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

Here’s the third and final part of my journey into darkness as I systematically watch and review every movie from three horror series that share fictional crossovers. You can catch up with parts one (1980-1986) and two (1987-1991) by clicking on the links.

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

19. Army of Darkness (1992, Sam Raimi)
Transported to the Middle Ages, a young 20th-century American called Ash must continue to fight the Deadites… and find a way to get home…

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What a bonkers movie. Gloriously so. Following on from Evil Dead II’s time-travelling cliffhanger, Ash (Bruce Campbell) is now in the year 1300 (seemingly in England). He’s captured by a local lord who wants to sacrifice him to a beast in a pit, but soon proves his worth and sets out to find the Necronomican, the book with the power to get him back to the present… Even more of a comedy than the previous Evil Dead film, Army of Darkness gets a lot of humour from Ash’s action-movie quips contrasting with the dialogue of the earnest locals (it’s a case of Schwarzenegger vs Shakespeare). The plot is structured like a Western, with Ash as the stranger who arrives to defend a town from an outside force – but rather than Henry Fonda or Eli Wallach, this outside force is an army of Ray Harryhausen-style skeletons. When the battle comes, the Monty Python-like humour continues but it’s now complemented by a siege sequence that spookily preempts Helm’s Deep from The Lord of the Rings by a decade. The whole movie is directed archly, with enormous energy and bags of wit. The hyper-kenetic and goofy style is close to a live-action cartoon and it’s brilliantly entertaining.
Eight copies of Fangoria out of 10

20. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993, Adam Marcus)
After being caught and killed by the FBI, the spirit of Jason Voorhees transfers from person to person to continue his carnage…

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After a deliberately slow opening, which reminds us of the simplicity of the earliest Friday the 13th films, Jason Voorhees is gunned down by FBI marksmen. But that’s not the end: it turns out that ‘Jason’ is actually a slug-like parasite that can transfer from person to person. Who knew?! He can enter his new victim’s body via the mouth or, in one crass instance, the vagina. Having possessed the new host, he can then continue to murder people in violent ways. Riiiiight… This film, which is the second Friday film to use the word ‘Final’ incorrectly, has another parade of forgettable characters who come and go without much impact. (Perhaps the exception is Steven Williams’s Creighton Duke, a bounty hunter who acts like he’s the star of his own action-movie franchise.) There’s also a lot of nudity, sex, violence and gore – the latter provided by Greg Nicotero, a revered special-effects supervisor. It’s an exceeding silly film, which has a wispy plotline about Jason only being vulnerable to his blood relatives. But it does have special interest for this blogging project because this is where Friday the 13th, The Evil Dead and A Nightmare on Elm Street collide. It’s revealed that Jason’s supernatural qualities are because his mother once used the Necronomicon book from The Evil Dead series to resurrect him. (Director Adam Marcus sneaked this cross-reference in under the radar.) Then the final image of the movie is deliberately setting up a crossover sequel: Freddy Krueger’s gloved hand appears out of the ground and pulls Jason down into hell…
Five Voorhees burgers out of 10

21. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994, Wes Craven)
Ten years after starring in A Nightmare on Elm Street, actress Heather Langenkamp suffers from nightmares herself – and comes to believe that Freddy Krueger is breaking out of his fictional realm…

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Wow. Just… wow. It feels slightly unfair on all the other films in this blog series to include New Nightmare, given that it’s not a hastily churned-out slasher film. It’s a postmodern, avant-garde experiment; a clever-clever, cerebral movie that’s deep and dangerous. Series creator Wes Craven returns to write and direct a film in which Heather Langenkamp (Nancy in Nightmares 1 and 3) plays herself. The movie Heather is an actress recognisable from horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street, but is also a wife and doting mother. She’s already under pressure from a crank caller and bad dreams when her old colleague Wes Craven (also playing himself) asks her to reprise Nancy in a new Nightmare movie alongside Robert Englund (ditto). But this story is so much more than a behind-the-scenes in-joke. Langenkamp gives a fantastic performance, playing herself but doing so as an acting role – there’s no smugness or winking to the audience (well, not much). There are smart themes at play too: of fairy tales, of the power of motherhood, of the world being off-kilter thanks to a series of Californian earthquakes. The script also talks about the nature of horror stories – Craven himself explains that the evil of Freddy Krueger was contained within his film series, but now that the movies have ended he’s free to break into reality. And when he does, it’s a darker Freddy: he’s still played by Englund, but there are no quips or sense of glee. This Fred is *scary*. A marvellous, marvellous film.
Nine pairs of pyjamas out of 10

22. Jason X (2001, Jim Isaac)
When Jason Voorhees is awoken after five centuries in suspended animation, he resumes his murderous ways… IN SPACE!

