Category Archives: Reviews

manborg

Manborg

2012/ d. Steven Kostanski
         
It’s a very rare occasion that I give a perfect score to a film.  Very few movies are perfect and being the cynical, picky bastard that I am, I can usually find something to complain about.  And to give such a high rating to a Canadian film made for less than $2000 and shot in a garage on borrowed high school equipment, well…  I suppose you deserve an explanation.

Manborg opens with an epic battle scene where we learn that humanity is rapidly losing the war against the nazi-like denizens of Hell, led by the supremely evil Count Draculon (Adam Brooks, Father’s Day).  One human soldier, in a futile act of bravery, faces the Count in an attempt to save his brother.  He is shot full of lasers for his trouble and is dragged away, presumably to his death.  An opening credits montage complete with a pulsing 80′s electronic score brings us into the future using a Robocop-meets-Universal Soldier-esque transformation scene.  Humanity has lost to Count Draculon and the remaining citizens are rounded up for experimentation, torture and gladiator style death matches.  Our titular hero (Matthew Kennedy, Father’s Day) bursts out of a crate, confused and seeking answers.  He quickly runs afoul of the Hellspawn and is captured (after a chase with laser hover boards!) along with #1 Man (Ludwig Lee), a mix of Liu Kang and Chong-Li, complete with a badly dubbed voice (Kyle Hebert).  The two are thrown in a prison with laser bars where they meet 80′s Australian stereotype Justice (Conor Sweeney, Father’s Day (noticing a trend yet?)) and his inexplicably accent-free, anime-style ass kicking sister Mina (Meredith Sweeney, yup, she’s in Father’s Day too).  The group is sent to the arena and handily dispatches a group of demons in hover cars with help from Manborg’s arsenal of hidden weaponry.  The plot is fairly easy to predict from this point with escape and eventual revolt against the oppressing forces but depth isn’t really the point.

Originally conceived as a sort of demo reel for aspiring filmmaker (and Astron-6 alum) Steven Kostanski, the sheer scope of Manborg is something to behold.  Shot almost entirely on green screen with miniature sets and some brilliant stop-motion animation to help flesh things out, this movie looks, sounds and feels far bigger than its nearly non-existent budget.  Full Moon Video, even in their heyday, would have been hard pressed to create a world so convincing with so little.  One of Manborg’s greatest strengths is its absolute refusal to let anything get too serious.  Where camp was simply a by product of low-budget filmmaking for Full Moon and other 80′s straight to video producers, Kostanski (much like Lloyd Kaufman) revels in it.  Gore is plentiful and the fight choreography (by Ludwig Lee) is excellent.  The gags are nearly constant, from the aforementioned badly dubbed #1 Man to the evil Baron and his awkward crush on Mina.  The nods to 80′s movies are just as frequent with references spanning sci-fi, horror and action genres but Manborg never feels like pastiche.  The references are presented with a wink and a nod, acknowledging influence and taking the viewer back to a time when manual tracking controls and worn out tapes were a greater concern than plot or cinematography.  If none of this appeals to you than perhaps my rating might seem extreme.  But if, like me, you’re thoroughly enjoying the recent “rewindhouse” revival of 80′s movies that never were, you won’t find a more satisfying film than Manborg.  Given Kostanski’s recent makeup effects work on Resident Evil: Retribution, Silent Hill: Revelation and Guillermo Del Toro’s upcoming Pacific Rim, we may not see another movie like this from him for a while.  I sincerely hope that isn’t the case.

 

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Martyrs

2008 / d. Pascal Laugier
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Not since my first viewing of Fred Vogel’s AUGUST UNDERGROUND had I seen a movie that so strongly elicited the response: this is fucked up. After a slow and deceptively tame exposition, a brutally sadistic development plays out, featuring such explicit and unrelenting violence it leaves the viewer feeling completely overwhelmed. In fact, if the movie has a fault it would be in its pacing: by the time we reach the shocking climax we’ve already become desensitized from the sheer violence-overkill, which softens the impact of the conclusory scenes. Regardless, it’s a dark and effective film — aggressive in its execution and memorable in its fearless showcase of tortuous special effects. But beneath the gory visceral surface lies a deep commentary, raising fundamental (and profoundly horrifying) questions pertaining to religion, spirituality, and the existence of life after death. Be forewarned: it is impossible to walk away from MARTYS untouched; its stark, nihilistic imagery will forever be burned into your mind.

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Midnight Meat Train

2008 / d. Ryuhei Kitamura
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A slick, stylized adaption of the short story by horror-prophet Clive Barker, MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN is certainly one of the best Barker movie adaptations to date. Brutally violent, well acted, and tense from start to finish. The plot-twist ending will leave you with your jaw securely resting on the floor in astonishment.

