Saturday, July 21, 2012

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

I’ll be damned if anyone's going to challenge me on what I’m about to say, but us kids that grew up in the 80’s were the luckiest on the planet. It was a great time to be alive and no time period since has even come close to paralleling it, regardless of what anyone will say. We had the best television shows, the best music, the best video games, the best fashion (Wait, scratch that…lol), and most of all, the best fright flicks. There was an endearing cheesiness in them that, while at some point they were expecting to be taken seriously, always ended up in some campy terrain, miles and miles away from where the original intention of the film ever planned on going. This one was no exception, especially since it was supposed to ride on the coattails of its brilliant predecessor. 
I know that right now you might be thinking, Why is this guy reviewing a sequel when he hasn’t even touched on the original?, since I wrote the original Friday the 13th’s entry on here before even saying a word about Part 2, but I was watching this a few nights ago, again (lol), and it’s been on my mind since. I have many fond early memories of this film, but more because of its advertising campaign since I didn’t actually get to see the movie itself until the early 90’s, once it was on home video. I won’t go into the details of my encounter with the original NOES because then I’ll stray from talking about this installment, as I watched both of these films for the first time within months of one another, but the first time I ever came into any sort of contact with this entry was during, if I remember correctly, the autumn of 1985, just as I had entered the seventh grade.

My first encounter with this was its 30-second television spot. There was already buzz on the junior-high playground regarding the first film as it was being dubbed “the scariest movie you will ever see” and the name of “Freddy Krueger” was already becoming a classroom-name and of course, I hadn’t had the chance to see it. One, because I was big fraidy cat at the time – though there was a strong stirring curiosity inside of me – and two, I had strict parents who would have never let me sit through something like this of their own accord. So by this time, the sequel had come around. What always stayed with me was the image of Jesse saying “There’s something inside of me!” and that was enough to creep me out back then and I couldn’t watch the TV spot after that as Jesse’s voice managed to always crawl up my spine and give me the chills. Little did I know that his now-famous scene – and subsequent line of dialogue - was a euphemism for something I would soon identify with well. Along with the image of Freddy jumping out from the bushes to terrorize the kids, the spot would be something I’d never forget.

One day the following summer while cruising the video rental section at the old Highway 83 location of the H-E-B grocery store in Weslaco , Texas , as the parentals were doing their shopping, I took a gander of the poster art of this for the first time. In the mid-80’s the H-E-B video department had a little newsletter of sorts where you could read about all the new releases – both at their stores and in the theaters – with little gimmicky offers and coupons inside the 8 ½ X 11 inch-sized advert. But, what I remember most is that when you opened the entire newsletter (as it was comprised of four full-sized pages put together), it folded out into an almost full replica of the poster art of whatever movie was being featured at the time. Though I did manage to collect a few of them, the ones that I will always remember are Ghostbusters – which was my favorite one of all – and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.

We all know the plot so I won’t go into it very much because I’m confident that at least a whopping 95% of you reading this have already seen it multiple times – I’ll actually be surprised if someone hasn’t seen this. A new family moves into the old Elm Street house where a young boy named Jesse is having visions of Freddy Kruger in his dreams. When his girl-friend Lisa (note the hyphenation) comes over and finds a diary belonging to Nancy Walsh from the first film talking about the same man he is seeing while he sleeps. What transpires is Freddy attempting to possess the body of young Jesse and having him commit crimes in the real world instead of people’s nightmares, as was laid out in the original NOES. As Freddy tries harder and harder to manipulate Jesse to commit violent acts in real-time on his behalf, the more Jesse tries to figure out exactly what’s going on inside of him and fight back. With the help of his friend Lisa, he manages to fight off Freddy once and for all. Or does he? That’s pretty much the basic premise of the film.

Now, I don’t want to sound like a total geek, but as you’re watching this you can’t help but Jesse as the first male scream queen. Boy, does that kid have a set of lungs. And he does it with such sincerity and energy that at some point, you have to admit that he can out-scream Jamie Lee Curtis on any given day. There hasn’t been a guy in horror history who has since matched the belts let out by this kid and I’m more than sure no one ever will. With his boyish good looks, blonde hair and blue eyes, there’s a sweet, innocent charm to him that you can’t resist and before you know it, you’ve fallen in love with him and are rooting for him for the duration of the film. Played with absolute flair by Mark Patton, you soon come to realize that Patton is Jesse, a sort of extension of himself in more ways than could have been known at the time. There’s a realness to him that comes off as if he were the kid next door you only came into contact with but never took the time to get to know, the friend you’d see in school from afar but never talk to.

