence that not even the deplorable acting by our teenage cannon fodder, excuse me, I mean, “victims” cannot even get annoying.  But, they do try their damnedest.  Jason Ritter, in particular, makes Keanu Reeves look like Laurence Olivier.  Overall, this is a silly movie that is equal parts 80s slasher and Abbott and Costello monster film.  FvJ is a great send off for two slashers that have given us so much joy.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

Three years after the aptly titled Freddy’s Dead: the Final Nightmare (1991)NoES fans were chomping at the bit for the inevitable return of their favorite slasher.   As such, when New Line announced that not only was Freddy coming back but Wes Craven, the creator of the series, would be returning to direct, the fans rejoiced at the prospect of the film series’ return to form.  A chance to get back to the formula that made it great.  Then, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare premiered in theaters and they all collectively cried, “Um…what?”

Heather Langenkamp stars as “Heather Langenkamp” as Wes Craven offers her the part of “Heather Langenkamp” in “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare,” all the while she and her son Dylan (Miko Hughes) are being haunted/hunted by Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) with nary a teenager in sight.  Confused?  That is because Craven has gone all meta-textual on us.

The film takes place in the “real world” in which the NoES series are films.  As it turns out, evil incarnate can be captured like a genie in a bottle if a storyteller can create a persona so rotten that “evil” enjoys staying in the story.  However, if the story ends, evil gets bored and starts to roam once again.  “Evil” has enjoyed being Freddy Krueger for so long that it is not ready to give it up yet and takes steps to ensure that another movie is made.

Wow, that sounds even more ludicrous than when Craven explains it in the film.

This is not a great film.  This is not even a great horror film.  The scares are few and far between.  It plays more like a psychological thriller/child endangerment film than the slasher gore-fest fans of the series had come to expect.  However, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is an incredible coda to the NoES series.

Filmed ten years after the original, New Nightmare shows the audience a vision of what the people that made one of our favorite horror films are up to and how their involvement in the seminal work affected their lives.  At several points in the film, Langenkamp is directly how she feels about violence in film now that she is a mother and she, like others in the film industry, do not have an easy answer.  It is interesting how the Freddy character in this film acts as a surrogate for the audience: he does not want the films to end and refuses to see Langenkamp as anyone other than Nancy Thompson.

And can you blame him?  Langenkamp is just great in this movie as is Robert Englund, who always knows just the right amount of weird to put in every performance.   Craven made it easier for him by redesigning Freddy to look even more sinister than before.  Nothing says “I like to hurt little children” more than a black leather trench coat.  All the while, there are cameos from former cast members, homages, and other easter eggs placed throughout the film.

Like I said, this is not a great film.  It does not stand up well on its own.  However, it is a great ending to the series and helped Craven test drive a lot of the ideas that would be developed to great effect in Scream (1996).

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare

We're finally gonna kill him now! This is it! This is the last one! Yes sirree!

Hahahaha…heh, sure it is.

Set in the “future” year of 1999, ten years have passed since the events of A Nightmare on Elm St. 5: The Dream Child (1989) and Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) has been busy. "John Doe" (Shon Greenblatt) is the last Springwood teen left, and the adults have gone bat-shit insane as a result.  John escapes Springwood only to be thrown into a youth shelter that employs Maggie Burroughs (Lisa Zane), who just happens to be Freddy’s long lost daughter!  Through Maggie, Freddy will be able to escape the confines of the population of Springwood’s dreamers and kill children everywhere!  Unless Maggie and Doc (Yaphet Kotto!) can stop him.

Looks like this is a job for 3-D glasses!

In directing what could theoretically have been the last Elm St. movie, Rachel Talalay did not make a horror film.  No, this is straight comedy.  Let’s take a look at our hero, Freddy Krueger.  Among other things, Freddy dresses as the Wicked Witch of the West , plays nightmare victim video games, rockets a house into space, prances around a deaf man, and sets up a bed of spikes like Wile E. Coyote .  Freddy has turned into Bugs Bunny, which, in its own way, is highly entertaining.  Scary?  Not in the least. But he's a lot of fun to watch.

One of the more fascinating aspects of the film is the townspeople of Springwood.  Living through the mysterious and violent deaths of all of their children has driven them quite mad. Making cameos as two of the hysterical parents are Roseanne and Tom Arnold !  Remember them?  Exactly. The town holds town fairs, conduct history classes and run orphanages as if the kids are still there, all the while terrified at the mere mention of Freddy’s name.  This was developed further to great effect in Freddy vs. Jason (2003) .

