Friday, January 27, 2017

Franchise Run-Through: A Nightmare on Elm Street

Well, it's time now to take a look at a franchise, and the one we're looking at now is the A Nightmare on Elm Street series.

There's a few reasons that we're doing this one first, the main one of which is the fact that I want to get it out of the way quickly and can move on. There's a simple reason for that mentality: I've never really cared all that much about Freddy's exploits, as he never really offered me the kind of thrills that others utilized. His rather silly tone and indecipherable dream-world logic were hard to penetrate in an age where the straightforwardness of Jason and Michael had more enjoyable and fun. Now, there's some good stuff to be had here as there are some decent films in the series, but there's still a lot of issues with the series as a whole that makes for this one being the lowest of the classic franchises.

So, before we get into the films themselves, there are a few things to get through which we'll discuss here. The first here is obviously the series' origins and how this came into being, as the basis for the film was inspired by several newspaper articles printed in the LA Times in the 1970s on a group of Southeast Asian refugees, who, after fleeing to the United States from the results of war and genocide in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, were suffering disturbing nightmares. After suffering from this condition, they refused to sleep and some of the men died in their sleep soon after. Medical authorities called the phenomenon Asian Death Syndrome. The condition itself afflicted only men between the ages of 19 and 57 and is believed to be sudden unexplained death syndrome or Brugada syndrome, or both. The 1970s pop song "Dream Weaver" by Gary Wright sealed the story for Craven, giving him not only an artistic setting to "jump off" from but a synthesizer riff from the Elm Street soundtrack as well.

By Craven's account, his own adolescent experiences led to not only the naming of Freddy Krueger but also the initial inspiration for his creation. The initial concept of Krueger draws heavily from Craven's early life. One night, a young Craven saw an elderly man walking on the sidepath outside the window of his home. The man stopped to glance at a startled Craven and walked off. Initially, Fred Krueger was intended to be a child molester, but Craven eventually characterized him as a child murderer to avoid being accused of exploiting a spate of highly publicized child molestation cases that occurred in California around the time of production of the film. As for the name, he had been bullied at school by a child named Fred Krueger, and he named his villain accordingly. The colored sweater he chose for his villain was based on the DC Comics character Plastic Man, and Craven chose to make Krueger's sweater red and green, after reading an article in Scientific American in 1982 that said the two most clashing colors to the human retina were this particular combination.

So, with that out of the way, let's discuss another issue about this one in the order that I saw these in, as that might explain a little about the lack of interest in the series but which is still a rather fun story. Contrary to most other fans out there, the first one I saw was not the original but was rather New Nightmare which was rather early into my horror-watching lifestyle which I knew of  Freddy's appearance by then I hadn't seen him

A Nightmare on Elm Street (original)-

For me, this is one of the more controversial of the classic-era horror films because a lot of what makes it so appealing is due to historical significance and reputation rather than any actual merits of the film itself. The main source of that reputation is the rather clever and unique manner of the killer's backstory, which here is made to showcase one of the more common archetypes of horror, the sins of the mothers and fathers repeating to their sons and daughters, but is done with such a unique and original take that there's a sense of originality in the work and that makes for some of the best sequences in the film like the bed-attack where she levitates in mid-air, the first encounter in the alley and the final showdown in the house with all sorts of nightmarish situations being utilized in the battle by both sides. These are high-quality scenes that work not only because they're incredibly creepy but also due to the big action-spectacle they endow the film with, and when it's coupled with the fun special effects and several ingenious kills, this one does have some positives. The main flaw to this one, though, is the fact that there's a hidden clue to the film's sense of reality-bending that really makes it easy to write off a lot of what happens and takes a lot of the sting out of this one with how it handles its' main villain. That really makes this one feel a lot less creepy than it really is, as well as the ending which undoes everything that's happened and doesn't seem to really offer much beyond a lame jump. Otherwise, this one still has some going for it. (9.25/10)

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge-

Like most people it seems, it's taken me a while to come around to this one but it does have some good parts here. The biggest thing it seems here is the rather bland pacing, The build-up of his psychosis tends to take way too long with rather bland manners of getting to the point about what's happening of getting Freddy back, taking a while to really get going that it doesn't really feature a whole lot of chances anyway for Freddy to do his work here, despite the fact that this one's rather enjoyable story based on his psychosis and potential possession generates plenty of good points. Once it lets Freddy loose, it's quite as much fun as it was in the original, with a fun opening and a great party sequence at the end where he really lets loose on the teens getting some rather fun action alongside the typical horror elements found within here to give it a few good scenes along with the few inventive kills along the way which also gives this one some decent gore along the way. Overall, it's fun if a little lower than the original. (8.5/10)

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors-

For me, this was always the most rewatchable efforts in the franchise and it still is with a strong sense about it that it was going to be more straightforward and wholly consistent entries. The psychiatry clinic at play here is the perfect kind of setting that should be utilized in such films in the series, providing the right kind of mystery involving whether or not Freddy is really preying on them or the victims are just crazy, the reintroduction of elements from the first one feel organic and complete the storyline involved there with the way. It not only gives us a completely logical manner of why Freddy's back in the first place but gives this a coherent feel tying into how Freddy goes after the kids which provide this with some of the series' best scenes. The two opening dreams exploring the run-down house and the fight with the Freddy worm are highly enjoyable, as well as some great kills in here with the other attacks on the kids throughout here. Though some of the quips here with the introduction of the comedy are lame and the pace stumbles somewhat in the middle segments, it's still one of the best entries in the series. (9.25/10)

