Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, A (1988)

... aka: Le cauchemar de Freddy (Freddy's Nightmare)
... aka: Nightmare 4
... aka: Nightmare 4 - Il non risveglio
... aka: Pesadilla en la calle del infierno 4 (Nightmare on Hell Street 4)
... aka: Rémálom 4. - Az álmok ura (Nightmare 4 - Lord of Dreams)
... aka: Terror på Elm Street 4 - Freddys mardröm (Terror on Elm Street 4: Freddy's Nightmare)

Directed by:
Renny Harlin

The previous entry, DREAM WARRIORS, did things quite a bit differently than the first two films. For starters, the mysterious and ambiguous phantom figure that started the series was given a family history. We didn't know very much about Freddy at all over the course of the first two films but by the time Warriors was over we certainly did. Perhaps too much! To make a long story short, Freddy's mother got tag-teamed by a hundred or so nuts in an asylum and one of those psychos knocked her up and is thus Freddy's father. Part 3 also saw an increase in the amount of witty one-liners Freddy was given. While he'd throw out an occasional dark-humored line in the first two films, by #3 virtually everything out of his mouth was meant to elicit a laugh and he seemed unable to murder anyone without first doing a brief stand-up comedy routine.

Finally, Part 3 added a strong religious angle to the works that was not prevalent in the previous ones. Religion did not factor at all into Freddy's Revenge from what I recall and, while the original features one scene of Freddy being repelled by a crucifix while the heroine slept, he ultimately wasn't stopped by religious artifacts nor divine intervention. It was entirely up to Nancy after learning she could bring him out of the nightmare world (where he's immortal) into the real world (where he's not). But Part 3 piled on the religion thick and heavy to the point where the doctor hero was being coached by a ghost nun about having faith and then filling an empty whiskey bottle with holy water so he could consecrate ground in which to bury Freddy's remains. Seeing how Part 4 opens up with a biblical quote from Job 4: 13-14, I was expecting more of the same. Thankfully, this one backs off that a little bit, though Part 5 would more than make up for it by virtually wallowing in it.

By the end of Dream Warriors, a bunch of beds at the local psychiatric hospital had opened up as the majority of the remaining Elm Street children, descendants of the lynch mob who hunted down and set child killer Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) ablaze, were killed. Now only three remain: the still meek but no longer mute Joey (Rodney Eastman), the loud, foul-mouthed and "funny" Kincaid (Ken Sagoes) and the resilient Kristen. All three think they can rest easy now that Freddy's remains have been put to rest on consecrated ground, but Kristen's nightmares have started up again and she suspects Freddy will be back to try to finish the job he started.

Viewers will immediately note the absence of Patricia Arquette. I've read multiple sources state she didn't reprise the Kristen role because she was pregnant. I don't recall Arquette ever saying that herself but let's do a little math here. Filming began on April 4th, 1988. Arquette's son was born January 3rd, 1989. There's a window of almost exactly 9 months between the two. So either Arquette found out she was pregnant a few days after it happened and bailed at the last possible second or someone just made up the pregnancy excuse. Seeing how the Kristen role is much smaller here and it's common knowledge Arquette didn't have the best of times on the Elm Street 3 set, it's far more likely that she simply didn't want to do this. Either way, she's been replaced by another blonde named Tuesday Knight, who also performs the opening credits theme song "Nightmare."

Though he's skeptical of Kristen's claims at first, Kincaid becomes a believer once he's dreamed into the junkyard containing Freddy's remains and his dog pisses fire (?!) on the ground, causing it to crack open and Freddy's bones to reassemble all by themselves. Unfortunately he won't live long enough to pass on this info to his endangered friends. Now back to "life," Freddy kills him and then heads right on over to Joey's house to give him a "wet dream" by putting topless Playboy Playmate Hope Marie Carlton inside his water bed. But Joey's hope he'll get some Hope is short-lived once Freddy jumps out of the water and slashes him to death.

Now with Kristen the last of the Elm Street children alive, she makes sure to pass on some vital information to her core group of friends before Freddy picks her up and tosses her into a furnace. She also passes on her "power" to pull people into dreams to her mousy friend Alice (Lisa Wilcox), who will soon have her hands full beyond school, working double shifts at a soda fountain and filling in for her dead mother by catering to her drunken asshole of a father (Nicholas Mele). Is it just me or are Elm Street parents the absolute worst parents ever?

Not content with just getting revenge against those who killed him, Freddy's now planning on branching out. After all, he's got plenty of vacant space on his soul chest. Alice, her brother Rick (Andras Jones), who was also Kristen's boyfriend, Alice's "major league hunk" love interest Dan (Danny Hassel), big-haired workout enthusiast Debbie (Brooke Theiss) and asthmatic nerd Sheila (Toy Newkirk) all become targets. Each time someone dies, Alice is given a special new talent from the victim, whether that be intelligence, strength or martial arts skills. Where she'd already inherited Kristen's ability to pull others into her dreams is where the problem lies as Freddy just uses that against her to strike out at new victims she lures to him.