The climax of the film featured the much hyped 3-D sequence where the audience joins Maggie as she dons 3-D glasses to venture into Freddy’s head, go down memory lane,  pull Freddy out of the nightmare where he is vulnerable and then have the titanic battle between good and evil!  Those of you keeping score might recall that this was the entire plan in the original picture. Apparently, the step Nancy skipped was 3-D glasses.  Sigh.  The sequence was apparently designed by the same geniuses behind Friday the 13th: 3-D (1982), complete with pointless hand gestures toward the audience and random, creepy “Dream Demons” flying out of the screen.  Not being allowed to see the film in the theater, I hear it was... “exciting.”

As with everything else in the film, what starts with the promise of graphic violence ends with a joke.  After a mediocre fight between Freddy and Maggie,  Freddy’s (supposed) last word  (when facing his impending "death by pipe bomb imbedded in chest" is “Kids” right into the camera as he explodes into 3-D goo.  A lame ending for lackluster sequel.  The film works as a comedy but not as a horror flick and, mercifully, not as the last Nightmare on Elm Street film.   Though Alice Cooper’s turn as Freddy’s foster father and Johnny Depp’s heartfelt anti-drug PSA are entertaining.

Oh, and the Iggy Pop montage of the whole series over the credits is incredible.

Nightmare on Elm St. 5: The Dream Child

Having survived Freddy Krueger’s (Robert Englund) assault in A Nightmare on Elm St. 4: The Dream Master (1988) , Alice (Lisa Wilcox) and Dan (Dan Hassel) are graduating with their new friends (read: cannon fodder) and have put all of that unpleasantness behind them.  Unfortunately, Freddy has other plans and has figured out a way to return through Alice and Dan’s unborn child!

Yeah.

You’ll have to watch the film to learn whether or not love, goodness and the weakest Deus Ex Machina since A Nightmare on Elm St 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) will prevail.

In interviews, director Stephen Hopkins explained that by number 4, the powers that be at New Line Cinema decided that Freddy Krueger had become too comical and that this installment should be a return to the darker tone of the original film.  I only bring this up to point out how miserably Hopkins and Co. failed in that endeavor.

This is the weakest film of the series, which is not a surprise considering that Freddy is at his weakest.  His facial make-up design makes him look bad, even for him.  Combine that with the odd, over-long limbs, a random wetsuit sweater, and “Super Freddy” - you have a recipe for disaster.

Hopkins bucks quite a few trends in 80s horror from starting the film with a sex scene to having “Art-House-y” chalk opening credits and not making his film scary.  Though there is some truly bizarre, memorable imagery to be found such as the recreation of the circumstances surrounding Freddy’s conception and Alice willing Freddy out of her body.  Trust me, it looks just as weird as it sounds.

This installment “boasts” one of the lower bodycounts of the entire series.  However, though the quantity is low, the quality is quite high.  Hopkins makes full use of the reality or lack there of in the series creating some of the most bizarre death scenes.  Take Dan’s death.  After being thrown out of his truck, Dan gets on a motorcycle to race to Alice’s rescue.  However, along the way, Freddy merges Dan’s body with his motorcycle a la David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983) .  Alice’s comic book reading friend, Mark (Joe Seeley) finds himself the only thing in color in an entirely black and white world and bravely tries to kill “Super Freddy” before being turned into a two-dimensional drawing and shredded.  Meanwhile, hopeful model Greta (Erika Anderson) is force-fed her own innards in a binge gone horribly wrong.

These sequences are immensely creative, which feel wasted amidst such a lackluster story.  For all of Hopkins’ efforts, it's a goofy, scareless affair which has no real identify other than being “the boring one.”

Nightmare on Elm St. 4: The Dream Master

After the large critical and commercial success of A Nightmare on Elm St. 3: The Dream Warriors (1987), New Line Cinemas did what every creative and innovative movie studio does: they tried to make the same exact movie all over again!

The Dream Master is the second in a three part movie set within the overall series.  This review will have spoilers from The Dream Warriors, so fair warning.  The film opens with the three remaining Dream Warriors having transferred back to sane living at Springwood High School.  Kristen Parker (Tuesday Knight, taking over for Patricia Arquette ) has the sneaking suspicion that Freddy (Robert Englund) is coming back.  Surprising no one, he does, and proceeds to kill all three of our returning characters.

Wait, what?

That’s right, director Renny Harlin pulls a Psycho (1960) and kills the heroine halfway through the film.  Enter Alice (Lisa Wilcox), stage left.  Alice daydreams entirely too much, accidentally pulling her friends into her nightmares, making them convenient fodder for Freddy.  As Freddy kills his way through Alice friends, she gains their dream powers, thereby becoming strong enough to stop Freddy once and for all.  We hope.

