Horror Marathon: Friday the 13th/The Evil Dead/A Nightmare on Elm Street – Part Two

My epic horror project continues… I’ve been watching three horror series that share narrative crossovers and recording my thoughts. You can read part one, which covered nine horror movies released between 1980 and 1986, by clicking on this link. Here’s part two…

Spoiler warning: I’ve not blown every surprise or twist, but some of the more famous plot points are revealed.

10. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987, Chuck Russell)
Teenage patients in a psychiatric hospital must join forces to defeat Freddy Krueger…

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There are some big names involved in this second Elm Street sequel. After skipping the previous entry, creator Wes Craven returned to work on the script; Frank Darabont (the director of The Shawshank Redemption) also did a pass; and the cast includes Laurence Fishburne and a pre-fame Patricia Arquette. It’s decent stuff – spooky and unsettling, even inventive at times, and done with intent. You care for the characters and want to know what happens next… Kristen Parker (Arquette, giving a good performance) has been having nightmares about Freddy Krueger, so is admitted to a psychiatric hospital where all the other patients on the ward are teens who have been dreaming of him too. Handily, the institute’s hotshot new doctor has experience in this area, because she’s Nancy from the original film (played again by Heather Langenkamp, sadly looking too young to be convincing). She helps the group, but Freddy induces some of them to kill themselves, so the survivors team up to fight back… The surrealistic dream sequences are a treat, as are several of the special effects. A subplot about Freddy being evil because he was the product of rape, however, is maybe one idea too many.
Seven papier-mâché houses

11. Evil Dead II (1987, Sam Raimi)
Ash’s nightmare continues as the Deadites torment him in the cabin…

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More a remake of the first Evil Dead movie than a traditional sequel (a story-so-far prologue plays very fast and loose with continuity), this gleefully vibrant film sees Ash Williams (a foot-to-the-floor performance from Bruce Campbell) still trapped in the same cabin and still surrounded by demonic forces. Meanwhile, the daughter of the archaeologist who originally found the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis (the book that unleashed the horror in the first place) is on her way to the cabin with some friends… This is a relentlessly entertaining horror flick, clearly made with a relish for slapstick and cartoon violence. We get a razzle-dazzle hotchpotch of stop-motion photography, greenscreens, handheld shots, POV shots, crane shots, matte shots, model shots, puppets, prosthetics, monster make-up, blood, gore, decapitated heads and arch sound effects. Directed, shot and cut with a real sharpness, Evil Dead II rivals An American Werewolf in London as the best comedy-horror film ever made. (There’s also a subtle cross-reference worth noting here: Freddy Krueger’s glove appears above a tool-shed door. It was director Sam Raimi’s sly reference to A Nightmare on Elm Street, which had in turn shown characters watching The Evil Dead on TV.)
Ten copies of A Farewell to Arms out of 10

12. Friday the 13th: The Series (1987-1990)
When a pair of cousins inherit an antiques shop, they realise its contents are extremely dangerous…

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With the Friday the 13th movies taking so much money no matter the quality, Paramount decided to spin the brand off into television. Co-created by film series producer Larry Mancuso, the resulting show ran for three seasons totalling 71 episodes… and never once had any narrative connection to its parent franchise. The opening episode, The Inheritance, sees the bizarre death of an antique-shop owner, after which his niece Micki Foster (an often bra-less Louise Robey) inherits the business. Not wanting it, she and her cousin Ryan Dallion (an often expression-less John D LeMay) sell off all the stock. But then a strange man called Jack Marshak (Chris Wiggins) shows up and tells them the artefacts have all been cursed by the devil! They need to get them back one at a time, thereby establishing the episodic format of the series, and their first problem is that a malevolent, sentient doll has been given as a present to a little girl called Mary (Sally Polley)… A later genre show, Warehouse 13 (2009-2014), used much the same structure – two good-looking people hunt for powerful artefacts while being guided by an older mentor type – and indeed was accused of copying its premise from Friday the 13th: The Series. It did it so much better than this drivel, which has shallow storytelling and a drab cast of characters.
Four deals with the devil out of 10

13. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988, John Carl Buechler)
A troubled teenager is taken to Crystal Lake – the scene of her father’s death – but she triggers the return of Jason Voorhees…

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It’s quite an achievement to make a film so lacking in distinction. In a prologue, a young girl called Tina psychically yet accidentally causes the death of her father. A few years later, Tina is now a teen (Lar Park Lincoln) and her mother has brought her back to Crystal Lake to undergo therapy with a clearly dodgy doctor. While there, she somehow manages to magically resurrect Jason Voorhees, who has been trapped at the bottom of the water since the previous Friday movie. Meanwhile, there’s a gang of teenagers with 80s hairstyles staying in a cabin nearby – all are bland, all are clichés, and all are rotten. Guess what? Jason starts to pick people off, one by one. Most of the deaths are boring; at least one is inadvertently funny. There are then about 27 false endings.
Two pearl necklaces out of 10

14. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988, Renny Harlin)
When Freddy Krueger is resurrected he targets a previous nemesis and her friends…

