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).

Bones

By the time we got to Bones in the Cavalcade's never-ending journey through the B-movie minefields, I have to admit to a heavy mixture of both anticipation and trepidation. In other words, I was quivering with glee over the fact that we had finally gotten to Blaxploitation , something that I couldn't believe hadn't come up in the thematic choices thus far. But I was also nervous that it had somehow ended up being Blaxploitation Horror. It's not like there's a huge abundance of those, and what little there was, well... Let's just say that Blackenstein isn't necessarily my idea of a good time, or anyone else's for that matter.

Enter Bones. Featuring the Snoop D-O-double-G playing Jimmy Bones, the ghost of pimp past (who obviously got left off of Dickens' list). But as he's a pimp for JUSTICE, or at least "victimless crime", he tends towards running illegal gambling and the like. This makes him a hero in his community, especially when he decides to block the introduction of crack into his turf. Unfortunately, this leads to betrayal, murder, and an all around bad evening for ol' Jimmy.

Fast forward 20 years, and the Neighborhood has gone to hell. Jimmy's squeeze, Pearl (Pam Grier) has grown into the "crazy witch lady", doling out fortunes and raising her daughter-who has no idea who her father is, but anyone with a 3rd grade education might hazard a guess. Bones' house stands empty, broken down and forgotten. Well, that is until 4 entrepreneurial 20-somethings decide to buy the place and turn it into a nightclub. Eventually, they accidentally wake up the vengeful spirit of Jimmy Bones, and wackiness ensues "in a blood-soaked tale of family and revenge", according the to box cover marketing copy.

To be fair, this throwback horror film pays faithful homage to the blaxploitation films of the 70's  and is a well-shot movie that is both earnest and thoughtful. The producers, writer, and director all pull the smart maneuver of tailoring the role of Jimmy Bones to Snoop Dogg, allowing him to essentially play himself (worked so well here that Universal Studios would use the same formula in 8 Mile the next year, with Eminem). With that hurdle out of the way, they surrounded him with talented actors and actually put a lot of care into the story and characters-which was both pleasantly surprising and disappointing.

While we were hoping for an adrenaline-fueled romp, we instead got a somber look at fathers, sons, betrayal, and honor...somehow mashed into what is, at its heart, a fairly solid take on a ghost story. While its certainly interesting viewing, and wholly recommended for a night on the couch, it's not something I'd recommend for an event as it never builds quite enough momentum to keep a crowd going.

Trick R Treat

I love horror movies. Eat. Sleep. Breathe them.

Lately, it’s not easy to justify my love of horror films as I find myself wading through a sea of unworthy remakes and characterless gore-fests. However, there are still a few new horror movies that remind me of why I loved the genre in the first place. One of these being the recent DVD release of Michael Dougherty’s Trick R Treat.

Trick R Treat is a Halloween-themed anthology film that gives the audience four-count 'em, four-different horror stories for the price of one. Each follows someone or some group that fails to abide by Sam’s (Quinn Lord) rules for Halloween. Unfortunately for them, Sam is a childlike trick-or-treater with a creatively homicidal streak, so these transgressions tend to lead to deadly results.

Setting this film apart from other horror anthologies like CreepshowBodybags, or Twilight Zone: the Movie, is the inter-connectivity of the four stories. Well, that and no one died during the making of the film (poor, poor Vic Morrow). Anyway, the ease and timing with which Dougherty weaves the characters in the different short stories reminds me more of Pulp Fiction than the above-referenced horror films. The re-appearances of characters add not only to their individual stories, but also, strengthens the larger film, creating a more satisfying larger story of Halloween night in this small town.

But, let’s get down to brass tacks: is it scary?

Answer: You bet your ass it is.

Though the nature of the film requires any suspenseful moments be brief, they’re quite effective. Starting when Leslie Bibb blows out a Jack-O-Lantern despite her husband’s warnings to Brian Cox’s desperate fight with a certain home intruder. (By the by, Dylan Baker is also featured prominently; bringing our Kings cast member count to three. Shame on you for not watching that wonderful show!) There are also more than enough gory and visceral moments for those of us demented weirdos who appreciate such things. More disturbing and fun (yes, fun) is Dougherty’s complete willingness to do horrible, horrible things to little children. You just don’t see that as often these days. Well, at least not outside of a Disney film.

Also memorable is Sam, our mascot for the picture. Dressed in orange “footie” pajamas and a burlap sack that you’ll wish he never took off, Sam (as in “Samhain”) appears to be the embodiment of the spirit of Halloween and its chief enforcer. His character hearkens back to the more solid horror movies of the 80s, when we could count on some visually appealing (or disgusting) figure to root for. At the very least, he makes a great little action figure, which you should go out and buy.

