Sunday, November 15, 2015

We'll Swallow Your Soul!


Another Saturday night with Evil Dead II (1987), and I can always be assured of a good time. Bruce never fails to throw himself into the part when it comes to his Ash and Raimi certainly seemed to depend on his star's physicality and star power. The dishes breaking over his own head by his (sort of) own hand is a great example of what I'm talking about. Sure the dishes were made to be breakable but it's rather fun in its constant shattering as the facial wavering and wooziness by Bruce sells the physicality.

I do see how this could be scrutinized. I think it is always hard in horror films where a hand is taken off to sell the horrible injury. I think you can instantly tell Bruce's hand was just fine underneath the shirt sleeve...particularly, when loading his shotgun. If you think about it: there is about fifteen or so minutes where Bruce spends time against his severed demonic hand...and holds the time well without boredom. Equipping the hand with its own "voice", too, whether or not it is cartoonish, gives it its own personality and Bruce has a foil to play off of. In fact, sad to say, the hand has just as much personality as the cast that soon joins Bruce as he battles the evil dead. My favorite scene, oddly enough, (besides the house "coming alive" to laugh and joy in the evilness that is so pervasive) is Bruce, under the demonic curse, enduring the possession and returning to his human self. Seeing the makeup and contacts turning him into a ghoul, the humanity grappling with the evil in a fight for survival, and the re-emergence of Ash, the hero, is just a cool moment to me. You also start to see the cool of Bruce emerge with the line "groovy" and using "baby" in the dialogue. The chainsaw in one hand and shotgun twirling in the other. All of this builds to the whole persona coming out in full force in Army of Darkness.

Out of the cast, Sarah Berry has the most to do, while the others factor in as fodder. With lots of blood and special effects (and camera work) to build up the evil dead going crazy in the cabin, the characters aren't exactly necessarily on the agenda for taking center stage. This is very much about throwing a lot at you, with these people having the misfortune of winding up in the damned cabin, and Raimi having to disguise the tricks with the budget as it was at the time. I still think this kind of work is preferred over the CGI of Drag Me to Hell.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Camp Blood


Another Friday the 13th greets us once again. Each of you has their own marathon planned, perhaps in advance, and will once again venture into the wilds of Jason Voorhees' domain. I decided on Part 2 myself. The Steve Miner duo, if you will.

 Paul: I don't wanna scare anyone, but I'm gonna give it to you straight about Jason. His body was never recovered from the lake after he drowned. And if you listen to the old-timers in town, they'll tell you he's still out there, some sort of demented creature, surviving in the wilderness, full grown by now... stalking... stealing what he needs, living off wild animals and vegetation. Some folks claim they've even seen him, right in this area. The girl that survived that night at Camp Blood, that... Friday The 13th? She claimed she saw him. She disappeared two months later... vanished. Blood was everywhere. No one knows what happened to her. Legend has it that Jason saw his mother beheaded that night. Then, he took his revenge, a revenge he continued to seek if anyone ever enters his wilderness again. And, by now, I guess you all know we're the first to return here. Five years... five long years he's been dorment. And he's hungry. Jason's out there... watching... always on the prowl for intruders... ready to kill... ready to devour... thirsty for young blood.

"You're doomed! You are all doomed!"

I didn't really add much Friday to the post, although I had planned to. Honestly, how many times have we Friday fans seen these films and discussed them? I have a review for the film I had written back in 2012, and I think I pretty much covered the first ten films now as well as I can. I will re-iterate that I find the sequel refreshing in that Jason hadn't perfected the art of killing. He stumbles and falls. He isn't as effective when the victim (s) know he's coming after them. I think why Amy Steele is so beloved is because her battle for survival was all instinctive and dogged. Then she uses mind games against a killer that functions specifically out of a silent rage in defense of a mother that committed her acts because she loved him. Sure the flaw of "well, Jason is dead, he drowned" aside, the film is not all that impactful in its violence, although the kid in the wheelchair getting the machete in the face tells you Jason isn't functioning under any form of conscience. That he would kill that victim proves it is a straight-ahead assault on *them all*. The burlap sack--ala, The Town That Dreaded Sundown--for a mask and the Mario Bava murders, this sequel isn't exactly original. It is a collection of young adults falling prey to the killer in the woods. It is a collection of "pop goes the weasel" murders that come and go in a workman-like manner. Miner doesn't stylistically re-invent the wheel, but Jason's behavior and reason for doing it does get some time in the dialogue with Steele and Furey discussing what it must have been like to experience what he did (the drowning and seeing his mother perish as she did) in a bar in the nearest town.

