Movies

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

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1988

New Line Cinema/Heron Communications/Smart Egg Pictures

Directed by Renny Harlin

Produced by Robert Shaye and Rachel Talalay

Screenplay by Brian Helgeland and Scott Pierce

Story by William Kotzwinkle and Brian Helgeland

Based on characters created by Wes Craven

 Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER is that bad of a movie. It is a disappointing movie in a lot of ways but that’s because it had to follow the grand slam home run that was “Dream Warriors.” Let’s face it, “Dream Warriors” is one hell of an act to follow. THE DREAM MASTER is nowhere near as bad as “Freddy’s Dead” but I’ll take “Freddy’s Revenge” over THE DREAM MASTER any day.

We catch up with the surviving Dream Warriors: Kristen (now played by Tuesday Knight) Joey (Rodney Eastman) and Kincaid (Ken Sagoes) who have apparently been released from treatment at Westin Hills and are now attending high school, getting on with living normal lives. At least Joey and Kincaid are. Kristen is still returning to the dreamworld, obsessed with the notion that Freddy Krueger is still alive and well somewhere in the dreamworld, still after them. Joey and Kincaid quite sensibly tell her that she may in fact herself cause Freddy to come back if she keeps on looking for him.

Kristen reluctantly agrees and concentrates on rebuilding her life. And she’s got a good one. She’s got a new BFF, Alice (Lisa Wilcox) Sheila (Toy Newkirk) a brainy black girl, Debbie, a tough chick (Brooke Theiss) who looks out for Sheila and she’s even got a boyfriend, Alice’s brother Rick (Andras Jones.)

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Turns out that Joey and Kincaid were right as Freddy does indeed return to resume killing of Elm Street children. Once he finishes off the last of the Dream Warriors he turns his razor bladed glove on Alice and the others. But before Freddy killed her, Kristen was able to pass on her powers to Alice. Now, whenever one of her friends is killed by Freddy, Alice gains their abilities. How? Don’t ask me. THE DREAM MASTER isn’t big on explaining much of anything but we’ll get to that in a bit.

The movie eventually comes to a showdown in the dreamworld between Alice, now powered with the various abilities of her friends and her brother (Rick’s martial arts skills, Sheila’s intelligence and Debbie’s greater strength thanks to her avid weightlifting) and Freddy.

Let’s get what I didn’t like out of the way first so I can end this review on as upbeat a note as I can, okay? First of all, killing off Joey, Kincaid and Kristen is such a downer that I can’t express it. I mean, in “Dream Warriors” these characters earned their victory over Freddy Krueger and deserved to live their lives in peace. To bring them back in THE DREAM MASTER only to kill them off so coldly and callously is a kick in the ass to the integrity of all the characters in “Dream Warriors” who gave their lives to fight and finally defeat Freddy.

Having said that, I gotta admit that I always knew that if Joey was gonna get it, it would be from chasing a chick. And Kincaid’s next to final scene always gives me chills as he’s in a junkyard that as the camera pulls back we see it apparently covers an entire planet, screaming to the sky over and over; “Freddy’s Back! Freddy’s Back!”

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Tuesday Knight as Kristen is a disappointment in the role but it’s not her fault. Patricia Arquette made such an impact as the character that I feel that if they couldn’t get her back (allegedly she wasn’t even asked to return) they should have just left the character alone. Rodney Eastman and Ken Sagoes bring a lot of energy to their roles for the brief time they’re in the movie and it’s welcome as the crew of young actors in THE DREAM MASTER are nowhere near as interesting or vibrantly memorable as the cast of “Dream Warriors” Oh, they give it their all and I commend them for their work but they just don’t command my investment into their characters. I was tickled pink to see Brooke Bundy return as Kristen’s slutty mom, still shouting “Andale! Andale!” at her stressed out daughter.

