New Line Cinema

The Hidden (1987, Jack Sholder)

The Hidden opens with a shock. Then there’s another shock, then another, then another. The first act of the film races through them. Chris Mulkey is on a killing spree, the cops are in pursuit–including Michael Nouri’s soulful supercop–only it turns out Mulkey can’t be killed. Enter oddball FBI agent Kyle MacLachlan, who teams with Nouri, and investigates Mulkey’s “accomplice,” William Boyett. Because now Boyett’s on a killing spree. Only we know something Nouri doesn’t.

An alien bug crawls into a dead body’s mouth and reanimates them. Then it goes on a killing, looting, and general obnoxious spree.

The alien jumps around a bit, first into new supporting cast members, later into established ones. Some actors have a great time with it–Mulkey, Boyett, the third act surprises; others don’t. Claudia Christian is fine, but she doesn’t get much to do in Jim Kouf’s pseudonymous script except fondle herself. Oh, and she gets to shoot machine guns. Those scenes, which might be fun if The Hidden let itself be trashy, fall flat (except as technical exercises). Sholder’s good at setup, not pay-off.

His lack of interest comes in waves. At the open, Sholder’s super on. He’s got his cranes–Sholder loves his crane shots–he’s got good photography from Jacques Haitkin and good editing from Michael N. Knue and Maureen O’Connell. Sometimes the editing is a little too obviously cut against the eclectic rock soundtrack selections, but it’s still good editing. Except The Hidden isn’t just this string of pursuit sequences, it changes and Sholder can’t handle those changes.

The film runs ninety-six minutes. The first hour is pretty much contiguous, with the minor pauses or breaks either not getting in the way of the building momentum or contributing to it. Everything works. Script, direction, acting. Once the film breaks the narrative, jumping ahead until the next morning, entropy sets in. There’s a lot of action, not enough time for exposition, no time for character development.

And The Hidden almost makes it. If any one thing had been better about the finale–well, Sholder’s direction, Kouf’s writing, or Michael Convertino’s music–it would’ve been fine. Instead, everything works against it. Sholder leverages a lot on Convertino’s score but it’s a bad score. It starts a mediocre score, then–like everything else in Hidden–gets worse as the film progresses. So it’s real bad in the finish.

Neat “alien-in-man-suit” performance from Kyle MacLachlan. It’s a shame no one thought about how MacLachlan’s character development should react to external events or why children think he’s weird. Nouri’s affable and reasonably successful. The role doesn’t ask for much, even when it pretends a greater import. The Hidden has a couple buddy cop movie moments; Nouri and MacLachlan do them well. The more soulful Nouri stuff–the handwringing, impassioned pleas–doesn’t work. Especially not since they frequently take place in the awkwardly homy squad room set.

Clarence Felder is good. Richard Brooks is good. Ed O’Ross is fine. Clu Gulager has nothing to do, but it’s still nice to see him.

Most of The Hidden is good. The builds up this phenomenal momentum, which should be able to sail through anything. Turns out its no match for the third act icebergs.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Sholder; written by Jim Kouf; director of photography, Jacques Haitkin; edited by Maureen O’Connell and Michael N. Knue; music by Michael Convertino; production designers, C.J. Strawn and Mick Strawn; produced by Robert Shaye, Gerald T. Olson, and Michael L. Meltzer; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Michael Nouri (Tom Beck), Kyle MacLachlan (Lloyd Gallagher), Chris Mulkey (Jack DeVries), William Boyett (Jonathan Miller), Claudia Christian (Brenda), Katherine Cannon (Barbara Beck), Clarence Felder (Lt. Masterson), Clu Gulager (Lt. Flynn), Ed O’Ross (Willis), Richard Brooks (Sanchez), and John McCann (Senator Holt).


Glengarry Glen Ross (1992, James Foley)

The first half of Glengarry Glen Ross is phenomenal. David Mamet’s screenplay is lightning fast during this section, moving its characters around, pairing them off for scenes or moments–the brevity is astounding. Half the movie is over and it feels like just a few minutes. Then the second half hits and the pace is still good, but the energy is different. It meanders. Apparently the only thing keeping director Foley going was having different locations and different camera setups–many questionably framed for pan and scan; in the second half of the film, set entirely on one set, Glengarry Glen Ross starts to fizzle. The actors keep it viable for as long as they can, but then it becomes clear Foley’s just composing for one actor, one performance, not all the actors, all the performances. The film never solidifies and it’s so fast, it’s almost over before it becomes clear Foley’s not going to bring it together. He instead relies on James Newton Howard’s peppy smooth jazz score. It’s never a good idea to rely on smooth jazz, peppy or not.

