‘Scream’: Another stab at relevance

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I was recently asked to participate in a “Scream” retrospective podcast in anticipation of the latest installment of the franchise. To brush up, I revisited the original and its two sequels after not having seen them for years.

What I had noticed was that, after years of sequels, spoofs, sequels to those spoofs, rip-offs and cinematic references, I had forgotten most of the primary films’ essentials. My memories were clouded with lesser films and the mocking send-ups of some of the original’s more climactic moments. Continue reading

Phoning it in for ‘Scream’ series

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Since I have been rather preoccupied to record our own podcasts here, I’ve decided to leech onto others, so that they may do the heavy lifting (read: hours of editing).

This coming week, head over to The Avod (http://theavod.blogspot.com/) and hear a rather lengthy dissection (which ultimately becomes a vivisection) of the ‘Scream’ series with Count Vardulon (http://theavod.blogspot.com/) , The DiveMistress, “Schlockmania’s” Don Guarisco (http://www.schlockmania.com/) , and yours truly.

We celebrate (?) the return of the Wes Craven franchise with a look back at the popular series and its legacy. Most importantly, it offers me the chance to say “Skeet” in casual conversation.

Head on over to the Avod, listen to some of Count’s excellent work and spend a couple hours with us. But for god’s sake, don’t answer the phone.

‘Shocker’ with its star Camille Cooper

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Title: Shocker (1989)
Rated: R
Written and directed by: Wes Craven
Starring: Peter Berg as Jonathan Parker
                   Mitch Pileggi as Horace Pinker
                   Camille Cooper as Alison

By Shelley Stillo

chairPre-screening memories: If this site has taught me anything, it is that I witnessed far too many age-inappropriate movies as a child. I bore witness to more acts of violence, mayhem and destruction before I was even able to remove the training wheels from my bike.

I will leave the analysis of its effects for a therapist to deal with, but all that viewing has instilled in me a life-long admiration of the horror genre. And of all the beasts and boogeymen that made it into my living room television set, Wes Craven was the one I connected with most frequently.

glowy camiThere was something more under the surface of Craven’s brand of horror, commenting on our culture, or state of society. And even though my brain was barely beyond what was on the Saturday morning cartoon showcase, it still seemed to pick up the impulses of Craven’s transmitted messages.

Shocker was a film I discovered on the shelves of my local video store, after A Nightmare on Elm Streethad made its permanent mark on my mind. I would search for anything with his name affixed to it, and I eagerly grabbed it and brought it home.

It is a film that today divides its audiences, between those who ridicule its over-the-top scenario, its dime-store special effects, and its lapses in logic, and those who enjoyed it as a wild ride laced with a commentary on a television-obsessed society. I fell into the latter category, realizing that, despite its limitations, Craven still had more on its mind than just the standard slash-and-scream horror.

armchairNew memories: Time may not have been kind to its already-limited special effects budget, and there are certainly more than one moments that illicit an eye roll, but I still find myself connecting with the film’s message and its gritty charms.

Sure, Horace Pinker will never be synonymous with Freddie Kreuger, but he did, and still does, make an indelible mark on this young horror fan.

Download Natsukashi’s ‘Shocker’ podcast with star Camille Cooper here

Or, plug in to our player on this very site below:

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Our featured guest: Camille Cooper

camiCamille Cooper has worked professionally in film and television for a number of years, starring in five films, including Meet the Applegates and Like Father, Like Son, and television series including General Hospital and Knots Landing. She has been featured in numerous commercials and print ads (for Coke, Milky Way and Campbell’s Soup, among others). She has been interviewed and photographed for such publications as Premiere Interview, Egg, and The New York Times, and has appeared on the cover of Working Mother. Recently she was a guest on a little program called The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Cooper quit the biz more than a decade ago and dedicated herself to speaking out about the effect of media on young women and body image

Since her show business retirement, Cooper has co-chaired the Committee for the Empowerment of Young Women since 1994, and has lectured across the country, educating and encouraging young women to question what they see, to define themselves by their abilities and their dreams, and to take action to promote positive change.

She was gracious enough to share her memories of working with Wes Craven and the Shocker set, and we thank for for her humor and recollections of the film.