But the major flaw of the movie is its refusal to explain anything. Freddy Krueger returns because…well, simply because he’s needed to return. But at least it’s done in a truly memorable fashion with Kincaid’s dog urinating fire on Freddy’s bones. The movie never bothers to explain exactly how Kristen passes along her power to Alice or how that enables Alice to absorb the abilities of her friends when they die. Some cockamamie rhyme about The Dream Master is pulled out of nowhere and that along with Freddy looking at his own reflection (?) enables Alice to defeat him.

But remember how in my review of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” I mention how the series was different from the “Halloween” and “Friday The 13th” series in that the producers, writers and special effects people tried to do something different in each movie? Well, the dream sequences and visuals in this one are exceptional. The one scene that still freaks me out, out of all the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies is the one where Debbie is turned into a cockroach and trapped inside a roach motel. There’s the scene where Kincaid’s dog pisses fire on Freddy’s bones. Yeah, it’s goofy as hell but damn if it don’t work, somehow. There’s the scene in a movie theater where gravity goes berserk and Alice is pulled into the movie she’s watching. And the conclusion has the souls of Freddy’s victims fighting their way out of his body, ripping him to pieces in the process. It’s a doozy of a sequence, heightened greatly by Linnea Quigley’s contributions to the scene. Don’t worry…you’ll know her when you see her.

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So how does A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET: THE DREAM MASTER stack up against the others in the series? As I keep on emphasizing and will maintain: it’s not that bad an entry in the series. It just has the misfortune to follow the movie that is generally regarded as the best sequel of the franchise. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the production values (which are actually damn good, btw) the visual effects or Robert Englund’s performance here as he fine-tunes Freddy’s wisecracking one-liners. And the direction by Renny Harlin is professional and peppy as Harlin knows how to keep a movie moving. But the fate of the Dream Warriors and the uninspired characters doesn’t make this one of my favorites in the series.

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And instead of a trailer, here’s one of the best examples of just how goofy things were back in the 1980’s. By this time Freddy Krueger had become such a pop culture star that he appeared in a video rapping alongside rap superstars The Fat Boys! Enjoy!

 

93 Minutes

Rated R

 

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

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1987

New Line Cinema/Heron Communications/Smart Egg Pictures

Directed by Chuck Russell

Produced by Robert Shaye

Screenplay by Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell

Story by Wes Craven and Bruce Wagner

Ask any fan of the “A Nightmare on Elm Street” series which is their favorite movie out of all of them. I think I am safe in saying that they’ll answer with A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS. Hell, I know people who don’t like the series and you couldn’t pay them to watch any other movie in the series but they’ve seen and they like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS. It’s the “Wrath of Khan” of the series in that it’s the one just about everybody agrees is the best of the sequels and it’s the one everybody will claim as their favorite. No other Freddy Krueger movie would have such popularity with critics and audiences alike until “New Nightmare” came along years later.

And the reason for the popularity and the success is easy to understand when you take into account the talent involved. You’ve got Wes Craven returning to the series to write the screenplay with Frank Darabont who after this went on to write the screenplay for the remake of “The Blob” and after that wrote and directed “The Shawshank Redemption” “The Green Mile” and “The Mist” Chuck Russell also helped write the screenplay for this and went on to direct “The Blob” “The Mask” “Eraser” and “The Scorpion King”

Then in front of the camera you’ve got Heather Langenkamp returning to the series. Joining her you’ve got Patricia Arquette and Larry Fishburne who even this early in their careers turn in crackerjack performances. Add to that Craig Wasson who had proved himself as an actor to watch in movies such as “The Boys In Company C” “Ghost Story” and “Body Double” as well as an exceptionally strong supporting cast of young actors led by the wonderful Jennifer Rubin and yeah, it’s no surprise at all why A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS is as good as it is.