The acting is the worst yet for the franchise, most of the characters fall flat (what they attempt to do with Alice is more interesting in theory than in execution) and both the plot and the newly added dream mythos get a bit too muddled, but Harlin's flashy direction and the special effects do their best to distract. Some of the fx highlights include Alice being pulled right off a movie theater balcony into a black-and-white movie, a human face pizza (likely a jab at critics frequently describing Freddy's face as one), a gory bit where a girl is transformed into a cockroach, Freddy sucking all of the air out of a victim and a spin through a tunnel of human souls. The finale takes place in a church for some reason (I guess because the stained glass looks cool), where the souls of Freddy's victims eventually rip his body apart. As usual, the ending is left wide open because they already knew they'd be making another one. Or five.

The cast includes Brooke Bundy (again) as Kristen's bitchy mom, "L.E. Moko" (producer Robert Shaye) as a boring teacher and Linnea Quigley as a soul in Freddy's chest. Among the big names on the fx crew are Kevin Yagher, Screaming Mad George, Howard Berger, R. Christopher Biggs, John Carl Buechler, Steve Johnson and Hoyt Yeatman.

Made on a 13 million budget (more than what it cost to make the first three films combined), The Dream Master became the biggest Elm Street hit yet. It was the #1 movie in America for three straight weeks, broke a record for the biggest opening weekend for an independent production, was the highest grossing horror film of the year and went on to earn nearly 50 million dollars, making it the 19th highest grossing film of 1988 and the highest grossing slasher film of the entire decade. It is also among the Top 10 highest grossing genre films of the entire decade.

Englund / Freddy received his own hour-long MTV special to promote the film and there was also a tie-in Fat Boys music video ("Great Ready for Freddy") featuring Englund as well as a 50-minute The Making of a Nightmare on Elm Street 4 tape hosted by Englund. As soon as this left theaters, Freddy was back on TV again hosting his very own syndicated series Freddy's Nightmares, which would last until 1990.


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, A (1987)

... aka: Freddy 3 - Les griffes du cauchemar (Freddy 3: The Nightmare Claws)
... aka: Morderisk mareridt 3 (Murderous Nightmare 3)
... aka: Nightmare 3
... aka: Nightmare 3 - Freddy lebt (Nightmare 3: Freddy Lives)
... aka: Nightmare 3 - I guerrieri del sogno (Nightmare 3: Dream Warriors)
... aka: Pesadilla en la calle del infierno 3 (Nightmare on Hell Street 3)
... aka: Terror på Elm Street 3: Freddys återkomst (Terror on Elm Street 3: Freddy's Return)

Directed by:
Chuck Russell

Wes Craven neither intended nor wanted his mainstream breakthrough A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) to become a franchise, but producer Robert Shaye insisted the door be left open for a sequel. That insistence resulted in the original's ending being changed, Craven signing over the rights and some bad blood between the two men. Because of that, Craven had no direct involvement with the first sequel: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY'S REVENGE (1985). I don't know if he was even asked to be a part of it. It's hard to tell exactly why Craven decided to return to the series for Part 3. I suppose he and Shaye mended fences. But for Craven it probably had a lot to do with restoring his name and again establishing himself as a bankable commodity after a few missteps. In the three years since the original, Craven hadn't been involved in anything nearly as successful. In fact, he was relegated mostly to TV, directing episodes of the revived The Twilight Zone series, a Disney special and the poorly rated TV movie Chiller (1985). His one theatrical release was Deadly Friend (1986), a silly film about a killer robot girl which didn't do particularly well, financially or critically. Realigning himself with the Elm Street brand he created was his best bet at this stage in his career.

Instead of directing, Craven wrote the original story (with Bruce Wagner) and co-scripted (along with the director, Wagner and future Oscar-nominated director Frank Darabont), plus served as executive producer. Lots of other big names were brought on board, including Angelo Badalamenti to do the score and a virtual who's who of make-up and effects artists like Kevin Yagher, Mark Shostrom, Greg Cannom, R. Christopher Biggs, Screaming Mad George, Robert Kurtzman, Everett Burrell, John Vulich, Hoyt Yeatman, Peter Chesney and Doug Beswick to provide some brief but cool stop motion fx for several memorable sequences. While the first two films had some great effects here and there, Part 3 was to be a virtual special effects bonanza.

"Sleep. Those little slices of death. How I loathe them." - Some guy who's not Edgar Allan Poe that the title card says is Edgar Allan Poe

Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) also loathes them, seeing as they've gotten so bad she's reduced to washing down coffee grounds with her Diet Coke in order to stay awake. And she's about to have a doozy of a nightmare after her self-involved mom Elaine (Brooke Bundy) forces her to turn off the lights and go to bed while she's, uh, entertaining a male guest. As soon as she nods off, Kristen is at the boarded-up former home of the Thompson's, which is now Freddy Krueger's (Robert Englund) playground. Little girls jump rope out front reciting an all-too-familiar rhyme. Red flag? Of course.

