Tag Archives: star power

Don’t dream it’s over

nncoverWES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE

 3.5 Stars  1994/15/108m

“This time, staying awake won’t save you.”

A.k.a. A Nightmare on Elm Street 7

Director/Writer: Wes Craven / Cast: Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Miko Hughes, Matt Winston, Rob LaBelle, David Newsom, John Saxon, Wes Craven, Tracy Middendorf, Fran Bennett, Robert Shaye.

Body Count: 5


Been a bit Elm Streety round here recently, hasn’t it? Well, after this I’ll give it a rest for a while. Promise. The remake just got me hankering for the originals.

You know when you don’t like a song that everybody else does but it’s “just not you” but you’re well aware it’s good, A). that happens to me loads and B). that’s kind of how I am with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. It’s a stupendously good film, anyone can tell that but to me it’s merely a bit better than good.

nn1Understandably peeved with the way Freddy Krueger went from frightening villain of your dreams to campy sell-out within a few short years, his creator Wes Craven decided to have the last word on the subject with this looking back into the box from the outside sorta deal.

There’s talk of making a new Freddy film around LA, which coincides with a series of localised earthquakes and actress Heather Langenkamp’s freaky dreams and those of her young son, Dylan, who watches old Elm Streets in zombielike trances and chants “one, two, Freddy’s coming for you…” She’s also getting prank calls from an obsessed fan and things get worse still when her special-FX department husband gets clawed driving home one night.

nn2Car crash, everyone says with the exception of Heather, who things something else is afoot. She catches up with Robert Englund, Wes Craven, John Saxon and various New Line representatives who try to convince her it’s all in her mind. Dylan is taken to hospital for testing, where suspicion falls on Heather until there’s another murder witnessed by hospital staff.

Eventually, Heather and Dylan take on Freddy in a dream and put an end to him once and for all. Well, until Freddy vs. Jason nine years later anyway.

nn4The self-referential aspect catapulted into the stratosphere by Scream two years later is what makes the film. It’s smartly written, with a context of Freddy existing beyond the constraint of his films and crossing over into the real world plus some chucklesome little nods to the old films (as well as cameos), including that fabulous “screw your pass!” moment, and the wounds of Krueger’s razor fingers cropping up all over the place.

What holds the film back – for me, at least – is the low body count (two of the murders are merely referenced to in a news report) in ratio to the nearly two hour running time and drawn out scenes about Heather’s fears of her own madness. It’s just lack that re-watchability that a 90 minute quality slasher flick has: I’ve watched it twice in about 12 years. But, if anything, New Nightmare reasserted Craven’s directorial prowess and was probably a massive contributing factor in him landing the Scream films.

nn3Blurbs-of-interest: Englund was Freddy in all the other ventures until the 2010 remake and was also in Behind the Mask, Hatchet, Heartstopper, The Phantom of the Opera and Urban Legend; Langenkamp played Nancy in the first and third Elm Street movies; Rob LaBelle was in Jack Frost; Tracy Middendorf was later in Scream – The TV Series; Craven also directed Deadly Blessing and The Hills Have Eyes Part II.

“I’m your boyfriend now, Nancy.”

a-nightmare-on-elm-streetA NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET

5 Stars  1984/18/87m

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

Director/Writer: Wes Craven / Cast: John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri, Robert Englund, Lin Shaye, Charles Fleischer, Joseph Whipp.

Body Count: 4

Dire-logue: “I had a hard-on when I woke up this morning, Tina, had your name all over it,” / “There’s four letters in my name Rod, there’s not enough room on your joint for four letters!”


There are no perfect films (with the possible exception of Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion) in the same way that there are no entirely merit-less films, even more so in the realm of the slasher flick, so it’s a rarity when something excellent comes along. By 1984, I’d imagine most people were sick of masked killers hunting down teenage prey until the last girl saves the day – and then came Wes Craven’s low-budge indie flick with a bizarre little name – shouldn’t it be called Suburban Sleepover Massacre??

Everyone should know the twisted genius at the core of the Elm Street model: Don’t…fall…asleep. It’s perfect in the way that the lore of Jaws was don’t go in the water. Sleep is something even more impossible to avoid and when you’re a hormone-riddled teenager, your parents aren’t going to believe your tales of recurring nightmares about the claw-fingered madman who really is trying to kill you. Mom…he, like, really, really is!

elm11High school BFF’s Tina and Nancy discover they shared the horrible dream of the toasted guy in the Christmas sweater who freaked them well and truly out. Nancy’s boy-toy Glen tells them that’s impossible but, from his reaction when the girls describe their tormentor, he’s had the nightmare too. When Tina is brutally slain during a sleepover party, her dodgy on-off boyfriend Rod is blamed by Nancy’s Lieutenant dad and soon tossed in prison.

elm31While parents and authority figures simply accept that Rod killed Tina, Nancy becomes convinced that it was the man in her dreams and resolves that to avoid becoming his next victim, she needs to stay awake. Cue parental meddling, peer-disbelief and a memorable trip to a sleep clinic and Elm Street‘s Ace is thrown into play – Nancy has to stay awake by any means possible: pills, bad late-night TV and a helluva lotta coffee from the percolator she hides in her room.