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master-

Frankly, this one was enjoyable if not entirely spectacular. Once again, the dream sequences are top-notch and manage to not only include some rather chilling ideas presented here as the scenes of him going after the kids from the previous film in the boiler room and the car graveyard which are quite exciting action scenes in chilling locations, a hallmark of the series. Once it gets to the new crop of victims, the goofier nature comes off rather at odds with what's being attempted here as these are supposed to be dark and chilling yet are played purely for cheesy laughs. This creates such a disjointed feel that so many of the scenes lose their impact, and that really forces the film to rely on the visual impact and creativity of what's going on as there's little else going on elsewhere in here, and that does make for a much more impressive time here since those dream sequences are again just as much creative and original as they have been in the rest of the series. This is certainly a watchable effort, even though there are some big flaws to this one. (8/10)

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child-

Overall, there are a few decent parts with this one but it still has plenty of flaws. What really tends to hold this one up is the fact that there's still quite a lot of impressive work in the dream sequences as these are some of the series' most enjoyable and creative. Being the big driving factor here since it allows for those rather impressive special effects which has long been a hallmark of the franchise, there's a lot to like here and really generates the film's best  moments, really getting a lot of that in the finale which is some of the better fighting against Freddy which ends this on a high-note. Still, there's the ever-looming shadow hanging over the franchise in the inherent silliness being at such jarring odds with the rest of the horror here that it feels wholly chaotic and disorganized. There's little about the story that makes sense either which is a huge part of the film's flaws since nothing about it is given any kind of coherence to the remaining franchise entries and never really works quite as well as expected. Overall, there's stuff to like but it's got a lot of problems. (7/10)

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare-

This one ended up being quite a bitter disappointment and is overall one of the weakest entries in the series, if not the absolute worst. One of the biggest offenses here is the absolutely inane and over-the-top comedy injected into the film, from the never-ending quips and one-liners to the physical slapstick of the kills that are no longer horror at all and instead are now pure comedy. There isn't a whole lot here that really falls into the horror realm beyond the opening dream, which is the most serious of the scenes in here despite a few jokes thrown in, but the fact that this is mostly built up as a comedy doesn't really help this much. The 3D finish doesn't really mesh well with the rest of the film and doesn't have much point in helping the film out, feeling as though it was thrown in as an after-thought. While the joke-filled nature might wear on some, the fact that this is so silly might be a virtue to some as, though it doesn't work as a straight horror effort as a comedy this is really good with all those elements brought into play. That really lowers this one overall. (5.5/10)

New Nightmare-

This here turned out to be a decent if slightly flawed entry. Among the many things that work here is the fact that, by tying into the film series as a separate entity away from the reality presented here, it manages to be a lot smarter than it usually would be for this type of film, and that's something to commend by having the actors playing themselves instead of the film roles. That makes the typically-clichéd is-it-all-a-dream-or-not set-up far more effective than it has any right to be, given even more credence with Freddy's return to being scary again. Dropping any semblance of wisecracks, puns and lame jokes, reducing their screen time and really only appearing to do damage makes him a credible, scary force again, and that helps this out tremendously. With some great action in here, a lot of great special effects and a fantastic finale, this has a lot going for it but there's still a few problems here, mainly in the film's continued usage of the annoying child who does nothing but screams and yells, doing nothing to help the film overall. The low kill count means there's little variety to be found there as well, but overall this isn't all too bad. (9/10)

Freddy vs. Jason-
I'll cover this one in the Friday the 13th write-up, you'll just have to wait for that one.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (remake)-

Frankly, I've always enjoyed this one and have always, always enjoyed it a lot. The main issue with it is the fact that this one doesn't seem to have any reason for being here, which is one of the single most ridiculous and pointless arguments to be made against a film. The fact that it tends to replay so many scenes as carbon-copies of the original without improving or altering them in any shape or fashion is a much bigger crime, as this one being a remake does bring up so many scenes that play off what happened in that manner which is the biggest factor to hold down the film. For the main part of the film, there's still a lot to like with the high amount of screen-time for Freddy making him somewhat creepy and chilling again through the admittedly still-scary sequences in here. The continuing taunts are effective and the trips into the dream world offer incredibly fun visuals that look really impressive due to the escape from reality they represent even though it is obviously CGI. A fast pace and some nice kills make this quite fun, so it's got some really enjoyable elements within here. (8/10)

So, with that done, let's rank these:
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (original) (9.25)
2. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (9.25)
3. New Nightmare (9)
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (8.25)
5. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (8)
6. A Nightmare on Elm Street (remake) (8)
7. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (7)
8. Freddy's Dead: The Final Friday (5.5)

And before I leave, I should mention that no, Freddy never haunted my dreams growing up, and I've never woken up from a nightmare clutching something I was holding in my dream like this one says you can despite how many times I've tried. Lastly, I am aware of the TV show, but no I'm not going to give an overview of that one as this is a movie discussion blog, not a TV show blog so that will not be covered here no matter how good you say it is. Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Director Run-Through: John Carpenter

It's time now to do another new post, and today is an extra special post for several reasons: One, this is John Carpenter's birthday so let's all wish him a special Happy Birthday today.