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Treading the fine line between clever and stupid, this film sees a desperate roll of the dice from the Friday the 13th creative team. And it kinda pays off… After nine films with samey settings, Jason X is Galaxy Quest-style sci-fi. We begin in the year 2010 and a captured Jason Voorhees is cryogenically frozen – but so too, by accident, is one of the team working at the Crystal Lake Research Facility. Then we cut to 455 years later. Earth is now a sandstorm-blasted wilderness. A team of goggle-wearing survivors of an apocalypse discover the lab and take both bodies back to their spaceship, where they thaw them out… There’s a definite Alien-influenced, truckers-in-space vibe going on here. There are far too many characters, so while some pop more than others – the greedy professor, the android who (typically) wants to be more human – we never get enough to time to hang out with them. But the team are refreshingly vivid, broadly drawn and unpretentious. Anyway, as you’d expect, Jason wakes up and starts killing people – it’s predictable stuff and has some haphazard storytelling, but it’s generally more fun and more engaging than you assume it’s going to be. (It helps that the film is clearly not taking itself too seriously.) One death involving a face being instantly frozen in liquid nitrogen is terrific and there are also several flashes of effective comedy, such as a funny scene that spoofs the innocent days of the first Friday the 13th movie.
Seven costume designers who clearly have an obsession with outfits that show off the female characters’ breasts out of 10

23. Freddy vs Jason (2003, Ronny Yu)
Having been forgotten by the population of Springwood, Freddy Krueger recruits Jason Voorhees to enact a murderous campaign on his behalf…

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A cast of characters so one-note they could come from one of those lame comedies like Not Another Teen Movie. A script so cheesy and cliché-riddled it’s amazing that people thought it was good enough to film. A story devoid of any texture or depth. A dead-hand-on-the-tiller director who has no sense of suspense or style… The Friday and Nightmare series had both previously shown that they can experiment and do risky things – an out-and-out comedy, a metatextual drama, a diversion into science fiction – but given the chance to combine the franchises, the result is even more tawdry and cynical than you’d expect from the title. The worst film so far in this marathon – and that’s *really* saying something.
One schoolkid in the background of a scene who’s played by Kate from Lost out of 10

24. Friday the 13th (2009, Marcus Nispel)
When a group of young people venture into the woods, they encounter the sadistic killer Jason Voorhees…

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We’re now entering the era of the horror remake. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Omen (2006), The Wicker Man (2006), Halloween (2007) and others had already been churned out before this one came along. In the plus column – and we’re clutching for straws here – this new take on Friday the 13th is not just a lazy retread of the original plot. Instead, after we see the climax of the 1980 movie restaged, we cut to more than 20 years later. The main story is then told in two unequal parts: a 23-minute section showing us some unlikable kids hanging out in the woods, being pricks, trading insults, having sex and getting killed by Jason Voorhees… then the main bulk of the film features a different group of unlikable kids hanging out in the woods, being pricks, trading insults, having sex and getting killed by Jason Voorhees. The rejig was done to both honour the original film *and* have a fully formed Jason as the killer. But this is a really rotten endeavour, lacking any wit or new ideas. As cheap and tatty as the early Fridays could be, there was at least a knockabout charm and a sense that tongues were in cheeks. This, however, is po-faced nonsense that’s close to torture porn. Dreadful dialogue, a blandly attractive cast and some serious dips in momentum make up for a putrefyingly awful experience.
Two missing-person flyers out of 10

25. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010, Samuel Bayer)
Several young friends in the town of Springwood, Ohio, realise they’ve all been dreaming of the same scary man with knives for fingers…

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This remake of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street movie – which retells the story fairly faithfully – begins with a grim, humourless, portentous mood. Characters are scared and on edge; violence isn’t far away from the surface; and Samuel Bayer’s direction lacks any zip. Sadly, this means the film has nowhere to go tonally. As things develop, everything feels muted – from the low-energy performances to the drab colour scheme – and therefore the threat, the deaths, the scares and the shocks don’t have the impact they should. (They have nothing to contrast against.) It’s a shame, actually, as this is not an incompetent film. The dreams are nicely shot, there are some good actors involved, and Freddy Kreuger’s backstory is more imaginatively revealed than it was in 1984. But it all feels monotonous and sluggish.
Five micronaps out of 10

26. Evil Dead (2013, Fede Alvarez)
A group of friends take a young woman to a cabin in the woods so she can go cold turkey, but soon a malevolent force is awoken…

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The third and final remake in this blogging project is, by some distance, the best. Following the same basic plotline as the original Evil Dead, it sees a group of young friends (one of whom is Gotham’s Jessica Lucas) staying at a decrepit cabin in the woods. But straightaway there’s a difference from 1981. Unlike that film’s holidaymakers, these kids have a more serious intent: they’ve taken their friend Mia (Jane Levy, very good) away from the city so she can sober up after a drug addition. But then one of the group discovers a strange book full of punky, John Doe-in-Seven-style scribblings. Reading aloud from it, he evokes an evil spirit that soon starts to torment his friends… This is a terrifying film, with more than a hint of The Exorcist in its grungy coarseness (sample dialogue from a possessed Mia: ‘Kiss me, you dirty cunt!’). With some amazing, old-school special-effects gags and an enormous amount of graphic content (check out the Grand Guignol ending as it literally rains blood!), Evil Dead is a superbly put-together shocker.
Eight nailguns out of 10

27. Ash vs Evil Dead (2015-18)
Thirty years after his experiences with the Deadites, Ash is living in a trailer park and working at a hardware store. But he can’t escape his past…

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More than a quarter of a century after Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, the Evil Dead series crosses over into TV. This spin-off series, which is a continuation of the films’ continuity, had Bruce Campbell reprise his most famous character for 30 episodes across three seasons. So goofy as to be essentially a sitcom with added gore, the opening episode, El Jefe, was directed by Sam Raimi, who filled it with slapstick and his idiosyncratic crash-zoom action. Ash is 30 years older than he was in the movies. He’s now living through a midlife crisis – picking up women in bars, taking drugs, living in a caravan strewn with pornography – and is noticeably more of a moron. (He’s kinda like the Fonz crossed with Mr Bean.) When Ash accidentally resurrects the same evil spirits that hounded him years before, he and his colleagues Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) get involved in a horror plotline involving demonic possession.
Seven poetry reads out of 10

And relax…

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.