The Perfect Host

 

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The Perfect Host

Release Date: January 10, 2010 (Sundance Premiere)

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Thriller

Director: Nick Tom nay

Writers: Nick Tomnay, Krishna Jones

Starring: David Hyde Pierce, Cloyne Crawford, Nathaniel Parker, Megahn Perry

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Do you ever flip around the movie titles on Netflix and find a movie that you’ve never heard of? Does the title and the cover give you a curious interest as to what the movie is about? While Netflix has devoted the majority of its programming to original series, they do turn out a bunch of independent movies that were only screened at film festivals and other small venues. One movie I recently came across looked appealing and therefore I was enticed to watch. The movie was titled, “The Perfect Host”.

Released at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010, the movie is about a man named John Taylor who is on the run after pulling off a bank heist and collecting over $300,000. His car breaks down in a plush Los Angeles neighborhood. After a failed attempt to convince a neighbor to let him use the phone, he is able to use some cunning skills to convince a man named Warwick Wilson to let him in. Warwick is in the middle of cooking dinner as he is throwing a dinner party and has invited several of his friends to join. Warwick offers John some red wine and helps him trying to get into contact with his cousin so they could meet up (which is a ruse). A news bulletin goes off on the radio describing John and the heist. John grabs Warwick’s butcher knife and holds him hostage. His plan is to lay low until the next morning and leave. However, John begins to feel dizzy and collapses on the floor. Unbeknownst to John, Warwick drugged the wine. The tables turn as John is tied up in a chair and is sitting at the head of the dinner table. He is now the guest of honor in what is to be a very bizarre party.

Written and Directed by Nick Tom nay, which is his first feature film according to records, “The Perfect Host” is reminiscent of an Albert Hitchcock film. It’s filled with tension, suspense, surprises and shocks. The reversal of roles between predator and prey slither slow and steady transition. It’s almost like watching a Chess game where each player is strategically plan their moves. Ironically, the two main characters engage in a game of Chess where each has their own stake in the winnings.

The film is shot on digital video. I’m not a huge fan of digital video for numerous reasons, but it works within the context of the film. There’s a lot of bright lighting throughout the film. I also enjoy the constant back and forth first person views of the two main characters as you see what they’re interpreting in their own mind of the scenario that is playing around them.

This is the first starring role for David Hyde Pierce. If you’re not familiar with his work, he is best known as his portrayal of Niles Crane in the sitcom “Frasier”. His portrayal of Warwick is not much different from his portrayal of Niles. He’s articulate, eccentric, excited and knowledgeable. Warwick comes off as a gracious generous host. He plays the victim role early in the film. When he is in control of the situation, his deep desires and fantasies come out while having fun and entertaining his “guest”.  He slowly morphs into a character that is a combination of Norman Bates, Hannibal Lecter and Patrick Bateman. From there comes the final phase of his character where he is grounded and determined (I’ll get to that later in the review). Pierce provides plenty of laughs while at the same time provides creepy and unsettled moments that make you anxious as to what is he planning with John.

Speaking of John Taylor, he is portrayed by Cloyne Crawford. I’m not familiar with any of his other film roles, so this was an introductory role for me. John is determined to get out of Los Angeles with the money he steals. He is cunning and manipulative at first and then becomes aggressive and violent especially when he tells Warwick to “shut up” when a radio bulletin comes on the air regarding his robbery. He holds Warwick hostage in his own home while he lays low. His control over the situation is short lived as he collapses from drinking red wine that was drugged by Warwick. He becomes the hostage and is powerless to regain control. He is at the mercy of Warwick and does his best to resist compliance from Warwick. Throughout the film there are flashbacks involving John and an unidentified woman. These pieces would reveal who the woman is and what is her relation to John.

While the film focuses primarily on John and Warwick, there are a few minor characters. As I’ve stated there is a woman who is involved with John and then there are two police detectives who are looking into the heist and John’s background and there is a concerned neighbor when she sees John floating in a pool and yell.  While these characters add to the layer of the story, they are used minimally. You don’t see the woman or the police detectives until the climax of the film.

The only thing I didn’t like about this film was the climax. It felt rushed and didn’t flow with the rest of the film.  You find out what Warwick does for a living and this triggers another personality trait in him. It’s strange since the film doesn’t give clues about who he really is. It does have a somewhat comical ending to it as it would set up another event that I’m sure we’ll never see unless they decide to make a sequel.

While “The Perfect Host” cant’ be described as a perfect film, but it’s a clever spin on a classic genre of films. As I mentioned early in the review, it’s got the look and feel of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. It’s about as close of a Hitchcockian film you’re going to see in recent years. It makes you appreciate independent films and what they’re trying to make. If I found this film on Netflix, there’s no telling where other sleeper indie hits may be out there. I’ll just have to find them.

 

TRIVIA

  • First starring film role for David Hyde Pierce.
  • Shot in seventeen days with a budget just under $500,000
  • The tattoo on John’s hand contains 3 Hebrew letters, which are the initials for “Uri Riva Yariv” – a kabbalah term that means absolute certainty and is supposed to enhance confidence and belief.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

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Ghosts of Mars

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Ghosts of Mars

Release Date: August 24, 2001

Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror, Action

Director: John Carpenter

Writers: John Carpenter, Larry Sulkis

Starring: Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge, Jason Statham, Pam Grier, Clea DuVall, Liam Waite, Joanna Cassidy

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

John Carpenter is my all time favorite filmmaker. There’s no denying he is an auteur in film. His influence has spread to generation after generation of new filmmakers. Despite the majority of his movies not being big box office successes, they’ve had a robust longevity due to the cultural impact his movies have on today’s world. Unfortunately his career started to slow in the 90s due to the decline of audience’s interest in horror movies. By the end of 2001, Carpenter quit Hollywood and stayed in exile until 2010 when he returned with a small independent horror movie “The Ward”.  Since then Carpenter has been focusing more on his music, which has been a staple of his movies since he writes and perform his own music. He’s toured all over the world. This year he is returning as an Executive Producer in a 40 year anniversary ‘Halloween’ Remake/Sequel.

I could review any of my favorite movies from him, but that would be too easy. I decided to review the movie that made him throw in the towel as a director. I’m talking of course about 2001’s “Ghost of Mars”.

The film takes place on Mars (hence the title) in the year 2176. The planet is close to being a hundred percent teraformed. It focuses on a small group of Martian police. They are assigned to go to a mining village called ‘Shining Canyon’ and pick up a prisoner for transfer. The prisoner they are picking up is notorious criminal James “Desolation” Williams. When the team arrives at ‘Shining Canyon’, it is completely inhabited. The team splits up. One team searches each building and finds bodies hanging upside down in the ceiling, all kinds of wires and mutilated body parts. Another team heads to the holding cells where they find Williams and a few other survivors. One of the survivors, who is a researcher and head of the mining operation reveals that they found an enclosed tomb buried under the Martian surface and let out a spiritual force that possesses any living being in its range. If you kill the host, the spirit is released and will head to the next host. One of the team members searches further into the mining field and sees the miners acting bizarre and violent. He witnesses a leader performing ritual killings. What became a simple prisoner transfer now becomes a fight for survival. They must not only escort the survivors to safety and take them out of the village, but they must find a way to stop these spirits from reaching the next big city on Mars.

