Dean Koontz — whose own website proclaims him as the “International Bestselling Master of Suspense” — has sold over 450 million copies of his books, but it always seems like he’s a little behind Stephen King. I mean, that’s not a bad thing, as King was just a monolith when it came to selling books. But Koontz was successful as well. as in the VHS rental wild late 80s and 90s, so many of his books became movies. Watchers, which is very, very loosely based on one of his books, has three sequels alone.
Other Koontz film adaptions include Demon Seed, The Passengers (based on his noel Shattered), Whispers, Servants of Twilight, Hideaway, Intensity, Mr. Murder, Phantoms, Sole Survivor, Frankenstein, Odd Thomas and Black River.
Koontz’s golden retriever Trixie was often on his book jackets and even wrote two books, Life Is Good: Lessons in Joyful Living and Christmas Is Good. She was a service dog that had been trained by Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), a charitable organization that provides service dogs for people with disabilities, an organization that Koontz discovered while writing his book Midnight. Over the years, he helped the group raise $2.5 million in funds, so Trixie was their gift to him. So you can see why having a supercanine golden retriever in a story made sense to him — which is what Watchers is all about.
Watchers (1988): It’s a rivalry as old as time: a golden retriever with special abilities battling the mutated monster known as the OXCOM (Outside Experimental Combat Mammal).
The dog soon makes friends with Travis Cornell (Corey Haim) and his girlfriend Tracey (Lala Sloatman, who was dating Haim; she’s also the niece of Frank Zappa and is in Amityville: A New Generation). Of course, the government wants the dog back, so they send NSO agent Johnson (Michael Ironside).
This movie kills everyone it comes across, with either OXCOM or Johnson basically wiping out a small town, whether to kill or to keep the murders secret.
Amazingly, this was originally written by Paul Haggis, who would go on to write Million Dollar Baby, Crash and yes, create Walker Texas Ranger.
Watchers II (1990): Hey, I think that Marc Singer — he’s the Beastmaster — and Tracy Scoggins — from Dynasty and The Colbys — are fine replacements in this film that finds OXCOM and a golden retriever still battling one another.
Singer is a Marine gone AWOL. Scoggins is an animal psychologist from the top secret laboratory and the OXCOM still is a goofy rubber suit. And sure, this may be the same movie we just watched, but when has a sequel being the same as the first movie ever stopped us?
Screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris used the name Henry Dominic — the same alter ego they’d use for Bloodfist II, Flight of the Black Angel, The Unborn, Severed Tiesand Mindwarp — as neither were members of the Writer’s Guild of America. Brancato and Ferris would go on to write The Game, as well as The Net.
Thierry Notz also directed The Terror Within which makes a lot of sense once you see this movie.
Watchers 3 (1994): Oh yes, this third one was shot in Peru, executive produced by Roger Corman and has one of my favorites, Wings Hauser, in the middle of the never-ending war between mutant and mongrel. Yes, this time it’s the deformed Outsider, which lives only to kill, battling Einstein, a golden retriever with an IQ of 175.
To stop the monster, Hauser is put in charge of a squad of military men and criminals. Now if you’re thinking, “Would Roger Corman rip off Predator?” let me just say that yes, he would. He did. And he would do it again.
Written by the same man who penned Carnosaur 2, let me tell you, I will regret nothing on my deathbed except probably the time I spent watching this movie. Eh, who am I kidding? I’d watch it again if you asked with any nicety in your tone.
Watcher Reborn (1998): You know what you never realize as a kid? As bad of a director as George Lucas can be, he’s one of the few people able to reign in the hammy tendencies of Mark Hamill, who plays a detective in this one who has just lost his wife and son to a fire that was probably caused by a mutant because that’s how it goes.
Lisa Wilcox, Alice from A Nightmare On Elm Street 4and 5, plays the scientist who introduces him to a golden retriever, this time named Alex and being not as smart as he was the last time, only having an IQ of 140. This one also has a pit bull and the man who ruined Night Gallery in syndication, Gary Collins, so you know that my heart is on the side of the animals and not the humans. I’m also on the side of all murderous mutants, because as Emily Dickinson wrote, “The heart wants what it wants, or else it does not care,” and we’ve gone about proving this inscrutable wisdom true ever since.”
Low Rawls — yes, the man who sang “You’ll Never Find Another Love like Mine” — has a cameo as a coroner, so if you ever get asked, “What do Lucio Fulci and Lou Rawls have in common?” and a gun is at your temple, I have provided you with the knowledge that will save your life.
Should you watch the Watchers movies? Look, I don’t want to tell you what to do with your life. I mean, you could also ask, “Should you watch a hundred Jess Franco movies in one month?” The answer is always going to be yes for me as I try and get the highest of movie highs, no matter how bad the strain seems to be.
Conan the Barbarian and its success just meant that Italians could go back to making the peplum films they made for more than a decade in the 50s. The locations were there, the props were easy and all it took was the germ of an idea to send tons of Italian filmmakers out and about to make their own sword and sorcery movies, like Franco Prosperi’s Gunan, King of the Barbarians and Throne of Fire, Umberto Lenzi’s Ironmaster and Michele Massimo Tarantini’s Sword of the Barbarians.
For my money, no one made a better barbarian movie on a smaller budget than Joe D’Amato with his Ator films. Made from 1982 to 1990, three of these four films were filmed by D’Amato under his David Hills name. The other one was directed by Alfonso Brescia and D’Amato didn’t like it! As for actors, the first three feature Miles O’Keeffe and the fourth has Eric Allan Kramer as his son.
Instead of just being a big dumb lunk like Conan is in the movies — we can discuss Conan being a thief in the books and comics any time you’d like — Ator is also an alchemist, scholar, swordmaster and even a magician who can materialize objects out of nowhere.
We’ve pulled together our past reviews of Ator’s films, added some content and put them all in one place to introduce you to these astounding movies and hopefully get you watching them.
Ator the Fighting Eagle (1982): Once, Ator was just a baby, born with the birthmark that prophesied that he’d grow up to destroy the Spider Cult, whose leader Dakar (a pro wrestler who appeared in Titanes en el Ring against Martín Karadagian) tries to kill before he even gets out of his chainmail diapers.
Luckily, Ator is saved and grows up big, strong and weirdly in love with his sister, Sunya. It turns out that luckily, he’s adopted, so this is only morally and not biologically upsetting. His father allows them to be married, but the Spider Cult attacks the village and takes her, along with several other women.
Ator trains with Griba, the warrior who saved him as a child (he’s played by Edmund Purdom, the dean from Pieces!). What follows are pure shenanigans — Ator is kidnapped by Amazons, almost sleeps with a witch, undertakes a quest to find a shield and meets up with Roon (Sabrina Siani, Ocron from Fulci’s batshit barbarian opus Conquest), a sexy blonde thief who is in love with him.
Oh yeah! Laura Gemser, Black Emanuelle herself, shows up here too. It is a Joe D’Amato movie after all.
Ator succeeds in defeating Dakkar, only to learn that the only reason that Griba mentored him was to use him to destroy his enemy. That said, Ator defeats him too, leaving him to be eaten by the Lovecraftian-named Ancient One, a monstrous spider. But hey, Ator isn’t done yet. He kills that beast too!
Finally, learning that Roon has died, Ator and Sunya go back to their village, ready to make their incestual union a reality. Or maybe not, as she doesn’t show up in the three sequels.
Ator is played by Miles O’Keefe, who started his Hollywood career in the Bo Derek vehicle Tarzan the Ape Man, a movie that Richard Harris would nearly fist fight people over if they dared to bring it up. He’s in all but the last of these films and while D’Amato praised his physique and attitude, he felt that his fighting and acting skills left something to be desired.
Ator the Fighting Eagle pretty much flies by. It does what it’s supposed to do — present magic, boobs, sorcery and swordfights — albeit in a PG-rated film. It’s anything except boring. And it was written by Michele Soavi (Stagefright, The Church, The Sect, Cemetery Man)!
Ator 2 – L’invincibile Orion (1984): Joe D’Amato wanted to make a prehistoric movie like Quest for Fire called Adamo ed Eva that read a lot like 1983’s Adam and Eve vs. The Cannibals. However, once he called in Miles O’Keefe to be in the movie, the actor said that he couldn’t be in the film due to moral and religious reasons. One wonders why he was able to work with Joe D’Amato, a guy who made some of the scummiest films around.
Akronos has found the Geometric Nucleus and is keeping its secret safe when Zor (Ariel from Jubilee) and his men attack the castle. The old king begs his daughter Mila (Lisa Foster, who starred in the Cinemax classic Fanny Hill and later became a special effects artist and video game developer) to find his student Ator (O’Keefe).
Mila gets shot with an arrow pretty much right away, but Ator knows how to use palm leaves and dry ice to heal any wound, a scene which nearly made me fall of my couch in fits of giggles. Soon, she joins Ator and Thong as they battle their way back to the castle, dealing with cannibals and snake gods.
Somehow, Ator also knows how to make a modern hang glider and bombs, which he uses to destroy Zor’s army. After they battle, Ator even wants Zor to live, because he’s a progressive barbarian hero, but the bad guy tries to kill him. Luckily, Thong takes him out.
After all that, Akronos gives the Geometric Nucleus to Ator, who also pulls that old chestnut out that his life is too dangerous to share with her. He takes the Nucleus to a distant land and sets off a nuke.
Yes, I just wrote that. Because I just watched that.
If you want to see this with riffing, it’s called Cave Dwellers in its Mystery Science Theater 3000 form. But man, a movie like this doesn’t really even need people talking over it. It was shot with no script in order to compete with Conan the Destroyer. How awesome is that?
You can get this from Revok or watch Cave Dwellers on Tubi.
Iron Warrior (1988):
I always worry and think, “What is left? Have I truly exhausted the bounds of cinema? Have I seen all there is that is left to see? Will nothing ever really surprise and delight me ever again?” Then I watched Iron Warrior and holy shit you guys — this movie is mindblowing.
Alfonso Brescia made a bunch of Star Trek-inspired Star Wars ripoffs in the late 70’s, like Cosmos: War Of the Planets, Battle Of the Stars, War Of the Robots and Star Odyssey. Before that, he was known for working in the peplum genre with entries such as The Magnificent Gladiator and The Conquest of Atlantis. And some maniacs out there may know him from his Star Wars clone cover version of Walerian Borowczyk’s The Beast — complete with the same actress, Sirpa Lane — called The Beast in Space.