Secondly, this first of our Director Run-Throughs is done for a director who I have seen every single one of his works from. Granted, I don't own them all but I have seen everything in the genre that he's done, and this going to be special in regards to the fact that this one will only cover his horror films. Being a director who has done work in other genres, there's certainly a lot to like elsewhere but being on this blog will only focus on true horror works so, in this case, we'll jump around a bit to cover strictly those films he directed. That's important, they have to direct it and have it be a horror film to be covered in these write-ups.

So, now that that's out of the way let's get going with what will be a special entry as this particular spotlight will be on what's going to happen when we do these in future as far as set-up and outline goes. First off, let's meet our chosen director, John Carpenter, with a special biography:

John Howard Carpenter was born in Carthage, New York, to mother Milton Jean (Carter) and father Howard Ralph Carpenter. His family moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky, where his father, a professor, was head of the music department at Western Kentucky University. He attended Western Kentucky University and then USC film school in Los Angeles. He began making short films in 1962, and won an Academy Award for Best Live-Action Short Subject in 1970, for The Resurrection of Broncho Billy (1970), which he made while at USC. Carpenter formed a band in the mid-1970s called The Coupe de Villes, which included future directors Tommy Lee Wallace and Nick Castle. Since the 1970s, he has had numerous roles in the film industry including writer, actor, composer, producer, and director. After directing Dark Star (1974), he has helmed both classic horror films like Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980), and The Thing (1982), and noted sci-fi tales like Escape from New York (1981) and Starman (1984). -credit: IMDb

Okay, so with that let's know take a look at his filmography of horror films:

Halloween (78)

Thoughts will be in the ‘Halloween’ franchise retrospective coming later. Sorry.

The Fog (80)

I’ve always really enjoyed this one, as it comes off rather nicely here in the filmography. There’s a superb influx of Gothic horror tropes introduced here, from the long-dead curse coming back to haunt the present-day generation in a fine retelling of ‘the sins of the father’ storyline that is a hallmark of that style, the creepy slow-build suspense tale that features some rather nice moments leading to the fog rolling into town which is creepy and insanely chilling once the town gets engulfed. The stalking and slashing of the residents get some even more great parts as the race to get everybody to safety from the mysterious intruders, which is where this one does come down a little. The ending is rushed and entirely forced, with the entirety of the survivors looking at the diary and then in the span of five minutes resolving everything after just uncovering it, making for some awkwardness at times. As well, the numerous cast of characters here given so many subplots does this a bit more harm as well with the first half being way too scattered and disorganized with a lot of things going on and makes for a slight stumble getting going, but this is still a high-quality effort. (8.25/10)

The Thing (82)

This is a wonderfully impressive entry with a lot to love about it. The fact that it manages to capture an incredibly suspenseful atmosphere, from the extreme isolation of the situation to a series of brilliant set-pieces at the end to ensure that it'll be impossible to determine who’s who when it comes down to figuring out the identity of the alien in disguise amongst them. Chief among these, and a film highlight in its own sense, is the classic blood-test sequence, which is just marvelously done and never once gives away its secret twist which is highly creative and makes the film all the better when it's followed by the disembodied head gag. It's a running theme throughout the film of intense suspense followed by impressive special effects to punctuate it, all done convincingly and never really allowed to dominate one way over the other in the film. Its action is unparalleled, as the finale is a huge fire-filled battle in the basement and earlier battles are just as impressive as the film utilizes the oft-overlooked technique of making something known to be feared loose in a situation where they can't escape, using the situation to its advantage throughout and never letting it go. Even the gore is impressive, offering tons of splatter to shoot across with reckless abandon and making for a never-ending series of great kills. One of the most impressive films in the genre. (10/10)


This was quite the underrated and enjoyable effort. A lot of the film’s good parts come from the connection between the two as the guy and the car are developed to a degree that comes off as insanely creepy throughout here. The way they’re treated in the first half, with him slowly but surely acting more and more aloof at the whole possession and turning to it far more than the others makes for quite a nice build-up as it manages to set a rather creepy relationship in motion which is a great feat to get this going. Punctuated along the way with some rather fine chase scenes thrown in of the car chasing after both it’s tormentors or just about anyone it comes across, there’s plenty of strong action scenes throughout which gives this the kind of pacing required to get into the type of story. Likewise, the finale in the garage is an absolute treat as the thrilling attempts to mow down the friends inside makes for plenty of highly enjoyable moments inside the different stalking, and with the slew of great visuals for the various kills it does have a lot to like. The main problem here is the fact that it’s just way too long as there’s only a finite number of ways you can show someone becoming an obsessive wreck over a car before it just becomes tedious and repetitive which is what makes this one a highly enjoyable if slightly flawed effort. (9/10)

Prince of Darkness

This here is one of the more enjoyable and undervalued efforts in this particular genre. The extended set-up here in the beginning allows for a pretty involved storyline to come through quite naturally with the historical significance given through the dialogue which is where this really gets it's power from. The main factor in enjoyment comes from the exceptionally tense and well-crafted series of sequences in the later half that show the possessed attempting to free the captured canister in a slew of siege attacks and encounters that work two distinct storylines, not knowing which among them are possessed thus leading to fighting each other and the swarm of people outside trying to get in. That leads to a ton of fun action throughout and the final battle in the basement where the team battle to stop it from fully crossing over into the world that really makes for quite a thrilling time. Added together with some great kills and a sense of class about it for such a cheesy storyline, there's a lot to like here but it still has a few faults. The constant need to use a series of distorted, dreary visions that serve no purpose is a big one here, as the only clue we get to it's purpose is given at the end which means the rest of the time doesn't spend a lot of time really utilizing any sort of explanation for what's going on. That’s really all that’s wrong here. (8.25/10)