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Mortuary

Directed By: Tobe Hooper
Written By: Jace Anderson & Adam Gierasch
Starring:
Dan Byrd
Denise Crosby
Rocky Marquette

Tobe Hooper is a genuinely cool cat. With a filmography that boasts classics like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 1 and 2Poltergeist, Salem’s Lot, andThe Mangler (to name only a few), you’d expect the man to be uptight, unapproachable, and unwilling to give fans the time of day. And although he’d have every right to be, he’s the opposite of that — laidback, easygoing, and modest. It was only a little over a year ago when I first saw Mr. Hooper in person: he was in attendance at the Bloor Street Cinema for a screening of Texas Chain Saw with a Q&A session to follow. I knew I had to be in attendence, since the chance to sit in the same theatre with the brilliant mind that made the world afraid of chainsaws — and incidentely any distant buzzing sounds — could perhaps be a once in a lifetime event. It was that evening that I learned something about our esteemed director:

Tobe Hooper is a genuinely cool cat. Eager to answer questions, forthcoming with behind-the-scenes information, and filled to the brim with interesting tales of the horror industry. Like George A. Romero, Hooper is the kind of guy you want to sit down and have a beer with, and just listen to his stories — and let me tell you, he has stories to tell.

Mortuary is one of those stories — a story that originated from Hooper’s mind and made its way to film by 2005. It tells the tale of a mother/undertaker (Denise Crosby), who settles in a new town with her two children in hopes of breathing new life into a now-decripit funeral home. Unbeknownst to them, town legend has it that their house is already occupied — by a disfigured boogeyman named Bobby Fowler. If it wasn’t enough to share a bathroom with a deformed mutant, a barrage of other challenges await the family: monsters, filth, awkward townsfolk, obnoxious teenagers, and mutant fungus (to name only a few).

As mentioned, the film came out in 2005, but you’d never know it. It’s an excellent throwback film with the visual look and feel of a late 70s early 80s horror film. The atmosphere is always well crafted, and overall the film is enjoyable to watch. It employs random bits of CGI, which aren’t seamlessly integrated into the scenes and unfortunately never wind up looking like they belong. That said, the make-up and visual effects are old school and extremely well done.

The movie takes a while to get going, but once it does, it’s actually quite decent. The problem with Hooper is that like Carpenter, Craven, and the other horror masters, they really go out on a limb more than any other directors when they make a film because the expectation for them to make another classic is so high. Mortuary, for the most part, was a good horror film (though arguably a bit unfocused and with perhaps a weak ending) but it would be crazy to say that it was in the same league as Poltergeist orThe Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

All things aside, Mortuary is very much a Tobe Hooper film, filled with scenes and characters that are 100% Hooper. While it probably won’t become a classic anytime soon, it’s a great reminder of what horror films were like twenty years ago. So if you find yourself in the mood for a trip down memory lane, toss in Mortuary and let yourself be entertained.

In the meanwhile, I anxiously await to hear the next story that Tobe Hooper has to tell.

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Mother of Tears

2007 / d. Dario Argento
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The final chapter in the Three Mothers trilogy, the film has Argento’s usual penchant for boobs and blood, but is stylistically worlds apart from the first two films (SUSPIRIA and INFERNO). Argento fans may dislike the polished look, but it boasts enough bodily trauma and lewd lesbian action to keep anyone entertained.

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Mountaintop Motel Massacre

1986 / d. Jim McCullough Sr.
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The tagline reads: “Please do not disturb Evelyn. She already is.” Ah ha ha, brilliant! Unfortunately, it’s the only brilliant thing about this film. While not as bad as many of the numerous slasher films to surface from the 80s, it’s just a pretty uninspired effort all-around. However, the decent atmosphere and oddball characters make this, at the very least, entertaining.

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My Bloody Valentine 3D

2009 / d. Patrick Lussier
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Pure three-dimensional horror fun! Director Lussier sets out to remake the well-known Canadian slasher and delivers (in typical 80′s fashion) a film chocked-full of suprisingly nasty pick-axe brutality, including a scene in which a jaw is torn clean off! Good luck eating corn on the cob this summer, boy-o! Campy and violent, it also features some lengthy bits of female full-frontal, all in glorious 3D no less.

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Necronomicon

1993 / d. Christophe Grans, Shusuke Keneko, Brian Yuzna
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A Lovecraft film starring Jeffrey Combs NOT directed by Stuart Gordon? It might explain why the film is barely Lovecraftian but who the hell cares, you’re here for the gore, not for the staying-true-to-the-source-material! An anthology film with a clever wraparound story, this film uses Lovecraft as a jumping off point for some entertaining short stories with increasingly amped up gore. And tentacles. Oh boy are there tentacles. Throw in some face peeling, some limb amputation and some Mi-Go marrow munching and this is Lovecraft for gore-hounds. Criminally unavailable on (legit) DVD, dig out the old VCR, scour the pawn shops and go mad…ish.