Every performance in Glengarry Glen Ross is outstanding. Foley’s problem isn’t giving the actors time to act, he does fine with that aspect of his directing. Sure, even in the first half, he isn’t directing their scenes perfectly, but he’s definitely giving them room to act. Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Alan Arkin, Jonathan Pryce, Alec Baldwin. They’re all great. Pryce and Baldwin don’t have particularly great parts, but they’re great. Baldwin gets a big speech, which he nails. Pacino, Lemmon, Harris and Spacey get the meatier parts (Spacey the least, Harris and Pacino just through force). Lemmon’s the lead for most of the film. Only not so in the second half, which Mamet might be able to cover if Foley knew how to stage the second half. He avoids doing an adaptation of the play–Glengarry Glen Ross was a play first, also by Mamet–for the first half, only to be forced into it in the second half and have no idea how to do it. Arkin doesn’t get much meat, but he still turns in a great performance. The performances are impeccable.

And impeccable performances, along with strong dialogue, keep the film going for quite a while. There aren’t even any danger signs until Harris and Arkin’s subplot in the first half, when Howard E. Smith’s editing seems to be elongating and distracting their conversations instead of curating and appreciating them. Glengarry Glen Ross isn’t a mystery. There’s a mystery in it–sort of–and Foley stumbles when trying to integrate it. All the humanity in the film is from its actors essaying the screenplay. None of it comes from the filmmaking itself, which is a big problem.

Again, Pacino, Lemmon and Harris are all phenomenal. None of them have great characters to work with–they have some great material, but not great characters. As an example of excellent acting, Glengarry Glen Ross works. As a film? Not so much.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Foley; screenplay by David Mamet, based on his play; director of photography, Juan Ruiz Anchía; edited by Howard E. Smith; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Jane Musky; produced by Stanley R. Zupnik and Jerry Tokofsky; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Al Pacino (Ricky Roma), Jack Lemmon (Shelley Levene), Alec Baldwin (Blake), Alan Arkin (George Aaronow), Ed Harris (Dave Moss), Kevin Spacey (John Williamson) and Jonathan Pryce (James Lingk).


The Mangler (1995, Tobe Hooper), the director’s cut

The Mangler is terrible. One hopes the rumor producer Anant Singh replaced director Hooper is true because the film’s bad enough and desperate enough, you occasionally want to cut it some slack. You can’t, because it’s terrible, but you still kind of wish you could.

Here’s the movie. Small town in Maine (it’s a Stephen King adaptation), evil laundry magnate (Robert Englund in a risible performance) runs the town because he has the demonic laundry machine. It needs the occasionally virgin sacrifice or it starts walking around like a Transformer, just with some of the worst of the worst mid–1990s CGI. Seasoned but sad widower cop Ted Levine does not think this is just some laundry machine accident. There’s something afoot with creepy old Robert Englund who mentally and physically abuses a runaway (Lisa Morris) because he can’t mentally and physically abuse his niece (Vanessa Pike). But then Levine’s brother-in-law (maybe, there was kind of mention of it), Daniel Matmor as the lamest hippie occult nerd ever, convinces Levine of the demonic possession. There’s some more, but not really.

It’s dumb. It’s a dumb movie trying to mix metaphors and genres and it fails over and over again. It’s not even like Levine is holding it together. If he were somehow this great noir detective befuddling his way through The Mangler, it might be something. But he’s not. He’s not good, he’s just affable and shows signs he could be good in a far better film.

Unfortunately, none of the other acting is any good at all. Matmor, Pike, Morris, Demetre Phillips, Jeremy Crutchley (a young guy inexplicably cast as an old man and in tons of make-up!), Englund–they’re all terrible. Maybe Ashley Hayden and Vera Blacker are okay. Maybe. They’re not enough it enough to be worse.

Bad music from Barrington Pheloung, really bad photography from Amnon Salomon.

