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The Showcase Gang’s Nightmare on Elm Street Marathon

Tnightmarelogohe year after my epic one-on-one battle with Jason Voorhees, I rounded up some of my friends to join me in combat with Wes Craven’s most famous creation, Freddy Krueger. The Showcase Halloween Marathon has been a tradition ever since, although in 2007 our podcast was still focused almost entirely on comic books, so I blogged this rather than record an episode of the show about it. Here, in all its classic glory, is the tale of the year Mike Bellamy, Kenny Fanguy and (eventually) Jason Champagne joined me for a seven-film Nightmare on Elm Street marathon…

OCT. 30, 2007…

Like with Jason last year, I had never seen all of Freddy’s films before. In fact, I’d only seen the first one, parts of New Nightmare, and (of course) Freddy Vs. Jason, which we had originally intended to include in the marathon, but decided against on the grounds that A) I’d already reviewed it last year and B) it was 1:30 in the morning when we finished New Nightmare – those of us who made it to the end, that is. Not all of our intrepid panelists made it there. Who survived? Read on. And be warned: spoilers abound.

nightmare1A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).

The film that started it had us laughing even before the credits finished when we saw the immortal phrase, “And introducing Johnny Depp.” Sporting a haircut and a sweater vest that made Zack Morris look like Rob Zombie, it’s easy to forget that Depp got his big break making out with the girl from Just the Ten of Us (Heather Langencamp as Nancy) and getting slaughtered by a guy wearing a red-and-green Christmas sweater. The plot really kicks off as Nancy and her friend Tina (Amanda Wyss) begin comparing notes on their horrible, horrible dreams of the night before – dreams of a terrifying man with knives for fingers. When we get to the line, “Nancy, you dreamed about the same creep I did,” it’s all I can do to keep from laughing. This scene has been parodied and repeated so many times it’s impossible to even take the original seriously any more.

Tina’s boyfriend Rod, as horror movie teenagers are wont to do, shows up to do things with Tina that her mother certainly wouldn’t approve of. It is at this point that we first really begin to appreciate the greatness of Mike’s surround sound set-up. While Tina and “Rod” are doing it in surround sound, Johnny Depp groans and utters the line of his career: “Morality sucks.”

We finally reach a genuinely scary moment about ten minutes in when Nancy, sound asleep in her bed, is awakened by a stretching sound that turns out to be a hideous, knife-fingered fiend trying to burst though a thin membrane of the wall. It’s at this point that we remind each other that the first movie in this series is actually pretty good, and will not be as easy to make fun of as later installments. I am proven wrong, however, as Freddy goes for his first kill. While he slaughters Tina in her sleep, her idiot boyfriend stands there in his tightie whities, impotently watching as she’s hacked to bits. “That’s got to suck,” I observe. What really sucks about the town of Springwood becomes apparent soon afterwards as they show Tina’s butchered body carted off on the morning news. And people ask what’s wrong with the media in this country.

Nancy has to face Freddy in her dreams again, as he drags Tina’s corpse into his Boiler Room set. We all cringe as Freddy begins scraping his knives on the pipes in his dream-Boiler Room, and Mike compensates by making “bllbgbgbgbgbg” sounds. (That was typed phonetically.) Nancy later sits up with her butt-ugly mother, whose solution to everything wrong with the universe is to, as Kenny suggests, “drink until she’s pretty.” Mom finally makes the fateful revelation we’ve been waiting for since the film began: Freddy Krueger was a child murderer who got free on a technicality, so a group of parents got together, doused him in gasoline, and burned him to death. Now, his malevolent spirit is murdering the children of the people who killed him. Johnny Depp buys it while he’s supposed to be staying awake (this would become a theme for the movies – virtually every character ever specifically warned not to go to sleep winds up going to sleep and getting slaughtered), and Nancy goes into her dreams for a final confrontation with Freddy.

The thing about the original Nightmare is, despite some terrible acting and scenes that are now clichés because they’ve been done so many times, it’s actually a pretty decent movie. Freddy, at this early stage, is a dream-demon who can take whatever it is you fear and turn it against you. That’s a pretty potent weapon. The ending of the first film is surprisingly bleak, as Nancy SEEMS to escape, but we’re left with the impression that she’ still trapped in her dream. She and the dead kids get carted off in a convertible with a Freddy-pattern top. It’s okay, but not a great film by any means. Now to see just how bad it could get.

Nightmare2A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985). For the second go-round Kenny, who had been planning to leave after the first film, decided to stick around using the logic, “This is more fun than I thought.” Well duh – watching bad horror movies with your friends? If there’s a better way to spend a weekend in October, I don’t know what it is.

The second film begins with a far more effective dream sequence than the first, as a dork on a school bus (Mark Patton as “Jesse”) dreams about the bus running off the road and winding up atop a tall stone pike where Freddy attacks the dork and two remaining teenage girls on board. Jesse wakes up covered in a cold sweat that makes him look like a parody of the guys in the film 300 and we start to realize the premise: Jesse’s family has moved into The House that Nancy lived in during the first film. Jesse picks up a neighbor girl named Lisa who looks like a younger, more attractive Meryl Streep (I don’t mean that as a compliment), and goes to school where he gets pantsed during gym class – which, as Mike notes, is the most nudity we’ve yet gotten in this series. The two guys begin beating each other up, then the coach has them do push-ups together, at which point they begin conversing as though they’re best friends. “How long will we be doing this?” “For a while. So, you new in town?” When the dork reveals to the bully, Grady, that he just moved to town, where his parents bought a house on Elm Street, Mike informs us that he’d totally forgotten we were watching a Nightmare film. This is actually fairly acceptable, as the previous 10 minutes more closely resembled an ABC Afterschool Special from the 80s. This does not, however, prevent us from mocking Mike.

Jesse continues exploring his new home. Although the door and staircase is pretty much the same, the rest of the house has undergone a redecorating scheme for which Jesse’s parents deserve to die. When Jesse’s dad refuses to let him out of the house until he cleans his room, he puts on 80s sunglasses and dances lasciviously to music just in time for Lisa (evidently the “rich girl” in the neighborhood) to pop in. As she helps him clean up, she uncovers the Lost Diary of Nancy Thompson, which has been there for five years. (Hey! We’ve established a timeline!) They begin reading the diary (Jesse at one point is looking at a page that was clearly blank when he turned it) and read about Nancy’s teeeeeeeeerrible dreams.

In his own dreams, Jesse keeps getting approached by Freddy, who wants his “help” for some reason. It gets worse when one of their pet birds kills the other, attacks his father and then blows up, for which his father (showing the sort of logic that has made horror movie parents stand out since the dawn of time) blames Jesse. He rushes off to Don’s Place, a dominatrix-style bar where evidently no one feels the need to check the identification of an obvious minor for either admittance or the purchase of alcohol. He meets the coach there, who takes him back to the school, makes him run laps and take a shower. If you can make heads or tails out of anything written in this paragraph, you’re a better man than I, because although that’s pretty much a blow-by-blow account of the next few scenes, it’s completely incomprehensible. It is at this point that Mike and I start shouting out how ridiculous what we’re watching is and question whether or not this movie was written during a fever dream. When the coach begins getting attacked by balls (Kenny: “Every straight man’s worst nightmare”), I begin to sincerely hope that the second film will prove to be the worst in the series.

Coach gets killed, but then we see startled Jesse, still in the showers, wearing Freddy’s glove, at which point he screams in such a way as to make Nathan Lane seem masculine. Lisa invites Jesse to a party (really? With people getting murdered left and right?), where she confronts him about his crazy behavior. Her friends, meanwhile, are waiting for her parents to turn off the lights, at which point they begin screaming like maniacs and turn the music fifty times as loud. You see, teenagers in Springwood suffer from the misapprehension that the minute the lights go out, parents are comatose. Meanwhile, Jessie and Lisa start making out, which gets Mike very excited (draw your own conclusions) until Jesse’s huge purple tongue comes out. He rushes away, prompting Mike to speculate, “he just realized he’s gay.” I chime in too – “He’s going to Grady’s house.” This is almost an amusing comment… then, a second later, he suddenly appears in Grady’s house, LEAPING ONTO THE SHIRTLESS GRADY’S BED. We didn’t hear anything else in the movie for a good 45 seconds because we were laughing too hard.