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Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson) works in a special wing of the psychiatric hospital Westin Hills where he treats adolescents who share the same phobia about falling asleep and dreaming, claiming that there is somebody in their dreams trying to kill them. The patients are: Joey (Rodney Eastman) who has been so traumatized by his dreams that now he refuses to speak. Kincaid (Ken Sagoes) a tough kid with serious attitude issues and anger management difficulties. Taryn (Jennifer Rubin) who is not only fighting her dreams but her drug addiction. Will (Ira Heiden) who was so terrified of his dreams he tried to commit suicide. The attempt failed but left him a cripple. Jennifer (Penelope Sudrow) is an aspiring actress whose arms are covered in cigarette burns as that’s her chosen method of fighting off sleep and Philip Bradley Gregg) a sleepwalker.  Dr. Gordon is assisted in caring for these kids with the capable help of Dr. Sims (Priscilla Pointer) and the orderly Max (Larry Fishburne) They’re joined by Kristen (Patricia Arquette) who also tried to commit suicide and nobody will listen to her story that it actually was Freddy Krueger who made her try to kill herself.

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Nobody until Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) comes to the hospital. Now a dream therapist herself, Nancy discovers that Kristen has a psychic ability to bring people into her own dreams and Nancy realizes that this may be a way to finally destroy Freddy. Especially when in a shared group dream induced by hypnosis, each member of the group discovers they have what amounts to a superpower while in the dream world. After the frightening deaths of two of the group, the survivors decide to, in the words of Kincaid himself: “go kick that motherfucker’s ass all over dreamland.” It’s a brutal and vicious battle to finally destroy Freddy Krueger not only in the dream world but in the real world as well as while Nancy and the kids are fighting Freddy on one front, Nancy’s father (John Saxon) and Neil Gordon in the real world have to find Freddy’s bones and properly bury them in order to truly be rid of him for good. It’s a battle not all of them will survive.

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There’s so many good things about DREAM WARRIORS I could easily go on for another fifteen or twenty thousand words describing them. We get the hideous origin of Freddy Krueger; “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs” The dream imagery in this one is especially memorable. There’s the scene everybody remembers where Philip is manipulated by Freddy like a puppet by means of his own blood veins which Freddy has stripped out of his body. There’s the scene where the kids discover their dream powers. The scene where an ordinary room transforms into a blast furnace with the kids trapped inside. The snake monster with Freddy’s head that tries to swallow Kristen alive.

This is also the movie where Freddy starts with the one-liners and for the first time we see him actually psychologically manipulating, terrorizing and torturing his victims in their dreams before killing them. Whereas in the first two movies he just went about the business of killing with the single-mindedness of the shark from “Jaws” in DREAM WARRIORS we see that the game of cat-and-mouse is just as important to him as the actual kill.

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The acting in this one is just perfect and I really can’t say honestly that there’s a bad performance in this one. The standouts for me include Larry Fishburne, of course, who makes the relatively minor character of Max memorable in every scene he’s in. Nan Martin as Sister Mary Helena/Amanda Krueger who has a chilling, riveting scene where she describes the circumstances of Freddy’s birth. And of course there’s Jennifer Rubin who besides being nuclear hot also makes every scene she’s in snap, crackle and pop with the characterization of Taryn as a living exposed nerve ending. The crew of young actors are all quite good as well and never overplay their scenes or for a minute do anything less than convince you of the reality of their situation.

Can you tell how much I like this movie? And I really do. Unlike “Freddy’s Revenge” which moseyed along and took its time to get where it’s going, DREAM WARRIORS fast-steps like a man late for work. It moves with a purpose and confidence that none of the other movies that came after it would have until we come to “New Nightmare” Make no mistake about it, when it comes to the sequels; A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS is the true jewel in the crown. Enjoy.

96 Minutes

Rated R

A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge

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1985

New Line Cinema/Heron Communications/Smart Egg Pictures

Directed by Jack Sholder

Produced by Robert Shaye

Written by David Chaskin

Based on characters created by Wes Craven

When discussing the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series with others, the question always comes up as to just why has this movie franchise managed to still be popular and successful even after so many years. Fans of the franchise such as myself faithfully rewatch the series every Halloween and it’s continually picking up new fans who weren’t even born when the series was in the theaters.

