A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

December 9, 2011

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors should have been Part 2 of the series. It picks up the main character from Wes Craven’s fine horror movie (played by Heather Langenkamp) and ties up a number of loose ends from the original film. It’s also an okay movie, which 2 was not.

The children of Elm Street continue to have nightmares dominated by that mad spirit, Freddy Krueger (let’s say it: the geekiest name in horror filmdom). Langenkamp returns, now grown and with a degree in dream studies, to help some teens in a hospital psych unit.

This installment plays some of the same dream/reality games as the original film, but it’s most successful as a straightforward horror show. Krueger’s deviousness is imaginatively rendered; there are some truly starling special effects in this film, and a few shots—such as the image of a giant ghost Krueger dangling a dreaming kid from marionette strings—that raise the hair.

This film even boasts some decent acting. Not from Langenkamp, who has grown Brooke-vapid since the first film. But Craig Wasson (Body Double) is solid as the doctor in charge, and amazingly enough, a few of the teenagers are actually very good.

Craven worked on the script, which might explain the return to form—there’s a great twist ending about a mysterious nun, plus this classic description of Freddy: “The bastard son of a thousand maniacs.” But director Chuck Russell keeps coming up with offbeat ways of seeing things. In one scene, a teen is watching Dick Cavett interview Zsa Zsa Gabor on television when Cavett suddenly metamorphoses into Krueger. Surely this is a sign of promise—or, at least, of a wicked sense of humor?

First published in the Herald, February 1987

I don’t remember talking to anyone else who ever agreed with me about how “Freddy Krueger” was a hilariously un-horrific name, so maybe it’s just me. The cast also included Patricia Arquette, Jennifer Ruben, Laurence Fishburne, and John Saxon. And Cavett-as-Krueger? Sublime.


Deadly Friend/Hardbodies 2/The Bikini Shop

November 7, 2011

Swanson takes aim: Deadly Friend.

A scouting report from the megaplex at your nearest mall:

Deadly Friend. Wes Craven’s last film was the terrifying Nightmare on Elm Street, an inspired horror movie that wreaked havoc with the audience’s sense of security by playing complicated games with dream vs. reality. Deadly Friend, however, is closer to his recent work on the new “Twilight Zone” TV series, which is to say it’s clean and professional and occasionally jarring, but doesn’t quite fling itself into anything special.

Even so, it’s pretty effective. It begins unpromisingly, with a boy genius (Matthew Laborteaux) tending to his talking robot. Another talking robot! Luckily, this jumble of metal is blown away by a shotgun-toting neighbor during a Halloween prank, and never beeps again.

The kind invented the robot, and he also invents a spindly doohickey that can re-animated dead people, by stimulating the brain. When his new girlfriend (Kristy Swanson) is killed by her brutal father, he grabs the body, takes it home, and sticks the doohickey in her brain.

So she starts walking around with blue eye makeup and goes after the people who bugged her before; the father and the neighbor. The latter is killed through decapitation by a basketball.

A lot of this is fine, with great residential atmosphere a la Nightmare. The last reel or so goes oddly flat as the script runs down; Craven seems to be at his best when he’s working from his own material.

Hardbodies 2. There are exploitation films that are coy about serving up nudity, giving you a peek and a giggle and a lot of well-placed bedsheets. Not so Hardbodies 2, a forthright film that floods the screen, if such a verb is appropriate, with tanned naked flesh.

This can happen because it all takes place in Greece, where it seems everybody goes topless while sunbathing. (Everybody is slim and gorgeous, too.) The plot revolves rather freely around the making of a low-budget exploitation movie. The men are required to be funny and romantic, which they are not; the women are required to be topless, which they very much are.

The Bikini Shop. About the most I can say for this little movie is that writer-director David Wechter gives evidence that sometime, somewhere, he saw a few classic movie comedies. There’s a hint of Frank Capra about the story, albeit updated and degraded for the 1980s.

