[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 2 – Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)

Director: Rachel Talalay

Cast: Robert Englund, Lisa Zane, Shon Greenblatt, Lezlie Deane, Yaphet Kotto

Screenplay: Michael De Luca

89 mins. Rated R for horror violence, and for language and drug content.

 

If you have ever seen Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, a lengthy documentary on the making of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, or its sister Crystal Lake Memories (the making of the Friday the 13th franchise), you will know how much work has gone into each of these films, even though the criticism by many of the uninitiated is that they are all the same. They believe that each installment is the exact same as the previous ones, a story repeated over and over until the box office receipts are too small to be worth the risk of doing it all again. In this assumption, they would be wrong. The sixth Nightmare on Elm Street film went through several drafts from several screenwriters, each trying to nail down a unique new direction to take the film. Today, let’s talk about the finished product and try to wrap our heads around how it all failed so spectacularly.

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare opens ten years in the future, presumably in the year 1999 or 2001. In the years since Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund, Nightworld: Door of Hell, The Midnight Man) began his otherworldly murder spree, he has claimed almost all of the children of Springwood, and the town itself has become a ghost, a shell of its former self. Now, he sets his sights on a young man with no memory of who he is. This John Doe (Shon Greenblatt, Newsies, Luster), as he is lovingly referred to, finds himself at a shelter for troubled teens and, with the help of Dr. Maggie Burroughs (Lisa Zane, The Nurse, Game Day), he follows a trail of clues leading back to Springwood, Fred Krueger, and a revelation that neither is prepared for.

Of the many varied attempts to nail down the story for a sixth film, director Peter Jackson had a take where kids were purposely drugging themselves in order to enter the dreamworld and beat up a weakened and aged Freddy Krueger, and there was also an idea to bring back Jacob Johnson (Alice’s son from the previous film) as a teenager, so it both shocked and disappointed me that we got a “finale” that feels so uninspired, cheap, and forgettable. There are flashes of a genius take on Freddy Krueger here, but they are lost under the weight of all the meaningless goofiness. The tone here suggests the director, Rachel Talalay (Tank Girl, On the Farm), believed that Freddy Krueger was at his best when he is comical, silly, almost chummy with the audience. The failure here (this failure is similar to what happened with Chucky as well) is misunderstanding that Freddy’s wit should be used only to lull the audience into a sense of fun before ratcheting up the horror elements again. A well-placed piece of dialogue can convince the viewers that it’s okay, we’re having a good time, and it calms the audience after a big scare before introducing another one. Here, the horror is almost used to remind the audience that it’s okay, we’re still watching a scary movie, even if you aren’t scared.

As I’ve said, there are elements to Freddy’s Dead that could have really worked in a better movie. One of those elements is the mythology building. Other horror franchises have taken a stab at building in supernatural mythology late in the franchise with films like Jason Goes to Hell or Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, but for Freddy’s Dead, being so heavily laced with supernatural elements from the get-go really helps it here. In the case of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, those franchises started out rather simple, with stories of serial killers that, however unlikely, “could have happened.” With the original Nightmare on Elm Street, we knew that Freddy was a monster, a demon, or something unholy from the very beginning, so the way that Springwood has been turned into a ghost town with people slowly going mad after the loss of all the children could really work. I’m also referring to the Dream Demons, a concept that seems to have some value to it in establishing Freddy’s supernatural powers without downright spoiling the mystery. Even the backstory of Freddy’s childhood, all things that could have worked in the proper context.

So what does work in the film? Well, as I said above, the origin story is an element that could have been better, but I felt it was still executed nicely in the finished product. There’s something to seeing the evil of this “Son of a Hundred Maniacs” at play from a very early period, and the sequence featuring a cameo by Alice Cooper as a foster father to Freddy is deliciously wicked and disturbing. I enjoyed the idea that Fred, as an adult, tried to suppress his darker deeds and eventually tried to hide them behind a traditional suburban façade, and I also really like his later monologue in the film where he expresses no remorse and takes no responsibility for his deeds.

There’s a standout sequence in this film featuring Carlos, one of the teenagers from the shelter who ends up in Springwood with Maggie and the John Doe, that is exemplary and stands out among the wreckage of the movie. I won’t get into specifics but the use of sound and sleight-of-hand calls back to more traditional Nightmare, with Freddy playing a supernatural cat-and-mouse game with his prey.

Bringing a real conclusion to Freddy Krueger’s tale had to be a daunting task for production, but sadly, the screenplay and plotting from Michael De Luca (In the Mouth of Madness) was seeming buried under a collection of poor ingredients. Most of the cameos in the film (besides Cooper’s) do not work. The inclusion of Roseanne and Tom Arnold as grieving parents doesn’t work as comedic or sad in a scene that should have been tragic (grieving parents going mad over their pain), and Johnny Depp appears in a dream, perhaps as himself or the still-suffering Glen from the original film, and being wasted as much as the original Ghostbusters actors who appeared in the reboot. The entire video-game/power-glove/Breckin Meyer-fights-his-father sequence is laughably Looney Tunes and out of place (this was his first role, and I can’t blame him for taking it).  The 3D finale almost seems like high-art compared to the previous hour, but again, it’s a gimmick that took precedence over the conclusion to one of the most iconic franchises in horror history.

