Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Every day is like Tuesday

"Mind over matter."

After a brief stint in juvie hall, the next foray into the world of  Elm Street would take us out of the asylum and back to the 'burbs. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) finds Kristen Parker and her vodka-infused mom living amongst the common people of Springwood, Ohio. She’s got a groovy boyfriend, Rick, who is a master of karate and thrift-store shopping (Rick had that Twilight hair long before it was en vogue). He has a sister named Alice who loves her friends much more than she’d ever be capable of loving herself.  Alice has stringy hair and wears lots of layers; she’s prone to falling into reveries rather than confronting the issues at hand.  Rick and Alice have an alcoholic father and a dead mother, but at least they have each other.

"I don't spend hours working out to have some night-stalker beat me."

The sets are bigger.  There are more friends with better shoes, but don't be tricked - we've been here before.  The only business that's ever booming in Springwood is the local mortuary.  Even though they're well defined and purposeful, The Dream Master wastes no time in killing off its protagonists.  Unlike Friday the 13th films, Elm Street sequels are incredibly mindful of one another.  The X-Men motif of The Dream Warriors is carried over along with its surviving characters.  This is especially beneficial to mousy Alice.  Unbeknownst to her, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 is the story of Alice finding self-reliance.  Reality over reverie.  It sometimes takes seeing all her friends slaughtered by the son of a hundred maniacs for a girl to realize that she had strength, brains, and sex-appeal laying dormant in her all along - even that freak ability to drag people into her nightmares!   Alice is the Dream clever. 

"You ever take a look at our town's history? It's not exactly a safe place to be a teenager."

The cast of this movie is stellar. They genuinely enjoy each other. In Elm Street films teenagers look like teenagers, they don't look like fucked-out coke-heads (Sorority Row, I’m looking at you!).  The magical difference between these movies and their contemporaries is that the Nightmare films required more from their actors than just rock-hard abs and a vacant expression. Nightmare movies were witty and conceptual.  They were bombastic dreamscapes realized through meticulous production design and direction required actors who have an understanding of tone and context.  Thusly launching the careers of Johnny Depp, Cowboy Curtis, Joey Seely...

Twenty years later, I don’t know if you can fully appreciate the cognitive dissonance engendered by the transition from Patricia Arquette to Tuesday Knight in the role of Kristen Parker. It still makes me shake.  In addition to being super-glamorous, Patricia Arquette was the best screamer in horror movie history.   Hands down.  Patricia was a natural blonde, she was adept at making papier maché Popsicle stick houses, and she enjoyed Dokken. What’s not to love? Patricia fumbled through scenes with an emotional rawness that made the proceedings a matter of life and death, striking the perfect tone for a horror narrative! Tuesday Knight is not Patricia Arquette. Tuesday Knight sang the theme song for A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: Dream Master. I’ll give her that.

Plot convolutions aside, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 was onto something.  This film is by far the most imaginative and visually striking of the Elm Streets.  While not at all frightening, this is the most successful film in establishing the visual landscape of a dream.  Interior doors lead to exteriors that can turn from night to day with the blink of an eye.  Light sources pop from every nook and cranny.  Colors abound.  You can say many things about the film's director, but Renny Harlin is never subtle.  New Line cared about the quality of these films and it shows; this movie looks expensive.  Loaded with elaborate set pieces and musical montages (the soundtrack to The Dream Master far and away the best in the series), this movie walks a precarious tightrope between being clever and being in bad taste.  It's definitely not the most consistent film in the series.  Despite the fact that The Dream Master would go on to be the highest grossing film in the series, the seams were beginning to show.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Just when you think you're all by yourself, you're not.

"It is an abomination to God and to man."

Growing up in the breathless heights of domestic horror distribution was a glorious thing. My mother was always working, leaving me to my own devices for days on end. One time Mary tried to get me involved with the local church youth group to ease her guilt. They gave me a butter cookie and took me on a tour of the grounds.  It was too perfect with the vintage stained glass and oak pews!  Within ten minutes, I was acting out my favorite scenes from Return of the Living Dead Part 2 in the sanctuary.  They asked me to never to come back.

I cannot be held responsible for such a seemingly brazen breach of etiquette. In the 1980s, sequels were rarely ever carbon copies of the original film. Far from it! These continuing adventures became so progressively phantasmagoric that they begged for playground reinterpretation. Believe me, there was no better playground role-playing than A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987).

Refusing to be a tired rehashing of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Dream Warriors is indicative of everything that’s missing in franchise horror today.

