After first watching Suspiria, I dove into the Dario Argento filmography. Every Argento movie I could rent ended up in my VCR that wild and crazy summer of 1995. The downside to binge viewing movies or TV shows (or any variety of media for that matter) is that the condensed experience resists thoughtful meditation. As a result, these films or episodes wash over us like a tidal wave and good luck hanging onto any details of that experience other than the ferocious slap across your entire body.
So it went with my Argento binge. After Suspiria and Opera, I recall very little. The likes of Tenebrae, Phenomena, and other lesser Argentos disappeared into the celluloid ether. Fleeting images, nothing more. With regards to Tenebrae, the Argento of the hour, I remembered the red heeled face stomp.
My favorite Dario Argento flicks boast the grand visuals of Suspiria, Opera and Deep Red. Movies that blur the lines between film and moving artwork. The notion may seem odd — a horror movie imposing upon the classical arts — but the horrific nature of the image lends itself to similar contemplation required by more abstract modern art. Though a different constitution might be required to engage a film like Tenebrae versus, perhaps, Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles (just to name one particular painting with which I’m familiar), Dario Argento paints his canvas with poetic murder in addition to the occasional splatter.
Blue Poles – Jackson Pollock
Abstract imagery, red herrings, misdirection, interpretation beyond the images presented. Jackson Pollock is no more just a mere “paint spatterer” than Argento is just a gore spatterer. Argento’s greatest films appeal as both exploitation but also as visual poetry.
The same could be said for many styles of narrative filmmaking, of course, but there seems to be a kind of synchronicity between the ways abstract painters go about their art and the ways in which horror film directors hope to transcend exploitation while still employing murder, gore, and nudity.
With that direction in mind, let’s turn our attentions to Tenebrae, a film that calls attention to its genre and its genre critics — as many latter gialli tend to do. As the cycle wore on, giallo films innovated with self-awareness. I talked a bit about the genre’s limited palette in my Deep Red conversation. By the early 1980’s, giallo had become a conflicted, quirky pre-teen with growing pains, and if you take a look at any of the modern descendants, you’ll note a constant tether to the past. The best modern example would probably be Cattet and Forzani’s Amer (2009) which embraces the genre’s clichéd imagery through a lens of constant auteurist abstraction.
Within the first minutes of Tenebrae, Argento responds directly to critics of his specialized brand of cinema. Peter Neal, the author of Tenebrae, a murder-mystery novel that may be inspiring a real-life killer, addresses a reporter suggesting his books are inherently anti-woman. Neal, played by Anthony Franciosa, says his novels can’t be anti-woman because he himself is not anti-woman.
In Tenebrae, however, Argento also repackages his own personal experience with an obsessed fan who repeatedly called the director with death threats. The caller suggested that Argento’s prior works had done irreversible psychological damage. Argento has engaged in conversations with the viewer before, but Tenebrae feels more personal — even without knowing the extratextual information. I’ll postpone a more detailed conversation about this particular point until after you’ve seen the film because spoilers.
That’s not to say that Tenebrae necessarily benefits as a result. A couple of the murders/gore setpieces stand out, but the film lacks the intention of a more purposeful giallo like Deep Red or even The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. The head pushed back through the glass window. The aforementioned heel stomp. Flailing appendage amputees. Unlike many of his earlier films, Argento treads less delicately with gore and relies less on viewer imagination and anticipation. It’s almost as if this particular film was meant to serve many masters other than Argento’s creative muse.
Filled with double meanings and dark identities, similar to the Seinfeldian concept of the Bizarro Jerry, Tenebrae‘s meta nature leaves us observing, waxing philosophic and contemplating Argento’s inspiration for this and that, much as we would those Pollocks that continue to beguile and titillate art connoisseurs and casual critics. The truth of the film, though elusive, can be found in the flashbacks. In Tenebrae, Argento constantly turns to the past for answers to the greatest riddles. And Argento doesn’t even want you to piece it all together after just one viewing. Tenebrae is a movie best absorbed first, studied later.
Final Thought: I might not agree that this is one of Argento’s finest, but it’s certainly a film that inspires continued analysis and digestion. Tenebrae becomes an effective collection of individual setpieces and curious narrative twists. It is also one of Argento’s most purposefully perverse.
Clearly my complaints about A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 have been heard. Action has been taken. Dream Warriors forces Freddy back into the proper dreamscapes. A certain logic about the fear of sleep / the little death of nighttime slumber! Huzzah! I’m an influential bl-gger!