There’s no point in me going through the rest of the story – if you’ve not seen it, what the hell are playing at!? I avoided this film until I was 19 thinking it would scare the hell out of me and, curiously, it was during my second viewing that the film left its frightening imprint: this means it rocks!

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Heather Langenkamp-enschultzenfuss is more than your average slasher flick heroine: she is the centre of the film, far more so than Freddy, who became the linchpin of later sequels (in accordance with Robert Englund’s ascent to top billing), and so a lot rests on her shoulders. As the girl next door type, Nancy is nothing but convincing and her descent into the nightmare (both literal and figurative) is the essence of the story, although things trip over themselves somewhat when she rigs her house with countless Home Alone-type traps, has a heart-to-heart with her mother and falls asleep to battle with Freddy inside a twenty minute window.

Let's get phallical...

Let’s get phallical…

Johnny Depp’s debut is a much-fussed element: as the leading guy, his job amounts to little more than standing around and looking pretty whilst not taking Nancy’s claims seriously and, eventually, dying. But he does fine in the role although we never get to see into his nightmares, nor that of any other male character as a matter of fact.

Craven’s creative streak peaked here, packing in so many great themes and ideas from the genuinely creepy skipping rope song – which has become an anthem of its own – to the allegorical subtexts of the Vietnam War: apparently Craven was riffing on untold truths which return and kick the younger generation in the ass. Here, the sins of the parents are revisited on their kids.

elm71Very little hasn’t already been written about Elm Street in the quarter century since its release, so why even bother reviewing it? I could’ve just given it five stars and written “Awesome!” next to it. It is a classic, the nightmare imagery still stands (I love the squishy staircase) and only some of the technology and Nancy’s ever-increasing hair mass date it, elements that, compared to the flaws in the remake, are minimal, proving that it never required re-booting at all.

Craven never wanted Freddy to become a franchise and while some of the sequels sucked a bit (5 and 6 I’m looking at you!!) I’m glad it did; of the three major slasher franchises, A Nightmare on Elm Street has the best story arc, bucked in Part 2, but back on track all the way through the 80s films until FK became a caricature and the films drifted further away from the sleep = death goldmine of a premise.

elm21In 1984, A Nightmare on Elm Street was made for about $1.8million and a lot of love. In 2010, It’s CG-heavy remake was made for $35million. Which one do you think people will remember in another quarter of a century?

BIG-blurbs-of-interest: Englund returned to his career-making role all the way up to 2003, starring in eight Freddy films and his own syndicated TV series (which was crap, by the way) and has cropped up in many a slasher flick including Behind the Mask, Hatchet, Heartstopper, The Phantom of the Opera and Urban Legend. John Saxon returned for Elm Street 3 and the New Nightmare and was also in The Baby Doll Murders, the original Black Christmas, Tenebrae and Welcome to Spring Break; Heather Langenkamp also came back for 3 and 7. Nick Corri, under his real name Jsu Garcia, was in Teacher’s Pet; Charles Fleischer was in The Back Lot Murders (which also had a cameo from Ken Sagoes from Elm Street 3); Depp has starred in big budget variants From Hell and Sleepy Hollow; Mimi Craven was later in Mikey. Craven also directed Deadly Blessing, The Hills Have Eyes Part II and the Scream trilogy.

By the finale, Nancy grew her hair so big that even razor blades couldn't penetrate it

By the finale, Nancy grew her hair so big that even razor blades couldn’t penetrate it

Better the devil you don’t

devilspreyDEVIL’S PREY

2 Stars  2000/18/87m

“When you raise hell, make sure you put it back.”

Director: Bradford May / Writers: C. Courtney Joyner & Randall Frakes / Cast: Ashley Jones, Charlie O’Connell, Patrick Bergin, Bryan Kirkwood, Jennifer Lyons, Elena Lyons, Rashaan Nall, Tim Thomerson.

Body Count: 13


Five L.A. teens drive out to the sticks for a rave and, after being ejected over a fight, are run off the road by a van-load of masked Satan worshippers who are after the blood-drenched girl they found on the freeway.

The kids are chased through the woods overnight and eventually wander into a nearby town where it seems everybody is a part of the sect, known as The Shadows, led by Patrick Bergin’s cloaky fiend.