I don’t think this movie is as bad as everyone claims it to be. Yes, there are a bunch of issues which I’ll get to in a minute, but I think the biggest issue was the misconception of the film. The movie was marketed as a horror movie. When audiences went to see it, there wasn’t a lot of Horror to be seen. I didn’t like this movie at first because I didn’t think it was a Horror movie. I decided to give it a few more viewings and my perception changed because I realized that this wasn’t a Horror movie at all. For me, “Ghosts of Mars” is more of a Sci-Fi Western. It borrows a ton of elements from many Western films including one of Carpenter’s first film,  the 1976 Urban Western Suspense Thriller “Assault on Precinct 13”. While the setting is on Mars, you can tell from the sets and the red sand, that it has a Western feel to it. You have five members of the police force slowly making their way through the town in a way of cowboys and outlaws do when they arrive into towns on their horses. The ghosts and the monsters in the movie represent the American Indians in Western movies. The ghosts represent the spirits of an ancient Martian tribe who were on the planet long before any human beings and the monsters they inhabit is their physical essence as they are going around killing the townspeople. They see the humans as “savages” and invaders of their territory, which Joanna Cassidy brings up in the film when asked about what their objective is, which preserve is and defend their land. Another element that is commonly found in Western movies that appears in “Ghost of Mars” is the last stand scenes. The remaining survivors are held up in the Shining Canyon police station and barricade it from anyone trying to get in. They set up a plan to defend themselves until the train arrives to pick them up. You have the monsters trying to get in by use of a battering ram. As soon as they break through, the fighting begins. It’ lifted straight from “Assault on Precinct 13” (minus the battering ram portion). There’s nothing wrong with that. I like movies where you have to use your surroundings and use what you have inside to protect yourself from the enemy. You’ll see plenty of action during this scenario with guns, explosives, hand to hand combat, limbs flying all over the screen.

Another positive of the movie is the music. Once again the music is composed by Carpenter himself.  The opening credits contain Carpenter’s simple bass synth sound. However, he did get some assistance this time with the help of Scott Ian from Anthrax and the legendary guitarist Buckethead. The music is heavily layered with guitar riffs, especially during the last stand fight. It’s loud and booming and fits well with the action sequences.

I also enjoyed the special effects, especially the scenes where you see the ghosts from a first person perspective. There are scenes where an infected human gets killed either through self infliction or being shot at. Once the host is dead, the ghost is released and looks for another human host. The camera goes into a first person view with blurry orange/yellow colors representing the ghost.  When they enter a host, they don’t speak. They begin to physically harm the host through self mutilation. I’m not sure if the ghost is trying to feel pain or feel human. It’s not explained in the movie.

The problem that this movie faced was the milquetoast acting and bad editing. I’ve already talked about the concept, so we’ll go to the acting. The film stars Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge, Jason Statham, Pam Grier, Clea DuVall and Liam Waite.  Ice Cube plays Desolation Williams. Ice Cube has the look of a tough hardened criminal and kicks plenty of Martian ass in the movie, but he doesn’t really act like it throughout this film.  He comes off as being mellow, not giving a crap about what’s going on and playing the sorry for yourself role when he talks about there’s nothing for him on this planet. You can’t really sympathize with a character unless you know their background, which the movie fails to do. All they mention about Williams is how he’s beaten the rap several times, but they don’t go into his history nor does he explain why he acts the way he does and why he feels everyone is out to get him.

The police force (Henstridge, Statham, Grier, DuVall and Waite) have no chemistry together. Stahatam is the comic relief in the film and he at least tries to build up a relationship with Henstridge, but not in a professional manner. He comes off as cocky, arrogant and trying to use his silver tongue to seduce Henstridge to “dance” as he would say in the movie. He is definitely the best actor in the movie. Henstridge comes off as bored and exhausted (which I found out in the Trivia she fell ill during this movie since she started immediately after finishing work on another movie) but she makes up for it with her pretty face.

The Bad Actor Award goes to the Martian Leader. His dialogue is literally gibberish. Although I found out in the trivia that the prosthetic was so large for his mouth he could only make vowel sounding words. He used that to developed his language, but still it comes out gibberish. You could take someone off the street, put them in a costume and randomly speak gibberish (which I’m sure is what they did).

What also bothers me about this film are the flashback scenes or the looping scenes as I call them.  When a person starts to explain something, we are taken back to a scene we’ve seen and are shown it again, just to know what the conversation refers to.  It’s almost as if Carpenter was doing this to fill time needed since the film was too short or it was just lazy editing. Speaking of editing, there are a lot of wipe screens in this movie. Whomever the editor was, must’ve watched “The Phantom Menace” too many times and thought the wipe screen was a cool effect and convinced Carpenter that it should be used on his movie.

Lastly without trying to spoil anything was I thought the plan they had to destroy the ghosts was implausible While their plan succeeding in killing the physical host, how do you kill something that is in a spirit form? Someone in the team failed to bring that up. It would set up events in the ending that are all too familiar with some of Carpenter’s notable apocalyptic movies.

John Carpenter admitted in an interview a few years after this movie came out that he was emotionally burned during the making of the movie and that he lost his passion for film making. Unfortunately that spilled over into the movie. “Ghost of Mars” isn’t a bad movie at all. It’s a decent B-Movie, but you can tell that the emotional drainage spilled over into the movie. It really affected the story, the acting, the sets, editing, etc. Luckily there’s enough action, special effects and humor to keep you from falling asleep. It’s a shame that this was the movie that put Carpenter into hibernation not wanting to make movies again. Although he has reemerged, I hope he can provide me and all his loyal fans with one big memorable movie that will cement his already immortal legacy in film.

TRIVIA

  • The original script was intended for the third movie in the Snake Plisskin series, “Escape From Earth” with Kurt Russell reprising his role as Plisskin. Due to the box office failure of “Escape From LA” in 1996, the movie was rejected and Carpenter rewrote the script and changed the title to “Ghosts of Mars”.

 

  • The prosthetics that the main bad guy wears were rather too large for his mouth and resulted in most of the “ghost-speak” having only the “a” vowel sound.

 

  • Much of the location shooting was done on a gypsum mine near Albuquerque, New Mexico. The gypsum, which is almost pure white, was sprayed with a biodegradable red food dye to give the appearance of a Martian landscape.

 

  • Natasha Henstridge replaced Courtney Love (the original choice) at the last minute. Love left the project after her boyfriend’s ex-wife ran over her foot in her car while she was in training for the picture. Michelle Yeoh, Franka Potente and Famke Janssen were briefly considered. Henstridge was suggested by her then-boyfriend Liam Waite, and was able to join the cast just a week before production began. The actress found the experience to be very harrowing, due to the heavily physical nature of her role and the difficult working conditions.