Me, I think it’s because unlike other franchises such as “Halloween” and “Friday The 13th” which pretty much told the same story over and over and over again, one movie after another, the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies honestly tried to do something different with every new entry in the series. Whether it be in terms of actually advancing the terrifying story of Freddy Krueger or doing special effects work that really were outstanding and cutting edge at the time (the scene with the chick who gets turned into a cockroach and crushed in a roach motel in “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master” still freaks the shit outta me) the creative folks involved truly did try to do something different with each movie. The “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies don’t become one big blur as other franchises where it gets hard to remember what the plot of different movies were. You name a specific “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie to somebody and I’m willing to bet that they can pretty accurately describe what the plot was.

And that brings us to A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE which truly is about as different a horror movie you’re going to find. Why is it different? First, there’s Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) himself. For some unexplained reason, Freddy has decided to manifest himself in The Real World instead of safely killing Elm Street kids in their sleep. To this end he’s picked Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton) as his host body. Jesse’s family have moved into the former home of Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp doesn’t appear in this one, though. We don’t find out what she’s been doing until the next movie, “Dream Warriors”). Jesse takes Nancy’s old room for his own and immediately begins having dreams of Freddy Krueger who demands that Jesse kill for him. Jesse even finds Freddy’s old razor bladed glove in the basement of the house and his girlfriend Lisa (Kim Myers) finds Nancy’s old diary in his closet.

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While Jesse struggles to understand what’s going with him with the help of his friend Ron (Robert Rusler) Lisa does research into the background of Freddy Krueger and the series of mysterious killings that took place on Elm Street five years ago.

And now here’s where the movie goes off into the direction it’s best known for: the homoerotic subtext that supports most of the movie. I myself think that the movie’s director and writer messed things up when they had Freddy plainly be seen by other people as they had a pretty interesting psychological angle going, with Freddy representing Jesse’s repressed homosexual feelings for Ron. There’s two scenes in the movie where it could be interpreted that Jesse has had sex with men and unable to deal with this aspect of himself kills them and blames the killings on Freddy, hallucinating that he sees him. Want more evidence? There’s a great scene where Jesse is making out with Lisa at a pool party and suddenly panics due to Freddy manifesting himself in Jesse and he breaks it off, running to Ron’s house, sneaking into his room in the middle of the night. Ron gets in the best line in the movie here: “Now let me get this straight…she’s waiting for you in the cabana. And you wanna sleep with me.”

Not enough for you? There’s the high school gym teacher that is killed in a pretty blatant S&M fashion after he encounters Jesse in a gay bar. Most of the victims Freddy terrorizes and/or kills are men. Mark Patton himself in interviews lays claim to being the first male Scream Queen and he gets my vote. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie where the lead male role does so much screaming. In fact, most of the men in this movie are ineffectual, with Jesse’s father Ken played by Clu Gulager leading the way. This cat is so much of a brain dead blockhead he borders on being a sitcom dad. It’s the women in this movie who are level-headed, sensible and have steel in their spines. Taken just on that level of traditional male/female roles in horror movies being reversed and the homoerotic subtext, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE makes for intriguing viewing.

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But how does it rate purely as a horror film? I liked how the movie takes its time introducing the characters and making sure we know who’s who and what they’re all about before the mayhem starts. I don’t think it’s anywhere near as violent or as blood-soaked as some of the later films. But it manages to showcase a couple of really nice sequences. The major one being the scene where Freddy tears his way out of Jesse’s body. And the pool party scene is redeemed by that terrific shot of Freddy haloed in flame proclaiming to the terrified teenagers; “You are all my children now.”

