Thursday, August 30, 2012

Jesse's Girl - A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge

Sequels are tricky. Even at their best, they essentially are re-treads of previous themes and conventions. Which is maybe why I have such a soft spot for the Nightmare on Elm Street series. It goes bat shit crazy in terms, concepts and its own mythology and I don't know if there is a better exemplar of this than in Freddy's Revenge. Granted the other big series (Halloween, Friday the 13th) run longer but once they figure out a way to bring the killer back to life once again it slips into the sex, stab, blood, flee formula.

The film picks up 5 years after the events of the first film when a new family moves into Nancy Thompson's house. Their teenage son Jesse starts having nightmares involving a certain hat-ed fella and begins to wonder if there's something wrong with him. The only thing wrong with Jesse, however, is that everyone's favourite undead dream weaver is trying to posses Jesse's body and kill for him. Love thwarts this as Jesse's would be girlfriend Lisa (Kim Myers) fights to save Jesse.

Freddy's Revenge is notable in two very big ways for me; Wes Craven's complete absence, and the film being the supposed "gayest horror film ever". While it definitely had big shoes to fill which is why I was feeling cautious to watch it, it was a surprising treat. It had its camp elements with Jesse (Mark Patton) dancing around in his underwear and Freddy running around a party throwing chairs. And with that one exception at the party they manage to keep Freddy in the shadows rendering him all the more creep-tastic and threatening. (possibly because they start filming without Robert Englund) As for the homosexual undertones, they're there but I don't think they're overwhelming. I think that's it's an interesting way to scholarly read this film but i don't think it overshadows the story. I highly doubt it's the "gayest horror film ever", maybe the most mainstream but even that is pushing it. I think the relationship based conflicts actually adds some interesting complications to the story because Lisa isn't just a girlfriend off the bat, they're are trying throughout the film to establish their relationship.

And I'll be honest, I'm not that heart-broken about Wes Craven's lack of involvement. I find he gets to schmaltzy and esoteric. Craven has made it known that he always hoped for a happy ending for Nancy and her friends but as some of you may know, evil never dies. I love that horror movies often thrawt the happy ending trope by screwing over all the characters. I like that once Freddy's initial plan in the first one doesn't  work out, the next logical step is to try possession. AMIRITE?!

Speaking of logic, however, there are a few things that have plagued me about this film. Almost to the point of it being distracting. Nancy's old house on Elm Street seems to play an oddly large role in this film though it was almost incidental in the first. The importance of the house is apparent from the beginning well before Freddy shows up. And also, everything melts. Like everything. Well, except a parakeet that spontaneously combusts. The heat thing is neat as Freddy was burned alive but it's never quite addressed or resolved. Which is exactly what keeps this film from being on par with Citizen Kane.

Now, let us dance.

My eternal struggle is which one of these dances is better...

Truly, a mystery for the ages...

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bee Sting - Candyman (1992)

 *Beaucoup de Spoilers*

Saying his name five times will get you gutted and will prevent Ted Rami from getting laid. It will also cause you to be framed from murder, go crazy and possess undead vengeance powers.Or at least that's what I learned at Rue Morgue's Festival of Fear screening of Candyman this past weekend.

Candyman is both an impressive and head-scratchingly confusing. The film follows bad-ass academic Helen (the wonderful Virginia Madsen) as she and her friend complete their PhD thesis on urban legends while Helen tries to keep her suspicions at bay about her husband Trevor (Xander Berkeley) the too charming professor. And here begins my first problem with the movie. Helen and friend are dutifully researching and interviewing different students to gather information about this legend when they have dinner with Trevor's colleague who upstage Helen revealing the origins of Candyman which seem to be widely known. My question is: HOW THE FUCK DID HELEN NOT KNOW THIS?! Yes, I get that it makes for easy exposition and all that but really, you're going to write your thesis on this with someone else helping you and NOT bother to research the origins? Try getting a teaching job after that. Ouch.

The film links the origin story to one of the rougher areas of Chicago which leads Helen on an investigation. After a particularly nasty encounter which ends with her bringing a gang leader to the cops, Helen is visited by the real Candyman (Tony Todd) who then frames her in several murders to prove that the Candyman myth is very, very real and here begins my second problem with the film. What is Candyman? Is it a ghost? Is he still kind of a real person? Is Helen cray-cray? Based on the different things Candyman does throughout the film, I'm really not sure. I think by not including a few scenes it would have been much clearer. Now, I would have accepted any of the aforementioned possibilities but not all of them.

Candyman reaches its climax as Helen becomes more entangled in the myth to the point where she is an absolute necessity to its survival. This in turn makes Helen one of the most interesting female part in 90s cinema. She goes through some of the most dramatic character changes and the scene in which she confronts Trevor and his new girlfriend after escaping from the mental hospital is my favourite in the whole movie.  The first half of the film she owns (as well as the very last scene) and it's pretty fantastic. And like other Barker films, once the film is forced to deliver and produce Candyman it falls apart (see also Hellraiser, Nightbreed etc). Once Candyman makes an appearance I felt a lot of the tension dissipate. There were less shadows and paranoia, it became an all out show of crazy which muddled many of the earlier plot points. 

That being said, Candyman is one hell of an interesting ride that looks at the implications of race, class and history within the realm of horror. In many sense, this is horror at its best. It's well directed and paced like a dream. The film is able to alternate between reality and confusion without jarring changes in tone. It is an ambitious film, but like most ambitious films unable to answers its larger questions.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Stick to the Roads - Travel in Horror Films

Horror films are often cautionary tales gussied up to remind us all to be safe and aware. Don't have pre-martial sex. Don't drink or do drugs. Don't wander off by yourself. If you've managed to live your life by these rules, you're Amish and I don't know why you're looking at a computer right now. However, most of us are sensible individuals break the rules but not to excess. (ok, sometimes to excess) But there is one activity that seems to advocate breaking these rules and that is traveling. Whether we go near or far there is something about being out of one's element that causes us to act out more so then usual.

The Grudge (2004)

I have friends that have gone to Japan and loved it. I feel like I would go to Japan and be greeted by string-y haired ladies at the airport trying eat my skull. Granted, Sarah Michelle Geller (I know her character has a name, but let's face it - she's playing SMG) is sensible and realizes she has to work while abroad and takes care of old people.  While we all need money to live, if I had to work in this house I would have turned around and gone home. 

The Grudge is an interesting take on the whole foreigners in a different land genre. These are not random university students who want to dick around and get drunk. They're adults. Who have jobs... and affairs. But, um, anyway... It is a fascinating and unrelenting look at a very deadly culture clash.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) 

I love my friends. So much so that we never leave each others sight. The amount of thing that could have been solved in TCM by the not-so-bright group of teenagers if they had simply stayed together is probably the most terrifying thing about this movie.

I think it's interesting to read TCM as a reaction to Vietnam but I prefer to read it as the most fucked up fairytale ever. Princess goes to the woods, fall into a witch's territory, gets acquainted with meat hooks. At it's core, I believe, TCM is about the loss of innocence with the transference of knowledge. When the youngsters exit their reality they see what happens when society turns it's back. Chainsaws. Chainsaws is what happens.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

AAWL is a curious look at back-packing. Again, not the Hostel version of back-packing but two old friends looking for a good time. After one is horrifically killed after they wander into the Moors the other carries on, this time with a curse. Again, we're looking a the trope of the "wise-locals". The locals who should say or do more but only give our heroes cryptic, ominous messages.

AAWL is a grim look at a country that seems to have stalled. Made (mainly) by Americans, the British seem to be a people stuck in time haunted by their past. Their state is so grim that it even takes the gleeful American down. Or it could be read in the reverse, Americans upsetting the natural order of things and how it infects a country. Which has never happened. Ever. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Trailer Park

As we enter the dog days of summer my hair grows in size and sweating becomes a permanent state. I had my first ray of sunshine when I saw Halloween candies on sale at my local grocery store which is always a good sign because as it gets cooler scary movies will invade our cineplexs.

I have to say, what's selling me on The Possession is Sam Rami's involvement. That man could sell me hot coals on a summer day, so understand that I'm biased. The Possession tells the story of a young girl who buys a random box at a garage sale that has a demon in it that starts possessing her. (really) The Possession plays out against the back drop of the parents divorce and their efforts to save their daughter. Like most horror movies, this is based on a true story. There is documentation of these events from various sources and strange things kept happening on set as they decided to use the actual demon box on set. I repeat, actual demon box. I hope the actor's union knows about this.

