Thursday, August 30, 2018

Sister's Keeper (1988) (TV)

... aka: Freddy's Nightmares 2
... aka: Freddy's Nightmares: A Nightmare on Elm Street - The Series: Sister's Keeper
... aka: Freddy's Nightmares: Sister's Keeper
... aka: Freddy's Nightmares - The Series: Sister's Keeper

Directed by:
Ken Wiederhorn

I was originally planning on just watching debut episode NO MORE MR. NICE GUY (1988) and then being done with Freddy's Nightmares for now, but after finding out there was another episode directly following the events of Nice Guy with some of the same main characters, well, I just couldn't leave myself hangin', could I? So here I am writing about something I had no intention of covering and here you are reading about it. Airing November 20, 1988, "Sister's Keeper" was the seventh episode of Season 1 and, like all other episodes, runs about 45 minutes. Fans could just combine it with the pilot episode, stick a "6 months later" title card in between and essentially have themselves another feature-length Freddy movie falling between The Dream Master and The Dream Child. If I ever reference this in the future I'll probably just call it A Nightmare on Elm Street 4.5: The Dream Twins.

After spending years trying to stop Freddy only to have to resort to vigilante justice to finally get rid of him, Lt. Timothy Blocker ended up paying the ultimate price. He not only left behind a steep dental bill, but also a wife, Sarah (Anne E. Curry), and pretty twin daughters, Lisa (Gry Park) and Merit (Hili Park). While Lisa made it through the entire ordeal fairly well, Merit was traumatized, went mute and had to spend some time in a mental institution. Now released, she has her voice back but hasn't quite shaken off all of the rest of her problems. The mother, back to working long hours to support the family, is seldom home so the girls only have each other to lean on.

At school, Lisa's the popular one. She wears make-up, crimps her hair, wears the coolest 80s clothes like floor-length tent dresses with turtlenecks and has a "hawt" but otherwise pretty useless boyfriend named John (Josh Coxx). Meanwhile, Merit pulls her hair back, dresses down and wears dark colors. Because her mental issues are common knowledge around town, she's also teased and called "The girl who cried Freddy." A guitar-strumming dullard named Jeff (Jeff Bennett, from the seventh Friday the 13th film) still likes her because she has a "tragic nobility" about her. But that doesn't sit well with Allison (Robin Antin, later founder of The Pussycat Dolls), who has a crush on Jeff and starts bullying Merit. But high school drama for the Park girls will soon feel like a walk in the you-know-where once Freddy (Robert Englund) decides to come after them for revenge.

No one believes Merit when she claims that Freddy actually killed the dad just as no one believes her whenever she claims Freddy is now trying to kill her in her dreams. Lisa is hesitant to believe herself, except for the fact that every time Freddy slashes Merit in a nightmare, the wound ends up on her body instead. After one too many close calls, the girls suck down enough coffee to stay up four days straight trying to come up with a plan. Through a former hippie teacher, they learn that since they're identical twins they may be able to "share" the same dream, and be actively involved in that one dream, if they fall asleep at the exact same time. But will that be enough to save them from Freddy?

While the acting and story aren't up to much, this is actually a bit better than the first half of the story. Having the twins constantly switching looks and identities; at first so the screwed up one can experience the perks of popularity and the other can experience what it's like to be the outcast, but then also being mistaken for one another both in real life and in nightmares, creates the necessary "Is it real or not?" amount of disorientation needed for something like this. Plus, where the first episode had some colorful lighting to accentuate the few Freddy scenes, this one goes bat shit crazy with the stylized lighting and shows zero restraint pouring on a bunch of gaudy colors every chance it gets. Some of the shots, especially one with Freddy's face colored green but with an orange band across his eyes while purple, green and red highlight the rest of the frame actually look really cool.

Even though nothing here is any match for the movie fx, this still has a few fun Freddy bits like the mom jamming knife blades into her fingertips to make a glove and, especially, a gloppy extended arm that recalls a memorable scene from the original. Kevin Yagher was in charge of the make-up and Englund also receives a credit as "series consultant." Director Wiederhorn, best known for the pretty good early zombie film Shock Waves (1977) and the disappointing Return of the Living Dead II (1988), went on to direct six other episodes of the series.

While five Freddy's Nightmares episodes received a VHS release in the U.S. in 1991, this one did not. However, it was released elsewhere. In the UK and Czechoslovakia it was paired with the episode "Freddy's Tricks and Treats" (S1E4) and released as a video feature titled Freddy's Nightmares 2. The Australian, Japanese and Dutch VHS releases all paired it up with the episode "Mother's Day" (S1E8).


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

No More Mr. Nice Guy (1988) (TV)

... aka: Freddy's Nightmares: A Nightmare on Elm Street - The Series: No More Mr. Nice Guy
... aka: Freddy's Nightmares: No More Mr. Nice Guy
... aka: Freddy's Nightmares - The Series: No More Mr. Nice Guy

Directed by:
Tobe Hooper

After A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS (1987) broke box office records for independent productions only to have those records shattered a year later by A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER (1988), Freddy Mania had clearly reached its zenith by 1988. The facially-scared dream invader frequently hosted his own TV specials, appeared in music videos and was a regular talk show guest and there were action figures, toys, video games, t-shirts, books, posters, masks, model kits, magazines, comic books, dishes, pins, key chains, trading cards, Halloween costumes, albums of Freddy music... You name it and there was probably one you could get with Freddy's burnt mug on it. It's still amazingly weird to me how beloved and mainstream Freddy managed to get considering he was, ya know, a child murderer.