It has a story.
With a viable story, there was a reason to continue the franchise. Final-girl Nancy Thompson is a post-graduate intern now. She has a penchant for wearing Nolan Miller gowns, Laura Ashley prints and she can’t be bothered with acting anymore. Despite the platinum highlights around her bangs indicating the terror that she'd survived at the hands of Freddy Krueger, her hair is more voluminous than ever!  A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 is about what happens to final-girls after they live to see another day. Without being bogged down in expository monologues, Dream Warriors successfully expands the mythology of Freddy Krueger. We learn that Freddy was the bastard son of a hundred maniacs. We learn that his insatiable teenage bloodlust is not just prompted by revenge; rather his need to feed off of the souls of these kids. Spooky scary!

"If your only faith is may be you who is laid to rest."

It has a concept behind it.
Troubled teenagers are living in a lockdown mental health facility.  Imagine if you will, Girl, Interrupted or One Flew over the Cuckoos’ Nest. They are bewildered by recurring night terrors. Apathetic and underpaid nurses administer medication with no regard for these kids’ horrific tales of a burned maniac trying to kill them in their dreams. One by one they start dying off.

"She was raped hundreds of times."

It's High-Concept.
Did I mention that the kids at the Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital are X-Men? Oh, yes. Kristen Parker is not only an Olympic gymnast; she also has the uncanny ability to drag people into her dreams. Her tramp mother sent her off to the nut house rather than actually having to talk with her. Hungry for a role model, Kristen pulls Nancy into her nightmare. Worlds collide.  Contrary to slasher decorum, none of our characters are disposable.  Everyone contributes to the story at large.  There's a nebbish, brunette boy with glasses in a wheelchair that can turn into a magical, laser-spewing wizard.  There's a Jewish girl who turns into a knife-wielding punk rocker.  There's even a black boy with super-human strength.  X-men indeed!  These kids are rejected by society; locked away to rot by apathetic parents.  Like X-Men, Dream Warriors is a social commentary on the nature of freaks - whether a homosexual or a disenfranchised teenager, everyone has felt misunderstood and misrepresented by the powers that be.  When you feel isolated, you can easily lose yourself to depression and self-pity.  That's when you're vulnerable, that's when Freddy comes.  There is strength in numbers, kids.  It doesn't matter if you're a girl;  it doesn't matter if you're a gay; it doesn't matter if you're not an actress.  No matter how lonely you feel, no matter how misunderstood you may be, there is always someone who has it worse - someone who has been there and lived to tell the tale.  A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors makes this point crystal clear.  Furthering its message of group empowerment and girl-power, this film doesn't have a final girl, it has a final gang. 

"You're mine now, Piggy."

While this movie deals with themes of drug abuse, conflicted sexuality and the sins of morally bankrupt parents forever haunting their children, it's a lot of fun!  With graphic kills and minimal Freddy screen time, this movie scared the dickens out of me as a child.  I had a VHS copy that I'd watch and then promptly hide in my mom's room for fear that Freddy himself would materialize out of the cassette and haunt my dreams like Patricia Arquette!   The end made me sob.  Parents take note: if your little boy is sobbing from the emotive powers of Heather Langenkamp, he may be a gay.  Prepare accordingly.

Through creativity and a willingness to explore new terrain, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors re-launched a franchise left for dead.  The fun was only just beginning...

Friday, March 26, 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010

my ex-boyfriend lies

"Lately we’re just sort of edited for television."

By the early nineties, after a decade-long onslaught of mass-horror-consumption, America seemed to have had its fill. Audiences were far more interested in psycho-sexual thrillers than they were in hacking and slashing maniacs. From serial killing, pre-teen transvestites to telekinetic camp counselors, we’d seen it all. Nothing could shock us. We were a generation raised on horror movie clichés.  Franchise horror was going the way of Faye Dunaway’s career. We were ready for something new. Wes Craven, hardly content to sit by the sidelines or to rest on his long list of credentials, saw potential in this fear famine. Thus, the meta-horror film was born.

I remember the night I had my mom drop me off at the Liberty Tree Mall after school to see a 7:30 showing of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) like it was yesterday. This was no sequel! This was a horror movie about the people who made the horror movies. Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp, New Line CEO Bob Shaye – they were the characters in a visceral story of Los Angeles falling prey to the monsters it had created.

There had been nothing like New Nightmare before and there has been nothing quite like it since.  New Nightmare was about adult nightmares; it was about show business.  Horrible things weren’t just happen to small town teenagers.  Wes was examining and poking fun at a political climate that blamed horror movies for real life killings and violence. In hindsight,  this movie was merely the testing ground for something much larger in scale: a horror movie about what horror movies have made us into.  He made a scary movie about people obsessed with scary movies.  He made a movie about us!  Walking a finest line between genuine horror and parody, his next project* was Scream (1996).