 

  • Jason Statham was originally hired to play James “Desolation” Williams, but was replaced by Ice Cube for star power.

 

  • In a 2006 interview, Ice Cube nominated this as the worst movie he had appeared in, calling it “unwatchable in many ways. John Carpenter really let us down with the special effects on that one – it looked like something out of a film from 1979”.

 

  • Production had to shut down for a week when Natasha Henstridge fell ill due to extreme exhaustion (she had just done two other films back-to-back before joining the production at the last moment).

 

  • John Carpenter revealed that he had become burnt out after he had made this film and made the decision of leaving Hollywood for good. It would not be until nine years later that he made a full feature film, which was The Ward (2010).

 

AUDIO CLIPS

 

 

Leprechaun 3

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Leprechaun 3

Release Date: June 27, 1995

Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Horror

Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith

Writers; David DuBos (Story), Mark Jones (Characters)

Starring: Warwick Davis, John Gatins, Lee Armstrong, John DeMita, Caroline Williams, Michael Callan

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

In 1993 movie audiences were introduced to “Leprechaun”, a horror movie in which a Leprechaun searches for his lost gold and kills anyone in his way.  The film was a box office success and launched the career of Jennifer Aniston and showed Warwick Davis’ diverse range of acting after only being known as playing Wicket the Ewok in “Return of the Jedi” and playing Willow in the film of the same name. A sequel was rushed to theaters in 1994 and was just as successful as the first film. It launched a new horror franchise that spawned six films and are played regularly on St. Patrick’s Day on the Sci-Fi Channel. One of the films that is a favorite of the fans (and mine) is 1995’s “Leprechaun 3”.

“Leprechaun 3” continues the tale of the Leprechaun searching for his gold. The first film he searched in North Dakota. The second film he searched in California. For the third film, he searches where else but…..Las Vegas. The film chronicles an eighteen year old kid named Scott who is on his way to college and happens to drive through Vegas. He stumbles upon a buxom blonde named Tammy whose car has broken down and needs to get to her job at the Lucky Shamrock casino. In exchange for his kindness, Tammy agrees to sneak Scott into the casino under the condition that he doesn’t gamble. Scott, the impressionable college boy that he is decides to gamble by cashing in a $23,000 check from his parents to cover his first year. And of course, he loses it all playing Roulette. He heads to a pawn shop across the street looking to sell his watch to get some extra cash. As he walks into the Pawn Shop, he sees the shop owner dead and finds a single gold schilling on the table. There is a video on leprechaun folklore playing on the computer and Scott watches the part where the narrator states that you can have one wish if you have the leprechaun’s gold. With the gold schilling he wishes that he were back at the casino on a winning streak. Sure enough his wish comes true. However, it begins a chain reaction of events to come as the characters in the film each get their hands on the gold coin and the Leprechaun is right on their trail looking to reclaim his schilling and get revenge on those who harbor its power.

This was the first “Leprechaun” movie to be released straight to video. Turns out it was a rental success becoming the highest selling rental of 1995. This is my favorite movie of the “Leprechaun” series. The setting of Las Vegas is perfect for the film since it symbolizes luck, temptation, magic, money and greed. All the qualities of the Leprechaun character from the film series. Plus it’s great to see the Leprechaun gamble and constantly win! The film is also an omage to the story “The Monkey’s Paw”.  As each character in the film gets their hands on the gold coin, they make their wish and it comes true. However, their wish comes with a reversal of fortune, thanks to the Leprechaun.  That reversal of fortune involves some creative death scenes. As for Scott, he has other issues to deal with. During an altercation with the Leprechaun where he gets bitten, he stabs the Leprechaun in the head with a knife. His green blood gets mixed in with the bite wound and he slowly starts turning into a human leprechaun who wants all the gold for himself. He has to make a choice between destroying the gold and returning to human form or keeping the gold and forever stay as a leprechaun. It’s a choice that is not easy for him since he has developed magical powers for himself and is consumed by acquiring the entire pot of gold. It’s a good character struggle to complement the overall theme of the film.

Once again Warwick Davis is front and center in this movie and continues to be a source of comedy and menace. When he appeared in the first “Leprechaun” movie, he shed his good guy image and with the success of the movie, he proved to everyone that he could play a diverse range of characters. He is solidified with the Leprechaun franchise, but he’s comfortable with it. From the delivery of his Irish limericks to his impersonation of Elvis to his magical kills, you can tell in this movie he is having a blast playing the character. He still has a hard time nailing down the accent. It’s not really Irish, but it’s passable. Davis even admits it. His antics are the highlight of this film.

The rest of the cast is every trope you could imagine. First you have Scott, played by John Gatins. He’s an overly excited, curious and impressionable college student. As soon as he meets Tammy it’s like he immediately falls in love at first sight. He is naïve and unaware of the risks involved with gambling. Gatins acts like he’s too excited even in the most mundane situations. I do have to give him credit for doing a good Irish accent when he slowly transforms into a leprechaun. He tells a limerick to a waitress in the casino restaurant that is pretty dirty, even from limerick standards. I think he does a decent job dealing with the struggles of his leprechaun transformation and his temptation for keeping the gold when it’s revealed the only way to turn human is to destroy the gold.

Next you have Tammy, played by Lee Armstrong. Tammy is a Magician’s Assistant for the great (not really great) Fazio at the Lucky Shamrock. She gets herself into a situation that is out of her control due to a wish being granted by the gold coin. When she snaps out of it, Scott comes to her rescue. She would stick with him throughout the movie trying to help him overcome the leprechaun curse. This was Armstrong’s final acting role, not because she died, but the fact that…she can’t act. She is very dull and emotionless. There’s a scene where she is supposed to be over the top, but she plays it like how a little baby acts. It’s ridiculously bad. One thing that she has going for her is the outfit she wears throughout the movie. It’s definitely a redeeming quality.

Finally you have the rest of the small cast with Michael Callan playing Mitch, the Casino Manager who plays it like a stereotypical mobster, John DeMita who plays Fazio, a failed magician and Caroline Williams who plays Loretta, who works the Roulette table. All of these characters aren’t very likable. They’re all self-centered egotists who are battling each other over the most trivial of things. Each of them get their turn making a wish with the gold coin and they all have to do with improving themselves and each of them will get their dates with death courtesy of the Leprechaun. All of them acted like they didn’t want to be in this movie. I get it, but if you’re a working actor, you take what is given to you and you should try to make an effort no matter how bad the script could be. I’m surprised there wasn’t at least a little more effort from Caroline Williams considering she is a Horror vet having played the heroine Stretch in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”.  They’re the middle men in the story since it revolves more around Scott and the Leprechaun.

As I’ve mentioned several times already the death scenes are creative. I won’t spoil what they are. There’s enough gore to satisfy a viewer’s appetite. You can’t go wrong with blood and gore in a horror movie. The special effects in the death scenes weren’t anything crazy mainly in part to another low budget. One of the famous kill scenes in all of the Leprechaun movies you can tell they exploded a cake to make it look like a human body.