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Night of the Demons (2010)

2010 / d. Adam Gierasch
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Some films are so bad they’re good. Others are just so bad they’re really effing awful. Such is the case with this remake of the widely enjoyed 1988 campy classic. The bottom line is this: if a film clearly possessed potential but failed to deliver because of low-budget, bad acting, poor effects, etc., then a remake should be considered. However, if a film accomplished everything it set out to do and is still enjoyed to this day, then seriously, sink money into a different project and don’t waste time making an inferior product. Redundant gore, barely passable effects, and dialogue which makes you want to brain yourself with the DVD case contribute to why you should skip this one altogether.

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Night of the Demons 2

1994 / d. Brian Trenchard-Smith
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Angela, the Halloween hostess from hell, returns to throw another killer party! When teenagers begin transforming into horrible mouth-foaming demons, it becomes up to a ruler-weilding Catholic school nun to save the day. Slapstick horror goodness from start to finish puts this one with the ranks of EVIL DEAD 2 and RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. Plenty of boobs, plenty of gore, and plenty of good old fashioned horror hilariaty.

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Night of the Living Dead

1968 / d. George A. Romero
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Ok, so it’s obvious that NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD isn’t about the graphic human meat-chomping that characterized the later Romero pictures, but without this influential little gem, the zombie genre as we know it would not exist. An incredibly bleak and tragic tale, this low-budget black and white horror classic marked the directorial debut of Mr. Romero and set up him up for a long career in the horror industry. Followed by DAY OF THE DEAD, DAWN OF THE DEAD, LAND OF THE DEAD, DIARY OF THE DEAD, and SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD.

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Night of the Living Dead (1990)

1990 / d. Tom Savini
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Incredibly successful and atmospheric remake of George A. Romero’s original masterpiece. Not as heavy on the gore as you might expect, but spectacular make-up effects and convincing performances by Tony Todd and Patricia Tallman make this a personal favourite, and confirm the fact that special effects artists make excellent directors!

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Night of the Living Dead Live

“They’re coming to get you, Barbra!”

In 1968 a young filmmaker named George Romero made a low-budget picture that explored a single premise: what would happen if the dead returned to life? His film painted a bleak, realistic, and unflattering portrait of humanity, and was responsible for not only launching his career, but also elevating him to the legendary status he possesses today: the grandfather of the zombie genre.

The influence of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is undeniable; it shaped our modern understanding of the undead, and can be seen throughout the last forty-five years of cinema. And while filmmakers and artists have subtly paid homage to the master of horror in their own small ways, truly there can be no better compliment than to transform and adapt a beloved story into a new and exciting medium: in the case of NotLD, to lift it from celluloid and to place it on stage.

On a beautiful May evening, myself and co-editor Ali had the opportunity to visit the Theatre Passe Muraille in downtown Toronto to see a production of Night of the Living Dead Live. It’s difficult to walk into a re-enactment of a classic and beloved film without wondering “will they really be able to pull this off?” but my mind was set at ease when I opened the programme and saw that it had been written and directed by Christopher Bond, the brilliant mind who brought us Evil Dead: The Musical. Mr. Bond has proven in his previous endeavours that he is a horror fan through and through, and one that can also remain respectful and true to the original source material.

Upon entering the modest-sized theatre the viewer is immediately thrown back in time; retro, black-and-white parody ads are projected onto the stage while mock-vintage radio broadcasts play overtop, setting the tone and preparing you to enter Pittsburgh, 1968. The dim, open stage displays the living room of the infamous farmhouse — the set beautifully constructed and painted in subtle shades of black and white. Before we knew it, the room darkened, and the show began…

…and what a show it was! Divided into two acts, the first presents a faithful and well-adapted version of the original film. The performances were wonderful, and truly the work of talented and charismatic actors. Sound and lighting cues were particularly effective in recreating key moments from the film; the production overall was incredibly cinematic, no doubt influenced by the fact that Christopher Bond is also an accomplished screenwriter (A Little Bit Zombie). The second act deviated, and presented a barrage of hypothetical scenarios in an effort to discover what the group should have done in order to successfully survive the night; its tongue-in-cheek approach, coupled with fantastic comedic timing and smart writing led to a wonderful (and extremely memorable) production. The finale itself is worth going for!

When Mr. Romero himself calls it “terrific!”, who are we to argue? Don’t miss your chance to catch Night of the Living Dead Live during its Toronto run. You’ll never forgive yourself for missing a show this good.

Night of the Living Dead is directed and co-written by Christopher Bond, and features the talent of: Darryl Hinds, Mike “Nug” Nahrgang, Dale Boyer, Trevor Martin, Gwynne Phillips, and Andrew Fleming. It runs April 26th to May 19th.