“I’m sorry my traumatized life is an inconvenience to you and your perfect existence.”

Does growing up with a crazy mother mean that I'm gonna wind up crazy too.  Does the fact that my father was abusive mean that I'm gonna lose it one day and wind up punching holes into walls?  These are the things that used to keep me up all night worrying.  I'm not alone.  Sydney Prescott's mother was a slutbag and it has her all kinds of torn up.  Needless to say, she is in no rush to start having sex herself.  Can you have a whore for a mother and not wind up a whore yourself?  Who knows? I don't know.  Maybe she’s a lesbian (there is an Indigo Girls poster in her room).  She wears lots of oversized sweaters and always seems on the verge of tears. Her best friend, Rose McGowan, drives the red Volkswagen bug from The Shining.  They all live in mansions.

"Movies don't create psychos, movies make psychos more creative!"

Sydney is dating a sociopathic homosexual named Skeet Ulrich. Skeet also has mommy issues.  The tricky thing about sociopaths is that they’re not gay or straight – they’re just users. Like kitchen sponges, these guys will absorb all your empathy and strength; they make you believe that they love you and that you matter to them more than anything. The next thing you know, you’re re-grouting their bathrooms and buying them designer vacations. I’ve fallen for enough Skeet Ulriches in my time to know. They show up at your house with tears in their eyes, needing something (whether sex or brownies or your car)  and you give in because something broken inside you wants desperately to believe that you’re the only one they can turn to - that you matter to someone, no matter how fucked up.  Suddenly, he and his new boyfriend are in your kitchen playing erotic love games with your dad’s best hunting knives and the house is a mess.

I love Scream because it affirms the fact that, just because my mom was a crazy whore, I don't have to be a crazy whore. We write our own destiny.  Harkening back to Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Sydney Prescott is the definitive final girl. Scream is about Sydney finding strength, finding her voice. Through adversity, Sydney blossoms and ultimately lives to see another day. She takes all the pain and the anger and she keeps going. It doesn’t matter that she’s not a virgin anymore. It doesn’t even matter if she is a lesbian. Subsequent to her finding inner-peace amidst chaos, Sydney thrives.  She never looked better, in fact. It’s funny how that works! Scream is brilliant because it spends so much time establishing the rules of successfully navigating a horror franchise only to determine that there are no rules.  Scream is part Psycho (with its fearlessness in killing off protagonists, rife with red herrings), part Nightmare on Elm Street (Johnny Depp-like boyfriends sulk and sneak into bedroom windows), and has a dash of Rebel without a Cause thrown in for good measure (teenagers are misunderstood, they get arrested). 

Stylish, funny (there are three separate Sharon Stone references), and genuinely scary, Scream was the it-shit - the condensed horror soup of all that came before! It’s easy to forget how iconic this one movie was. The shooting style (clearly influenced by the queer cinema aesthetic of Gregg Araki and Todd Haynes), the mall clothes, Patrick Lussier’s editing, the brooding actors, everything about Scream bled into popular culture for almost the entire decade that followed. The WB network was built around Kevin Williamson and the afterglow of Scream.  Every horror movie proceeding followed the same structure.  Even Twilight managed to gank Rose McGowan’s awkward coloring!   If you add domestic gross of the Scream franchise (now going on four films) and the franchise of its spoofs (Scary Movie: four films), they have made a billion dollars domestically.  This is Wes Craven, ladies and gentlemen. Attention must be paid.

Horror movies have taught me a great deal over the years.  I learned from The Fly (1987) that you couldn't replicate anything without losing something essential in the transfer (like its soul).  I'm not the fanboy who cried wolf.  I don't live in my mom's basement and I don't particularly care for Doritos. However, some things never need to be "re-imagined".  Freddy Kreuger and Jason are our contemporary Dracula and Frankenstein.  The greatest thing about the invention of the wheel is that we don't need to re-invent said wheel.  You can be so much more creative with a wheel that's already been invented!  Wes Craven understood this.  Wes Craven understood story and structure and filmmaking and character arcs.  Maybe Wes Craven should go work for Platinum Dunes.

* P.S.  Wes Craven actually followed New Nighmare with Vampire in Brooklyn, but let's just pretend he didn't.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

choose your own adventure

It's been a week!  I have something delicious planned for you tomorrow.  Until then, here's a couple pictures of Chris Evans.

The great thing about pictures is that you can use your imagination... like Reading Rainbow, only without all the reading!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

...when suddenly, last summer...