There’s not much more to say about “Leprechaun 3”. It’s indeed a guilty pleasure movie and the strongest in the franchise. While it follows the same plot of the first film, it makes up with the appropriate settings and symbolism. Every St. Patrick’s Day is now a traditional day to watch the “Leprechaun” movies. If you can only watch one this upcoming Saturday, then I recommend “Leprechaun 3”. You might enjoy it even more when you’re drunk on all that green beer you consumed!

 

TRIVIA

  • Highest Selling Direct-to-video film of 1995.
  • Filmed in 14 days.
  • Warwick Davis has publicly stated this is favorite “Leprechaun” film of the series.
  • Lee Armstrong who played Tammy quit acting after this film.
  • As Scott is entering the casino, Warwick Davis can be seen making a cameo without make-up playing a slot machine.
  • The check Scott carries around in the casino is signed by the director of the movie, Brian Trenchard-Smith.
  • John Gatins, who plays Scott, would go on to be a screenplay writer. He wrote the screenplays for “Coach Carter”, “Real Steel”, “Power Rangers” and “Flight”, the latter receiving him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

AUDIO CLIPS

 

Meet Wally Sparks

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Meet Wally Sparks

Release Date: January 31, 1997

Genre: Comedy

Director: Peter Baldwin

Writers; Harry Basil (Story), Rodney Dangerfield (Screenplay)

Starring: Rodney Dangerfield, Debi Mazar, David Ogden Stiers, Burt Reynolds, Mark L. Taylor

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

Rodney Dangerfield was one of the greatest stand up comedians the world had ever seen. He was known for his zinging one liners and monologues preaching about he gets “no respect”. His career was heightened in 1980 when he stole the spotlight in the 1980 golf comedy “Caddyshack” which lead to starring roles in the films “Easy Money” and the critically acclaimed “Back To School”. Unfortunately the 90s weren’t so good to Dangerfield. He had two films that flopped and was being overshadowed by the young fresh talent that appeared on “Saturday Night Live” and “In Living Color”. One of his last starring roles was 1997’s “Meet Wally Sparks”.

In the film, Dangerfield plays the titular character who is the host of a sleazy daytime talk show that rivals Jerry Springer, Geraldo Rivera and Sally Jesse Raphael to name a few (all have cameos in the movies). His show has become so raunchy and X-Rated that he is losing sponsors and being threatened with cancellation. In addition, his show has been publicly criticized by Floyd Preston, the conservative Governor of Georgia (David Ogden Stiers) as corrupting the moral fabric of the country. Wally is given an ultimatum by his boss Larry Spencer (Burt Reynolds) to clean up his show or else he will pull the plug. Wally receives an invitation to attend Governor Preston’s fundraiser reception at the Governor’s Mansion (unbeknownst to the Governor, the invitation was sent by his rebellious pre teen son) and his producer Sandy Gallo (Debi Mazar) comes up with an idea to persuade the Governor to appear on his show, which would instantly boost ratings and could change the format of the show.

Wally and Sandy attend the reception in search of the governor. During the party, Wally heads to the governor’s stable and gives his prized horse some alcohol. The horse breaks free from the stable and runs amok inside the Governor’s Mansion. Wally is able to tame the horse and prevent it from hurting the Governor. The presses label him a hero in the papers the next morning. Believing to have been paralyzed from the injury, Wally is staying at the Governor’s Mansion to recuperate, much to the chagrin of Governor Preston. The mansion gets trashed due to Wally’s production company setting up shop inside the mansion and Wally continues to get into shenanigans involving Mrs. Preston. In addition, Wally’s adult son Dean begins a relationship with Governor Preston’s southern bell daughter Priscilla. If that wasn’t enough for Governor Preston to deal with, he is being blackmailed by an outside entity to drop out of the Senate race otherwise, photos showing Governor Preston and an unidentified woman in steamy erotic photos would be released to the public. Wally goes on a mission to find out who is blackmailing the Governor and in return earn his trust to come onto his show and address his supporters.

This movie is based on the tabloid daytime talk shows that dominated television airwaves and a statement on the First Amendment. Throughout the 90s, you couldn’t turn on a television channel without seeing some kind of over the top show. You had the FCC and other government entities looking to block any kind of media in effort to “protect the children”. Wally Sparks represents freedom of speech and freedom of expression while Governor Preston represents the government looking to shut down entertainment that is considered obscene or vulgar. The war continues even to this day with the rise of social media.

Obviously Dangerfield is the shining star of the film. There are plenty of yucks to go around. The jokes are a lot cruder than any of his previous outings, but given the subject matter of the film, it fits in with the narrative. There’s a lot more physical comedy from Dangerfield in this film than any previous film that I can recall. Most of it comes during the reception scene. One thing that is special about Dangerfield is he is able to play lovable characters. His characters start out as self center egotists, but during the course of his movies they start to feel a heart for others. This film follows the same formula. Wally’s objective in the beginning is to have a showdown with Governor Preston on his show in an effort to save him from the unemployment line. However, during the course of the movie as he is spending time getting to know the Preston family, he is grateful for their hospitality and when Governor Preston is in a pickle with a blackmail threat, Wally feels that he needs to repay the debt shown by helping Preston out with his situation.

The other shining performance comes from David Ogden Stiers, who sadly passed away a few days ago. He portrays Floyd Preston, the Governor of Georgia and a leader of the moral majority. He finds Wally Sparks and his show repulsive and is on a crusade to get him thrown off the air. To make matters worse, Preston is powerless to kick Sparks out of the mansion when he is hurt from the incident at the mansion involving a horse. His adviser warns him that kicking him out will diminish his reputation as a moral compassionate human being. In addition, Sparks’ presence in the mansion starts to attract younger voters who are fans of the show in supporting Preston’s campaign for Senator. Preston certainly comes at a cross road and becomes consumed with his battle over Sparks that he starts to alienate himself from his family and causing them to rebel against him. Stiers is a big man and he fits the role of a governor well. He has quite a few laughable moments involving situations that he falls upon.

As for the rest of the cast, the performances were pretty shallow, especially Burt Reynolds. For all the talk regarding loss of sponsors and fines from the FCC, Reynolds doesn’t sound the least bit concerned. He is really out of place in the movie. Anyone could’ve portrayed the role of Larry Spencer better than he did. Luckily, he’s only in a few scenes that you could skip over if you wanted to.

One of the notable things about this movie is the number of cameos. As I mentioned in the beginning of the review, there are cameos featuring Jerry Springer, Geraldo Rivera and Sally Jesse Raphael. In addition, other talk show personalities that have a cameo include Roseanne, Morton Downey Jr. and Tim Allen (playing his “Home Improvement” character). It’s funny to see them all berate Wally Sparks and call him a has been and the fact that he is still alive. Other cameos include Bob Saget and Stuttering John Melendez playing news reporters, Gilbert Gottfried and Julia Sweeny playing a married couple on Wally’s show and Tony Danza playing his character from “Taxi”.