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But you really can’t get around the fact that when you look at the movie objectively, it’s not a Freddy Krueger movie. Supposedly Freddy has exactly thirteen minutes of screen time. In a movie that runs eighty-seven minutes, that’s not a lot. The movie’s not about Freddy Krueger at all. It’s about a young man confused and conflicted about his sexuality with Freddy as a supporting character in his own movie. Now some may call this the weakest “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie but me, I’ll still take A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE over “Freddy’s Dead”

87 Minutes

Rated R

 

Fury

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2014

Columbia Pictures/QED International/LStar Capital

Written and Directed by David Ayer

Produced by Bill Block, John Lesher, Alex Ott, Ethan Smith and David Ayer

If you’re like me and spend way too much time watching Turner Classic Movies then you surely must have seen many of the World War II movies they frequently show. Especially during Memorial Day Weekend which is given over to nothing but war films, most of them taking place during World War II. You have? Good. Because if you’ve seen a significant amount of World War II films, especially those made during that period then there’s nothing about FURY that’s going to surprise you or make you think you’re watching something new. Oh, it’s a helluva lot more profane and hideously bloody but for all intents and purposes this is a 1940’s war movie with way more graphic violence and language.

In writing and directing FURY, David Ayer has actually taken a step back and made a movie that’s unashamed of being violently macho. Sam Peckinpah would have loved this movie, I think. Because it’s a movie very much about When Men Were Men and doesn’t make any apology for it or the actions of “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) and his four man Sherman tank crew. There are definitely some questionable scenes in the film that more sensitive viewers than I may interpret as involving American soldiers committing atrocities against German POWs and a possible consensual rape. But I will leave that discussion up to others more qualified than I to judge the rightness or wrongness of such actions.

It’s the last months of the European Theater in April of 1945 and the Allies are making their final, decisive push directly into the heart of Nazi Germany. In the forefront of the 2end Armored Division is the M4 Sherman tank named Fury commanded by Don “Wardaddy” Collier. It’s crewed by the deeply religious Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf) the brutish Grady “Coon Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal) and Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena) The fourth man was killed in a recent battle and Fury gets Norman “Machine” Ellison (Logan Lerman) as a replacement.

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Norman is so far out of his depth it’s pathetic. As he tells Wardaddy; “Yesterday I was sitting in an office typing 60 words a minute. Today I’m expected to machine gun Nazis.” Watching Norman’s transformation from terrified office worker to combat veteran is the major character arc of the movie and while it seems to me a really quick process as Norman takes to killing quite well I bought into the reasons for it because…well, it’s a World War II movie. What do you want, Shakespeare?

Norman and Wardaddy develop a strong bond that is tested when the crew of Fury accepts a mission to hold a vital road crossing against three hundred elite SS soldiers. Of course, at the time they accepted there was three other tanks backing them up. The other tanks are lost so it’s up to this one tank and five men, outnumbered and outgunned to protect the crossing. By doing so they’ll buy valuable time for a supply train to get through.  I’ll only just say that the apocalyptic battle between Fury’s crew and the three hundred SS soldiers reminded me a whole lot of that final fantastic shoot-out in Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” and leave it at that.

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A lot of FURY is mostly giving us that “War Is Hell” message that we’ve all seen in just about every war movie made. FURY can also indulge in a lot more brutality and downright viciousness but it also can take a moment to provide us some insight into Brad Pitt’s character of Wardaddy Collier, a man who has let the war make him as much of a horror in battle as the Nazis he hates with a frighteningly relentlessness. Between his work in TV’s “The Walking Dead” the movies “Snitch” “Grudge Match” and FURY, Jon Bernthal is rapidly becoming a favorite actor of mine. He’s one of those actors that always does something worth watching when he’s on screen. Michael Pena is nothing less than excellent as he always is.

The guy who really surprised me, though? Shia LaBeouf. I’ve never disliked his work but he’s one of those actors that I can “see” acting. Know what I mean? And he unfortunately was being shoved onto the public by the Hollywood press who tried desperately to convince us that we loved Shia LaBeouf when actually, many wished he would just stop making movies. But I’ll tell you something…he actually is pretty good here. Now, I’m not saying he was Marlon Brando or Steve McQueen good but at least I couldn’t see the parts moving when he was on screen like I could in his other movies.