Episode XXX: Swamp Thing

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Title: Swamp Thing
Rated: PG
Director: Wes Craven
Written by: Wes Craven (based on the DC Comic by Len Wein)

Starring: Adrienne Barbeau as Alice Cable
              Louis Jourdan as Dr. Anton Arcane
              Ray Wise as Dr. Alec Holland
              David Hess as Ferrett
              Nicolas Worth as Bruno
              Dick Durock as Swamp Thing

By Count Vardulon

Swamp Thing is the first film I remember seeing in theatres. Now, I know that there were a few before then — the nightmare-building image of a killer earwig boring into Paul Windfield’s head didn’t spring from my imagination, I’m sure, but the first film I remember actually going to a theatre to see was Swamp Thing. It’s a testament to the indulgence of my mother that my elder brother and I were allowed to see the film at all – well, a combination of indulgence, unfamiliarity with the subject matter, and the lenience of the early-80s MPAA rating system, if I’m being brutally honest.

Yes, for me, Swamp Thing was my first ‘nightmare’ movie. The first time, but by no means the last, that my mother would be rewarded for giving in to her sons’ begging to see a movie by being forced to stay up to the wee hours of the morning assuring them that no, the creatures from the films were in no way real.

Ever since seeing the film, the monsters have held a particularly prominent place in my psyche. Not a detailed one, though. Just the fuzzy outlines of a werewolf and some kind of fanged monster. The film also featured my introduction to the world of special effects, as I recall being so traumatized by the sight of something being stabbed, and then oozing blood everywhere in an especially disgusting fashion. I was informed that it was simply a bag of blood being popped or squeezed that created the effect – I didn’t have the best understanding of the idea, but just being assured that a real monster hadn’t actually been killed was apparently enough for me at the time.

All of those are just the suface memories, the little scars that kept me up nights and haunted my dreams for years to come. No, the lasting effect of Swamp Thing on my life is that it’s the film that I credit with inspiring my lifelong love of the horror genre. Not because of the disturbing subject matter or unsettling imagery, but rather because in a horror film, more than any other genre, you can’t be absolutely certain of what’s going to happen next, or how the film’s going to end. Especially in mainstream cinema, films
follow such incredibly restrictive formulas that anyone who’s seen their share will be able to predict how a given film will end before all of the characters have been introduced. This isn’t true at all in horror – even in
the most mainstream horror film, the absolute basic rules that we expect fiction to follow – that the bad guy will lose, and the hero will survive – aren’t necessarily written in stone.

Sure, I was young at the time, but even then I understood the basic language of film and the rules that stories generally followed. So when, earliy in the film, Ray Wise was captured by gun-toting thugs, I had no doubt in my mind that something would come along to save him. And then it didn’t. Ray was blown up, his wife was killed, and he ran, screaming and burning, into the swamp. Had I possessed even the slightest familiarity with the character of Swamp Thing before going into the movie, it’s possible this scene
woulnd’t have been so shocking – although, as I remember it, the actual sight of a man on fire was pretty intense, so who knows – but the way killing off Ray Wise in the first act threw all of my preconceptions about films out the window was so much more powerful. I knew that all bets were off for the rest of the movie, which just made every fight more tense, every peril more dangerous from then on out. If you’re not sure the main character is going to live out a scene, let alone the film, you’re always on the edge
of your seat.

I quickly came to realize that very few of the films I watched were willing to take the risks that (in my memory) Swamp Thing took, but years later, when I rediscovered the horror genre (at a slightly more appropriate age), I found that there were films whose outcomes couldn’t be predicted from five minutes in, whose bad guys weren’t easily gotten rid of, and whose heroes weren’t unkillable. Swamp Thing made me appreciate unpredictability in storytelling, and even if that was due more to my youthful unfamiliarity
with a populat comic book character’s origin story than any acutal groundbreaking storytelling on the filmmakers’ part, I still credit it as one of the definitive filmgoing experiences of my life.

New Memories: As with most movies watched in early childhood, I didn’t have a great memory of the film’s plot, so other than the occasional memorable image or scene, it was like watching the film for the first time. And what a film!

