Wes Craven

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).


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

Dream Warriors is masterful in its manipulation; it’s the very definition of franchise building. Screenwriters Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell wrap what appears to be particular kind of narrative–after a film away, Heather Langenkamp–the original’s protagonist–is going to be the focus. Only she’s not. Then it’s like the character who opened the movie–Patricia Arquette–is the actual focus. Only she’s not.

And no one’s going to think Craig Wasson’s the focus, even though he at least gets to participate in it–the focus is building a mythology around Freddy Krueger, a mythology with nothing to do with the actual narrative and entirely self-contained. According to the IMDb trivia page, Craven had it just the opposite; so either Russell or Darabont went in and separated things out. The screenplay is admirably constructed. It’s bad and dumb, but it’s well-constructed for what it’s trying to do.

But Dream Warriors isn’t just masterful in that type of manipulation. Whether it’s getting away with tons of fantasy special effects in a mainstream horror movie or turning the audience’s passive dislike for a character into a tacit approval of Robert Englund’s terrorizing of them, the whole thing is an expert package.

Mood is very important here because, as a director, Russell never wants to show his hand. There’s a certain respectability Dream Warriors is going for, what with having Dick Cavett and Zsa Zsa Gabor in the opening titles, which are a very classy sequence of arts and crafts from Arquette, set to Angelo Badalamenti’s (initially) way too good–for the movie–score. Roy H. Wagner’s photography reminds of giallo, with its shadows against the strong colors of the sets. Except Russell’s rarely ambitious in his direction. Editors Terry Stokes and Chuck Weiss have some effective cuts with Badalamenti’s music, but none of them have to do with Englund’s villain or even the sensational dreamscape where most of the big action takes place. Instead, they’re for the setup, when Dream Warriors is trying to appear sincere.

The acting is mostly bad. Often because of the script’s silliness. Expert construction or not, it’s silly. Langenkamp suffers the worst, except for maybe Priscilla Pointer, who plays the head psychiatrist of the Dream Warriors–a bunch of teens Englund is haunting. Pointer’s character isn’t just played as mean, she doesn’t even get anything to do with it. Arquette’s a little better than Langenkamp but not much. Craig Wasson plays another psychiatrist and even roughs up John Saxon at one point. Saxon’s so out of it he doesn’t look embarrassed in that roughing up scene. John Saxon was in Enter the Dragon. Craig Wasson shouldn’t be able to rough him up.

The rest of the supporting cast is a low mediocre. Except for Larry Fishburne. Larry Fishburne’s excellent. Movie should’ve been about him.

But it’s not made to be excellent, it’s made to further a franchise–and it succeeds. It even gives Englund some occasional good moments amid his otherwise one-note, sensationalist routine.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Chuck Russell; screenplay by Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont and Russell, based on a story by Craven and Wagner and characters created by Craven; director of photography, Roy H. Wagner; edited by Terry Stokes and Chuck Weiss; music by Angelo Badalamenti; produced by Robert Shaye; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Heather Langenkamp (Nancy Thompson), Patricia Arquette (Kristen Parker), Craig Wasson (Neil Gordon), Laurence Fishburne (Max), Priscilla Pointer (Dr. Elizabeth Simms), Rodney Eastman (Joey), Ken Sagoes (Kincaid), Ira Heiden (Will), Jennifer Rubin (Taryn), Penelope Sudrow (Jennifer), Bradley Gregg (Phillip), Nan Martin (Sister Mary Helena), Brooke Bundy (Elaine Parker), John Saxon (Donald Thompson) and Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger).


A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985, Jack Sholder)

Why is Freddy’s Revenge so bad? It shouldn’t be so bad. No mistake–it’s terrible and it’s terrible mostly because of director Sholder and lead Mark Patton.

While Patton’s awful, it’d be wrong to blame it entirely on him. He doesn’t get any help whatsoever from director Sholder. But then Sholder doesn’t direct any of his actors. It’s painfully obvious with Clu Gulager and Hope Lange, who are both game to try in this waste of their time, but Shoulder never gives them anything. The movie’s so weird because it’s like the actors are doing their own version of the script and Sholder’s doing his version of it.

But the movie’s also weird because, like I said, it should be better. Whoever decided to put an emphasis on having Robert Englund (in an eighty percent bad, twenty percent good) performance made the film worse. It’s hard to believe it would have been screenwriter David Chaskin because he writes all of the dialogue for the supporting cast when Englund’s around as though he’s not the character who’s supposed to be there. It seemingly unintentionally makes Englund’s Freddy Krueger into a bland monster. I say seemingly because if director Sholder had gotten that approach, in observing it, he would have changed it. Freddy’s Revenge isn’t a comedy. Sholder’s got no sense of humor. Of course, editor Bob Brady has no sense of timing so it wouldn’t matter anyway.