I like the daytime scenes where the characters gather, and you see that Steele isn't the prototypical final girl as she is sexually active, and her sense of humor and attitude isn't all so innocuous or innocent. However, Steele brings this character to life. I think that she offers this human person that isn't just a caricature (unlike future films) helps significantly. The plot itself--a camp counselor training school gathering a number of potential counselors or those Furey had worked with in the past--isn't anything not seen in the previous film. I thought the first film has some nice characters and a cast that is likable enough. I can never use the argument that the sequel is a work of art. It gives the audience a bit of what it wants. There is some nudity and violence, but I think the fourth film gives you more of both. All in all, the cast is fun, the running time doesn't outstay its welcome, and Jason is human, not The Shape of Halloween.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare

**½


At about six films, most horror film franchises are either sucking wind or running out of steam. It happens. You spend only so much time with a formula and a character without a loss of creative jazz. A character also goes through either an evolution or remains stagnate. I can’t lay the blame on Robert Englund for the decision on New Line turning Fred Krueger into a clown, a jokey shell of the scary nightmare man that did horrible things to children, was burned alive by their parents, and had such evil he couldn’t help but endure so he could get his revenge through the torment and murder of another generation of teenage kids with the misfortune of simply falling asleep. Englund has such charisma and charm, even if his character is a murderous, burn-faced ghoul using the dream-sleep to kill kids for kicks, he won over a decade in the 80s of horror fans. That is the talent of the actor. However, I think Englund was at his absolute best in the first two films when he creeped you out and got under your skin. The third film was so imaginative and creative with the character of Fred and how the universe of the nightmare could bring about inventive ideas in the degree of what could be accomplished through special effects, Englund’s sense of humor and appeal started to emerge from behind the makeup and demented wickedness of the character. Gradually the killer of kids and tormenter of teens was earning the love of slasher fans, with the victims starting to disintegrate into caricatures to destroy without much sympathy from those watching the sequels.






I think the idea in the sixth film of the franchise is rather reasonable considering the psycho involved. Why would Fred want to consign himself to one location when killing kids is so much fun to him? Like a plague with no end, since time and again killing him hasn’t been successful, Fred could just move from town to town, suburb to suburb, Elm Street to Elm Street. The mantra Fred follows—Every town has an Elm Street—allows him to keep terrorizing and killing in the nightmares of youth. A fresh supply wherever Fred goes. The sixth film offers the notion that all he needs is a little help. That’s where “John Doe” comes in. Fred needs a catalyst in his mad dream…someone to open the door for him to keep on killing. The taste of taking souls and putting an end to the youth of a nation is sweet to ole Fred.







Now the decision to demystify Fred by providing an answer to how he is able to invade the dreams of teenagers through the “dream demons” explanation, allowing Fred to have a daughter (who ironically might be the very one to finally put Fred away forever), and parodying Wizard of Oz, “this is your brain on drugs” commercials, and Nintendo (and the power glove), with a cameo from Roseanne and Tom Arnold as nutso Springwood locals all have earned Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare quite a bit of criticism and backlash. Airplane & The Naked Gun this movie shouldn’t be.




Kid shrinks Yaphet Kotto and Lisa Zane, the latter Fred's baby girl



Honestly, you’d think after The Dream Child, the only direction for the next sequel would be upward. The Dream Master was kind of the segue where the Fred character goes through a change towards the clown he is in The Final Nightmare. It just goes into Loony Tunes territory as the menace that defined Fred so well in Craven’s first film has devolved into a horror cartoon.












“Lend me your ear.” There isn’t a better example of how far Freddy had changed than the fate of poor deaf Carlos. Carlos wound up at Lisa Zane’s “shelter for abused youth” thanks to a horrible mother who used a rather disturbing Q-tip to help keep his “ears clean”. Well, Fred sends this nasty bit of history up by playing gleefully with Carlos’ dilemma, exploiting his handicap by dancing around and breaking the fourth wall by addressing us with a finger blade over the mouth, shushing us as he planned to surprise the kid with a “brand new ear” (in the nightmare, Fred slices off Carlos’ ear, running off with it, leaving the kid to scurry about in search of his “hearing”). Well, it turns out to be this nasty creature that attaches to Carlos’ head and eventually any slight noise would cause it to react unkind. Well, Fred exploits the noise problem by causing as much loud as he possibly could. Head explosion in the ole boiler room, and Fred has a new victim’s soul to enjoy. The Carlos death scene isn’t really much different than perhaps Lisa Wilcox’ brother from The Dream Master where he uses martial arts on an “invisible Fred”. It is just as cheesy, but rarely does The Final Nightmare have an alternative kill that is any better.