With the laughs that this movie has, it is not without its flaws. I didn’t like the pacing of the movie. The movie starts out with Dangerfield going full force at a hundred miles an hour, but then it slows down during the middle of the film and it comes to a screeching halt. It goes from being funny to dramatic. It gets mushy with Wally’s son and Preston’s daughter developing a relationship against the will of the Governor. Another flaw is the ridiculous cartoonish scenes involving Spencer’s top assistant who detests Wally and is spying on him to see if he is actually injured or if he is faking it. He is falling out of trees and getting dragged behind a car. It’s reminiscent of a Wild E. Coyote cartoon. It really had no place in the movie. Lastly, the climax of the movie was so mindless and childish. Again it’s pretty cartoonish with the final confrontation between Wally and the people who are blackmailing the Governor.

If you’re a fan of Rodney Dangerfield, this movie is right up your alley. Those who are not fans are advised to turn away. While “Meet Wally Sparks” is not one of Rodney Dangerfield’s most memorable films, it will be remembered for Rodney doing what Rodney does best, which is making us laugh.

TRIVIA

  • Students in Daingerfield, Texas’ schools got an early release day, because the town gave Rodney Dangerfield a parade, and a street renamed in his honor, when he came to town.
  • One of two Rodney Dangerfield films that feature a vocal performance by Michael Bolton, the other being Back to School (1986). Bolton’s song “Everybody’s Crazy” is playing on the record player during the frat dorm party.
  • Tony Danza reprises his role as Tony from the hit TV show “Taxi” in this film.
  • Gilbert Gottfried who has a small part in the film said on his podcast that he has never seen the finished release.

AUDIO CLIPS

 

Evolver

evolver

Evolver

Release Date: February 10, 1995

Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror

Director: Mark Rosman

Writer: Mark Rosman

Starring: Ethan Embry, Cassidy Rae, John DeLancie, Cindy Pickett, William H. Macy (Credited as W.H. Macy)

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

The 90s saw the boom of video rentals. Chains like Blockbuster had not only the hottest theatrical releases, but movies that went straight to video. Low budget B-movies used the rental boom as a way to get their films out to the viewing public. Companies like Full Moon Features profited and flourished using this concept. Some of the straight to video films began to appear on designated channels. The Sci-Fi channel was known for not only playing classic sci-fi and horror films, but they played straight to video exclusives and started making their own movies that would be played specifically on their channel (a trend that has continued today). One of the first titles to come out during this period was the movie ‘Evolver’.

The movie is about a teenage gamer and hacker Kyle Baxter (played by Ethan Embry) who wins a contest based on the game ‘Evolver’. ‘Evolver’ is a virtual reality game where the player must track down and shoot a fast moving robot. The company that created the game, Cyber-Tronix is having a contest where they person with the highest score will win a prototype home version of the game which includes a physical robot of Evolver itself. Kyle being a few points short of first hacks into the Cyber-Tronix network and fixes the score so he would be first. He wins the contest and the robot is delivered to his home complete with a big marketing promotion form the company which features the CEO and the creator of ‘Evolver’ Russell Bennett (played by John DeLancie). Kyle and his friends start to play with the new robot and seem to have fun. Later as the game continues, Kyle starts to notice some strange things going on with Evolver.  He hacks into the program and finds that the game’s source code is run on a program called ‘SWORD’.  Later while addressing his concerns with Bennett at Cyber-Tronix’s headquarters, he sneaks into one of the computer rooms and discovers that SWORD was originally a military program designed by Bennett and was inputted into robots used in war. The project went haywire when the prototype robot began killing its teammates, forcing Bennett to shut down the program. When confronted by this information Bennett admitted that he was trying to prove that his programmed worked, but lapsed in judgment by not adapting the program enough for home consumption. Now Kyle must find a way to defeat Evolver as its only primary objective now is to terminate him.

The movie was released in 1995. I remember seeing previews for this film on the Sci-Fi channel and thinking this looked cool since it was a movie about a video game robot. When I saw the film for the first time, I was thoroughly impressed. It was one of the better robot movies that I had seen in my short time (I was ten years old in 1995). I watched it again not too long ago and I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time. It’s a rare breed of films that were played on the Sci-Fi Channel that I liked.

The opening scene is Kyle playing the Evolver VR game. The VR graphics are similar to the ones that were in ‘The Lawnmower Man’ (if any of you have seen that). There are some nice first person scenes inside the game that make you feel like you are playing the game (I wish they came out with an ‘Evolver’ VR game. Now is the opportunity with all the headsets out there). There are a lot of first person shots involving Evolver. There are scenes where you are seeing through the lens of Evolver’s visor and you can see all the programming and targeting that it has. When Evolver moves, you’ll notice the camera is hovered low to reflect Evolver’s height. I thought that was clever. The film has more physical special effects than visual. Most of Evolver’s kills deal with using physical tools and the environment that surrounds him. The only visual effects I found were when he uses electricity and laser weapons, which is fine. Evolver is supposed to have some kind of limitation.

This movie had a nice cast of familiar faces. All of them were well suited to their roles. There were a few characters that I felt were fillers for the story. Of course, the film had to have a romantic interest, hence the character of Jane portrayed by Cassidy Rae. At first she becomes a nuisance to Kyle, but finds an immediate attraction to him and early on tries to convince him that Evolver is not what it seems.  The one character I didn’t like was Kyle’s best fried Zack. I can’t remember the actor’s name that played him. At first I thought it was Adam Richman from ‘Man vs. Food’ because he looks just like him. Sadly it wasn’t. Anyway, Zack is a self-centered perv who only uses Kyle to get what’s best for him. In the beginning of the film, he is placing bets on Kyle to beat the ‘Evolver’ game. When Kyle wins the Evolver robot, he wants Kyle to put it in the girl’s locker room so it could record the girls inside. I did not feel any sympathy for what happens to him in this movie.

Amway, let’s focus on the three central characters of this film.

This was one of Ethan Embry’s first teenage roles (he’s been a child actor long before this). He was well suited for the role of Kyle. Like most boys his age during this time period, video games were a way of life and a way of escaping from real world issues. Early in the film, he is very dismissive of his mother due to the fact she is always going out on dates and having to watch his kid sister. You have a sense that he blames her for what happened with the family. It’s only until a scene involving his sister and Evolver does he show heart and how the dangers of Evolver after affecting them. He comes to the realization that his family is more important than a piece of rolling metal. In the final confrontation, Kyle shows grave concern for his family when Evolver gives him an ultimatum. In the end, Kyle realized that in order to beat Evolver, he had to think outside of being just a gamer.

