[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 27 – [Happy 30th Birthday!] Shocker (1989)

Director: Wes Craven

Cast: Michael Murphy, Peter Berg, Cami Cooper, Mitch Pileggi

Screenplay: Wes Craven

109 mins. Rated R.

 

From 1987 to 1989, four horror films were released featuring killers who come back after dying in the electric chair. This was the last.

Brutal serial killer Horace Pinker (Basic Instinct, TV’s The X-Files) has been apprehended and is sentenced to death via electrocution, but on the fateful day, electrical issues and strange rituals combine to produce a hell of an accident, though Pinker still fries. Now, Jonathan Parker (Peter Berg, Very Bad Things, Mile 22), a young man who was able to assist in the capture of Pinker, discovers the murderer to be very much still active, living on as an electrical current able to inhabit other humans and use their bodies for vengeance. The only skill Jonathan has is in the form of strange visions accompanied by the ghostly visage of his dead girlfriend. Now, Jonathan will have to man up and stop Pinker from continuing his murderous rampage, or it’s lights out for him…

I’ve spoken about this before, but I firmly believe that Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream) was a great director. That’s not exactly a hot take or anything, so here’s one: I don’t think he was a very good writer. Sure, he wrote some amazing work. He was great with ideas in the same way that George Lucas is. I just don’t think he really was able to get those ideas to work on the page. That’s not a slight or anything, but look at a film like Shocker, which has some really cool ideas but the story is a bit of a mess. There’s all these random things happening in the screenplay that are never followed up on. Why does Jonathan have visions of Horace? How exactly do they work? Why do all of his friends and his coach immediately believe his batshit theory? Why does his dead girlfriend keep coming back to help him? What exactly did Horace do to come back from the dead? He’s seen performing some sort of ritual, but we never hear about it afterward.

Beyond all that, the film is far too similar to A Nightmare on Elm Street. There are elements of dreaming and nightmares and dreamscapes in the film that feel a little too familiar. For the most part, these elements just made me wish I was watching Nightmare instead. Both Nightmare and Shocker have similar opening titles, disbelieving fathers, and power through dreams.

Mitch Pileggi is batshit as Horace Pinker. He’s all the parts of Freddy Krueger that became more prominent in the later sequels, especially the attempts at humor. I like how visceral he is, how brutish, but he just didn’t work in the way I hoped he would.

Speaking of batshit crazy, let’s talk about the television scene. It’s near to the end of the film, where Jonathan and Horace end up in a television set and are fighting across the different channels. It sounds cooler than the finished product, but it kind of fails where the fight sequence in They Live succeeds.

So there you have it. There are better Wes Craven films, but I have the feeling that some people will love how terrible this movie is. It just didn’t work for me. There’s too much all-over-the-place in this movie and I couldn’t connect with any of it. Just didn’t work for me, dog.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

For my review of Wes Craven’s Vampire in Brooklyn, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 11 – Hell Fest (2018)

Director: Gregory Plotkin

Cast: Amy Forsyth, Reign Edwards, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Tony Todd

Screenplay: Seth M. Sherwood, Blair Butler, Akela Cooper

89 mins. Rated R for horror violence, and language including some sexual references.

 

Damn, this movie made me want to visit a haunt real bad.

In Hell Fest, Natalie (Amy Forsyth, A Christmas Horror Story, TV’s Channel Zero) returns to her former apartment to find that her best friend Brooke (Reign Edwards, 35 and Ticking, TV’s The Bold and the Beautiful) has rented out her old room to Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus, The Last Witch Hunter, TV’s Voltron), an old classmate who did not get along well with Natalie. Brooke won’t let Natalie sulk about it for long, though, because tonight is all about Hell Fest, a traveling horror theme park set up during the Halloween season. What they do not expect, though, is that a masked killer has entered Hell Fest this year, and he plans on taking out his murderous rage on Natalie and her friends.

Hell Fest was a fun time, but it didn’t feel like it met its unique setting with a unique style. The Hell Fest setting is rather cool, but at times, it made the film feel very repetitive. As the haunts progress into more and more terrifying, I didn’t feel like the haunts actually became scarier. They became a little too distracting.

The performances fluctuated between serviceable and awful. Edwards delivers some truly terrible lines. The only performance that I truly enjoyed was the quick near-cameo performance of Tony Todd (Candyman, Death House) as The Barker of Hell Fest. Todd knows how to get the most from his limited screen time, and he isn’t utilized greatly, but he is a lot of fun.

The design of the killer in the film was made by Tony Gardner’s company, which also created the masks for Scream and Happy Death Day. The killer is rather unnerving, as is his limited background.

Director Gregory Plotkin (Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension) worked very well with atmosphere and visual appeal in the film. He does ride a line between cheesy and frightening with the world he has created.