But the strange thing about dreams is that you feel like you have some control over them while you're having them yet you never really do. If Kristen did, she certainly wouldn't follow a little girl right into Freddy's house. Inside she encounters a blazing furnace, a room full of hanging corpses, a floor that turns to black sludge and a skeleton girl. Oh yes, and Freddy is also in there chasing her around. When Kristen comes to, or so she thinks, she rushes to the bathroom. Freddy appears in the mirror and her sink knobs turn into his trademark claws. By the time her mom barges in she's greeted to the sight of her daughter with slashed wrists holding a razor blade.

Surviving the ordeal, Kristen is taken to the Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital, where she finds some kindred spirits. Other kids there are having the same exact issues she is. Sleep deprivation. Freddy dreams. Near-death experiences. And adults / parents / doctors who just don't understand and blame them for self-inflicted wounds and suicide attempts. In fact, Springwood has recently been plagued with teen suicides. Dr. Elizabeth Simms (Priscilla Pointer) thinks the dreams are "bi-products of guilt" and the best compassionate Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson) can come up with to explain what's going on is a shared "group psychosis." But a new intern is hired on as a staff member who may be able to shed some light on what's actually going on. Her name is Nancy Thompson and she's played by one Heather Langenkamp. Perhaps you've heard of her?

Among the traumatized teens / Freddy fodder are Kincaid (Ken Sagoes), whose sarcasm, emotional outbursts and big mouth frequently land him in the "quiet room" and former debater Joey (Rodney Eastman), who's now timid and mute. There's also recovering heroin junkie Taryn (Jennifer Rubin), wheelchair-bound fantasy role-playing nerd Will (Ira Heiden), neurotic aspiring actress Jennifer (Penelope Sudrow), sleepwalking artist Phillip (Bradley Gregg) and, of course, Kristen, who has the special ability to bring others into her dreams. After two of the "last of the Elm Street children" are killed under mysterious circumstances, Nancy convinces Neil and Elizabeth to allow for the usage of an experimental psychoactive drug called "Hypnocil," which is said to help with psychotic disorders by suppressing dreams and thus blocking the occurrence of night terrors.

There's an animated Freddy doll, a giant Freddy snake, an even-bigger Freddy larger than a bell tower, veins ripped out and used as puppet strings, a head slammed into a TV screen, animated junkie tracks, a wheelchair from hell, a talking decapitated head, a battle with an animated skeleton in a junkyard, Freddy killing Zsa Zsa Gabor on Dick Cavett's talk show, people pulled into mirrors, someone getting seduced by a topless nurse and then "tongue-tied" to a bed over hell and a lot of other creative special effects scenes. Enough to overlook some clunky dialogue, a few extremely corny moments ("I am the Wizard Master!") and several awkward performances that, strangely enough, come from two of the better-known cast members? Sure. There are enough cool moments in here to overcome that.

One issue I had that wasn't so easy to overlook was was the unnecessary addition of Freddy background history... as if being a child murderer turned into a supernatural dream slayer with virtually unlimited power wasn't enough already! We now learn that Freddy's mother was a nurse who was accidentally locked up in an insane asylum and impregnated after being gang-raped "hundreds of times" by the patients, thus making Freddy "the bastard son of 100 maniacs." This information is relayed to Dr. Gordon by a ghost nun named Mary Helena (Nan Martin) who shows up from time to time. All of this additional background information, combined with the increase in wisecracks and one-liners, basically destroyed any chance for Freddy to be creepy and mysterious in the future.

Adding a bunch of religious mumbo jumbo to the mix also didn't help the series any as it bled over into most of the sequels from here on out. Dr. Neil, which the script makes sure we know is an atheist, is shown the right way by the nun, who actually says "Sad choice" when Neil claims he puts faith in science. I often wonder if people who write such nonsense dialogue just rely on their faith whenever they're sick or injured and refuse to ever go to a hospital. I also wonder if they even realize one can actually have faith in two different things at once and it's not always an either / or type of situation. Before long Neil is on a ham-fisted "rediscovering my faith" mission which involves him visiting a church and then helping to put Freddy down by dousing his remains with holy water on freshly hallowed ground.

This is also the film that added the angle that Freddy becomes stronger with each kill because he's captured the "souls" of his victims. While that makes for a cool Freddy chest-plate full of screaming faces, it's also the laziest possible way to explain away a character who - as the first two films proved - didn't even really need thoroughly explained in the first place. A big part of me thinks the excessive religiosity was Darabont's contribution to the script as it fits his usual m.o. While these elements fit this particular entry just fine, they'd prove to be detrimental to the series as a whole as many later entries would try to pacify fans with endless one-liners, exposition and religious imagery because they had no clue what else to do.

John Saxon gets to reprise his role from the first film in a couple of scenes, only this time he's a drunk apprehensive about revealing the whereabouts of Freddy's remains. There's also an early appearance from "Larry" / Lawrence Fishburne as an orderly. A brief clip of Donald Pleasence in New Line's first release, ALONE IN THE DARK (1982), is seen on a TV set.

Initial reviews were pretty mixed but no one cared. Dream Warriors became a huge success, debuting at #1 and going on to make nearly 45 million dollars in U.S. theaters alone. That's 20 million more than the original and 15 million more than Part 2. It also became a fan favorite over the years, with many viewers even preferring it to the original. The title theme song "Dream Warriors" by Dokken became a minor hit on the rock charts.

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