I’m not mad that Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare is easily the weakest entry in the franchise by a mile. I’m just disappointed, and maybe that hurts more than anything else, really. Here we have an example of filmmakers and crew doing what they think is best but ultimately creating a film that doesn’t honor what the fans want. I’m a big defender of the filmmaker making their vision and screw trying to make the fans happy, but I’m not entirely sure who the team behind Freddy’s Dead is trying to please, because it certainly wasn’t me. There are some elements that work at play here, but they are far and few between. It pains me to say it, but I’m guessing Freddy’s hell is probably just rewatching this finale.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th, click here.

For my review of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 2, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part III, click here.

For my review of Joseph Zito’s Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, click here.

For my review of Jack Sholder’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, click here.

For my review of Danny Steinmann’s Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, click here.

For my review of Chuck Russell’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, click here.

For my review of Tom McLoughlin’s Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI, click here.

For my review of Renny Harlin’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, click here.

For my review of John Carl Buechler’s Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, click here.

For my review of Stephen Hopkins’ A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, click here.

For my review of Rob Hedden’s Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, click here.

[Early Review] Child’s Play (2019)

Director: Lars Klevberg

Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry, Mark Hamill

Screenplay: Tyler Burton Smith

90 mins. Rated R for bloody horror violence, and language throughout.

 

The new Child’s Play film has had one of the best marketing campaigns of the year, skewering the fact that the film has the same release date as another living toy movie, Toy Story 4. This remake of the horror classic proves, though, that a great marketing campaign never guarantees a great movie.

The recent move for the Barclay family has been tough on Andy (Gabriel Bateman, Lights Out, Benji), so his mother Karen (Aubrey Plaza, Safety Not Guaranteed, TV’s Legion) decides to give him his birthday gift early. Andy is surprised to find that his mother has given him a Buddi doll, a toy from the Kaslan Corporation which connects to all of his other Kaslan products through the cloud, similar to a toy version of an Amazon Echo. There’s a problem, though, for this Buddi doll, named Chucky (Mark Hamill, Star Wars: A New Hope, Con Man) has something wrong with its safety protocols, and Andy soon finds that his new Buddi has no problem committing violent acts and murder in the name of protecting Andy, his Best Buddi to the end.

I actually went into Child’s Play with good feelings, wanting it to succeed, and generally excited. I think the idea to take the story in a completely different direction was a good idea, especially because  I think the movie’s existence is a big dick move to the original series. For those of you that may not know, the original Child’s Play series is actually still running strong. The last two films, Curse of Chucky and Cult of Chucky (which came out 2 years ago), have scored generally good reviews, so much so that a limited series is in the works for television to continue the story of the Brad Dourif-voiced Chucky further. MGM doesn’t own the rights to anything but the first film, and so I think remaking it is a dick move. All that being said, though, I went into it with good vibes which were quickly dashed as the movie began.

First of all, I want to call attention to the elements that actually work in Child’s Play. I think the update to the character of Mike Norris (Brian Tyree Henry, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, TV’s Atlanta) works for the most part, and I like Henry’s interpretation of the character for a bulk of the film. I also really liked the voice work of Mark Hamill as Chucky. The biggest problem with these two generally solid performances is that Henry and Hamill are in the wrong movie. If Mike Norris’s character arc were actually interesting, it would lead to a more solid and conflicted character as the film progresses. Hamill’s Chucky is one that is more contemplative and less an A.I. toy learning that killing is okay. In another reality, if Brad Dourif had passed on the role, Hamill’s voice would have fit better in a Charles Lee Ray killer-in-the-body-of-a-doll movie way better than this version of things.

I also like some of the updates and changes made to the mythology. I think that’s when a remake actually stands a chance. I like the idea of an A.I. toy going off the rails as an interesting new wrinkle, but then why did screenwriter Tyler Burton Smith and director Lars Klevberg (Polaroid, The Wall) go so far into reminding people that it’s a remake. Don’t call the kid Andy. Don’t call the detective Mike. Don’t call the doll Chucky. And don’t design a doll that looks like a shittier version of the Good Guy doll.

If I may point out as well that the design of Chucky is awful. How is it that the Good Guy doll was the 1980s looked more realistic than this new version in 2019? His lips and cheeks move really awkwardly, his expressions don’t create menace and instead just make him look really dumb. There’s nothing outside of Hamill’s voice work that creates anything but a junky piece of plastic.