In the Mouth of Madness

This was an incredibly fun and enjoyable entry. One of the biggest pluses is that there's a completely unnerving and off-the-charts creepy atmosphere here, utilizing a ton of successful tactics which is really effective here. The mystery over the books and the effect they have on readers is great, making excellent use of a great concept and keeping the mystery alive through some really great scenes. That creepiness here aids the action really well with even more fun once it gets to the town, as nearly everything from the repeated gag of the bicycle rider to the haunted hotel's paintings, the attacks by the kids in the alleyway chasing them off and the general air around town is creepy since they play-off both short-term and for the long haul as well makes them even better as the repeat showings still get the jump. There's also the way the film manages to keep the whole air of creepiness without ever showing the creatures, which this one could've done so for several different scenes, yet all we see are glimpses of humanoid, fish-like things, yet even that is debatable because the glimpses are done so fast that there's not even a completely accurate view as there wasn't too much wrong here. Among the minor flaws is the extremely confusing manner of the ending as there's hardly anything that makes sense. The rationale is sketchy and doesn’t hold up much, feeling rushed as nothing is told or explained and that makes what happens really hard to understand. It may hold back it’s gore, but this is a fun, fantastic entry. (9/10)

Village of the Damned (95)

This has always been a troubling remake which has some decent moments here. One of the best efforts about it comes from the absolutely chilling effect here with the titular children, who are quite possibly among the most chilling and terrifying kids seen in the genre. The pale, pale features, light blond hair, emotionless faces, monotone voice and insane ability to continually be with each other in numerous groups for each of the different encounters manages to make an effective time here even before getting to their powers with their physical appearance generating quite a large amount of scares enough. The powers that come into play here are utterly effective as well with the effect of the spinning eyes and flashing lights which centers around the idea of them being aliens or some other life-force that happened upon the scene and are given quite a wide berth from some really great action scenes. There’s some minor flaws on display, namely from the first half where there's just way too much mystery going on that doesn't get resolved at all. It’s problems with the story, about how the women become pregnant and the wave that washed over them which goes unexplained for the most part as nothing was shown to have happened to them in order to cause this nor did anyone say anything about how it happened.As well, there’s the bland way they tend to go about enforcing their will on people, as they just flash their eyes and that's about it, but it doesn't really provide much in the visual sense. Otherwise, this was quite fun and highly enjoyable. (7.25/10)


This is easily one of the more enjoyable and overlooked entries in the genre. One of the main elements responsible for this is the rather original and innovative approach it takes in regards to vampires. Not only is this one openly defiant about the proper tools and what doesn't work against them, it makes for quite a good telling here by including the storyline about the search for the special artifact. The concept of that particular object is rather creative and original but it also allows for the film to turn into a road movie that includes all the trappings devoted to hunting and tracking a vampire clan. The main method of accomplishing that, the psychic connection between the un-turned victim and the master is a rather novel touch that produces a lot of fun. That doesn't include the main reasons why this one works so well in hunting down the vampires which really makes them quite impressive by utilizing special tactics and maneuvers that showcase some experience in the field rather than the stereotypical method of having experts continuously fail at their profession simply to drive the movie along. That, with the frantic action on display and highly-enjoyable gore scenes, help this overcome its one true flaw. The final showdown really could've been done more effectively, as the climactic fight lasts all of about a minute and should've been bigger for such a journey like this. Still there's not a whole lot here that really gets this down. (9/10)

Ghosts of Mars

This one has always been a somewhat enjoyable effort that is unfairly overlooked. There’s a lot to like with the mostly relentless and utterly enjoyable pacing here, which manages to come off really nicely with the ability to influence all the rather fine encounters in the compound. As the film continually showcases them getting into frantic confrontations requiring high-energy and fiery gunfights and chases in the middle of the city which has a great sense of spectacle here. The kills are gory and really help to add a rather nice touch to the cheesiness of what's happening since the film turns into quite a nice cheese-fest with the possession and body-hopping that goes alongside the idea of being able to travel to Mars. So, then, a question must be asked: why is this included if it's strictly a horror blog? It's close enough to count, and it's an underrated effort anyway which means it's good to be included here. (8.5/10)

Masters of Horror: Cigarette Burns

This was another incredibly surprising entry that had a lot of great things going for it. The main element to like here is that the central mystery about the tape was pretty great with this one really seeming to be worthwhile in generating the wanted reaction it should've had in the viewers. There’s some great work here providing this with some jaw-dropping effects during that video as how it gets added into a film that logically could've inspired such a reaction seeing such images knowing the history as well that also needs to be taken into account for these scenes. Other big action scenes really help here, as the scenes in the basement were quite gruesome and bloody and the finale is an action-packed bloodbath really providing this with a wholly shocking series of mutilations and dismemberments that make for a great time. It gets a bit too talky in the middle with him centered solely on the investigation rather than doing anything else, but it's still quite an enjoyable enough effort proving his worth in the genre. (9/10)