At some point as the second act is finally wrapping it up, it becomes clear somehow really tried with The Mangler. Maybe producer Singh really thought it’d be able to hope on that legitimate Stephen King adaptation bandwagon. At least one of the three screenwriters did. But it can’t, because it’s terrible. It’s terribly acted, directed, photographed, everything. It’s slow. It’s not scary, it’s not gross.

If this movie didn’t have Ted Levine, it would be the equivalent of watching dog poop dry on the sidewalk.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Tobe Hooper; screenplay by Hooper, Stephen David Brooks and Harry Alan Towers, based on the short story by Stephen King; director of photography, Amnon Salomon; edited by David Heitner; music by Barrington Pheloung; production designer, David Barkham; produced by Anant Singh; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Ted Levine (Officer John Hunton), Robert Englund (Bill Gartley), Daniel Matmor (Mark Jackson), Lisa Morris (Lin Sue), Vanessa Pike (Sherry Ouelette), Demetre Phillips (George Stanner), Ashley Hayden (Annette Gillian), Vera Blacker (Mrs. Adelle Frawley) and Jeremy Crutchley (J.J.J. Pictureman).


Bed of Roses (1996, Michael Goldenberg)

A couple immediate thoughts occurred to me as Bed of Roses started. First, is it a good idea to be watching Bed of Roses? (Spoiler: no, it’s not). Second, what’s going on with Mary Stuart Masterson’s performance? It’s not a movie saving performance because it’s a terrible part. Only director Goldenberg (who also wrote the film) really wants to make it seem to be a good part. Bed of Roses is a lower, but still reasonably budgeted nineties version of a New York soap opera. Masterson’s the professional woman who just doesn’t have it all, even though it seems like she does. She meets a guy–Christian Slater–who is stalking her and grooming her but it turns out his really okay and wonderful and is just what she needs to get over a childhood of exceptionally bad abuse.

Except Bed of Roses doesn’t talk about the abuse. Masterson’s got this character who is never allowed to develop. It’s mortifying, but that weird thing about Masterson’s performance is she’s great. She is great at making this character, who gets treated terribly by the script and has absolutely no depth beyond being a victim and then awkward holding a baby, she does great. She doesn’t make the character work, she doesn’t make the film work. But she delivers this tragic, terribly written role. She’s acting opposite Christian Slater, after all, and he doesn’t bring anything to the film. He actually seems to enjoy the parts where he’s being manipulative more than the parts where he’s courting.

So, no, I shouldn’t have watched Bed of Roses, but I’m still stunned by how good it is at what it does. Goldenberg does a fine job directing. Sure, he’s stuck with Slater, but he takes full advantage of the more capable actors–Josh Brolin, Ally Walker, Brian Tarantina. It feels serious. Adam Kimmel’s gorgeous photography, Michael Convertino’s score, Jane Kurson’s editing. Bed of Roses can’t be better at what it does. It’s beautifully executed. It’s just manipulative and condescending.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Michael Goldenberg; director of photography, Adam Kimmel; edited by Jane Kurson; music by Michael Convertino; production designer, Stephen McCabe; produced by Allan Mindel and Denise Shaw; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Mary Stuart Masterson (Lisa), Christian Slater (Lewis), Pamela Adlon (Kim), Josh Brolin (Danny), Ally Walker (Wendy), Kenneth Cranham (Simon) and Brian Tarantina (Randy).


In the Mouth of Madness (1994, John Carpenter)

In the Mouth of Madness is a rarity. It’s a film with some terrible, terrible parts, yet it needs to be longer. There needs to be more terribleness for it to be better. And it can’t even be much better, because those terrible parts break it, but it would be somewhat better. It would definitely be a better viewing experience.

Here are the film’s problems, in no particular order. Gary B. Kibbe’s photography. Madness is Panavision aspect and Kibbe shoots everything spherically distorted. Well, not everything, but the most visually distinctive parts. One of the film’s more conceptual problems is what visually compels. Kibbe screws up the compelling visual narrative pacing. Maybe Carpenter told him to do it, in which case it’s Carpenter’s bad. But Kibbe’s photography is never great. With the sets, it sometimes looks like a shoddy attempt at a Shining rip-off and Madness isn’t that thing at all.

Next problem. Sam Neill. Fourth-rate Harrison Ford who everyone thought was just a second-rate Harrison Ford. He can’t hold his accent, which would be a hilarious bit for the film to acknowledge, but of course it doesn’t. Even though Madness eventually wants to be meta, it’s like Carpenter doesn’t really have any interest in it, which brings me to the next problem. The script. The script is awful.

