The Fine Art of Tactical Retreat
Apr. 10th, 2019
11:46 am - For clarity's sake
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Oct. 30th, 2014
Just imagine Freddy’s Revenge had never happened. It’s easy to do: even its sequel does it.
Sleepy Springwood in Ohio has been hit by a series of teenage suicides. A handful of survivors (among them Patricia Arquette, Jennifer Rubin and Ken Sagoes) are now in the care of the local mental health facility, where Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson) and his colleagues try to cure them from a curious shared delusion. You see, the kids think that someone is trying to murder them in/through their dreams. Given what movie series they’re in, they’re not delusional at all. Nobody on the mental health professional side, despite not really following the evil psychiatrist model at all, seems to be all that confused by delusions shared before the kids ever met, curiously enough.
Fortunately for the kids, new intern Nancy Thompson (again Heather Langenkamp) arrives and very quickly realizes that she didn’t banish the nightmare-haunting serial killer Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) as well as she thought she did in the first movie, and he’s still hunting down the Elm Street kids to make them pay for the sins of their parents. Nancy, after a bit of dithering on his side even with the help of Gordon, tries her best to protect the kids and get rid of Freddy, but in the end she and the kids will need to face Freddy inside of his own domain. Fortunately, they have dream superpowers.
To me, Chuck Russell’s Dream Warriors is an absolute model of how to do a horror franchise sequel: keeping as much as possible from the backstory and the construction of the supernatural world it occurs in from its predecessor (remember, part 2 didn’t happen), and using this as the basis to broaden these elements and take some of the original’s ideas further.
So unlike the second film Dream Warriors really keeps Freddy as a dream demon with only one moment late in the movie where he breaks through into reality on his own, and that one actually a sensible (by the logic of a world in which dream demons exist, of course) consequence of a plot development, namely Freddy nearing his implied goal of truly becoming part of the waking world which again is a consequence of a lot of dead kids. It’s a thoughtful approach to worldbuilding that is – I can say with conviction after the last few weeks – pretty much unheard of in the world of the slasher sequel where the last question anybody involved in making the films seems to ask is “what more do we have to say about the themes and characters of the first film, and what can we do with them that is new?”.
For this alone, Dream Warriors would deserve praise, but its major achievement for me is how interested it is in the telling detail and how important it is for any film to get it right. So, for example, the kids aren’t just killed off in brutal, surreally nightmarish ways by Freddy but killed off in ways actually connected to their personalities. And while these personalities aren’t drawn very deeply, there’s enough here to actually make most of the victims a little more than just a number on the kill tally. In fact – as far as I can remember – this might be last Nightmare movie whose sympathies lie squarely with Freddy’s victims. This doesn’t just make the film ethically more pleasant (because really, films that bank on an audience identifying with a serial and child killer because he’s good at wise-cracking – which he actually isn’t - are at least a bit icky) but also makes Freddy a more impressive monster, a creature that doesn’t just kill you but kill you with deeply intimate knowledge. Again, the film isn’t subtle about these things but it is putting much more thought in than it would have needed to, and is rewarded by becoming highly engaging.
Lest you think the film is a rather earnest piece of horror filmmaking, there’s also the undeniable fact that it is also a cheesy and silly (but not stupid) bit of 80s horror that delights in comic book ideas of horror. The dream deaths are fitting the characters perfectly, for example, but they are also decidedly on the silly side, with them being slightly creepy fun right out of a cartoonist’s conception of nightmares clearly higher on the film’s agenda than actually frightening anyone in the audience. Fortunately the murders are executed with technical finesse and just the right amount of distance, hitting the curious spot where the gruesome becomes silly and vice versa with sure aim. If that’s already too much silliness for you, you’ll probably die when confronted with the kids’ dream superpowers (I’ll just say “The WIzard Master”) but again, it’s the right kind of silly and also seem to be fitting representations of the problems of these specific teenagers.
