New Nightmare (1994, Wes Craven)

New Nightmare should be a little bit better. The film has this fantastic second act and goes into the third strong but director Craven’s resolution is tone deaf. He’s making a movie about movies he was involved with, incredibly popular movies he was involved with, and he sacrifices the actual good work he’d been doing to further the commercialist ambitions of the film.

After relying on her for almost the entire film, Craven sells out Heather Langenkamp. And he doesn’t sell her out for Robert Englund or the Freddy Kruger character; he sells her out for himself, because Craven’s a character in the film. And Craven plays himself very, very badly. He and Langenkamp have this incredibly awkward scene where he’s revealing the whole concept of the film (the original Nightmare on Elm Street movies entrapped an ancient nightmare demon who’s now free); it’s way too much exposition, Craven can’t do, but Langenkamp manages to make her side of the scene work. It’s a rough sequence, but it gets a pass because immediately following, the film’s working again.

Watching New Nightmare this time–probably my fourth or fifth time (since the theater)–I kept thinking about how it’s not just Craven’s best work as a director, it’s some of his most enthusiastic. He’s doing a moderate budget action movie, not a horror film. Even when the “monster” finally does appear, Craven finds a balance between danger and accessible “horror.” Putting Miko Hughes, who plays Langenkamp’s nightmare plagued son, in danger–the child in danger trope–is a bold move for Nightmare. Craven acknowledges genre conventions just long enough to ignore them.

J. Peter Robinson’s score is another good example of those ignored conventions. It’s big, epical adventure music, never actually scary or unsettling. Well, until the end credits, when it’s self-aggrandizing, which is appropriate given how Craven closes the picture.

Nightmare’s frustrating; Craven couldn’t make the film–even with his strong direction, particularly of actors–without Langenkamp and he abandons her at the end. It doesn’t seem to be malicious, but it does do disservice to her excellent work in the film. She turns a candyland caricature of “herself” into a person.

Good support from Robert Englund (more as himself than the monster), Tracy Middendorf, Fran Bennett. New Line Cinema executive Robert Shaye’s pretty bad too. John Saxon’s fun though. And Hughes is pretty good, especially given the character arc.

Mark Irwin’s photography is strong. He maintains Craven’s accessibility, but with ominous presence.

The film’s more than worthwhile for Langenkamp’s performance and Craven’s direction. His storytelling choices are what knock over the cards.



Written and directed by Wes Craven; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Patrick Lussier; music by J. Peter Robinson; production designer, Cynthia Kay Charette; produced by Marianne Maddalena; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Heather Langenkamp (Heather Langenkamp), Miko Hughes (Dylan Porter), David Newsom (Chase Porter), Tracy Middendorf (Julie), Fran Bennett (Dr. Heffner), Robert Englund (Robert Englund), John Saxon (John Saxon), Wes Craven (Wes Craven) and Robert Shaye (Robert Shaye).


A Free Soul (1931, Clarence Brown)

The first hour of A Free Soul is this extremely engaging, if occasionally melodramatic, story about Norma Shearer and Lionel Barrymore. They’re rebellious blue bloods–Barrymore’s Shearer’s father and he’s raised her to be an independent woman. He’s a defense attorney and a drunk. She’s his ambassador to their disapproving relations. She takes up with mobster Clark Gable, throwing aside her more appropriate suitor, polo champion Leslie Howard.

Shearer and Gable have great chemistry from their first scene. She and Howard come off like brother and sister. It’s not miscasting as much as John Meehan and Becky Gardiner’s script doesn’t do any work establishing them. All the work goes into Shearer and Gable for the romance.

Shearer and Barrymore are fantastic together too. So when Barrymore disappears for about twenty minutes, only to return in a wonderful delivery of high melodrama at the very end, Soul suffers for it. Shearer stops being the film’s protagonist and becomes its subject. While the film never actually condemns her, it flirts with the idea as an excuse. It’s lazy writing from Meehan and Gardiner, who are wrapping things up quickly.

Director Brown doesn’t do much to help in the last third either. He’s got some great work earlier in the film, but he encourages the histrionics by the end. He and editor Hugh Wynn treat Shearer differently after she breaks off with Gable to support the drunken Barrymore. They rely on her for exaggerated reaction shots, which walls Shearer off.

Barrymore’s great. Shearer’s good; good enough to weather the bad editing. And Gable’s really good. Howard’s okay. James Gleason’s good, but has nothing to do as Barrymore’s sidekick except be James Gleason. Lucy Beaumont, as Barrymore’s mother and Shearer’s grandmother, is ineffectual, which is a problem.

Most of A Free Soul avoids melodramatic tropes, only to lazily implement them for its resolution. Still, the cast makes the most of it.



Produced and directed by Clarence Brown; screenplay by John Meehan and Becky Gardiner, based on the novel by Adela Rogers St. Johns; director of photography, William H. Daniels; edited by Hugh Wynn; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Norma Shearer (Jan Ashe), Lionel Barrymore (Stephen Ashe), Clark Gable (Ace Wilfong), Leslie Howard (Dwight Winthrop), James Gleason (Eddie) and Lucy Beaumont (Grandma Ashe).