The second central character in the film is Russell Bennett. I love John DeLancie and he was perfect for this role. Star Trek fans are well aware of who DeLancie is in their universe as the adversarial ‘Q’ from The Next Generation series. For those who are Trekkies, DeLancie is also known for playing the character Donald Margolis in ‘Breaking Bad’. Bennett is obsessed with making his program work. While the CEO of Cyber-Tronix assigns Bennett to create a holiday techno toy, Bennett is only focusing on his scrapped military program and proving the powers that be that there is nothing wrong with his program. When his boss seems concerned regarding the early data from Evolver and feels that it is not ready for public consumption, Bennett dismisses his notion and comes up with answers as to why Evolver is reacting the way that it is. When Kyle confronts him about the concerns he has with Evolver, he ignores the warnings and fights back at Kyle saying, “I created Evolver. I know what makes him tick and you don’t!” It’s like he is in complete denial. It’s only until the turning point in the film does Bennett understand the real dangers and admits defeat. Unfortunately it will be too late for him to stop it.

Finally, there is the character of Evolver. Evolver is voiced by William H. Macy (credited as WH Macy). Now I’m sure you’re asking why a big name respected actor like William H. Macy is voicing a robot in a straight to video film. William H. Macy was not well known during this time period. ‘Fargo’ wasn’t released until a year after this. I’m he took whatever came to him as most actors do. Evolver’s primary objective is to win. In the VR game, no one has defeated Evolver at Level 4 and that carries over into the home game. Like its namesake, Evolver evolves at every level and he adapts to his surroundings and what he observes. Evolver’s lines are basic in the beginning, but as it confronts new players it mimics their taunts, threats and jokes. Macy does a great job keeping these lines monotone to the robot’s voice, but does it in a way that is humoring. Near the end of the movie, Evolver’s voice becomes more evil and desperate with his enemies still being alive and Macy’s voice easily transitions to that.

This movie came out at the height of the Arcade industry. Virtual reality was still a technology being played around with but it wasn’t available for entertainment consumption. Being a long time video gamer, I loved the concept of having your own interactive gaming robot you could play with. Who wouldn’t want to get their hands on their own Evolver robot to play with?

This movie is a long line of films dealing with artificial intelligence and the dangers that are associated with it. You saw a lot of these movies come out shortly after ‘The Terminator’. ‘Evolver’ takes it to a different level by being a portable video game robot. What is programmed to be a kid’s game becomes a killing machine. With technology continuing and artificial intelligence widening, it only takes one glitch or one error for things to go critical.

Overall, ‘Evolver’ is still a fun movie. If I had to make a list of my favorite straight to video movies, this would be on there, perhaps in my Top 5. Like I said earlier, I would love to start a campaign to get an ‘Evolver’ VR game going. We should take up the social media platforms and let VR companies know we want this to happen and send them a copy of the movie. If by some miracle this indeed happened, it would move the ‘Evolver’ movie from a straight to video cassette into movie immortality!

 

TRIVIA

  • N/A

 

AUDIO CLIPS

 

Graveyard Shift

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Graveyard Shift

Release Date: October 26, 1990

Genre: Horror

Director: Ralph S. Singleton

Writers: Stephen King (Short Story) John Esposito (Screenplay)

Starring: David Andrews, Kelly Wolf, Stephen Macht, Vic Polizos, Andrew Divoff, Brad Dourif

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

I can’t think of another author who has had more of his stories turned into feature-length films and television programs than Stephen King. For over forty years King has terrified us with his novels about haunted cars, a pissed off teenager and an alien who appears in the form of a clown. When King’s novel ‘Carrie’ was adapted into a feature length film and released in 1976 it became a huge hit. Studios were buying up the movie rights to all of his stories. It’s safe to say a lot of King Adaptations are either hits or misses. You have some that have stood the test of time and you have some that have faded into obscurity. In 1990 audiences were treated with a TV miniseries of his most infamous novel ‘It’ and were treated with a typical Halloween released monster movie ‘Graveyard Shift’.  Both of these movies have not stood the test of time (for many reasons), but they are cult movies. This review will focus on the latter.

The film ‘Graveyard Shift’ is about a local textile mill that is run down and infested with rats. The manager of the mill, a man named Warwick (Played by Stephen Macht) has bribed and greased every local inspector from shutting the mill down. The town of Castle Rock is dependent on the mill since the majority of the townspeople work there and it is the economic lifeblood of the town.  Slowly, the workers inside the mill disappear one by one. No one seems to have a clue why they’re gone. A drifter named John Hall (Played by David Andrews) arrives in town looking for a job at the mill. After having a short interview with the sleazy and creepy Warwick, he is hired on the spot to work the Picker during the graveyard shift hours from 11PM-7AM. Hall is bullied by several of the workers, but strikes up a friendship with Wisconsky (played by Kelly Wolf, even though throughout the movie no one mentions her by first name nor her last name). Warwick recruits several workers including Hall and Wisconsky to clean up the basement of the mill during the fourth of July holiday. As they are removing debris and spraying out the rats, Hall comes across a trap door which he believes could be the source of the rat infestation. They open it to reveal a labyrinth of caverns and old machinery. Once down there all hell breaks loose as each of the workers are picked apart by a strange bat/rat creature. It’s up to the survivors to find a way out and avoid the creature at all costs.

‘Graveyard Shift’ is based off the short story of the same name by King which appeared in the book ‘Night Shift’ which is a collection of short stories by King during that period of time. The stories in the book are indeed short. The “Graveyard Shift” story is about thirty pages long. Now you’re probably asking yourself this question, “How could anyone make a movie about a story that is only thirty pages long?” Well, they did. The core of the story takes place in the middle of the film where they find the trap door and the story ends with the encounter of the creature. Everything else in the film was created by the writers. The names of the characters remain the same in the movie as they were in the film with the exception of the additional character that was in the movie, which was the exterminator.

I first saw this movie on my local television channel back in the mid-90s. It came on right at noon on Saturdays during the Halloween season. I thought it was a good horror movie at the time given the fact that it was a Stephen King story. I didn’t read the actual story until a few years ago. The story is what it is. The characters of Hall and Warwick are described just as they appear in the movie. The ending of the story leaves much to the desire as it ends on a cliffhanger. However, I think it’s one of those stories that King intended the reader to come up with their own interpretation of what happens in the end.

The movie is nothing special. It’s a practical monster movie with as much blood and gore as you would find in any horror movie during that time period. It has a ton of the slow buildup moments before something bad happens to a character. I’m impressed with how the rats were able to line up like birds on a wire and observe the workers. My guess is they had a rat tamer? (I don’t even know if there is such a thing!) Other times I thought the rats were either mechanical or plastic, but it wouldn’t make sense and you would be able to point out quickly if they weren’t real. The main creature in the story is a giant albino bat with a long phallic shaped rat tail and a face that looks like a Pitbull. You only see parts of the creature throughout the film until the full reveal. The filmmakers were using the old trick of not revealing the monster. Some scenes contain the slow buildup until the monster appears and kills its prey, but the majority of the film I found pretty fast paced. I noticed a few goofs in the movie that the filmmakers did not pick up on. The one that stuck out to me is when Nordello the secretary is smashing up Warwick’s car in protest over her name being on the basement cleanup crew. She is complaining verbally, but you don’t see her mouth moving (an obvious sign that she said lines in ADR that she didn’t say in the shooting or the wrong footage was used). She does it again in a night shot where she is walking in the office of the mill and she is speaking, but you don’t see her mouth moving.