A woman (cameo by Rita Jenrette) who owns a bikini shop dies. The store is willed to her nephews; one is straight-laced and level-headed, the other is a beach bum. Both must come and take over the store, and naturally save it from bankruptcy, by inventing a new fashion craze in bikinidom: combat bikinis.

The must also suffer through the attentions of the three beach bunnies who still work at the store. At least one great sequence here: the ready-made music video that shows the gals dancing in their new camouflage bikinis, while a war goes on around them. Sadly, the rest of the film rarely approaches this level of vulgarity.

First published in the Herald, October 15, 1986

A trio made for Joe Bob Briggs, it seems. Hardbodies 2, I see now, has James Karen top-billed, an actor who has known his way around a few exploitation movies in his long, long career. In The Bikini Shop, one of the nephews was played by Bruce Greenwood, proving once again that you have to start somewhere. If the name Rita Jenrette doesn’t ring a bell, you’ll have to look up the history of D.C. political scandals, although hers doesn’t seem very outrageous anymore.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

December 8, 2010

Main Street, U.S.A. A favorite location for novelist, playwrights, painters. The embodiment of American dreams and values.

Those credential-carrying artists are not the only ones who have explored the fertile locale. Main Street has been frequently used in horror movies. Really good horror directors love to turn the nostalgic clichés of Main Street inside out, and examine the dark underside of the contented American community. Whether it’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Stepford Wives, or Halloween, horror films have provided an imaginative method of describing the explosions of psychosis that lie underneath life’s calm exterior.

Even the title of Wes Craven’s new horror film—A Nightmare on Elm Street—suggests a movie firmly in this tradition. And Craven (a former college humanities teacher) uses the location fairly well, although he’s a little short on the kind of small-town atmosphere that made Body Snatchers so believable.

But he has got a pretty good idea—the murderous guilt of a group of neighbors is passed along to their children via collective nightmares—and Craven runs wild with it. He begins the film with a violent nightmare, and never lets the gas pedal off the floor after that.

There’s a killer on the loose in the dreams of some teenagers, and this dude can actually kill them during the nightmare—so, after a couple of deaths, our heroine (Heather Langenkamp) decides she better not fall asleep until she figures out a way to beat this guy.

Naturally, since the killer’s appearances are all within dreams, she has a hard time convincing her parents (Ronee Blakley—remember the country singer from Nashville?—and John Saxon) that she’s really in trouble. They keep telling her, “Honey, you look like you could use some sleep.” In these movies, parents never do understand until it’s too late.

Craven, who scored strongly with his first two low-budget films, Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, hasn’t assembled a solid horror flick since. But Nightmare puts him back on track—it’s suspenseful all the way. It’s also wildly gory. Craven likes to take the audience all the way with this sort of thing, even if he turns a few stomachs in the process.

The movie has a sloppy look to it, and the acting is flat. But the action is non-stop, and if that sounds like a small achievement, you’d be surprised how many action movies are deadly dull.

For all its violence, Nightmare is not one of those movies that exist as an excuse to place passive women in sadistic situations. The heroine is intelligent and resourceful, and has the audience completely on her side during the climactic battle, when she must outwit the demon.

And even though the movie borrows from predecessors—Poltergeist and The Exorcist loom especially large—it finds its own scary, scream-inducing niche. Score another one for the low-budget independents.

First published in the Herald, 1984.

Got through the whole review without mentioning Freddy Krueger, which at the time I remember thinking an amusingly flat-sounding name for a villain. There’s a measure of different periods in horror there—from the heady exotica of “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” to the flat next-door-neighbor ring of “Freddy Krueger” and “Jason Voorhees” and “Michael Myers.” In any case, good movie. I suppose in those early paragraphs, and with the rather sober tone overall, I was trying hard to talk the average reader into a comfort zone to consider that a bloody horror picture might actually have something to say, and even that it might be part of a larger tradition. But what is this “life’s calm exterior” crap?