NoES 4 was the most commercially successful of the original six NoES films.  Harlin stripped down the story and characters to the barest of essentials, added lighting effects the likes of which would make Joel Schumacher envious, and injected more goofy humor in Freddy.  Though Freddy is still performing terrible acts, he’s not particularly scary in this film.  And how could he be?  He’s wearing Wayfarers, dressing in drag, eating pizza made of people, appearing on postcards, and being resurrected by flammable dog piss (has to be seen to be believed).  Worse still, upon rewatching the film for this review, I noticed that the majority of Freddy’s scenes are not only brightly lit, more often than not he’s in direct sunlight!

And yet this installment is genuinely not one of the “bad” NoES films even though it does feature the third silliest method of dispatch Freddy.  Mirrors!  Who knew?  There is a high body count, well-paced murder scenes, grotesque imagery like the souls pulling themselves out of Freddy’s body (the only thing worse than seeing the sequence is seeing the behind the scenes explanation) and Freddy does the worst. Thing. Ever.

Debbie (Brooke Theiss) is the last of Alice’s friends to die in the film.  Debbie’s identifying character traits are a love of body-building and a hatred of insects.  As a result, Freddy breaks both of her arms, replaces them with cockroach legs, rips off her skin, revealing a full cockroach body underneath and then crushes her.  I’ve only gone into such detail because the sequence is still astonishingly cruel and graphic.  And Debbie was barely a main character!  (Incidentally, Mezco ‘s Cinema of Fear action figure line features a toy based on Half-Roach Debbie.

What saves the film is that it’s genuinely entertaining.  The Dream Master is essentially the Summer Action Romp version of an Elm St. picture that features solid performances from Englund and Wilcox, and some truly terrifying imagery.

Nightmare on Elm St. 3: The Dream Warriors

What does a production company do after it follows it’s breakout hit horror film with an introspective look at a young man’s homosexual awakening? (Link) Well if you're producer Robert Shaye, you go back to well!  Chuck Russell’s 1987 film A Nightmare on Elm Street part 3: The Dream Warriors features the return of subjective reality, a high body count, both Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) and Donald Thompson (John Saxon), and-most importantly-women!

Kristin Parker (Patricia Arquette) is having, you guessed it, sleeping problems to the point where it appears to her negligent mother (Brooke Bundy) that Kristin’s trying to kill herself.  Little does she understand is that Freddy’s (Robert Englund) back once again to terrorize the teens on Elm Street.  Little does Freddy understand is that when teens are trapped in a mental ward because of their group psychosis, said teens will unionize!  Under Nancy’s leadership, the troubled teens of Elm Street learn that they each have a unique “dream power” that can be used against Freddy.  But will it be enough to send Krueger back to hell?  Well, no, but luckily psychologist Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson) is armed with holy water and a crucifix.  Wait, isn’t that for…?  Nevermind, he seems confident enough.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of this installment of the NoES series.  Dream Warriors is essentially the Goldfinger (1964) of Freddy films in that it solidified the formula that would define every film to follow.  It introduced the “one defining character trait/ironic death” motif, the dream power, Freddy’s control over the dream setting, the opening quotes, and the bizarre methods of death.  Dream Warriors also brought back the gimmick of Freddy killing people in a manner that was explainable in the real world, thus throwing suspicion off him.  Because blaming a dead man that murders people through dreams is completely plausible.

The death scenes in this installment are grotesque.  The artery-strings on Phillip (Bradley Gregg) still make me cringe.  Whereas Taryn’s (Jennifer Rubin) track mark mouths are simply wrong.  And then there’s Dick Cavett.  Dick Cavett attacks Zsa Zsa Gabor with Freddy’s glove.  You can't mock that.

Equally important is the defining of the Freddy character.  After two films, Freddy is now in the spotlight.  He’s using superpowers and cracking the jokes that audiences would identify with him forever after.  Also important, the “soul chest” is shown for the first time, explaining how Freddy gains his evil powers and stores the souls of his victims.

Except for A New Nightmare (1994) and Freddy vs. Jason (2003), every subsequent film follows the Dream Warriors mold.  And with good reason, Dream Warriors is just a good horror film, the result of great filmmakers like Chuck Russell, Frank Darabont and Wes Craven working together to make THE 80s supernatural slasher.  And if that’s not enough, Dokken plays the title track over the credits.  Dokken.

Nightmare on Elm St. 2: Freddy’s Revenge

Remember how awkward you were in high school?  How your body was changing?  Your personality was changing?  You didn’t know exactly who you were while at the same time you were turning into an adult?  Dredged up those fun-filled memories?  Good.  Now, remember how there would be “After-School Specials” that would try to help you understand what was going on, that you were normal, and that adults understood what you were going through and just wanted to help?

Now imagine how much more fun those specials would have been with Freddy Krueger!

Jack Sholder’s 1985 follow up to the original is the outlier of the series.  This installment bears almost no resemblance to the other seven films. While most see this as a drawback, I give the filmmaker’s credit for being brave enough to try something new and delivering a decent film at the same time.