So it only goes without saying that Mr. Krueger's massive popularity would also spawn a syndicated TV series. The fourth Elm Street film was barely out of theaters by the time Freddy's Nightmares debuted on October 9, 1988. Robert Englund would serve as host and Freddy would sometimes, though not usually, figure directly into the stories themselves. There were 44 episodes in total over two seasons. As far as I know, Wes Craven had no direct involvement with the New Line TV-produced / Lorimar-distributed series, but they did manage to rope in another big genre name to direct this debut episode: Tobe Hooper. Hooper's career was decidedly not going well at this stage as he was fresh off the big-budget Cannon flops Lifeforce (1985) and Invaders from Mars (1986) and the belated, critically lambasted Texas Chainsaw sequel.

Visualizing much of what the film series only hinted at, No More Mr. Nice Guy is essentially an origin story. We start at the Springwood Courthouse as Freddy's trial is underway and the court is watching a slide show of all of the children, aged 4 to 8, the "alleged unholy aberration" has been accused of butchering. However, none of the evidence ends up meaning squat as Freddy was apprehended during an illegal arrest where he wasn't read his Miranda rights by arresting officer Lt. Timothy Blocker (Ian Patrick Williams). And so, even with all of the evidence in the world proving him guilty and two almost-victims in the room to testify that he tried to kill them, Freddy is unleashed back into the world. Even funnier, in lieu of the standard orange jumpsuit Freddy is wearing his trademark red-and-green striped sweater and holding his fedora in his handcuffed hands during the trial!

The case is personal for Lt. Blocker as he'd already spent two years hunting Krueger and his teen twin daughters; Lisa (Gry Park) and Merit (Hili Park), almost became victims themselves. Understandably, Tim's wife Sarah (Anne E. Curry) is pissed off and his girls are now terrified Freddy's going to come after them again. Prosecutor Michael Deeks (William Frankfather) and enraged parents meet outside of the courthouse after the verdict and decide to take matters into their own hands if need be. And it need be! Freddy immediately runs off to his hideout, a power plant boiler room, where his razor glove awaits and he plots a "little party" to celebrate his freedom once night falls. Considering how it's common knowledge where Freddy was hiding as the suburban lynch mob go right there at nightfall, I'm not sure how a killer's primary murder weapon, victim's clothing and other evidence was just left there by police, but... OK, well, I'll just stop thinking so much here.

While Lt. Blocker is at the station, Freddy stops by his house to kill the guard posted there and then terrorize his wife and daughters. One of the girls, Lisa, seems to have psychic abilities and pleads "You can't kill Freddy! You'll only make it worse!" Still, her father and the lynch mob finally corner Freddy is the boiler room and, because his daughter's lives are threatened, Blocker agrees to kill Freddy right then and there. He's covered with gasoline and set ablaze while laughing and shouting things like "You think you is gonna get rid of me?!" and "I am forever!" Turns out he's right and he's soon back as the nightmare slasher we all know and (some of us) love and promising that "Springwood's nightmares are just beginning!"

Since his little act of vigilantism, Lt. Blocker hasn't been able to sleep well. He keeps having Freddy nightmares and wakes up with slash marks on his face. His daughter Merit, who's been mute since she was almost killed, suddenly starts singing the "One, two, Freddy's coming for you..." song. He receives a creepy letter at work that spontaneously goes up in flames and is almost run off the road by Freddy's ice cream truck (?!) And then those who helped torch Freddy start turning up dead. Well, at least one of them does. Blocker has his deputy Gene (Porky's series star Mark Herrier) put Freddy's remains in the trunk of a junked car and weld it shut, but the body disappears. Or does it? Though Blocker stops being able to tell the difference between dreams and reality, Freddy finally shows up with an interesting new dental tool to finally put him out of his misery.

Pretty much anyone could have guessed that a significant budget downgrade and TV limitations wouldn't bode too well for the whole Elm Street formula. The film series is heavily dependent on special effects because they deal with the unpredictability of nightmares. Those sequences with Freddy doing what he does needed to be as vivid, bizarre, crazy and reality-bending as possible. They needed to be good enough to at least partially cover for some bad acting, poor plotting and corny / silly dialogue. And all of those increasingly more elaborate fx that were highlights of the series cost a decent amount of money. 

This episode is basically what happens when you make a Freddy movie with no fx budget. You're mostly just left with the bad acting, the average plot and the corny dialogue ("Freddy's hoooome!"). They do what they can with colorful lighting to try to give this a dreamy feel, and there's one amusing Freddy moment at the end in the dentist's office, but it's not really enough. Still, if you're a die hard series fan, you'll want to see this simply for the origin story. It's kind of interesting to compare what goes on here with the bits of info given out in the films. Also interesting that this episode had its own follow-up within the TV series titled "Sister's Keeper," which was directed by Ken Wiederhorn, was the seventh episode of Season 1 and featured the surviving members of the Blocker's family.

While Wes Craven wasn't really involved with this series, the phrase "No More Mr. Nice Guy" was plastered all over his next release, Shocker (1989). It was the film's tag line, on most of the posters, a part of the actual title in some countries, the name of the theme song (a cover of the 1973 Alice Cooper hit of the same name by Megadeth) and the name of the soundtrack album. Weird.

In the U.S., this and only four other episodes were released to home video (one episode per tape) in 1991 by Warner. The other episode releases were "Freddy's Tricks and Treats" (S1E4), "Lucky Stiff" (S2E6), "Dreams That Kill" (S2E11) and "It's My Party and You'll Die If I Want You To" (S2E12). However, in the UK, Japan and several other countries, most of the first season episodes were released. In 2003, Warner issued a 3-episode DVD release in the UK titled Freddy's Nightmares: Volume 1, which contained the first three episodes (this, "It's a Miserable Life" and "Killer Instinct"). Poor sales of that canceled future releases, though the series still airs occasionally, most notably on the Chiller Network starting in 2007 and the El Rey Network starting in 2015.

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