What bothered me so much in the film was not the changes to the lore, it was the fact that the filmmakers got so lazy in telling the story. They shouldn’t have the guys was the marketing team make this movie, it may have turned out more fun. The movie is just riddled with confusingly dumb plot points. Events in the film seemingly don’t matter to the film. Chucky is loved in a cabinet at one point in the film, only to break out through the glass door. There’s likely glass everywhere, but Andy’s mother doesn’t ask about it and nothing about it is ever mentioned again. Andy, upon discovering one of Chucky’s victims, doesn’t go to the police or his mother. He implicates his brand new friends by inviting them over to take a look at Chucky’s handiwork, not knowing for certain if they’ll go to the police, and they proceed to cover up the evidence by launching things down a garbage shoot. No fourteen-year-old would be dumb enough to make themselves an accomplice to murder and then get rid of the evidence down a garbage shoot where it can easily be found.

The way the film tries to maneuver us through set pieces is dull and boring too. There’s a sequence meant to evoke fear and horror when one character is suspended over a sawblade that is spinning that couldn’t have been more set up if the director walked on screen and announced ten minutes earlier exactly where he was guiding things. I audibly groaned in the theater.

There are logic errors and continuity problems abound in Child’s Play. As I stated earlier, for a film to work so hard on a marketing campaign to scrounge it with the finished product is disappoint and sad. This movie is an absolute trainwreck and I’d rather this new attempt at a franchise just be returned to the story it was bought from; there’s clearly a defect in Child’s Play.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Oculus (2013)

Oculus

Director: Mike Flanagan.

Cast: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Rory Cochrane, Katee Sackhoff.

Screenplay: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard.

103 mins. Rated R for terror, violence, some disturbing images and brief language.

 

I was pretty excited to see Oculus recently. I truly enjoyed director Mike Flanagan’s previous work in Absentia (I saw the premiere at the Fargo Film Festival back in 2011), and I wanted to see where he take us next when he had a bigger budget and more room to play. Unfortunately, I spent most of Oculus arguing with myself over whether I was enjoying myself or not. Not ever a really good sign. It felt to me like a film that was trying to confuse its audience so they wouldn’t see all the ridiculous plot points for what they really were.

Oculus tells the story of Kaylie Russell (Karen Gillan, TV’s Doctor Who), who is trying to prove to her brother, Tim (Brenton Thwaites), that the reason their parents went insane several years ago was because of a haunted mirror. Initially, thoughts went through my head about the previous horror film Mirrors, a decent effort from director Alexandre Aja. Sadly, this film falls flat even after a pretty fantastic opening setup.

The film plays out in two timelines simultaneous, one with Kaylie and Tim as children, the other years later as adults. Playing them against each other proves pretty interesting, except at the end when the timelines devolve into a confusing, jumbled and ultimately, disappointingly predictable finale.

Bk-Jx1QCAAA7hAB-630x339

Oculus does a great job setting the events of the film into motion. We are given a solid premise and even rules to govern the journey we are going on as Kaylie describes exactly how she plans on proving the mirror’s intentions of evil and how she planned on destroying it. Soon after, however, the film departs from these rules and chooses to never reference them again.

I also had a problem with the mirror’s motivations. Okay, I get it, that sounds silly, but in any horror film, you have to get what the killer or monster’s motivations are or what the hell does it matter? Michael Myers was trying to kill all his relatives. Jason Voorhees was the closest thing to birth control for Crystal Lake, hacking and slashing his way through teens as vengeance for his dead mother. Freddy Krueger was also all about revenge, and Chucky the killer doll just wanted out of his plastic body. Oculus’ mirror, however, plays tricks on people. Some of them are meant to maim or kill, but other times, it plays out like a violent joke. One such scene, where the mirror leads Kaylie to believe that she has bitten into a light bulb gets us to see that it was only an apple. Why would a mirror do that? Wouldn’t the opposite be much more terrifying and gruesome?

This’ll sound funny as well, but I didn’t feel like the mirror was a well-built character. It didn’t have enough presence in the film. For all we know, it could’ve been a haunted oven or house or pretty much anything. It didn’t really use its reflection to terrorize. There was nothing to tell us the mirror was really behind anything. Its backstory kind of disappointed as well. If this becomes a franchise, I would like to see it explored much more.

The performances were fine, especially from Gillan and Annalise Basso (Bedtime Stories) who play adult and young Kaylie, respectively. Katee Sackhoff (TV’s Battlestar Galactica, Riddick) and Rory Cochrane (Argo, Parkland) do respectable work as Russell parents Marie and Alan.

Oculus-Katee-Sackoff

I’ve heard a lot of reports that Oculus may be looking at becoming a franchise, and if so, it has some digging to do before it reaches a status worthy of yearly trips to the movie theater.  I see potential, and there were a few great moments about this film, but all in all, I drove home from the movie not angry, but disappointed, and in the end, isn’t that worse?

Have you seen Oculus? What did you think? Comment below.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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