The Nightmare Marathon

11904083_10152929958092511_5189460925051084452_nOver the last three days I’ve watched seven A Nightmare on Elm Street films. Why? It’s a good question, and I don’t really have a good answer. It’s a pretty dumb thing to have done. It started because I was thinking about horror films I’d enjoyed in my youth and wondering if they held up. I got to talking to some people about one of them, A Nightmare On Elm Street. I remembered loving it, and also really enjoying the third one, Dream Warriors. I knew I’d seen the second one, but couldn’t remember it (turns out that was my brain trying to protect me).

So I looked into getting the DVDs for a rewatch and discovered the sweet box set you see above. All six original Nightmare On Elm Street movies, plus Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. All on Blu-Ray. $40 for the lot. Well, that was easy – I bought it and then subjected myself to them all. I had no idea there were six originally. Regardless, I’d only seen the first three, so I was interested to see how it all shook out, but I was expecting diminishing returns. Oh man, did I underestimate how bad things could get. But it wasn’t all bad.

A Nightmare On Elm Street

Made in 1984 and introducing Johnny Depp! Both of those things surprised me. I thought the series started later. It turns out all 6 original films were made in 7 years, between 1984 and 1991. Churning it out, Hollywood style. But this first one is still a classic. It opens with the introduction of the monster, Freddy Krueger, still one of the best ever horror creations. The first killing is early and unambiguous. The film wears its intentions like a baggy red and green sweater and does everything it sets out to do really well. The horror of being at risk in your nightmares, the fear of falling asleep, the sustained tension and then sudden, horrific violence, without ever being too schlocky. All brilliant. I mean, Depp’s death in a geyser of blood and the first death wiping the girl all over the ceiling while she’s repeatedly stabbed – this stuff is really fucking schlocky, of course. But in context, its all very well put together. It’s horribly 80s, but it remains a great horror film. And still the best of the entire franchise.


A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge

It’s instantly clear that this film has a higher budget after the runaway success of the first, but that can’t save it. It moves away from being a purely nightmare film and tries to be a poltergeist film too, but it does both those things really badly. It does find itself a bit, way too late, but regardless, they try to reinvent the core concept, or at least expand it, and they fail miserably. Plus, they’ve done away with the iconic glove and the blades now grow directly from Freddy’s fingers which is lame and makes no sense. And those new blades are all thin and piss-weak. This one really is an atrocious debacle with a completely senseless plot. Terrible.

imagesA Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

I remembered this one well, and remembered really enjoying it. I was hopeful it would hold up. And it really does. They get Nancy back, the main protagonist from the original, for one thing. New lead Kirsten heads a band of sleep-deprived kids, the setup is a clinic with the remaining Elm Street children all suffering from “mass delusion”, which is actually Freddy, of course. They give us a Freddy origin story: the bastard son of a hundred maniacs. It makes little sense, but it’s added depth. It’s a shame they subsequently drench the Freddy mythology in Christian mythology, but even so, this installment is an excellent sequel to first one. There’s another good development, with Kirsten having the power to draw other people into her dreams. That adds great breadth to the story. The best thing thus far is to entirely ignore that number 2 even exists, and just watch 1 and 3 – a great double bill. Incidentally, the theme song by Dokken is a truly awful 80s metal anthem, but that kinda works too. Dream Warriors is not as good as the first, but almost, and a damn good horror film.

A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

Here’s where things go rapidly downhill and just don’t stop falling. They bring back Joey and Kincaid from Dream Warriors, but use a different actress for Kirsten. That’s already a bad sign. The 80s influence is stronger than ever and there’s a completely horrible karate montage early on. *shudder* Then, for no explicable reason whatsoever, in a dream Kincaid’s dog pisses fire (literally pisses fire) on Freddy’s grave and that brings him back from his holy water banishing. Because why not? Who the fuck cares, right? Let’s just get Freddy back. Fire-pissing dog? Sure! Kincaid and Joey both die really quickly, and then new Kirsten is left to build a new Scooby gang, only to die very quickly too (thankfully, because she was a terrible actor). It turns out the real hero this time is Alice. But here’s the thing – right as she dies, Kirsten gives Alice her power to draw other people into her dreams. There’s no explanation how she can do this – she just kinda lobs it out there like a fucking tennis ball. And it’s the single biggest idiot move of the franchise. Kirsten knows Freddy has run out of Elm Street children. She knows he’s using her power to draw new kids in to cut them up. He finally gets her, but she makes sure that her power survives. The one thing that can keep Freddy in business. This should be called A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: Kirten’s An Idiot. Then Alice starts getting all the powers of the other kids – for no reason – and suddenly she’s a karate master and kills Freddy by making him look at himself in a mirror. Evil, see thyself. Like he wasn’t already completely self-aware. Honestly, this film is so dumb it hurts. And there’s an awful Freddy rap over the end credits. Unforgivable.

