Thursday, March 10, 2011

Psycho II (1983)

"I don't kill people anymore"

Psycho was released in 1960 and began the slasher genre, in 1978 Halloween was released and that began the slasher era. During the early 1980s, sequels to slasher films were being made left and right, well why not make a sequel to the original slasher film? In 1983, that happened when Psycho II was released. Now, I wasn’t born yet when this movie came out, but I’m sure people were unsure with this one. It’s not too often that classic films from the 1960s or earlier are sequlized, and when they are they usually fail. Well not this one, it seems that people were excited for this, and for one reason alone, Anthony Perkins was coming back after 23 years to play his classic role of Norman Bates. Even Vera Miles returned from the first film to reprise her character of Lila.

Psycho II begins with Norman Bates (Perkins) being released from the mental institution after spending 22 years there. But, Lila Loomis (supposedly because she married the boyfriend of her sister, Sam Loomis) is unhappy with his release, she wants Norman to stay in prison because of the people he killed. But, her protest falls on deaf ears and Norman is released. He returns to his home and motel only to realize that his mother is still there. He gets a job at a diner in town where he meets Mary Loomis (the daughter of Lila, though he doesn’t find this out until later). Throughout the rest of the movie he begins to see and hear his mother again, we soon find out later that it is Lila and Mary causing this, but they push him over the edge and he finally returns to his roots.

Psycho II is actually quite a good sequel. It’s hard to make a sequel to a classic and have it be anywhere near as good as the original. This movie is not as good as the original, nor is it close, but it’s not a bad film either. It’s cool to see Anthony Perkins back playing the character that made him famous and to see what finally happened to Norman Bates after that infamous time in 1960. This film was released 3 years after Alfred Hitchcock’s death, so we will never know what he thought of the film, but it seems that Anthony Perkins was happy enough with it to return to the character another 2 times after this one. The following sequels get worse each one, but still remain entertaining films.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

"Welcome to Prime Time, Bitch!"

With Nightmare 2's $29 million box office, Robert Shaye was ready again for another sequel. This time they took more time to get this one ready (part 2 came out just under a year after the first one came out). They were able to coax Wes Craven back into the writer’s chair for part 3. With Craven’s return, came what most people say is the best Nightmare movie.

Nightmare 3 involves a clinic where a group of teenagers are having nightmares of Freddy, this time around Freddy is killing the kids but making it look like they are committing suicide. Nancy Thompson (Langenkamp) is back for the ride as a counselor who knows all too well what is going on and who is doing it. The drug Hypnocil is introduced in this film, a drug that suppresses dreams. With the drug the group of teenagers are able to rise above Freddy and find their “dream skills”. But not all goes well, when Freddy is able to take a captive in his nightmare world.

This film really developed Freddy and his nightmare world, which would come back in all of the following films. There were a few reasons why this movie was so much better than part 2. I feel that part 2 was really trying to be a separate slasher film from the original, and that’s basically how it came off. But this film was staying truer to the character of Freddy. Gone are the days of needing help from someone to kill, and gone are the days of a male lead. Here we have Patricia Arquette (before she was famous) and the return of Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon, both reprising their roles from part one. I really enjoy films that have continuing stories with the same characters. Granted Freddy (Englund) is in all of the Nightmare films, but it is more interesting to see the characters that he goes after. Don’t get me wrong, the movies are all about Freddy which is why Robert Englund eventually began getting top billing on the Nightmare films. But, seeing how “real” people deal with what is going on in the movies is very interesting.

Nightmare 3 was also a great film because Wes Craven had returned. So he was able to see his characters go into a direction he had originally wanted. It’s always great when the original creator comes back to a series he created. This is the last Nightmare movie to be any good. After this New Line Cinema began cranking them out every year, simply to cash in on the series. The movies get periodically worse as it goes along. Until 1991 when the series just died, in more ways than one.

By this time Freddy Krueger was one of the biggest names in horror. In 1988 there were rumors of a Freddy vs. Jason film, that didn’t happen for another 15 years because New Line owned Freddy and Paramount owned Jason and they couldn’t settle the rights. The original Freddy vs. Jason eventually became Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood which was once referred to as Jason vs. Carrie. But, Freddy wasn’t ready to give up just yet on the movies or his fans.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)

"You are all my children now"

Right after A Nightmare on Elm Street was a major success at the box office, producer Robert Shaye knew he had a great series on his hands. Eventually New Line Cinema would become “The House That Freddy Built”. Shaye immediately wanted a sequel, and rightfully so. This was 1984, the prime time of the slasher era and the time when anything in the horror genre would get a sequel. It was during the end of the slasher era, when it was dying a horrible death. Though the slasher film died out by 1986 or so, Freddy and Jason would live on into the early 1990s with no problems whatsoever.