Today, though, we’re here to discuss Brescia taking over the reins of Ator from Joe D’Amato after Ator the Fighting Eagle and Ator 2: The Blade Master. I expected another muddy cave dwelling movie livened up only by nukes and hang gliders. What I received was a movie where a frustrated artist was struggling to break free.
This movie goes back to the beginning of Ator’s life, where we discover that his twin brother was taken at a young age. Now, our hero travels to Dragor (really the Isle of Malta) to do battle with a sorceress named Phaedra (Elisabeth Kazaand, who was in the aforementioned The Beast) her unstoppable henchman, the silver skulled, red bandana wearing Trogar (Franco Daddi, who was the stunt coordinator for both Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and The Curse), who is the Iron Master of the Sword.
Princess Janna (Savina Gersak, who was in War Bus Commando) and Ator (the returning Miles O’Keefe) join forces and man, Janna’s makeup and hair is insane. She has what I can only describe as a ponytail mohawk and has makeup that wouldn’t be out of place on the Jem and the Holograms cartoon.
Imagine, if you will, a low budget sword and sorcery film that has MTV style editing, as well as gusts of wind, constant dolly shots and nausea-inducing zooms. It’s less a narrative film as it is a collection of images, sword fights and just plain weirdness. Like Deeva (Iris Peynado, who you may remember as Vinya, the girl who hooks up with Fred Williamson in Warriors of the Wasteland) saying that she created both Ator and Trogar to be tools of justice? This movie completely ignores the two that came before — and the one that follows it — and I am completely alright with all of it!
Supposedly, D’Amato hated this movie. Lots of people hate on it online, too. Well, guess what? They’re wrong. This is everything that I love about movies and proved to me that there is still some cinematic magic left in the world to find.
How about this for strange trivia? When they made the Conan the Adventurer series in 1997, Ator’s sword was repainted and used as the Sword of Atlantis!
Quest for the Mighty Sword (1990): If there’s a 12 step group for people who watch too many Joe D’Amato movies, well I should be the counselor, helping talk people off the ledge after they think they need to watch Erotic Nights of the Living Deador Eleven Days, Eleven Nights or…hell, I can’t do it. For all people heap scorn on the movies of the man born Aristide Massaccesi, I find myself falling in love more and more with each movie.
D’Amato hated what Brescia did with his creation, so he starts this one off by killing Ator and introducing us to his son. Obviously, Miles O’Keefe isn’t back.
This one has nearly as many titles as Aristide had names: Ator III: The Hobgoblin, Hobgoblin, Quest for the Mighty Sword and Troll 3.
That’s because the costumes from Troll 2 — created by Laura Gemser, who is in this as an evil princess — got recycled and reused in this movie. D’Amato proves that he’s a genius by having whoever is inside those costumes speak.
Let me see if I can summarize this thing. Ator gets killed by the gods because he doesn’t want to give up his magic sword, which he uses to challenge criminals to battles to the death. The only goddess who speaks for him, Dehamira (Margaret Lenzey), is imprisoned inside a ring of fire until a man can save her.
That takes eighteen years, because Ator the son’s mother gave the sorcerer Grindl (the dude wearing the troll costume) her son to raise and the sword to hide. She then asked him for a suicide drink, but he gave her some Spanish Fly and got to gnome her Biblically in the back of his cave before releasing her to be a prostitute and get abused until her son eventually comes and saves her because this is a Joe D’Amato movie and women are there to be rescued, destroy men and be destroyed by men.
This movie is filled with crowd-pleasing moments and seeing as how I watched it by myself, I loved it. Ator (Eric Allan Kramer, Thor in the TV movie The Incredible Hulk Returns and Little John in Robin Hood: Men In Tights) looks like Giant Jeff Daniels and his fighting skills are, at best, clumsy. But he battles a siamese twin robot that shoots sparks, a goopy fire breathing lizard man who he slices to pieces and oh yeah, totally murks that troll/gnome who turned out his mom.
This is the kind of movie where Donald O’Brien and Laura Gemser play brother and sister and nobody says, “How?” You’ll be too busy saying, “Is that Marisa Mell?” and “I can’t believe D’Amato stole the cantina scene!” and “What the hell is going on with this synth soundtrack?”
Here’s even more confusion: D’Amato’s The Crawlers was also released as Troll 3. Then again, it was also called Creepers (it has nothing to Phenomena) and Contamination .7, yet has no connection with Contamination.
Only Joe D’Amato could make two sequels to a movie that has nothing to do with the movie that inspired it and raise the stakes by having nothing to do with the original film or the sequel times two. You can watch this on YouTube.
While there have never been any official Ator toys, check out the amazing custom figures that Underworld Muscle has made:
Thanks for being part of all things Ator. Which of the movies is your favorite?
You have to hand it to Joe D’Amato. Most people would just make one ripoff of 9 and 1/2 Weeks. Instead, Joe stretches his series of three films out to 33 days, which is a little under 5 weeks or around half as much time as its inspiration and there’s some goofy logic to that.
Actually it’s seven movies I learned after writing this, so that means that Joe hit 77 days, or 11 more than the 66 days of 9 1/2 weeks, so the numerology all works out, right?
While Adrian Lyne had Sarah Kernochan, Zalman King and Patricia Louisianna Knop to write his screenplay, Joe makes due with the team of Rossella Drudi and Claudio Fragasso for the first film. And what a film it is.
Eleven Days, Eleven Nights (1988): Sarah Asproon (Jessica Moore AKA Luciana Ottaviani AKA Gilda Germano, who also appears in Sodoma’s Ghost, Convent of Sinners and Top Model) is writing a book about her last one hundred lovers, but she’s only had ninety-nine. Then she meets Michael on a boat and despite the fact that he’s about to get married (Mary Sellers plays his fiancee Helen and you’ve seen her in Stagefright, Ghosthouse and The Crawlers), she makes him agree that they will be lovers for — everybody yell out the title — eleven days and eleven nights.
There’s an actual budget to this film and it was shot in New Orleans, so it has an American feel, which is exactly what late 80s Italian movies were shooting for. There’s even a moment where the couple go see Stagefright in a theater and Michael falls asleep, waking up to Helen remarking, “What a beautiful film. So touching! So romantic!”
So yeah, this movie has a honey scene just like the film that inspired it, but I kind of like this one better. D’Amato is at his best when he’s shooting gorgeous women being gorgeous and Moore is, well, one of those reminders that there just might be a God somewhere. A reminder that there may not be is the acting by her co-star Joshua McDonald and the horrible ending where she tells him that he was just being used to be in her book but fell in love, so he bends her over, takes her roughly from behind and leaves her for his boring fiancee. For a film that spent most of its running time with a heroine in charge of her sexuality, this was massively upsetting.
The moral: Don’t look for Italian sexploitation movies to have good messages.
Eleven Days, Eleven Nights 2 (1991): D’Amato and Drudi reteamed for this sequel in name only, even though the character of Sarah comes back. Now she’s played by Kristine Rose and has been married and separated and given the new job of the executor of the estate of Lionel Durrington, one of her past lovers and the richest man in Louisiana.
Guess what? This is actually the third film in the series because Sarah was the lead character in Top Model, which is also listed in plenty of places as Eleven Days, Eleven Nights 2. Look — it wouldn’t be Italian movies if it wasn’t confusing.
There are four heirs and one after another, they all get with our heroine, who will determine which one is worthy of the money based on how good they are in bed, one supposes. Sonny is the only one with no interest in Sarah, even when she danced for him at a strip club, but that’s because his last girlfriend was abused in front of him by friend of the family Alfred, who is also trying to get the money.
Because Italian films really don’t care about how insane or twisted — actually, this is what they run toward not from — things get, Sarah disguises herself as Sonny’s old lover and goes to the impotence institute and gets a rise out of him.
By the end, she realizes that no one deserves the money, so she comes up with a plan. She’ll write a book about the family and its secrets while they split the $500 million with a mystery person. They quickly sign and yeah, the mystery guy is the man who was supposed to be dead and we have a happy ending. We also have Laura Gemser in the blink and you’ll miss it role of Sarah’s jogging publisher and Ruth Collins from Lurkers, Doom Asylum andPrime Evil show up.
For a movie about people getting naked, D’Amato has plenty of women in sweaters show up. I’m all for this.
Also: This has also been listed as The Web of Desire and Eleven Days, Eleven Nights Part 4 because Italian movies are wonderful and confusing.
Eleven Days, Eleven Nights 3 (1989): Also known as Pomeriggio caldo (Hot Afternoon), this film points to the genius that is D’Amato. Instead of just making a sexual thriller — trust me, it still has plenty of sex — he worked with writer David Resseguier — who has to be a pen name for someone — to create this downright weird story of heading to New Orleans and just fading into it.
Someone says, “This is a place that paralyzes you. You don’t fall in love with a person here, but rather you become grossly obsessed with the environment. It’s not like our world.”
That’s what this movie is about, as well as the fact that a young reporter has come to the French Quarter to write about Nora, a woman who just lost her husband to voodoo. He takes along his wife, who plays a game with him where he encourages men to try to bed her while having no real interest in her. This predictably backfires and she leaves him for a muscular voodoo man — I am not making this up — and he starts going insane realizing what he’s lost. And oh yeah — he also gets to bed Nora, which seems like a way better thing than pining for someone he never really cared about.
Every actor in this movie is horrible and wonderful, often within the same scene, and it has an odd pace and overall sadness that keeps it from being fully erotic, which is awesome when you think about it. The scenery is great and then Laura Gemser shows up just to dance at a voodoo ritual and all movies should have her show up and dance and then get back to the story. Every one of the Disney Star Wars movies would be incredible if the woman who is forever Black Emanuelle would show up and writhe in a sweaty frenzy and then wave goodbye.
Seriously, I fell in love with this movie, which is kind of like a sexier — well, is that movie even sexy? — The Beyondwith no house but a much more erotic bathtub scene.
Top Model (1988): Remember when I said there was another Eleven Days, Eleven Nights 2?
This time around, Sarah (Jessica Moore from the first movie) is still writing, but she’s gone undercover as a call girl, which was suggested by her publisher Dorothy (Laura Gemser). Using the name Gloria, she quickly becomes the top girl — some would say the top model — until someone figures out her secret and begins blackmailing her, which makes no sense as she’s already famous for a book where she slept with a hundred men.
