October 15th, 2009

WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE (1994) ** ½

I usually don’t put the director’s name in the titles when I write up a review.  For instance, I didn’t list the title of Halloween as “John Carpenter’s Halloween” even though that’s what it says on the opening credits.  What makes Wes Craven’s New Nightmare different is the fact that Craven directed, produced, and stars in the flick.  Also, Craven says he has several nightmares during the movie, so this literally could be called Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.

 

I’ll tell you one thing; I liked his Old Nightmare a Hell of a lot better.

 

Heather Langenkamp (the chick who played Nancy in Nightmare on Elm Street 1 and 3) has been getting a lot of obscene phone calls lately.  She’s also had a bunch of bad dreams about her old co-star Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund).  Heather slowly realizes that the character Freddy Krueger has becomes REAL and now is coming after her and her family.  After Freddy kills her husband in his sleep, Nanc… err… Heather must protect her son (Miko Hughes) from the no-good dream demon.  In the end, Heather goes toe to toe with her fictional foe and shoves Freddy’s ass into an oversized oven.

 

New Nightmare was Wes Craven’s warm up to Scream.  He’s clearly having fun being self-referential and playing with the conventions of the horror movie.  While Craven’s approach is ambitious and potentially fascinating, the results are overlong and flawed. 

 

This movie came out shortly after The Player, right when it was hip to throw in a lot of celebrity cameos playing themselves.  Langenkamp does a fine job at playing herself but Craven is kinda hammy.  I liked seeing Robert Englund as himself too, yet I was a tad disappointed by his “New” Freddy performance.  He just wasn’t very menacing (that had more to do with his needlessly redesigned make-up and cheesy looking retrofitted claw) and the padding they used to bulk him up is obvious.

 

The idea of Freddy coming after his creators sounded great on paper but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. After Craven expertly sets up the premise, he doesn’t do a whole lot with it.  He spends more time psychobabbling about it than actually producing the scares, which is kind of unfortunate.  He also unnecessarily hits us over the head with all the bedtime stories allegories.  (Like Freddy being killed by getting shoved into an oven a la Hansel and Gretel.)

 

It doesn’t work completely yet it has moments where you go, “Oh damn!”  I think my favorite scene comes when Freddy’s Special FX animatronic glove gets a mind of its own and slices up some crew members.  The twist on Tina’s paint-the-room-red death from the original also has quite a kick to it too.

 

The extremely bloated running time (112 minutes) sabotages what should’ve been a dynamite concept.  The subplot about the overbearing doctor and the snarky nurses trying to keep Heather from her kid is more a little grating and slows the flick down just when it should be ramping up.  Craven also gives us one too many scenes of Heather waking up and finding her son sleepwalking for any sane person to endure.  Speaking of the kid, Miko Hughes was great in Pet Sematary but he gives one of the worst child performances in history in this flick.  He almost single-handedly ruins the whole deal with his incessant screaming. 

 

I appreciate the fact that Craven at least TRIED to reinvent the wheel though.  Ultimately, in a horror franchise as popular as this one, it’s better to aim low and succeed than to shoot for the moon and miss.  Wes Craven's New Nightmare is the most interesting of the Nightmare series but it also happens to be the least entertaining.  Still, if you ever wanted to see someone shove a moray eel in Freddy’s eye, this is the flick for you.

 

<Tomorrow’s Horror Franchise Movie:  Hellraiser>

THE EMBALMER (1965) ** ½

Here’s a nutty Italian giallo that plays more like a Mexican horror movie.  A lunatic wearing a black hood and a skull mask murders women and keeps them perfectly preserved in his lair located deep within the catacombs of Venice.  Meanwhile a womanizing reporter investigates the crimes and tries to bring the killer to justice. 

 

The Embalmer moves at a sluggish pace but it contains some moments of surreal weirdness that had me in stitches.  Wait until you get a load of the scenes where the killer stalks his prey.  This dude walks around the streets of Venice wearing scuba gear yet he is still somehow able sneak up on his victims.  At one point, he knocks over a trash can with his flippers and the chick doesn’t even notice!  Incredible.  If that doesn’t crack you up, the Ricky Nelson look-alike who croons a song (in Italian) after rising out of a coffin will.

 

If the flick had more of this goofy shit like this in it, I think we would’ve had some sort of Grade Z masterpiece on our hands.  Unfortunately, the endless scenes of the suave reporter taking beautiful women on sightseeing tours of Venice slowed the movie down to a fucking crawl.  The film does have some atmospheric scenes in the catacombs (the reveal of the skull mask is particularly effective) but the atrocious score, which is nothing more than a bunch of library striptease music, doesn’t go along with any of the action and drains the movie of much of its would-be suspense.  The climax is quite lively though.

 

Naturally, The Embalmer himself gets all the best (poorly dubbed) dialogue like, “My secret potion will penetrate every cell in your body, keeping you eternally beautiful!”

 

AKA:  The Monster of Venice.

AMERICAN NINJA 5 (1993) **

David Bradley returns in this totally unrelated sequel in the American Ninja franchise.  He plays an American who happens to be a Ninja; other than that he’s a completely different character.  You can tell because he doesn’t have a mullet in this one.

 

Bradley is stuck babysitting a little punk (Lee Reyes) at the behest of his sensei (Mr. Miyagi himself, Pat Morita).  When his girlfriend gets kidnapped and is carted off to Venezuela, Bradley and the kid follow in hot pursuit.  Turns out, a nefarious villain wants the chick’s scientist papa to make a chemical weapon for an irate dictator and he’ll kill the dame if the doctor doesn’t cooperate.  Bradley and the little pipsqueak have to team up to Kung Fu a lot of color-coordinated Ninjas in order to save the day.

 

American Ninja 5 isn’t a bad movie per se, it’s just kinda flat and uninspired; especially when compared to the other films in the series.  The biggest problem I had is with the Ninja kid.  He gets annoying pretty quickly and the constant cutesy comic relief (Sample line of dialogue:  “All right dude… I mean… Master!”) makes this the Cop and a Half of Ninja movies.

 

The action sequences are slightly better than average and make up for a lot of the juvenile shenanigans.  Even though this flick isn’t really part of the American Ninja series (it was originally filmed under the title American Dragons), it still has all the arrow-catching, Ninja starring, nunchucking, and smoke bombing you’d come to expect from the franchise.  Bradley gives a competent performance and it’s always fun seeing Morita. 

 

AKA:  American Dragons.