"I'm used to her folderol."

You know, it was hard to be around Gwyneth Paltrow in the late 1990s. She was battling an eating disorder that left her hair patchy and her skin perpetually grey. As far as finding love, she'd be the first to tell you that nothing ever seemed to work in her favor.  Men were thrown by her whiney nasal voice and abrasive sense of entitlement. Gwyneth was an affront to everything glamorous, everything that being a movie star once represented. It should come as no surprise that Jessica Lange wanted her dead.

Some of you may not know that Jessica Lange has a full grown son named Jonathan Schaech.  It's true.  Jonathan had been dating Gwyneth (Gdog, as I like to call her) for some time when he decided to bring her to Jessica's expansive horse ranch down south for Christmas.  What a mistake that was!  Gdog was nothing but rude - never once complimenting Jessica on her delicate lace curtains or her stable of show horses.  Gwyneth cannot function without being the center of attention.  She even insisted that her boyfriend escort her back to Manhattan and leave his poor lonely mother so she could go to a party with Debbi Mazar (where she proceeded to throw up on the other guests).  Heartless.

This was around the time Gwyneth was going through her Wall Street phase.  She made Jonathan buy an abandoned, "artists loft" apartment.  She was wearing lots of oversized white t-shirts and playing with different wigs.  Once the phase had passed, she abandoned her expensive loft - leaving Jonathan with the rent, and took over Jessica's mortgage with intent to flip the gothic southern mansion that had been in the Lange family for generations for a quick profit.  What kind of girl gets between a man and his mother?  What kind of girl can spend a summer with Jessica Lange and not ask her about filming Tootsie?!  How rude.

The documentary (we can tell it's a documentary because the camera is never in focus), Hush, explores boundaries.  How long can a woman be pushed around by a petulant Hollywood brat hell bent on destroying her empire and her relationship with her only living heir before she finally has to fight back?

It's not like she didn't give Gdog a fair shot.  Gwyneth never did anything nice for anyone in her time down south.  She never kissed Jonathan, implying that having sex was her doing him a big favor.  She never paid for dinner or offer to clean the stables.  Complain, complain, complain.  That's all Gwyneth ever did, until Jessica could take no more.   You can't pull these tricks on Miss Jessica Lange.  She invented the tricks!  We all know Jessica has a flair for the theatrical and, soon enough, she starts leaving cheesecakes in Gwyneth's bathroom.  Nothing is funnier than leaving baked goods out for an anorexic starlet!  But, despite her callow appearance, our Gdog is no fool; she pretends to be pregnant to garner sympathy, concocting stories of Jessica hiring armored thugs to take her out!  Jessica isn't about to let Gwyneth win other round, and that's when the fun really starts.  May the best woman win (I'll give you a hint: one had to leave the country and stopped working for 12years)!

We had an earthquake last night.  I felt just like Reagan MacNeil, only there was no one to jump on top of me to make the bed stop shaking.  Then, this morning I popped over to my mailbox to discover the most miraculous thing inside: a copy of Hush (1998).  If you've wished for a mash up of Monster In Law and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, look no further.  Dreams really can come true!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

hold on for one more day

"Take off your makeup, you look like a slut."

Anyone who knows me will tell you that no Sunday at my house is complete without enjoying a Mark Wahlberg film. This Sunday, I was sitting back with my coffee and stuffed dog, Mariah, when along came something remarkably uncharacteristic of my Mark Wahlberg stories. A gay!

The 1990s was a murky period for visibility of the gay man. You couldn’t throw a clog without hitting a lesbian thanks to Sharon Stone and the country’s innate enjoyment of girl on girl action. RuPaul and To Wong Foo... moved mountains for the drag community, but if you wanted to see two men living happily ever after, you were shit out of luck.

We gay kids of the '90s did have the Bravo network to keep us warm. I owe my sexual awakening to Bravo for their repeated airings of My Own Private Idaho (not to mention the hours of Twin Peaks reruns, Sondheim musicals and SRO Patti LuPone concerts). There was gay representation in My So Called Life, the short-lived ABC series that featured an art fag named Rickie Vasquez. Call me “self-hating” all you want, but I couldn’t relate to an effeminate, heavyset blatino who wore heavy eyemakeup to physics class (no disrespect to Wilson Cruz, he’s lovely). Rickie Vasquez was everything I didn’t want to be. Gender identity and homosexuality are two entirely different continents. I didn’t want to be a girl. I wanted to be a gay vampire – or at least Michael Stipe.

