A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master ⭐️

Director: Renny Harlin. Cast: John BeckmanKisha BrackelBrooke Bundy, Robert Englund, Rodney Eastman, Ken Sagoes.

Amazingly at the time this was the highest-grossing entry in the series (in fact the highest grossing horror too!). Clearly taste in horror must have changed a lot since 1988, because watching it tonight in 2021, I found it absolutely abysmal. Boring, predictable, not as funny as it thinks it is and crucially not scary at all.

This was basically done just for the fan to cheer at the screen and to capitalise on Freddy as a new horror Icon of the 80s.I had seen it before but I only remembered some of the deaths, which are still the most “entertaining” parts of the film, some more inventive than others (the girl’s transformation into a cockroach is nicely done and gruesome enough and so is Freddy’s death at the end), but despite Renny Harlin’s direction with “Pop-video-like” visuals and a constantly moving camera to try to keep the pace up, I found myself almost nodding off waiting for Freddy to do his business.By now the way Freddy is portrayed is a complete betrayal to Wes Craven’s original intentions, but I guess Robert Englund didn’t care too much, as he was now the star of the film (he even got top billing). However having now lost any edge, I honestly found his camp Freddy quite flat and actually not outrageous enough.

As for the plot, nothing makes a lot sense and it’s basically just an excuse to knock off one by one the various bad actors along the way.Apparently the film was brought into production at the same time of the writer strike in Hollywood, which lead some of the actors to come up with their own lines of dialogue (though I struggle to imagine how some good dialogue could have made this any better).

I think your enjoyment of this film really depends what your expectations are. If you’re attached to the original (as I am) and the idea of scary Freddy, lurking in the dark, haunting your dreams, well this is the furthest you can be from it. If however you want to watch this with some friends, cheering at the various deaths seqeunces and drinking every time Freddy says one of his one-liners or looks as cool as a superhero (there’s a close up shot here where he’s on a beach and he puts on his sunglasses which is probably the further we can ever be from Wes Craven’s first film), then just go for it, but don’t try to convince me that it’s good stuff.

I can’t even get myself to give it two stars.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Chuck Russell. Cast: Heather LangenkampCraig WassonPatricia Arquette, Robert Englund, Ken Sagoes

By 1987 Freddy had become a household name and people flocked to see him (well, horror fans at least). After the disappointment of the previous instalment (Which still made lots of money), the producers thought it was wise to bring back Wes Craven who come up with this story. They also hired Frank Darabont as a screenwriter (the man behind who would direct “The Shawshank Redemption” 12 years later, the Green Mile in 1999 and eventually became the creator of the hit series “the Walking dead”) and went back to some of the characters from the original film (Nancy and her dad). They also added to the mix a whole array of young actors, including Patricia Arquette in her first screen role and Laurence Fishburne.The moments where the kids are all interacting together in the dreams are definitely some of the highlights in the film and in fact this is probably the best the series will ever be (it’s all downhill from now): the story is rather clever, different but with enough call-backs to the original mythology and after the betrayal of part 2, at least most of the “rules of the game” are restored (i.e. people only get killed in the dreams and Freddy doesn’t walk among real people).

It’s by no means a masterpiece and it just about gets away with it reaching my 3-stars mark. There are plenty of ropey scenes here and there (the stop motion skeleton towards the end is just bad, just to mention one), but the film does have some inventive moments too, mainly centred around the various dream sequences where the special effects are used to maximum effect, especially considering the very low budget: the scenes where one of the kids being dragged like a marionette from his own tendons by a giant Freddy is actually very effective.By now Freddy’s lost some of the mystique and that dark side which was so terrifying from the original. Even though he has already started coming up with a couple of silly one-liners (“Welcome to prime time, bitch!” he says before smashing a victim’s face into a tv screen) we’re not quite there at the completely outrageous levels of clown from the later sequels.The ending comes so abruptly that it really looks like they had run out of money (or ideas) and thought “oh well, let’s end it!”.