The terrified Zack asks Slater – sorry, Jesse asks Grady to watch him sleep, which Grady is disturbingly willing to do, right up until he does the one thing he was warned NOT to do – go to sleep. This begins a surprisingly effective sequence of Freddy bursting out of Jesse’s body. For the first time in a half-hour we see something intense enough to remind us this is supposed to be a horror movie. Grady gets butchered and Jesse, covered in blood, runs to Lisa and begins confessing to all the murders. Rather than screaming and calling the police, she puts the blood-covered boy on her parents’ clean couch and starts reading a passage in Nancy’s diary that is intended to explain everything, but in fact, is utterly nonsensical. Which is when Jesse turns into Freddy and decides to attack the par-tay. The pool boils, whale songs begin playing for no apparent reason, and Freddy-in-Jesse attacks Lisa, who pleads with him until he runs off, bursts through the patio door and begins carving up the kids there. Lisa’s dad comes out with a shotgun, but she stops him from shooting Freddy. She and the psycho killer share a long, lingering moment, and he vamooses, so of course, she goes after him. She goes to the power plant where Freddy once worked, now guarded by dogs with ugly human faces, and enters the Eternal Boiler Room of the Damned. Freddy goes after her, prompting her to proclaim, “I love you Jesse!” This is evidently the magic word – Freddy starts bleeding (or is it Jesse in Freddy?) She kisses him in a really stupid attempt to get Jesse out, and this somehow sets the whole place on fire. Freddy begins to melt – really – and Jesse climbs out of the charred husk. She hugs him and the scene fades to a school bus. Mike, Kenny and I all scream, fearing we’ve returned to the beginning of the movie, but instead, he’s just hopping a ride to school with ol’ Lisa and her friends, who are highly enthusiastic about the party in which several of them got killed. There’s the requisite fake scare in which you think Freddy is driving the bus, then the requisite REAL scare where he attacks again, and that – blissfully – ends the film. Watching this, I’m trying to figure out why the hell they made a third Nightmare. But they did make another one… and thus, we will watch it.

Nightmare3A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987). Mike, putting the DVD in the machine, begins singing 80s hair metal and announces that “Dokken made the soundtrack!” Kenny and I look at him like he’s lost his mind. Our friend Mike, you must understand, has a greater love of hair metal than any other bald man in North America.

This film begins with a quote from Edgar Allen Poe in a misguided attempt to make us think it’s highbrow, then we switch to Patricia Arquette – Kristin — eating dried coffee and drinking Diet Coke. (This is what everyone did in the 80s). She’s apparently making a replica of the house from the first two movies out of popsicle sticks. She has a dream in which she enters the popsicle stick house, gets chased by Freddy, and winds up in a room full of hanging corpses. Suddenly, the three of us take notice – this is already better than the entirety of the second movie. Although as Wes Craven returned to work on the screenplay here, that may be the reason.

We then cut to a psychiatric hospital where Morpheus the Orderly (yep – “Larry” Fishburne) is tooling around attributing the stupid kids of the 80s to the drugs their parents took in the 60s. Kristin has been brought there because Freddy made her cut her wrists and they think she’s a suicide attempt. She’s just fine until they try to sedate her. As she holds off the docs with a scalpel, she begins chanting the Freddy rhyme… One, two, Freddy’s coming for you… She looks like a loon…

Then, like Superman rising from the grave, Nancy appears. Yes, Heather Langencamp, the Survivor Girl of the first film, is back. She’s a little older, with a streak of grey in her hair leftover from the first movie and a librarian suit, but tough enough to pop in and hug Kristin into submission. Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson) praises her work as being good “for an intern,” and she smiles a smile that includes about 70 teeth and informs him that she has experience with pattern nightmares. This is intended to be funny.

Kristin has another dream in which Freddy (for the first time showing some decent shape-shifting powers) tries to EAT her, but she somehow manages to summon Nancy into the dream to help her fight. They escape by the skin of their teeth and Nancy, knowing just what’s going on, confronts Kristin about the house in her dreams. Turns out, Kristin has the power to pull other people into her dreams – a power that will clearly come in handy as the film progresses. She takes Kristin to a support group of kids who have all been suffering from dreams about a psycho with knives for fingers, where Dr. Nurse Ratchet dismisses their dreams as being the result of guilt and repressed sexuality. She’s apparently seen one too many horror movies.

(At this point, our buddy Jason Champagne popped in to join in the riffing. Whether his comments are as witty and pithy as ours remains to be seen, but it’s generally agreed they can’t be worse.)

Nancy begs Neil to prescribe a new drug called Hypnocil to suppress the dreams of the other kids. He refuses, which really sucks for the kid who keeps marionettes in his room, and we see as one of them morphs into a stop-motion animation Freddy. I run it by my fellow geeks, and we universally agree that the stop motion is, in fact, scarier than any of the CGI of later movies, and that people should use it more often. Freddy turns the kid into a marionette using his own tendons — which again, marks this as a considerably scarier film than part two – and forces him to climb to the top of a tower. Two of the other patients see him and – naturally – the one who CAN’T TALK is sent for help. This ultimately results in a bunch of psycho kids screaming out the window while Puppet Boy plummets to his death.  “Now this is gonna be a setback for their therapy,” I say.

In therapy the next day (told you!), the doctors try to dismiss the death as a sleepwalking accident, sending one of the kids into a fit where he gets dragged off to the “quiet room.” Neil prescribes a dose of Hypnocil against Nurse Ratchet’s objections.  It’s too little too late, though, and when a second patient is killed (again ruled a suicide — because EVERY emo teen kills herself by smashing her head through the picture tube of a TV mounted seven feet up the wall), Nancy tells the group about her own encounter with Freddy. She reveals that this group is the last group of kids whose parents were involved in Freddy’s murder. Neil hypnotizes the group into Kristin’s shared dream, the kids learn they have super powers in Dreamworld. The one in a wheelchair can stand up and do magic, another is super-strong, one can do gymnastics… and Joey (Mute Boy) is going to boink the hot nurse on the ward. As he and the nurse are off playing patty-cake, though, she winds up tying him up with her tongue (this series has a thing for tongues) and turns into Freddy, who makes the obligatory joke about the kid being tongue-tied before torturing him into a coma. Nurse Ratchet finds poor Joey unconscious and the others all asleep. While things look bad for the kids, Mike is ecstatic because he got to see the Nurse’s boobs. The promise of the Slasher Film has been fulfilled.

Neil encounters a freaky nun in the closed wing, where she reveals that in the 40s a woman named Amanda Krueger was locked in the hospital and raped hundreds of times by the criminally insane lunatics, producing Freddy: “The bastard son of a hundred maniacs.” She tells him the only way to stop Freddy is to get his remains and bury them in Hallowed Ground, or at least douse him with Holy Water. Why does she know this? Because in horror movies, someone always knows stuff like that. Also, because she’s Amanda, and dead herself, although we don’t find that out until the end, so forget I said anything. Anyway, Nancy and Neil scrounge up Nancy’s father, who has spent the six years since the first movie drinking the alcohol her mother didn’t get around to drinking before Freddy got her. Neil and Daddy get some Holy Water and a Crucifix, suffering from the misapprehension that Freddy is a vampire, and Nancy – upon discovering Kristin has been locked up — rounds up the three remaining kids for their “last group session.” She and the kids hypnotize themselves into the dreams just in time to join Kristin in battle with Freddy, which gives Mike a chance to scream along with more 80s rock. Freddy divides up the kids to fight them one at a time: killing the ex-junkie with needles (kind of an intense scene) and the Dungeons and Dragons geek in a way that makes you wonder why he never whipped up a Plus-Five Sword of Ass Kicking or something.