So should you see FURY? Yes. It’s a solid piece of entertainment that has exceptionally good location shooting and production value. It was made for $68 million and looks like it cost twice that much. Just don’t go in expecting Brad Pitt to be playing a version of Lt. Aldo Raine. Wardaddy certainly isn’t anything like that character and FURY is most definitely its own kind of war movie.

Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) in Columbia Pictures' FURY.

134 minutes

Rated R

A Nightmare On Elm Street

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1984

New Line Cinema/Heron Communications/Smart Egg Pictures

Written and Directed by Wes Craven

Produced by Robert Shaye

I honestly do feel sorry for those of you who missed the 1980’s. Because you missed the craziest, most insane and yet most fun decade of recent American history. Especially if you were a movie fan. How else can you explain that the major cultural icon of 1980’s horror movies was a pedophile? A wise cracking rapist and murderer of children? Because when you get right down to it, that’s exactly what Freddy Krueger is. He’s a pedophile that terrorizes children before he rapes and kills them.  And I think that’s why the 2010 remake wasn’t a success. Freddy Krueger is very much a cultural icon that could only exist in a certain time and place in American history. In fact, he’s become a dream of an earlier time. Which is most appropriate for the character.

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But no…you can’t have pedophiles as the main character of your Politically Correct horror movies nowadays. Because that’s too close to Real Life. The Internet has shown us that pedophiles are everywhere and all our nerve endings are way too sensitive. And so we don’t have the distance where we can see a Freddy Krueger in a movie and laugh at his one-liners. Because we’re not that innocent anymore. We talk to the monsters everyday online.

But the original A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET from 1984 is still here and it can be watched and enjoyed as a superior example of imaginative horror. The entire NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series, along with the ‘Phantasm” movies is still my favorite horror film franchise of the 1980’s and I think it’s because I’m still fascinated by how they play so freely with what is real and what is a dream.  In A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET there’s a scene that still freezes my blood when Our Heroine Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) falls asleep in her tub while taking a bath and Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) yanks her through this tiny hole in the bottom of her tub, snatching her from the Real World into his Dream World.
nightmareonelmstreet1984-bathtubhandBecause that’s the only way Freddy can attack you. Nancy finds out from her alcoholic mother Marge (Ronee Blakley) that years ago she and a bunch of other parents in the town of Springfield took revenge on Freddy Krueger for killing 20 children. Krueger went to trial but was released on a technicality. The outraged parents burned Freddy alive. And now, Freddy has come back for revenge from beyond the grave, striking at the children of the parents who killed them through their dreams.

Nancy figures that out but it’s a futile revelation because eventually we all have to go to sleep and when the children of Elm Street go to sleep, Freddy Krueger is waiting in their nightmares with his razor bladed glove to strike and slay.1984 A Nightmare On Elm Street 013

There’s so much to like about A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET I honestly don’t know where to begin. The star-making performances of Heather Langenkamp and Robert Englund is the major draw. Upon watching this movie recently (and yes, I rewatch the entire NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series during the Halloween season and have done so for the past four or five years) I was again struck by how little dialog Freddy has. He certainly isn’t the wisecracker we get to know in later movies. This Freddy is horrifyingly committed to his mission of revenge.

This movie is also noted for Johnny Depp’s first major Hollywood role and he quite rightly has the most spectacular death scene in the movie. I’m sure he didn’t plan it that way but it’s kind of fitting that Johnny Depp in his very first major role has an over the top scene. John Saxon and Charles Fleischer (the voice of Roger Rabbit) are also here in supporting roles. In fact, John Saxon has top billing even though his role is a supporting one. Amanda Wyss has more screen time than John Saxon and she gets killed twenty minutes into the movie.

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So should you see A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET? I’m pretty sure you have and so you have your own opinion about it and I’m not here to change your mind. Only to give you my opinion and here it is: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is one of the most original and entertaining horror movies I’ve ever seen. If you’ve seen it, I hope you agree. If not, let’s argue.