Masters of Horror: Pro-Life

This one was enjoyable and offered a lot to like in the season. For once there’s a pretty worthy plot here that deserved to be on the show, with the tale of a puritanical father wreaking vengeance on an abortion clinic to save his daughter's child. There's tons of potential there and this plays up most of the possibilities. The torture scene in the middle is perfectly gruesome, and it wonderfully keeps the gore off-screen which makes it all the more powerful and the ending is a surprisingly fun cheesefest that makes it a nice watch. The entire concept of the devil's child isn't new, but the way it's added to the other elements gives it a new spin. Again, however, there really isn't any horror here. The fact that the Devil appears in here should've made this a supernatural spookfest, but it's appearance is so ho-hum, almost treated like it was a normal everyday thing to have the Prince of Darkness pop up out of the floor of an abortion clinic and take his demonic off-spring away with him. That really should've been played more for scares, but it isn't and it really doesn't seem all that scary at all. The gore in here is also really unbelievable, mostly being relegated to some CGI bullet hits. That really wasn't impressive, but overall it’s not as bad as the others were. (7.5/10)

The Ward

This turned out to be quite an enjoyable but flawed ghost story. Frankly, the biggest problem is that it’s full of derivative scenes, not just in the terms of scares but also in the actual story itself as the constant need to keep recycling the same plot points does start to wear thin. The scares, though incredibly effective at times and quite unnerving, seem to be brought over from other films of this ilk and force the same exact sudden quick-jump. Finally, the finale does seem a bit rushed and really thrown together at the last minute in an attempt to be clever and original yet completely misses the mark. That said, there's a lot to like here as the facility present is an appropriately gloomy and atmospheric location as it feels perfectly creepy and quite off-kilter enough that a ghost roaming the halls would add a pretty grim feeling to the mix, especially one that's as creepy as this one is which perfectly suits the film. There's a decidedly demented streak with how it doles out the kills which are pretty brutal in concept if slightly skewered in execution, but the fact that it goes to all this trouble to accomplish that is still a massive plus for the film, and really serves well with the fine set-up stalking scenes throughout to make for a rather chilling film in most regards. It is a little flawed, but not enough to be a detriment. (7.75/10)

So, there you go. An official run-down of all of Mr. Carpenter's horror films.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Genre Run-Through: Slasher Films, Part II

All right, now it’s time to do part two of this series, and for a quick refresher course on what’s going on, this one is going to answer in detail another question I posted in part 1, which for those just joining in I listed off here but is specifically this question among the various ones I offered:

What was the first slasher film?

Now, this is an important question to answer and one that really deserves more explanation. While it’s almost impossible to please anyone with a solid choice, there’s a way to have a series of suitable candidates that emerge from the dust, and therefore I’m going to maneuver my way through a timeline of the films to shed some light on the subject.

But, again, where do we start? The answer is simple, and that’s to do what always happens when you’re stuck with the who-influenced-who question: The Master of Suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock and his classic Psycho.

This is definitely a film where we can start the discussion, not only due to the historical release date but for a variety of factors. Among the main factors here is the fact that this is one of the first cases ever in the genre where it showcases all the required elements usually outlined in the previous set-up (there’s a human killer who kills off at least two people without using a firearm or explosive as the main weapon) but there are other bits of criteria involved in the film that does spring up and should be explored.

An elementary by-product of by a slasher film is the very notion of the slashing scenes themselves, which feature some very important characteristic elements that find themselves repeated in the genre. Not necessarily being requirements for the genre but rather repeated tropes brought about by the introduction of familiar plot points in telling that particular story, this one starts off with the inclusion of stalking scenes specifically set in the killers’ viewpoint that’s done in conjunction with keeping the identity a secret while offering up the aura of suspense by making it obvious an attack will happen yet are unsure when it will occur. That’s an important element carried forward in the genre, as the film’s two central set-pieces are done through this manner and really sets out one of the genre’s most influential practices.

Another big deal introduced here that’s important to be discussed is an element that’s hardly ever mentioned yet equally deserving of mentioning, the psychotherapy-laden explanation for the killer’s motives. There are no spoilers about what it actually is, but the film certainly works with the idea of the killer in question having mentally snapped beyond the normal psychosis that governs rational thought as the reason for the killing spree. There’s quite a lot more to it than just that, but obviously not spoiling the matter nothing more is going to be said but the issue, in general, is an important part that gets carried on in the genre where dozens upon dozens of films utilize the concept of a killer who’s suffering from a psychopathic trauma that brings about the main killing spree at the heart of the film. This isn’t much of a concern for the US films to come about, but it does become an important issue to deal with in the near-future.

However, to deal with that in time, we still have one more important film to mention before we leave the year, Peeping Tom. The film is certainly worthy of mentioning here, as it does feature not only the same guidelines mentioned, which are quite capably rendered in this context. The film’s main selling point here in this regard is the ability to generate the sense of fear from placing the audience directly in the viewpoint of the killer, expanding upon that idea founded in Psycho where it’s stalking scenes are conducted through the point-of-view of the killer to an ever-greater degree than Psycho. However, whereas Psycho succeeds in that elements which Peeping Tom stumbles on is that the tactic is regarded more for keeping the killers’ identity secret as that’s a major part of Psycho. Peeping Tom instead is very aware of giving away the killer and manages to fulfill it’s stalking scenes rather routinely because of that factor, so while it’s got a higher body-count and a much more useful attempt to utilize the tactic it’s not an essential in this regard. However, not mentioning it is a huge disservice in this regard and therefore due diligence has been paid.