Seriously, we need to encourage more movies like this and the best way to say “I love you” to a movie is with cash. So if you find yourself looking for that perfect Halloween horror flick, I cannot recommend Trick R Treat enough. As long as you don’t watch on Halloween, as you should be out trick-r-treating.

Or else Sam will get you. Have you not been paying attention?

Paranormal Activity

I can't actually review this film as I normally would. Your level of enjoyment resting heavily on your knowing nothing about it.

Going in cold is the only way to really see it. However, I will make fun of the characters. Because hey, it's the Cavalcade...and one of them is an ass.

Structurally, this movie sharply constructed around building tension. So much so, in fact, that in a different movie, all the cat scares would just be a waste of time.

A "cat scare" is the shock of sudden movement or a noise that jolts the audience, breaking the tension before ramping it back up again. Usually, its a false scare in the form of a startled cat jumping out from under the bed that causes the hero/victim to jump, relax, and then promptly get stabbed in the face by the Killer in the Closet™. However, In Paranormal Activity, the cat scares don't break the tension-instead turning it up even more.

Scary things have been happening to the main character Katie for her whole life, and she has kept it from her boyfriend until they moved in together, and where most men would break up with her, this guy tries his hand at becoming the next Felini. Because he's an idiot.

This is all in the first ten minutes, so we're still fairly spoiler free.

The female lead finds her keys on the ground, and she didn't leave them there. Not scary. Later a door slams on it's own. These incidents build and build like this in ways I won't spoil until neither we, nor the main characters, can handle the tension. The girl gets anxious about the paranormal presence, the guy makes a joke that's not funny. As the audience gets more on edge, he makes some obscene gestures with his hands. He tries to get her to have sex on camera, SCARY THING. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Later on, he more or less beats his chest and says, "No demon messes with my girl!", as though wearing his white baseball cap wrong and popping his collar is going to stop something that's been around since the 1500's or so and is obviously bitter about it.

A claustrophobic little film, it takes place in roughly 4 rooms of a  single house; and as the tension continues to build you'll start looking for things to be scared of, scrutinizing the screen and thinking, "Ohmigod! Was the cabinet open before? Did the lights just flicker? Holysh*tbirdeatingcrappants!"

Coupled with amazingly visceral effects, great atmosphere, editing intentionally slapdash, and performances that are so "blah" in their presentation that these characters can only be real people-Paranormal Activity is a great shocker. As an added bonus, when you see it again, it's hysterically funny. Calvacade this one with  The Blair Witch Project or Quarantine for more psudo-reality film scares.

Poltergeist

"They're heeeere."

Two words that were never able to be used together again without thinking about television static, a creepy little blond girl, and just how disturbing the suburbs really are. After the memorably creepy opening scene where little Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) sits waaaay to close to the TV and has an interactive viewing experience that predates the Nintendo Entertainment System by 3 years, the movie abruptly shifts to a montage sequence of a bright, sunshine-filled subdivision, where the children and the antelope play. Ok, no antelope, but in 15 years there will be a Caribou Coffee on every block. All of these shots of quaint perfection serve to provide a backdrop and counterpoint to the events that follow.

The film continues innocently enough after that, at least for a while as the supernatural phenomena continues to escalate. Furniture stacks itself on tables, or occasionally slides around rooms, to the bewildered enjoyment of the family (Craig T. NelsonJoBeth WilliamsDominique Dunn, and Oliver Robbins). However, things soon start to take a dark turn when glasses explode and trees start getting inappropriately handsy. Soon enough, the experts are called in, Carol Anne gets sucked into the closet, and a creepy little southern medium (Zelda Rubinstein) channeling Tammy Faye Baker starts speaking fallacies like "This house is clean" and screaming "Don't go into the light!"- things that would soon become part of the pop-culture mainstream of the 80's. Plus there's a couple of nifty scenes involving goopy tennis balls and a rope, and the black dude doesn't get killed, thus signifying the real progressive progress promised by the shift from 70's Sci-Fi/Horror.

Produced and Co-Written by the freshly-popular Steven Spielberg, the movie is full of the trademarks that would go on to define his films. The suburban setting, the interplay of day-to-day comedy with supernatural elements, the camera work, and the technical proficiency with the special effects all would be seen again in things like E.T. Extra TerrestrialJurassic Park, and A.I. Artificial Intelligence. He gets first mention primarily because of the storm of controversy about who actually directed the picture, Spielberg or the credited Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw MassacreLifeforce).  Reports are sketchy about it, from all parties involved, though Hooper has always maintained his was the final word on the set. Which is strange, because even his supporters don't go that far. As already stated, there's a lot of Spielberg in this picture, and not nearly as much Hooper, when comparing their bodies of work. Wether that is the myth of fingerprints or signs of a versitle director, I'll leave up to you. You know why?