Five years after the Nancy Thompson’s ordeal, Jesse (Mark Patton) and family have moved into the infamous 1428 Elm Street home.  Jesse is having trouble settling into the house and even more trouble sleeping.  But that’s just because it’s unusually hot in his room, right?  WRONG!  Fred Krueger (Robert Englund) now “Freddy,” wants to continue his unholy campaign of vengeance against the Elm Street kids.  Only now he wants to kill them in the real world, through the liberal use and complete transmogrification of Jesse’s body.  Which is to say Jesse will become a Were-Freddy.

I am completely serious.

Sholder does not give Freddy a lot of release in this film, going for a more suspenseful, creepy vibe.  It’s an interesting approach as the audience is not entirely sure that Freddy is committing these murders, or if Jesse is simply insane.  The downside is there isn't as much violence as slasher fans have come to appreciate, though it still features a higher body count than part 5.  This is due, in no small part, to the veritable smorgasbord of teenage flesh that Freddy eviscerates at the poolside barbecue.

What makes this film so memorable is not the violence, or even Englund’s standard excellent performance, but the way in which the plot plays out like an “After School Special” about a young man coming to grips with his sexuality, or in the case of this film, doesn't.  It starts off quietly, with a few male locker room scenes and one harmless pants-ing incident.  Then there’s the scene of Jesse unpacking to “All Night Long” and dancing until Lisa (Kim Myers) shows up and all the fun is over.  And then, there’s Coach Schneider’s (Marshall Bell) S & M proclivities, bar meeting, and then shower room bondage/death scene.  Look at the way Jesse and Grady (Robert Rusler) behave: they clearly aren't interested in attracting women.

Consider: the two times Freddy manifests and kills people one on one are when Jesse is alone with men.  Freddy’s tongue pops out when Jesse's is making out with Kim, but only to scare Jesse away into the safety of Grady and his seemingly leather comforter.  It’s only when Kim smothers Jesse with her love that he is able to quash his own natural proclivities and pretend that he’s straight, which his sub-conscious then rejects with the final scene.

Sholder insists that the homosexual subtext was unintentional, while Englund claims the contrary.  Either way, it makes this installment all the more interesting, or at the very least, perfect for a drinking game.

Nightmare on Elm St.

When most people think of writer/director Wes Craven, they think of the "big" movies: Swamp Thing (1982)Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)Music of the Heart (1999), you know ...the hits.  But, gentle reader, today I'd like to talk about one of his lesser known works: A Nightmare on Elm Street.

“If Nancy doesn’t wake up screaming, she won’t wake up at all!”

Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) is the daughter of one of the many couples from Elm Street that burned a suspected child-murderer named Fred Krueger (Robert Englund) alive.  Little did those civic-minded suburbanites realize that they’d unwittingly unleashed something much worse.  Now able to enter a victim’s dream and make any injury a reality, Fred has decided to exact terrible, bloody revenge on the children of his murderers.

The film’s greatest strength is Craven’s ability to blur the line between what the audience perceives as a dream, and reality.  Characters get up, walk around, perform normal activities only to realize too late that they’ve fallen asleep.  Craven cleverly gives the clues to audience members that are paying close attention such as the Shakespeare recitation in Nancy’s English class.  Before Nancy falls asleep, the student is reciting from Julius Caesar.  Once asleep, the passage changes to Hamlet. Craven’s biggest trick is the entire ending sequence.  Note how, after Nancy goes to sleep to find Fred and pull him out of the nightmare, she never wakes up!  Pay strict attention to position of Nancy’s blanket and the dream-like atmosphere of the end and you’ll see what I mean.

The film’s second greatest strength is Robert Englund.  Bucking the trend of silent, masked stalkers, Craven decided to create an actual character and cast a great character actor.  Even though the lighting is poor and he’s covered in the pizza-face make-up, one can still see Englund embuing Fred with a  real personality and malevolence.  Though in this first installment, Krueger is not the “star,” it comes as no surprise that his screen time increased with each succeeding film, to the character’s detriment, unfortunately.

Admittedly, most of the effects are a little dated at this point. However, Craven still delivers some of the most iconic death scenes of the slasher genre.  Tina’s (Amanda Wyss) anti-gravity agony is particularly disturbing.  And then there’s whatever Fred did to Johnny Depp .  Nobody knows.  All we know is he got sucked down into his mattress and a geyser of 300 gallons of blood erupted 30 seconds later.

I’d be remiss if I did not give composer Charles Bernstein credit for managing to make an 80s synthesizer sound creepy.  At four years old, this was the first horror movie I ever saw, and I didn't watch another one until I was fourteen!  Watching the film as I’m writing, it still gives me the creeps.   Thank you, Wes Craven, for creating a new mythology that lasted seven more films and a remake.