She’s also got a crush on an IT guy named Cliff who thinks that he might be gay. I mean, if Jessica Moore is all over you and you need to question it, I’m not stepping on any LGBTQ landmines by saying that yes, you are gay. It’s fine, it’s a great choice and it’s probably what Cliff ends up choosing as the couple is divorced by the time the second part two in this series comes around.
But hey — how about that theme song?
To prove that America is the most puritanical country there is, there was an R-rated Top Model version made just for U.S. cable with still scenes replacing the lovemaking in motion and any reference to Cliff perhaps being gay cut from the film.
Eleven Days, Eleven Nights 5: Dirty Love (1988): I mean, this movie is totally Joe D’Amarto making Dirty Dancing and casting Jeff Stryker and Valentine Demy, who went from waitressing to lingerie model to D’Amato star while she was 17.
D’Amato also throws Fame and Flashdance into the ripoff magic blender and emerges with a movie that has the sex those movies were missing and so much more to spare. Demy plays Terry, who leaves behind a small town where her father wants to pick out her husband and doesn’t want her to dance, so Footloose too?
This movie packs in all the sleaze you imagine that a Joe D’Amato movie called Dirty Love should have. In a world where movies don’t live up to their names or posters, for the most part Joe outdid himself every time.
If you’re watching this and wondering, “Where have I seen Robert before?” He’s Aimee Mann’s jerk of a boyfriend in the ‘Til Tuesday video for “Voices Carry.”
Bonus points for Laura Gemser showing up as a masseuse (and the costume designer).
Eleven Days, Eleven Nights 6: The Labyrinth of Love (1993): Valerie (Monica Seller, Dangerous Attraction, Madness, Legittima Vendetta) travels to Saigon to work for a family that she soon seduces. I mean, the whole family. The matriarch. The widower. The grandfather. The gay college student? All of them.
I have no idea why a movie set in the 1930s is in the Eleven Days, Eleven Nights series, but you know, I tend to forgive Joe D’Amato all manner of things. Even when a movie is slow when it should be red hot eroticism, I say things like, “That’s a nice shot” or “I mean, Joe did make Buio Omega.”
Eleven Days, Eleven Nights 7: The House of Pleasure (1994): Lord Gregory Hutton (Nick Nicholson, who somehow was in both Apocalypse Now, Platoon, The Firebird Conspiracy, War Without End, SFX Retaliator, Born on the Fourth of July and Beyond the Call of Duty, which means he either made up his IMDB listing or man, he’s been in the highest of the war movie highs and the lowest of the low) goes to the Far East on his honeymoon with his wife Eleanore. They stay on a silk farm and Eleanore falls for Lin, the young man of the house (Marc Gosálve, who is also in D’Amato’s China and Sex and Chinese Kamasutra).
This is one of those movies like Emmanuelle where a young wife finds her sexuality while her husband watches, but this has the technology of 1994, which means video cameras. And hey — Joe went to Asia to shoot this (along wih Tales of Red Chamber, China and Sex, The Labyrinth of Love and Chinese Kamasutra), so there’s some production value.
For all the negativity heaped on the films of D’Amato, when he’s getting the opportunity to tell these simple stories and shoot beautiful women to some sexy sax, he always delivers. Are these movies essential watching? Or course not. Are they better than they should be? Definitely.
Thanks to Adrian on Letterboxd for transcribing the Eleven Days, Eleven Nights 3 quote above.
We’ve mentioned this influential film series in the context of a few of our other reviews this week. And it is “influencial,” as it certainly had an effect on David. A.R. White and his Christian Apoc-science fiction adventures through his PureFlix shingle: his first was Six: The Mark Unleashed (2004), followed with The Moment After and Revelation Road franchises, In the Blink of an Eye, and Jerusalem Countdown. And the producers behind his debut film, TBN, Paul and Jan Crouch’s Trinity Broadcasting Network (through their son Matthew), jumped into the apoc frays with their own, The Omega Code (1999).
The Apocalypse franchise’s roots date to 1994, when the brothers LaLonde, Peter and Paul — inspired by Hollywood’s A-List glut of films concerned with the world’s post-apocalypse survival*, such as Waterworld (1995), Independence Day (1996), Escape from L.A. (1996), and The Postman (1997), along with the “Lucifer’s Hammer” one-two punch of Armageddon and Deep Impact (1998), and Peter Hyams’s End of Days (1999) — formed Cloud Ten Pictures in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, to self-fiance their own, wholesome, family-oriented “end times” Christian films.
As they should: God invented the apocalypse, after all, in The Book of Revelation in The Holy Bible. It’s just not fair that the Somdomites and Gomorrahites of Tinseltown have the secular market cornered on what rightful belongs to Christians in the first place. Estus Pirkle has whole films (If Footmen Tire You, The Burning Hell, and The Believer’s Heaven) based on the Christian belief that God-hating Communists will jam sharpened bamboo shoots through our ear canals, cut people down from trees onto buried pitch forks, and dump the bodies of those who will not deny the Christ, into freshly bulldozed mass graves. Oh, and the child stealing and indoctrination centers where children will praise Fidel Castro.
Hey, don’t be scared, ye philistine. For the LaLondes are not as bibically crazed as Pastor Pirkle and a bit more subtle in frightening you into believing. Sure, with the same, faithful vigor as Christian apoc-progenitor Donald W. Thompson with his A Thief in the Night tetralogy franchise, but only with A-List (well, let’s just say, better) production values backed, not by church volunteers and “saved” community theater actors: but by real, actual actors.
Oh, what a cast these movies have!
The LaLonde brothers’ films have nothing on the early Revelation-based apoc’ers Six-Hundred Sixty Six (1972), and the Gospel Films (studios) 1981 double-whammy of the non-sequels Early Warning and Years of the Beast. Oh, yes, ye B&S About Movies Sadducees: If the subject matter’s rhythm doesn’t get you, the off-the-A-to-B List thespians surely will.
Prior to delving into the feature films business, the LaLonde brothers produced their own television series: a syndicated series that dealt with the very subject matter of their films: This Week in Bible Prophecy. That lead to their creating a series of hour-long documentaries between 1994 and 1997: The Gospel of the Antichrist: Exposed, Final Warning: Economic Collapseand the Coming World Government, Startling Proofs: Does God Really Exist, Last Days: Hype or Hope?, and Racing to the End of Time. Courtesy of the ratings and retail response to those early products, it was time for a (low-budget) sci-fi thriller based on upon their TV/video teachings. That first film became Apocalypse (1998), which spawned the tetralogy franchise: Revelation, Tribulation, and Judgement.
So successful the franchise that, by the time of the release of the third film and before the fourth film, Cloud Ten Pictures was able to option the very book that inspired their film series: the 1995 worldwide best-seller Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Their 2000 – 2005 film trilogy based on that book series, which starred Kirk Cameron (Saving Christmas), culminated with a bigger-budgeted, crtically derided theatrical reboot, Left Behind (2014), with Nicolas Cage.
Okay, enough with the back stories. . . . Lets throw away the melon rind on the way to Eden and unpack the prophe-verse of Franco Macalousso and his deadly O.N.E. (One Earth Nation) squads. (In Donald W. Thompson’s franchise, it was known as U.N.I.T.E. – United Nations Imperium of Total Emergency, if you’re keeping an apoc track of the proceedings.)
From the Editor’s Desk, December 2022: Each of the You Tube-based trailer embeds we provided for each film within this review were removed from the video-sharing platform as result of a copyright claim. However, all watch-links are still active for your enjoyment.
Apocalypse I: Caught In The Eye Of The Storm (1998)
Unlike the rest of the films in the series, we’re dealing with a list of no-name (Canadian) actors fronted by the “leads” of Leigh Lewis and Richard Nestor (that’s them, disembodied floating-headin’ the cover, by the way) and Sam Bornstein, each with limited-and-fades-away resumes; Leigh Lewis’s Helen Hannah character is the lone throughline of the series.
As with Kurt Cameron’s Cameron “Buck” Williams in the Left Behind trilogy, Helen Hannah and Bronson Pearl (Richard Nestor) are award-winning journalists who stumble into the deadly plans of Franco Macalousso (Sam Bornstein), the President of the European Union. When the prophesied Rapture occurs and throws the world into chaos, Macalousso proclaims himself the true Messiah and enforces his will upon the world.
You can watch this one Tubi. And we have to note that the video suggestions link to all three of Kirk Cameron’s Left Behind films and Casper Van Dien’s The Omega Code duet, if you’re up to the challenge.
Apocalypse II: Revelation (1999)
What a difference “three months” after the last film, makes: Satan has transformed Franco Macalousso into (wait, he is Satan) . . . Nick Mancuso, of Nightwing and Death Ship?
This time, the tale centers on the exploits of Thorold Stone, a counter-terrorism expert . . . played by Jeff Fahey of The Lawnmower Man? A non-believer hellbent to prove The Rapture is a conspiracy, he stumbles into an underground, Christian resistance movement led by Helen Hannah, from the first film. But since actress Leigh Lewis is way out of her thespin’ element, here: bring in (not much better) supermodel Carol Alt as part of the resistance.
Oh, and Alt’s character is blind. And the European Union, now ruling the world as One Nation Earth, watched John Carpenter secular They Live one too many times, since O.N.E distributes virtual reality headsets to everyone on Earth to celebrate the “Messiah’s Day of Wonders.”
So, to make sure you’re following along: Satan, and not aliens, are doing the VR brainwashing of the puny humans. You got that?
Well, okay . . . so we lost Jeff Fahey and Carol Alt. But we still get a little bit of Nick Mancuso . . . and gain a Gary Busey, a Margot Kidder, and a Howie Mandel. We also get just what we do not need: a non-linear timeline that splits in half across the events that happened before ApocalypseI . . . then we flash-foward — two years — after the events in Revelation, aka Apocalypse II, you got that?
Hey, we feel you, because the plot is bat-crap crazy and all over the place. Gary Busey’s Tom Canbono — from what seems like another movie spliced in — stars as a bitter police detective battling a mysterious group of cloaked psychic warrior-assassins (no, we are not kiddding) after his wife, his sister and brother-in-law (Margot Kidder and a pre-bald/Van Dyked Howie Mandel). However, before Canbono can save them, the psychics take control of his car and cause him to crash. . . .