Yep, 3-D glasses used to "get inside daddy's head". Sheesh

Bob Shaye, making sure to get his fifteen minutes (seconds, really)
When Spencer (Breckin Meyer), a stoner with a corporate, white collar father totally absorbed with his son "being just like him", is accosted by Freddy within the Nintendo game, and Lisa Zane's social worker, Maggie, a John Doe that "woke up" on the outskirts of Springwood (a really awful Shon Greenblatt), and tough survivor, Tracy (Lezlie Deane) all try and fail to help him (he bounces around as if a ping pong ball on a Po-go stick), it becomes so bogged down in its silliness, Fred loses his potency. And there's always at least one death sequence that stands out and makes Fred's use of the nightmare world significant. Sure in the past Fred brought a victim into a comic book, becoming a villainous 'roided up Super Freddy, slicing the kid apart into "paper fragments" Sure, a victim is vanquished by "Invisible Fred". Sure a spiked wheelchair chases a Dungeon & Dragons-obsessed nerd (I use *nerd* affectionately, as I consider myself one just the same) in a wizard costume. But Fred using a power glove to use an animated version of himself stomping a victim, and eventually sending him "over the edge" kind of is a death knell if ever there was one. Include Fred being pulled into the real world (this was also supposed to have happened in the first film, and seemingly others) by his daughter (a development never mentioned in any other films, but for the convenience of his final film appearance (yeah, so they said)), getting his ass kicked by her, and eventually being blown to smithereens by a stick of dynamite (there's a locker full of weapons taken from kids brought into the shelter!) and the jig is up. 3-D included as a time when the gimmick was in dire need of rehab, the Fred character was doomed to be finished off with a whimper instead of a primal scream.

So what to glean from this film that might stand as something positive? Englund is having fun at the end of his run with the character. Craven brought Englund back for New Nightmare three years later, but that isn't the same Fred that eventually returns in 2003 for Freddy vs. Jason. I think Englund went in, learned what Rachel Talalay and New Line wanted for the character *one last time*, and just gave so much of what makes the man behind the makeup such an appealing guy. This is a send up of the character that Englund once used to creep us out. It's parody. His death is parody..."Kids."

Under the layers of camp, there's some disturbing subject matter: Tracy was abused by her father sexually, Carlos was physically abused by his mother, and Maggie was nearby as a little girl in pig-tails while Papa Fred strangles her mother to death. Because the direction wants to be *fun* and amusing, this subject matter has less of a potent impact. If this had been one of the first films, the subject matter would have been much more jarring and unsettling. There's lots of makeup in this film and special effects tricks. Vignettes like the previous films where characters get lost in Fred's world and he enjoys mocking them. The use of a chalk board to make a head explode, lopping off his own fingers with green liquid squiring out as he informs Kotto of what others have done to him over the previous sequels in attempts to execute him, and literal Dream Demons offering Fred (as his house was burning around him) a chance to have some real fun through their magic provided to him: Freddy's Dead concludes the series with a nice thrust instead of nudge completely off the cliff of the downward slide that The Dream Child assisted in.

However, if you just want to have a good time and aren't worried about "how far the Fred character had fallen", accepting the character as a comic in burn face, sweater, dirty hat, and razor-knife glove then perhaps Freddy's Dead will not be so disappointing. I think, as it was for me when I was a teenager, it is a good starting place for the franchise because you see the character after an evolution purposely to engage an audience to enjoy Fred instead of loathe him. In 1991, the 80s were in the rear view and horror was on a hiatus in as far as its quality and appeal started to diminish. But I was beginning as a horror fan, going back to the past prior to the 90s, really enjoying what came before. I used the likes of Freddy's Dead as a shallow water, getting my feet wet experience, preparing myself for the Fred that ripped apart Amanda Weiss in A Nightmare on Elm Street and came literally out of Mark Patton in Freddy's Revenge.

But Lisa Zane, though. I don't know what it is, but I had a major thing for her. Something seductive about her. Can't put my finger on it, but the way she carried herself early had me under her spell. Not a good performance, much like all involved besides Englund in the film, with her behavior all over the place, but she just had this sexy quality in her pant suits.

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