Freddy’s Revenge fails on multiple cylinders, but they all seem unaware of one another. The visual effects and Christopher Young’s score weather the film the best, even if Sholder doesn’t know how to shoot the effects sequences. Brady wouldn’t be able to cut them anyway.

You know, maybe another big problem is bad (and uncredited) production design from Gregg Fonseca. It’s entirely possible Sholder wouldn’t have been able to shoot it properly but there’s just something off about Freddy’s Revenge.

Chaskin’s script isn’t good, but it’s got signs of ambition. Sholder’s actively trying to avoid ambition. For instance–the infamous gay subtext. It should have made the movie. Instead it’s just another one of the film’s failures because Sholder’s not cognizant of what he has to direct. And Patton’s desperately in need of direction, unable to figure out the bad–but ambitious–script.

Anything titled A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge should be bad, but nowhere near this bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Sholder; screenplay by David Chaskin, based on characters created by Wes Craven; director of photography, Jacques Haitkin; edited by Bob Brady; music by Christopher Young; production designer, Gregg Fonseca; produced by Robert Shaye; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Mark Patton (Jesse Walsh), Kim Myers (Lisa Webber), Robert Rusler (Ron Grady), Sydney Walsh (Kerry), Clu Gulager (Ken Walsh), Hope Lange (Cheryl Walsh), Christie Clark (Angela Walsh), Marshall Bell (Coach Schneider) and Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger).


Freddy vs. Jason (2003, Ronny Yu)

Freddy vs. Jason is terrible, no doubt about it. It’s poorly directed, it’s poorly written, it’s poorly acted. Not even composer Graeme Revell–who’s actually worked on good movies–tries. His most ambitious part of the score is the generic mixing (consecutively cut together) the two separate franchises’s familiar themes. It’s real lazy.

One cannot accuse director Yu of being lazy, however. He, photographer Fred Murphy and editor Mark Stevens rush through every shot in the film. With the exception of two or three crane shots, there’s nothing well-directed in the film. Yu’s a lousy director; the film looks awful and the actors clearly weren’t getting any direction.

As the primary damsel in distress, Monica Keena is awful. Kelly Rowland is awful as her friend, Jason Ritter is awful as her boyfriend. The film’s best performance is probably Brendan Fletcher but only for half of his performance. Really bad acting from Kyle Labine.

Like most franchise pairings, Freddy vs. Jason doesn’t have much in the way of artistic potential; it might’ve been nice to have an iota of intelligence from Damian Shannon and Mark Swift’s script.

Not even the film’s fight scenes work out. Robert Englund looks silly battling his hulking adversary. Well, Yu wouldn’t know what to do with the footage anyway. He can’t construct a scary sequence and he’s even worse at trying to do a fight sequence.

The film’s mean, misogynistic, homophobic and a little racist. Freddy vs. Jason’s only achievement is being entirely worthless.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ronny Yu; screenplay by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, based on characters created by Wes Craven and Victor Miller; director of photography, Fred Murphy; edited by Mark Stevens; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, John Willett; produced by Sean S. Cunningham; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger), Monica Keena (Lori Campbell), Kelly Rowland (Kia Waterson), Jason Ritter (Will Rollins), Chris Marquette (Charlie Linderman), Lochlyn Munro (Deputy Scott Stubbs), Katharine Isabelle (Gibb), Brendan Fletcher (Mark Davis), Zack Ward (Bobby Davis), Kyle Labine (Bill Freeburg), Tom Butler (Dr. Campbell), Garry Chalk (Sheriff Williams) and Ken Kirzinger (Jason Voorhees).


A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, Wes Craven)

The best thing about A Nightmare on Elm Street is the font in the opening titles. It’s something sans serif and it’s slightly off and it looks good. To be fair to the movie’s reputation, I did jump twice, both times at the end; maybe because it was waking me up. As opposed to encouraging me never to sleep again A Nightmare on Elm Street made me wish I was comatose for its running time.

It’s not hard to pinpoint what’s wrong with the movie. Wes Craven’s script is atrocious and his direction is worse. His actors–with the exception of Johnny Depp–are awful. Ronee Blakley might give one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen. John Saxon’s not as bad as the rest, but he’s bad. Heather Langenkamp is terrible as the lead. She and Blakley are never once believable as mother and daughter.