While Neil and Daddy look for Freddy’s corpse, which apparently the parents dumped in a junkyard in the trunk of, as Jason observed, “Christine,” the last three Dream Warriors rescue the comatose boy and take the fight to Freddy, who shows off the faces of his victims screaming on his flesh – a nice, gross little image. Back in the junkyard, cars start coming alive and Neil and Dad have to fight Freddy’s skeleton – again, stop motion; again, actually pretty cool. Mike asks a rather pertinent question now – we thought Freddy could only attack you through your dreams (or through Jesse). I theorize that, since this is the location of his physical body, he has more power here. I’m probably talking out of my ass. The others in Dreamworld wind up fighting Freddy in a funhouse full of mirrors, where Mute Boy blows him away with a sonic scream and Daddy, who died in the junkyard, pops in to tell Nancy he loves her. It’s so sweet that Mike and Jason begin arguing that they’re watching the end of Legend of Zelda – until, naturally, Daddy turns into Freddy and kills Nancy. She pops up again, though, just in time to stab him with his own blades. Neil, in the real world, dumps the Holy Water onto Fred’s corpse, and he blows up. He blows up good. Nancy dies, Kristin cries and the audience thinks that maybe, just maybe, this series is over. This was the 80s, people didn’t realize the neverending nature of these films yet.

Nightmare4A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988).

Four tries to start with a step up from three, beginning with a Bible quote to top Edgar Allen Poe. Kristin is back for another round (although Patricia Arquette didn’t return – Kristin is played by Tuesday Knight… really…), trapped in The House in a rainstorm. She gets blown into the basement, where she faces Freddy’s infamous boiler room. Desperate, she calls out to Token Black Guy and Mute Guy from the last movie, who ARE played by the same actors. They remain skeptical, and TBG’s dog gives Kristin a playful bite of flesh taken out of her arm before she wakes up and goes off to meet with her boyfriend Rick and his sister, Alice (Lisa Wilcox). Their father chastises Alice, shouting, “Are you dressing like THAT?” The girl in question, however, has a dowdy plaid jumper and yellow sweater on. Most parents would want their daughters to dress in such an unattractive manner. It would virtually guarantee they remain a virgin and – by proxy – alive by the end of the movie.

Kristin, Rick and Alice meet up with a friend with hair about seven times larger than her body, and the Coalition of Geeks sits there trying to figure out who the actress is. That’s when it hits me. “She’s the other sister from Just the Ten of Us!” I exclaim. “The blonde!”

“The slutty one!” Jason shouts. “My favorite!”

That night, TBG’s dream takes him to the junkyard where Freddy was buried in the last film. His dog is trying to dug up Freddy’s bones, and – and this is the scene where Mike declares the franchise jumped the shark – the dog PISSES FIRE on Freddy’s bones. The ground splits and we see the skeleton come back together, and the burned flesh flow back over his body. Freddy’s back. Freddy isn’t happy. Freddy kills TBG, who actually says, “I’ll see you in Hell.” The reply, “Tell ‘em Freddy sent you. One down… two to go.” Next Mute Boy, who is no longer mute, wakes up to find a naked woman in his waterbed, just before Freddy gets him. Well, he should have learned – every time in his life a woman has showed any interest in him, it turned out to be Freddy.

We return to Kristin, who is smoking an unlit cigarette (seriously), and has a serious heart-to-heart with Alice, who Jason has a crush on at this point. She gets to class late, realizes her friends are absent and gets knocked out, only to be awakened by… Robert Englund in drag. As a nurse. Oh, sweet mother of God, Robert Englund makes one ugly woman. Thank God he turns back into Freddy a few seconds later. At this point, it becomes clear they’re trying for comedy, because otherwise they would have used an actual woman in that role, even in the dream, like they did with earlier movies. Alice and her friend, a girl who apparently is a female clone of Steven Q. Urkel, tries to hook her up with some random guy (Dan) she has a crush on. Kristin’s mother, the killjoy, chastises her for not sleeping, despite the fact that her daughter was nearly butchered by a serial killer in her dreams just one movie ago. As it turns out, she’s trying to drug Kristin and put her to sleep.  She succeeds. In Kristin’s dream, Freddy chases her (and a little girl – coincidentally named Alice) on a beach, sending Kristin into a pit of the least convincing quicksand in movie history. The sand dumps her into The House, where she flees to the boiler room basement and faces him yet again. Freddy hurls her into the Furnace, adding her to his collection of souls, but not before she somehow passes her “power” on to Alice.

Urkella stays up all night studying for a test, which of course leads to her falling asleep and getting killed, making Alice realize that she’s drawing people into her dreams the way Kristin did. With Kristin – last child of Freddy’s killers – dead, she theorizes that he now needs someone to bring new victims into the dream. She then goes to a class where they’re learning about dreams AND the “Dream Master” (as a high school teacher, I am forced to ask what the hell class she’s taking. I’ve got to jump through eighteen kinds of hoops just to show clips from Romeo and Juliet.) As she drifts off, she accidentally drags her brother into a dream about the bathroom from Hell. He escapes through the elevator (from Hell) and winds up fighting Invisible Freddy in a Dream Dojo. I have to theorize that Ralph Macchio, wisely, passed on this role. Freddy kills him, windows blow up, and Alice realizes that she has got to stop falling asleep in class, which is honestly the most valuable lesson of this entire series.

Back home, she begins playing with Rick’s nunchucks (or actually, a stunt double wearing a really bad wig plays with them), and her friends notice that she’s changing a little after every murder. Unfortunately, they don’t actually do anything about it, and Freddy gets her to pull Big Hair Girl into his dream while she’s working out. Freddy takes her out in a trap devised by Rick Moranis, while Alice and Dan get stuck in some sort of utterly ludicrous time loop, trying to get to BHG in time. (Hint: they won’t.) Instead, they wind up in a car wreck that Dan barely survives. He goes into surgery, while she races home and puts on all of her dead friends’ clothes, including some funky-fresh contraption that Urkel made before she bought it. Just to prove how much she’s changed, she says the F-word… and goes to sleep.

She faces off with Freddy in a pretty decent fight scene in some sort of dream church, finally turning a mirror on him and having him ripped apart by the very souls of his many victims, which was a satisfying ending. Cheesy writing aside, I kinda like this one. They pulled off a pretty interesting switcheroo – making Alice look like just another victim at the beginning, but slowly turning her into the new Survivor Girl (and a hot one at that).

Nightmare5A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. (1989).

Part five actually begins with a horribly shot sex scene that caused Mike and Jason to scream at the guy involved (it turned out to be Dan) to get out of the way so we could see Lisa Wilcox, back again as Alice. She steps into the shower (where Mike was happy to see her body double through the frosted door), but soon the drain clogs with yellow bile and the entire shower floods – yep, Freddy’s back. My question here is, why is it always so hard to kill one girl throughout the entire movie, only to wind up getting hacked to bits in the first act of the next sequel?

Fortunately, she DOESN’T get killed right away. (I’m glad, I like Alice.) Instead, she winds up imagining herself as Amanda Krueger, trapped in a ward full of psychopaths, about to get all the torment Amanda went through – until she manages to wake up. It’s graduation day! She’s out of Springwood High! She’s managed to make new friends since the last movie (fortunate, since her last batch all died). There’s Model Girl, with Obnoxious Mother, Lusty Comic Book Boy, with Alcoholic Father, and Swimmer Girl. Oh yeah – this is going to end well.

Alice again dreams herself into Freddy’s past, witnesses Freddy’s birth, and winds up facing Baby Freddy (which I believe was a failed pilot for a CBS Saturday morning cartoon) in the same dream-Church where she beat him last time.  It’s at this point that Mike points out that, unlike so many horror franchises, the story really has progressed pretty well. Except for part 2, the series has a fairly tight continuity that we all appreciate. By the time we finish this conversation and again discuss pizza toppings, Freddy’s back to full power and gunning for poor Alice. She’s rescued by the spirit of Freddy’s mother, who is begging Alice to help her “release her from her Earthly prison.” Free again, Freddy goes straight for Dan, who survived a car wreck in the last movie. In the name of poetic justice, Fred throws him through a windshield this time, then turns into the Go-Bot motorcycle dude to really do a number on him. It just goes to show you, never fall asleep at the wheel.

Alice, distraught, passes out and wakes up in the hospital, where the doctor tells her that she’s gonna be just fine… and so will her baby. (The titular “Dream Child,” I’m guessing.) While in the hospital, she meets a freaky kid named Jacob who’s really, really sorry her boyfriend died. Freak. By the time Alice’s next friend gets killed, Jason is making jokes about how the Lusty Boy is clearly gay. He says this about everyone: Steven Segal, Clay Aiken, Rosie O’Donnell, Charlemagne… it’s actually tiresome. “Methinks the man doth protest too much,” I say, mocking Jason’s tendency to drift towards that particular conclusion, especially since Jason is looking the guy while the rest of us are looking at Alice in her tight, stonewashed jeans. Anyway, the comic guy winds up drawing himself into The House, and Alice desperately draws herself in after him. He gets lost, but Alice runs into Jacob again, who is now sad about Alice’s other dead friend as well. Jacob starts screaming at Alice for “not wanting” him, and rushes off to be with his friend “with the funny hand.” She makes it back to Lusty Boy’s home, where he’s cut up, but okay.