I was the kid going to Julianna Hatfield/Jeff Buckley concerts with my best girls. I was the kid spending my lunch hours in the darkroom developing pictures and listening to my walkman.  I wore vintage suspenders with Gap pants and tucked my hair behind my ears when I was just too overcome. I was the gay kid from Fear (1996).

Before she was Elle Woods, Reese Witherspoon was a pudgy little dumpling who wore suede jackets and liked getting fingered by bad boys on roller coasters. Like all successful women of the nineties, she has two best friends: a slut (Alyssa Milano playing Alyssa Milano) and a gay (we know that he is gay because the writers named him Gary).

When not trolling coffee shops and listening to the latest Bush single, Reese finds ample time to makeout with Marky Mark all over Seattle. She doesn’t mind if Mark hits her or hooks up with Alyssa “on the down low” or that he beats up her best gay because the sex is real good. Who hasn’t been there before?!

Unlike all the women in Fear, Gay Gary is immune to Marky Mark’s abs and wooden delivery. He seems to be the only one countering this film’s central thesis that women want men who beat them up and treat them like meat. Therefore, Gary has to die. The fact that he’s gay makes it alright for him to be the sole casualty in the film. He chose his lifestyle, right? Ugh. Fear continues in a long line of horror movies (Bride of Chucky, Savage Weekend) progressive enough to have a gay companion to its final girl, but regressive in its ultimate treatment of said gay. The family is far more distraught over the death of their dog than they are over Gary. Gays die, their best friends move on almost instantly. No big.

Without Gay Gary and Marky Mark, Fear would be just another Lifetime made-for-TV movie about a teenage girl in peril learning to love her dad. I'm still alive today because, unlike Gary, I knew when to stay out of my girlfriend’s business! If my girl was hauling her friends across town to get finger banged by some guy from southie, I said I had “rehearsal.” Let this be a lesson, boys. Take care of yourselves! She’ll keep going back to him and you’ll wind up dead in the woods someplace like Brandon Teena.

(Horror Nerd Alert: Gary is played by Todd Caldecott who was shirtless and speared through the chest in the beginning of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. Holla!)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Thursday, March 4, 2010

come sail away

"I'm pre-med.  I know about these things."

I don't know about you, but this has been a lousy week.  I could really use a retreat.  A Saturday in the country.  I was thinking this would be the perfect weekend to take my 1978 Camaro to the lake house and swim out to the raft.

Of course, all my plans were halted the second I remembered Creepshow 2 (1987).  A movie that proves it doesn't matter how cute your boyfriend looks in his bathing suit or how fabulous your slutty friend, Laverne, may be - If you go swimming in lakes off-season, you are going to get eaten by the lake monster.  So much for finally having a minute to read "The Secret!"

There was a nifty moment in time where there was an audience for horror anthologies.  George Romero and Stephen King collaborated on Creepshow (1982), which featured A-list talent coming together for the common good of macabre storytelling.  Twilight Zone: the Movie (1983) piggybacked off of this, adding an all-star alligment of directors to tackle each short.  In 1989, HBO picked up on this trend to great success by launching Tales From the Crypt.  By the time Tales from the Darkside (1990) got Debbie Harry out of rehab to play a child-eating witch and launched Julianne Moore's film career, the bloom was definitely off the anthology rose.  Falling someplace in the middle of this trend was Creepshow 2.  Michael Gornick (director of photography on Dawn of the Dead) directed all of the shorts.  It's fine.  There's no all star horror lineup, there's no unifying tone, but there is The Raft

I had a Dominican nanny once.  We were watching The Ten Commandments when, in a moment of sincere passion, she said, "dat miss Anne Baxter is de queen of deNile."  Anyone who would suggest that The Raft is not gay is like Miss Anne Baxter... in denial!  Deke and his boyfriend, Randy, are finally getting a weekend away.  Unfortunately, Deke's cousin and her co-worker tagged along.  It's not that Deke and Randy hate women, it's just that a weekend away between boyfriends is never fun for girls.  They can't keep up swimming.  They get cold so easily.  Girls love their gay besties until they start making out with each other and leave them without a ride home at the club.  We've all been there before!  Deke gets angry and lashes out in all directions.  Randy gets passive agressive.  The girls just want to go home.  It's a mess.

There's nothing like a lake monster to show you a gay's true colors.  The second things get slippery, Deke and Randy waste no time throwing the women overboard to save themselves.  Tacky, but real.  Let this be a lesson to all you girls who cling to your gays for dear life.  If you avoid forming relationships with men who actually may want to make-out with you, remember that your gays will let that lake monster have your bikini-clad ass in a heartbeat!  Next time your best gays are having a romantic weekend at the lake house, stay home.