A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child

I’m going to spend less time talking about these films now. But still probably more time than it took to write them. I’m guessing they were written by chimps on LSD. So Freddy literally rebirths himself through Alice’s dream. She dreams of him being born, et voila. Then Alice learns she has to find and free Amanda Krueger’s body (Freddy’s mum). Because why not. Freddy can suddenly do stuff while people are awake, completely inexplicably. Turns out, Alice is pregnant and Freddy is using her unborn fetus’s dreams. Someone kill me now. For some reason, that unborn child manifests as about 6 years old in Alice’s dreams and does more than the rest of the cast put together. Then Amanda shows up, does something, Jacob the unborn son does something and Freddy goes back into Amanda’s uterus, the end. Fucking insane.


A Nightmare On Elm Street 6: Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare

Too many colons, guys. You know what? Freddy has been dead since before the first film. That’s the central conceit of the whole fucking series. Whatever, let’s roll. This one is billed on imdb as “”Comedy/Horror/Thriller”. It’s set “10 years from now” where the town with Elm Street has no kids or teenagers left and all the adults are nutbars. The rest of America seems to just be ignoring this. No idea why Freddy is restricted by red lines on a map, but whatever. The comedy here is awful, the plot makes no sense – even less than 4 and 5, which is some going. Apparently Freddy had a daughter before everything went down, so he wants to use her. Somehow he does. They clearly had the finale of this film in 3D and the daughter puts 3D glasses on in the film to tell the audience it’s time! When she comes out of her dream, she says, “I’m still seeing things the way I did in my dream. It’s not over!” DON’T TAKE THE 3D SPECS OFF YET, FOLKS! This is how low they were scraping the barrel here. They eventually use the idea from the first film of holding on to Freddy while waking up to pull him out of the dream (why has this not happened before!?) and then the daughter kills him with a stick of dynamite. At the end there’s a kind of “Thank fuck it’s over” montage of all six films and it ends with a still frame of Freddy with RIP stamped over it. It’s really over, the character is really dead, the dream demons left his exploding body. Thank fuck for that.

So that was it. They decided it was impossible to make a shitter film than the sixth one and it finally died.

Or did it?

No. Just three years later, Wes Craven was back to make:

new_nightmareWes Craven’s New Nightmare

It’s worth bearing in mind that the only good films so far are 1 and 3 – the two Craven wrote and directed. New Nightmare is actually pretty good – it’s almost as if Wes Craven knows what he’s doing. The film is very meta – it’s the actors from the first film playing themselves, and Freddy is crossing over from film into the real world. Craven describes it as the evil being trapped in a story, but when the story ended, when the franchise was shelved and the story died, the evil was set free. Nice little idea. There are good nods to the originals and the tension and horror are ramped up again without the lame comedy. The end is a little bit hokey, but they do a good job of getting some of the series’ dignity back. The only real downer is that they went back to the crappy finger blades like in number 2, instead of the glove, even though a mechanical glove was what started it all off in this new film. Either way, this one was a good film, good production and acting, and a clever plot. After the atrocities of 4, 5 and 6, it was a breath of fresh air.

So, the net result of all this? The whole base concept of A Nightmare On Elm Street is cool, and the original is still the best. If you want the full Freddy experience, a triple-bill of A Nightmare On Elm Street, then Dream Warriors, then New Nightmare is all you need. Everything else is bollocks and you can easily just ignore it. I wish I had.


Mad Max: Fury Road is the best film in years

Mad Max: Fury Road
Mad Max: Fury Road

Holy balls, man, Mad Max: Fury Road was outstanding. There was nothing about it I didn’t like. I was wary going in because the hype had been so huge and so many of my friends were loving it that I felt sure I would be underwhelmed. Sometimes even a great film is overshadowed by the scale of its hype and you simply can’t enjoy it as much as you might if you’d gone in with no expectations. This is not the case with this film. It started and by the time the title slammed into the screen after the opening sequence I was upright in my seat and grinning. My adrenaline was pumping and I was thinking, This is gonna be fucking awesome!

And it was. It was insane, relentless, breathtaking, beautiful and intense. If I didn’t have to go to work that afternoon, I’d have turned around and gone right back in to watch it again. I’m desperate to see it again as soon as possible and that rarely happens. Not only is exactly the high-octane thrill-ride it purports to be, it’s something greater. Fury Road exemplifies, in every way, exactly what cinema is for.

Film is a unique medium, as all mediums are. You can make a film of a book or a graphic novel, but those things retain certain attributes in their native form that it’s not possible to recreate in other forms. For example, Alan Moore’s Watchmen is the perfect example of a story absolutely suited to the graphic novel. The double page spreads, Gibbons’ artwork and Moore’s words create a graphic experience that’s just not the same in book or film. A great novel has the beauty of the author’s language and descriptive prose that isn’t evident in a film version (or even a graphic novel, for that matter.) In the same way, everything about Fury Road is perfect for film.