I loved me some Paranormal Activity 3. It was definitely the best of the trilogy by being surprising but staying within the confines established by the first two films. It also made a bazillion dollars so of course Paranormal Activity 4 was rushed into production. And after a pre-teaser trailer we finally got the official first trailer for PA4.


Um, yeah. This feels more like a Nancy Drew movie instead of a Paranormal Activity film. With the first three films dealing with a specific family I feel like it will be hard for them to break away from them and establish characters that we care about. Except for Micha, man was that guy a tool. 

Then we have the deeply original The Apparition which stars Ashley Green as a girl who can't find clothes that fit her and Tom Felton as someone who ages awkwardly. I couldn't even finish the trailer I was so bored.

Then we have Resident Evil Retribution which I hope is better than Resident Evil Afterlife which was basically just a set up for this one. But it looks ambitious so maybe they'll pull it off. Even if they don't there's always Milla Jovovich.


And there are always way more indepent films coming out. Three of the biggies are V/H/S which I've heard mixed things about.... (more bad than good from the people I trust)


... Rec 3 which makes a bold statement by moving away from the apartment building and setting a zombie apocolypse around a wedding... (like Melancholia but with blood)

... and finally The Tall Man, which is getting some not so great reviews but I will see it because Pascal Laugier directed it and he also directed Martyrs which is one of my favourite scary films which if you haven't seen you really should. I don't think this will be nearly as good but I think it's worth checking out.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

We are the weirdos, mister.

The Craft (1996) is one of the films that defined my early adolescence. A well worn VHS copy of the film still lives at my parents' house with many fond memories of my younger self trying to get other girls to watch it at sleepovers which, of course, was met with little enthusiasm. I've been thinking back about the films that shaped my interest in horror and The Craft was one of those films that came out that I was dying to see but too shy to actually say so. I believe I got my parents to take me by saying I was really, really bored so they dutifully and lovingly shuffled off with me to the cinema and watched it with me.

The Craft has changed in meaning throughout my life. When I first saw it I idolized those girls (mainly Sarah) because they were so unabashedly different. They were weird but cool and I'd never encountered anything like that. Throughout high school (possibly because I was so precocious) I abandoned the film for the classics that invented the genre like Rosemary's Baby or the earlier Hammer films. However, I very recently went back to the film and was so pleased that I watched it over and over when I was growing up. While it's not a perfect film it's a film that has really strong female characters but never hits the audience over the head with the feminist undertones. It's an "alternative" film that happens to deal with interesting female characters.

The film follows Sarah (Robin Tunney) who is revealed to be powerful natural witch as she moves to L.A. with her father and step-mother. She befriends Bonnie (Neve Campbell), Rochelle (Rachel True) and Nancy (Fairuza Balk). They form a coven and are able to perform powerful spells that begin to spin out of control. The film explores and (possibly) problematizes the notion of sisterhood and feminine power. The witches must work together to control and maintain their powers but in the last act of the film the power hungry Nancy spins out of control killing and endangering those around her. Watching it again, I believe the "power-hungry" Nancy is a by-product of the inherent patriarchy of society. As a young woman she has no real power; her reputation at school has been hi-jacked by the douche-tastic Chris Hooker (Skeet Ulrich) and the broken home she lives in is very broken indeed. The "revenge" spells that these characters cast is out of a need to gain power that is continually taken away from them by outside forces.

I think the rise of The Craft in importance in my mind has shift since I've become a writer and film journalist. If we look at something as simple as The Bechdel Test it is truly terrifying how many films fail in that regard. There are so few strong female characters in popular culture that aren't defined by a relationship to a man. I love that this film is like an inverted fairy tale. The "prince" is actually a frog (aka a ho-bag, sexual assaulter) and the witch has the power within her the whole time. Much like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz expect she doesn't need some gaudy-ass shoes to get back home. Sarah discovers her power through self-acceptance.

Watching this again made me think of my four year old niece who is happily watching Dora the Explorer and princess movies where the aforementioned princesses ride around on unicorns or whatever it is they do. I can't wait till I can show her this movie.