When Nightmare 2 was being planned, Shaye asked Wes Craven to return to direct the film, but Craven knew better after reading the script and not liking what he saw, he decided to pass. But that wasn’t going to stop Shaye. He got his director and his talentless cast and began to film.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge takes place 5 years after the first (why? don’t ask me, it worked for Friday the 13th Part 2). This movie has a new family moving into 1428 Elm Street (the house from the original, for those of you who don’t know). But, this time around the center character is a male lead (a mistake they didn’t make again in any of the Nightmare films). We meet Jesse (Patton) whose family has just moved in. But, something is terribly wrong when strange things begin to happen around the house. Most notably the heat in the house, which is never explained nor do I care. Jesse is having terrible nightmares of Freddy. Freddy wants Jesse to kill for him declaring that Jesse has “the body” and Freddy has “the brains”. However this plot point never made much sense to me because Freddy had no problem killing in part one, but for some reason in this one he needs help. There’s even a “great” part when Freddy is able to come out of Jesse’s body to attack kids at a pool party.

My problem with this movie is that it makes no sense. This is also the reason why Wes Craven wanted nothing to do with this movie. It also seems very homosexually directed. Especially with the coach of the high school who is a cross dresser who gets whipped to death with jump ropes, not to mention Jesse screams like a girl throughout the entire film. The cast in this movie is pretty bad, with the exception of Kim Myers (who should have been the main character). There is a pretty good rule in the slasher genre and that is what is called “the last girl”, it’s basically the last person to survive. In every “good” slasher film it’s a girl. People make mistakes sometimes and try to make it a male, but it doesn’t work. In every Nightmare film after this, including Freddy vs. Jason it’s a female lead role. Lets keep it that way. Steer clear of this movie, unless you want to watch all the Nightmare films (which I encourage), but this is one of the worst and you won’t miss anything if you don’t watch this. Part 2 is not ever mentioned again in any of the Nightmare films. Parts 3 through 6 are all connected in one way or another and they almost all mention part 1, but not part 2 (and for good reason).

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

"Come to Freddy!"

During the mid 1980s the slasher film genre was in dire need of help. The once great genre had consumed itself with sub par sequels and extremely low budget cheesy movies that had no real plot at all. The movies that were coming out during this time were basically this: a big breasted girl and her friends (who love to get naked) decide to hang out somewhere away from civilization. While there they are stalked by some random killer, killing for some non-developed reason (if a reason at all). So, needless to say, the slasher film was dying and dying hard by 1984.

But, a man by the name of Wes Craven changed that. And with his little film that no one had any faith in, he breathed life into the slasher film and kept it alive for a couple more years. Wes Craven had all ready established himself in the horror genre by 1984. He had made the classics: The Last House on the Left in 1972 and The Hills Have Eyes in 1977. As well as some other films that weren’t as successful. He had written a film about a killer who is killing people in their dreams. But, the twist was, if he killed you in your dream, you died for real. This idea hadn’t really been done before, at least not in a slasher film. As creative as it may have been, no one wanted to make the film. He finally found New Line Cinema, a small film company on the verge of bankruptcy, that was willing to produce the film. Robert Shaye, the co-CEO of New Line had enough faith in the script and in Craven to make the film, hoping it would save his dying company.

The story was about a group of teenagers, all having the same nightmare about the same unknown man. The only things they know are that he is horribly burned, wears a red and green sweater and has a brown hat, oh and that he has knives for fingers! As each one of them is killed off Nancy (Langenkamp) is the only one willing to stand up to him. Oh, and did I mention the adults in the film don’t pay any attention to what she is saying. That’s classic slasher film rules right there!

Although Craven and Shaye butted heads over the ending of the film, that didn’t do anything to ruin this film. With a great cast including John Saxon playing a police officer again and Robert Englund, a virtual no one at the time, he gained major success and a huge fan following after this film hit it big at the box office. Also along for the ride was Johnny Depp in his very first film. The film was extremely ingenious at the time, not only for the storyline of the film but also for some of the camera techniques used. Including a very interesting special effects shot of Freddy Krueger jumping through a mirror. And a very nice shot of Nancy waking up from her nightmare having parts of the roses from her nightmare with her, but when the camera pulls back they are gone. A very cool shot, that you should probably check out!

Wes Craven did not want nor did he intend this film to be the beginning of a franchise. Robert Shaye had different ideas. A Nightmare on Elm Street hit it big at the box office grossing over $25 million domestically, just enough to save New Line Cinema. A sequel was immediately planned. The film spawned six sequels, a TV series and an eventual face off with the other 1980s slasher Jason Voorhees. Though none of the other films ever lived up to this one, as a whole the series was phenomenal. Heather Langenkamp said it best in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, “Everyone knows who Freddy Krueger is. He’s like Santa Claus or King Kong!”.