The style is essential. George Miller has created a look and feel that’s visceral. He’s also eschewed CGI for real stunts and genuine car crashes, explosions and racing as often as possible. (Here’s a good post on why the overuse of CGI is increasingly crappy.) Of course, there is CGI in Fury Road, but it’s really the weakest of the visual effects and only used when it’s essential. There are regular nods to the 3D version as well, and that combines with the CGI at its worst with the guitar swinging towards the camera and back near the end of the movie. You’ll see what I mean. But even as that is the worst visual effect in the film for me, it’s still so beautifully over-the-top and insane that I forgave it. And all the CGI and 3D stuff always came second to the primary, powerful live-action film-making. And it’s film-making done to perfection.


The pace almost doesn’t let up, but when it does the calmness is sublime. The colour palette from burning desert to cold night is wonderfully filmed. The overcranking of speed and under-selling of violence -regularly brutal, never gratuitous – is all right on point. It’s a truly all-encompassing experience that utilises the medium masterfully.

But that wouldn’t be enough on its own. Spectacle without substance is an exercise in directorial masturbation. *cough*MichaelBay*cough* On top of all the cinematic beauty, the story, mythology and characters were solid and mesmerising. The performances, especially from Charlize Theron, were superb. The development of the broken world and the way some people had risen to control the desperate masses was utterly believable even within the epic, inconceivable scale of some of the things suggested. We didn’t have everything spelled out for us, but the story unfolded exactly as we needed to know things, just when we needed to know them. All of the above is essential to make perfect cinema. It all came together in one explosive and mind-blowing feature in Fury Road and that’s what makes it it the best film I’ve seen in years.

And I would be happy to leave it at that and let the film stand on its own brilliance, but there have been a lot of shouts from idiots about feminism, men’s rights, cocks withering and dying at the mere sight of the promo poster and so on, so I’m not going to leave it there. I’ll address that bullshit directly.

FURY ROADNo doubt you’ve read about the whiny rapist shitstains called MRAs, or Men’s Rights Activists, who have whined and shat themselves about this film because they call it part of a damaging feminist agenda. Apart from it being hilarious that their scrotums are tied in knots by a flick half of them haven’t even watched, they’re only giving the film more publicity. Which is great. Because it’s a brilliant film that is in part brilliant because of the amazing female roles, incredible female heroes and no damsels in distress bullshit. At one point, Max wordlessly defers to Theron’s character, Furiosa, when it’s clear she has the skills he doesn’t. I know! Hang onto your penises, fellas. Furiosa also defers to him when his skillset is greater, and others defer to each other and none of it has anything to do with gender. It’s about warriors working together and surviving the apocalypse. This film takes the Bechdel Test and shoves it right up its vagina, and that’s great! You could (satirically) question whether two male characters ever talk about something other than a female, given what the film is fundamentally about. But no spoilers here. We need more films where there are equal roles fulfilled by everybody in the cast and where that cast isn’t all men. Is there a feminist agenda? No. Is there a feminist message? Maybe. At one point, a woman screams, “Then who broke the world!?” and it’s easy to read a lot into that. But so what? We need films with a feminist focus. We need films that challenge the rampaging cockforest of Hollywood and prove that the all-male extravaganza is a choice, not a necessity. Because, above all else and without any reference to politics, this is first and foremost a fucking superb film, packed with amazing heroes and blistering action and everything else I’ve talked about above. And, as my pal said, every time someone watches Fury Road, an MRA loses his erection. That only adds to the reasons to watch.

Driving home, I just wanted to ram all the other road users out of my way, spray my teeth chrome and blow shit up. Seriously, go and watch this film. It entirely lives up to the hype.


Pacific Rim – Peter Watts says it all

I was going to blog about the awesomeness that is Pacific Rim. Seriously, guys – giant robots smashing the shit out of giant kaiju! What is there not to love about that? I wanted to talk about the amazing effects, the reason it works even though it’s absolutely fucking ridiculous. In fact, right after the movie, I tweeted:

My Pacific Rim review: Absolutely fucking ridiculous. Absolutely fucking tremendous. 5 Stars.

And really, that does say it all. But I wanted to blog about why. Thankfully, I don’t need to, because the excellent Peter Watts has done it for me. He says exactly what I thought about this film, so go and read his post here.

The joy of dumbness.

…in terms of sheer dumb popcorn-munching fun, no other movie I’ve seen in the past year comes close to Pacific Rim.



Video trailers for RealmShift and MageSign

I’m very pleased with these. My publisher, Gryphonwood Press, has put together these two simple video trailers for my dark urban fantasy novels, RealmShift and MageSign. I’m very much of the opinion that a simple trailer for a book is the best option. If you have loads of money to spend on a really professional, slick video, then great. But if you do it on the cheap, it looks tacky and… well, cheap. And that does no favours for your book. But Gryphonwood Press commissioned top notch voice actor Jeffrey Kafer to voice these trailers and just used the book covers for the visuals. The result is simple and effective. At least, I think it is! What do you think?

Here’s RealmShift:

And here’s MageSign: