Wes Craven 1939-2015 – RIP

by on Aug.31, 2015, under Other Musings

I’ve said so many things about Wes Craven here. I’m not going to repeat myself, but please check out my Craven week from the project or search all references here. I think i covered all of his work as far as i can remember. He was the ultimate horror director, proficient, consistent and ground breaking, who reinvented horror several Craventimes during his career trying various avenues to scare an audience, some worked, others didn’t but he took those chances. He also championed women in cinema. Chainsaw’s too! Was he the first horror director to use a chainsaw as a weapon? Today is a very sad day, the day we have lost a huge talent. He’ll always be in my dream’s bringing me nightmares. RIP

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Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

by on May.01, 2010, under Daily Review

This is clever and I’m so glad Wes is back in the drivers seat. It’s crazy, that after a week of Elm Street movies, I’ve come full circle from the effective, inspirational first movie to this final offering which is closer to the Scream franchise in essence that the Elm Street machine but more mature, cleaner and gorier that the rest of the in between fillers. As Craven say’s himself during the movie in a cameo, to paraphrase ‘The franchise gets watered down, but this time, Krueger is darker’.

The film is basically the story of the actors from the first film, here ten years later, Wes wants them back in another final installment. But whilst Wes works on the script, the spirit of Krueger is back to haunt the nightmares of all those involved, from Special effects crew, to actors Robert Englund, John Saxon and Heather Langenkamp, but the script reflects the crazy nightmares which are taking place. Is this reality? Is Krueger real? It’s not long before reality is blending with the fantasy of the Elm Street movies, with Heather becoming her former character, Nancy.

The balance is dead right here. Krueger is eviler and nastier than ever before with a new set of claws and an interesting twist on the makeup. No more comical, loveable villain, this time, we have all the evil from the first. It’s nicely filmed too. Craven is a master behind the camera and knows how to pace a film, which flows perfectly.

What I liked about this film was it’s dominant force. It makes the rest look even more ridiculous with great style and self reflection, as a respectful homage to it’s former first film. It laughs in the face of what has happened in between and cleans up all the anger which the fans have mustered all these years, finally putting an end to the bad dream which was unfortunately New Lines greed.

The self tribute offers some brilliant reimaginings of events from the original. The scene with the babysitter trashed in the hospital, levitated and dragged along the ceiling, here is done with such credence and perfection. I also love the eternal phrase ‘screw your pass!’

Langenkamp is amazing in this film. She has matured into a cracking actress and as always, I’ve said this before, it’s credit to Craven for picking the talent of the unknown actor and encouraging growth through nurture. Englund is also very fine here, its great to see him getting his teeth into a solid role rather than making himself look stupid with a bad script.

Realistically, if you fancy taking in some of the Elm Street sights, you can’t go far wrong than to stick with the first and skip to the last, the rest is just a bad dream.

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RIP Gunnar Hansen

by on Nov.08, 2015, under Other Musings

Very saddened to hear that today we have lost yet another horror legend. Gunnar Hansen, who made his impact on the world of cinema back in 1974 in his role as Leatherface in Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Originally from Reykjavik, Gunnar HansenIceland, his family moved to the USA when he was just aged 5. The Hansen family settled in Maine before moving to Texas aged 11. Whilst in collage, he auditioned for the role of Leatherface and the rest is history. You can read all about my gushing thoughts on TCM here, which I believe is probably the most important film (both mainstream and genre) ever made.

Gunnar was a big character; friendly, creative, and a talented writer as well as having incredible screen presence. He will always be remembered for his role as Leatherface, the crazy, retarded, human face wearing, chainsaw wielding, maniac who was loosely based on serial killer Ed Gein. Although he only played the role in the original 1974 version, and declined a revisit to the role in the (very good) reimagining  of Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 2003 due to feeling insulted that the original required a remake, he took up the chainsaw as a weapon in various other films throughout his career, notably Fred Olen Ray’s 1988’s Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers.