So, moving on from 1960, we come the very next year for the next stop on this trip, a stop-over in West Germany of all places to highlight a specific company known as Rialto. They are a company that produced all manner of films but the most important factor in this discussion is a series of films which have become known as Krimi (the German word for ‘crime’) and were mostly notable as being influenced by the works of writer Edgar Wallace and his son Bryan Edgar Wallace. Now, while the series is believed to have been started with Face of the Frog in 1959, this one in particular has little to do with the genre here as it follows through on the initial exploits of the series in being a crime/thriller rather than an out-and-out slasher or even much of a horror film. Still, it signals the start of the rest of the series’ interest which concerns a change into incidental horror-style fare built upon those crime/thriller elements.

While there’s no specific film in question that deserves mention here, in general, you can point to a select few films that can be talked about. With the series specializing in thrillers, one of the more important switch-overs is the film Dead Eyes of London (1961), about a crime ring targeted rich men under orders of a mysterious cult leader.  Not a true slasher in the strictest sense, for it follows one of the key components of these Rialto crime/thrillers that became a prominent aspect in that the slashing scenes aren’t made a priority for the film as a whole, and considering they’re based on crime novels that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. The film is centered more around the concept of the police inspector trying to solve the crimes, it only just happens to be a crime-wave based on killing that’s occurring. The deaths are merely the trigger to start the investigation, not the point of the story which is the main difference in these, and that we’ll soon see becomes an important factor later on.

However, it’s the start of the series and would be carried out through a series of films by the company in the following years, including such efforts as The Strange Countess (1961) and The Inn on the River (1962), which are still heavily influenced by these crime/thriller stories but are drawing more and more from the burgeoning slasher trend. Another rather sharp rising trend at the time, the Gothic horror brought about by the arrival of Roger Corman’s classic Edgar Allan Poe/Vincent Price adaptation The Fall of the House of Usher, the combination of Krimi and Gothic horrors began slowly working their way through the Rialto line with Die Tür mit den 7 Schlössern/The Door with 7 Locks (1962), about a woman arriving in London for an inheritance during the middle of a crime spree revolving around a madman killing for a specific set of keys that require opening a secret vault in a majestic castle, the very one she’s just inherited. It’s a skillful mix of the criminal investigation while out in the city and the Gothic chills during the castle sequences and serves as a fine crossover even if the investigation scenes and cobweb-riddled Gothic castle don’t parlay much in terms of slasher elements.

With this one serving it’s purpose and kickstarting the Gothic/Krimi mixture, the continuation of that Rialto line of films brought about more films in that style with Der Zinker/The Squeaker (1963) and The Black Abbot (1963); however, it also brought about three important lines of films that had a profound influence on the genre as a whole. Firstly, the enormous success of this initial wave of Rialto Krimis started the expected wave of films influenced by their ideas which came from fellow West German efforts The Carpet of Horror (1962) and The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle (1963) which followed the current formula of injecting a Gothic setting into a traditional Krimi plotline. However, keep that last film in mind but not for the reason you expect, as it’s the year rather than the film itself for the other two plotlines in the slasher wave begin to emerge that same year in 1963 which proves it to be the most important year in the development of the genre.

Among these two strands, the first is back in the United States which started pumping out a few influential titles. The most prominent of these films is Dementia 13 (1963), a low-budget effort about a woman fearing that her hidden personalities are coming out in murderous fashion while staying at a family-owned castle for a get-together remembering the anniversary of a daughter's death. This one is quite clearly influenced by those Gothic Krimis with the entire affair taking place in the grounds of a twisting, turning castle (or at least as much as the budget dictates it to be, it is a Roger Corman production, after all) while still holding true to the concept of introducing the killer knocking people off one-by-one. Its influences in the murder scenes are numerous throughout the genre, including the little-seen-but-no-less-influential The Curse of the Living Corpse (1964) that has far more in league with the German films than even the previous film, concerning a family gathering together to lay their patriarch to rest but finding themselves stalked in their ancestral mansion by a curse coming to pass in the form of a masked killer killing them off. There’s one last film worth bringing up in this discussion, the Herschell Gordon Lewis gorefest Blood Feast (1963), which is still somewhat influential in the adaptation of the brutal, unique killing to the table which becomes another big repeated factor later on.

Still, the second important strand in the development of the slasher film requires another trip back to Europe, only this time the stop-off is Italy. Again heavily inspired by Hitchcock’s Psycho and dropping the Gothic/Krimi factor, director Mario Bava created the first of a new wave of films with the celebrated The Girl Who Knew Too Much/The Evil Eye (1963), effectively establishing the Giallo genre with this very film. More detail on the genre will be forthcoming, but this genre brings the Krimi out of the past and into more recent times by mixing together the need for investigating a crime spree occurring while delving deeper into the concept of maximizing the stalking and actual kill scenes. This one still carries the investigation angle but changes it around into a much more commonplace trope with the crime being investigated by a citizen rather than the police which changes it around slightly from the Krimi line being produced at that time and still introduces several elements found in Hitchcock’s seminal film.

Now, as important as this one is, there’s another more important film that must be mentioned in this context, another film by Bava called Blood and Black Lace released the following year which is very much considered one of the founding fathers of the genre. Staying closer to its Krimi influences with its Gothic architecture and landscapes, the criminal investigation and outpouring of sadistic kills that intermingle nicely with the psychosis related to the killers’ revelations, the film is certainly deserving of its classic status on its own even before the films’ influences and legacy is taken into account since there’s a clear-cut influence taken straight from this film into the Rialto line. Whereas at first, the line was those clear-cut crime/thrillers with incidental slasher elements that we discussed earlier, it becomes clear after the release of Blood and Black Lace that the Krimi started to adapt that shift into their own work and kickstarted the next line of films on the road to the slasher. While the Giallo would continue on around that time period, we’ll get back to those at a later time both in this write-up and in the blog.

