Review : Friday the 13th Part II (1981)

Friday the 13th Part II, directed by Steve Miner and released in 1981, is a direct sequel to the original Friday the 13th. This sequel marks the real introduction of Jason Voorhees as the killer.

Two months after the events of the first film, Alice is wandering in her apartment for one of the longest and most boring scenes in history. After a couple of fake jump scares, she discovers Mrs Voorhees’ severed head in her fridge. This is when Jason appears behind her and shoves a screwdriver in her temple. Goodbye, Alice. The film then jumps 5 years ahead and brings us back to Camp Crystal Lake, or rather to another camp very close to Crystal Lake, where a new counselor training session is taking place before the grand opening of the camp. Of course, Jason isn’t too pleased seeing his camp being invaded by counselors and goes on a killing rampage to get rid of them. But this time, he faces a girl who could defeat him.

Knowing what the franchise came to be, this one feels like the real first entry as it introduces the franchise’s iconic villain : Jason Voorhees. You can feel that they still didn’t really know what exactly to make of Jason : his look is extremely similar to the killer of The Town That Dreaded Sundown and his backstory isn’t well-rounded. It does raise a lot of questions : if the ending of the previous film isn’t a dream sequence and Jason didn’t really drown as a child, why did he stay alone in the woods all those years ? If he witnessed the events of the previous film, why stay passive and watch his mother die instead of helping her ? These are only a few questions we won’t get answers to. However, the backstory goes further into revealing that Mrs Voorhees and Jason must have had a Norman / Norma Bates relationship. This is all theorized by Ginny, our main girl, who is a psychology major.

Ginny is not only a smart young woman, she is also quite nice and is not the type of character to go down without a fight. She is physically capable and is a great final girl. The other characters are sympathetic enough that you feel bad when Jason kills them. The kills are as entertaining as in the first installment, maybe even a bit more. The practical effects are great and the amount of blood should satisfy any horror fan.

Friday the 13th Part II is more intense than its predecessor. It still uses the killer POV shots but while it is genius in Halloween, it doesn’t work well here. Halloween relies on atmosphere while Friday is a simpler, gorier slasher (which is not a bad thing) so the POV seems inappropriate in some scenes and comes across as a gimmick.

The final sequence is the best part of the film and it is full of suspense. Overall, Friday the 13th Part II is a good sequel, it introduces one of the greatest horror icons in horror history and is a good follow-up to its predecessor.

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Review : Friday the 13th (1980)

After reviewing the entire Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, it seemed natural to move on to the other big guy, Jason Voorhees. Friday the 13th, produced and directed by Sean S. Cunningham, was released in 1980 and was the starting point of a decade of slasher goodness. Apparently, the film was written as a Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978) rip-off. However, the film is vastly different, from tone to story, and thus never feels like a rip-off.

The opening scene shows Camp Crystal Lake at the end of the 1950’s. Two counselors sneak away from a campfire to have sex, when they are brutally murdered by an unknown assailant. Twenty years later, the camp is re-opened and counselors are there to prepare everything before campers arrive. On Friday the 13th, counselors are being killed one by one.

Friday the 13th, though not the first slasher, was an undeniable influence on all slashers which would be produced in the 1980’s. I hadn’t watched the film in a while and going back to it, knowing the franchise it spawned, was a weird and surprising experience. It is common knowledge [but, just in case, spoilers ahead] that Jason doesn’t appear in the film, except briefly, as a child. Jason was the child who drowned because counselors neglected their job in order to fool around. This is the reason Mrs Voorhees, Jason’s mother, is set to kill all camp counselors who set foot at Camp Crystal Lake. There is a interesting hint at a Psycho mother-son relationship with those two characters ; or maybe Mrs Voorhees simply had a mental breakdown following her son’s death. Overall, there isn’t much character development and it is a flaw when it comes to Mrs Voorhees. The other characters are designed to be killed off, which is fine for a slasher.

As a slasher, Friday the 13th is great. Tom Savini did a marvelous job with the make-up effects. The only negative I noticed is the color of the flesh never matches between the actors’s skin and the prosthetics. The film is surprisingly not very bloody but every kill is entertaining and some are very memorable such as the axe in the face or the arrow in the throat. Though I found scenes in between kills to be quite dull, it is worth getting through them to finally get some slasher goodness.