I’ve seen this one before and I remember it being poorly made. I can’t understand why it has a good reputation. The number of Halloween lifts are few, but visible enough to remind of a far better film.

Craven’s ineptness as a director doesn’t get any help from editor Rick Shaine, who’s unspeakably bad. I think some of the problem might be lack of coverage, which would be Craven’s fault, but come on. People move five yards between cuts.

Charles Bernstein’s music is silly.

It’s a crappy movie and it’s disheartening it launched a franchise. I guess audiences weren’t any better read then either.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Wes Craven; director of photography, Jacques Haitkin; edited by Rick Shaine; music by Charles Bernstein; production designer, Gregg Fonseca; produced by Robert Shaye; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring John Saxon (Lt. Thompson), Ronee Blakley (Marge Thompson), Heather Langenkamp (Nancy Thompson), Amanda Wyss (Tina Gray), Jsu Garcia (Rod Lane), Johnny Depp (Glen Lantz), Charles Fleischer (Dr. King), Joseph Whipp (Sgt. Parker) and Robert Englund (Fred Krueger).


Swamp Thing (1982, Wes Craven)

Swamp Thing succeeds–to the degree it does–both in spite of Wes Craven and because of him. Craven is not an inventive low budget filmmaker. He does nothing to compensate. The Swamp Thing costume is bad, has lots of movement below the chest. Craven shoots it head-to-toe instead of obscuring it. There’s a real disconnect between Craven’s handling of the costume and with the special effects in general and the film in general, because Craven’s not playing Swamp Thing for laughs. The other big problem Craven brings to the table is his inability to film an action scene or scenes in the open (on open water, with a clear sky). Swamp Thing cuts from good composition to bad composition almost every shot during the middle. It’s extremely disconcerting.

But, like I said, it still succeeds… because even with turning Louis Jordan into a wild boar, Craven takes the film seriously. Swamp Thing is not smart. Craven’s script is riddled with holes and is, at times, dumb. But he’s earnest. He creates two excellent character relationships–Swamp Thing and Adrienne Barbeau and then Barbeau and her teenage sidekick, played by Reggie Batts. The most successful thing about the Swamp Thing romance–well, it starts when it’s still Ray Wise as the human version–is Craven sells it in a short amount of time. The whole movie takes place over three or four days and the establishing romance takes place in–story-time–a few hours the first day, at most. But Craven, Barbeau, Wise and later Dick Durock sell it.

A lot of the film’s earnestness has to do with the actors. While Jordan (gloriously) adds relish to his ham, Barbeau, Wise, and Durock all play it straight. Barbeau runs around in skimpy outfits–heels in the swamp too–but her performance is great. The stuff with her and Durock, who I never realized was so affecting in the Swamp Thing costume before, is great. But the stuff with her and Batts is somehow even more touching, since the romance is kind of expected, but the genuine human concern element is not.

Craven shoots all of the swamp scenes on location, both a good idea and bad (those wide open spaces I mentioned before), and the film does have some lovely cinematic moments. Especially when the Harry Manfredini score is in its soft parts and not the action ones (Manfredini’s action music is a fit for Craven’s action direction). Unfortunately, the scenes in Jordan’s villainous hideout… a mansion, leave a lot to be desired. Craven’s script is short on establishing Jordan’s character other than giving him a staff of young female assistants and dumb macho mercenaries.

Because the film’s so short, because it moves so fast–and because the action scenes are impossible to remember–Swamp Thing leaves a good impression. One remembers the successes–thanks to Barbeau and Batts–and excuses the failures. But some of it, the haunting beauty, does come from Craven… though he gets crucial help from the natural locations and Manfredini’s score.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Craven; screenplay by Craven, based on the DC comic book by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson; director of photography, Robbie Greenberg; edited by Richard Bracken; music by Harry Manfredini; production designers, Robb Wilson King and David Nichols; produced by Benjamin Melniker and Michael E. Uslan; released by Embassy Pictures.

Starring Louis Jourdan (Dr. Anton Arcane), Adrienne Barbeau (Alice Cable), Ray Wise (Doctor Alec Holland), David Hess (Ferret), Nicholas Worth (Bruno), Don Knight (Harry Ritter), Al Ruban (Charlie), Dick Durock (Swamp Thing), Ben Bates (The Arcane Monster), Nannette Brown (Dr. Linda Holland) and Reggie Batts (Jude).


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