Just like I’m about to do with this review.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge ⭐️⭐️

Director: Jack Sholder. Cast:  Mark PattonKim MyersRobert RuslerRobert Englund 

Out of all the Freddy’s sequel this is known as the poorest of the lot (a bar which is already set pretty low by part 5 and especially 6, as many Freddy fans know too well). I had not seen it since first released in 1985: I wasn’t old enough to watch it on the big screen and I vividly remember watching a pirated VHS copy at a friend’s house, though as far as the content of the film I could not remember a single frame.So when the New Line Cinema logo appeared at the front the film, I was ready for that to be the best thing in it. And let’s be honest, this is indeed a bad bad bad film, but not as terrible as its fame wants it to be: there are in fact some interesting visuals here and there and some good gory effects (kudos to the effects team), also it’s so camp that it’s actually quite fun to watch (the “girly screams” from the main actors alone are probably enough to lift it up from the “1 star” pit).

The main problem of this sequel is the legacy it stands on, which is set a pretty high mark in terms of ideas, scares, visuals and mood. Part 2 is definitely NOT SCARY at all (I mean how could exploding canaries be scary?!), is badly acted (the woman who plays the girlfriend who shall remain nameless, is atrocious!),makes very little sense, it builds up to a their act which is absolutely ludicrous (not to mention the very last “gotcha” moment, which is so badly handled that I’m willing to bet nobody ever got scared watching it), and crucially, it seems to betray all the rules and parameters and clever ideas set by the original: Freddy has to operate inside the kids’ nightmares, that’s how he kills them. The moment it comes into the real world, it really becomes just like another villain, whether Michael Myers, Jason, or whatever other killer from a thousand movies. There’s a certain clumsiness here in the way the bring him into reality and even more incompetence in what they have him doing in the real world (at some point, while terrorising some teenagers, he smashes a vase with flowers and throws a couple of deck chairs… ohhh, scary!).

Over the years “Freddy’s Revenge” has gained a lot of attention (and attraction) for its supposedly homoerotic subtext. Well I have to be honest, I don’t think anyone involved with this would have been smart enough to add of any subtext to the film. I believe the sad reality was that main actor was gay and he just wasn’t good enough to pretend he wasn’t for the part, whilst the director, most likely gay too, couldn’t quite control himself and peppered the film with unintentional clues throughout (he must have enjoyed directing naked people in the shower rooms).

Nightmare on Elm Street

Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Wes Craven Cast:John SaxonRonee BlakleyHeather Langenkamp , Amanda Wyss, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund

In 1984, before he became the horror icon we all know today, or the sadistic clown with silly one-liners (with the sequels) and even a TV presenter in the anthology twilight zone/Creepshow-like tv series Freddy’s Nightmares, Freddy Krueger was possibly one of the scariest characters in movies history. There’s Dracula, Frankenstein, Norman Bates, Leatherface… and then there’s Freddy Krueger (and possibly not even in this order)The first time I saw “nightmare on elm Street” I was certainly way too young for it, but I remember loving every second of it! There was not a lot like it at the time: an horror movie with ideas, a proper story, style and actually quite scary too.

Watching it tonight almost 40 years later it’s surprising how well most of it still holds, especially considering the low budget.The idea of a man who can stalk you in your dreams is clearly the winning card here. “Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep” is such a simple but effective tagline. On top of that you have those evocative scary locations (the dark dungeon-like boiler rooms, the empty corridors in the school, the dark alleys), the gory moments so sudden and unexpected that you can hardly close your eyes (those slashes opening up by themselves on poor Tina’s body, for example, or Freddy’s tongue coming out of a phone), the haunting iconic music by Charles Bernstein ( a mix between a nursery song and electronic sounds) and then of course Wes Craven’s mastery in creating tension (the idea that Freddy could jump out any moment from behind any corner) and orchestrating memorable and scary sequences: Nancy taking a bath with Freddy’s hand appearing between her legs, Tina’s body being dragged about across the room as she’s been killed, or her showing up again in plastic bag, the steps on the staircase turning into “jelly” and I could go on and on.