Back to Rialto and Western Germany, the Black Lace influences came to the forefront in their films from that period which started with The Sinister Monk (1965), The Hunchback of Soho (1966) and Creature with the Blue Hand (1967). While all of these films can still indisputably be called Krimis, there’s a much more prominent and profound sense of the Giallo working it’s way into the films with a much more pronounced shot of influence through an enhanced emphasis on the stalking and slashing in those scenes. While still conveying true to the previous generation of Krimis, this far more explicit and sadistic tone can certainly be noticed even more in the remaining Rialto films in the decade as efforts The College Girl Murders (1967), The Hand of Power (1968) and The Monster of Blackwood Castle (1968) also deserve mention here in regards to the burgeoning Giallo trend into the Krimi line as all of these titles can certainly be traced back in line to the release of Black Lace in Germany.

In a nice twist of fate, the influenced became the influencer as the 60s drew to a close and the Rialto Krimi line began to struggle at the box office. While the later films were certainly in line with the slasher trend, they weren’t all that impressive at the box-office and so they turned back to Italy for help and marketed several releases that were straightforward and indisputable Giallos in Germany as Krimis, the most notable at the time was Riccardo Freda’s Double Face. Managing to further the box-office decline, it nevertheless provided the start for what became the most important and influential element in the Italian market in Dario Argento’s seminal Giallo The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970). The masterwork is a grand combination of all the previous influences before it, working the previous Giallos and the late-era Krimis together into a solid whole as the stalking scenes are given much more of a pronounced edge that comes from well-timed shocks, the investigation is handled with exceptional verve and there’s even an interest in adding a touch of blood and gore to the murders, echoing the Bloodfeast connection mentioned earlier. The combined success of all this one, not just in Italy but really all around the world, inspired a wave of imitators in the Giallo genre that emerged like a flood out of Italian cinemas in the following years. More on that to come later on in the blog’s history, however.

So, where does that leave the initial question posed, what was the first slasher? We really can’t count any of the ones we’ve covered yet, but we still need a solid candidate and where we find that is a familiar name in the field: Mario Bava’s A Bay of Blood/Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971). An unconventional Giallo, the film revolves around a sordid cast of characters attempting to get their greedy hands on a piece of picturesque lake-side property only to find themselves falling prey to a series of savage murders.

Without giving away what’s coming to pass in the future with the Giallo write-up, the film portrays both leanings of classic Giallo tropes as well as shifting away from that set-up with plenty of off-shoot elements that find themselves working their way into the slasher trend to come. One of these key elements is a shift away from the Giallo-laden trope of urban environments out into the countryside, away from help or rescue, and to place such an emphasis on the film’s kills that very little else matters other than the final kill-shot, becoming such widespread tropes that the film is notable not just for inspiring those later Giallos as well as becoming an important influence in the slasher genre spawned in the US later on. A trip into the woods became a commonplace trope, the kill scenes are not only imitated for years to come they were even ripped-off wholesale in the first two Friday the 13th films, and its slew of sleaze-riddled characters became a staple of the genre. It is one of the most important titles to be found in the genre.

Before we call this, though, one last title needs to be brought up in the course of this discussion which rivals the above-mentioned film in terms of influence, Sergio Martino’s Torso (1973). This is another important Giallo that follows a group of schoolgirls who are plagued by a strange murderer and decide to take a weekend getaway in the country to forget their troubles, only to find the killer has followed them looking to continue his rampage, which carries plenty of strong elements within that are carried through and ripped off throughout the genre to an even greater extent that Bay of Blood in terms of how the stalking and slashing is carried out. The final half-hour is especially important in this context, setting the stage for the to-come de-rigeur final girl vs the killer set-up that’s become a staple of the genre to come in a way that showcases the confrontation at a fever-pitch that’s copied in numerous films to come. Other elements from the film, including the killer and his method of dispatch, come into play here and make this a serious contender in the sweepstakes to be called the first slasher film.

So in the end, what’s the official call? Strangely, it all depends more on your personal preference. While Torso is oddly more of a bigger name in terms of how much actually gets homaged and ripped off, Bay of Blood is still a heavily homaged film and is a few years older so in the end either one is a suitable candidate. You’re not wrong choosing either, so I say it’s your choice: the earlier film or the more directly-homaged effort to be the first slasher film ever made.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Genre Run-Through: Slashers, Part I

So, it’s now time to work through the genre here and find some of the different styles, and we’ll start with one of the oldest and most important efforts here in the slasher film. It’s one of the more popular efforts having tons of features produced every year and many of Horror’s most beloved titles find themselves aligned with the subgenre in some manner.

But, the genre itself it rife with controversy with many battles being waged by fans. What constitutes a slasher? What was the best slasher film? Who directed the most? What was the first slasher?

While there’s certainly time to answer all these and much more within the pages of the blog, two of those are certainly capable of being answered right now. Let’s take a look at what constitutes a slasher and what was the first one.

What is a slasher?