I think the writers of the film did a decent attempt in telling a story with little source material to work with. Hall and Warwick are the two characters that the film focuses on which coincides with the short story. They fleshed out Hall’s story a little more. In the story, he is only referred to as a college boy by Warwick (He still refers to him in that manner in the film). In the film, he is a college boy drifter who came to Maine from Florida looking for a “fresh start.” His first introduction with Warwick is brief. While Warwick has some reservations about hiring Hall because he gets no guarantees with “drifters” while Hall quips back, “You get no guarantee from any man. It’s his instinct,” Warwick hires him for the job as a picker. That instinct sets the tone of the relationship the two characters will have throughout the film as Warwick keeps as strong eye on Hall.

Speaking of Warwick, he is the foreman of Bachman’s Mill (named after King’s pseudonym) who is as evil, perverted and corrupted as one could be. He has been able to avoid shutdown of the mill due to extreme safety hazards and an infestation of rats by bribing the local inspector. In the film he is having an affair with a secretary while trying to give Wisconsky a promotion. All she has to do to get the promotion is to “perform” for him on the couch in his office. Wisconsky is a strong woman who has spurned his advances and fights back not caring about what could happen to her. She mentions to Hall that she tried to file a sexual harassment complaint but was ignored by the union (more than likely due to Warwick having the union in his back pocket). He is suspicious of everyone that it eventually leads him to paranoia and insanity as he is driven to madness after the crew is stuck in the caverns during their venture down to find the source of the rat infestation.

The acting in the movie is pretty straight-laced with the exception of the two most over the top performances which are Warwick and the exterminator. Stephen Macht, who plays Warwick in the film looks and sounds like he is from Eastern Europe. It’s supposed to be a New England accent, but that has been a problem with actors in Stephen King movies. No one can seem to get a New England accent down to a science. Only snafu I have with the performance is how quickly Warwick is driven to madness when the crew is trapped in the caves looking for a way back up. The strength of Macht’s performance comes from his eyes. He always has a sinister look on him and the camera does a good job focusing on his eyes especially during a confrontational scene with the exterminator.

Speaking of the exterminator, this is a bizarre character that is not depicted in the original story. He was created specifically for the film to show an attempt by Warwick to get the infestation problem under control. The exterminator is played by none other than Brad Dourif (who is one of my all-time favorite character actors). For those who are not familiar with Brad Dourif, he is best known as the voice of Chucky in the Child’s Play franchise. He’s been in everything from Oscar-winning films to straight to television junk. He is someone I believe loves his craft and is up for any role as long as he feels he can make something out of it. He sure makes a character out of the exterminator.  The exterminator, named Tucker Cleveland has been working around the clock to kill the rats in the mill and to put an end to the infestation. He tries everything in his arsenal to kill them from using poison, to pumping them into a river, to using his dog and even attempting to shoot them. He looks like a mix between a ghost-buster and a paratrooper with his outfit and his backpack that is filled with rat poison.  Despite not understanding what Dourif was saying when talking to Hall, he made up for it by having some memorable lines throughout the film.

As far as themes this movie offers the one that sticks out to me is economics and how it impacts a small town. As I’ve stated earlier in the review, the reason Warwick is doing everything in his power to keep the mill open is because the town of Castle Rock is dependent on the mill being open as it is where the majority of the townspeople work. It’s nice to see Warwick caring about the town and its people despite his own self-interests and the fact that he represents the fat cat who would walk away unscathed if the mill did in fact shut down. In the United States during this time period you were reading stories of car plants and other factories shutting down and moving to other countries which had an impact on the cities they were in.  These once thriving cities became a depressed wasteland with no hope of recovery. With the theme of economics, you also have the theme of working conditions and worker treatment at a job. Obviously the working conditions in the mill are beyond poor and have numerous violations from the rat problem to the broken down infrastructure. The mill workers are working overnight hours in sweltering heat with no relief and you have the women workers who are being sexually harassed by Warwick. When Hall is hired to work at the mill, he is only given minimum wage to start. It’s a reflection on what is happening in middle class America during this time. (NAFTA and CAFTA did not come into effect until a few years into the 90s).  You have wages going down and little to no investment in infrastructure. It creates a ripple effect where if a factory is going under, the people are going under and the town is going under. Those who escape are the ones in power, which in this case would be Warwick and Bachman (the owner of the mill who is not seen).

Overall this is not one of the better Stephen King adaptations, but it’s a movie that is good enough for you to watch during the Halloween season. If I had a month-long Stephen King movie marathon where I played thirty-one movies in thirty one days, this movie would be included in that marathon. This movie would appeal to the monster movie fan, but if you’re not into horror or care for something more in depth, then this movie isn’t for you. Oh and make sure you don’t turn it off at the End Credits. You get a nice little rap beat with lines from the movie being played over and over until the credits are done.

 

TRIVIA

  • Tom Savini was attached to direct the film, but pulled out due to lack of studio interest.
  • The name of the mill is “Bachman Mills”. “Bachman” is Stephen King’s pseudonym “Richard Bachman” that he has used for several of his stories.
  • Co-Star Andrew Divoff met his wife Raissa Danilova on this film. Danilova played an extra as a mill worker. They married two years after this film was completed.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

 

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge

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A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge

Release Date: November 1, 1985

Genre: Horror

Director: Jack Sholder

Writers: David Chaskin (Screenplay), Wes Craven (Characters)

Starring: Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Englund, Robert Rusler, Clu Gulager, Marshall Bell

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

In 1984 movie audiences were introduced to a new form of terror. They were introduced to a character who killed his victims in his dreams. They were introduced to Freddy Kruger in “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” It made over $25 million dollars in the United States box office alone and turned Freddy Kruger into a new horror icon. Despite the instant success which launched the careers of Wes Craven, Robert Englund and yes Johnny Depp, fledgling studio New Line Cinema didn’t make a profit off the film. They were still in the red and desperately trying to stay afloat. New Line Cinema Founder and CEO Robert Shaye decided to take a gamble and make a direct sequel to “Elm Street” in the hopes of creating some cash flow. Nearly a year after its initial release, New Line released the follow up film, “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.”

Instead of a direct continuation of the first film, the second film follows a whole new cast of characters, but the setting of Springwood, OH remained the same. The film focuses on Jesse Walsh, a new resident of Springwood who moves into Nancy Thompson’s old house along with his family. Shortly after moving in, he is visited in his dreams by Freddy whose goal is to takeover Jesse’s body so he can return to the physical world. The film was another financial win for New Line which got the return they were expecting plus more and thus a franchise was born. Despite the success, the film itself received mixed reviews calling it a weak retread of the predecessor and a rushed film that has poor acting, poor dialogue and not enough scares.