2015 is turning out to be a sad year for the genre. First Wes Craven back in August and now Gunnar Hanson, aged on 68, died due to pancreatic cancer. Rest in Peace Gunnar, you’ll always be my number one horror monster legend.

My deepest condolences are with Gunnar’s close friends and family at this time.

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Scream Queens: A brief history

by on Aug.20, 2013, under Other Musings

Scream Queens have been adorning our screens ever since the first celluloid was projected at our houses of cinematic holiness, through the wars of Betamax Elsa Lancasterand VHS, DVD to the glory of Blu-Ray and Hi-Def, these girls have graced our screens. From Brigitte Helm in Metropolis as the multiple contrasting roles showing lustful fun loving devil as created by the hands of man through technology and witchcraft. Elsa Lanchester was the Bride of Frankenstein, empowering the female through a role which mutilates the female form, again at the hand of man and technology but one which gives the Bride the choice of groom which she strongly refuses. Both of these characters allow the scream queen to be worshiped and glorified as figures and ultimately, the prime media promotion of the films. Does this undermine the role of the female or exploit sex to sell? The very question suggests that actresses have no choice in the roles which they choose and that they are open to be used and abused at the hands of any such film maker.

A similar role can be seen in Cronenberg’s 75 classic, Shivers(It came from Within) which depicts a biological outbreak in a luxury apartment complex, one which transforms clean cut citizens into sex crazed zombies. Lynn Lowry is our Scream Queen here, a character who owns the film from start to finish, one that oozes sex appeal. But what Cronenberg offers is a character that knows what she wants. Her opening scene suggests she is out to get her man, shows love and desire and true passion whilst those around her are almost emotionally dead until the outbreak. The finale is one of the greatest in cinematic history, as Nurse Forsythe gets her man in an intensely dramatic scene.

PussycatWhilst horror and scream queens go hand in hand, it is important to introduce the ultimate grounding of where the modern scream queen was born. Russ Meyer: a name which offers connotations of sexism and exploitation. If these terms come to mind, then go and watch one of his films as you are judging the unknown. Meyer empowers women, both in form and in character. From making films
with casts mainly made up dominantly of female leads, these are strong dramatic characters which emphasis all scales of the spectrum of human emotion, especially at a time in recent history, but even by todays standards, there are very few female dominant films across any genre. Meyer exposes the female as a sexual one, but one of intelligence, power, and danger.

The ‘80’s saw a whole array of Scream Queens grace the screens. Fred Olen Ray continues what Meyer started but bumped the whole concept up a notch by giving his girls chainsaws. Linnea Quigley and Michelle Bauer battled for the Scream Queen crown and both came out with royal accreditation. Quigley, famously remembered for the naked graveyard dance in Return of the Living Dead reinforced her crown with the 88 classic, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers and is still actively making films.

Linnea QuigleySo, whilst all this was going on, a young director was taking a slightly different approach. Wes Craven empowers his leading actresses and has some of the prime Scream Queens of the latter 20th Century, but what differs Craven’s depiction of the female to that of Olen Ray and Meyer is that he took the all American girl-next-door, and allowed her to witness some atrocious moments of horror, to learn, grow and empower to the point of defeating the evil. This all began with ’72, Last House on the Left, although we have a slightly bleaker ending here, he followed up his concept in Hills Have Eyes, Deadly Blessing, Elm Street, and hit gold with Scream. All these films depict the lead female as an empowered champion who will defeat all challenges. Neve Campbell holds the crown here.
Whilst Craven offered us the concept origin in Last House, Tobe Hooper followed this up with a dirty little film, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Marilyn Burns, the protagonist takes on Leatherface and all other dangers that come her way for the ultimate in female empowerment. Burns will always be my ultimate Scream Queen.