Because it doesn't freakin' matter! The movie is awesomely weird and fun to watch, considering that it the plot doesn't really have any sense of internal logic, so you're left with entertaining characters in odd situations with special effects that are (for the most part) still eye-catching to this day. Something that's perfect for an audience like the Cavalcade. As a matter of fact, the only problem our audience had was with the fact that this was the third film in our event that was a big loud blockbuster type of Ghost movie, leading to movie fatigue. It would have been a better balance for us to have had at least one of our movies be a quieter b-movie type, to keep from getting hammered by the pictures. But make no bones about it, when selecting films for an event, Poltergeist is a solid choice.

Frighteners, The

As the omnipresent eye of the audience hovers above the dark mansion in the woods, a storm is brewing-both outside and within. passing through an attic window, the camera drops down past the rats, and through the hole in the floor as screams rush up out of the speakers. Eventually our view settles on a woman rushing through a house as the carpet and the walls themselves reach out to take hold of her. Suddenly,  an elderly woman appears in her bedroom door wielding a long-barreled shotgun and, while backlit by a clash of lightning, blasts the possessed floor covering right between the indistinct eye-sockets, causing the spirit housed within to rush out towards the us, blanketing our eye in darkness, as the ghostly titles materialize into view. Here we are again, ladies and gentlesirs, rollicking through another night with another typical Peter Jackson film family.

While working on the script for Heavenly Creatures (which if you haven't seen it, stop reading this and go do so now-- --we'll wait), Jackson and partner Fran Walsh met with Robert Zemeckis (Back to the FutureWho Framed Roger Rabbit), and pitched the idea of a con-man using ghosts to swindle customers. The original idea was to have it be a segment directed by Zemeckis in a Tales from the Crypt movie, but after reading the first draft and seeing an early preview of Heavenly Creatures , he felt that it would be better if the Kiwi headed up the project.  The result is a movie that at times is damn scary, at others cartoonish, and as a whole-pretty good.

Focusing on the previously mentioned psychic con-man Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox), his merry band of spooks (played by Chi McbrideJim Fyfe, and John Astin), and their run-in with the supernatural serial bully known as "The Reaper". Along the way, Bannister tussles with an "eccentric" FBI agent brilliantly played by Jeffrey Combs (Bride of the ReanimatorThe 4400), finds love with a widow (Trini Alvarado), and shares a few tender moments with his kooky neighbors (Dee WallaceR. Lee Emry).

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Somebody needs to get Peter Jackson to write a family sit-com.

On to the movie itself: The special effects, AMAZING ten years ago,  are still intriguing, but dated (Funny: 80's movies, with their practical muppetry, strobe lights, and hand-drawn animated lightning, ended up aging much better than the early CG powerhouses like Stargate). Of special note is The Reaper and his WICKED scythe. Why they didn't make a holiday toy out of that, I'll never know. Imagine, kids running around with a big, sharp implement of grim decapitating destruction. Laughs for the whole family!

The story has an internal logic, but is basically there to move you from plot point to plot point.  A word about the director's cut: While it makes more sense than the theatrical, it also seriously drags in parts, especially early-on, when they're setting up the relationship between Bannister and friends.   So while this film is completely recommended for the Cavalcade, grab the shorter theatrical cut to keep things moving along.

Ghostbusters

It's an opening that practically everybody who grew up or went to the movies in the 80's remembers: The camera drifts along the stacks of a huge, dark library. Ahead a librarian is butting books away, blithely unaware that they are quietly rearranging themselves behind her back. The creepy synthesizer plays out it's haunting note as we get closer and closer to the woman as she finally starts to realize something's amiss. She turns to the camera, the screen flares in a bright flash and she screams as her hair is blown back. Cue the  world-famous theme by Ray Parker Jr.

It's been a long-time coming, but the Cavalcade finally got around to Ghosts, choosing this theme to close out the "Year of the Creature Feature". And to be totally frank, there was absolutely NO way we were going to not screen this movie. It was written by and stars Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis and features fantastic turns by Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, Rick Moranis, and Annie Potts.  One also cannot discount the memorable role played by Sigourney Weaver in her second Cavalcade appearance (first being Aliens), the only actor to do that so far aside from Casper Van Dien. Auspicious company indeed.