Halloween: Resurrection (2002, Rick Rosenthal)

Halloween: Resurrection is an exercise in desperation. The film throws reality TV in to ape the found footage zeitgeist without actually committing to the narrative conceit. It’s also chasing some kind of post-American Pie familiarity with the Internet and webcams, only without any actual understanding. It’s exceptionally incompetent.

The film opens with Jamie Lee Curtis, fulfilling a conctractual obligation, crapping all over her work in the previous films (not just the last one she did as a grown woman). The entire thing looks rushed, even though the terribly written sequence is one of the more thoughtful ones. Larry Brand and Sean Hood’s writing is terrible, but that opening sequence is about the only time they try to be respectable.

The rest of Resurrection is idiotic not just in the execution, but in the intention. Until about seventy minutes into the film–I went into the film thinking it was over ninety minutes; it’s actually ten minutes under the advertised length. Then the film becomes this strange, nearly successful mix, in spite of everything.

After twenty or so minutes of cutting between the webcams and third person, David Geddes’s photography gets so bad–it’s bad at the opening, with Geddes and Rosenthal apparently thinking harsh, strong blue lighting is scary–Resurrection almost transcends. It’s almost becomes this commentary on the idea of “reality” in a slasher movie.

But somehow everyone misses it and Resurrection ends terribly, without even bothering to give its disposable characters any arc. It’s exceptionally lazy.

Most of the acting is atrocious. Rosenthal can’t direct actors, but the acting is still bad. Sean Patrick Thomas is probably the worst. Thomas Ian Nicholas isn’t much better. Tyra Banks is awful. But Rosenthal hurts all of them; well, except maybe Thomas.

In the lead, Bianca Kajlich is strangely terrible when trying to perform her role, but fine when just having to be terrified. Similarly, while Busta Rhymes is bad, he should be better. The direction is just wrong. It’s almost like Rosenthal’s intentionally trying to sabotage anything inoffensive in the film.

The only question Resurrection raises is how much Rosenthal hates Halloween?



Directed by Rick Rosenthal; screenplay by Larry Brand and Sean Hood, based on a story by Brand and characters created by Debra Hill and John Carpenter; director of photography, David Geddes; edited by Robert A. Ferretti; music by Danny Lux; production designer, Troy Hansen; produced by Michael Leahy and Paul Freeman; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode), Brad Loree (Michael Myers), Bianca Kajlich (Sara Moyer), Busta Rhymes (Freddie Harris), Sean Patrick Thomas (Rudy), Katee Sackhoff (Jen), Tyra Banks (Nora), Daisy McCrackin (Donna), Luke Kirby (Jim), Thomas Ian Nicholas (Bill), Billy Kay (Scott) and Ryan Merriman (Myles Barton).


Halloween II (1981, Rick Rosenthal)

Halloween II is not always a crappy sequel set in a closed setting without any sympathetic characters. It is a crappy sequel set in a closed setting without any sympathetic characters. But it wasn’t always.

Even though it gets off to a rocky start–the recap of the first movie is too abbreviated for unfamiliar viewers and superfluous for familiar ones, not to mention director Rosenthal clearly unable to reign in Donald Pleasence’s enthusiasm for histrionics–the first twenty-five minutes has potential.

There’s a lot to blame Rosenthal for with Halloween II. His inability to direct actors or even to compose shots of actors is a big one. He doesn’t have a sense for it; he additionally wastes Dean Cundey’s cinematography skills for the majority of the film, which is one of the film’s greater sins. But there are a handful of decent moments in Halloween II and even a couple good ones. And lots of bad ones with just too many problematic pieces, but not mishandled entirely.

But Rosenthal’s not entirely responsible. Writers and producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill, instead of embracing a bigger budget studio sequel to their indie horror sensation (hyperbolic enough?)–they try to undermine it at every step. That first half hour has potential because you can see Hill and Carpenter thinking about things, thinking about the implications of the first film. In the second two-thirds (at ninety minutes and change, the film almost perfectly splits into three sections), after creating a goofy subplot to give Jamie Lee Curtis something to do besides play unconscious, they stop. They’ve moved into their new story, that crappy one in the closed setting without sympathetic characters. Halloween II is shockingly inept at its characterization.

As such, it’s hard for the supporting cast to give good performances. Gloria Gifford is fantastic. Lance Guest isn’t. Hunter von Leer is simultaneously terrible, miscast and likable. Some of Leo Rossi’s performance is similar. And Pleasence is a complete ham. He’s got maybe one decent moment. Rosenthal just can’t direct him at all.

Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s score is too loud, too thoughtless. The same can be said for the editing.

It’s a bad film but has enough qualities to prove it shouldn’t have been.



Directed by Rick Rosenthal; written and produced by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Mark Goldblatt and Skip Schoolnik; music by Carpenter and Alan Howarth; production designer, J. Michael Riva; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode), Donald Pleasence (Dr. Sam Loomis), Charles Cyphers (Sheriff Leigh Brackett), Jeffrey Kramer (Graham), Lance Guest (Jimmy Lloyd), Pamela Susan Shoop (Karen Bailey), Hunter von Leer (Deputy Gary Hunt), Leo Rossi (Budd), Gloria Gifford (Mrs. Alves), Tawny Moyer (Nurse Jill Franco), Ana Alicia (Janet Marshall), Ford Rainey (Dr. Frederick Mixter), Cliff Emmich (Mr. Garrett) and Nancy Stephens (Marion Chambers).


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