Even though Carpenter goes for his traditional possessive titling on Madness, it’s not his vanity project. It’s writer and executive producer Michael De Luca’s vanity project. So while Carpenter can do a nod to this Quatermass here, that Corman there, this Lovecraft adaptation here, that whatever there, he’s still got this disastrous script. De Luca’s doing zeitgeist–Neill is hunting down Jürgen Prochnow’s Stephen King-esque author, not Prochnow’s Lovecraft-esque author. The script wants to be pop culture, the narrative needs literary musing, Carpenter’s doing this Lovecraft movie homage thing. Not to mention De Luca also models the structure after a film noir (Double Indemnity in particular) and Carpenter couldn’t, frankly, give less of a shit about that narrative structure. He goes out of his way not to acknowledge it.

And if you’re not going to acknowledge your femme fatale, maybe you shouldn’t have a femme fatale. Madness’s femme fatale is Julie Carmen. She’s Prochnow’s editor and Neill’s sidekick. Carmen and Neill have no chemistry, which isn’t really surprising since she’s awful. He’s awful too, but she’s awful in a different way. She doesn’t have a part. He’s just bad at his part. The film also breaks its narrative device to run off with her adventures; if the movie were a little better, it might be annoying but it’s not. The script’s already been inept at that point.

Prochnow’s bad, but it isn’t his fault. He’s just doing his schtick. It’s why he’s in the movie.

Stylistically, the front is stronger than the back. Once Neill and Carmen find Prochnow, Edward A. Warschilka’s editing starts to falter. It was one of the few excellent things about the beginning. By the end, Carpenter relies heavily on jump scares. They aren’t scary, they’re occasionally desperate, but at least he’s enthusiastic about them. There are some okay visual ideas but there’s no time for Madness to make them stick. It isn’t just the film needing another ten or fifteen minutes of visual presence to make an impression, it’s the order of the shots. Part of the film’s gimmick (Prochnow writing reality) means visual trickery. Carpenter, Kibbe and Warschilka just blaze through instead of making anything distinct.

Charlton Heston’s in a “guest starring” role and he gives one of the film’s better performances. If you’ve got a hackneyed Heston cameo and he gives the best performance, you know the film’s got problems. Bernie Casey’s good, Peter Jason’s got a nice scene. John Glover. He’s fine. Frances Bay should have a great small role and she doesn’t. Because the script’s crap and Carpenter never pushes against it.

Oh, and who thought giving Wilhelm von Homburg the film’s most important part would be a good idea? He’s awful, but of course he’s awful, he’s obviously awful and no one should’ve kept him in. You feel bad for him. But only him. Everyone else who’s awful, you blame them.

Just because it’s an apocalyptic downer doesn’t mean the entire thing should feel like a surrender, yet it does. Madness is a defeat.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; written by Michael De Luca; director of photography, Gary B. Kibbe; edited by Edward A. Warschilka; music by Carpenter and Jim Lang; production designer, Jeff Ginn; produced by Sandy King; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Sam Neill (John Trent), Julie Carmen (Linda Styles), Jürgen Prochnow (Sutter Cane), David Warner (Dr. Wrenn), John Glover (Saperstein), Bernie Casey (Robinson), Peter Jason (Mr. Paul), Wilhelm von Homburg (Simon), Frances Bay (Mrs. Pickman) and Charlton Heston (Jackson Harglow).


A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010, Samuel Bayer)

Watching A Nightmare on Elm Street, I can’t believe remake director Bayer ever saw any of the original movies. Because he doesn’t even want to borrow the better techniques of those films. He instead goes with a thoughtless approach to the film. Specifically, the dream stuff. He doesn’t have any interest in it. Not just as narrative possibility or narrative tricks to play on the audience, things to get them to think about to get a built-up scare instead of a jump scare. Bayer doesn’t even have interest in the effects. He’s cashing a check and doesn’t have the professionalism to feign interest.

The script’s terrible, but it’s clear Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer are familiar with the original movies. They try to make it more realistic and try to exploit little kids. They succeed with the latter, which makes for an unpleasant viewing experience (though it’s “funny” how prime time procedurals desensitized audiences better than slasher movies ever could have). The script just uses tragedy to fuel the characters because they have nothing else. The film’s universally badly acted, but there’s not a single well-written part.