Rated R

91 Minutes

 

 

 

The House Of The Devil

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2009

Glass Eye Pix/MPI Media Group

Written and Directed by Ti West

Produced by Josh Braun, Derek Curl, Roger Kass and Peter Phok

I’ve only seen three of his movies but that’s enough. Ti West is now one of my favorite directors and he definitely is my current favorite director of horror movies. People had been telling me for years that I needed to see THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL but I just never got around to seeing it. And at this same time last year, I found “The Innkeepers” on Netflix. I must have watched that movie once a day for the next three or four days. And this October I resolved to watch THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL at last. I did. And now I see why people were telling me to see it and that it was Ti West’s best movie. I’m still not sure about that. I still think that “The Innkeepers” is his best movie but damn if THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL doesn’t come thisclose.

College student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) is desperate to get out of her dorm room which is pretty much used as a whorehouse by her slutty roommate. She finds a new apartment and her friendly landlady (Dee Wallace) is more than willing to waive a lot of the standard landlord/tenant business if Samantha can come up with $300 cash over the weekend. Luckily Samantha happens onto a babysitting job. It’s at a remote house some distance from the college. So far in fact that Samantha needs the help of her best girlfriend Megan (Greta Gerwig) who drives her out to the house.

Upon meeting Mr. and Mrs. Ullman (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov) Samantha discovers that they misrepresented the job. It’s not a baby Samantha will be looking after but Mr. Ullman’s invalid mother. Mr. Ullman assures Samantha that the job entails her mostly just being in the house and keeping his mother company. Megan urges Samantha to leave but when Mr. Ullman puts $400 dollars on the table, Samantha relents. Megan leaves, promising to come back and pick up Samantha later. Let’s just say that the simple babysitting job is not so simple and that Megan does not pick Samantha up and leave it at that for now.

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Why do I love THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL so much? Okay, here’s the first reason: Ti West set out to make a movie that’s a homage to horror films of the 1970’s and 1980’s and he did it so well that halfway through I was half convinced that this was somehow a lost movie from that era he had found and slapped his name on it. He achieved that 1970’s/80’s flavor by recreating the style of movies made then by not only using only the equipment and film that would be available to filmmakers then but also using the stylistic methods used by directors of low budget slasher/horror films of that error. Ti West is one of a very few directors working today who truly understands what a grindhouse film is and make no mistake about it, THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL is very much a grindhouse film.

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Second of all, Ti West knows how to sell us the sizzle as well as the steak. He’s not afraid of letting us getting to know his characters before he does horrible things to them. I’ve spoken to people who complain that there are long stretches of his movies where nothing happens. Actually there is a lot happening. It’s called Characterization. Unlike most horror movies where the victims pretty much have signs on them proclaiming what type of character they are and in what order they’re going to get killed, in a Ti West movie there are actual characters that I grew to care about. By the time all hell starts to break loose, I was truly invested in Samantha and really wanted to know what was going to happen to her. And Ti West honestly knows how to use suspense to make a scene pay off. There’s one scene in particular that made me jump and I haven’t jumped while watching a horror movie since 2012’s “The Cabin In The Woods”

The acting in this movie is top notch. Usually in a movie set during the 1980’s actors feel the need to over compensate but Jocelin Donahue and Greta Gerwig look, act and feel like 1980’s girls in a 1980’s world. They’re wonderfully relaxed and comfortable with the hair, the clothes and the slang. And as for Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov…well, they were there, fer cryin’ out loud. So they well know how to play this material. And for a long time fan of Mr. Noonan and Ms. Woronov as I am, I knew that when they showed up in the movie things were going to go south pretty damn fast.

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So should you see THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL? Absolutely Yes. If you haven’t yet put together your Halloween movie watching list yet, put this at the top of your list. Along with Ti West’s other movies “The Innkeepers” and “The Sacrament.” “The Sacrament” is the weakest of the three but still well worth watching. But by all means, watch and enjoy THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL.