I could go into more detail about other elements of this film because there’s a lot I could talk about, like how New Line put this into motion without Wes Craven’s participation because [Craven] didn’t like the idea that Freddy was manipulating someone to hurt people in the real world and that the original intent of the first film was to have a happy ending, but I know there’s one question you’re probably asking yourself right now: When is he going to talk about what he’s not talking about? And if you’re a regular follower and reader of this blog, you know exactly what that is.

Yeah, yeah, blabbity-blah, the gay subtext. There’s been much debate over the years among fans of the series regarding if everything we’ve seen and read about was all done with intentions in mind. All I’m going to say about that is watch the documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy and your questions will be answered. When I first viewed the film as a sophomore in high school just before Christmas Break let out – now that I think about it, why were we allowed to watch a horror movie in the first place? – and though I was a little scared…okay, I was scared plenty (there, I said it) – I didn’t get it until I watched it for the first time on video by myself almost five years later in the summer of 1993. Maybe because I was younger at the time and watching it with a bunch of teenagers who weren’t really paying attention to the movie anyway? Possibly because I was watching it all alone in the dark within a different atmosphere and a much different frame of mind? Let’s face it, just the beginning of the film in the scene where we’re introduced to Jesse for the first time where he wakes up, sits on the edge of the bed and adjusts his junk? That should have been my clue. As the film progresses, there are more and more clues as to where this films wants to subliminally lead you. Everything from the perfect casting of the obvious over-the-top hotness that is Ron Grady (slickly played by Robert Rusler) and the whole on-screen hunk-to-geek ratio that is practically irresistible, the scene where Jesse cleans his room and dances to the tune of the wonderful “Touch Me (All Night Long)” by Fonda Rae and Wish, to the (random!) scene in the S&M bar where Jesse runs into his coach and scene in the shower that follows. The latter immediately pose the questions, How did Jesse even know there was an S&M bar in his town?, How did he know where it was?, And how would he ever have known that his coach would be there?

If you really look at it from an “alternative” standpoint, Grady and the coach are key elements in the film when it comes to Jesse. Grady is the one boy - and friend - Jesse looks up to and though never stated blatantly in the film, you know Jesse had an unmistakable crush on Grady. And you have to admit that Grady not only knew, but was okay with it as he proved to be Jesse's protector and confidant. Jesse went to Grady for everything, including the times he was punished at school while on the field, and including the time when making out with Lisa at the pool party went wrong and Jesse flees to seek refuge at Grady's house. And to have Jesse arrive after bedtime and get to catch a glimpse of his friend under the covers, shirtless, and get the opportunity to share a bedroom with the object of his silent affection? Yeah, I thought so. And if you ask me, I think the coach had a stiffy for poor Jesse, which would explain why he always gave the poor boy hell. And I think Grady knew that, as well - why else would he defend him? And Freddy wasn't any help, either. And "Freddy" had to have been a metaphor for Jesse's repressed homosexuality. Freddy did his share of scaring Jesse, degrading him, telling him "You can't beat me" over and over again, adding to his pain. The whole "There's something inside of me!" statement not only makes perfect sense now, but it actually resonates and gives the entire film an entirely new meaning. Lisa urges him to fight it, which could be viewed as a message with a meaning much more profound than just a line of dialogue in the film, since Jesse - from what I perceive - was fighting feelings that were not only confusing to deal with but also having to life with the fear of said feelings being taboo and unacceptable at that time - which, if you grew up heterosexually-challenged in the 80's, you know exactly what kind of pain I'm talking about. The producers of the film claim that the subtext was not intentional at all but the writer claims otherwise - as stated in the documentary. But once you've seen it with all of those little hidden messages brought out to light, subsequent viewings have you trying to pinpoint them all - and they're all there. It's great discussion material and I was happy when it was a subject of conversation on the Elm Street documentary that's on DVD. If you're even a remote fan of the series, it's essential viewing. The documentary is over 4 hours long and covers everything regarding the entire series in its entirety, film by film. And though Grady doesn't make an appearance (sadly - as I'd love to see what he looks like now and hear his opinions on this), Jesse does and it's a wonderful highlight. 