In fact, the only aspect of Dream Warriors I don’t find either highly enjoyable or surprisingly clever is the way of Freddy’s eventual dispatch via the age old “burying his body on hallowed ground”. Sure, it’s a classic but there’s little in it that resonates with Freddy’s nature, nor does it work as well with his origin story as it should. On the plus side, this part of the story gives us an expositional ghost nun, and a scene of church robbery by a rogue health professional, so I wouldn’t say it’s a total wash.
Oct. 29th, 2014
After years of the place standing empty, the Walshs move into the Thompsons’ old house. That seems to be enough to get Freddy Krueger (as always Robert Englund) going again, and soon Walsh son Jesse (Mark Patton) is plagued by nightmares and grows whiny and sullen, the air conditioning seems to go crazy because Freddy’s new thing is heat, and later a toaster will burn and a budgie will explode.
Eventually, Freddy manages to take control over Jesse’s body from time to time, using it to kill his S&M loving (with more implied) teacher (Marshall Bell) and later on just bursting out of Jesse’s body in what is a at least a fun special effect to do a bit more killing. Will Jesse’s new girlfriend’s Lisa (Kim Myers) manage to save him by talking about love?
At the beginning of its life, this very quickly shot sequel to Wes Craven’s best film (and true classic) got a particularly bad time; years later there was a minor critical reassessment thanks to some critics reading the film as being about the horrific experience of growing up queer in the 80s in the US. I think there certainly is something to be said about that reading, but I don’t think the film applies the subtext all that successfully, consequently or coherently, which only leaves us with an at best mediocre sequel to a film that actually knew what it was doing.
Ironically, it would be just as easy to interpret the film as using Freddy Krueger to tell us a warning story about the perceived evils of homosexuality, something that can only be cured by a good woman, giving the whole thing a particularly unpleasant conservative bend. That both interpretations fit the movie points at one of its core problems as a film actually being about something behind people getting killed by Freddy: that neither director Jack Sholder nor writer David Chaskin seem to be willing to commit to the subtext and their supposed themes, to think through what they are trying to say, instead of just adding signifiers but then not do enough (or anything) with what could be.
Not that not doing enough is a problem only with the film’s subtext. Textually, it’s an indifferent sequel to the first NIghtmare at best, blunderingly replacing that film’s strongest elements (Freddy only being able to act through dreams) with some random stuff about possession and exploding budgies, either not realizing or not caring that this turns a unique and individual supernatural menace into some random slasher with equally random super powers. From time to time, the film stumbles upon a potent nightmarish and potentially meaningful image like Freddy’s birth out of Jesse’s body but never really arrives at the point where these things become more than just interesting images. A lot of the film’s better effects are just random, like the human-faced dogs guarding Freddy’s home base from intruding girlfriends. These things sure look impressive but they have no connection at all to anything else in the movie and can’t even be excused as being random dream flotsam because they don’t appear in a dream. As you can see, the film never bothers to really establish the connections between nightmare and real world as well as the first one did, either.
The same goes for the film’s final confrontation between Lisa and Freddy where the power of love – I suppose – wins the day, I assume because love totally works against nightmares? Seriously, I don’t have the faintest idea what the mechanics of the climax are supposed to be, or how they relate to anything the film established (or tried to) before. In the end, while it’s no Halloween: Resurrection in badness, it’s difficult for me to see anything more in Freddy’s Revenge than a film made by people who didn’t at all know what they were actually trying to achieve and consequently ended up making very little but promises.
Oct. 28th, 2014
02:32 pm - Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
So, what does a film do when its main bad guy has been decapitated on camera in its predecessor? Well, I don’t know what an actual film would do, but the entity known as Halloween: Resurrection concocts an idiotic excuse involving Michael fucking Myers dressing an ambulance driver up in his beloved mask, conveniently crushing his larynx so he can’t speak, and pretending Laurie Strode wouldn’t know the difference between the Shape and a guy with a beer belly. But hey, at least the film starts as idiotic as it is going to continue.
