Saturday, 14 March 2009

A Nightmare And Other Horrors.

I have been watching the Nightmare On Elm Street films. So I'll give a brief look at them.

Essentially the best of the bunch are the Wes Craven films. A Nightmare On Elm Street is a taut little b-movie. While its no Halloween, it does have a load of energy, even after years of being ripped-off and sequelized. What's really good about it is that it takes its premise seriously. There's no jokes, people being brutally murdered, there always a proper atmosphere of unease through-out, which is something that's lacking in most horror films. The dream idea still feels pretty fresh when rewatching as its played honestly so you do follow the story and atmosphere. Plus they have a focus central protagonist that actually thinks her way through the situation, which really keeps you involved in the narrative. Also Freddy is a seriously under-played nutcase in this one. He's out to kill for his own reasons, is pissed off and revenge-driven. He's always in darkness, his tricks always having a nasty edge to them. That's very refreshing in a horror film.

Wes Craven's New Nightmare for me is the creepiest of the films. Its all about madness, the fear of someone thinking that they are slowly losing their mind, that they will hurt family members as they go crazy. Which is a very scary idea that the film keep jabbing at, getting terrific moments as a woman keeps thinking her child may become dangerous or mad, inherited from her. What's great about this is that the madness spreads and no-one is safe, no-one sure what to do or how to react to mental illness. Which is something that horror should do more often, tying up a metaphor from real life within a film narrative. There is also a good idea of how horror movies cage fears that flow below society within their movies, allowing people a way to escape from the fears darker than a horror movie can show.

Now to the rest. The other films are not at all serious nor are scary. But some are loads of fun. And other aren't. They lack the intent to tie the narrative to the characters, nor to have the pace be something that can be oppressive, that can add to the horror.

Number 2, Freddy's Revenge is the gay-subtext one. Unfortunately that's the only vaguely interesting thing about it. It takes the first film and ignores everything that works in it. This one goes for demonic possession rather than dreams so has a kid possessed by Freddy killing people (the most thorough of these seem to be naked men or good looking guys lying in their own beds, which is helping with the gay sub-text. The guy also runs way from kissing his own girlfriend to got watch a man sleeping). There's also a pool party where teens get killed, which is generic slasher movie territory. Its not bad really, scene to scene but there's nothing to really focus on (even the gay subtext gets boring). And its not in any way scary, the sense of mounting possession never truly worked out to induce fear as they simply go for kills and weird meandering scenes that annoy and make you lose interest. There's no big scary idea to get under your skin and the film continues to ignore momentum and build.

Number 3 and 4 are much better. These are the fun sequels. They aren't remotely scary but Freddy is an actual threat and you can follow the sequences coherently, even though they add up to absolutely nothing in narrative terms. And they have soon to be famous writers and actors slumming. Part 3 was written by Craven and Frank Darobant (from Shawshank Redemption) and takes the idea of people learning to fight Freddy in their dreams. The leading lady from the first film is back, and, as is the way of things, is written stupidly. In this film, all adults are stupid, the kids utterly moronic. Essentially, you're wanting Freddy to kill them all horribly. Which he does (he's reliable in that way). Patricia Arquette and Laurence Fishburne show up and its not their finest hours but they are professional. Craig Wasson from Body Double is in it and is horribly wet yet doesn't die. So all this talent and no real story. What is amazing by now is how they really struggle with story. I watched Dracula movies by Hammer a few months ago, and while they are not all great, they do make a good attempt at story. But these nightmare films stalled at number 2 in story and only got a good one at number 7. And these are the better of the eighties slasher films for story.

Number 4 is a Renny Harlin film and is probably the funnest of the non-Craven movies. It also has the least interest in story. The first third kills off everyone from the previous film (thus killing any story development possibilities). The next third kills off anyone remotely interesting. The final third has heroine versus Freddy. And that's it. Thankfully its all very energetic. Five minutes after the film you won't remember the plot but people are trapped on dreams in interesting ways and the film does have the sense of a director having a bit of fun. It was written by the guy who wrote LA Confidential. Never has a writer with respect has had a script that he should disown instantly as this. This has wall to wall bad writing. Now we should mention the director Renny Harlin, for this is his best film. While Harlin has made two other decent films (Cliffhanger and The Long Kiss Goodnight), one guilty pleasure (Driven, which is just awful yet somehow I can't help but love it in a way that I can't understand), a Die Hard sequel (worst Die Hard film, whose title is awful yet the best thing about it- Die Hard 2: Die Harder, what he hell does that mean?) And then there's the dreck. Of those I have seen there's Cutthroat Island (an abomination) Deep Blue Sea (mutant sharks no less) and Exorcist: The Beginning (where do I start. Agreeing to remake a good unreleased film with a terrible, unwatchable, dire, insulting, hacky etc etc... film). This man also made Ford Fairlane (with Andrew Dice Clay), a horror movie called The Covenant (which has disappeared from existence) and a Christan Slater/Val Kilmer direct to DVD serial killer hunter movie whose title I can't recall. If you want a definition of what not to do with your career, Renny's your man. It's kind of a miracle that this one worked, when on average he has managed to make a fool out of himself consistently. But if you're making A Nightmare On Elm Street 4, its not a good sign for your taste.

The series really went to hell when Renny Harlin left. Number 5, directed by Stephen Hopkins (who's had a mixed career, some duds but did make the delightfully pulpy Predator 2 and the first season of 24). This one has a script that's woeful, that over-explains everything. Hopkins does a pretty good job of it mostly (there's a few music video inspired moments of what the fuck that someone should have said, please don't) but the film doesn't work at all, is incoherent in the extreme. Yet it does have some nice bits.

Unfortunately its the first one where Freddy is in no way threatening. Robert Englund had been keeping this series going a long time by keeping Freddy somehow a threat despite some inane one-liners and images, still making Freddy work despite some watering down. he has really kept it afloat but here he had no support, was now simply a jokey monster. Its now you can sense the boredom creeping in.

Now we have the nadir. Number 6, Freddy's Dead. This one is unwatchable. Its hard to tell what's worse, the writing or directing. (Both were done by New Line executives. It's a case of hire professionals please). The plot lurches forward without anything interesting happening, story lines started, thrown away without coherence, back-story explained without any interest. Its so dull that whenever anything happens, you're trying to think of a reason to care, with every fight played for laughs. This is the Robocop 3 of the series, a film so bad you can't quite believe it. Freddy is lit brightly the entire time so has no chance of being scary. Englund looks bored through-out, has nothing to work with. Yaphet Kotto is in it, and must have really needed the money. He's professional but must have known what a dog it is. Luckily he moved on to Homicide after this. And the series moved onto New Nightmare, a sudden return to form.

Finally we have Freddy V Jason. Its not very good, isn't scary, is stupid, has idiot characters. But it is fun and energetic. Its the kind of film that's hard to say anything about as it does what you would suggest, nothing more.

So there we go. the Nightmrae series before the inevitable awful remake.

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