Also, the script’s arranged poorly. Strick and Heisserer try to show off plot feints, but they’re obvious ones. Maybe if Bayer were doing anything but he’s not, except dressing Katie Cassidy like an eighties Barbie doll. It’s the only time in Nightmare I actually thought Bayer was trying, but I’m not sure. Maybe it was coincidence. Anyway, with the eventual reveal, it’s clear the film should’ve at least had a more natural flow.

So real bad acting from the following–Kellan Lutz, Thomas Dekker, Katie Cassidy. Bad acting but in completely the wrong part from Kyle Gallner and Jackie Earle Haley. These two are exceptionally miscast. It’s kind of hilarious how little anyone actually tried making this movie any good.

And Rooney Mara’s almost okay. She goes from really bad to not as bad to deserving of pity. She and Gallner’s arc is rough going as far as what Mara gets to do with scenes.

There’s no reason a Nightmare on Elm Street remake couldn’t be good. This film’s problems are all ones it intentionally, maliciously and not, brings to the table on its own.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Samuel Bayer; screenplay by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer, based on a story by Strick and characters created by Wes Craven; director of photography, Jeff Cutter; edited by Glen Scantlebury; music by Steve Jablonsky; production designer, Patrick Lumb; produced by Bradley Fuller, Michael Bay and Andrew Form; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Rooney Mara (Nancy Holbrook), Kyle Gallner (Quentin Smith), Thomas Dekker (Jesse Braun), Katie Cassidy (Kris Fowles), Kellan Lutz (Dean Russell), Lia D. Mortensen (Nora Fowles), Connie Britton (Dr. Gwen Holbrook), Clancy Brown (Alan Smith) and Jackie Earle Haley (Freddy Krueger).


New Nightmare (1994, Wes Craven)

New Nightmare should be a little bit better. The film has this fantastic second act and goes into the third strong but director Craven’s resolution is tone deaf. He’s making a movie about movies he was involved with, incredibly popular movies he was involved with, and he sacrifices the actual good work he’d been doing to further the commercialist ambitions of the film.

After relying on her for almost the entire film, Craven sells out Heather Langenkamp. And he doesn’t sell her out for Robert Englund or the Freddy Kruger character; he sells her out for himself, because Craven’s a character in the film. And Craven plays himself very, very badly. He and Langenkamp have this incredibly awkward scene where he’s revealing the whole concept of the film (the original Nightmare on Elm Street movies entrapped an ancient nightmare demon who’s now free); it’s way too much exposition, Craven can’t do, but Langenkamp manages to make her side of the scene work. It’s a rough sequence, but it gets a pass because immediately following, the film’s working again.

Watching New Nightmare this time–probably my fourth or fifth time (since the theater)–I kept thinking about how it’s not just Craven’s best work as a director, it’s some of his most enthusiastic. He’s doing a moderate budget action movie, not a horror film. Even when the “monster” finally does appear, Craven finds a balance between danger and accessible “horror.” Putting Miko Hughes, who plays Langenkamp’s nightmare plagued son, in danger–the child in danger trope–is a bold move for Nightmare. Craven acknowledges genre conventions just long enough to ignore them.

J. Peter Robinson’s score is another good example of those ignored conventions. It’s big, epical adventure music, never actually scary or unsettling. Well, until the end credits, when it’s self-aggrandizing, which is appropriate given how Craven closes the picture.

Nightmare’s frustrating; Craven couldn’t make the film–even with his strong direction, particularly of actors–without Langenkamp and he abandons her at the end. It doesn’t seem to be malicious, but it does do disservice to her excellent work in the film. She turns a candyland caricature of “herself” into a person.

Good support from Robert Englund (more as himself than the monster), Tracy Middendorf, Fran Bennett. New Line Cinema executive Robert Shaye’s pretty bad too. John Saxon’s fun though. And Hughes is pretty good, especially given the character arc.

Mark Irwin’s photography is strong. He maintains Craven’s accessibility, but with ominous presence.