Anyway, because of murdering the ambulance dude, Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis looking so pissed off she must have read the script) has now been in a closed mental institution for three years or so, when one night Michael comes for a visit and murders a few people and then her. Lucky woman.
The rest of the film has little to do with the beginning, except for the coming degree of suckage. We follow the misadventures of a group of six students (final girl Bianca Kajlich, a pre-Kara-Thrace Katee Sackhoff whose acting here is as bad as that of everyone else, and some other people) who have been chosen to star in an internet reality TV show produced by Freddie Harris (Busta Rhymes) and one Nora (Tyra Banks). They’ll spend a night locked in the old Myers house to, ahem, find clues regarding the reason for Michael’s murderous nature. Of course, Freddie is sneaking around the house dressed up as Michael, of course he and his – tiny – crew have dropped fake clues of ritual child abuse around the house (stay classy, Halloween: Resurrection), and of course the real Michael (Brad Loree) has been living under the house since 1978 (yeah, I’m sure Dr Loomis wouldn’t have copped to that, but what do you expect of a film that doesn’t even get the number of Michael’s victims in the first film right) and doesn’t like house guests. Alas, this being a film very much in love with his smarmy, flat and boring idea of media satire, he takes his dear time killing them, and will suffer from indignities like being kung fu kicked by Busta Rhymes, or, you know, being killed – as much as he can be killed – by the very same acting disabled personage who spouts dialogue like “Trick or treat, motherfucker!”. So at least this thing gives me a new appreciation for the Rob Zombie remake of the first film.
Look, I’m the last one to wish anything bad on the people who made any movie. After all, they didn’t strip me to chair and made me watch it, but a film like Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween: Resurrection makes a boy think bad thoughts, because, frankly, it’s atrocious, inexcusable and crap in all the expected and many unexpected ways. On the plus side, I really can’t complain about boring competence this time around, because competence and this thing have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. Hooray for that, I guess.
I’ve already hit on some of Halloween: Resurrection’s failures while going through the plot, so let’s just repeat for clarity: this one’s the Halloween film where the final fifteen minutes consist of Busta Rhymes being the kind of hero even a 90s direct to DVD action movie would be embarrassed by and the supposed final girl screeching and cringing (like anyone involved with this film would do).
Well, okay, there’s also a script that permanently pats itself on the back for its supposedly smart media satire while missing out on any and all opportunities to actually be one, where characters flat even for a slasher movie are played by actors who just seem embarrassed by the whole thing (who can blame them?), where the whole Internet reality show angle in practice is only a way to prolong the film with more scenes during which nothing of interest happens, where no idea is embarrassing and awkward enough not to be included. And don’t even get me started on replacing the traditional final girl with action movie Busta Rhymes (and does that mean the producers couldn’t even afford Ice-T?), replacing one of horror film’s more pleasant clichés with a much more rote one. Plus, as nice as I suspect the guy to be, an actor he ain’t.
I could add equally ecstatic words on Rosenthal’s direction, the aesthetically utterly clueless way in which he includes the pseudo found footage movie elements from the cameras our internet heroes are wearing, his inability to stage even a single decent fright scene, the bad pacing, the dubious blocking and so on, and so forth, but really, what’s the use with a film that contains not a single worthwhile moment, at this point effortlessly kicking Jason Takes Manhattan from its podium place of the worst movie I’ve lived through during my perhaps ill-advised pre-Halloween slasher film sequel binge. Surely, none of the Nightmare on Elm Street sequels will be quite this bad? Please?
Oct. 27th, 2014
Oct. 26th, 2014
So, it seems that in this part of the Halloween franchise, films number one and two did happen (Michael-less number three always will have happened, fortunately), but the original final girl Laurie Strode (still Jamie Lee Curtis) later faked her death in a car accident that doesn’t seem to be the same one that left Jamie Strode an orphan in film four and onwards, or else we’d have to believe Laurie to be able to leave her little daughter behind in Haddonfield, and that doesn’t at all jibe with the over-protective mother we see here.