Then begins the “other” movie: Busey wakes up from a two-years coma to discover The Rapture has occurred, 95% of the world follows Nick Mancusco’s lead, and those who don’t allow themselves to be branded with a “666” on their head or right hand, in the grand tradition of all things Christian, are beheaded. (Yeah, Christians love their broadswords and guillotines in these movies.) As for the “third” movie cut into this mess: Leigh Lewis is pushed even further down the callsheets with her Christian resistance annoyances to expose Nick Mancusco as the Antichrist.
See? Told you it was bat-crap crazy — joke inferring Nick’s Nightwing — which I should be rewatching — instead of this, intended. Yeah, it sure is a long, hard fall from starring with Steven Seagal in 1992’s Under Seige, hey, Nick and Gary? Too bad Steven didn’t star in Jeff Fahey’s role for part deux to really give us something to QWERTY about.
You can watch this on Tubi. You just gotta: Busey battles psychic warriors!
Apocalypse IV: Judgement (2001)
First, we get a gaggle nobody-heard-of-them-or-seen-since Canucks making a Christian apocalypse film. Then we get an Antichrist ruling via virtual reality headsets forced onto Carol Alt by Nick Mancusco. Then we get psychic warrior-assassins after Gary Busey.
What could possibly be left, you ask?
How’s about Corbin Bernsen (The Dentist) and Jessica Steen (the aforementioned Armageddon) starring as a Christian-centric Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn in Adam’s Rib (1949) — itself remade as the romantic rom-com box office bomb Laws of Attraction (2004) starring Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore. Only they were battling divorce attorneys. And Tracy and Hepburn argued a case of women’s rights.
So, what are Bernsen and Steen arguing: a copyright infringement case on the VR headsets? Gary Busey’s malpractice suit? Perhaps a copyright infringement over stealing the plot from the Stephen King’s The Dead Zone in the last movie? (No, not 28 Days Later, that’s not until next year.)
Nope to all.
Nick Mancusco — yes, he actually stuck around for three installment of this utter non-sense — is now, officially, the Antichrist and he’s “suing” Helen Hannah — yes, the out-of-her-thespian element Canadian actress Leigh Lewis is still hanging around, making us wish Carol Alt’s hot blind chick signed for the sequel — for her crimes against humanity. Corbin Bernsen is the troped, milquetoast attorney assigned to kangaroo-court our fair jounalist-turned-Christian revolutionist. Jessica Steen is his bitchy, natch, ex-wife prosecutor assigned by Nick Mancusco to railroad the leftover 5% from the last film that haven’t accepted the Mark.
Hey, wait. Mr. T is on the box! What’s he doing, here? We’ll, he’s spliced in from another movie: he’s heading up The D-Team to break Hannah from prison. Does he use one of those nifty VR headsets to pull it off?
Ugh, I just don’t care, anymore. And how come all of these Christian apoc flicks never end with Brother J showing up, in this case, to beat down Nick Mancusco? At least Estus Pirkle — his sharpened bamboo and mass graves, be damned — wrapped it up and took us upstairs to The Believer’s Heaven, while Tim Ormond has Christ arriving on white horseback with a band of angels in The Second Coming.
“The Supreme Court vs. The Supreme Being. Let the Trial Begin,” so says the box copy. . . .
No. Just let this all end. Please. I believe! I believe! I won’t accept the Mark. Anything to makes these movies, stop.
In answer to reader comments regarding if there was another movie after Judgement (2001) to wrap the story line: if there were plans for one, they seemed to have vanished when the production company closed up their shingle.
* Hey, we known what we are talking about: we’re self-proclaimed apocalypse experts! So check out these featurettes rounding up all of our reviews of apoc’ers from the ’50s through the ’80s:
Based on a short story about Nie Xiaoqian from Qing dynasty writer Pu Songling’s Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio and inspired by the 1960 Shaw Brothers movie The Enchanting Shadow, A Chinee Ghost Story inspired more than just two sequels, an animated film, a television series and a 2011 remake. It also created an entire genre of folklore ghost stories.
Its director, Ching Siu-tung, studied in the Eastern Drama Academy and trained in Northern Style Kung Fu for seven years. His father, Ching Gong, was a Shaw Brothers director. While producer Tsui Hark got most of the credit for these films, Siu-tung has done well for himself, also directing The Swordsman series of movies and choreographing House of Flying Daggers and Shaolin Soccer.
In the first film, tax collector Ning Choi-san (Leslie Cheung) fails at his job and must sleep in a deserted temple. There, he falls in love with Nip Siu-sin (Joey Wong), yet discovers in the morning that she is a ghost forever enslaved to a tree demoness. When Ning tries to save her and fails, her soul goes to the underworld.
This film is a gorgeous meditation on unrequited love. Even with the help of Taoist priest Yin Chik-ha (Wu Ma), the best our hero can do is secure a better afterlife for his one true love.
1990’s A Chinese Ghost Story II starts with Ning and Yin parting ways, with Ning heading back to his hometown that has been overrun with cannibals. After being jailed and condemned to die, an ancient scholar reveals that he has dug an escape tunnel. He gives Ning a book and a pendant, then shows him the way to freedom.
In this film, Ning joins with Autumn (Jacky Cheung) and the rebel sisters Windy (Joy Wong) and Moon (Michelle Reis) to battle a demon that has taken over a mansion. And by demon, a mean a gigantic centipede that requires fighters to separate the souls from their bodies to defeat it.
Recently, Apple pulled the theme song of this movie from the Apple Music Store, as it features a reference to the masscre at Tiananmen Square Massacre:
“The youth are angry, and heaven and earth are shedding tears,
How did the rivers and mountains become a sea of blood?
How did the road to home become the road to ruin?”
Why would Apple pull a song that rightfully condemns China for their role in killing protesters? Well, you know how money works.
1991’s A Chinese Ghost Story III brings back the tree demon from the first film, a creature that is destined to return in a hundred years. This film is also about Monk Shi Fang (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) and Swordsman Yin (Jacky Cheung), named after the original Taoist. The tree demon also has a ghost in its thrall, Lotus (Joey Wong).
This is the kind of movie where towers rise to block out all the sun on Earth and Shi Fang’s body is coated in his own golden blood, which allows him to channel the power of the Buddha to bring the sun back. Basically, things get nuts.
If you fall in love with these movies, remember that there was a cartoon and a 2011 remake to keep you watching.
If you had HBO (Hey, Beastmaster’s On) or TBS (The Beastmaster Station) in the 1990’s, then you’re probably excited to read this. The Beastmaster series of three films ran pretty much non-stop on those channels, even if the first movie wasn’t a success.
Just like Phantasm, Beastmaster came from the mind of Don Coscarelli. While he was only involved with the first movie, he set up the character of Dar (Marc Singer). Well, when I say came from the mind, Coscarelli loosely based his original story off of the novel The Beast Master by Andre Norton. In her book, the hero is a Navajo named Hosteen Storm and the story takes place in the future. Unhappy with the changes from page to screen, Norton asked for her name to be removed from the film’s credits.
The Beastmaster (1982)
Welcome to Aruk, where the prophecy of a witch reveals that the evil priest Maax (Rip Torn!) reveals that the son of King Zed (Rod Loomis, who was Freud in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) will eventually kill him. Although Zed exiles the villain, one of Maax’s witches transfers the baby who will become Dar the Beastmaster from his mother’s womb into a cow’s. Yes, I just wrote that. I’m still amazed that this happens.
Dar is rescued by a villager who raises him as her own son inthe village of Emur. This being a sword and sorcery movie, that whole town is destroyed by the Juns, barbarians under Maax’s command. Of course, Dar has been taught since childhood to fight and telepathically communicate with animals. As you do, you know?
Dar eventually puts together his animal familiar army of Sharak the eagle, Kodo and Podo the ferrets and a black tiger named Ruh. He also teams up with Kiri (Tanya Roberts), a slave girl, and even spends time wander amongst a half-bird, half-human race who let him go when they realize that he can speak to an eagle.
What follows are battles with Maax, an appearance by Good Times star John Amos, ferrets bravely sacrificing themselves, baby ferrets being born, Dar learning of his royal blood and birdmen battling barbarians.
Coscarelli didn’t have a good time making this, as he fought with the producers over editing and casting, such as his choice of Demi Moore over Tanya Roberts. Even sadder, Klaus Kinski was the original choice to play Maax!
Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time (1991)
Sylvio Tabet produced the original Beastmaster film, as well as Evilspeakand Fade to Black. This is the one and only film that he ever directed.
This time around, Dar learns that he has a half-brother named Arkon (the amazing Wings Hauser) who is working alongside Lyranna (Sarah Douglas, who was Queen Taramis in Conan the Destroyer and Ursa in the Superman movies) to take over, well, everything. They are almost captured by our hero until they create a portal that brings them to modern day Los Angeles.
Dar, Ruh, Kodo and Sharak follow and battle them over a neutron bomb. Obviouslt, Arklon has seen Ator 2: The Blade Master. Luckily, our hero gets to work alongside rich girl Jackie Trent (Kari Wuhrer) and Lieutenant Coberly (James Avery from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, continuing the lineage of black friends of the Beastmaster coming from sitcoms). Robert Z’Dar also shows up, which is always nice.
Jim Wynorski (Sorceress, Chopping Mall) was originally going to direct and wrote a screenplay before Tabet decided to direct. Luckily for Wynorski, he lawyered up and got to keep his name on the movie and make some money.
This movie completely ignores that Kodo died. And Dar’s mark of the beast switches hands from the last movie. Basically, if you’re into continuity, perhaps the Beastmaster movies aren’t for you.
Beastmaster III: The Eye of Braxus (1996)
Dar is back one more time, this time trying to rescue his brother, King Tal (finally grown up but now played by Casper Van Dien from Starship Troopers). He’s joined by Tal’s bodyguard Seth (no longer John Amos, but now Tony Todd, which make me audibly shout at 3 AM and wake up my entire house), a warrior woman named Shada (Sandra Hess, Mortal Kombat Annihilation), an acrobat named Bey and Seth’s ex-girlfriend, a sorceress named Morgana (Lesley Anne-Down of all people!).
They’re battling the slumming David Warner as Lord Agon, who has been sacrificing youngsters to shave years off his life. You know, the older I get, the more this seems like a great idea, because most kids I meet today are clueless. He’s also trying to release the dark god Braxus, who looks like a human dinosaur.
This one’s directed by Gabrielle Beaumont, whose was also behind the movie The Godsend and the Jamie Lee Curtis-starring TV movie about Dorothy Stratten, Death of a Centerfold. It was written David Wise, who was one of the main writers on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, so that may account for this one being the most family-friendly of the three films.