There will be some clever visuals in the third film, but never again they’ll be able to reach this sense of dread and the eerie uneasiness. The mystery behind Freddy works beautifully, and however cheesy some of the lines of dialogue might be this is clearly this is the best of the lot (9 of them if you count the remake too and the “Freddy vs Jason” idiocy). A film so full of ideas that not even the slightly dodgy Heather Langenkamp in the lead role may can ruin it.

And let’s not forget Johnny Depp here in his first role ever, who apparently has to thank the producer’s daughter who saw a picture of him and said “he’s cute, choose him!”

But possibly the main reason why we are still talking about this classic today, must be Robert Englund who’s just as responsible as Wes Craven for making the character of Freddy so memorable and scary almost 40 years later.

Hook

Hook (1991) ⭐️⭐️⭐️ if you’re a kid ⭐️⭐️

Director: Steven Spielberg Cast: Dustin HoffmanRobin WilliamsJulia Roberts, Bob Hoskins, Maggie Smith, Caroline Goodall, Charlie Korsmo

You know what I am like. Even under torture I will not say anything bad about Spielberg, but we’ve got to be honest about it: “Hook” is not very good and it is certainly one of the misfires in his filmography. I even had the guts to joke with him about it when I met him back in 2015 and I told him that I was bias I was about his films and that “I even liked Hook” , which made the whole auditorium witnessing our conversation )and Tom Hanks) break into a big laugh… Clearly I wasn’t alone in thinking that this was pretty weak film.

It is one of those examples where everything is so over-produced and turned up to 11 that it just overwhelmed everything else. And so, despite the huge sets, the stellar cast, the massive budget somehow Spielberg forgot how to make it feel magical. Even the flying sequence to Neverland and the transformation into Peter Pan felt flat to me, and that’s despite John Williams’ rousing score (though even the good old Williams has one of his worst cues in this film: that terrible 80s/early 90s track over the scenes with Robin WIlliams as a businessman in the beginning).

Hook is chaotic, loud, not funny enough or slapstick enough to be a good comedy, not adventurous enough to be a good action flick. It’s a puerile film where adults roll their eyes… Spielberg himself always lamented that it should have made it into a musical, he didn’t have confidence in the script and the more insecure he felt about it, the bigger and more colourful the sets became, which probably explains why the film feels so bloated in every way (even in its running time: an interminable 144 minutes).

One of the many problems of the film is (bizarrely) its cast: Dustin Hoffman looks like he’s in a school pantomime, overacting his socks off but never really bringing any sense of menace to the part. Also for a film called “Hook” he’s actually very little on screen too (that is clearly a problem with the script).Julia Roberts seems to belong to another film altogether and clearly acting alone in front of blue screens made her feel even more of an outcast. But the biggest mistake of all for me was to cast Robin Williams and not let him go wild as Robin Williams used to do and not use any of his comedic skills and timings. In fact here Spielberg actually uses him just as he would use any other actor: a complete waste of his talent.

Luckily there are some Spielbergian touches here and there which eventually make it all just about worthwhile: the mystery of the kidnapping of the kids at the start is well played, all kids are all particularly good (confirming Spielberg as one of the best at casting and directing children), some of the camera movements and the blocking of the actors are obviously beautifully choreographed as you would expect.

All the money spent is certainly on the screen and the sets and special effects are quite something…. so much so that it all went out control. Having said all that, I don’t think I know a single child under 12 who doesn’t love this movie.

My 8 years old son seemed to enjoy it, if his loud comments and shouts at the screen are anything to go by.

Hard to believe that only 2 years after this both Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List would come and the director’s reputation as one of the best at his game would be restored and this would be slowly brushed under the carpet.

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