The film’s more than worthwhile for Langenkamp’s performance and Craven’s direction. His storytelling choices are what knock over the cards.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Wes Craven; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Patrick Lussier; music by J. Peter Robinson; production designer, Cynthia Kay Charette; produced by Marianne Maddalena; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Heather Langenkamp (Heather Langenkamp), Miko Hughes (Dylan Porter), David Newsom (Chase Porter), Tracy Middendorf (Julie), Fran Bennett (Dr. Heffner), Robert Englund (Robert Englund), John Saxon (John Saxon), Wes Craven (Wes Craven) and Robert Shaye (Robert Shaye).


Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991, Rachel Talalay), the home video version

For the first third of Freddy’s Dead, I blamed Lisa Zane’s bad performance on Talalay’s truly awful direction and Michael De Luca’s lame, if enthusiastic, screenplay. During the middle third, when the film flips between exposition and poorly done dream sequences, I started to change my mind. Not in the positive; Zane never connects with the character’s place in the film. When Zane’s shooting Robert Englund’s Freddy with a crossbow, it’s supposed to be funny. But Talalay can’t direct absurdist humor, De Luca’s absurdist humor isn’t actually funny, and Zane isn’t playing for the joke. It’s a lame joke, but it’s a joke. And no one gets it. Unless the point of Freddy’s Dead is to be a complete misfire, in which case, mission accomplished.

After watching the film–for something like the fourth or fifth time, I saw it in the theater–I discovered I was watching a home video version, approximately ten minutes shorter than the original release. I assume they cut out character development. It probably would’ve been bad character development, but it might have at least made the film seemed like it was trying. Talalay can’t do anything. She’s not good at anything, at least not when it comes to presenting it to the audience. The sets are cool–C.J. Strawn’s production design, if one considers the absurdism of the script, should work a lot better than it does.

Englund’s bad, but he’s clearly aping for the camera. De Luca moronically does a character arc for Englund–the boogyman explained, over and over–and Englund visibly doesn’t know how to play some of those scenes.

Yaphet Kotto is okay for a couple of his early moments, when it seems like he might go all Parker on Freddy Kruger. By the end of the movie he’s bad, but because he’s still around and De Luca and Talalay don’t have anything for him to do.

I wonder if the original version is better or worse. It’s not like more time with any of the characters seems like a good thing. Though Shon Greenblatt at least improves throughout. He’s awful at the beginning and almost likable by the middle. Almost.

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare’s bad. It’s often amusing in its badness–until the finale, when Zane puts on her 3D glasses (as does the viewer) and it just gets protracted. Englund and Zane don’t have any chemistry. He’s trying desperately, she’s not trying at all. A better performance by Zane in the last act would have helped a lot.

Maybe it is more appropriate for it to fail on all levels, over and over again.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rachel Talalay; screenplay by Michael De Luca, based on a story by Talalay and characters created by Wes Craven; director of photography, Declan Quinn; edited by Janice Hampton; music by Brian May; production designer, C.J. Straw; produced by Robert Shaye and Aron Warner; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Lisa Zane (Maggie), Yaphet Kotto (Doc), Lezlie Deane (Tracy), Ricky Dean Logan (Carlos), Breckin Meyer (Spencer), Shon Greenblatt (John Doe) and Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger).


A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child (1989, Stephen Hopkins)

A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child is inept. Some of the ineptness isn’t too damaging–director Hopkins can’t make anything scary, even though he’s got his cast in these scary looking sets and so on. He handles it too matter-of-factly. But, after the first couple times, that ineptness stops surprising. By then, the film’s other failings have a chance to show up.

The problem with Dream Child is its got one gimmick. It’s got one surprise for the viewer and it’s fairly obvious, especially if the viewer is thinking about it. Yet Leslie Bohem’s script puts it off for at least the first act, instead establishing Lisa Wilcox–who ended the previous film a dream warrior bad-ass–as something of a milksop. It’s a terrible part; there’s nothing for Wilcox to do.

Bohem’s gimmick also means–for better or worse–Robert Englund isn’t going to have much to do for a while. He’s supposed to be dead, after all. The film’s logic for bringing him back could work–and be really creepy (Wilcox willing him back into existence)–but it doesn’t because Bohem’s script is awful.

Hopkins does all right with some of the direction. Unfortunately, it’s mostly the high school stuff, which he gives a somewhat goofy undertone. It’s wasted competence. While Wilcox remains sympathetic (especially if you’ve seen the previous entry and can mourn her character arc here), there’s not any good acting in the film from the haunted teens. Kelly Jo Minter and Danny Hassel aren’t bad, but neither have much to do. Joe Seely and Erika Anderson do get more to do and they’re lousy.

