A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 Dream Warriors poster

“Sleep

Those little slices of Death

How I loathe them.”

-Edgar Allan Poe

As soon as you see the above quote which opens “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors,” you know Wes Craven is back on board in some capacity. After directing the original, one of the all-time great horror classics, he bailed out of the first sequel which he felt betrayed the logic of Freddy Krueger’s character and how he existed in the realm of dreams. This third entry ended up defining the look of the rest of the series until “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” came along. This one brought forth a Freddy who, while still scary, was more of a stand-up comic with one-liners flying out from his charred face in rapid succession.

“A Nightmare on Elm Street 3” starts off with the character of Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette, in her film debut) having the first of many nightmares. Freddy’s attack on her is made to look like she tried to commit suicide, and it gets her thrown into a psychiatric hospital with others suffering from serious mental health issues. Of course, when doctors try to give her a sedative to help her sleep, she naturally freaks out and grabs a knife to fight off those who don’t have a clue as to what she’s really up against. This is where she meets up with Nancy Thompson, played once again by Heather Langenkamp.

We learn Nancy has since gone to graduate school where she studied extensively about the nature of dreams. Here she gets assigned to this psychiatric ward where young teenagers are being stalked by the man with razors for fingers. They are being cared for by Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson) who has long since gained their trust, but he has yet to realize how he can really help them. Nancy sees right away it has everything to do with Freddy, and when she shares this information with the kids they stand at attention and are shocked to realize they have all been dreaming about the same person.

With a budget of around $5 million dollars, the special effects are more impressive than you would expect them to be. It’s always a gas to see what people can do with very little money. There’s one great effect where Freddy comes to life as a marionette, and he immediately returns the favor to its creator by pulling out the veins in his arms to use as strings. Ouch! The sets never reek of cheapness, and the imagination put into this movie is always on display as we see the dreams of the different characters and the forms they each take.

Bringing Craven back to help write the screenplay was a smart move, and he changes the formula to keep it from being just another single kid being chased by Freddy. Also, these kids fight back to stay alive and prepare themselves a lot quicker than the others did in the previous films. One of the screenwriters on “Dream Warriors” is Frank Darabont who later made one of the greatest movies ever, “The Shawshank Redemption.” There is a good amount of work done with the characters here to where they are not your usual one-dimensional horny teenagers which make up the average “Friday the 13th” movie.

The movie also digs deeper into Freddy’s past to make us see how he came to be. Before this film, we knew he was a child murderer who was brought to court but got off on a technicality, and he was later burned by the parents of the town. Dr. Neil Gordon is visited by a mysterious nun who informs him Freddy’s mother, Amanda, was accidentally locked in an insane asylum with the most mentally unstable people one could ever find, or hope to avoid, on the face of the earth. Amanda was raped over and over, and this led to the conception of Freddy who, as the nun puts it, is “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs!” This would make a great title for a movie.

Unlike other horror movies, you care about the characters and what happens to them. Most of these slasher movies have stock characters you hate and root for to die. In all fairness, it makes watching them more fun to watch in a theater, but here the characters, while dealing with obvious stereotypes, are interesting in their own way. Some are geekier than others (don’t get me started on the “Wizard Master”), but they are more real than your average teenagers dealing with ballistic hormones.

“Dream Warriors” is also proof of how wet dreams never end the way we want them to. One of the characters has an understandable crush on a nurse, and he ends up getting seduced by her. Some people get so lucky, but not this kid. What happens to him gives new meaning to the term “tongue-tied.”

Also in the cast is Laurence Fishburne who did this movie before “Boyz N the Hood.” He plays male nurse Max who is one of the more down to earth characters you could ever hope to find in a horror movie. The great John Saxon also returns as Nancy’s father, Lt. Donald Thompson. His character figures prominently in the film’s climax as they find that the only way to defeat Freddy is by burying his remains in consecrated grounds.