Hell Fest is a fun time and could make for an interesting franchise, but the first film stumbles pretty often. The performances don’t really work, the pacing is a little off, and the film feels repetitive. The look of the killer and the atmosphere surrounding him make for an enjoyable experience, but a flawed one nonetheless.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Freddy Krueger Day] A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

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Director: Wes Craven

Cast: Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund, John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia

Screenplay: Wes Craven

91 mins. Rated R.

 

Dammit all, if I’m going to celebrate Freddy Krueger Day, then I’m going to celebrate it with you.

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Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp, Star Trek Into Darkness, Shocker) isn’t sleeping well. Neither is her boyfriend Glen (Johnny Depp, Edward Scissorhands, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) or her best friend Tina (Amanda Wyss, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Shakma), and when a horrific event causes Nancy to realize that she and her friends are in danger from a man who can kill them in their dreams, Nancy must act quickly to stay awake and discover the horrific past of the burned man called Fred Krueger (Robert Englund, Fear Clinic, Lake Placid vs. Anaconda).

A Nightmare on Elm Street is a perfect way to showcase how real life events transform into incredible storytelling. Director Wes Craven (Scream, My Soul to Take) took true stories of Khmer refugees who had dreams so terrifying that they died in their sleep. He splashed together elements from the song “Dream Weaver”, a man Craven saw on his street as a child, and his childhood bully experiences to create Fred Krueger, one of the most iconic villains in film history.

Here in the film, Krueger is played perfectly by Robert Englund, a trained actor who proved in his audition that the character of Freddy needed more than just a stuntman. He is joined by young talent in Langenkamp, a notable first film performance by Johnny Depp, and the seasoned work from John Saxon (Enter the Dragon, From Dusk Till Dawn) and Ronee Blakley (Nashville, Murder by Numbers)  as Nancy’s parents.

But it is Craven’s approach, high on mood and tone and noticeably restrained on the villain himself (Krueger scores about seven minutes of screen time across the film) that gives the film that lasting punch. It puts emphasis on the big horrific set pieces and lets the actors embrace their performances. That’s why many scenes, like the notable blood geyser sequence, are just as well-remembered as the man committing the atrocities.

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With A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven created a franchise without trying or wanting to, one that came with it an incredibly terrifying villain, a beautifully dreamlike score, and some genuinely shocking moments throughout. It is through the staying power of this classic as well as the man behind the makeup that carry the film forward and make it a film series that fanatics go back to again and again. The flaws are few, only in places where the film feels aged, and of those moments, there are few. The universal appeal of the nightmare more than makes up for them as the relatable characters search for answers and fight to stay awake.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th, 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 Wes Craven’s Vampire in Brooklyn, click here.

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 27 – Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)

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Director: Wes Craven

Cast: Eddie Murphy, Angela Bassett, Allen Payne, Kadeem Hardison, John Witherspoon, Zakes Mokae, Joanna Cassidy

Screenplay: Charlie Murphy, Michael Lucker, Chris Parker

100 mins. Rated R.

 

Many horror directors attempt to cross with comedy at some point, and for me, there are two infamous examples of note: John Carpenter’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man and Wes Craven’s Vampire in Brooklyn. I actually really enjoyed Carpenter’s film, and when I originally saw Vampire in Brooklyn several years back, I liked it too. Sadly, on my most recent viewing, my opinion has shifted drastically.

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Maximillian (Eddie Murphy, Beverly Hills Cop, A Thousand Words) is the last of a line of vampires from the Caribbean. In order to save his bloodline, he needs to find a female born from a native vampire he knew. Detective Rita Veder (Angela Bassett, TV’s American Horror Story, Meet the Robinsons) is that woman, working for the NYPD in Brooklyn. After siring Julius Jones (Kadeem Hardison, White Men Can’t Jump, Made of Honor) to be his personal servant, Maximillian sets out to find his destined love in the urban jungle.

Wes Craven (Scream, A Nightmare on Elm Street) and Eddie Murphy famously fought on set about the tone of the film, and it is the paramount reason why this movie failed so much. Craven wanted a horror film with comedic elements, and Murphy wanted a comedy with horror elements. The clash was the downfall of the film.

Murphy’s Maximillian didn’t have great voicework, and the choice to do his signature multiple roles thing by playing a few other characters that Maximillian disguises himself as didn’t work nearly as well on second viewing.

Craven’s abilities as a director were really called into question during the making of this film, and his work suffered tremendously from studio interference and the uneasy set. It’s sad, because the overall idea seems like a lot of fun. I really like Kadeem Hardison’s portrayal of the decrepit Julius Jones.

I also don’t think the casting of Bassett works in the film. She has the ability to act, but this just isn’t the movie for her.