Alice gets an ultrasound, then falls into a dream where Freddy dumps some of the worst special effects yet seen in this franchise into her uterus. Lusty Boy shows up with a bunch of newspaper clippings about Freddy, but Swimmer Girl refuses to listen, dumps them out of his hand, and storms out. We all decide at that point that Swimmer Girl is, in fact, the worst friend ever, and we are looking forward to her death scene. Later, we get three scenes going on simultaneously. Alice is searching for Freddy’s mother, Swimmer Girl is soaking in a hot tub (asleep) and Lusty Boy falls asleep, surrounded by comics. Mike, Kenny and I start pointing out individual issues and identifying the ones we own. We are true comic geeks. Swimmer Girl, meanwhile, takes the worst high dive since Greg Louganis and winds up almost buying it, but Alice saves her. Comic Book Guy, in his dream, finds an issue we automatically know isn’t a real comic book and therefore will be a plot point, because none of us own it, and is sucked into it. He fights Freddy in a world of black and white comic book artwork and, fulfilling a prediction Kenny made earlier, he turns into the character he’s been drawing since the beginning of the film and tries blowing Freddy away. Freddy pops up in a Dick Tracy-esque supervillain garb and hacks him up like a paper doll.

Alice heads back into dreamland’s version of an M.C. Esher drawing, where Freddy has Jacob in his clutches. The special effects in this film really took a downward spiral, with some of the most obvious green-screen in the whole series.  Freddy bursts out of Alice in a way that makes me wish it looked as good as it did when he popped out of Jesse back in Part 2. Swimming Girl, meanwhile, manages to track down Amanda’s ghost, who says “thank you” and vanishes. Apparently, that’s ALL anyone needed to do. The ghost shows up in dreamland, where she sics Jacob on him. He turns Freddy’s own tricks against him, specifically his oft-used tongue routine, and Freddy gets sucked back into Amanda’s womb. Jacob returns to Alice, and Amanda rushes off to trap her son once again. Jacob is born, everyone is happy (including Swimming Girl, who should have died) and we get one last Final Scare, just like always. Definitely a middle-of-the-road episode – not great, not terrible, but somewhere in-between.

Neeeeeeeext…

Nightmare6Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991).

In 1991, New Line Cinema made an attempt – as all horror franchises eventually do – to end the series with this “Final Nightmare,” which is set a nebulous “ten years from now,” in which mysterious suicides are plaguing the town of Springwood, Ohio. “The Last” teenager in town has a disturbing falling dream, waking up safe in his own bed… except that his house is now falling from an enormous height. The tornado music from The Wizard of Oz starts to play, just in time for Freddy to fly by on a broom. No, seriously. They even copied the shot of the house coming in for a landing next to The House. By the end of the first sequence, it’s apparent that they’ve really amped up the camp on this one. Mike is disturbed, and Jason is encouraged. Draw your own conclusions.

Our hero falls out of a plane and flees Springwood for a neighboring town where we meet the local group of teenagers, including kickboxer girl, hearing aid boy, and future C-list star Breckin Meyer, who has a ponytail we all would like to cut off. The Last Teenager from the plane – cleverly named “John Doe” — is brought to the shelter where the kids are staying, and his shrink finds a newspaper clipping among his belongings concerning one “Loretta Krueger.” When the Maggie, the psychiatrist,  and John Doe have bad dreams at the same time, she decides to take him back to Springwood for no apparent reason, unaware that the other three teens are hiding in the back of the van. They stop off at the world’s crappiest town fair, where they find no teenagers, but an incredibly overeager couple of Tom Arnold and Roseanne Barr (no, seriously). Roseanne wants to keep them like lost puppies, but Tom is terrified of them when the clock tower rings. If that sentence makes no sense to you, now you know how we felt when we watched the movie.

Maggie, showing the level of trust and encouragement that all teenage stowaways deserve, give the three of them her van and sends them “home,” but they wind up getting lost and driving around circles around a run-down, practically abandoned Springwood. Eventually, they enter an abandoned house that suddenly transforms into THE House. Get scared. Maggie and John Doe go to the high school, where a loony teacher is teaching an empty class, and they find a scrapbook of Freddy’s kills, where the clipping about Loretta obviously came from. The loony teacher lets it slip that Freddy had a heretofore unmentioned child that was taken away and dumped at the orphanage. Jason announces that, although the opening sequence was “neat,” the movie is “kinda sucky” now. It is impossible to argue.

Back in The House, Hearing Aid Boy falls asleep and gets his ears cut out by Freddy. There’s a scene here where Freddy dances around, laughing behind his back, but he can’t hear him. We all felt quite guilty about laughing at that.  But by the time Freddy pulls out the magic expanding chalkboard to toy with his hearing, I look at the guys. “You know, this sucks as a horror movie,” I say, “but as a comedy, I’m kinda starting to like it.”

At the orphanage, Maggie and John Doe find a drawing of a small family with Freddy, which John immediately concludes means he’s Freddy’s son. (Huh?) They meet up with Kickboxer Girl and rush back to find Breckin Meyer, who’s watching a TV show featuring a surprise cameo by Johnny Depp getting hit in the face by a Freddy-wielded frying pan. Breckin is then captured in a crappy 8-bit Nintendo Game. Well… maybe it’s a little better than 8-bit… 9-bit, maybe.  The others enter the dreams to duel Freddy, who laughingly informs John that he’s not his son – he just wants his daughter back. At this point, the room has shifted to an argument between Mike and Jason, who feel like the entire franchise has lost its way, and Kenny and I, who feel like they’ve clearly given up on horror and are trying to make a really bad comedy, and succeeding.

John dies painfully, and Freddy absorbs his soul, then leaps into Maggie the shrink’s mind. She rushes home and begins demanding to know who her real parents were – yep, she’s adopted. Raise your hands if you were surprised by this development. That’s what I thought. She gets sucked into a dream, remembering being a child and finding Daddy’s Special Workshop. Freddy finds her and informs her that stealing the children of Springwood has been his retribution for them taking her away, and together, they head out to her shelter, which – although it isn’t in Springwood – ironically enough turns out to be on an Elm Street. I do have to admit, the line “Every town has an Elm Street!” was actually pretty cool.

Maggie, Kickboxer Girl and the Doc concoct a scheme to send Mags into the Dreamworld wearing 3-D glasses (the last reel of this clunker was in 3-D), grab a hold of him, and pull him into the real world where he can die. She falls into Freddy’s 3-D Nightmare, where she sees him face his foster father, Alice Cooper, and then watches the night of his death. I’m sure this all looked cool in 3-D, but we watched it in 2-D, and it didn’t work nearly as well. As he died, we watched the Dream Demons cut a deal with him, turning him into the eternal demon we know him to be.

We get a final scene with some unexpected backstory, and Maggie tries to yank him into reality, but when she wakes up, he isn’t there. She’s still seeing things like she did in her dream (in 3-D), and so they rush down to an arsenal of clubs and bladed weapons that you’re likely to find in any homeless shelter. They suit up and head out, only to find him in the basement – a scared, pathetic-looking man with no demonic powers, blaming everything on everyone who “hurt” him. Maggie and Daddy throw down, where she discovers hidden knife-throwing expertise and finally impales him with his own glove. Then she blows him up just for good measure.

It’s a pretty much unanimous opinion that this film is terrible. But at least we knew the last one in the series wouldn’t be, because we’d seen it before. Jason and Kenny left at this point, however, leaving Mike and I to brave through the final film in our marathon by ourselves.