The movie opens with Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) flying into the restricted swamp laboratory of one Doctor Alec Holland, who’s doing some kind of top-secret research for the federal government along with his sister Linda. That’s the first surprise – it’s his sister who gets killed, as opposed to his wife – I guess my later-life familiarity with the comic book was filling in the blanks in my memory on that one. We’re quickly introduced to the stakes as we see Holland’s invention, a fertilizer that’s as exposive as it is super-effective. At the same time, there’s some of the requisite flirting between Holland (Ray Wise), and the only woman within a hundred miles who isn’t his sister. Througout this entire opening sequence, the film keeps cutting over to a group of paramilitary goons (with “autumn” camoflage-painted guns, for some reason) who are sneaking onto the lab grounds and quietly murdering sentries as they go. Finally the villain reveals himself to be Anton Arcane (Octopussy‘s Louis Jourdan!), a supervillain of maddeningly unclear origins and motives. Things go badly for everyone, the FBI agents save for Cable are killed, Linda is shot, and Alec
is blown up by his own serum, which leads to one of the greatest man-on-fire stunts I’ve ever seen, a two stage segment where the man first stumbles out of a set, then runs out of a building, across a dock, and dives into the water.

From there, the film takes a strange twist, and through the second act it plays a lot like a slasher/revenge film, in which the slasher is the hero. Finding that Alice survived the attack, the goons attempt to kill her and retrieve doctor Holland’s notebook. They’re prevented from achieving either of these goals by Holland, who’s been trandformed by his forumla into the Swamp Thing, a Frankensteinian monster possessing super-strength, invulnerability, and a really, really obvious rubber suit. The second act then moves pretty quickly, consisting of little else than goons trying to catch Alice, Swamp Thing stopping them, and Arcane luxuriating around his mansion, yacht, and limousine, acting wonderfully supervillain-y. This all
wraps up as Swamp thing is finally captured and his notebook secured by Arcane’s goons.

Which brings me to the third act, which is where the movie goes completely off the rails into complete nuttiness. While the rest of the film was relatively competant, the third act makes little to no sense – it starts out well enough, with an out-of-left-field party, but then quickly spirals into nonsense as the script feels the need to massively overexplain the Swamp Thing’s origin and reimagine the Holland formula as something distinctly other than a super plant-growth additive. Let’s just say that as Swamp Thing re-imaginings go, this one is significantly less successful than Alan Moore’s take on the subject. It’s actually much closer to what Corman’s Fantastic Four movie would do a decade later.

Given that the film has largely been forgotten, I was interseted to see how different it was from the standard superhero movie. It seems like, with the exception of Batman, every other mainstream (based on a comic book) movie the filmmakers were so focussed on following the formula of Superman that they ended up making every film an origin film, spending a full hour waiting to get the main character into his suit and the action started. Swamp Thing, in sharp contrast, gets right into the action. It’s only 90 minutes long, and Ray Wise gets transformed less than half an hour in. From there on it’s pretty much non-stop action the rest of the way, right up until the amazingly poorly-conceived and executed swordfight that caps off the film.

There’s no way the Swamp Thing was going to be the genre-defining experience I remembered it as; it wasn’t the complete distaste that its reputation suggests either. It’s an entirely competent movie with a few bright spots of inspiration, whose mostly-awful third act kind of ruins it.

Listen to the Count‘s return trip to the bayou of his brain here, or open the player below:

mary

‘Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors’

Film: Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
Rated: R


Directed by: Chuck Russell

Written by: Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Chuck Russell, Frank Darabont

Starring: Patricia Arquette as Kirsten

             Craig Wasson as

             Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson

             John Saxon as

             Larry Fishburne as Max

 Tagline: If You Think You’ll Get Out Alive, You Must Be Dreaming.

 By: Bo from Last Blog on the Left

 Pre-screening memories: A Nightmare on Elm Street is an American horror classic.  Wes Craven’s original chiller took horror into the dreams of teenagers, threatening audiences with a terrifying mantra: If you die in your sleep, you die for real.  It was effective and genuinely disturbing. 

Unfortunately, there was a sequel.