Find tickets and showtimes here: http://nightofthelivingdeadlive.com/tickets/

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Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge

Directed By: Jack Sholder
Written By: David Chaskin
Starring:
Robert Englund
Mark Patton
Kim Myers

Some films are doomed. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revengeis such a film — doomed to forever lie unappreciated in the shadow of its predecessor. And why not? After all, Wes Craven’s first Nightmare was unlike anything filmgoers had seen before; inventive, brutal, and memorable. Just like The Exorcist 2: The Heretic, despite whatever redeeming qualities the film may possess, it is cast off into the darkness of obscurity.

Okay, maybe that’s going too far. Freddy’s Revenge is far from obscure, but it’s certainly underrated. For as much as people complain about it, the movie is still leagues better than a lot of horror films being currently released, and in my opinion, was actually a worthy sequel to the first film (though part 3, which would re-unite Craven, Langenkamp, and Englund, is arguably the second best installment in the series).

Freddy’s Revenge works for me because it took a new direction to the Nightmare story — albeit an illogical one. While it was established in the first movie that Freddy Krueger, our favourite razor-weilding death-fiend, exists inside the dreamworld and through it can directly affect the physical world (i.e., if he kills you in the dream he kills you in reality), the second movie finds Krueger with the urge to relocate. Tired of being confined to the realm of dreams, he seeks to break through and once more exist in our reality (why a man who was brutally burned to death would want to experience physical pain again is beyond me…) How does he accomplish this? By using the newest resident of 1428 Elm Street as his vessel: high schooler Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton).

So what do you get when you take a dream-stalking boogeyman out of the dreamworld? Well, you get a movie that’s royally shunned. And maybe it’s just because of the plot that the film takes so much bad heat, because in all seriousness it has more than its share of redeeming qualities. For one, theatmosphere is bang on. I mean, this film is more 80s than the actual 80s! Additionally, the special effects – ranging from shocking to absurd — were creative and at times genuinely gruesome (the transformation scene was perhaps the highlight of the film). Lastly, this early installment of the series marks a point during which Freddy was still a dark, twisted bastard. He wasn’t the polished, almost comedic character that he slowly evolved into — here he was a guy who revelled in the fear of his victims, tearing the flesh off his skull just to get a scream. Critics of the one-liner spouting Freddy should at least appreciate the film on these grounds.

But I suppose the reality of it is that atmosphere and special effects can only do so much for a film, and if the story isn’t solid the movie will inevitably fail. While the film explores an interesting new angle (playing off the idea that perhaps Jesse is experiencing moments of violent psychoses and is not actually possessed by a long-dead child murderer) it wasn’t developed well, and winds up being unfocused at best. Ultimately, the film seems to be more about the hack-and-slash effects, which is unfortunate because a better developed story would have certainly helped elevate the status of the movie.

Freddy’s Revenge might be the black sheep of the series, but it is still deserving of a watch in this reviewer’s opinion. And if I haven’t been able to sell you on it yet, go watch it for no other reason than because it has baby-faced dogs in it. That’s right… dogs with human baby faces.

Sweet dreams.

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Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge

1985 / d. Jack Sholder
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Gimpy sequel which pales in comparison to the brilliance of the first film. FREDDY’S REVENGE brings us back to 1428 Elm Street, where the infamous Mr. Krueger is once again scheming a way to increase his bodycount. This time: by crossing over into the real world by using a (questionably gay) teenager as his vessel. Hokey-ness abounds, but some memorable scenes — including dogs with babyfaces — make this one a guilty pleasure. Watch at your own risk.

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Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Directed By: Chuck Russell
Written By: Wes Craven
Starring:
Patricia Arquette
Robert Englund
Heather Langenkamp
Larry Fishbourne

I read the script for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors before I rented the film — I went into the movie knowing every bit of dialogue, every death sequence, and every plot turn. And yet, even in a film that no longer held any surprises it still managed to freak the hell out of me.

Let’s backtrack here:

I started watching horror films in the days of BetaMax and VHS, where the horror section of movie stores were decorated with oldschool cover art. Where movie boxes looked exciting, let alone the films themselves. Where I lived, the local video store was a hopping place, and horror films were often difficult to get ahold of since they were constantly being circulated. And when I was first discovering the classics of horror, I was eager andimpatient to get ahold of every horror film I possibly could. When I was forced to wait for films to be returned to the rental place, it ultimately led me to discover one of the greatest resources out there: screenplay archives. Yes, when I wasn’t watching horror films, I could be found in front of the computer for long hours combing through the scripts for films that weren’t readily available. A horror geek in every sense of the word, but proud to be one.