There are many different interpretations of what constitutes a slasher film, as there’s seemingly enough different answers as there are films in the genre. Either clearing things up somewhat, or perhaps murking up the waters even further, here’s my own personal three-part definition on the subject:

A slasher film consists of a human/humanoid being(s) who embark(s) on a killing spree killing more than two people over the course of the film using any weapon other than a projectile or explosive device.

Now, I really hope that definition helps out somewhat, and there’s some logic behind the reasoning. So, let’s take each of the different elements and explore them.

A human/humanoid being(s)

This statement here allows for several different possibilities. Obviously, the human part of this is a no-brainer, as imparting any other figure into that role turns it into another genre altogether, but I feel it’s the other part that offers up some confusion in the matter. Ignoring for a moment the idea that ordinary human killers are sometimes made into supernaturally powerful beings, this is more about straight-up supernatural figures that partake in full-on humanistic tendencies. In terms of comparison sake, think of villains like Freddy Krueger, the Djinn from the Wishmaster films or the titular Candyman saga, who are decidedly human in appearance but yet are clearly capable of far more supernatural feats and abilities that are beyond the realms of the common person. Still, though, it’s almost impossible to argue that these films are anything but slasher films so they are included in this study.

Embarking on a killing spree killing more than two people over the course of the film

For here, it’s pretty much a component that’s really required for something to be called a slasher film. It’s a genre of film predicated on simply killing people, so that requires a body count to occur throughout here, and frankly, two deaths that are directly tied to the killer’s actions against others is the bare minimum that I will call a slasher. Anything lower doesn’t really seem like it would be a slasher film at all, it’s probably something else entirely than a slasher film. After all, if you can’t kill anybody you’re not a slasher film villain, and that needs to be taken into account.

Using any weapon other than a projectile or explosive device

The last part of the definition here is another important aspect to detail, as the villain at the heart of this one needs to be able to get up close and personal with his intended victims. Picking people off with the use of weaponry like guns or rifles that mean he can stay at a safe distance with the chance for taking multiple opportunities to get his attempted kill doesn’t strike as a slasher, as that becomes a gunman instead. Now, it’s entirely possible for the killer to use a gun for a kill or two, but it can’t be the main weapon used and it’s not even close to a contest if the villain uses explosives or bombs which are incredibly rare but does come up enough. Inevitably, that means the weaponry utilized must be those that work at close-range, from knives (and other similar tools like swords, machetes, etc), blunt objects, axes or chainsaws, as well as poles, pieces of metal or even their bare hands if that works if he has nothing else around to impale/stab/slice at the victim. It all comes down to the items used in order to be a slasher, which is what we’re going for here.

So, there you have it, my own personal definition of a slasher film. There may be other elements that you use for your own personal classification, but I really just bore this one down into it’s most basic and straightforward points necessary to be called such a film. Indeed, other elements may find themselves involved quite frequently in the genre but none of them really mean much of anything to me, it’s all about the ones I’ve set out in this post.

The other thing to take into account with this is the fact that there’s always room to move within the confines of the genre. It’s entirely possible that there are elements of a slasher film that show up in more than just that genre, as there are several rather famous films that are based on the exploits of the genre in order to make themselves work. The most famous example is undoubtedly Predator, with the entire second-half being a series of extended stalking scenes with a humanoid killer picks off people one-by-one with weapons other than a projectile or explosive device and is incredibly effective at this set-up, oftentimes topping the truer slashers being made at the time. Moreover, Pumpkinhead is very similar about a monster running amok killing people one-by-one which is quite effectively a slasher-esque setup while each of the sequels takes that even further into containing slasher-film elements. It’s a rather fine connection to make, but working these familiar and incredibly effective suspense set-ups into other films in order to help enhance their atmosphere quite nicely by taking those slasher elements along for greater impact without really falling in line with the genre as a whole.

So, one more element should be brought up here that should be brought up in the midst of this post. Having the main description be so simple is undoubtedly bound to ruffle the feathers of some out there due to forgoing select tropes of certain films that are expected to be a part of the genre. By making it seem to be excluding the routine nature of the anniversary-set background, the wearing of a mask or the failure to identify the killer until the end as they’re chasing the last person alive in a one-on-one battle, all of which would be expected features to be found in a slasher film, in my initial write-up I do expect that some might be put off by that glaring omission. However, the simple response to that is simply the notion that slashers don’t need them to be included as slashers. Granted, many may use them but it’s not a requirement to be called a slasher as plenty of slashers used settings away from the anniversary setting (for example, Don’t Go in the Woods...Alone, Unhinged and Visiting Hours), featured no masked madman running loose (such as Humongous, April Fools Day and Home, Sweet, Home) and there’s even the odd slasher that disbanded the lone-female-vs-the-killer finale (which I should mention here but won’t spoil them for fear of letting you see the films for yourself: if you know it’s going to be someone else against the killer, I’ve ruined much of the suspense from the film itself) yet it’s very hard to imagine anyone thinking these aren’t slasher films.

Lastly, it pays to mention one more aspect here for the genre. There’s the idea that a slasher film is simply just one person running around killing people, but it’s completely unneeded. It’s entirely possible for a film to have more than one killer, even up to a whole town of people as the killer. So long as it follows the criteria set-up here there’s little that can be said about it not being a slasher film at all. We can definitely make allowances for films that feature plenty of true elements of traditional slashers that still have human killers even if there’s a couple or more involved.

So, that’s enough for now before this gets too big, and it’s a good explanation to put out so we’ll leave it here. Next time we’ll look at one of the other questions listed above for the next post.