My only main issue with Friday the 13th is that it is a whodunit and in that regard, it is a complete failure. The killer is never shown on screen when the murders occur so we are supposed to be wondering who it could be : a counselor ? someone from the nearby town ? The game doesn’t work because we are never introduced to the character before the reveal. This is not how a whodunit is supposed to work.

Friday the 13th is really not a favourite of mine because I love the character of Jason Voorhees. How can I love a Friday film without Jason ? I do enjoy the film quite a lot though I found it quite dull this time around. The kills are definitely the main appeal and as a slasher, the film doesn’t disappoint. However, I’m just waiting for Jason to show up so watching the first entry in the franchise almost feels like something required before having access to the good stuff.

Review : Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

It has been 3 years since New Line Cinema released what was supposed to be the very last Nightmare on Elm Street film. In 1994, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare came along to give us a new concept and end the franchise on a better note. Wes Craven wrote and directed this last entry and took the nightmare in an entire new direction to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the original Nightmare on Elm Street.

It has been ten years since the release of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Heather Langenkamp (who portrayed Nancy) is now happily married to Chase, a special effects artist, and has a young son, Dylan. Heather is receiving creepy phone calls from a deranged fan imitating Freddy and is having bad dreams. When her husband dies under suspicious circumstances and her son starts acting out and having strange episodes, she realizes something evil is going on. She is soon contacted by New Line Cinema and finds out Wes Craven is working on the script of a new Freddy feature. But this time, Freddy seems to have entered the real world and to stop him, Heather is going to have to reprise her role as Nancy.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is difficult to review as part of the franchise because it is self-aware. The film acknowledges that A Nightmare on Elm Street is a franchise and the actors play themselves : Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund and even Wes Craven are themselves in this film. This is an original concept and New Nightmare definitely paved the way for Scream which Wes Craven directed only two years later.

I thought Wes Craven did a great job at explaining why would Freddy exist in a world where he is clearly shown as a fictional character and a horror icon. Freddy is the incarnation of an ancient evil entity. Making movies about him acted as a catarthis for this evil force but once they stopped making new films in the franchise, the evil wasn’t contained anymore. The only illogical aspect of this concept is that we see the script of the film within the film so it feels weird that, for instance, Craven would kill off Heather’s husband knowing that what he writes is actually happening. While the idea is original, it raises a lot of questions and some plotholes emerge.

Freddy gets a new design here and it’s not all good in my opinion. I really didn’t like his face make-up. It looks extremely fake, like a Halloween mask you would buy at the store. I had never seen such symmetrical and well-rounded burn scars. His new glove also doesn’t match the greatness of the original one. They chose a more flesh and bone design and it doesn’t look right. However, Freddy looks awesome wearing the trench coat, I absolutely loved this wardrobe choice. Despite not liking his new look, I found Freddy really menacing and it feels great having a scary Freddy once again. They finally brought him back to his roots and dropped the stupid comical version of Freddy and we absolutely needed that.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare being a meta film, it offers interesting views on the franchise and horror movies in general. It raises the question of the influence of horror movies on audiences and, something the fans will appreciate, it is a reflexion on what the franchise has become and how Freddy became a pop culture icon. The final act of the film brings us classic Nightmare on Elm Street with a final confrontation in the dream world.

New Nightmare is an interesting film. It does have its flaws and is an outsider in the franchise but it brings back scary Freddy and has a refreshing concept. Some of the effects are not so great and Miko Hughes (playing the young son) is really annoying but other than that, it is definitely an enjoyable watch and is much more satisfying as a last entry than Freddy’s Dead.

Review : Freddy’s Dead : The Final Nightmare (1991)

Freddy’s Dead : The Final Nightmare is the sixth installment in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and was, at the time of its release, supposed to be the last time we see Freddy Krueger on screen. The film was directed by Rachel Talalay and released in 1991. It was also New Line Cinema’s first film released in 3-D.

Ten years after the events of The Dream Child, Freddy has killed every single child in the town of Springwood except for one teenager. After a nightmarish encounter with Freddy, the now amnesic boy ends up in a shelter for troubled teens. Convinced he is Freddy’s son, the teenager goes back to Springwood with Maggie (who works at the shelter) and three other kids. They soon find out they are unable to leave the strange town and are now Freddy’s preys.

Wow. I don’t even know where to start with this one. Before going into more details, let me warn you : this film is bad. Really, really bad.