She’s now living under the name of Keri Tate as the headmaster of a secluded private school in California with her teenage son John (Josh Hartnett). John is increasingly bothered by his mother’s functional alcoholism, the pills and the effects her PTSD has on her behaviour and her ideas of the proper way to treat a seventeen year old, but when Michael finds out she’s still alive, the brittle woman might be all that stands between him and a knife. And Laurie might just rise to the occasion again.
Ironically, despite it – thanks to Scream and the following interest in up-market slasher movies by companies like Miramax - being higher budgeted as well as classier than the Halloween sequels I’ve talked about during the last few days, Steve Miner’s H20 is also the least interesting of the films for me, with little going on in it you couldn’t imagine after having read the film’s basic set-up, with no surprises and no obvious signs of any actual creativity.
I do approve of the PTSD angle to Laurie’s future development but there’s nothing at all happening on screen that wouldn’t also have happened to a happier and luckier woman, and too little effort put into giving the characters more than the pretence of emotional depth, so the film can turn its nose up at the exploitation movies director Miner himself started out with without having to put the actual effort needed to actually be deeper than them. Which isn’t just a problem with H20 but with most of the films of the mainstream slasher wave it belongs to, films that replaced the honest greed and nastiness of exploitation with hypocrisy and various degrees of smarmy superiority usually not justified by their actual achievements.
When it comes to the stalking and the slashing, H20 is suffering from the curse of basic competence – it’s not good enough to actually hold you in suspense, or to scare you, or to make you think or feel, and it’s not bad enough to either annoy you, or to win your heart, or to even make you laugh (and I’m sure as hell not going to laugh about the lame comedy bits with LL Cool J). There’s just not enough of anything here for any strong reaction.
Oct. 24th, 2014
Oh yes, or rather OH NO!, not even the venerable and classy Exploder Button is spared my seasonal slasher mania, so just click on through to read quite a few words more than you ever wanted to read about Halloween 6.
Oct. 23rd, 2014
To nobody’s surprise, Michael Myers (this time around Don Shanks) has survived the events of the last movie and – that part is rather surprising - has spent the year until the next Halloween cohabiting with a hermit or something. His niece Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris), on the other hand, following her attack on her adoptive mother at the end of the last movie, is now mute, and has spent the same time in a mental health facility for kids, in part guarded, in part observed as a Michael seismograph by an increasingly crazed Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) who wavers between genuinely nice and caring and ruthless bastard depending on what the script needs in any given scene.
Jamie is useful as a seismograph because her implied mental connection to her uncle from the last film is now a genuine thing that will see her writhing and mumbling a lot until someone puzzles out where the attack she describes happens, and nobody gets saved by it. In theory, Michael is out to kill Jamie but unlike the slasher mastermind he was in the last outing, he’s now drifting pointlessly through town, from time to time killing people connected to Jamie, without actually getting any closer to her through it. Then there’s a mysterious guy who dresses like the Exorcist sneaking through town who is only there to set up the thoroughly stupid ending, and really, nothing much that adds up to a plot happening at all. Loomis has a “plan” to catch Michael, but said plan makes even less sense then the rest of the film.
So yeah, all the goodwill the series won through the very decent fourth entry quickly evaporated in Halloween 5 once it became clear to me that Swiss director Dominique Othenin-Girard really didn’t know what story he wanted to tell, or how to tell it, or even just what the point of any given scene was, with characters changing traits from scene to scene for reasons of plot convenience, and many scenes that look as if they were setting up something that never get any follow-through.
I can’t even gush about Donald Pleasence this time around, even though he and a Danielle Harris who has seriously improved in the short time between the last film and this one, are clearly the best thing Halloween 5 has to offer. Unfortunately, like with anything else in the film, it doesn’t really seem to know what it wants to do with Pleasence, so it’s just wavering, dragging its feet and wasting him.