Nightmare7Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994). For the last film in the franchise, creator Wes Craven came back to try to breathe new life into Freddy. In this film Craven is planning a new Nightmare movie, featuring Heather Langencamp, (Nancy from parts 1 and 3). In a neat bit of metafiction, Craven, Langencamp, John Saxon (who played Nancy’s father) and Robert Englund play themselves. Heather is now married to a special effects guy named Chase who made the new knife-glove (art imitating life — in her real life Langencamp has been married to makeup and special effects artist David LeRoy Anderson since 1990), and their young son Dylan (one of the annoying friends of the Olsen Twins from Full House) is intrigued by the robotics in the device – a fascination that’s killed off when it begins slaughtering people.  It’s okay, though, it’s just a nasty dream of Heather’s that gets interrupted by a grand ol’ California earthquake.

Heather, it seems, has been having problems with bad dreams since a crazed fan gave her some harassing phone calls a while back. Her ever-understanding husband assures her there isn’t anything to worry about, prompting questions as to what sort of special effects guy doesn’t know how a horror movie works. She comes downstairs to find her son watching one of the creepiest scenes from the first Nightmare on Elm Street, and he starts screaming like a loon when she turns it off. At the same time, the phone rings – it’s her stalker again, chanting the Famous Freddy Rhyme. By the time the next aftershock hits a few minutes later, Mike has decided he’s never living in California.

Heather heads off to do a talk-show appearance celebrating the 10th anniversary of Nightmare, where she’s surprised by Robert Englund in full Freddy makeup. The audience goes wild, and everyone seems to be clamoring for Freddy’s return, even though he’s “dead.” Robert quips with her about doing another movie together and – surprisingly – she gets a call from New Line asking her to come by and ask about a new project. They want her back for, as the producer calls it, “THE definitive nightmare.” Wes Craven has a new idea based on a new nightmare he had, but Heather is reluctant to get back into the game. And for good reason – she gets home to find her son screaming, with the babysitter impotently trying to snap him out of it. His favorite stuffed animal is lying there too, with four neatly equal slashes.

She calls Chase to come home, but it’s a long drive, and he starts to – ooooooh – fall asleep at the wheel. He clearly didn’t watch the movies his wife wasn’t in, or he wouldn’t have been surprised when the knives appear beneath his seat… or so it seems. His terrifying dream isn’t enough to wake him up before the crash. Back home, Heather snaps awake from a nightmare, and Dylan is up too. There’s a knock at the door – police with bad news about Chase. Amazingly, we’ve been watching these movies for about ten hours at this point, and this is the first time I’ve actually felt bad about one of the deaths. Just goes to show you how good Craven is.

There’s another earthquake at the funeral, and Chase gets unceremoniously dumped out of the casket. Heather looks down to see Freddy pulling him and Dylan into the silk, and dives after him, pulling him away from an even nastier glove than she was used to seeing. She snaps to, having been knocked out in the earthquake. Chase is still in the coffin, Dylan is fine, and everyone is pretty perturbed. Everyone leaves, but the camera lingers a bit on Wes – he seems to have that, “Oh no, this can’t be happening look.” Heather wakes up to again find Dylan watching the original Nightmare and walking in his sleep. He’s been hearing Freddy in his dreams, and he’s asking the tough questions about what happened to his daddy. Another point for Craven – this is the first film that really seems to show the impact of death on the family left behind. Dylan wants his mother to come with him into his dreams, but she can’t. After all, that sort of thing only happens in the movies.

She calls up Robert to talk about what’s been happening, only to find that he’s been having premonitions about an even darker Freddy himself. What’s more, Wes is working on the script and has reached the scene where “Dylan tries to reach God” – exactly what he did in the previous scene, in which he nearly killed himself on a piece of incredibly poorly designed playground equipment.  Freddy’s next attack lands Dylan in psychiatric care, and she rushes off to talk to Wes, who tells her he’s writing the new script based on his dreams each morning – he doesn’t know where it’s going, but it’s about an ancient evil entity that takes different forms over the years to murder innocents. It can only be captured, periodically, by storytellers who trap it in stories… but when the stories end, the monster escapes. Craven here has a delicious commentary on how the films were watered down after he left, and it really hammered home what’s wrong with Hollywood today.

Long and short – because she beat him in the first movie, Freddy has to go through Nancy to get free and terrorize the real world again. The only way to trap the monster? Make another movie. Dylan gets carted off to the hospital and Heather winds up having to take him into the Dreamworld to face the dark creature that has taken Freddy’s form. The “new” Freddy design here is great – familiar, but even more twisted, more evil. The final battle works very well, and we’re left feeling like we really did legitimately see something “new.”

As New Nightmare ended, Mike and I decided to pass on Freddy Vs. Jason, as it was already 1:30 in the morning and, frankly, we’re grumpy old men. Plus – as I mentioned before – I reviewed it last year. But Mike and I agreed that New Nightmare was easily the best film in the series, and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 easily the worst. And most importantly, we decided we had a hell of a lot of fun, and ended the night with a promise to get back together next October and do it again. I’ve done Jason Voorhees. Together we did Freddy Krueger. For the 2008 Halloween Party? It’s gonna be Michael Myers’ turn.NightmareRemake

Back to the present day here. Since this blog was written, of course, there’s been a new Nightmare film, a remake. We didn’t write a review of it, but my fiance Erin and I recorded a review for the podcast in 2010. For the sake of completion, here’s the blurb and link for that podcast episode:

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 174: Greetings From Pittsburgh

Blake and Erin get on the microphone together for another of their epic visits together. The two of them discuss their adventures seeking out new comic book stores, how Blake was worried about defending the honor of the New Orleans Saints in the midst of Steeler nation, the glory of Bacon Night, and what they thought of the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. In the picks, Erin digs Power Girl: A New Beginning, and Blake was a fan of Young Allies #1.

Download the episode

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Get ready for the Man of Steel…

Man-of-Steel-Flight-Poster-550x801It is absolutely no surprise or secret that the movie I’m the most excited for this year is finally hitting theaters this Friday. Lifelong comic book fan, and more importantly, Superman fan that I am, Man of Steel couldn’t possibly get here soon enough to suit me. I’m on a mini-vacation with my fiance, Erin, right now, but once I’m home with my DVD shelf I fully intend to immerse myself in the Superman films of the past. Chances are you’re aware of the four Christopher Reeve movies, the one Brandon Routh movie… you no doubt know about the Fleischer Studios shorts of the early 40s, the assorted TV shows starring George Reeves, Dean Cain, and Tom Welling. You may even know about the Helen Slater Supergirl movie, and you no doubt watched the 90s Superman: The Animated Series starring Tim Daly.

Today, I’m going to give you a quick rundown of a few Superman movies you may not know about. In 2007, Warner Brothers and DC Comics began a series of animated movies based on their superhero comics, beginning with a Superman film. Many of these are available via Netflix steaming, and all of them are being flooded back into stores this week, with the big Man of Steel push. Here are those DCU Animated Superman movies you may not have seen…

Superman-DoomsdaySuperman/Doomsday (2007). The first film in the series was based on the early 90s Death of Superman storyline from the comic books, although it is a very trimmed-down version. In this version, Metropolis is attacked by a rampaging beast that comes to be known as Doomsday, a mindless killing machine that threatens to destroy his city. Superman faces down the beast, seemingly at the cost of his own life, but both friend and foe alike are unwilling to accept that his death is that simple. The film wasn’t bad — Adam Baldwin made for a good Superman and James Marsters was a great Lex Luthor. Anne Heche’s Lois Lane was weak, though, and I think they trimmed a bit too much to allow the story to fit in the extremely abbreviated running time of the animated series. Still, this was the DC Animated Universe’s first shot, and the series got better very quickly.

Superman-Batman Public Enemies Blu-RaySuperman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009). This movie reunited the TV voices of Superman and Batman, Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy, for the first of two films based on a comic book series by Jeph Loeb. In Public Enemies Lex Luthor (also voiced by his TV actor, Clancy Brown), has been elected president of the United States, and uses that influence to draw together a group of heroes under the government payroll. Luthor uses the threat of an impending strike of a massive meteor of Kryptonite to turn the public against Superman and he and Batman go on the run, fighting their fellow heroes in an attempt to clear their names and reveal Luthor as the villain he is. This is a really great flick, one that plays not just with Superman, but with the larger DC Universe, with lots of heroes and villains that casual fans may be introduced to for the first time.