It’s hard to believe this was Patricia Arquette’s first film. She has since gone on to a successful career and appeared in great movies like “True Romance,” David Lynch’s “Lost Highway” and “Boyhood” which won her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She creates one of the more sympathetic heroines in a horror movie who has a mother that, of course, does not understand what her daughter is actually going through. No one does initially, but if they did, there wouldn’t be a movie.

And, of course, we have Robert Englund returning as Freddy. In many ways, this was the last “Nightmare” movie where Freddy felt like a truly threatening presence. Just the thought of him was scary, and you didn’t need to show much of him to prove that. After this movie, he became more of a standup comedian than anything else. We had to wait until “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” for him to come across as a viciously scary presence again. Still, Englund embodies this character in a way no one else could.

While Freddy ended up having an artistic downslide from here, “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” is still one of the best movies in this long-running franchise, and it’s always fun to revisit this entry whenever it is showing on cable.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Save

Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein Look Back at Making ‘Near Dark’

It was a huge shock to learn Bill Paxton just passed away at the age of 61 due to complications following heart surgery. He was an actor who was always working and never seemed to be lacking for jobs in front of or behind the camera. His sudden passing sent shock waves through Hollywood and movie fans everywhere, and we are all mourning the actor who was unforgettable in “Aliens,” “Apollo 13,” and the HBO series “Big Love.” The following article is one I wrote after I attended a screening of vampire movie he was gleefully fantastic in, “Near Dark.”

near-dark-movie-poster

Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein stopped by New Beverly Cinema on Thursday, May 6, 2010, to introduce a screening of “Near Dark.” The cult classic was a vampire western horror hybrid made back in 1987 by Kathryn Bigelow, and it was being shown as a double feature with her Oscar-winning triumph, “The Hurt Locker.” It was not a sold-out screening, but this ended up making it all the more intimate for those who showed up. Paxton looked especially happy to be there as he was astonished there was actually a print of this movie still in existence.

When Paxton and Goldstein made “Near Dark,” they were just coming off of James Cameron’s “Aliens.” Paxton played Hudson, the soldier who thought he was so bad ass, and later turned into perhaps the single most annoying coward in cinematic history. Goldstein played Private Jenette Vasquez, one of the fiercest soldiers you could ever hope to meet and who, unlike Hudson, remained just as fierce when things got worse. Bigelow, who would later marry and divorce Cameron, called him to ask if it was okay to use some of his “Aliens” actors for “Near Dark.” Clearly, he said yes, so Paxton and Goldstein, along with Lance Henriksen, got parts in Bigelow’s movie. Paxton even said in one scene from “Near Dark,” the man who ends up sticking his hand out the car and giving him the finger was Cameron himself.

Having gone through what Paxton described as the “baptism of fire” with Cameron on “Aliens,” he, Goldstein and Henriksen formed a strong family unit as a result which made the making of “Near Dark” feel like a homecoming. When someone asked what the difference was in directing styles between Cameron and Bigelow, Paxton said bluntly, “No one else is like Cameron.”

 As for Bigelow, Paxton described her as the prettiest director he has ever worked with. According to him, she absolutely loves actors and encouraged them to come up with stuff for their characters throughout the shoot. Goldstein went on to talk about how the actors did an improvisation on how they would block out the sun in the car while driving around town in broad daylight. They came up with the idea of putting aluminum foil on the windows which blocked out the rays that would have immediately broiled their fragile skin and reflected them away so they could live on to do what they did best, suck the blood out of clueless human beings. The way Paxton saw it, most of “Near Dark” was improvised, and he said it was great to work with a director who was so excited to work with actors.

In regards to Henriksen, Paxton described him as “a guy you could never really read.” Back then, Henriksen had these intense finger nails which he had to cut off as Paxton described it, and Paxton even went on to talk about the time he and Henriksen were driving down the highway and got pulled over by the police. As the police officer was getting out of his patrol car, Paxton said Henriksen looked at him and said, “Should we take this guy out?”