The film’s also strange in how little it apes from Nightmare entries but how much it gets from other popular films of the time. There’s a Beetlejuice lift, there’s a huge Hellraiser (or Labyrinth) lift. Bohem’s script is tone deaf not just to the franchise, but to itself.

Jay Ferguson’s terrible music doesn’t help things either; it’s always going and always bad.

I suppose some of Peter Levy’s photography is decent. More the real world stuff than the dream stuff, which is boring.

A big part of the Nightmare franchise is the filmmakers realizing how to engage with their target audience. Hopkins is indifferent, but Bohem simply can’t do it. Without an inventively exploitative screenplay–and story structure–there’s no way for Dream Child to work. At all.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Hopkins; screenplay by Leslie Bohem, based on a story by John Skipp, Craig Spector and Bohem and characters created by Wes Craven; director of photography, Peter Levy; edited by Chuck Weiss and Brent A. Schoenfeld; music by Jay Ferguson; production designer, C.J. Strawn; produced by Robert Shaye and Rupert Harvey; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Lisa Wilcox (Alice), Kelly Jo Minter (Yvonne), Danny Hassel (Dan), Erika Anderson (Greta), Joe Seely (Mark Gray), Nicholas Mele (Mr. Johnson) and Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger).


A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988, Renny Harlin)

The Dream Master has a really lame final scene, which is too bad since the second half of the film actually gets rather good. The script–from Brian Helgeland, Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat–is impressive for a couple reasons. First, it gives Lisa Wilcox a great hero arc across the traditional gender lines–she’s the nerd crushing on Danny Hassel’s hunk, but she ends up saving him. Sure, all of their mutual friends and her brother had to die for her to magically inherit their individuality and let it fuel her own, but she does use the power for good.

Wilcox is enthusiastic and sincere, which makes up for her performance being a tad light.

The story arc doesn’t really need Robert Englund or Freddy Krueger, but he’s a decent enough addition as far as the villain of that piece. It’s just not the only thing going on in Dream Master, which opens with continuation of the previous film. The film starts with the previous entry’s three survivors–Tuesday Knight, Rodney Eastman and Ken Sagoes–making a new life for themselves (in high school). Knight (taking over for Patricia Arquette) is dating Andras Jones, who’s Wilcox’s sister. Brooke Theiss and Toy Newkirk are also part of the group. And even though this group is somewhat aware of Knight and company’s previous troubles, they don’t experience it. Not until about halfway into the picture, because Dream Master takes the very awkward–but thoughtful–approach of handing the film off between sets of characters.

Knight’s okay, so are Hassel and Jones. Everyone’s likable enough, which seems to be intentional (Theiss, the jock, and Newkirk, the nerd, tease each other but are still besties).

Bad music from Craig Safan. Decent photography from Steven Fierberg. He shoots it a little dark, but once an effects sequence gets going, he’s careful to make sure to show enough. The effects sequences are fantastic, whether they’re large scale set pieces or just the gross-out stuff.

As for Harlin’s direction–it’s a mixed bag. Some of it’s really good. The dream sequences he can play like action scenes, those scenes do well. The ones he does for horror? Not so much. He tends more towards the sci-fi handling, wanting to make sure the audience understands exactly what’s going on. It works out well enough–there’s not much horror in the screenplay, which instead relies on neat narrative tricks and devices.

Dream Master takes a while to get going, but once it does, it works out quite well. Until that moronic last scene, where it cheats the audience out of seeing Wilcox as a “regular” hero, not just a dream one.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Renny Harlin; screenplay by Brian Helgeland, Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat based on a story by William Kotzwinkle and Helgeland and characters created by Wes Craven; director of photography, Steven Fierberg; edited by Michael N. Knue, Jack Tucker and Chuck Weiss; music by Craig Safan; production designers, C.J. Strawn and Mick Strawn; produced by Robert Shaye and Rachel Talalay; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Lisa Wilcox (Alice), Tuesday Knight (Kristen), Andras Jones (Rick), Danny Hassel (Dan), Brooke Theiss (Debbie), Rodney Eastman (Joey), Ken Sagoes (Kincaid), Toy Newkirk (Sheila), Brooke Bundy (Mrs. Parker), Nicholas Mele (Mr. Johnson) and Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger).


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