Superman-Batman-ApocalypseSuperman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010). The sequel to Public Enemies again reunites Daly and Conroy. The shower of Kryptonite meteors in the first movie brought with it a large chunk with some mysterious technology inside. Batman investigates the chunk to discover a girl in suspended animation — Kara Zor-El (Summer Glau), daughter of Superman’s uncle, and the first blood family he has seen since coming to Earth as an infant. The heroes take Kara to Wonder Woman (Susan Eisenberg) to teach her how to use her powers and help her adapt to life on Earth, but she soon becomes embroiled in a battle between the heroes and the powerful villain Darkseid (Andre Braugher). I rather like this movie even more than Public Enemies, adding Supergirl to the mix and bringing in the most dangerous foe Superman has ever faced.

All Star SupermanAll-Star Superman (2011). Based on a graphic novel by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, in All-Star, Superman (James Denton) receives a fatal overdose of solar radiation while thwarting one of Lex Luthor’s (Anthony LaPaglia) schemes. The radiation is killing him slowly, and giving him additional powers in the process. With his time limited, Superman embarks on a quest to make permanent, lasting changes to the world, leaving it better before his death. This film is based on one of the greatest Superman comics of all time and, sadly, came out just days after the death of its screenwriter, Justice League Unlimited showrunner Dwayne McDuffie. If you can only watch one of the movies on this list, or if you don’t understand what makes Superman a brilliant and compelling character, this is the movie to watch.

Superman Vs the EliteSuperman Vs. the Elite (2012). George Newburn, who voiced Superman on the Justice League cartoons, returns to the character in this film based on a comic book by Joe Kelly. Manchester Black (Robin Atkin Downes) is a new superhero, one whose team the Elite initially appears like a welcome addition in the war on crime. Superman soon realizes, however, that Manchester and the Elite have much more violent and permanent solutions to villainy than he is comfortable with. As the people of Earth start to gravitate towards the Elite and question whether Superman is outdated, the man of steel is forced to confront questions of his own relevance. Like All-Star, this is a brilliant story made into a very good movie. This film is the answer to everyone who ever says that Superman is “too old fashioned,” “too good,” or just plain “boring.” This is a story that explains the importance of Superman, and why he has to be who he is… because the alternative is chilling.

Superman UnboundSuperman Unbound (2013). The most recent film on this list came out just last month. based on a graphic novel by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, Matt Bomer takes on the role of Superman in this film. Brainiac, a highly-intelligent alien that menaced Krypton in the past, has come to Earth, terrifying Supergirl (Molly Quinn), who remembers the villain from Krypton. Brainiac travels through the universe, miniaturizing and stealing cities from different planets before destroying them, and Metropolis is his next target. The graphic novel this movie is based on is great, the movie is just okay. Like some of the earlier films on the list, it suffers a little from having to strip away a bit too much from the original story to fit in the short animated running time. For the Superman fan, though, it’s still worth watching.

Sherlock Holmes Week Bonus: Benedict Cumberbatch in “A Study in Pink” (2010)

SherlockDirector: Paul McGuigan

Writer: Steven Moffat, based on the novel A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Lisa McAllister, Mark Gatiss, Rupert Graves, Phil Davies, Una Stubbs, Louie Brealey, Vinette Robinson

Plot: Returning from active duty in Afghanistan, Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) is having trouble recovering from a bullet wound, a limp, and post-traumatic stress disorder. His therapist even suggests he begin a blog as a means of coping, but John insists nothing interesting happens to him. While searching for an apartment, an old friend introduces him to consulting detective Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch). Sherlock quickly deduces a great deal of information about John, leaving the man off-balance, but somehow persuades him to accept a flat with him at 221B Baker Street. John is still acclimating to Sherlock when he is called out to investigate a murder. He invites John to join him, and they find an apparent suicide victim, the fourth such in recent weeks. As Sherlock pieces clues together, John is approached by a Detective Sally Donovan (Vinette Robinson) who warns him to stay away from Sherlock, who she believes to be a psychotic waiting to snap.

John is summoned into a car by a beautiful woman calling herself Anthea (Lisa McAllister). She takes him to a man (Mark Gatiss) who offers John  great deal of money to report on Sherlock’s activities. John refuses and returns to Sherlock, who wants him to send a text to the dead woman’s mobile phone in an effort to trap the killer. The two stake out a restaurant and chase the presumed killer, but instead find an American tourist getting out of a taxicab.

Returning home, Sherlock is approached by Detective Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves), using a fake drug bust as an excuse to claim any clues Sherlock may have uncovered. As they bicker, a taxicab arrives for Sherlock, even though he didn’t call for one. The clues assemble in Sherlock’s mind and he accompanies the cab driver (Phil Davies), who he realizes is the killer. The cabbie explains that he’s been employed by a benefactor to play a game with his victims, challenging them to select from two identical pills, one of which is poison. They will then each take a pill, and one will die. Thus far, the cabbie has never lost, and as he is terminally ill, has no fear of the game. His benefactor will give money to his children for each murder he successfully commits. Sherlock makes his choice, but hesitates in taking the pill. In that second, John (who has trailed them) shoots the cabbie from a window across the street. Sherlock tries to get the cabbie to tell him if he made the right choice, then forces him to tell him the name of his benefactor. The cabbie screams “Moriarity!” before he dies.

As the police clean up the crime scene, the man who tried to bribe John appears – it’s Sherlock’s older brother Mycroft, a high-ranking government official. As Sherlock and John walk away, Mycroft orders Anthea to upgrade their surveillance status to grade 3.

Thoughts: This is the pilot episode of the BBC TV series Sherlock, which has turned out six episodes in four years, because showrunner Steven Moffat hates us (like the wait between Doctor Who seasons isn’t bad enough). I’ll use it, however, to stand in for the series as a whole for the sake of discussion. Despite the fact that we’ve only gotten six episodes, nine hours of Sherlock as of this writing, it’s quickly become one of my favorite interpretations of the character. Moffat has taken the basic trappings of Holmes and placed it in modern-day London, showing a Holmes that has no qualms about using modern science and technology as a tool to solve crimes. The show makes frequent – almost constant – use of cell phones and computers, and trading Watson’s career as a magazine writer for a blogger is a really nice touch that allows Moffat to keep up the pretense of Holmes becoming a semi-celebrity even in a world where nobody really pays much attention to magazines anymore.

Cumberbatch and Freeman are virtually flawless as Holmes and Watson. Cumberbatch has a wild-haired, youthful energy that befits his interpretation of Holmes as a man whose brain functions so far ahead of the world around him that he’s desperate for any distraction to escape soul-crushing boredom. Similar to the cell phone example, Moffat and company have found a lot of nice visual tricks to use to demonstrate how Holmes’s brain is piecing together all of the clues that surround him, but which escape the common mind.

Freeman’s Watson, when we first meet him, is a man very much on the brink. He’s been unable to adapt to life outside of the Army, and has a quiet desperation of his own. The most clever bits, however, come when Mycroft diagnoses his ailment: Watson’s therapist believes he’s suffering from PSTD as a result of his war experience. Mycroft, however, realizes that Watson’s feelings of depression aren’t because the war left him scarred, it’s because he misses the excitement. It makes for a fine marriage between Sherlock and John (who call each other by their first names here, unlike most other incarnations), and the two actors have a remarkable chemistry together.

What’s great about the structure of a television show, however, is that it allows us to watch this relationship develop over time. In every other version of Holmes we’ve discussed this week, we picked up their adventures long after Holmes and Watson come together. In fact the version in which the relationship is most central (the Downey/Law movie from 2009), we see a Watson who’s ready to move on from that life. This is the first film version we’ve looked at that takes their relationship from its very beginning as Doyle did with his stories. Again, we’ve only had six episodes, but those six episodes have covered a lot of time for the characters, and there’s been a very believable growth and evolution between the two characters. By the end of episode six, when tragedy strikes, the pain we see is true, and genuine, and deeply affecting to the audience as well.

The show has picked up on most of the major characters from the Holmes mythos – Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson are there from the beginning, Irene Adler (Lara Pulver) made a great appearance in the season two premiere, and Andrew Scott’s Moriarity was a fantastic, believable threat to Holmes. Each episode has taken one of the original Holmes stories as inspiration, but that inspiration is often extremely loose, providing little more than a jump-off point for a much more contemporary story.