Wes Craven returns as a writer after being absent for Freddy’s Revenge, and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 does indeed correct the most egregious wrongs about Part 2. I’m not saying the two are connected, but the two are connected. Freddy’s playful menace comes back (viagra?) along with some legitimate, earned tension. Robert England appears to have fun here and abstains from knocking over any China cabinets or setting parakeets on fire.
Tormented girl from the original Nightmare Heather Langenkamp returns as some variety of psychoanalyst to help an institution full of “insane” kids who all happen to be having Freddy Kreuger-brand nightmares. Heather and the gang assemble an army of “dream warriors” to unite their dreams and go after Freddy together. They form like Sandman Voltron. A killer high-concept premise with terrific practical effects spoiled by a few minor issues.
Even Zsa Zsa Gabor gets it.
Okay. Maybe not sooooo minor… but it’s not a flaming hot dog. Chuck Russell (The Blob, The Mask) made his directorial debut here with A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and it’s quite clear he couldn’t help an actor find the craft services table, let alone their motivation. Heather Langenkamp, who proved capable of carrying a film in A Nightmare on Elm Street, delivers line readings that wouldn’t seem out of place in a low-budget pornographic film.
So maybe Heather and Chuck didn’t gel. Whatever. It happens. Except it also happened with everyone else in the film, including Patricia Arquette, John Saxon, and on down the line until you’ve got wheelchair-bound Will screaming at Freddy Kreuger about being a “Wizard Master.” Only Laurence Fishburne survives because Laurence Fishburn doesn’t give a damn about your direction, Chuck; he’s going to read lines like Laurence goddamn Fishburne.
I needed more stop-motion skeleton.
So the acting gets dodgy and distracting, and John Saxon goes non-sequitur tinkerbell, but overall A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors delivers what we want out of a fun and freaky–ish Nightmare movie.
Freddy holds court. Slick special effects, including a stop-motion Freddy skeleton that could have made Harryhausen nod in silent appreciation. Don’t underestimate the importance of consistent dream logic and reasonable guidelines for Freddy’s ability to reach into the real world.
Final Thought: Entertaining but hugely flawed is marked improvement over dumb and dumber.
#23. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
After rewatching A Nightmare on Elm Street, I forged onward into the depths of the A Nightmare on Elm Street box set. Logically, I tossed the second disc into the player and let that sucker roll through both Freddy’s Revenge and Dream Warriors. As a result I’m piggybacking these two reviews, churning them out one right after another, because I watched them in one sitting and it’s also November 7th and nobody gives a flipping garbage dump about bad horror sequels outside the proper #31DaysOfHorror. I can’t blame them; I’m only continuing on with this misguided quest because I watched 34 horror movies in a little over 31 days and goddammit I’m going to see this to the end.
I can’t tell you how dispiriting it is looking up at Freddy’s Revenge as #23 and knowing I have 11 more of these to write. I had plans for November, you know. Not great plans, but they were plans nonetheless.
I will now summarize my thoughts about A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge with a few tweets sent out in the heat of the moment.
Finishing up my #31DaysOfHorror/#Hooptober viewing requirements with NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2. This movie is all kinds of dumb.
At one critical point during a climactic chase scene between Freddy and our heroine in peril du jour, Freddy pauses, glares at his prey and promptly, viciously rakes his claw across a row of tchotchkes on a shelf. WHAT DID THOSE POOR TCHOTCHKES EVER DO TO YOU, FREDDY KREUGER? Someone spent many many dozens of dollars mail ordering ceramic figurines by mail and you just think you have the right to smash it all to pieces?
But it’s not that Freddy smashes the tchotchkes, it’s that he does not continue the pursuit for at least three beats. He remains in place, staring at the girl and basking in the glow of his wanton destruction.
Freddy’s real-world infringement also manifests in beer cans bursting, the swimming pool boiling over, hot dogs catching on fire, and, wait for it… lovebirds going bonkers and bursting into flames mid-flight. These are the ways Freddy Kreuger torments in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2.
Calling these things “red herrings” lends them too much credit. The term suggests that the unrelated event is meant to distract our attention from a proper conclusions. On the contrary, Freddy’s beer-bursting, tchotchke mashing, hot-dog flaming ways direct us without fallacy to the proper conclusion — that A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is an insipid, toothless, misdirected waste of a movie. It’s not scary. It’s not funny (unintentional bits notwithstanding). And it certainly doesn’t play fair with the dream/real world parameters set forth in the original.
Dreams give Freddy power. Never sleep again. The necessity for sleep, the inevitability of dreaming created tension naturally. When A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 allows Freddy to possess the body of a teenager in order to crossover into the real world, it renders the fear and possibility of the limitless possibility of the dreamscape irrelevant.