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Things look promising as you go into this one. The director is Renny Harlin, who later proved he can handle suspense and spectacle with Die Hard 2 (1990), Cliffhanger (1993) and The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996); one of the writers is Brian Helgeland, who later won an Oscar for 1997’s LA Confidential. But it very quickly falls apart. And how. There’s an absolutely dreadful cast – even by slasher-film standards – playing friends who attend one of those 1980s American high schools where students drive expensive cars and fall into easily defined cliques. The key character is Kristen from the previous Nightmare film (recast with the anaemic Tuesday Knight), but soon Freddy is resurrected and targets the kids. Some of the dreams are quite fun, such as a body-horror-tastic sequence as Brooke Theiss’s Debbie grotesquely morphs into a cockroach, but this is an awful and very boring film. Admittedly, one decent idea bubbles away and then comes to the boil late on. Kristen’s meek and bullied friend Alice (Lisa Wilcox) initially seems to be an irrelevance, but she becomes stronger and more determined the longer the story goes on. By the end, she’s the one character who stands up to Freddy: as she prepares for the showdown she ritualistically ‘suits up’, collecting mementoes given to her by her late friends.
Three waterbeds out of 10

15. Freddy’s Nightmares (1988-1990)
When murderer Freddy Krueger walks free from court, the policeman who arrested him is tormented by his failure – and resorts to extreme measures…

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Watching on as the Friday the 13th series got a TV spin-off, New Line Cinema chose to do the same with their franchise. Freddy’s Nightmares, however, maintained more of a link to the Elm Street movies. The opening episode, No More Mr Nice Guy, acts as a prequel to Wes Craven’s 1984 film. Even with subsequent instalments telling self-contained horror plots, Freddy cropped up in a further seven stories as well as emceeing the show in framing scenes. The series ran for two seasons, totalling 44 episodes. No More Mr Nice Guy starts before Freddy (Robert Englund) has the ability to enter people’s dreams. He’s a child murderer standing trial and everyone knows he’s guilty. But when the judge learns that he wasn’t read his rights when arrested, Krueger has to be let go. This causes anguish for the grieving parents, as well as for cop Timothy Blocker (Ian Patrick Williams), the man who made the mistake. So they hunt Freddy down and burn him to death, with Blocker lighting the fire. As a piece of television, it’s occasionally shot with some style by film director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Poltergeist), but the drama is feeble and the cast appalling.
Five twins out of 10

16. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989, Rob Heddon)
When Jason is resurrected from a watery grave, he slips aboard a ship headed for New York City…

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The Friday the 13th series hits New York! Well, actually, it takes about an hour’s running time before the characters reach the Big Apple. Before that, we’re on a ship full of post-grad students. A resurrected Jason sneaks on board and slowly starts to kill them one by one… The film is garbage, admittedly, and has noticeably less gore than some previous Fridays – but at least it breaks free of the woods-and-cabins setting. There’s also a *bit* of drama going on here and there, such as nominal lead character Rennie (Jensen Daggett) having a fear of drowning caused by a prior encounter with Jason. When the survivors finally reach Manhattan, there’s some location shooting in Times Square and a subway – yet the action mostly takes place in non-descript, deserted backalleys. It’s a shame. The scenes of Jason on the rampage in New York are quite effective, but for practical and budgetary reasons they have to be fleeting.
Five pens supposedly used by Stephen King in high school out of 10

17. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989, Stephen Hopkins)
Freddy Krueger targets a group of young friends (again), but one of them has fought him before…

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The ‘final girl’ survivor of the previous Nightmare film, Alice (Lisa Wilcox), is graduating from high school alongside her boring friends. But she’s also dreaming about Freddy Krueger’s mother, a nun who was gang-raped by lunatic criminals. Before long, the boring friends begin to die in bizarre ways, and it’s in these sequences where the film succeeds the most. Director Stephen Hopkins (Predator 2) distinguishes the real world from the nightmares by using a lot of long lenses in the former and wide-angles in the latter. The nightmare sequences are also lively and grotesque and feature some old-school special effects – Alice’s boyfriend is violently attacked by a motorbike while he’s riding it; her hot pal Greta is force-fed food by Freddy; a friend who likes comic books is sucked into his own drawings; and a sequence near the end of the movie features MC Escher-like staircases. However, the story – some nonsense about Alice’s unborn son and Freddy’s dead-but-in-limbo mother – never really takes flight.
Five scar-faced limp-dicks out of 10

18. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991, Rachel Talalay)
After a spate of suicides and strange deaths, Freddy torments Springwood’s last remaining teenager…

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The Elm Street story moves 10 years into the future for a film intended at the time to be the last in the series. It’s batshit crazy – a befuddled mix of ambitious special effects, goofy comedy, superfluous celebrity cameos and visual gimmicks. It’s never scary, and sometimes frustrating, but it zips along and is ultimately rather likeable. A social worker takes a troubled boy with amnesia back to his hometown to try to find out who he is. Given that Freddy Krueger has by now killed off all its children, Springwood has been repurposed from a sleepy Midwest suburb into a creepy, desolate frontier town populated by weirdos. (One character likens it to Twin Peaks.) The guest cast – several kids, Lisa Zane’s social worker and a bored-looking Yaphet Kotto – disappoint, as they often do in these films, but we get some truly surreal scenes in the dreamworld. One sequence, for example, features a hearing-impaired character and uses some smart sound design. We also delve deeply into Freddy’s backstory, which gives Robert Englund much more varied material to play than in the previous entries.
Six 3-D glasses out of 10

The third and final part of this horror odyssey can be read here.

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