Thursday, September 4, 2008

Freddy vs. Jason

Back in the early 90s, New Line, which already owned the rights to the Nightmare on Elm Street series, bought the rights to the Jason series (though not the Friday the 13th title, because why would they need that to continue the franchise?) from Paramount. The first major sign fans had that this was a big deal came at the end of 1993’s Jason Goes to Hell, when he was dragged down to Hell by Freddy Krueger’s arm. This was intended to set up this film, which would have come out one or two years later to thunderous box office. Then it languished in development hell for a decade before finally getting made, but at least it still did really good business (probably not as good as it would have in the early 90s, though).

One of the odd things about the Nightmare series is in how it both insists on calling back to previous films, and yet still repeatedly tampers with the rules involving Freddy. In this film we both get kids rescued from Freddy through the use of Hypnocil, the experimental dream suppressant first introduced in Nightmare 3, and then also rewrites history to say that he can’t attack any children in their dreams unless they’re already afraid of him, which makes one wonder how he was able to start in their dreams in the first place. Anyway, he decides that the only way to fix things is to bring Jason back from Hell to attack everyone, thus creating a panic about Freddy’s presumed return that enables him to return for real, an ingenious plan complicated only by Jason’s insistence on remaining after he’s no longer needed.

As Nightmare films go, this one falls somewhere in the middle. It doesn’t reach the heights of the original or New Nightmare, but at least it’s consistently entertaining, and is easily the bloodiest in the series (once we get to the final fight between them, they pretty much open up new arteries with each swipe they take at each other). There’s also one pothead character that completely steals every scene he’s in, though he sadly doesn’t quite make it to the end. You get a couple groaner lines, like when our heroine, completely out of nowhere, suddenly says, “Wait, Freddy died by fire, Jason by water. How can we use that?” but for the most part it’s solid all the way through, and thanks to its crossover with the Jason-verse we get an extra infusion of nudity, something I will never complain about in a movie.

There was a planned sequel to this, titled Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, but unsurprisingly it languished in development hell as well, and now that New Line has recently closed up shop, it looks like that film will never get made. Shame, really.

Rating: ***


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Wes Craven's New Nightmare

As I said yesterday, I’m glad they got Wes Craven back to close out the series properly. The series had become a complete parody of itself with Freddy’s Dead, and New Nightmare is a very welcome return to the scarier origins of the series. It’s also a premise that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before or after in a horror movie or elsewhere (excepting maybe Adaptation).

Set in the “real” world, we get to meet Heather Langenkamp (Nancy from the first Nightmare) and her family, as she and her son both start having nightmares about a surprisingly dark, more evil-seeming Freddy. We also get to meet up with other actors from the original film, including the delightful John Saxon and makeup-free Robert Englund (though sadly there is no appearance by Johnny Depp), as well as a good deal of crew members, including Wes Craven himself, as he busies himself with writing a new Nightmare screenplay. Eventually we learn that Freddy was actually a kind of primal evil that was shaped and contained within the stories of the first few films, but has been leaking out slowly into the real world as a result of the watering down and eventual dissolution of his stories.

This is a brilliant idea for a horror movie, and provides a superior bit of metatextuality (a word that fits so perfectly that I do not care that MS Word is telling me it isn’t real) to Craven’s later work on the Scream series. Freddy is about the most ideal candidate for a story about a horror villain that finds a way to escape from his fictional origins and menace people in reality, since he’s been sort of doing that very thing in each of his films prior to this. This is the true peak of the series, and should be required viewing for any serious horror fans.

Though man, does that kid get annoying.

Rating: ****


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare

So yeah, I know I promised that I’d have the Nightmare on Elm Street 3 review written up sometime over the weekend, but that got unexpectedly delayed by an offer to spend the weekend with my friends Jasmine and Paul, neither of whom I’d seen in months. I also didn’t get to do this one yesterday as I’d planned because I got a bit lazy. In my defense, this isn’t exactly a movie that inspires effort.

Set ten years from now, all of the children of Springwood, Ohio (this is a somewhat abrupt departure from Springwood, California, where the series had taken place up to now) are dead and the adults are undergoing a mass psychosis. Unfortunately, we have to wait to see that, as we then focus on a surprisingly alive last surviving teen who is chased out of town by Freddy and winds up several towns away at a center for troubled teens. The head of the center hears his story and decides that the only proper response is to take everyone on a road trip to Springwood to help him work through all of his mental problems, with somewhat predictable results.

The main problem with this film is in how it’s played entirely for laughs, rather than in maintaining even the barest bones of suspense. It’s to the point where we get wacky cartoony sound effects whenever Freddy tries to kill someone (speaking of, just like in Dream Child, there are only three kills in this film – that’s forgivable when the film is good, it’s not forgivable here). Hell, at one point he outright sucks someone into a video game and then kills him with the Power Glove. Granted, points there for style, but the more serious, nasty Freddy of the first couple films is much preferable.

There’s also the problem with the climax. This film was made partially in 3-D, which meant if you saw it when it was first released in theaters like I did, then during the last twenty minutes a bunch of stuff lunged at you. This stops being entertaining and starts being obnoxious when they remove the 3-D from the DVD and leave you with a bunch of stuff lunging at you while still maintaining the same visual plain as everything else. Despite this supposedly being the “final” nightmare, I’m glad they brought Craven back in to do one final film to give it a proper send-off, because this would have just been an embarrassing way to end it all.

Oh, and the end credits give us a montage of clips from every film in the series, just to remind us of how much better the earlier films were. Very nice.

Rating: * ½