This is also another slasher sequel that contains a lot of elements that, if treated by talented scriptwriters, or writers who cared, could have made a wonderful movie – the psychic connection between Jamie and Michael, the fear she will turn into him or something very much like him, the toll the eternal hunt for an indestructible enemy has taken on Loomis are all elements that scream for a script that explores concepts like evil or innocence (or the price of trauma) via the nastiness of horror. Unfortunately, Halloween 5 isn’t that film. In fact, I find it difficult to pretend this is much of a film at all. Apart from lacking niceties like plot and character. the film doesn’t even succeed as a delivery machine for killing scenes, mostly because it prefers dragging its feet and boring its audience to anything else, blowing forty minutes of plot up to a hundred.
This is particularly frustrating because the final fifteen minutes or so suggest that Othenin-Girard would well have been able to at least make an effective conventional slasher, for the final confrontation with Michael may make little sense on a logical level but is an excellent example of tense suspense that works a bit like a nightmare.
Too bad there’s the rest of the film to get through before it.
Oct. 22nd, 2014
It’s ten years after the occurrences of Halloween and its sequel, and Doctor Loomis (Donald Pleasence) and Michel Myers (given shape by George P. Wilbur who isn’t one of the great silent slasher bodies but serviceable enough) have both survived film number two.
Michael has spent the time in a coma, but of course wakes up while being moved to a different facility behind Loomis’s back, and starts killing his way to Haddonfield, with a bent but not broken Loomis quickly following on his trail. For Michael is still attempting to do what film number two has established as his modus operandi – killing off his relatives. Poor Laurie Strode has died in a car accident in the meantime – together with whoever her husband was – leaving behind her daughter Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris already practicing for her future in horror movies). Loomis knows that Jamie will be Michael’s main victim of choice.
Jamie has found a rather good home with the Carruthers, including a teenage step sister named Rachel (Ellie Cornell) who will turn out to be willing and able to step between Jamie and someone like Michael. However it’s questionable if Rachel, a damaged psychiatrist and the reasonably competent yet completely outgunned police force of Sheriff Meeker (Beau Starr) will be enough to stop Michael.
After the last few Friday the 13th films, Halloween 4 is classing up the joint here, featuring a script that is generally sensibly building on what came in the first two movies, hitting some of the first two films’ favourite beats yet not feeling slavishly beholden to just repeating what came before. The film is at its best when it makes clear the first two movies actually happened to the people in its world, leaving Loomis half-broken and obsessed, and having had an influence on the society of Haddonfield as a whole. Sure, the latter is mostly in the movie to provide a plot relevant lynch mob (no torches, alas) once Michael has taken out the police force, but it’s more thought than ninety percent of slasher sequels ever put into this sort of thing. It does at least give a decent explanation for things like spontaneous lynch mobs in a contemporary small town, or cops willing to trust a crazy old man like Loomis.
Even though I’ve never been a fan of the second film’s revelation of Michael having an actual motive for his deeds, turning him into something much less frightening than the boogieman of the first film because he becomes understandable to a degree, I do like how Halloween 4 runs with these now established facts, and makes Michael not just frightening and dangerous but also conniving in the way he effectively destroys the parts of Haddonfield’s infrastructure most dangerous to him. If you can’t make your monster irrationally frightening anymore, it’s a good idea to make it threatening by having it act intelligently, even if won’t keep for further sequels (which it doesn’t).
Because I’m a sensible guy, I am of course wildly in love with Pleasence’s performance as Loomis here, the way he manages to squeeze real pathos out of at times stupid dialogue (“evil on two legs!”), creating a tragic figure whose whole life has been spent in a fight he just doesn’t seem to be able to win, a fight that has cost him a lot physically, mentally and in his chosen career, and that has left him determined and afraid and painfully human. Most of this isn’t as much in the script as a result of Pleasence being an actor who only very seldom let his audience see when the material he was working with was below him, adding a veneer of truth to the silly and the dubious. If Pleasence can believe in this Loomis, so can the audience.