Three years after this movie, a syndicated series called Beastmaster lasted for three seasons and 66 episodes. It changes Dar’s story a bit and features Daniel Goddard instead of Marc Singer.
Amazingly, none of the Beastmaster films are available on blu ray in the U.S., although the Australian based Umbrella did release the first film in June of 2018. The disk claims it’s region B, but I’ve heard that it works on American blu ray players.
If you’re looking for allthreefilms, VHSPS has them available on their site, transferred directly from video store copies.
BONUS: Listen to Becca and I discuss the second Beastmaster movie, one of her favorites ever, on our podcast:
When I was 16 years old, I probably watched Phantasm II every single day. Honestly, I was completely obsessed with the film and its gliding metal spheres that promised destruction every time they whizzed past the screen. At that stage of my life, I hated where I was and couldn’t wait to be where I was going. Its nihilistic tone and brutal violence suited me just fine. In fact, when I finally watched the original film, I found it silly and stupid by comparison.
Now that I’m in my 40’s, I can see how totally stupid sixteen year old me was.
Directed, written, photographed, and edited by auteur Don Coscarelli, the original Phantasm makes much more sense if viewed less as a linear film and more as a collection of imagery, a “complete movie” to use the words of Fulci.
However, if we were to look at the basics of the story, they’d concern the evil Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), an undertaker who comes from a red dimension where he transforms dead people into dwarf zombies and commands an army of flying metal spheres. He’s obsessed with a young boy named Mike (Michael Baldwin), who is trying to convince his brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) and friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister) that their town is being taken over.
Sure. It’s kind of about that. It’s also a surrealistic rumination on how teenagers see death and the worry that they won’t be there for those they love. Or worse, that those they love won’t be there for them.
This is the kind of movie that has a villain who can also become a woman, the Lady in Lavender, who transforms back into the Tall Man at the moment the men orgasm. There’s some strange commentary at play here, right? It also has fortune tellers who tell you that fear is the killer, characters dying and coming back and characters that lived actually dying and chopped off fingers filled with yellow blood being transformed into winged monsters that can only be stopped by garbage disposals. And it’s also the kind of film that can completely stop the narrative for everyone to play “Sitting Here at Midnight.”
For all the narrative and psychological questions that Phantasm raises, I often wonder: exactly what kind of ice cream man wears a leather vest over his uniform?
This initial offering also introduces a trope that will endure for the rest of the series: at the end, when it seems like everything is making sense,nothing does and the villains end up exploding out of a mirror or from hiding, dragging our heroes back into the void.
I’ve watched Phantasm at least once a year since my first viewing and each time I watch it, I am struck by its strange power. Unlike so many of today’s independent movies, it looks and feels like a big budget film, except it’s been beamed to Earth from another dimension.
Phantasm is available on Shudder along with commentary by Joe Bob Briggs.
Phantasm II (1988)
Liz Reynolds is a young woman who has a psychic bond with Mike, the hero of the first film, as well as the Tall Man. She finds them in her nightmares, where she begs for Mike to save her before her grandfather dies and is taken away by the villain.
We then see how Mike escaped the end of the last film — Reggie saved him by blowing up the house, but our hero has been institutionalized from seven years. He then must convince Reggie that the Tall Man really exists. He learns when the Tall Man blows up his entire family (yes, this movie has two exploding houses within minutes of one another).
It’s time for a road trip — not the last they will take — that takes them to Périgord, Oregon. Liz’s grandfather dies and her sister Jeri disappears. The priest who does the funeral knows all about the Tall Man, so he desecrates the body which rises anyway.
On their way to Périgord, Reggie picks up a hitchhiker named Alchemy who looks like a ghost they saw earlier. This is where you learn the lessons that Reggie will never learn for the rest of the series: never pick up hitchhikers, never sleep with strange women and every girl who will actually have sex with you is really the Tall Man.
Regardless, Liz arrives at the mortuary where she learns that her grandmother is now one of the Tall Man’s lurkers (she was taken by her grandfather, who we can also assume is part of the Tall Man’s crew). The priest gets killed by a ball, which is always nice. And then one of the saddest moments in the Phantasm series happens: the Tall Man blows up Reggie’s Hemicuda.
What follows are plenty of guns (a quad-barrelled shotgun!), a chainsaw battle, more spheres, the portal to the Red Dimension and the Tall Man pumped full of embalming fluid, which causes him to melt all over the place.
Alchemy has taken a hearse, but she’s really the Tall Man, killing Reggie (again, but of course, not really) and Mike and Liz convinced they’re trapped in a dream. The Tall Man utters the best line of the movie: “No, it’s not!” before pulling them through the back window.
While the lowest budget Universal film of the 1980’s, they also exerted a lot of control over the film. The, well, phantasmagorical style of the first movie was asked to be toned down with a more linear plotline and character voiceovers. Honestly, any time you hear a voiceover in a film, you should read that as a note from the producers saying, “No one will understand this if we don’t spell it out to them.”
Plus, no dreams were allowed in the final cut and a female romantic lead was created for Mike. And most distressing, Universal wanted to recast both leads but allowed A. Michael Baldwin and Reggie Bannister (neither of them had acted in the nine years in between the films, with Reggie actually working at a funeral home as an embalmer) to audition for the roles they originated. Big of them. Coscarelli was allowed to keep one of them in a Sophie’s Choice and went with Bannister, casting James Le Gros in Baldwin’s place. Seriously, were the Universal executives supervillains? That’s some crazy thinking there.
Actually, the Tall Man has plenty of great lines here, like “You think that when you die you go to Heaven… you come to us!” This movie pretty much dominated my teenage years and nothing that followed it would ever top it. But hey — they took three chances trying.
Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994)
Universal Studios was going to put this out in theaters before differences with Coscarelli, yet the direct to video release of this film was in the top 100 rentals of that year — ah, the magic days when video rental could help a movie succeed!
Right after the end of the last film, the Tall Man comes back from the Red Dimension just as the hearse with Liz and Mike in it explodes. Reggie finds that Liz is dead and saves Mike from the Tall Man by threatening to set off a grenade. The Tall Man just laughs and says that he will come from Mike when he’s well again. This takes two years of hospital time, as he wakes up after a dream with his brother Jody and the Tall Men in it. The minute he wakes up, his nurse turns into a demon with a ball inside her skull.
Soon enough, the Tall Man is back, transforming Jody into a sphere and taking Mike with him, sending Reggie on a road trip. He ends up in a small town where three gangsters — somehow this movie becomes The People Under the Stairs for a bit — throw him into the trunk of his car but are thwarted by Tim, a young kid who has been fighting the forces of the Tall Man.
Of note, Tim’s house is the same house from House!
Much like how Princess from The Walking Dead comic has to be directly influenced by Alma from Warriors of the Wasteland, the way Carl Grimes dresses seems like too much of a coincidence when we see Tim in the film.
Reggie and Tim make their way to a mausoleum where they team up with Rocky, a tough woman who is good with nunchakus. They follow a whole bunch of hearses to the Tall Man’s base, where they rescue Mike and use the portal to cut off the Tall Man’s hands, which of course become monsters.
Mike then talks to his brother who is now a ball and learns that the Tall Man is making an army to conquer every other dimension, using human brains inside his spheres and shrunken down dead people as his slaves. “There are thousands of them!” yells Mike as the Looters wheel in Tim, who is saved at the last minute by Jody, still a metal ball. Whew!
Reggie and Rocky arrive just in time to shoot the Tall Man with a spear and liquid nitrogen just as a gold ball emerges from his head. Reggie destroys that as everyone learns that Mike also has a gold ball inside his head that turns his eyes silver. He warns Reggie to stay away from him and leaves with his brother, still a ball.
Rocky leaves just as Reggie is pinned to the wall by a ton of spheres. Just as Tim tries to save him, the Tall Man comes back to say, “It’s never over!” and pulls Tim through a window.
There was an alternate ending filmed where Reggie and Tim travel to Alaska, where they bury the Tall Man’s gold sphere in the ice and leave a plaque over it that says “Here Lies The Tall Man – R.I.P.” Reggie then exclaims, “Now, all we have to worry about is global warming” as they leave.
As a rule, the less money the Phantasm films have in the budget, the better they generally are. This one is considered the roughest by fans as it deviates so much from the storyline. I’d argue that these films have no real storyline and are all over the place, necessitating the use of stimulants any time you try and watch them.
You can watch this on Shudder with Joe Bob Briggs commentary.
Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998)
This one opens right where the last one ended, with Mike leaving town and Reggie trapped. The Tall Man lets him go to play one last game while the ball form of Jody becomes human long enough to tell Reggie that he has to search for Mike.
Reggie saves a woman named Jennifer from some of the Tall Man’s soldiers and just when it seems like our ice cream dude is finally about to get lucky, her breasts rip apart to reveal two silver balls — yes, really this happens — before Reggie uses a sledgehammer and his tuning form to stop her.
Mike has flashbacks to his younger days — using footage shot during the original Phantasm that was never used — to try and determine who the tall man is. He tries to kill himself, only to be stopped by the Tall Man. He escapes through a gateway where he meets a kindly old man named Jebediah Morningside, who looks exactly like the Tall Man (the old lady on the porch is supposed to be the fortune teller from Phantasm).
Then, Mike learns that he can move things with his brain. Jody finds him just in time to escape the Tall Man again.
Reggie arrives in Death Valley, fighting off some dwarves as Mike and Jody reappear, yet Mike tells him not to trust Jody. Mike and Jody then go through another gate back to Jebediah’s house, where they learn how he created the first interdimensional gate and became the Tall Man, who chases them back to another cemetery where Jody turns on his brother. Mike kills his brother with a sphere he built out of car parts and runs from the Tall Man.
If at this point your head is spinning from reading this, imagine watching it. This installment tries hard to keep the crazy narrative shifts from the beginning, constantly shifting the questions when you think you have all the answers.
Mike and Reggie use the car sphere and the hearse’s motor, now an interdimensional bomb, to destroy the Tall Man, who of course emerges seconds later from the gate, unharmed. He reveals that he is one of many as he removes the gold sphere from Mike head and leaves. Reggie arms himself and jumps through the gate, just as Mike has a memory of them riding in his ice cream truck together.
This installment’s budget was minuscule when compared to the last two Phantasm films. In fact, if you look at inflation, it was shot on a lower budget than the original. That’s why so many scenes are set in the desert. And the film wasn’t afraid to call in some favors, like the swarm of spheres, which was created by fans and KNB cutting Coscarelli a break on the cost of their effects.