What ho?! There are A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 apologists? Indeed. I hear your pleas for understanding. I also hear your argument that Freddy’s Revenge is a parable for coming out in the 1980’s. Cool. I can dig it. There’s plenty of foundation for a rather interesting analysis of the movie from that perspective. I look forward to reading it! But I’m certainly not writing it. I’ll be buggered if I have to sit through that stinkburger again anytime soon.
Two 31 Days of Horror a go (so, like, 2014), I caught the second half of A Nightmare on Elm Street on a cable movie network in HD. The image blew me away. Let me qualify that last statement. I hadn’t seen the film since I first watched it in a friend’s basement when his parents thought we were playing video games. In other words, like how many teenagers smoke pot. We watched a VHS tape on one of those 13″ TV/VCR combo jobbers. My baseline for this film: tiny and square.
This year, I decided to put this movie to bed, so to speak. I’d never properly seen A Nightmare on Elm Street or any of its sequels except, oddly enough, for New Nightmare, which came out on video at roughly the same time I first started watching Italian horror. Very loose causal connections at play.
With proper viewing conditions, A Nightmare on Elm Street remains an effective horror experience, despite the ways in which the formula has been ripped off and regurgitated throughout the 30+ years since its original release. I won’t suggest that Nightmare provides an experience in pure terror. The story undermines its own ability to terrorize by playing fast and loose with dream logic and Freddy’s ability to reach beyond his dreamscape. By doing so, the Elm Street flicks fostered Freddy as a monstrous personality, rather than a slasher figure as innately terrifying as Leatherface or Michael Myers. If Michael Myers is a Tom Brokaw, Freddy Kreuger is a Ryan Seacrest.
(I’m honestly not sure about that above analogy, but I think it works so I’m moving forward.)
Friday the 13th (1980) and Halloween (1978) had set the table years prior with straight-up psycho slashers. A Nightmare on Elm Street landed at theaters rather late in the 1980’s teenage pop-culture slasher cycle to be just another slasher film. Wes Craven understood that his monster needed more personality, that Freddy Kreuger needed to be something a little off center and a little self-aware. A Nightmare on Elm Street never properly breaks the 4th wall (Craven saves up all his proper nudging and winking for the Scream series) but Craven certainly tests the waters with Freddy.
In addition to Kreuger’s slice of self-awareness, Craven further inserts a twist in the Kreuger mythos. Freddy Kreuger assumed the role of “boogie man” because the community parents had tracked down the serial child murderer and burned him alive. Everyone on Elm Street became complicit in the murder and mayhem. When the film plays the “parents just don’t understand” card to cater to its teenage audience, this makes sense because the parents have already been established as a source of negative energy.
The primary conflict isn’t actually “Teenagers vs. Freddy Kreuger,” but rather “Teenagers vs. Parents.” Freddy Kreuger serves as the physical manifestation of teenage angst and anxiety. The burden of escalating sexuality, pending assignation of adulthood and the teenagers’ inability to confront their parents with mature conversations about their fears. The teenagers lack the maturity to palatably present these concerns, and parents, well, lack the maturity to address their teenagers as near-adult human beings rather than children.
Nature of Shame: Long overdue rewatch on Blu-ray / Unseen sequels
Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist: Decade – 1990’s Crazy Animal Movie
#20. Tremors (1990)
I hold Tremors up as the pinnacle of modern creature features. After watching Komodo last week, I felt compelled to conclude the “Crazy Animal Movie” requirement of the Hooptober Challenge with this old favorite. I’ve owned the Tremors Attack Pack Blu-ray release for a few years now and I’ve failed, despite my intentions, to watch Tremors each of the past two Halloweens. I’d had it up to here with lackluster animal movies. Killerfish, Day of the Animals, Komodo — all of these films have only reinforced my aggravation over lazy savage animal movies.
I couldn’t decide if fictional animals counted towards the requirement, but I decided I didn’t care either. These were animals. They were crazy. Bring on the big ass worms.
Tremors works because it embraces the historical absurdity of the animal attack genre. Giant Leeches. Slugs. Killer shrews. You name the creature, it’s attacked people on cinema. With an eye on a retro-brand of filmmaking and a nod toward self-awareness, director Ron Underwood downplays terror in favor of spectacle and humor. In the place of exposition or a brief origin story, Tremors substitutes ecological wonder. Characters marvel at the existence of the Graboids, their physiological adaptations that have allowed them to exist undetected in the earth for millions of years.
They might want to eat you, but by god that’s an impressive specimen! Check out those independently operated tongue snakes! And spikes that allow them to push themselves through the dirt!