This Children of the Corn-a-like starts on good form with a good cat and mouse setup, with echoes of the yet-to-be made Wrong Turn (ineffective authoritarians included) but after a couple of midpoint twists are revealed – predictable ones at that – things quickly descend into cheddar country thanks to cookie-cutter Satanist rituals and a pointless, irrelevant sex scene between Bergin and his femme fatale muse.

There’s a final grown-worthy twist stapled on to the end in the name of ‘horror’ but most viewers will probably flag when the chase ends and the idiocy takes over.

Blurb-of-interest: Thomerson was in Fade to Black.

Hackity-Hack don’t talk back

hackHACK!

3 Stars  2007/18/86m

“Who will make the final cut?”

Director/Writer: Matt Flynn / Cast: Danica McKellar, Jay Kenneth Johnson, Juliet Landau, Sean Kanan, Adrienne Frantz, Travis Schuldt, Justin Chon, Gabrielle Richens, Wondgy Bruny, William Forsythe, Lochlyn Munro, Burt Young, Tony Burton, Mike Wittlin, Kane Hodder.

Body Count: 13

Dire-logue: “How’s that for improv, you two-bit amateur fucker?”


If you’re old enough to remember The Wonder Years on TV, where Fred Savage was a pre-teen growing up in the 60s while his grown-up self Daniel Stern narrated a load of crap about getting closer to his dad n’ stuff, you’ll remember his best friend-slash-object of lust Winnie Cooper. If you have no idea what I’m on about then just know that the grown up Winnie – Danica McKellar – takes the lead in this here quirkfest. It’s another genre-referential slasher flick – it’s Hack!

Kane Hodder dies. Then we meet an assorted group of college students, led by McKellar’s dorky Emily, who has organised a stay-away trip to an island where they’ll complete a study on rock pools and stuff for the extra credit they each need. As later noted by Johnson’s token nice guy, there are enough stereotypes for a scary movie: the jock (who takes his football everywhere), the sexy exchange student (“fish n’ chips, guv’nor?), the flamboyant gay guy (who dances to Fame when nervous), the dope-smoking black guy and the sarcastic rock chick.

hack6The group stay with perky couple Vincent and Mary-Shelley (Kanan and Landau), who are passionate about filmmaking. All this idyll is soon brought to a halt as the students start splintering off and then getting moiderized by a killer who dresses up in a variety of filmy costumes to commit their dastardly deeds.

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I’ll be ruining nothing by revealing that the killers turn out to be Vincent and Mary-Shelley, making a horror flick of their own by copying scenes and motifs from various old classics. And The Ring. Teens are chainsawed, croquet-malleted, shoved down wells and fed to piranhas amongst other things, all with an excess of reflective dialogue – the Karate scene is especially amusing as is the final confrontation between survivors and killers.

hack7Hack! does add a twist of its own towards the end, which had the effect of pulling the rug from under its own feet to some extent. This sort of revelation isn’t unduly rare for a slasher film but it’s never been one I’m particularly fond of unless it’s so deep-rooted you have no idea what’s about to hit you. I’d have preferred them not to meddle in the way they have and it damaged my appreciation for how entertaining the film had been up to this point.

hack4There are a few elements that don’t tie up well in places, things I can’t go into without giving it all away, although quite why William Forsythe is dressed like a 19th century farm worker is a mystery. But the cast bears an appealing quality and the high reading on the randometer isn’t a bad thing in a production like this.

hack8aWith this in mind, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Hack! is a cheap n’ cheerful ride, something that seems to escape the type of people who write “worst movie EVER!!!1!1!!!” on the IMDb boards and in turn praise the glut of torture-porn knock-offs because “they iz soooo realistikz!” This is a well made film – save for the tinny sound at some points – which has evidently been written as a love letter to the genre rather than an exercise in ‘let’s see how much violence we can get away with’.

So for me it was funny and engaging but definitely not for all tastes unless you like your slash with a topping of grilled cheese and a endless array of throwaway one-liners, otherwise you’ll agree with the last line: “What the hell’s going on here?” “Just some piece of shit horror movie.” Maybe.

hack3

Blurbs-of-interest: William Forsythe was in the Halloween remake and iMurders; Sean Kanan was in Hide and Go Shriek; Juliet Landau was also in the Toolbox Murders remake; Lochlyn Munro was in Freddy vs. Jason, Scary Movie and The Tooth Fairy. Kane Hodder is in everything.

It’s my party and you’ll die if I want you to

hbtmcoverHAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME

3.5 Stars  1981/15/106m

“Six of the most bizarre murders you’ll ever see.”