Sadly, this movie could have been even bigger. Roger Avery, who co-wrote Pulp Fiction as well as Silent Hill, is a super fan of the Phantasm Series and suggested an epic ending called Phantasm 1999 A.D. This post-apocalyptic film would also star Bruce Campbell but cost way too much to get made in the pre-Kickstarter world.
Here’s the synopsis from IMDB, which will make you crestfallen that we never got this sequel: “The year is 2012 and there are only three U.S. states left. Between New York and California is the wasteland known as the Plague Zone. Unfortunately, the evil Tall Man controls that area. Since many people are dead, the Tall Man is able to make thousands of dwarf slaves for his planet daily in the Mormon Mausoleum. Besides him, the other residents are “baggers,” human-like creatures that are infected by the Tall Man’s blood, the dwarves, and, of course, the silver spheres, all trying to break out of the barrier that contains them and into the real world. A group of hi-tech troops are sent in to destroy the red dimension where the Tall Man gets his power. Reggie follows so he can find Mike after a series of nightmares he had. Will they be able to finally destroy the Tall Man for good?”
There’s one awesome scene in this one, where the Tall Man chases Mike down Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, which is completely deserted, an effect achieved by shooting it on Thanksgiving morning.
Oh yeah — where is Tim? The kid who ended up being a main character in the last film was to have been eaten by the dwarves in this one, but the budget kept that from being filmed.
You can also watch this one with Joe Bob Briggs on Shudder.
Phantasm: Ravager (2016)
Directed by David Hartman and produced by Coscarelli, this final sequel was done in secret and announced a few months before it was released. It’s the final word — one imagines — in the series, as it ends at least Reggie’s story. Or maybe it doesn’t. It’s hard to tell with Phantasm.
In development since 2004, this one starts with Reggie still hunting the Tall Man. Or perhaps he’s suffering from dementia in an assisted living facility. Or perhaps he’s at a farm where a potential love interest and everyone but him get killed by the Tall Man’s spheres. Or maybe he’s in a hospital in the 1860’s and there to die alongside Jebediah before he became the Tall Man or maybe even in a reality where he never becomes the Tall Man. And oh yeah, the Lady in Lavender shows up again.
The Tall Man then meets Reggie in 1979, where he tells him everything that will happen and offers to save his family if he never gets involved. He replies that he’d rather be loyal to his friends Mike and Jody.
My favorite part of this one is the gigantic spheres that are battling whole cities as Mike leads a hi-tech future squad (shades of the Avery script) against the Tall Man’s forces. Reggie has been in a coma for ten years (shades of Mike in Phantasm II) and now, the Tall Man has taken over the world.
The ending is up for debate: does Reggie die in the real world? Is that a dream? Is the reality where Reggie, Mike and Jody — joined by heroic dwarf Chunk and the surprise return of Rocky from Phantasm III — continue to fight the Tall Man’s gigantic spheres the truth? Are all of them?
As Reggie himself said when he was on with Joe Bob for the Shudder marathon, “Well, it’s Phantasm.” Eventually you have to stop asking questions and just enjoy. I guess it’s just nice to see everyone together again, no matter if the last film doesn’t live up to what it could be.
You can — you guessed it — check this one out on Shudder with Joe Bob Briggs.
In case you didn’t know, the Star Wars character Captain Phasma was named for this movie and Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams is such a big fan of the film he personally oversaw the new cleaned up version of the original film.
So many movies can cite Phantasm as an influence — Poltergeist 2, A Nightmare on Elm Street, One Dark Night and the TV series Supernatural has its protagonists drive around in a black muscle car…kind of just like Phantasm.
Its influence can also be felt in the world of metal, as Tormentor covered the theme, and the line “The funeral is about to begin, sir” has been sampled by the bands Splatterhouse, Marduk and Mortician. You can also hear the band Entombed play the theme at the end of their song “Left Hand Path.”
Someday, someone is going to get the idea to make an entirely new Phantasm. But it won’t be so strange and it won’t be so special. Until that time comes, we’ll always have five movies — one awesome, a few ok and a few stinkers that I still love — to enjoy. And remember: “If this one doesn’t scare you, you’re already dead!”
Where could a Nightmare on Elm Street go after five movies, a TV series and numerous appearances in pop culture? Freddy had gone from a horrifying villain to somehow, the hero of the series. Sure, this had happened to Godzilla and Gamera, but those monsters were always friends of children, not murderers of them.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare – 1994
Originally, this film was going to be A Nightmare on Elm Street 7: The Ascension, but Wes Craven had the goal of creating a more intelligent meditation on the effects of horror on those who created it. He also wanted to bring Freddy closer to what he envisioned him as being in the original film, both in look and how he behaves.
Heather Langenkamp, yes played by Heather Langenkamp, played Nancy Thompson in the first and third movies in the Elm Street movies, but now she keeps dreaming that Freddy is coming for her, her husband Chase and her son Dylan (Miko Hughes, Gage from Pet Semetary). She awakens to an earthquake tearing through her house and a prank caller who continually keeps phoning in Freddy’s nursery rhyme.
After a talk show appearance with an in-costume Robert Englund, Heather learns that New Line Cinema wants her to work on a new Elm Street film that her husband has already been doing effects for. And when she arrives home, her son is watching the first film, screaming at her when she tries to turn it off. She calls her husband to help and as he rushes home, he falls asleep at the wheel and is killed by Freddy.
At the funeral, she has another vision of Freddy and John Saxon — you better believe I stood on my couch and cheered — tells her that she needs help. Dylan refuses to sleep and becomes obsessed with Krueger, which leads to her visiting series creator Wes Craven, played by, you knew it, Wes Craven.
Craven explains that Freddy has always been alive, a supernatural creature that attached itself to the films and was freed when Freddy died for the last time in the fifth film (perhaps it was just that he was upset that that one is so bad). Englund knows even more, but soon disappears from all contact.
After an aftershock to the earthquake, Heather takes Dylan to the hospital, where the doctor on call believes that he’s being abused. While police have her under custody, Freddy appears and kills the babysitter much like the first kill in the first film.
Dylan sleepwalks across a crowded freeway with Nancy in pursuit as the film grows more nightmarish — yes, I know that was super literal. After being injured saving him, Heather returns home, only to learn that John Saxon has now become her/Nancy’s father Don Thompson. She decides to embrace her old role and Freddy emerges into reality, taking her son into her world.
Working together, Dylan and Heather/Nancy shove Freddy into an oven — echoing how the parents of Elm Street stopped him in the original story — murdering him. They awake in bed, with a copy of the film’s script close behind. There’s a note from Craven, thanking her for defeating Freddy and playing Nancy one last time. Now, she has jailed the demon into the film’s world all over again. Dylan asks if it’s just a story and Heather says that yes, it has all just been a story. Yet that’s up to debate, as In the ending credits, Freddy Krueger is listed as playing himself.
If the end result is similar to Fulci’s A Cat in the Brain, this was not lost on the Italian godfather of gore (and emperor of eviscerated eyeballs). In his lone U.S. convention appearance (at the January 1996 Fangoria Horror Convention in New York City), Fulci would claim that New Nightmare rips off his film.
This movie was well-received by critics, but where can you go with Freddy Krueger? Simple. You make him battle someone else. 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason would pit the two horror icons against each other and the results were that each would have to reboot afterward. You can read our thoughts on this film from last year’s Friday the 13th Watch the Series post right here.
A Nightmare on Elm Street – 2010
Samuel Bayer directed the Nirvana video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” amongst literally hundreds of other videos and commercials. For his first movie, he was selected to remake the first Elm Street, a task that had to feel herculean.
Produced by Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes team, the goal was to do what they had done for their Friday the 13th remake: take the best parts of each film and make one new story. However, they soon learned that going back to the first film was really the only way to go. They also made Krueger an actual child molester and not a killer, as well as making him meaner, with a look more like an actual burn victim.
Robert Englund endorsed the film (and Jackie Earle Haley playing Freddy), but Craven was not as kind, perhaps because he wasn’t consulted before the movie was made.
Kris Fowles (Katie Cassidy, Black Canary on TV’s Arrow) meets her friend Dean (Kellan Lutz, Twilight) at the Springwood Diner, but soon, Dean is asleep and dreaming of Freddy Krueger, who slices his throat. In our reality, Dean cuts his own throat as waitress Nancy (Rooney Mara, the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, who hated being in this movie so much that she nearly stopped acting) watches.
The children of Elm Street soon learn that they all went to pre-school together, where they were abused by — you guessed it — Freddy Krueger. Now, they’re all dreaming of the burned killing machine. Kris is soon killed by him, with her murder blamed on her ex-boyfriend Jesse (Thomas Dekker, John Connor from the Fox Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles TV show, who called this film a horrible mess). Of course, he’s soon dead in his jail cell.
Quentin (Kyle Gallner, American Sniper) and Nancy begin investigating and soon learn that once the parents of Elm Street learned that Krueger was molesting their children, they hunted him down and burned him alive. What follows is pretty much the same tale as the original, with Freddy being pulled into our world and a similar shock twist ending.
I really have no idea who this movie is for. You can just go watch the original to see a much better, more imaginative film. Bayer has a great visual style — he came up in directing with Bay and David Fincher — but between the CGI makeup for Freddy, the portrayal of him and the general been there, done that nature of this film, I was bored throughout. Then again, I realize that millennials don’t have as many DVDs as me or any interest in watching a movie from the early 80’s.
Platinum Dunes producer Brad Fuller has been quoted as saying that while the film was a financial success, the backlash didn’t stop for two years. The company wouldn’t make another movie until 2013’s The Purge and hasn’t remade a horror movie since.
While a talented actor, I just don’t like Haley in the Freddy role. Maybe its because he has referred to the original as, “The worst movie ever.” Or perhaps that’s just sour grape, as there’s a rumor that Johnny Depp tagged along when Haley auditioned for the original and got the part while his friend didn’t.
Want more Elm Street?
2011’s I Am Nancy explores Heather Langenkamp’s feelings about starring in the films and her role in the series.
Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street will be out later this year and is all about Mark Patton’s journey in Hollywood after making the second Elm Street. It looks really interesting and you can find the official site here.
Nightmares in the Makeup Chair is another upcoming film that is all about the process that it took to transform Robert Englund into Freddy every single day of filming. You can learn more here.