Impressive creature effects only carry a film so far. The tone of the film must reflect the creatures themselves. First, the creatures cannot be the joke. While the face-value of Tremors suggests otherwise, (giant carnivorous worms!) the Graboids never become the punchline. The high-concept narrative allows the tremendous, entertaining collection of character actors to act and react to a preposterous scenario. An isolated Nevada town under siege by subterranean monsters. A pair of mostly capable handymen, a geologist and a right-wing gun nut hold the fort.
Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Michael Gross, Reba McEntire and Victor Wong (Big Trouble in Little China) buy in completely. (Though, Kevin Bacon has confessed that at the time he felt the film represented a career low.) With the worms presented as the Abbott to the humans’ Costello, the creatures can afford to just be monstrous. The rest of the humor comes naturally.
I might be blinded by irrational love for Tremors because it’s really not actually quite that good… but I’d be lying if I gave it anything short of five Hertzies.
30Hz Movie Rating:
So what would happen to this balance when the sequel loses its director and goes direct-to-video six years later?
#21. Tremors 2: Aftershocks (1996)
The film carries on.
The budget has been noticeably downgraded. The worms lose their independently operating snake-tongues and most of the special effects involve fountains of exploded worm goo. The actors outside Ward and Gross barely passed the “acting their way out of a paper bag” test. Chris Gartin replaces Kevin Bacon with a less mature version of Bacon’s already immature character and he’s only mostly annoying. Gartin comes around by the end of the movie but still reminds me of a low-rent Justin Bartha. Michael Gross inflates the NRA survivalist persona, filling up some of the personality vacancy.
Fans of the original will find enjoy #2. Aftershocks finds new creative ways to attack with worms. Recommended. Even the wife got into this one. Extra half star because reasons.
Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist: Decade – 1990’s Crazy Animal Movie
#19. Komodo (1999)
I’m entertained by the subtle ways I change the format of these posts. Each and every change I’ve made over the course of 19 posts wouldn’t even be noticed by the average reader. Hell, forget the average reader. If some person existed that made a sick point to read every one of these 31 Days of Horror posts, even they wouldn’t notice the differences. Give up? I centered the film title and poster. Swell, huh? (Help me. I’m losing my mind.)
But about Komodo.
Komodo belongs to the animal attack subsection of the horror genre. More specifically, the sub-sub-genre of animal attack movies where the attacking animal manifests as something innately toothless. The creature itself doesn’t have to be toothless, though that certainly solidifies its sub-sub-genre status. See: Slugs, Swarm, Night of the Lepus. You get the picture. Komodo falls into this category despite having a potentially monstrous killer creature.
Komodo dragons rule the isolated ecosystems in which they live — the tippy top of the food chain. They’re believed to be ancient lizards, dating back almost 4million years. The only species of these giants left on the planet. It was once believed that the komodo caused sepsis in its prey due to saliva highly concentrated with bacteria; however, recent studies from 2013 have shown that the bacteria resembles the saliva of just about any obligate carnivore. Myth in this instance proves more potent than fact. Even though the movie takes advantage of this sepsis/paralysis myth, it fails to render this trait — something that could have been used to foster some legitimate terror — as anything more than a footnote.
The film arrived in 1999 as part of the straight-to-video glut of creature features that took advantage of newly inexpensive CGI effects. Considering the film’s budget, the komodo effects — a mix of practical puppetry for close ups and CGI — become the movie’s one legitimate strength. Director Michael Lantieri (Jurassic Park‘s creature creator) has a good sense to withhold a full appearance of the dragons to maximize later utility. Though here’s the rub. Despite the komodo’s size and supposed paralytic saliva, they’re really not an inherently frightening animal. In order to turn them monstrous, Komodo‘s komodos become killing machines as a result of experimental hormone therapy.
The PG-13 rating prevents much bloodletting and discourages brutality that could have better established these hormone-laden killing machines. Even without knowing Lantieri’s connection to Jurassic Park,viewers will note a number of regurgitated setpieces and scenarios refashioned on a smaller Komodo/direct-to-video scale.
Is there a reason to watch Komodo? No. Not really. Creature feature aficionados usually skew towards the more kitschy variety of films produced in the 1950’s and 60’s. Late 1990’s CGI with an $11million budget doesn’t generally wind their clock. With this kind of sub-sub-genre toothless creature attack DNA, Komodo needed to be less competent to be truly notable.
I will save this picture on the off chance that one day I can build my DREAM house and find this architect and this decorator and tell them to make me a dining room like this. I think it's one of the first formal dining rooms I've ever really liked.