And all of that is to the good. Season three is filming right now (or may even be finished, I’m not sure), but as of yet there’s been no announcement from the BBC as to when it’s going to air. If you haven’t watched this show and you enjoy different interpretations of Holmes, you’ve got time to catch up. All six episodes are available streaming from Netflix and on Amazon Prime. You can knock them all out in a weekend marathon. And you’ll thank yourself for it.

The first Reel to Reel study, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

Gut Reaction: Birdemic-Shock and Terror (2010)

birdemicDirector: James Nguyen

Writer: James Nguyen

Cast: Alan Bagh, Whitney Moore, Janae Caster, Colton Osborne, Adam Sessa, Catherine Batcha, Patty van Ettinger, Rick Camp, Stephen Gustavson, Danny Webber, Mona Lisa Moon

Plot: Rod (Alan Bagh), a preposterously successful software salesman, meets Natalie (Whitney Moore), an up-and-coming supermodel. As the two begin a romance that was clearly written in the stars, legions of birds lose their minds and begin attacking humanity because Global Warming is a thing. Warning: Do NOT attempt to take this movie seriously. Normally I would also include a spoiler warning, because I will talk some spoilers, but with a movie this remarkably stupid they aren’t so much “spoilers” as they are “cautionary examples.”

Thoughts: For a couple of years now, I’ve heard people talk about Birdemic: Shock and Terror as the new “So Bad It’s Good” movie, placing it in the ranks of dubious classics like The Room, Troll 2, and the über-entry in that category, Plan 9 From Outer Space. There are a lot of bad movies, but for a movie to be so bad as to be entered into that pantheon takes an awful lot of effort on the part of a director that is seriously delusional and, more often than not, a cast that wonders what the hell it got itself into.

My friends. On that front, Birdemic: Shock and Terror totally delivers.

James Nguyen’s 2010 film is the clunkiest, least-effective attempt at a “nature gone bad” horror film I’ve ever seen, so bad in fact that it’s hard to know exactly where to begin. It seems clear that Nguyen was attempting to emulate Alfred Hitchcock’s classic The Birds, which also featured a young couple that meets early in the film, a slow build to establish their relationship, and a sudden, inexplicable attack by birds that dominates the rest of the movie. However, Nguyen manages to take these elements that Hitchcock used in a masterpiece and screw every single one of them up.

Let’s take the slow beginning. In Hitchcock’s film, while it does start slowly, he’s building an interesting group of characters with dynamics, personalities and relationships that could probably sustain a movie even without the threat of lunatic bird attack. Not so Nguyen. Rod works as a salesman for a software company that gets sold for a billion dollars (an even billion, that’s right) right after he makes a big sale worth a million dollars (after giving the client a 50 percent discount). Natalie, meanwhile, is informed at the beginning that she’s been selected as the next Victoria’s Secret cover girl, which delights her mother, who also suggests she look into selling real estate as a back-up. However, despite the fact that these two people are remarkably successful, almost every location in the film (including their homes, motel room, and places of business) look like they were shot in the same spare bedroom of a cheap apartment with a half-assed attempt at decoration by changing the bedspread and swapping out laughably small signs the local print shop turned out for a grand total of sixteen dollars.

What’s more, their incredible success never factors into the movie. Rod’s salesmanship? His money? Natalie’s… covergirl-ness? Once the bird attack begins — an unforgivably long 45 minutes into this stinker – all of that immediately becomes irrelevant. Again, this is Nguyen at least trying to emulate Hitchcock. In The Birds, many of the circumstances behind Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor’s meeting (oh geez, Rod Taylor, I just realized what Nguyen was trying to do there) cease to matter, but the character dynamics and the local politics of the small town they’re in are still important. For example, we feel bad when Rod Taylor’s ex-girlfriend dies trying to protect his little sister. When the main characters of Birdemic find their two best friends (who also happen to be dating one another, although somehow neither Rod nor Natalie knew this when they started dating) dead in a car, the audience really only wonders what the point was in including them in the film at all, as they contributed exactly nothing.

The only thing worse than the writing in this movie is the special effects used to create the birds. From the first time we see a bird – a trio of parrots circling a tree – it becomes clear we’re in for a treat. This is the worst, weakest CGI I have ever seen, without qualification. On TV, in theaters, in direct-to-video releases, on viral videos on the internet, every human being who has ever attempted to make pixels on a computer screen move was more successful than the people who made Birdemic. The dancing baby from Ally McBeal looks realistic and lifelike in comparison to the birds in this movie. They attack in droves, sometimes, dive-bombing random targets and exploding, with fire that stays exactly in the spot the bird made contact and burns upwards in a perfect column. They hover – eagles that hover – in front of windows or cars. And whenever one of the characters manages to shoot a bird, that bird they hit inexplicably becomes the only one in the shot, popping in a manner reminiscent of an arcade-style duck hunting game circa 1991.

There is one aspect, however, in which this film clearly and deliberately rejects the framework of Hitchcock’s classic. In his film, as well as in the Daphne Du Maurier story upon which it is based, no explanation for the bird attack is ever given. James Nguyen turns this trope on its ear by giving us multiple, increasingly stupid explanations for what’s happening, all of which boil down to the same thing: Global Warming. That’s right, friends, everything in this movie is because of Global Warming… somehow. One random scientist they meet standing on a bridge blames Global Warming for a pile of dead birds on the ground, but then soundly rejects the notion that it could be responsible for the bird attack. A nutcase in the woods (wearing a wig so terrible that your delusional Uncle Morty suddenly will feel incredibly dapper by comparison) blames Global Warming for the deaths of certain trees and the explosion in the bark beetle population, which… also somehow made the birds go crazy?

Whatever, it’s obviously Global Warming, because we are told the birds are only attacking people in cars or at gas stations. Except for that one time it kills a girl trying to go to the bathroom in the middle of an open field. We also have to accept the danger despite the fact that in the background of almost every single shot we can see a steady, orderly stream of two-directional traffic completely unmolested by birds, because Nguyen couldn’t afford to shut the roads down when filming and couldn’t be arsed to find a road that didn’t have a lot of traffic on it. If that wasn’t enough, the characters sometimes pause the film to talk – in stilted dialogue that would get you kicked out of a high school drama club – about how great their hybrid cars are, including one that gets exactly 100 miles to the gallon, and walk around discussing how great they think the movie An Inconvenient Truth is. (This is an actual line of dialogue: “What a great movie. An Inconvenient Truth.” Because evidently Rod’s idiot friends forgot what movie they all just ostensibly watched together. Incidentally, I’m told that film is the perfect choice for a double-date.)

Everything about this movie is horrible, ill-made, and heavy-handed. By the time it was over I expected to see Al Gore, the Dancing Baby and Alfred Hitchcock (appearing as a Jedi ghost) to release a joint statement emphasizing that James Nguyen in no way speaks for them.

BUT… you gotta watch this.

Don’t watch it the way you usually would, of course. Don’t just turn it on as a bit of entertainment for two hours, because it fails on every possible level. But when you get your friends together with the intent of ripping into a crappy movie, this is a perfect choice. If you get the RiffTrax version of the film, Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy give us one of the funniest riffs they’ve done in their decades of mocking terrible movies. Unlike some movies, which could be used for torture, this movie could be an alternative to taking anti-depressants. What’s better – popping a Xanax, or watching Rod and his friends use metal clothes hangers to try to fight off a flock of CGI birds that are hovering mere inches in front of their faces but that they cannot seem to hit, mainly because the computer effects team couldn’t move the birds somewhere that they might actually come close to one of the spastically-flailing hangars?

A while back, the TV show Mythbusters proved that – despite the old adage – it is in fact possible to polish a turd. They could have saved themselves the trouble and just watched Birdemic.

For my take on a much better film that uses some of these tropes, The Birds was one of the “bonus films” available only in the eBook edition of the first Reel to Reel study, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen. It’s now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

Lunatics and Laughter Day 20: Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil (2010)

tucker-and-dale-vs-evilDirector: Eli Craig

Writer: Eli Craig & Morgan Jurgenson

Cast: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Travis Nelson, Chelan Simmons, Christie Laing, Brandon Jay McLaren, Alex Arsenault, Adam Beauchesne, Philip Granger, Joseph Allan Sutherland

Plot: In the Appalachian Mountains, a group of college students takes a trip to the woods. They stop to get beer, encountering a pair of rednecks. One of the girls, Allison (Katrina Bowden) is startled by the appearance of redneck Dale (Tyler Labine), and the kids hustle back to their car. Dale admires Allison from afar, and his buddy Tucker (Alan Tudyk) tries to convince him to take a chance and approach her. His weak attempt to be friendly frightens the girls. Chad (Jesse Moss) ushers them back into the car, and they speed off. Dejected, Dale slumps back to his truck and Tucker urges him to find the courage to pursue what he wants. The boys are on their way to a “summer home” Tucker bought by the lake, with an eye towards fixing it up. When a beam slips from the ceiling and nearly hits Tucker in the face, they decide they’d better start on the repairs.