Beyond the Marvel comics we covered, Freddy has also appeared in comics from Innovation Comics, Trident Comics, Avatar Press and WildStorm Comics. There was also a crossover comic with Dynamite Entertainment that was all about Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, which puts a dream movie into the hands of eager readers.
If you love Mortal Kombat, good news. You can play as Freddy in the 2011 edition of the game and its Mortal Kombat X mobile game. While he looks like the 2010 version of the character, that’s really Robert Englund providing his voice.
Freddy is also available for the slashertastic game Dead by Daylight (you can also play as Michael Myers, Leatherface and the Pig from Saw), which also came with a playable version of Quentin Smith from the 2010 film.
I almost forgot…Freddy also chased politicians on DC Follies…
He also was on The Goldbergs last week!
Thanks for joining us on our voyage through Elm Street! Do you have a favorite? Did we miss something? Let us know in the comments!
In our last post, we got into the origin of the Nightmare on Elm Street films. Now, sadly, we start to discover why — and when — the series started to go downhill.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child – 1989
What can you say about a movie where the director, Stephen Hopkins (Predator2, Judgement Night), says “What started out as an OK film with a few good bits turned into a total embarrassment. I can’t even watch it anymore.”?
A year after the last film, the returning Alice (Lisa Wilcox) and Dan (Danny Hassel) have been dating and seen no sign of Freddy until a shower turns into Alice going back in time to witness the creation of Freddy by the maniacs of the asylum. She tries to forget the dream as she’s graduating high school the next day, along with comic book lover Mark, model Greta (Erika Anderson, Twin Peaks) and aspiring nurse Yvonne (Kelly Jo Minter, Maria, the video store clerk from The Lost Boys).
The dreams don’t go away, with Alice witnessing the birth of a Freddy baby that makes its way to the church from the last film. He tells her he’s learned how to come back to life, just at the moment that he kills Dan. At the same time, she also learns that she’s pregnant with her dead boyfriend’s child.
No one believes that Freddy is after Alice, but Greta soon is killed by being forced to overeat in her dreams. Oh yeah — Alice is also seeing a fully grown boy she calls Jacob who she believes is her future son. Freddy is feeding his victims to her unborn baby — who yes, is also Jacob — to make him evil.
There is an imaginative scene where Freddy kills Mark within a comic book world, as well as the world that Freddy lives in now. But the ending, where Amanda Krueger seals away Freddy and Jacob decides to stay with his mother amidst strange puppet heads gets a little ridiculous. Actually, this entire movie is, supposing that teens we’d want to watch a movie about the terrors of teen pregnancy mixed with the terrors of being an Elm Street teenager.
Supposedly, there’s an uncut version of this movie that’s never been released that would change a lot of people’s opinions on the film. I’ll watch it again if that ever comes out. Yes, I know there was an unrate VHS release but supposedly there’s even more missing.
Maybe it’d be a better film if New Line had given the director more than four weeks to work on it. And get this — the poster was released before the producers had a clear idea what the movie was going to be about, other than the idea that Freddy would be a fetus and the title would be The Dream Child.
Somewhere between the fourth and fifth movies, Freddy’s Nightmares began airing on syndicated TV. The pilot episode, which tells Freddy’s origin story in great detail was directed by Tobe Hooper. After this, every episode would tell two stories about the city of Springwood, Ohio. The second tale in each episode would usually expand upon a character from the first story. Freddy may or may not be directly involved, but he’d appear in the beginning and end to do a wraparound sequence.
Directors like Tom McLoughlin (Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI ), Mick Garris (Sleepwalkers), Ken Wiederhorn (Shock Waves), John Lafia (writer of Child’s Play and director of Child’s Play 2), Dwight H. Little, who delighted my wife’s childhood with the fourth and part of the fifth segments of Halloweenas well as Murder at 1600 and even Englund himself (he’s Freddy in every episode and let’s not forget that he directed 976-EVIL).
Let’s face it — Freddy was entering massive saturation, being on TV every week, appearing in a black and white Marvel comic book written by Howard the Duck creator Steve Gerber that was pulled after two issues due to internal concerns with its violent content, a video game from LJN (of course) and a line of toys that caused great controversy.
The Maxx FX line is one of sadness. Conceived by Mel Birnkrant, the creator and designer of toy lines like Outer Space Men and Baby Face.
Maxx FX was to be toys that had a special effects creator action figure as well as all of the costumes to make him into different monsters, from Universal classics to the Alien, Jason and Freddy. Check out the article on the creator’s site — where the videos and image above were taken — to learn more. I have the Freddy Maxx FX in storage, having found it for only $10 at a closeout store a year after it was to be released.
Thanks for indulging me on that trip to the memory lane section of the toy aisle. Let’s get back to the movies!
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare – 1991
Look, any horror movie that starts off with a Goo Goo Dolls song is just going to inspire my ire. But let’s try to be objective and not consider some of the better ideas for this sequel, including Jacob coming back to lead the Dream Warriors and a Peter Jackon screenplay where Freddy would stop being a threat and have the Elm Street kids even taking sleeping pills to screw with him.
Instead, this one starts ten years after where we left off, with Freddy having killed every single child from Springwood except for one teenager, John Doe. Waking up outside the city, he has no memories of why he’s there or even who he is.
He’s taken to a youth shelter, where he meets Spencer (Breckin Meyer), Carlos and Tracy (Lezlie Deane, 976-EVIL), who want to skip town. Part of Dr. Maggie Burroughs’ (Lisa Zane, sister of Billy) treatment is to take John to Springwood to cure his amnesia. The other kids all hide in the van and we’re off to the home of Freddy, just in time for John to have a nightmare and the van to wreck.
The abandoned house that the teens find turns into Freddy’s former home on 1428 Elm Street and we soon learn that Freddy has a child. After spending most of the film thinking John is the hero, he’s killed by Freddy, who reveals that he has a daughter.
Around here, Yaphet Kotto shows up and explains that he can control his dreams and how to defeat Freddy — drag him into the real world. If you’re screaming at your TV because this didn’t really work in the first film, you aren’t alone. And if Maggie being Freddy’s kid doesn’t hit you over the head with the sledgehammer of subtlety, then you just aren’t paying attention.
The last ten minutes of this movie — where Maggie goes into Freddy’s dimension to battle the dream demons that power him — were shot for 3D. Freddy gets blown up real good after Maggie gets off a kiss off line, saying “Happy Father’s Day!” Actually, no one feels good about this movie or this ending. Then again, the original theatrical version ran for 100 minutes while every home video release has run for 88, so obviously, big chunks were edited out of the film.
In the place of a decent tale, we’re given cameos by Johnny Depp, Tom Arnold, Roseanne Barr, Elinor Donahue and Alice Cooper as Freddy’s abusive father. That makes two 80’s slasher franchises that Alice has been involved with now.
This is the only Elm Street film to feature a female director — Rachel Talalay — and no female victims. Talalay would go on to direct episodes of Sherlock and Dr. Who, as well as Tank Girl.
Where can you take Freddy after all of these trials and tribulations? How can you make him more relevant? You have three choices, really. Go outside of the canon, a crossover or a remake. In the next chapter, we’ll discover how the Elm Street series would eventually do all three.
BTW — I figure this is a good place as any to mention some songs inspired by Freddy Krueger. Join me, why don’t you?
Also released on their album “Back for the Attack,” Dokken’s “Dream Warriors” is one catchy song and the entire reason I wanted to watch the third film. Don’t get me started or I’ll be singing it all day.
Prince Markie Dee of the Fat Boys Uncle Frederick has died and a lawyer claims that he has to spend one night in his haunted house to get his inheritance. If you ever wanted to hear Robert Englund rap, well, here you go.
Tracey Knight didn’t just star in The Dream Master, she’s also fond of singing this little ditty, which opens the movie.
Before Will Smith was a huge star, New Line actually sued him and his partner DJ Jazzy Jeff over this song and a planned music video, forcing a sticker onto all copies of their album “He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper” stating that this “[This song] is not part of the soundtrack…and is not authorized, licensed, or affiliated with the Nightmare on Elm Street films.”
Stormtroopers of Death was a group made up of Anthrax’s Scott Ian and Charlie Benante along with former bandmate Danny Lilker and Billy Milano, who likes Freddy so much that his next band, M.O.D. would record “Man of Your Dreams.”
Former KISS guitarist Vinnie Vincent got into the Freddy action with this song and video from the fourth film. Man, how about the days when bands got budgets like this to produce music videos?
An album packed with dream related songs, both originals and covers, this also has Robert Englund doing intros to every song. They’re all redone by studio musicians, the Elm Street Group.
Finally, one more PS — the image for today’s Elm Street series comes from Sungold’s line of bootleg Monster toys. Their version of Freddy has an even better name: Sharp Hand Joe! You can even get a t-shirt of this from the awesome folks at Pizza Party Printing!
I’ll admit it. I’m guilty. I’ve unfairly maligned this franchise because of where it ended up versus where it began. And it’s time that I rectified that situation. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been watching them all over again from the beginning and have come to change my opinion. Well, at least until the fifth film.
The original film was based on a lot of director/writer Wes Craven’s life, as well as Asian Death Syndrome, a medical condition that impacted a group of refugees who had left behind Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, yet were still trapped by nightmares of war. Many of them refused to go to sleep as a result and some even died while sleeping.
He also was inspired by a satirical horror movie his Clarkson University students made in 1968 which was filmed along Elm Street in Potsdam, New York. And the film’s villain, Freddy Krueger, is based on an incident where a young Craven felt like an elderly neighbor was coming after him. The name comes from a childhood bully that kept beating on Craven and it’s not the first time that he used that name, as Krug from The Last House on the Left is also named for this past teenage demon.
Freddy Krueger doesn’t look like any of his slasher brethren. With every other slasher wearing a mask, Craven wanted a villain who could talk and threaten his victims, while striking even more fear into their hearts with his burned and scarred visage. He also based his soon to be iconic sweatshirt on the pattern of DC Comics superhero Plastic Man, but changed the colors to red and green as he learne dd that those were the colors that clash the most in the human retina. And his weapon wouldn’t be a knife, but an entire glove made of them.
A Nightmare on Elm Street – 1984
Upon watching this again for the first time in probably thirty years, I was struck by how European the movie feels. Perhaps it’s the color tones throughout, suggesting the patina of Italian horror cinema (both Fulci and Craven cite surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel as an influence). It could also be John Saxon having lead billing. Or just that it doesn’t feel like any horror cinema that was currently being made in the United States.