Actually, that led to Paxton telling a story which Henriksen just loves to tell about “Near Dark.” During the times they were shooting at night, Paxton, who was made up in his gory vampire makeup as though half his face was chopped off, kept going up to people driving through town, telling them he had just been in a horrible car accident. This little prank always ended with Henriksen saying, “If you think he looks bad, you should see the other guy!”

Paxton said he saw “Near Dark” as a “Bonnie & Clyde” vampire movie. Tangerine Dream composed the movie’s score which is fantastic, and the movie is filled with other memorable musical selections. There was a great cover of “Fever” by The Cramps which was used in the pivotal bar scene where everything gets turned into a bloodbath. But Paxton said his favorite piece of music used was “Naughty, Naughty” by John Parr as it really sets the scene for when the vampires end up depriving a saloon in the middle of nowhere of its customers and employees. Apparently, Bigelow ended up paying for the rights to the song out of her own pocket.

One audience member asked Paxton and Goldstein if they had any Tim Thomerson stories to tell us. Thomerson played Caleb’s father in “Near Dark,” but he is best known for portraying Jack Deth in “Trancers” and its numerous sequels. Both actors said they had many great stories about Thomerson to tell us but basically summed him up as a great guy to hang out with who did so many great impersonations, his best being of John Wayne forcing himself on Walter Brennan.

In regards to character, Paxton saw his character of Severen as a Billy the Kid kind of vampire, wild and reckless in how he conducted business. He also said “Near Dark” owes a great debt to Anne Rice and her Vampire Chronicles which includes the books “Interview with A Vampire” and “Queen of The Damned.” To get into character, Paxton said he read Rice’s books throughout the shoot.

Goldstein said she saw her character of Diamondback as someone out of the Depression era or “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” someone who got by and survived any which way she could. She was perfectly cast in the role as very few actresses back then were allowed to play tough female characters who didn’t need a man to defend them at all.

Another audience member told Paxton he was a big fan of “Frailty,” his directorial debut from a few years back, and wanted to know if he was planning to direct again. Looking back on “Frailty,” Paxton said he had a great experience making it and would love to direct again if he can ever get out of “this damn show” he’s on (you may have heard of it – “Big Love” on HBO). Currently, he is looking over a few projects he is interested in helming and hopes to work behind the camera again really soon.

It was great to see Paxton and Goldstein come out and speak with the fans. Surprisingly, a large portion of the audience had never seen “Near Dark” before, so neither of them wanted to keep the audience waiting too long to see it on the big screen. “Near Dark” may not have been a big hit when first released, but it has more than earned its cult following especially in light of Bigelow’s deserved Oscar win, something which was a long time coming.

Actually, my favorite moment of the evening happened as Paxton and Goldstein were on their way out of the theater when an audience member brought up the subject of another HBO show, to which Bill replied, “Fuck ‘True Blood!’ We were doing this 20 years ago!”

This remark left us all in utter hysterics.

RIP Bill Paxton.

 

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: Empire of the Sun

empire-of-the-sun-movie-poster

Empire of the Sun” is one of the few Steven Spielberg movies which has eluded my watching it for far too long. I remember when it was released back in 1987, and my brother and I watched a documentary on its making. What we saw did not make it look like the typical Spielberg crowd-pleasing movie people had come to expect from him back then. It also dealt with a young boy who is separated from his parents, and separation anxiety was a HUGE thing for me back in the 80’s. But with it now at its 30th anniversary of its release, and having the opportunity to see it on the big screen at New Beverly Cinema in 35mm, the time had come to give what is largely considered to be one of Spielberg’s more underrated films a look.

Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by J.G. Ballard, “Empire of the Sun” takes us back to the days of World War II where we meet Jamie Graham (Christian Bale in his film debut), a young schoolboy who lives a privileged life with a wealthy family out in the Shanghai International Settlement where he sings in the school choir, rides his bicycle everywhere and anywhere, and has a love of airplanes which knows no bounds. A key shot for me comes early on when we see Jamie taking some food out of an overstocked refrigerator which is filled with goodies as it shows how easy things come to this young lad to where he can boss the Japanese maid around like his parents do.