So where are we by today’s standards? Things have changed drastically over the past decade. From a Scream Queen point of view we have them overflowing out of every basic film script that has used the original design which Craven, Hooper and Meyers et al gave us. Super empowered lead females who use every inch of their toned bodies to defeat the threat, but out of this crowded green room of young talent, some Scream Queens stand out a little more than others.

Jessica CJessica Cameron has owned the crown for the past few years with super dominant roles, Hell-O-Ween, Black Dahlia Haunting and Silent Night, but has broken into the industry with her own production company and directed her debut, ‘Truth or Dare’. Cameron has seen an opening and has taken the opportunity to let her Scream Queen persona expand as one of filmmaker. There are numerous bright shining actresses battling for the recognition. Some gain the crown after a debut such as Meghan Chadeayne who looks like she will take the world by storm in her role as Barbara in Naked Zombie Girl, a short by Rickey Bird Jr. Jenny Spain was impressive in Deadgirl but looks to be stunning in American Girls, Lorenza Izzo is the girl of the moment with her amazing screen presence in Hemlock Grove. Eli Roth’s Aftershock and the Green Inferno with catapult this girl’s career and crown her Scream Queen of 2013. I’ve attempted to explain the rational behind the term Scream Queen, to emphasize that empowerment and dominant strength of character can be used alongside female form and even nudity without exposing the actress to gratuitous sexism. Giving the girl a chainsaw and showing some flesh does not account for scream queen status, but emphasis a true strong female character as a lead with a plot that indulges and realistically recognizes a demand for weapon wielding nudity is the epitome of feminism itself.

Long Live the Scream Queen!

Article first published at Invest In Zombies.


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The Hills Have Eyes

by on Jul.19, 2010, under Daily Review

Wes Craven offers us his summer vacation tale, of a family taking the wrong road through the desert. This is back in ’77 and the idea of crazy folk living out in the countryside, preying on travellers was something not really captured on film. We’d had Chainsaw, but this is a slightly different approach. What Craven creates is a family drama turned upside down and inside out, with all the gore and terror on view.

The story follows a family on a road trip. They are warned early on during a petrol break, ‘don’t take the back roads’ but Big Bob Carter knows different. They run into some trouble when running off the road due to a rabbit, of all things’ jumps out into the road. With a broken axel, the family look for help, only to find a crazy family living in the desert mountains, out for blood and hungry.

This is quite a vicious film. The family are all quite likeable in a very familiar way. They all seem like people you know and can relate to; griping and bitching but accepting and offer allowance. This makes the film more difficult due to a closeness with the audience. The bad guys too have a solid background which again is understandable, a reasoning for being who and why they are, which is not the case with most films of this type, or maybe sometimes a little too far fetched. Here, we have solid reasons for actions. This is Craven’s strength. He’s shown prior, with Last House just how natural he can portray human emotion, loss, desire and love for family and friends. He’s the master of this and digs in deep into the emotion. When his characters take the life of a loved one, you can truly feel the pain. When a baby is stolen, talk of eating it for supper is mentioned, it’s a truly shocking thought.

Again, Craven gives us the main star, who grows in strength to save the day. As always, a girl next door takes the lead; as with Elm Street, Scream, Last House etc, his females are the stronger characters, empowered to defeat the evil males. This is his forte, his signature and once again, here it’s executed perfectly.

The film has some tremendous casting roles. Michael Berryman is amazing here as Pluto, probably his most memorable role. Dee Wallace, Robert Huston and James Whitworth all offer a solid performance, but it’s Susan Lanier who steal the show. Her performance is outstanding and it’s a damn shame she barely made a career, although I’m sure the trauma of this role could have had something to do with that.

This is a brutal, shocking, vicious piece, yet heart warming and enduring on the eye. Beautifully filmed, capturing human emotion.

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Scream 3

by on Jul.09, 2010, under Daily Review

The difficult third film in the series. All bets are off. Anything can happen. These are the words offered to us from the now deceased (died in part 2) Randy Meeks, about halfway through the film from a VHS recorded, diary kinda warning for what is to come. Wes Craven once again offers us some stabbing action with the guy in the mask, terrorising and out for blood once more with Sidney top of the list.