The real villain of this piece is not Freddy Krueger — more on him in a bit — but the parents of Elm Street who have allowed secrets and their assumed authority over their children to do unspeakable and unspoken things. All of them are haunted by it, divorced, depressed and self-medicating with over-dedication to their jobs or their addictions.
There are stories that David Warner was originally going to play Freddy, but that’s been disproven. After plenty of actors tried out and failed to win the part, it went to Robert Englund, who darkened his eyes and acted like Klaus Kinski (!) to get the part.
The other feeling I have about this movie is that it owes a major debt — as all horror movies post 1978 do –to John Carpenter’s Halloween. Much like that film, the true horror happens within the foliage of the suburbs, with shadow people showing up and disappearing. Much of the action on the final night happens within two houses. One of the main characters has the ultimate authority figure, a policeman, for a father. And the cinematography by Jacques Haitkin glides near the characters and around them, much like the Steadicam shots that start Carpenter’s film.
The film starts with Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss, who puts the events of Better Off Dead into motion by breaking up with Lloyd Dobler) waking up from a nightmare where a disfigured man chases her with a bladed glove. I loved the way this scene looks, as you could almost consider Freddy off brand here, as his arms grow comedically long and he moves way faster than he would in the rest of the series. Yet by keeping him in the shadows, he’s absolutely terrifying.
When Tina awakens, her nightgown has been slashed and she’s afraid to go to sleep again. She learns that her friends, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp, who left Stamford University to be in this), Glen (introducing Johnny Depp) and Rod (Jsu Garcia, credited as Nicki Corri) have all been having the same dream. To console Tina, they all stay at her parent’s house overnight. But when Tina falls asleep, Krueger is waiting. Rod awakes to find Tina flying all over the room and up the walls — an astounding effects sequence in the pre-CGI era — and he flees the scene after her death.
Soon, Rod is arrested by Lieutenant Don Thompson (Saxon), Nancy’s father. Freddy now starts pursuing her, chasing her as she falls asleep in class (look for Lin Shaye as the teacher) and later in the bathtub, as his claw raises like a demented and deadly phallus between her thighs. Rod tells her how Tina dies and now she knows that the same killer is definitely after her (Garcia’s watery eyes and lack of focus made Langenkamp think he was acting his heart out; the truth is he was high on heroin for real in this scene). She tries to find the killer, with Glen watching over her, but he’s a lout and easily falls asleep. Only the alarm clock saves her, but no one can save Rod, who is hung in his sleep while rotting in a jail cell.
Nancy’s mom Marge (Ronee Blakley, who was married to Wim Wenders, sang backup on Dylan’s song “Hurricane” and is also in Altman’s Nashville) takes her to a sleep clinic, where Dr. King (Charles Fleischer, Roger Rabbit’s voice) tries to figure out her nightmares. She emerges from a dream holding Freddy’s hat to her mother’s horror. Soon, she reveals to her daughter that the parents of Elm Street got revenge on Freddy Krueger, a child murderer after a judge let him go on a technicality. In a deleted scene, we also learn that Nancy and her friends all lost a brother or sister that they never knew about.
While Nancy is barred up in her house by new security measures, Glen’s parents won’t allow him to see her. Soon, he’s asleep and is transformed into an overwhelming fountain of blood. Nancy falls asleep after asking her father to come in twenty minutes. He doesn’t listen and she pulls Freddy into our world. On the run, she screams for help until her father finally comes to her aid, just in time to watch a burning Freddy kill his ex-wife and them both disappear.
This is an incredibly complex stunt where Freddy is set ablaze, chases Nancy up the stairs, falls back down and runs back up — all in one take! At the time, it was the most elaborate fire stunt ever filmed and won Anthony Cecere an award for the best stunt of the year.
Nancy then realizes that if she doesn’t believe in Freddy, he can’t hurt her. She wakes up and every single one of her friends is still alive, ready to go to school. As the convertible hood opens up in the colors of the killer’s sweater, she realizes that she’s still trapped by Freddy, who drags her mother through a window.
In Craven’s original script, the movie simply ended on a happy note. Producer Robert Shaye wanted the twist ending so that the door was open for a sequel, something Craven had no interest in. Four different endings were filmed: Craven’s happy ending, Shaye’s ending where Freddy wins and two compromises between their ideas.
Obviously, the series would continue. And the follow-up would be one that left many unsatisfied.
A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge – 1985
With Craven stepping aside, Jack Sholder (Alone in the Dark, which was the first New Line movie before the original Elm Street and The Hidden) was selected as the director and David Chaskin was selected to write this (it was his first Hollywood script and he’d go on to write I, Madman and The Curse).
Chaskin’s theme for the film — which until the documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy he would always say was just subtext — is the main character Jesse (Mark Patton) coming to grips with his homosexuality. Patton struggled with his anger over this film for years, as he felt betrayed as the filmmakers knew that he was in the closet. Between this role and playing a gay teenager in Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, he feared being typecast at best and labeled at worst. Yes, in 1985, this was the world that we lived in.
Chaskin claimed in interviews that Patton just played the role too gay, but Patton bristled at that claim. The emotional stress led Patton to quit acting for some time to pursue a career in interior design. That said, Chaskin claims that he has tried to reach out and apologize to the actor over the years.
Director Sholder has said that he didn’t have the self-awareness to think that the film had any gay subtext, but an unfilmed scene almost had Krueger slide a knife into Jesse’s mouth. Makeup artist Kevin Yagher talked Patton out of filming that scene for the sake of his career.
Years later, Patton would write Jesse’s Lost Journal, a series of diary entries that would set his feelings — and his character’s — straight, pardon the horrible pun.
The sequel starts with a dream sequence where Jesse Walsh (Patton) dreams of being stuck inside a school bus with Freddy at the wheel. Jesse’s circle of friends include Lisa, who he’s friends with but too shy to ask out, and Grady (Robert Rusler, Sometimes They Come Back), a frenemy that seems more like a crush.
Jesse has moved into Nancy Thompson’s home, which was on the market for five years after she was institutionalized and her mother killed herself. His family has Clu Gulager from Return of the Living Dead as his dad, Hope Lange from Death Wish as his mother and a little sister that he bothers when she’s trying to sleep.
Lisa and Jesse discover Nancy’s diary, which explains how ridiculous the house is to live in. It’s always 97 degrees, birds attack you at will before they spontaneously combust and your parents accuse you of setting it all up.
Meanwhile, Jesse is dealing with all sorts of strangeness, like a sadistic gym teacher who really likes to go to punk clubs and get whipped. One night, a dream takes him to that bar and the gym teacher makes him run laps in the middle of the night. That gym teacher is played by Marshall Bell, who was George in Total Recall, the host for Kuato. Freddy possesses our hero and the coach gets clawed up in the shower. The cops find Jesse wandering the highway naked, which doesn’t seem all that weird to his mother.
Lisa and Jesse go to Freddy’s lair in an abandoned factory, then she has a pool party. Yes, I just wrote that sentence. At the party, they kiss and have perhaps the most awkward make out session ever, until Freddy causes changes in Jesse’s body that make him run to Grady for help. Yes, he gets so upset about making up with a girl that he runs to his male crush, only to transform into Freddy in an astounding practical effects sequences and kill Grady. He returns to the pool party and lays absolute waste to the partygoers as Freddy before getting chased off by multiple shotgun blasts.
Only Lisa’s love — and kisses — can bring Jesse out of Freddy. But it’s all for nothing, as the nightmare from the beginning becomes real and their schoolbus turns into a deathtrap. Even though their friend Kerry (who has the best outfits in the movie) tries to calm them down, Freddy’s claw emerges from her chest.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors – 1987
After the much-criticized second installment (I actually really enjoyed it, as it has a lot of European flair and its subject matter seems like a middle finger in the face of teenage boys who would seem to be its biggest audience), Wes Craven returned to write the inspiration for this script, which was originally about the phenomenon of children traveling to a specific location to commit suicide (think Japanese murder forests).
Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell took that direction and convinced New Line that the series should go further into Freddy’s dream world. The success of this film proved that A Nightmare on Elm Street would be a franchise, as this film made more than the first two movies put together. The team would go on to create 1988’s remake of The Blob before Darabont went into making Stephen King adaptions and Russell would direct The Mask, The Scorpion King and Collateral.
Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) is obsessed with the abandoned house on Elm Street (which one assumes is the last house on the left), making papier-mâché sculptures (which makes for a great compressed credit sequence, showing headlines of what has gone on before) and dreaming of Freddy chasing her. She awakens from her nightmare to discover that she’s slicing her own wrists as her mother Elaine (Brooke Bundy) has to interrupt her sleepover date to save her daughter’s life.
Kristen ends up in Westin Hospital, run by Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson, Body Double), battling the orderlies and doctors who want to sedate her. Check out a young Laurence Fishburne here as orderly Max Daniels! She’s eventually helped by the new therapist — Nancy Thompson! — who recites Freddy’s nursery rhyme to her. Continuity be damned, Nancy’s grey streak is now on the opposite side of her head.
We meet the rest of the patients, who will soon become the Dream Warriors: Phillip the sleepwalker (Bradley Gregg, Class of 1999), wheelchair-bound Will (Ira Heiden, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark), streetwise Kincaid, actress Jennifer (Penelope Sudrow, After Midnight), the silent Joey and Taryn, a former drug addict (Jennifer Rubin, who is also in a movie that totally rips off this one, Bad Dreams).
The Dream Warriors is pure entertainment. Freddy makes his move toward being more of a joking character while transforming into a snake, a TV set, a gigantic puppet master and even turns his fingers into drug-filled hypodermic needles. Kristen can pull the rest of the teens into her dreams, which they’ll need as Freddy and all of their doctors are pretty much against them.
Dr. Neil learns from Sister Mart Helena the true origins of Freddy, the bastard son of one hundred maniacs, and how he can stop him. Enlisting Nancy’s dad (John Saxon returns!), Neil digs up Freddy’s bones, which are still deadly, while Nancy tries to save as many of the kids as she can within the dreamworld.
The film puts an end to Nancy’s saga while setting things up for a new cast of characters to do battle with Freddy. At least that’s what you’re supposed to think, as A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master pretty much wipes the slate clean within the first ten minutes. We covered it not long ago, so follow the link to read more.
We’ll be back soon to cover the rest of these films! Don’t fall asleep!