Rated R

95 minutes

 

Gone Girl

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2014

20th Century Fox

Directed by David Fincher

Produced by Leslie Dixon, Bruna Papandrea, Reese Witherspoon and Cean Chaffin

Screenplay by Gillian Flynn based on her novel “Gone Girl”

One of my favorite sayings is that all too often, Christians and married people are not the best advertisers of their own product. I have no idea if the married couple Nick and Amy Dunn in GONE GIRL are Christians but their marriage as depicted in this movie would certainly make anybody think twice before jumping the broom.

On their fifth wedding anniversary Nick Dunn (Ben Affleck) returns to his home to discover that his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is…well, gone. Disappeared. Vanished. There is some evidence that she may have been kidnapped. Nick quite naturally calls the police and an investigation is launched. The lead investigator, Detective Rhonda Boney is sympathetic to Nick but still finds it very odd that he doesn’t know what his wife does during the day while he’s working at the bar he owns with his twin sister Margo(Carrie Coon) or his wife’s blood type.

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Due to the fact that Amy is something of a celebrity thanks to her parents having written a highly successful series of children’s books whose main character is an idealized version of their daughter, her disappearance becomes national news. And that’s when things really start going wrong for Nick. The intense media scrutiny misinterprets his seemingly unemotional responses as being suspicious behavior. Details about financial troubles comes to light. Nick outright lies about some important aspects of their marriage and that brings him under the microscope of Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle) a Nancy Grace clone who begins ranting and raving on her show about Nick’s “obvious” sociopathic behavior and accuses him of killing his wife. And soon Nick finds himself arrested for Amy’s murder. His only allies: his faithful, loving sister and Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) a high-powered defense attorney whose specialty is defending accused wife killers.

Now, I can’t in all good conscience continue to describe the plot because halfway through, GONE GIRL becomes another movie entirely and it’s important that you discover the how and why of that for yourself. But all the way through it’s an interesting movie depicting a marriage that was doomed from the very start because both parties went into it thinking of it as a fantasy they could keep fueled by sex and cutesy-poo games. Once financial and family obligations begin mounting up they soon discover what marriage is really about. And neither one of them is ready for it.

While I’ve always felt that Ben Affleck is a better director than actor, I always enjoy seeing him on screen and watching him work. He has to walk a fine line here in that he has to make us interested and care about Nick even when we’re watching the growing mountain of evidence that indicates that yeah, maybe he did kill Amy. It’s not an easy job to do but Affleck pulls it off, I though. I can’t really say much about Rosamund Pike’s performance other than to say it has to be seen to be believed and I do not exaggerate when I say that. Those of you who have seen GONE GIRL know what I’m talking about.

The acting honors in this one has to be shared between Carrie Coon and Tyler Perry. First off, it helped me believe that they were brother and sister as Affleck and Coon do indeed look like they could be brother and sister. Maybe it’s just me but I hate movies where we’re told two actors who look nowhere near alike are supposed to be related. Carrie hits just the right notes in playing a strong, yet despairing sister who desperately wants to support her brother even though he may be a murderer. And Tyler Perry is simply fun to watch playing a Johnnie Cochran style lawyer who is the best at what he does. Perry catches so much heat for other aspects of his career that people forget he can act when he’s challenged to do so and steps up to the plate admirably here.

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For a movie that deals with such emotional issues, David Fincher directs GONE GIRL in a very clinical, emotionally detached manner. As a contrast to such grimy characters and their story, this is an extremely clean and beautiful looking movie. It could have done with a little dirtying up. And clocking in at 2hours and 45minutes its way too long. Hollywood has told similar stories just as good in only 90 minutes.

So should you see GONE GIRL? If you’re a fan of the work of David Fincher, I’d say yes even though I don’t think this is his best movie. It certainly doesn’t begin to come close to generating the suspense and tension of “Seven” “The Game” or “Zodiac” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “The Social Network” are certainly more fun to watch. But the acting is superb, the story interesting and if you don’t mind immersing yourself for 2hrs and change in the darkest, most twisted screen marriage since “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?” then by all means, go see and enjoy.

Rated R

149 Minutes