If this isn't in your collection already, it sure as hell should be. I do admit that the film does have its flaws, but there's many reasons to overlook them. It's worth seeing time and time again and not only does it remind us of how great the eighties really were, but it's a reminder of how silent certain areas of society were and their silent plight to be seen, heard and ultimately, recognized. We're so used to certain groups of people being abundant and accepted in modern society, but it wasn't always that way and this film establishes that. This film opened up so many doors within the minds of us closeted boys. We got to see that we weren't the only ones struggling to fight feelings we knew hadn't been accepted yet and those pains of having to find ways to deal with them. I do consider this an important film in may respects just because the subject matter was dealt with in a manner that hadn't been done before. And if you've had the joy of watching this - as I know you have - you have to just love the final scene, where Jesse and his pals having survived the onslaught, get back onto the bus thinking that everything is over and that life is going returning to normal. Then, BAM!, from out of nowhere, Freddy's glove pierces through his friend and the camera freeze frames on Jesse's magnificent scream of doom. There will never be a scream in horror history as prolific as Jesse's final note of sheer horror. It's monumental, it's epic, it's one of the best the eighties had to offer.  

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Scorpion With Two Tails (1982)

In mid-2004, there was a curiosity sparked inside of me when I first laid eyes on the Mario Bava film, Shock. I won’t go into the details about that film since more than likely I will be reviewing it within the next few weeks but it began my venture into the foray of Italian murder-mysteries and the genre of said films known across the world as giallo. Though the only Italian horror film I’d seen up to that time had been Suspiria, but my recent viewings at that time of Bay of Blood and there aforementioned Shock had really tickled my fancy. Since then, I’ve not only sat through a countless number of them but have been able to snag a whole bunch of them and add them to my collection. There is something about this style of film that not only captivated my attention with their brazen outrageousness but also got me hooked. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent in front of the computer researching, doing my homework and trying to see how many of these films I can watch  and soon I was getting my hands on so many of them that I couldn’t keep up. Before I knew it I was looking at a plethora of films by Argento, Fulci, Bava (both of them), Martino, Deodato, Lenzi and my fondness for these kinds of Euro-trash quickly became my second favorite style of film – next to the slasher film, of course. 

This entry, though, was one of those films that spent months on the shelf in my office before I decided to finally pick it up and give it a watch yesterday. For starters, let me say that I will watch any film with the always-wonderful John Saxon at least once. For years, I’ve been a huge fan of his and have almost every horror flick he’s been in. Those rugged looks, those piercing eyes – he’s got to be one of the most dashing and handsome men on the B-movie circuit.  So you know that when I read his name in the cast listing it was immediately placed into my Netfilx queue at the top of the list. Then when I read it had been directed by Sergio Martino – whose Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key had already spent months dormant in my collection, as well – I knew that I was going to have a good time. Several weeks before sitting down to watch this, though, I’d gone online and read other people’s opinions about this one and was surprised – and a little saddened - at just how many bad reviews it had gotten. I was thoroughly disappointed to read that a film with a catchy title as The Scorpion with Two Tails (as opposed to its alternate title Murder in an Etruscan Cemetery) could be at all bad. But, I proceeded with caution. I mean, let’s face it, we’ve all seen worse. (Hellgate, anyone?)

The film opens up with a bizarre sequence with a woman named Joan (the gorgeous Elivire Audray) having nightmares about a ritual in an underground grotto with a young couple having their necks broken and then being sacrificed. Her husband (John Saxon) is on the other side of the world on an archaeological excursion who seems to have discovered an ancient Etruscan tomb when while away, is murdered by an unknown assailant in the same manner she’s seen in her dreams. She goes to Italy to try and find out just what happened and why she knew exactly what her husband had stumbled upon if she’d never been to Italy. Accompanied by her friend and confidant Mike (Paolo Malco, known for The New York Ripper and House by the Cemetery), Joan tries to put all the puzzle pieces together beginning with why everything she was encountering in real life had already been seen in dreams while dealing with a drug deal gone wrong that she never would have expected involving both her deceased husband, countess Maria (played by the fantastically gorgeous Marilu Tolo) and her father.

While in Italy, Joan finds out that her husband had found an important artifact while in the grotto that was meant for her: A necklace of a scorpion with two tails that was being kept in the care of a local jeweler. Why does this look familiar to her? It seems that while down in the tomb her husband had discovered he came across it, and along with other archaeologists, she realizes that the photo of a subject found on the walls looks exactly like her. And she’s wearing a necklace with a scorpion with two tails that looks exactly like the one her husband had found and left to her. Why does she look like the woman painted on the wall? Who is she and could she be connected to all the dreams she’s been having? And why does a lot of the music in this film sound familiar? Maybe I’ve heard it in The Beyond? Or was it The Gates of Hell?

What ensues is not so much a giallo as I was expecting it to be but more a thriller. I do have to warn you though that the story’s pacing is quite slow and some of the plot devices are not only outlandish and absurd but render some portions of the film completely incomprehensible (including a revelation at the film’s close that never would have worked in the real life and makes you burst out in obnoxious laughter). There are countless scenes involving statues and maggots galore and plenty of moments with Joan screaming for – what appears to be - pure show. With that said, it still managed to keep my attention somehow.

The photography, on the other hand, was excellent. The Italian countryside is bursting with rich colors and wonderful greens and yellows. One reason I love these foreign films is that the cinematographers always photograph their surroundings with precision and care. There’s nothing I love more than to watch these movies and get a glimpse of what life was like during those time periods. I get to see buildings and cities and country sides and beaches all caught with precision and beauty and preserved for me to see anytime I want to.

Mya Communications did a great job with this disc, visually. I don’t own many of their titles but what I do have in my collection is great. This disc, though, is probably the best one I have. The opening DVD menus are absolutely gorgeous and crisp and I liked how there was a soft fadeout after every selection. There isn’t much as far as bonus features are concerned, though, just the trailer, poster gallery, and alternate opening sequence with the alternate title (looking like someone did the titles with an old Tandy computer) but I did like the juxtaposition of the bloody hands on the menu screen against soft Italio-Muzak. There’s something about that combination – and it’s a combination used in many Italian thrillers – that I really dig. I’m not going to say to hunt this one down because I’d be leading you on. I think it’s worth a look if you like these kinds of films. It’s not as bad as many reviews I’ve read claim it to be, but I have to be honest and say that it isn’t stellar. I’ve only seen three or four of Martino’s works and I can tell you that this is the weakest one so far. But, just because it’s weak doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve at least one watch. One of my rules as a horror watcher – and reviewer – that I live by is that you can’t bank a film solely on what someone else says about it. There are so many palettes and tastes that lie within horror fandom that relying on just one person’s opinion would be unfair not only to the film itself, but to yourself as the viewer. How do you know if you will like a film if you don’t sit in front of it? One of the risks you take being an avid horror fan is that some films are going to rock your world and other’s will not. I always say that for every fantastic horror film you watch, there will be three or four that you’ll see that will genuinely suck. That’s just the way it is. And I’m talking about the film sucking in a bad way, where there is nothing in it that will redeem itself. (Hellgate, anyone?)

The film’s closing act is so absurd that you have to force yourself to believe it, and I mean absurd to the point of hysterical laughter. As I said earlier, it would never work in the real world and suspension of disbelief gives you no choice but to smile and nod your head, albeit unkindly. You have to give the writers and producers credit for their attempted creativity because the combinations of plot points and storyline don’t spell “blockbuster” in any way shape or form. But then again what film such as this one would? Yes, it was missing creativity in the aspect of murder sequences – everyone pretty much dies in the same manner – but it still wasn’t enough for me to turn off the DVD player. The red herrings here weren’t crimson enough to confuse or deter and when the killer finally reveals himself, you’re really inclined to scream out a half-assed “huh?!” than an enthusiastic “what?!” because the shock that it tries to set itself up for fails to deliver - hard. The denouement leaves a lot to be desired and the outcome leaves you asking how it could have been possible to end that way if there wasn’t enough development between the two characters in question for those results to have materialized? Seriously, it’s pretty far-fetched but (in my best Italian voice) Whaduya gonna do?.

I’m not going to lie when I say I won’t see this one again because I probably will – hello, John Saxon’s in it. The locales and the absurdity of some of the plot points and other goings on are reason to claim it as bona fide entertainment. This one of those kinds of films you’d put on after a Friday night after work to end the long work week when all your plans to go out have fallen through, you’re too tired and lazy to make dinner and order in a pizza and there’s nothing else left to watch on television.