So when people wax nostalgic when reminiscing about their first time seeing Dream Warriors, I too think back to how I first experienced the movie: as black text on a white background. But even the script sent chills up my spine upon first read. Predominantly set in a psychiatric ward, a group of troubled teenagers all happen to share the symptom: Freddy Krueger. Unlike the children of the previous Elm Street films, these kids aren’t entirely powerless against the dreamwalker. Each one has a unique ability in the dreamworld which they can use to fight their crispy-skinned boogeyman. The Dream Warriors, led by veteran Krueger survivor Nancy Thompson, must band together and take on their worst nightmare. But Freddy has been growing stronger, fed by the many souls of his past victims. The question remains: will the Elm Street teens have what it takes to take down evil incarnate?

Well let’s face it, these films are about one thing and one thing only: Freddy Krueger. So how does he stack up in this film? As any fan of this series will tell you, Freddy is truly in his element here. Dream Warriors basically marks the point at which Freddy was the perfect blend between sadistic comedian and all-out fright icon. This is the film that many consider to be the true sequel to Wes Craven’s original, and maybe rightly so since they nailed the character of Freddy so perfectly. But Dream Warriors is about more than just creative killings and special effects (though the film boasts a variety of sick slayings and an ample share of memorable effects), the film is great because the story is so solid. It does for Freddy what Halloween 2did for Michael Myers, expanding the mythology and introducing the character of Krueger’s mother, as well as shining a dim ray of light on the formerly unknown origin of Freddy.

Lastly, the cast cannot be ignored. Dream Warriors is significant in that it marks the first feature film appearance by Patricia Arquette who takes the lead role as heroine Kristen Parker, as well as features a very early appearance by Morpheus himself, Laurence Fishburne (though credited as “Larry Fishburne”). It was also a very welcome sight to see the original cast reprising their roles, including Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson, and John Saxon as her law-enforcing father.

I love this film, but it’s definitely one of (if not the most) intense installments of the series. It’s not something I can just toss on in the background because I wind up getting drawn into the story and the beautifully shot scenes. Unfortunately, fans of the series would be taken on a rollercoaster ride over the course of the next three installments and would have to wait almost a decade before the release of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare to see Krueger restored to his dark, sinister roots.

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Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

1987 / d. Chuck Russel
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DREAM WARRIORS is, without a doubt, a high-point in the franchise. Set in the psychiatric ward of a hospital, another group of troubled teens must band together to fight off old Fred, whose hunger for souls has become insatiable. Classic kills, good performances by the cast, and a bit more backstory on Krueger make this essential viewing for horror fans. Also, watch out for the appearance by the very young Lawrence Fishburne.

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Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

Directed By: Renny Harlin
Written By: Willian Kotzwinkle
Starring:
Robert Englund
Rodney Eastman
Lisa Wilcox

It’s rounding 10:30 at night — a thick fog has rolled in, surrounding my apartment. Normally when I look off my balcony I see a city ninety-feet below me, expanding infinitely in all directions. Tonight it’s different… like being caught up on an enourmous weird cloud and drifting off into some unknown world. It’s eerie: the sky is pink from city lights, and there’s an unusual quiet that seems so foreign to life in a heavily populated area. Looking outside, it feels like I’m being carried away into an ominous and uncharted world. A dreamworld.

So I close the door to my balcony, pour a new drink, and sit down to write about horror films — specifically, the fourth installment of the Nightmare on Elm Street saga: The Dream Master. And to be perfectly honest, I don’t even know where to begin with this one.

The horror community seems to be split: while most can at least agree thatFreddy’s Revenge was an embarassment to the series, the concensus is less-than-unanimous on Dream Master. Why is this? Well let’s examine a few of the gruesome details, starting first with the man himself: Freddy Krueger. If you compared the Krueger of the first film to the Krueger of part 4, you’d pretty much be looking at two very different Freddies, physically and personality-wise. In the first film, his crisped flesh was almost dripping off his skull, and so much attention went into creating a grotesque but realistic impression of a burn victim. By part 4, Freddy is looking stylized, appearing in well-lit scenes and displaying the roughly sculpted skin and exposed muscle tissue that we have since come to recognize as his trademark look. Furthermore, in the first film he barely spoke, grunting a few guttural phrases like “this… is God” or “I’ll kill you slow.” Over the course of the sequels, Freddy got increasingly vocal — and also honed his skills as a savagely dark comedian. In Dream Master, the amount of one-liners is almost ridiculous.

It should be clear that the tone of Dream Master is obviously much different than the other films, verging on the comical (though not pushing it quite to the extremes that Freddy’s Dead went to). This is the main cause for the split decision: Freddy purists seem to prefer him when he’s at his darkest and most sadistic; others however don’t mind the tongue-in-cheek humour and the lighter side to this slasher franchise.

I’ll tell you what I do like about this one: Alice Johnson. Starring as the Dream Master herself, actress Lisa Wilcox really stepped up to the plate and brought a strong new heroine into the Elm Street saga. Not since Heather Langenkamp did we have a likeable, powerful female lead who really commands attention and had us rooting for her all-the-way. Her scenes, when playing off against Robert Englund, were really the best part of the film to me.