Consequently, one of the film’s main weak spots are the various contrivances the script makes for his frequent absences from the plot, even at moments when Loomis’s absence really doesn’t make a lick of sense, with Harris just not the kind of child actor who can carry a scene on her shoulders alone, and nobody else involved quite interesting or good enough to step into Pleasence’s shoes.
However, even when Pleasence isn’t on screen, Halloween 4 is never less than an entertaining, often atmospheric slasher movie, with director Dwight H. Little surely no John Carpenter yet at the very least someone who knows how to build a mood before the killing starts as well as able to make the traditional stalking and slashing suspenseful beyond the (nice enough) bloody effects. It helps Little’s case that Halloween 4 isn’t very interested in the killing of teenagers (we already had the in the first film and dozens of epigones, after all) and does its best to set up some variety in the victims of its violence. Why, this is even a slasher sure enough of itself it doesn’t feel the need to show the audience every single kill.
On the negative side, the film’s pace drags a little in the twenty minutes or so before the climactic confrontation with Michael, there are one or two really stupid moments of false scares present and annoying, and the final twist has little – if anything at all – to do with what came before. But hey, for the kind of film Halloween 4 is, it really is as good as anyone could reasonably have expected.
Oct. 21st, 2014
04:11 pm - In short: Jason X (2001)
In the near future – and an undisclosed number of teen-murdering adventures after the last film - the authorities have caught up with good old Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder), yet still can’t manage to kill him. Their final resort is to have a team of scientists around one Rowan (Lexa Doig) freeze him cryogenically. Thanks to the usual super weapon shenanigans things don’t quite go as planned, and Rowan ends up badly wounded and just as frozen as Jason.
450 years later, the archaeological expedition of Professor Lowe (Jonathan Potts) finds the two and brings them on board their space ship. Thanks to awesome plot-relevant characters only nanobot technology nobody will use on most of Jason’s other victims, Rowan is on her feet again soon after. Of course, Jason quickly follows suite – though he doesn’t need the nanobots - and has his work cut out for him. The spaceship, after all, contains a bunch of horny students, and only the crap space marines of Sergeant Brodski (Peter Mensah), and one android (Lisa Ryder) in a very anime-inspired relationship with her maker are standing between him and his favourite hobby. The future looks bright.
I’m the first one to admit that Jason V.’s detour into the realm of crap SF horror as directed by James Isaac is an outing of dubious quality, but unlike the last two films in the series it is at once thoroughly entertaining in its own brain-dead manner and does actually contain Jason Voorhees, which clearly gives it a leg up on its predecessors.
While this won’t be everybody’s thing, I really enjoy how Todd Farmer’s script seems to grow increasingly desperate to actually get up to length the longer the film goes on. So, after going through the expected Aliens motions (and truly, is there something more joyous than films ripping off the Cameron movie without ever getting even to a fraction of the impact of the film they’re trying to rip off?), if ones broken up by moments of idiotic comedy (the whole business about comic relief guy and his arm, or the sexual proclivities of Lowe is particularly embarrassing and so unfunny I found myself laughing at it quite a bit), Jason X soon arrives at androids reprogrammed to fight in latex and leather, Jason turning into a last minute cyborg the film’s titles honestly dub “Uber Jason”, and last but not least Jason’s adventures with holodeck technology.
It’s probably not a script that’ll get much praise in film studies courses, but watching this, I found myself giggling and cringing at every idiotic one-liner, nodding happily at various gory deaths, shaking my head at the film’s attempts to get another plot twist out of what we can only call SPACE SCIENCE(!), marvelling at an honest to gosh David Cronenberg cameo, and having what I believe is called a good time among earthlings. Or I have watched so many Friday the 13th films in so short a time I’ve now arrived at Slasher Sequel Stockholm Syndrome, but hey, it’s the last Jason outing for me for now (unless I’ll do Jason’s meet-up with Freddy Krueger, a film I’ve grown to love over the years later in this act of cinematic masochism).
Next up on my journey into slasher hell, Halloween IV.
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