I loved the original “Nightmare on Elm Street” film. Recently, I watched all the sequels in the franchise (except for the 2010 abysmal reboot). After a Saturday film festival at my home I started to evaluate the sequels. It was a mixed bag. Some of the sequels I enjoyed and some I didn’t. Part 2 was the one that really stood out for me for many reasons, which I’m about to get into.

The film is pretty good technically. The picture seems to be grainy. Not sure if this is due to Jack Sholder trying to make a grittier version of the film. In the same documentary, Sholder admits that he wasn’t a fan of the first film and his objective was to not follow the template of the first film and make something completely different, which he did. With the exception of one scene, there aren’t that many creative kills that you saw in the first film or the sequels that will follow this one. The concept is bringing Freddy into the real world. You can’t do a lot of supernatural things in the real world (although coming into the real world for Freddy is pretty supernatural). Like its predecessor, the cast is made up of some relatively unknown character actors with the exceptions of Hope Lange and Clu Gulager who played the parents. Both of them have a combined sixty years of acting experience. I felt each actor fit their roles perfectly, especially Mark Patton. It’s incredible who Patton beat out for the lead role (see trivia below). Looking at that list, Patton was definitely the right choice. Although Patton had a few acting credits before doing this movie, this film is really an introduction of who Mark Patton the person is. The chemistry he had with Kim Myers who plays Lisa, his close friend and love interest is strong and they balance each other out (Patton and Myers remain close friends to this day and travel to Horror Conventions together).

The opening scene of the film is Jesse and two girls sitting in a school bus on his way to school. Suddenly the bus driver speeds up and plows through a desert where the ground begins to crack and sink and Freddy appears as the driver. This film tells you from this opening scene that Freddy is about to take Jesse for a ride and you the audience are going to be there with him. That opening shot is a credit to Sholder’s visual technique that you will see all throughout the film.

“Nightmare on Elm Street 2” is regarded as “The Gayest Horror Film Ever Made.” And there’s truth to it. The film is known for its notoriously homoerotic subtext. You see it throughout the entire film from the characters to the props and the story. The writer of the film David Chaskin was working at New Line Cinema in another department and had written a treatment for a potential sequel that dealt with the paranoia of AIDS and homosexuality and incorporated Freddy Krueger as the disease. New Line Cinema chose his script and got the ball rolling on production. If you watch the series documentary “Never Sleep Again”, the crew from the film and even Robert Shaye talked about how they never intended it to be a gay film. Even director Jack Sholder didn’t admitted that he didn’t have the self-awareness to believe that anything they were doing would be interpreted as being gay. One production designer said in best in the documentary, “We were all incredibly naïve or all incredibly latently gay!” I enjoyed this film due to the fact they were able to take a real issue in society and create a narrative for it that was shocking and scary.

The film primarily focuses on Jesse and Freddy’s relationship to each other. Mark Patton, who plays Jesse in the film was openly gay in real life (although he had not mentioned it to anyone on the set) and incorporates the struggles of his sexuality into Jesse. Jesse becomes attracted to both his male and female close friends in Lisa and Ron Grady. Lisa is obviously attracted to Jesse, but throughout the movie, Jesse seems timid and shy around her, but when it comes to Grady, he instantly clicks to his bad boy persona (which most girls in society today seem to be attracted to). Meanwhile Freddy is trying to convince Jesse to kill for him. Freddy represents the self-hatred that one might have of the thought that they may be homosexual. Robert Englund does a brilliant job of using seduction and manipulation to get to Jesse and use him for his own desires. This is relatable to what is going on in society today with the sexual abuse allegations and the Me Too movement. Men using methods of persuasion to get to the body of a woman.  The victims in the movie are seen as a threat to Freddy in a way that is considered jealousy. He is removing obstacles so that no one interferes with Freddy’s impending host. Finally, the sequence of Freddy tearing through Jesse’s body can be interpreted as Jesse “coming out”.

The props and scenes in the movie heightened the narrative. When Lisa is helping Jesse unpack his belongings and puts some things in his closet, you can see a board game titled “Probe”.  In Jesse’s room he has a sign on his front door that says “No Girls Allowed”. I don’t think you see a lot of teenage boys have that kind of sign in their room. In one of the night sequences when Jesse is getting out of bed, it is so hot in his room you can see his candle melting and shaped like a part of the male genitalia. If you look closely in the shower scene, the shower heads are phallic shaped. In the scene where Coach Schneider is attacked by presumably Freddy, tennis balls are popping out of their cans, Schneider is tied up in the shower by jump rope and flying towels begin to snap at his bare bottom. There was definitely something Freudian going on in that scene.

Finally, “Nightmare on Elm Street 2” has a fairy tale side to it, which involves Jesse and Lisa. Because she is in love with Jesse, Lisa is trying to save him from Freddy but doesn’t know how. She pleads with Jesse to let her help him, but he pushes her away. When he transforms into Freddy and escapes, she chases him down and continues to plead for him to come back to her. In a ‘Beauty in the Beast’ moment, she says she loves him and the beast (being Freddy) dies and out of the ashes comes the beauty (Jesse). They hold each other in their arms and embrace that their nightmare is over….or is it?

To recap, I strongly affirm my opinion that “Nightmare on Elm Street 2” is the strongest of the sequels in the “Nightmare” franchise.  Unlike the latter films which were comical and cartoonish, this film feels real and authentic. This movie still holds up more than thirty years later and it is a social film that can be explored, enjoyed and talked about for many decades to come.

TRIVIA

 

  • New Line Cinema originally refused to give Robert Englund a pay raise, and an extra was cast as Freddy at the start of production. The extra appears in the shower scene where Jesse turns into Freddy, He simply wore a rubber mask and moved like “Frankenstein”. After two weeks of filming, director Jack Sholder convinced New Line Cinema CEO/Founder/Executive Produce Robert Shaye that this was a terrible lapse in judgment, and Shaye met Englund’s demands to return for the sequel.

 

  • The only “Nightmare” film in which the lead character is male.

 

  • Mark Patton beat out Brad Pitt and Christian Slater for the role of Jesse.

 

  • Apart from Robert Englund, this is the only film in the franchise to neither feature an actor from a previous film, nor have one return in a sequel.

 

  • New Line Cinema CEO/Founder/Executive Robert Shaye wanted to play the character of Grady’s father. However, director Jack Sholder told him that he “Needed a real actor to play that role.” Fearing that he would be fired after the comment, Sholder cast Shaye as the bartender in the S&M Bar that Jesse visits in the film.

 

  • Special Effects man Rick Lazzarini created a “demonic parakeet” puppet for the scene in which the Walsh’s pet bird flies around and explodes. His puppet was not used because the filmmakers wanted to use a regular looking bird.

 

  • Kevin Yagher replaced David Miller as the makeup effects artist. Studying pictures of burn victims, Yagher redesigned Freddy’s look to bring out the facial bones and more scaring. He would go on in his career to create the Chucky doll in the “Child’s Play” franchise.

 

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