Of course, this all changes when the Japanese invade the settlement following their bombing of Pearl Harbor, and Jamie and his family are forced to flee their home and escape with their lives. In the process, Jamie gets separated from his mom after he picks up his metal toy airplane which he dropped on the ground, and he is forced to fend for himself as he is swept into a conflict far beyond anything he could have imagined.

When it comes to “Empire of the Sun,” it was no surprise to learn David Lean was originally going to direct this adaptation as Spielberg certainly made it look like a Lean movie with scenes filled with crowds of people struggling to survive in life during wartime. Spielberg ended up putting together scenes which must have made Lean proud as it brings to mind the epic shots the director pulled off in his masterpiece “Lawrence of Arabia.” Today, most of those shots would have been accomplished with the use of CGI effects, but “Empire of the Sun” was made back in a time where they weren’t so readily available.

Watching this movie reminded me of how brilliant Spielberg is at taking us back to a day and age many of us were not alive to see, and he does it so vividly to where we can never doubt his authenticity to the period. Spielberg has visited the era of World War II time and time again to amazing effect whether it’s the Indiana Jones movies or “Saving Private Ryan,” and he never seems to miss a detail in the process.

And then there’s Christian Bale who made his film debut in “Empire of the Sun,” and he brings to this role the same kind of intensity he would later bring to his work in movies like “American Psycho” and “The Fighter” among others. I could never take my eyes off of him as he takes Jamie from being a privileged young man to one who struggles for even the smallest reward like a Hershey chocolate bar. Was there another young actor who could have pulled off such a brave and emotionally honest performance as Bale does here? I think not.

Another great performance to be found here is from John Malkovich who plays Basie, an American ship steward stranded in Shanghai who befriends Jamie in his most desperately hungry state. Basie looks to be the Han Solo kind of character who befriends a young innocent who has yet to learn how cruel the world can be, but he turns out to be more of a manipulator than a hero in the making. Malkovich makes Basie into a fascinating study of someone who seeks to benefit themselves more than anyone else, and he constantly leaves you wondering if his character can rediscover whatever humanity he has left.

In addition, there are fine performances from Miranda Richardson as a neighbor of Jamie’s, Nigel Havers as a doctor who desperately tries to teach Jamie about humility, Joe Pantoliano has some choice moments as a companion of Basie’s, and Burt Kwouk, best known as Cato from the “Pink Panther” series, shows up in a small role which he is almost unrecognizable in. Heck, even Ben Stiller shows up here as an American soldier. Seeing him at first is a bit disorienting as he has since become a big comedy star to where he now seems out of place here, but I’ll chalk that up to one of the disadvantages of watching this movie at a later date.

Looking back, I feel “Empire of the Sun” was Spielberg’s first real foray into darker material which would soon pave the way for films like “Schindler’s List,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “Munich.” While it feels like he was taking baby steps here, as those aforementioned films proved to be much darker than this one, it was a giant cinematic leap for him to tackle something like this back in the 80’s.

Still, part of me wonders if he played a little too nice with the source material. Being that this was an adaptation of a J.G. Ballard novel, the same writer whose controversial books “Crash” and “High-Rise” were adapted into deliriously dark motion pictures by David Cronenberg and Ben Wheatley, I can’t imagine “Empire of the Sun” was any easier of a book to read. Ballard wrote some pretty dark stuff, and it makes me wonder just how dark his novel “Empire of the Sun” was compared to Spielberg’s film.

All the same, “Empire of the Sun” is an amazing achievement to watch today as he managed to pull off many epic scenes long before the use of CGI effects. Part of me wishes I had watched it when I was younger as it would have had a more powerful effect on me emotionally, but better late than never with a film like this. Along with cinematographer Allen Daviau, composer John Williams, writer Tom Stoppard and editor Michael Kahn, Spielberg created a World War II epic which stands out among the most memorable of them all, and it deserves more attention than it received upon its release thirty years ago.

* * * * out of * * * *