At the college students’ campsite, Chad begins telling his friends the story of the “Memorial Day Massacre.” Twenty years ago, a bloodthirsty hillbilly slaughtered a group of college students just like them. Chad comes on to Allison, but she rejects him and goes to her friends, who are skinny-dipping in the lake. Tucker and Dale, meanwhile, are night fishing. When Dale spots Allison stripping, he accidentally startles her and she falls in the water, hitting her head. They pull her from the lake, saving her life, but the other kids mistake the rescue operation for a kidnapping and flee in terror. In the morning, Allison wakes up in Tucker’s cabin, head bandaged, wearing one of Dale’s flannel shirts. As he approaches her, she’s terrified of him… until she realizes he’s just bringing her breakfast. She’s stunned to realize her friends abandoned her when they thought she was in danger, and finds herself slowly charmed by the gentle, sweetly awkward Dale, even giving him permission to call her Allie.

Chad plans an assault on the hillbillies, sending Chuck (Travis Nelson) to try to find the police and Mitch (Adam Beauchesne) to attack Tucker, who’s chopping wood with a chainsaw. Tucker accidentally saws into a beehive and begins to run, Mitch fleeing in a blind panic, impaling himself on a fallen tree and dying. The teens believe Tucker killed him. Back in the cabin, Dale and Allie start playing board games, Allie impressed by his knowledge of trivia and tells him of her plans to become a therapist. Tucker summons him to help outside, and the kids hide from them as they chat about Allison, mistaking their comments and Dale’s misspelled note (“We got yur frend”) for a threat.

Allie joins Dale in digging a hole for the outhouse, revealing she grew up on a farm and is used to hard work, while Tucker gets to work disposing of all the dead wood near the cabin in a huge chipper. (If you have paid any attention since the beginning of this project, you know exactly where this is going.) The teens attack, one of them spearing himself on the stick he planned to use to kill Dale and another leaping at Tucker and landing right in the wood chipper. Allison is accidentally knocked out. The boys bring her inside, believing the college students have entered into some sort of crazy suicide pact. Outside, the kids meet up with Chuck and the Sheriff (Philip Granger).

The Sheriff pulls up at the cabin just as Tucker and Dale get the remains out of the wood chipper. The Sheriff (understandably) doesn’t believe their story, and insists they take him inside to check on Allison. He accidentally triggers the beam that nearly hit Tucker earlier, and a board full of nails is drilled into his forehead. He stumbles outside and dies next to his car full of terrified teens. Chuck takes his gun and tries to shoot the rednecks, but forgets about the safety until Dale reminds him. Chuck winds up blowing his own head off. Chad manages to capture Tucker, dangling him upside-down from a tree and torturing him for being “pure evil.”

Allison wakes up and Dale tearfully says her friends are trying to murder his best friend and his dog. Allison starts to understand the misunderstanding and steps outside to calm her friends, but finds a package left on the stoop: a part of Tucker’s shirt with two fingers and a note from Chad, daring Dale to try to save his friend. Allison’s attempt to explain reveals she was afraid of Dale when she first saw him, and he blames himself for everything that’s happened. He asks her to tell her friends he never wanted to hurt anyone and sets out to rescue Tucker. He stumbles into a trap set by Chad, but the trap misses and he saves his friend. As night falls, Chad and Naomi (Christie Laing) sneak into the cabin. They find Allison alone and Chad begins pouring gas around the cabin, calling the boys evil freaks. Naomi accuses Allison of falling in love with her captor, Chad growing angry before Tucker and Dale arrive. Allie tries to make everyone talk things out, making Earl Gray tea (because Chad is allergic to Chamomile).  Chad reveals his mother was the lone survivor of the Memorial Day Massacre. Outside, the last two teens (Jason-Brandon Jay McLaren, and Chloe-Chelan Simmons) break in. They wind up setting the cabin on fire. The remaining teens, except Chad, are killed, and Dale crashes the truck trying to escape. When he wakes up, Allison is missing and Tucker too injured to go on. Tucker tells Dale he’s a better man than he knows, and that Allison sees it too, and sends him off to be the hero. He tracks Chad to a mill, where Allison is tied up. Dale cuts her free and they run, finding an attic with more newspapers and boxes of tea. The papers reveal that Chad’s mother was actually raped by the hillbilly killer… and the photo of the murderer looks just like Chad. Chad refuses to believe it and he slashes at Dale, but Dale hits him in the face with Chamomile tea. Chad staggers backwards and falls from the window.

The news blames the deaths of the college students on a deranged killer (Chad), and Tucker watches the report from his hospital room, where his fingers have been (mostly) reattached. Dale takes Allison out bowling that night. As he awkwardly tries to profess his feelings for her, she silences him with a kiss.

Thoughts: Being, as I am, from Louisiana, cinematic depictions of the south frequently infuriate me. While every geographic region has some legitimate stereotypes, the notion that being from the south automatically makes someone lackwitted or intolerant is personally insulting and as ignorant as anything the people who make those claims are upset about. And that is why I love Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil. On its face, the movie seems to play into all the backwoods hillbilly stereotypes. It soon becomes clear, though, that writers Eli Craig and Morgan Jurgenson had a totally different agenda with this film. Granted, Tucker and Dale could stand a few more showers and they may not be as refined as the Chads of the world, but they’re unrelentingly clever, hard-working, loyal, and brave. They are the salt of the Earth, and every death in the movie comes not at their hands, but because the college kids are far more stupid and intolerant than they accuse our heroes of being, and bring disaster upon themselves.

Even more so than most modern slasher movies, the death scenes are played for laughs, mainly because every single injury in the movie is either self-inflicted or Chad-inflicted. As it turns out, the only thing funnier than watching a teenager get hacked up by Jason Voorhees is watching a pretentious douche get hacked up because he thinks he’s being chased by Jason Voorhees.

The therapy scene is a great little double-punch. It comes across as a minor dig at the modern attitude of trying to talk through problems that may be beyond talking. Chad is clearly harboring deep, violent issues and it’s doubtful from the outset that there’s anything anyone could say to make him see reason. At the same time, it’s a great way to establish more of Chad’s character (he’s still a one-note villain, but now he’s a one-note villain with a motivation), and get some of the film’s funniest lines out all at once.

In terms of legitimate horror, there isn’t too much here. Some of the death scenes are a little gory and violent, but they’re never played realistically enough to get too horrified. Tucker and Dale are supposed to look disturbing at the outset, but that switch is flipped virtually as soon as they start talking. And while Chad makes for a solid villain, he’s never particularly frightening or intimidating. Tucker and Dale could easily take him out at any point if they weren’t trying to hold back, which they do either because they don’t realize they’re in danger, don’t want to hurt anybody, or are instead more concerned with protecting Allison.

In a strange way, this movie is a further deconstruction of the sort that began with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, although it takes its inspiration more from the Last House on the Left or Texas Chainsaw Massacre school of terror. In Buffy, we watched as the typical horror movie victim got the upper hand on the monsters and became a superhero. In Tucker and Dale the reversal goes a step further, with the usual victim becoming the monster himself and the usual monsters becoming champions. It’s such a simple, brilliant change-up that it’s almost impossible to believe it hasn’t been done before. (Unless it has been done before. If it has been done, please let me know.)

Although I wasn’t sure what to make of this movie the first time I watched it, it won me over almost instantly. The change to the usual horror movie formula is fresh and entertaining. Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk are charming comedic actors that work really well together, coming across as a great movie duo. This is the newest movie on the list, receiving only a limited theatrical release and a DVD release earlier this year, so I won’t be surprised if a lot of you haven’t seen it yet. If you fall into that category, go to NetFlix streaming and stream the heck out of it, now, before your Halloween passes. It’s a great way to cap off the season.