The follow-up, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge was done without the involvement of Craven, and boy does it ever show.  Enter A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.  Wes Craven and Bruce Wagner were given a polish by Chuck Russell (who also directed) and Frank Darabont, and the result was a movie I must have seen a half dozen times during my youth.

There were images that stuck in my mind, mostly that of a wonderfully gratuitous nude scene and the Harryhausen-esque battle with a skeletal Freddy Krueger at the film’s conclusion.  By the time Dream Warriors came along, I was already a horror fan, but this was one that found a place on the video shelf, recorded from HBO back in the old VHS days, and watched on many a dark night.  There was something appealing about it, and I had very fond memories of the inventive uses of Krueger as dream villain in the movie.  In particular, Freddy as a giant snake stuck out as a particularly fun moment, including the creature almost swallowing a victim whole.

I was apprehensive about seeing this again, mostly because I liked remembering this movie fondly.  There is nothing more disheartening than returning to a movie that has so much nostalgia value, only to find that it has lost all its appeal, and you have lost a tiny piece of your childhood.

New memories: As I watched it as an adult, with more than 15 years between viewings, I reminded myself that even if it lost its sheen, it still held a place of honor in my memory.  What I realized halfway through the film was that I was having a good time.  The plot is clever enough:  Kirsten, played by Patricia Arquette in a very early role, if not her first, is having dreams of the burned and malicious Freddy.  What’s worse, Freddy’s modus operandi is to kill children in such a way that the kids appear to have committed suicide.  Kirsten is interrupted before Freddy succeeds, but she gets some wicked cuts on her wrists that lead to her institutionalization.  There, she meets a group of fellow Freddy survivors who insist they are being hunted in their dreams, but the doctors overseeing them, led by Craig Wasson in the role of Dr. Neil Gordon, aren’t buying it.  In steps Nancy Thompson, the survivor of Elm Street 1, now a therapist specializing in dream research.  Assigned to the hospital, she takes up the kids’ cause in an attempt to save them.  More interestingly, Dr. Gordon is having visions of a nun who reveals the secrets of Freddy’s past and the method of his destruction.  As he pursues the remains of Freddy, the adolescent patients discover that Kristen can draw them together in Freddy’s dream world, and that they possess special powers there, powers that may save them.

It’s actually a pretty compelling plot, not without some goofy turns, but it feels ambitious and complete.  I’d be curious to know just how much Frank (The Shawshank Redemption, The Mist) Darabont contributed to the script, but it’s a decent effort and head and shoulders above the previous sequel.  There are some downsides, of course.  Heather Langenkamp just isn’t a great actress, and her turn here as Nancy is frequently awkward.  Craig Wasson appears to be forever teetering on the brink of confusion.  The kids, on the other hand, are pretty damn good.  Patricia Arquette has a shrill scream that belongs in this sort of film, and an early performance by Jennifer Rubin as Taryn is also noteworthy.  Throw in Laurence Fishburne as the kindly orderly Max, and the return of John Saxon as Nancy’s pop is a blast.

The effects hold up well, too, especially the creative uses of Freddy in various forms, the first time in the series Freddy finds himself morphing into a variety of guises to stalk his victims.  The whole movie plays down the straight horror of the original to tell a more fun adolescent adventure.  The themes of youth versus authority and faith versus science pop up, but the movie never feels distracted from moving the plot along to the fairly satisfying ending.  The revelations of Freddy’s parentage leads to the best line of the film (“The bastard son of a hundred maniacs.”) and don’t feel like a reach, and the moment when Freddy reveals the fates of his victims is sufficiently creepy.  Also, there’s a hokey reunion between Nancy and her father that ends in a nice, dark surprise.

I feel like Dream Warriors is one of the more successful sequels in the realm of horror, if flawed and a bit dated.  The schlocky subtitle aside, the series could and should have ended here.  It was a fitting resolution and offered real fun.  This isn’t a movie I see myself returning to again and again, but every decade or so, it may just find its way into the DVD player to remind myself that not every film from childhood is worse than you remember, and that Dokken still rocks.

 

Find out why Bo still suffers from night sweats after so many years after Dream Warriors by listening to the podcast below, downloading it here, or heading to iTunes! (Welcome to team Natsukashi , Bo!)

 

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