At this point, one can’t possibly have high expectations for the fourth film in a series — particularly an 80s slasher series. I love the Nightmare movies as much as the next person (and personally this is my favourite slasher franchise), but part 4 is really a typical slasher, through and through. While not unenjoyable to watch, it has the least amount of substance and, as I said, is saved mainly by the acting of Ms. Wilcox.

Surprisingly, this is more than I originally thought I had to say about the film. Peering outside, the fog is still heavy, and the city is still quiet. The kind of night that demands one drink whiskey and watch a classic horror film. Which is exactly what I’m going to do now.

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Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child

Directed By: Stephen Hopkins
Written By: John Skipp
Starring:
Robert Englund
Lisa Wilcox
Kelly Jo Minter

One year after the release of The Dream Master, director Stephen Hopkins took hold of the reigns and steered the Elm Street franchise into an entirely new direction. The film is so different stylistically, that it often seems to suffer the same fate as Freddy’s Revenge: neglect. But why? What makes this film so different than its predecessors? The best way to describe it may be as follows: imagine what it would look like if Tim Burtondirected a Freddy film.

The Dream Child, a heavily gothic-inspired and incredibly dark chapter to the series is even more underrated than part two. I don’t know why this film has a tendency to get glossed over, because as far as slasher films go, it’s damn well-made. I constantly hear people saying something to this effect: great effects but bad plot. This makes no sense to me, since the plot of this film is what makes it superior to many of the other installments in the series. The movie follows the previous lead heroine, Alice Johnson (Lisa Wilcox), now pregnant and once again the target of the maniacal Freddy Krueger. The catch? This time around, Krueger is able to get to Alice through the constant dreams of her unborn baby. Now tell me, how is that not a brilliant plot?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand there are still more than a handful of plotholes and things to pick apart storywise, but I think the overall concept is solid. It’s also the first time anyone attempted to do something different with the formula since the second film, and for that I commend the writers. We also get something that was only hinted at in the third film: the savage backstory of Freddy’s mother, and the origin of Krueger’s conception. For this reason, The Dream Child is undisputedly an essential film in the series.

But as a horror film reviewer, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t discuss the makeup and special effects. Stylistically, this is where The Dream Childcompletely breaks free of the previous films and forges its own path. The Freddy Krueger depicted here is a Freddy that fits perfectly into the gothic atmosphere and scenery of the film. Physically he appears considerably older, sporting a sinister hooked nose, and is made to look more like a demented grandfather figure than the middle-aged man we’re accustomed to. The gothic sets — ranging from a dark and dirty asylum to a brilliantly horrifying reproduction of M. C. Escher’s Relativity – coupled with brilliantly executed special effects, are hard to ignore. They create a dreamworld which is no longer confined to just the boiler room setting that we’re used to seeing, but instead form a terrifying and inescapable bleak labyrinth. Lastly, the death scenes themselves are considerably darker, more drawn out, and far more sadistic than any of the earlier films — when was the last time you saw Freddy force-feed someone their own intestinal matter while a group of onlookers watched, laughing?

There’s no question that The Dream Child was trying to do something original and entirely new with the series, and I’m glad that Stephen Hopkins was ultimately chosen to direct the film (though it is interesting to note that both Stephen King and Frank Miller were both offered the role of writer/director). Without a doubt, it is unusual for the fifth film in any horror series to be as good as this one, so I encourage you to not wait any longer before checking it out. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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Nightmare On Elm Street, A

Written & Directed By: Wes Craven
Starring:
Heather Langenkamp
Robert Englund
Johnny Depp

Outside the wind is howling and the moon is shining bright in the midnight sky. It stirs up nostalgic memories of my early youth, when I would go to video stores on nights like this and spend a couple hours looking through the horror section, being absolutely thrilled by the grotesque monsters depicted on the VHS boxes. Even though I was too young to actually watch the films, the great movie maniacs still haunted my nightmares: though there was one in particular who stalked my dreams almost relentlessly. A gangly man who wore a dirty red and green striped sweater, had a terribly disfigured face, and razor-tipped fingers that surely meant a grim death if you crossed his path. Yes, even my early adolescent dreams were visited regularly by the infamous Freddy Krueger.