Director: J. Lee Thompson / Writers: John Beaird, Timothy Bond, Peter Jobin & John C.W. Saxton / Cast: Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford, Lawrence Dane, Sharon Acker, Frances Hyland, Tracy Bregman, Lisa Langlois, Jack Blum, Matt Craven, Lenore Zann, David Eisner, Richard Rebiere, Lesleh Donaldson, Michel Rene LaBelle.

Body Count: 9

Dire-logue: “Murder…then suicide. Now they’ll all know just crazy little [SPOILER] really was!”


One of the first genre films I saw on the back of reading Vera Dika’s Games of Terror book, which provided a deep formula analysis of nine early slasher films. This Canadian entry into the burgeoning trend is a comparatively lush entry for its time. Using experienced director J. Lee Thompson and starring Glenn Ford, Happy Birthday to Me used these advantages as wisely as possible.

hbtm11The result of these impressive involvements is a mixed bag. On the one had, this is one handsome devil of a horror film, with well crafted photography and characters drawn beyond the airhead regulars associated with sharp-object wielding killers. The Yin to this Yang is that it thinks above its station to some degree, attempting to spread its wings beyond the boundaries of what the audience most probably expected back in the day.

Melissa Sue Anderson, breaking free of her Little House on the Prairie character with veritable gusto, is Virginia Wainwright, member of the preppy Crawford Academy’s ‘Top Ten’, the creme of the crop in terms of popularity, although why some of these twats are held in such high esteem is a mystery the film chooses not to deal with.

Virginia is new to the school and has some issues regarding amnesia and the death of her mother in recent history, one of the plot elements that is gradually unfurled throughout events, which follow the unidentified killer doing away with members of the Crawford Top Ten in black-gloved giallo style. To Virginia and pals, they’ve just taken off for reasons unknown…

hbtm2Ford is her shrink, trying to help her recall the deep-rooted trauma that plagues her and suss out the connection with the disappearances. Suffice to say, it’s all tied up together for the Scooby Doo reveal at the end.

There’s a lot of good stuff going on inbetween the more unfitting moments of the film; the killer – who appears for the first few murders dressed in a sinister black costume – executes the spoilt teens in some inventive ways, including death by motorcycle wheel, barbell weights and shish-kebab. Midway through proceedings we’re shown the killer’s face, which is a pretty damning indictment – but you just know that there are further tricks up the sleeves of this one…

hbtm3Interplay between the teenage characters also provides an interesting distraction from the trivial prank and sex-centric shenanigans that occur in your basic Friday the 13th wannabe. The Crawford kids have got rich parents and therefore their attitudes to the welfare of their missing buddies is intoxicated with a competitive venom: they swap lovers and stab each other in the back (not literally, quite yet) and evoke little sympathy from the viewer. Even Virginia is a flawed heroine, almost as unlikeable as the others from time to time. Alas, not all of them appear to be in danger… Hmmm.

Okay, so Dika’s book gave away the identity of the killer before I’d seen the film so the twist wasn’t a shock to me. On the road to the finale, which is fated to occur on Virginia’s birthday, we learn about the death of her mother, which evidently plays a large part in why the killer is doing what he or she is. Flashback scenes thus far have shown us a grisly close-up of Virginia’s post-accident brain surgery (including an icky brain-swell) but now we find out why. The scene is a sad one as Virginia is alone at her own birthday party, social death for any child, for sure! This results in a we’ll-show-them reaction from her jar-tapping mother and, well, you’ll see for yourself…

hbtm7The ending to it all is a great scene: Virginia gets her party and those who snubbed her before will definitely show up this time. Confusion follows before the naff reveal, which is laughably realised but credited with a nice little exposition from the killer before the final twist is played out. The motive will be familiar to those of us who saw a certain genre revival flick some 15 years later, where it was slightly more credibly realised, though not as much fun.

In spite of its high(er) budget, there are some curious oversights in Happy Birthday to Me‘s continuity: the car that falls into the river, the body found in the bath – clear one second, bloody the next, the extensive damage sustained by Greg’s car that miraculously disappears five seconds later… Whether any of this stuff is supposedly attributable to Virginia’s damaged memory is unclear.

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Nothing good can come of this scenario…

The DVD release for this film has garnered much complaint for switching the gorgeous score for a cheesy disco number at the start. The Region 2 disc has the original soundtrack on the German audio selection but Syreeta’s haunting end credits song is intact on both versions.

Blurbs-of-interest: Lawrence Dane later appeared in Bride of Chucky; Lesleh Donaldson was also in fellow Canuck slashers Curtains and Funeral Home; both David Eisner and Lisa Langlois were in Phobia; Lenore Zann was in fellow Canuck slashers American Nightmare and Visiting Hours. Thompson directed 10 to Midnight two years after. I love the Canadian casting love-ins!

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