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I’m happy to see that Craven was able to recover from a film like Vampire in Brooklyn with solid works like Scream and Red Eye, but Eddie Murphy, who blamed everyone else for making a film he knowingly wrote and acted in disappoints me. He claimed that he only did the film was so that he could finish his contract with the studio and focus on other works. I call bullshit, Eddie. You failed but you couldn’t just accept it.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

Horror Maestro Wes Craven Dead at 76

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In sad news for horror fans, Sunday revealed the shocking news of true legend writer/director Wes Craven’s passing after battling brain cancer. Craven, the man behind such iconic horror characters like Freddy Krueger and Ghostface (from Scream), recently celebrated his 76th birthday this month.

One need only look around at the major news websites to see the many fans mourning the passing of the macabre master filmmaker, and while I didn’t always agree with his image, I always had tremendous respect for his versatility as an artist.

Craven’s Freddy Krueger is so much an iconic piece of our collective culture that I have no memory of being introduced to the character (I was that young) in film, but almost knowing of his existence from birth.

I do remember seeing Last House on the Left only just a few years back, and I recall the stomach-churning and shocking film still resides in the recesses of my mind.

Of course Craven’s name became household with the release of Scream (written by regular collaborator Kevin Williamson). Craven also directed the three sequels and was an executive producer of the new MTV television incarnation.

Rest in Peace, Wes. Thanks for the nightmares.

 

Selected Filmography:

  • The Last House on the Left (1972)
  • The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
  • Deadly Blessing (1981)
  • Swamp Thing (1982)
  • The Hills Have Eyes Part II (1984)
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street (1985)
  • The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)
  • Shocker (1989)
  • The People Under the Stairs (1991)
  • New Nightmare (1994)
  • Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)
  • Scream (1996)
  • Scream 2 (1997)
  • Music of the Heart (1999)
  • Scream 3 (2000)
  • Red Eye (2005)
  • Cursed (2005)
  • Pulse (2006)
  • Paris, je t’aime (2006)
  • The Hills Have Eyes II (2007)
  • My Soul to Take (2010)
  • Scream 4 (2011)

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

@almightygoatman

31 Days of Horror: Day 2 – Urban Legend (1998)

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Director: Jamie Blanks

Cast: Jared Leto, Alica Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, Michael Rosenbaum, Tara Reid

Screenplay: Silvio Horta

99 mins.  Rated R for horror violence/gore, language and sexual content.

 

If I had to classify the 1990s with a specific kind of horror film, it would most definitely have to be the slasher film. In the 90s we had classics like Scream and its sequel, we had messes like I Know What You Did Last Summer, and we had Urban Legend, which exists somewhere in the middle.

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Urban Legend is essentially Scream in practicality, but instead of horror film staples as the moniker, we get urban legends, the scary stories that everyone swears happened to someone who knew someone they know. Natalie Simon (Alicia Witt, Two Weeks Notice, A Madea Christmas) gets entangled with the killer after several close classmates get picked off, but who is it? Is it Paul Gardener (Jared Leto, Requiem for a Dream, Dallas Buyers Club), the strange school paper writer, or is it best friend Brenda Bates (Rebecca Gayheart, Jawbreaker, G.B.F.), or perhaps party king Parker Riley (Michael Rosenbaum, TV’s Smallville, Hit and Run), or could it be radio student Sasha Thomas (Tara Reid, The Big Lebowski, Sharknado 2: The Second One)? The answer is simple, if you know latin. In fact, in a SPOILER ALERT but not really SPOILER ALERT note, the killer’s identity is actually revealed in the school motto in latin.

The plot and slasher tool of Urban Legend isn’t all that bad. In fact, it can have some meta connotations in that the very belief of urban legend is that they are true, so turning fiction to fact would be a very interesting to play with, but screenwriter Silvio Horta (TV’s Ugly Betty) doesn’t play with it as much as just present the idea in its plainest of ways. That’s the real death of the story in that it is wasted. The main concept becomes little more than campiness on a stick.

None of the performances are very good, nor are any of the characters very likable. The greatest win of the acting in this film comes from the many cameos associated with horror films, from Brad Dourif (Chucky the killer doll) in the opening, Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger) as the professor everyone admires and fears, and Danielle Harris (Michael Myers’ niece Jamie Lloyd) as the goth dorm mate to Natalie.

Take an opportunity to enjoy the 90s soundtrack as it pulsates of musicians you might find at The Bronze from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The sets are interesting. I love the university, it just oozes creepy.

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My advice, watch this movie as it does have some thrills to it (the opening itself is nearly perfect) but be warned that it is far from far from perfect. You heard that correctly, far from FAR FROM perfect. That is twice removed.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more from the 31 Days of Horror, click here.

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