The film is an origin story of sorts, focusing on the discovery of the spirits and the founding of the titular capture and removal service. Some of the best scenes of the film involve the early use of the equipment, which hasn't really been field-tested. But as Murray's Peter Venkman states with more than a little fear-induced sarcasm:

"Why worry? Each one of us is carrying an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back."

Fortunately the tests prove successful, as does the business model. Eventually the group garners the unwelcome attention of two hostile forces: The E.P.A. and an ancient Sumerian god of destruction named Gozer. Both reak havok on the lives of our heroes, and are responsible for untold millions in damages and loss of life.  But only one is responsible for one of the most memorable moments in film history:

The 50-foot tall Stay-Pufft Marshmallow man stomping through New York City, raining down sugary destruction.

Thereby, Gozer wins on cool points.

This leads us to the special effects, which were beyond amazing in their day, are finally starting to show their age.  They are by no means "bad", mind you, still managing to surpass a healthy chunk of the low-budget fare of today.  I'd actually be interested in a "special edition" that cleaned them up ala the one or two good parts of the Star Wars re-releases (hint hint).  The proton blasts, ghosts, goblins, zombie cabbies, and afore-mentioned confectionary monsters-all look good... or as good as such things can look, being dead and/or demonic hell-beasts.

There's so much more to say about this movie! But rather than wax poetic about it for another umpteen paragrahs, I'll close this with a clear recommendation for any Cavalcade event.  It's a fantastic ride, hilariously funny with some genuine chills here and there, and your audience will thank you for it.

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

In 1995 I sat down in the cruddy studio apartment I shared with my girlfriend with a shiny new videotape I picked up from the video store in the mall across the street. The Anime phenom was still a couple of years out,  and we were still only getting tidbits here and there from the one or two studios that would import the biggest titles over to our shores... Well, that and the Hentai which, for those of you who might not know, is animated porn. Horaay freaky tentacles! But that's getting off the subject, where was I?

Oh. Yes. The cyber-steampunk-western-horror story  that was the first Vampire Hunter D. It a mash-up story that was unlike anything I'd ever seen outside of the best comics of the 80's, which, as it turned out, was the time period the movie was originally released (1985, to be exact). The tale of the half-human/half-vampire (Damphir), hunter-for-hire, constantly battling his nature in a spaghetti-western themed post apocalyptic wasteland filled with vampires, demons, mutants, and other monsters, relying heavily on his trusty sword to mete out swift and bloody retribution. resonated even more loudly when large portions of it appeared a few years later in the Wesley Snipes vehicle, Blade, which was the story of a half-human/half-vampire hunter, constantly battling his own nature in a ultra-modern urban cityscape filled with vampires, demons, and mutants, relying heavily on his trusty sword to mete out swift and bloody retribution.

Oh sure, there were some huge differences. For instance: Blade didn't have a smartmouth symbiote living in his left hand or a bitchin' cybernetic horse, but the parallels are there to be drawn. However, this review isn't about Blade, this review is about my boy, D. As the years passed and anime grew in popularity, so too did the popularity of Vampire Hunter D. Eventually a sequel would be green-lighted, and that sequel would be one of the biggest little releases in Anime fandom.

The story of Charlotte, a young human girl, who is abducted by Count Meier Link, a vampire. Charlotte’s father hires D to find her and kill her humanely if she turns into a vampire. At the same time, her older brother also hires the notorious Marcus brothers for backup. The movie follows D's hunt of Meier, his run-ins with the Marcus brothers, and a confrontation with an ancient enemy.

Let's get the basics out of the way. This is a great movie. As it was a co-production with an American studio, the voice acting is far better than average and the dubbing quality is phenominal. A lot of American dubs sound like a person in a studio reading lines. No matter how well acted, the acoustics say "I'm in a room!" However, the mix here is amazingly well done. I know, not the first thing you notice, but this detail speaks well to the rest of the production. Great art, quality animation in key sequences, and amazing production. The story is convoluted and surreal, but that's the source material, and in all fairness, secondary. This is a worthwhile movie... But that's not why we're here.  We want to determine wether or not it's a worthy addition to the Cavalcade. Unfortunately... I have to say no.

While it's a great film, with some truly impressive set pieces, the pacing is too deliberate to satisfy a hungry audience. As a matter of fact, the quality of the acting makes the melodrama work. It's really not all that mockable. While the world of Anime is filled with opportunity for great party entertainment for the Cavalcade. As much as I love it, and highly recommend you watch it, I can't say it's a good pick for the Cavalcade.