First, Freddy is no longer the star of a horror film but a comedy. There is not a single scare, Freddy himself is a cartoony character and the film is set to have as many early 90’s pop culture reference as possible. There was always dark humor in the Nightmare on Elm Street films and it did more comedic with each sequel but they took way too far this time. This is the Looney Tunes version of Freddy Krueger and this is not what I want from this franchise.

The storyline is, for lack of a better word, weird. One problem is that there seems to be little no zero connexion to the previous films. This could have easily been fixed : instead of making a random teenager, why not have the main character actually be….Jacob ! This seems so obvious, I don’t understand why the writers didn’t think of it. Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room…Freddy has a daughter ?! WTF ? This information comes out of nowhere and is thrown at us randomly. Didn’t they realize this made absolutely no sense since it was never mentioned in the course of five films ?! The only positive that comes out of it is that we get more backstory on Freddy and I did appreciate that.

The characters are forgettable and not worth cheering for as they are barely introduced and have no development. The acting is passable (except the John Doe character, he was terrible) but most of the dialogue is poorly written. The worst is Freddy’s cringe-worthy one-liners. One scene most people hate but I almost enjoyed was the NES bit. Unfortunately, it would have been a million times better if they made a horror game instead of a simple platformer.

Now, the final act of the film is 3-D. I don’t have a 3-D version of the film but even in 2-D (if not more so) you can see how gimmicky it is. The 3-D is not incorporated into the scenes, the scenes are designed around the 3-D. A character actually puts on real 3-D glasses to signal to the viewer to do the same…you know they’ve hit rock bottom when you see something as stupid on screen. She needs 3-D glasses to see in the dream world ? Really ? Freddy died all right, now from being killed on screen but by having its legacy butchered by lazy writers and a studio whose only concern was to release one film after the other as quick as possible to cash in on Freddy’s popularity as long as possible. Sad way to end a franchise…thankfully, 3 years into the future and another entry comes along to end on a better note…kinda.

Freddy’s Dead is the worst entry in the franchise. The writing is terrible, the comedy is cartoony and over-the-top and Freddy barely uses his glove. Stay away from it, it sucks.

Review : A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 5 : The Dream Child (1989)

Another year, another Nightmare on Elm Street sequel ! The Dream Child, the fifth installment, was released in 1989 and was directed by Stephen Hopkins. The previous protagonists, Nancy and Kristen having been killed by Freddy, we are now stuck with Alice, who was introduced in Part 4 : The Dream Master.

A year after the events of the previous film, Alice is graduating high school, in a relationship with Dan and there has been no sign of Freddy Krueger. Unfortunately, Alice is starting to have nightmares again and fears he might come back. Freddy of course returns and after he claims Dan’s life, Alice finds out she is pregnant. Freddy is using the foetus to gain power over Alice and the only way to stop him is to find Amanda Krueger’s spirit (Freddy’s mom) to help defeat him.

If my poor attempt at explaining the plot is not enough, let me clarify : this film makes no sense at all. There are too many plot holes and when the film does provide explanations, it not only lacks any logic, it also seems they chose the stupidest explanations they could come up with.

To make things worse, the acting is terrible and Freddy is no longer scary. His once great one-liners are now cringe-worthy. There is no scare in this film and only three kills, which is an absolute shame.

There are many aspects to complain about with The Dream Child. We witness Freddy’s birth and learn that he was born disfigured and burnt and more creature than human. This is in complete contradiction with the origin of the character given to us prior. We know that Freddy was burnt by the Elm Street parents who murdered him, which is no less than the very reason why he is eager to kill all the Elm Street children. This film just disregards the most basic aspect of its icon for no justifiable reason. Also, Freddy can apparently kill now without the need for the characters to fall asleep. When they do, it’s at the most inappropriate and impossible moments. Have you ever fallen asleep on a diving board seconds before getting ready to jump into a pool ? Yeah. Me neither.

The whole baby storyline, just like the rest of the film, makes little sense. Freddy can control Alice’s dreams using her unborn child because….babies dream. This is the only explanation we are given and we are supposed to accept such a stupid statement ?? This shows how little effort was put into the script. When Alice dreams or hallucinates (I don’t know…) her child, he is a 7 or 8 year-old boy because…why ? At this point, I have given up trying to make sense of the mess that is The Dream Child.