The third encounter is set some time after the other two. Sidney (Neve Campbell) is living out in the country, false name under protection. A 3rd film is in production, Stab 3, the further adventures of the masked murder. Cotton (Liev Schreiber) this time has a guest appearance in Stab, but falls victim to yet another killer taking up the role in the mask. And so, a spree occurs once more, this time across the Hollywood hills and the set of the movie. Actors and those involved are slice n diced.

Craven and Krugar worked a clever trick with this film, taking the whole media explosion from the plot of the second film, and this time dropping the key ideas right into an actual film of the events from the first film. Actors playing characters from the first, who also star here. A fine twist and a good direction to take the film in. Unlike the previous pair, this is a very different film; more comical, less teen driven and to an extent, less soul, probably due to the missing Kevin Williamson on script duty. The predecessors have a real spark and magic which is a difficult task to capture, but here the magic is only a glimmer. That’s not to say it’s not enjoyable as it’s still great and fun and popcorn horror to a fine degree, but a difficult pair to follow.

There is an interesting introduction of a back story for Sidney’s mother which works well and is totally unexpected. A few new blade fodder include Jenny Mccarthy, Deon Richmond and Emily Mortimer. Guest cameos from Roger Corman, lance Hendriksen and Jay & Silent Bob. This is all good. The stabbing and chases and mask wearing craziness all cool, but really lacking in magic. Neve Campbell is barely in this film also which is a damn shame as she is the star and reason for watching the Scream series. This time, the focus is far more on the romantic events of Dewey (Dave Arquette) and gale Weathers, (Courtney Cox) which all gets a bit repetitive. Will they won’t they kinda thing.

The last 20 minutes are back on track though with some serious slasher action with Sidney back in the hot seat.

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by on Jul.07, 2010, under Daily Review

A year after the murder of her mother, Sidney (Neve Campbell) receives a phone call from a killer on her porch. ‘Do you like scary movies?’ asks the voice. She’s attacked by a crazy guy dressed in a ghost/scream mask and black floaty robes. This time she survives, next time she might not be so lucky.

So this sounds like the same old story. Crazy madman in a mask, stalking girls, making crank calls, but this film changes everything. This was 1996. Wes Craven changed all the rules of film making and reinvented the horror film. A design classic as iconic as the coke cola bottle or the original bondi blue iMac. For Craven, this was by no means a fluke. His film making skills are exemplary, creating some of the finest films in the genre. Hills Have Eyes, Last House, Elm Street. All ground breaking and extraordinary. Scream is the icing on the cake and takes into account everything which has gone before. He builds on all the films he’s mastered and lifts heavily from many others too, creating a huge cauldron of horror goodness.

Craven’s signature, the girl next door taking the lead, empowering the female, especially in a genre so dominant with male leads, works perfectly here. Neve Campbell is a great choice with a perfect performance producing a whole range of emotions, creating a rounded likable character. Her supporting cast are brilliant. Skeet Ulrich, Kev Patrick Walls, Matt Lillard and a stunning performance from Rose McGowan. Craven, as always taking a chance on a young, relatively unknown cast, with the exception of Drew Barrymore who he cleverly massacred in the first scene of the film, (One of the greatest opening scenes i’ve even seen in a film) yet still used as the worldwide poster campaign. The acting is spotless.

Script wise, we have one of the best I have ever heard. It’s fast and clever. Written and scripted by Kevin Williamson, who has worked on the rest of the franchise as well as the first I Know What You Did film. It works on many levels. For being snappy in a teen sarcastic kinda way. Believable characters with depth. The dialogue between Courteney Cox and Dave Arquette is legendary. But the winning formula binds the film together; that of film trivia. Not a single scene goes by without some form of reference which is introduced in the opening scene, and carried through to the finale.

One of my favorite things about this film, is the pure cheek when using the score from Halloween to emphasis tension as characters creep around a house, waiting to be hacked up by the killer, whilst the movie plays in the living room. A real quality touch.

From a gore point of view, the film is filled with stabbings and that’s about it. It’s all it needs. There is an moment of inventiveness when Rose McGowan gets it in the garage, but apart from this singular scene, we have a solid knife massacre.

A final note. As the killer bounds from room to room, slaying as he goes, we get a pastiche of the stereotype who cannot be killed no matter what is thrown at them. Usually though, they take gun shots, knives, even machete’s to the head, but here, we see doors slammed in faces, bottles of beer hitting the head etc, more of a realistic scenario, yet still extreme and comic in moments.

This film is faultless. I was expecting this to be a situation of rose tints as I have fond memories of this film, but have seriously not been let down with this viewing. I could write so much more about this film, it’s a landmark in cinema to be studied.

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A Nightmare on Elm Street III : Dream Warriors

by on Apr.27, 2010, under Daily Review

 This was a step in the right direction, getting Wes Craven back on board on script and story duty and a fresh new Director, Chuck Russell who brings enthusiasm and brightness to the franchise. We’ve also got some of the cast from the first film and a medley of cracking actors to boot!

Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) is back, all grown up (with a cool white streak in her hair) after studying dream psychology. Krueger is back too, in what seems to be his master stroke to finish off the kids from Elm Street who have all been having bad dreams, to the extremity that they are now in a special hospital, creating a club or team of Dream Warriors. Nancy is here to guide the youths in a mission to destroy Fred once and for all. Meanwhile, Nancy’s dad (John Saxon) digs out the old stashed bones of Krueger from the trunk of a car on a crushing site with some dramatic Harryhausen results.

This is a true sequel to the fine first movie. It’s well shot with an interesting plot. It’s dream world enhancements to the story are huge with most of the film set within the dream realm, Nancy coaching the youths in tricks to control their thoughts within the dream space. All interesting stuff. A great cast too. Patricia Arquette is brilliant here, (as always) Larry Fishburne is always cool on the screen too, but it’s great to see a return of Langenkamp who knocks out a brilliant performance.

What really makes this film though is the inventiveness and extremes that the plotline can take the viewer with some crazy masterful ways to die by the hand of Fred Krueger, and this is what makes him such a horror legend. No other slasher villain can rip out the veins from a teen’s arms and legs and dance them like a puppet. Great effects too, care of Shoshtrom and Yagher who provide plenty of comic fantastical gore. And of cause, Rob Englund has perfected the role with this film, mixing what he learned from the first two and creating a nasty, yet witty child murderer. Great visuals early on also, reinforcing and taking us back to the roots that Fred is actually a ‘child’ murder and not a ‘teen’ murderer which was kind of forgotten in the second outing.

Finally. Angelo Badalamenti brings the whole piece together with a terrific score, complimenting Bernstein’s original Krueger theme tune.   

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A Nightmare on Elm Street II : Freddy’s Revenge.

by on Apr.26, 2010, under Daily Review

This is the beginning of the end and I really blame the idea of Fred Krueger becoming Freddy. It’s all a bit friendly for my liking. Director Jack Sholder takes control of the red and green money machine, as Wes Craven cringes at what New Line pictures are doing with his characters. Sholder has made some pretty interesting films, although nothing overly inspiring. The Hidden was quite good, as was Alone in the Dark, but Elm Street 2 is a disaster.

The plot is as follows. Jesse (Mark Patton) is a nerdy teen, moving into a new area and unfortunately, the house of Nancy from part 1. It’s not long before he’s having dreams of Mr Krueger, but this time around, Fred is out for possession, using Jesse as a host in order to connect with the waking world. None of this makes any sense really and it’s difficult to make out what is reality or dream as the dream sequences are so un-dream like. It flows more like a teen comedy really, although for some reason, the lame character of Jesse bags him a girlfriend Lisa (Kim Myers) who is totally out of his league and a best friend in the form of the popular school baseball player, Ron (Robert Rusler) which is unrealistic. Rusler is quite a good actor but it wouldn’t take much to stand out from the rest of the cast. Another highlight is Jesse’s dad being Clu Gulager, Burt from Return of the Living Dead.

Fred or should I say Freddy is more in the spotlight here, less of a dangerous nightmare and more of a comedy one line king. His jumper is cleaner and brighter and even his burnt fleshy face is a little less disgusting, less burn and more shiny  rubbery ish, although, one of the highlights is the removal of the skin from his scull cap to expose the brain of the monster. There are some pretty good moments, but they are few are far between and this chariot with Jesse riding is unconvincing. I couldn’t care less and was preying that Fred would hurry up and mince the lot a bit quicker to get me to part 3 and hopefully a more talented cast, better script, finer direction and a little less 80’s looking.

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A Nightmare on Elm Street

by on Apr.25, 2010, under Daily Review

This was the combination Craven was working towards, mixing a fine blend of horror and fantastical which could work with the hardcore audience and the mainstream. Here he got the balance dead right. This is actually landmark film making, a milestone in the history of the genre. Back in ’85 I watched this film for the first time, as a young teen I was terrified and excited at the same time, knowing this was quite unlike anything else available at the local video store. It actually felt like this film was made for me, for my generation. It’s protagonists being average all American teens in an average suburb.

Nancy and her friends are all having the same bad dream. A spooky bloke, dressed in a red and green sweater, burnt skin and knives for fingers stalking in the shadows. But is it more than a dream? When Tina, Nancy’s best friend is brutally sliced up, it becomes clear that the monster in their nightmares is more than just a bad dream.

This is an amazing original plot which allows Craven to play about with dream sequences as the teens nod off randomly throughout the film, the viewer is left watching drifty, dreamy scenes which are perfectly composed, many scene not knowing what’s dream and what’s reality, especially in the closing moments of the film. The actors are of the usual Craven stock; young blood, unknowns with great talent. Heather Langenkamp takes the lead as Nancy and although she’s an unusual choice, being slightly geeky and not overly attractive, she works a treat. Amanda Wyss as Tina is brilliant, as is Nick Corri (Rod). The inclusion of a young Johnny Depp is a winning stroke, which highlights Craven’s eye for talent. And then of course, there’s Robert Englund as Fred. Never has there been such a perfect role for an actor within this genre. Englund gives the film an extra spark with such a subtle role for such an over the top character. His presence is magnificent here.

So we have this creepy bloke who can slice up teens in their dreams. This basically gives Craven the ability to do anything. Fred Krueger, the notorious child killer, now dead, haunting kids as a nightmare, has the ability to basically lay god. Anything is possible. He opens up his own stomach with his blades, cuts off his own fingers, can materialise physical objects into his own form. This is dream world. A great scene has a dead Tina in a body bag, corpse being dragged around a school by an invisible force. Her death is actually one of the best in the film, an incredible effect, after being sliced in the chest, she is levitated in the air before rolling up a wall and across a ceiling. Stunning.

A great thing about this film is its time stamp. It was released in 1984 and is a pure reflection and document of a time. TVs, cassette players, land line phones and this is before I mention hair and clothes, but unlike some films from that era, Elm Street carries its look with pride and holds up due to original plot and quality performance from is cracking cast. Wes Craven here hits the mark with his trademark strong leading lady, caught up in a troublesome scenario which is brought to the screen with real atmosphere and some vicious moments of violence and gore, implemented with one of the genres most exciting figures, a villain who is seen little in this first outing, mainly in shadow as he murmurs creepy one liners as he chases teens in their nightwear. And then there is the ingenious use of the screeching of knives against metal. Legend.

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