My dad, an avid 1980′s slasher watcher, was always renting horror films, and was inevitably always being questioned by me: “what happens if Freddy kills you in your sleep?”, “how did he get all burned?”, and of course “how did he get the knives on his hand?” Eventually he must have grown tired of answering my questions, because one Halloween night, we sat down with a pile of the classics of modern horror: Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Upon first viewing, all three became instant favourites, and I immediately understood why they were considered greats of the genre. ‘ Even at a young age I was able to recognize that ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ possessed all the elements that make a solid horror film: likeable characters, good atmosphere, a memorable monster, a well-planned story, and utterly repulsive death scenes. The early pioneers of the ‘slasher’ genre (Craven, Carpenter, Cunningham, Clark, etc) were making movies they wanted to make, and the low-budget wound up being more of a blessing than a curse. It forced them to do more with less, and what eventually wound up emerging were scenes that were financially affordable, but oh-so memorable (who can forget watching Freddy push through the seemingly solid wall above Nancy’s bed; or Tina’s bloodied body being dragged across the ceiling while her boyfriend stood by, unable to do anything but watch.)

The story is infamous and a lengthy description is not needed: the kids in the small American town of Springwood are having terrible nightmares, in which the same hideously deformed boogeyman is threatening their lives. The catch? If you die in your dream, you die in real life. The kids must figure out how to face an enemy that preys on you in your most vulnerable state before it’s too late.

I can’t say enough praises for this, nor should I have to. Accolades have been heaped on this film since its release, and you shouldn’t be spending another moment reading my nostalgic memories of it. You should be out making your own. It’s the perfect ‘feel-good’ horror film (yes, as any horror fan can tell you such a thing does exist), and a film that I find unable to turn away from whenever I see it playing on TV.

So tonight, as the wind continues to howl and the moon casts long sinister shadows across my floor, I feel a sudden desire to put in ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ and fall asleep. Though the immortal words of heroine Nancy Thompson ring loudly in my mind: “…whatever you do: don’t… fall… asleep.”

Good advice.

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Nightmare on Elm Street, A

1984 / d. Wes Craven
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A creative, utterly relentless, and disturbing horror film from the director of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. Tells the story of a child-killer turned dream-stalking boogeyman after he is murdered by a group of vigilante parents. Filled with unbelievably effective low-budget effects and a high-strung soundtrack, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET has a unique way of getting under your skin and making you think twice before shutting those sleepy peepers late at night. Also marks the first feature film appearance by Capt. Jack himself, Johnny Depp.

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Nightmare on Elm Street, A (2010)

2010 / d. Samuel Bayer
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A decent jaunt in the realm of remakery, this one stays reasonably close to the spirit and storyline of the original. Though generally not well received by horror fans (as is usually the case with remakes), in this reviewer’s opinion the film makes for a more-than-decent watch. Plentious gore, creative new twists on classic scenes, solid filmmaking, and an excellent performance by Jackie Earle Haley (of WATCHMEN fame).

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On Location at Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut

On July 19th, I had the extreme pleasure of attending a screening of Clive Barker’s NIGHTBREED: THE CABAL CUT (or perhaps more appropriately titled,The Version You’ve Never Seen). As many fans of the original 1990 film already know, the movie we’ve come to revere as a cult classic is incomplete; reels and reels of additional footage were shot but ultimately not included in the final release. All existing copies of the unseen footage were thought to be lost, however, an extraordinarily rough cut was discovered on an old, PAL encoded VHS tape. Parts of it were missing soundtrack cues, other parts missing audio entirely, and the majority of it looking as if the celluloid was rubbed in dirt… and then backed over repeatedly with an 18-wheeler. We’re talking dirty.

Enter: Russell Cherrington, a filmmaker and a friend of Clive Barker’s. Unbeknownst to anyone else, he took it upon himself to re-edit the found footage and intersplice it with the already existing cut of NIGHTBREED. What emerged was an extended cut that included an additional 45 minutes of length. And although the quality varied as it jumped back and forth between industry-processed film and the hidden gems buried within a dilapidated VHS, the movie suddenly took form in a way it never had. To quote Russell himself:

“NIGHTBREED had evolved into CABAL.”

After seeing the newly edited film, Clive Barker was ecstatic. Though it had taken twenty years, his film was finally his again. Since the first time Russell Cherrington presented his version of NIGHTBREED to Clive, the film has been re-edited five times, taking every effort to remain as true to the original vision and spirit as possible. It is an obvious labour of love, driven by the independent efforts of people passionate about filmmaking and restoring integrity back into a movie that was so savagely ripped apart by the studio.

Unfortunately, THE CABAL CUT is hardly a finished product. It has not been digitally restored, only converted from the VHS copy and digitized into a format which allows it to be presented theatrically. It is plagued by dips in quality which range from barely noticeable all the way to a prominent “COPYRIGHT/89” written in big bold letters across the upper right hand of the screen. A true restoration could fix these issues, but like everything, it costs an incredible amount of money.

Russell Cherrington and those who care about the preservation of NIGHTBREED have created an initiative aptly titled Occupy Midian. It consists of a petition and a place to donate any small funds you may wish to give toward a good cause. If nothing else, please take the time to toss your name down and help a group of talented filmmakers. They need 10,000 signatures, and they’ve already received 6640 as of this moment. Don’t let them fall short of their goal.

For more information, check out their website at: http://www.occupymidian.com

It is a wonderfully inspiring reminder that there are still people out there who care about the preservation of our genre, and are willing to sacrifice their own time and money. Join us and show them you care. Every signature counts.

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Opera

1987 / d. Dario Argento
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Argento at his best: brilliant, edgy, sadistic, and bloody beyond belief. In OPERA he’s fully in his element, returning to the grandeur and dramatic scenary of the operahouse stage, and telling a deeply dark and twisted tale of devotion and passion, but with his usual twist toward the uber-violent. In my mind, his second best film shadowed only by the legendary SUSPIRIA. Watch for one of the greatest death scenes of all time: a beautifully orchestrated point of view shot involving a bullet travelling through a peephole. Artistic, poetic, and brutal as hell. An essential item in the collection of any true horror fan.

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Paranormal Activity

Written & Directed By: Oren Peli
Starring:
Katie Featherstone
Micah Sloat

The “P.O.V.” horror subgenre, first made popular by The Blair Witch Project in 1999, has slowly taken off with titles such as QuarantineREC,Cloverfield, and Paranormal Activity. Although the former deal with zombies and witches, Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity rounds out the pack by dealing with a demonic “invasion” of a young couple’s life. Although suffering from some forced script writing, and an ending that is surpassed by its DVD bonus alternates, Paranormal Activity delivers genuine suspense and ends up a superbly tense and terrifying film.

Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat), our protagonists, first appear as the normal everyday couple, Micah having just purchased the shiny new camera that provides our view. Through conversation between the couple we realize that things are not all they seem in the household, and that strange titular paranormal activity has been taking place justifying the purchase of the aforementioned camera. It’s revealed early on that whatever is causing this activity, it has followed Katie since she was eight years old. Micah has it in his mindset to set the camera up in the bedroom at night in order to catch whatever it is that’s disturbing them. A psychic’s visit reveals that this is no mere ghost that haunts the halls – a demon has targeted Katie for unknown reasons, and no amount of running or hiding will stop it.

Over the next three weeks, we watch as the activity escalates in size, duration, and terror. As is typical for the genre, the scares are short and sweet at the start. Footsteps are heard, accompanied by what can only be described as a low frequency “noise”, which becomes a recurring motif to signify all is not well. As the days progress, these events expand to include doors slamming, phantom banging, footprints, E.V.P.’s, (Electronic Voice Phenomena) and more. Although these are all tense, jump-worthy moments of themselves, one of the film’s highlights is what you don’t see or hear. Moments when Katie mysteriously awakens in the middle of the night, only to stand perfectly still beside the bed for hours (the clock fast-forwards) are just as disturbing, if not more so.

The cinematography is the one of the obvious stand out points, given the P.O.V. perspective. Handheld shakiness, light glare, and film grain (especially while using night vision) help add a sense of reality to the film. On blu-ray, with 1080p and 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound, the high definition only highlights the “home video” aspect more (for better or worse, is up to you). It does portray a sense of “being there” rather well, despite a few moments when holding the camera is a priority for these characters, rather than dropping it and running (like I’m sure most of us would). Where the film stumbles ever so slightly is in the script.

For the most part, the dialogue is improvised, remarkably so. Katie and Micah convey their relationship in a realistic manner, whispering sweet nothings, making jokes, and even Micah asking for a strip-tease on night one (to no avail). But when the time comes to get important plot points around, the improv takes a back seat to scripted line delivery, which stands out rather obviously from the rest of the couple’s banter. It doesn’t ruin the experience; the audience is certainly not watching to listen to the couple speak for an hour and 20 minutes, but it is a noticeable hiccup.

The final flaw I have with this film is the ending. Obviously the scariest and most pertinent point in the film, the theatrical ending is rather abrupt. While still adding shock value, the final frame leans more towards Hollywood horror than the indie terror we’ve experienced until this point. The “alternate endings” that exist for this film actually improve the story, even while *SPOILER* effectively destroying any chance of a sequel.*END SPOILER* Without ruining anything else, I have seen three (two are on the blu-ray and DVD, the third one I saw was from an early screener copy) and oddly enough, the two that AREN’T the theatrical endings are much creepier, and less “Hollywood”. The alternate already on the DVD is my favourite, although if you get a chance to see the third, I recommend them both over the original ending.

All things considered, if you’ve ever watched a reality TV “ghost” show and enjoyed it for even a minute, you owe it to yourself to check out Paranormal Activity. It doesn’t revolutionize the horror genre by any means, but it certainly raises the bar of “P.O.V.” set by the Blair Witch Project. Despite some minor forced script issues, and slightly cop-out ending, the unnerving terror of having something in your home is well worth your time.