The Dream Child is the worst sequel to this point (and makes me reconsider how bad Tbe Dream Master was…it was bad, but not as bad as this one). It is a very mediocre film from all angles : terrible acting, terrible writing, barely any kills and a cringe-worthy comical Freddy who no longer scares anyone. Avoid this one at all cost.

Review : A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4 : The Dream Master (1988)

The fourth installment in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise came out only a year after Dream Warriors, in 1988. The film is directed by Renny Harlin who seems to believe all you need for a quality Nightmare on Elm Street sequel is Robert Englund and good special effects….and nothing more.

Since the events of Dream Warriors, Kristen, Kincaid and Joey have been released from the psychiatric hospital and are going to high school as normal teenagers. Kristen has new friends and even a boyfriend while still being close to Kincaid and Joey (though the two complain about Kristen pulling them into her dreams). Kristen is worried Freddy Krueger might come back. He eventually does and ends up killing the last of the Dream Warriors. It is now up to Alice, Kristen’s best friend, to stop Freddy from killing more people. Alice is a daydreamer, therefore, she is what is called a Dream Master, and is the only one fit to fight Freddy.

The Dream Master marks the end of an era and the start of a new one (and this is not good news) : Freddy is now more comical than scary. Freddy always had humor, he is after all famous for his great one-liners, but this film takes it too far and turns our horror icon into a clown. When Freddy appears on a beach and puts on sunglasses, you have a feeling something is not right. Then, when a character is doing karate with an invisible Freddy, you know for sure that something is absolutely wrong !

The film is also poorly written. For instance, the reason we are given for Alice being the Dream Master is that she daydreams a lot…lazy much ? There are too many plotholes to list here, just know that this film has more holes than swiss cheese ! One of the biggest flaws is the characters. There is barely any character development except maybe Alice who is the only one with some sort of a story arc. The dialogue is very poorly written and the delivery by the entire cast is really bad and cringe-worthy. The worst casting choice is Tuesday Knight who replaces Patricia Arquette as Kristen.

However, this fourth entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise has some of the best special effects this far. I also thought the way Freddy is defeated this time is the best out of the first 3 sequels. No more power of love bullshit (I’m looking at you, Freddy’s Revenge) !

Review : A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3 : Dream Warriors (1987)

A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3, directed by Chuck Russell and released in 1987, is widely considered the best entry in the franchise. Bringing back Wes Craven to draft the script, this new installment remains true to the original film while being bigger, better and stronger.

Freddy is back haunting children’s dreams. Kristen is having a recurring nightmare and one night, while sleepwalking, she accidentally slits her wrist. Her mother sends her to a psychiatric hospital specializing in troubled teenagers. Kristen meets a group of kids who are all having the same nightmares. The teenagers soon find out they now have a new precious ally to fight off Freddy : their new dream therapist, Nancy Thompson.

Dream Warriors uses all the ingredients of the original film and improves them to provide the most entertaining entry in the franchise thus far. The best idea the writers came up with was to have Freddy face an entire group of protagonists instead of simply picking them off one by one, slasher style. What I especially enjoyed was how Freddy uses each character’s weakness to torture and murder them. This makes the kills much more sadistic and memorable.

The strength of the film resides in its characters. First, Freddy is better than ever, still spitting out one-liners (including the classic “welcome to prime time, bitch”) and being more creative than he’s ever been to dispose of the poor teenagers. We also learn more about his past, expanding the mythos of the iconic character. Our protagonists are all likable characters, each with their strengths and weaknesses. They are unfortunate children who haven’t done anything wrong to deserve what is happening to them. The adults around them (parents, doctors and medical staff), though acting with good intentions, never try to really understand them…until Nancy comes along ! Bringing back her character was a fantastic idea since it’s not a short cameo to satisfy the fans : she has a very important role in the film but never puts our protagonists in her shadow. John Saxon also comes back for a minor role.

Dream Warriors brings us out of Elm Street for the first time and offers a brand new playground for Freddy, who uses the new location (the psychiatric ward) in the best ways possible. The film brings us the best kills so far, each one being more creative than the last. The practical effects are especially great from Freddy’ chest of souls to a fantastic Ray Harryhausen stop-motion sequence.

It is rare enough for a sequel to be as good as the original but having one which almost surpasses it is a miracle….or the result of the hard work of talented people who love and respect the material they are working with. Dream Warriors is my favourite film in the franchise and I (obviously) highly recommend it !