Tag Archives: Frank Darabont

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987, Chuck Russell)

Dream Warriors is masterful in its manipulation; it’s the very definition of franchise building. Screenwriters Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell wrap what appears to be particular kind of narrative–after a film away, Heather Langenkamp–the original’s protagonist–is going to be the focus. Only she’s not. Then it’s like the character who opened the movie–Patricia Arquette–is the actual focus. Only she’s not.

And no one’s going to think Craig Wasson’s the focus, even though he at least gets to participate in it–the focus is building a mythology around Freddy Krueger, a mythology with nothing to do with the actual narrative and entirely self-contained. According to the IMDb trivia page, Craven had it just the opposite; so either Russell or Darabont went in and separated things out. The screenplay is admirably constructed. It’s bad and dumb, but it’s well-constructed for what it’s trying to do.

But Dream Warriors isn’t just masterful in that type of manipulation. Whether it’s getting away with tons of fantasy special effects in a mainstream horror movie or turning the audience’s passive dislike for a character into a tacit approval of Robert Englund’s terrorizing of them, the whole thing is an expert package.

Mood is very important here because, as a director, Russell never wants to show his hand. There’s a certain respectability Dream Warriors is going for, what with having Dick Cavett and Zsa Zsa Gabor in the opening titles, which are a very classy sequence of arts and crafts from Arquette, set to Angelo Badalamenti’s (initially) way too good–for the movie–score. Roy H. Wagner’s photography reminds of giallo, with its shadows against the strong colors of the sets. Except Russell’s rarely ambitious in his direction. Editors Terry Stokes and Chuck Weiss have some effective cuts with Badalamenti’s music, but none of them have to do with Englund’s villain or even the sensational dreamscape where most of the big action takes place. Instead, they’re for the setup, when Dream Warriors is trying to appear sincere.

The acting is mostly bad. Often because of the script’s silliness. Expert construction or not, it’s silly. Langenkamp suffers the worst, except for maybe Priscilla Pointer, who plays the head psychiatrist of the Dream Warriors–a bunch of teens Englund is haunting. Pointer’s character isn’t just played as mean, she doesn’t even get anything to do with it. Arquette’s a little better than Langenkamp but not much. Craig Wasson plays another psychiatrist and even roughs up John Saxon at one point. Saxon’s so out of it he doesn’t look embarrassed in that roughing up scene. John Saxon was in Enter the Dragon. Craig Wasson shouldn’t be able to rough him up.

The rest of the supporting cast is a low mediocre. Except for Larry Fishburne. Larry Fishburne’s excellent. Movie should’ve been about him.

But it’s not made to be excellent, it’s made to further a franchise–and it succeeds. It even gives Englund some occasional good moments amid his otherwise one-note, sensationalist routine.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Chuck Russell; screenplay by Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont and Russell, based on a story by Craven and Wagner and characters created by Craven; director of photography, Roy H. Wagner; edited by Terry Stokes and Chuck Weiss; music by Angelo Badalamenti; produced by Robert Shaye; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Heather Langenkamp (Nancy Thompson), Patricia Arquette (Kristen Parker), Craig Wasson (Neil Gordon), Laurence Fishburne (Max), Priscilla Pointer (Dr. Elizabeth Simms), Rodney Eastman (Joey), Ken Sagoes (Kincaid), Ira Heiden (Will), Jennifer Rubin (Taryn), Penelope Sudrow (Jennifer), Bradley Gregg (Phillip), Nan Martin (Sister Mary Helena), Brooke Bundy (Elaine Parker), John Saxon (Donald Thompson) and Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger).


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The Fly II (1989, Chris Walas)

One of the great tragedies for soap operas has to be Fly II director Chris Walas being too good with special effects–his company does them on the film–to have to direct soap operas. With the exception of these high angle shots of impossibly expansive sets, presumably to emulate thirties horror films, Walas is a supremely mediocre director. There isn’t a single good shot in The Fly II, but there isn’t a bad shot either.

It’s a shame, really, because it gives the film a curiosity value. Walas’s painfully competent presentation of the truly insipid script never entertains or engages, but one finds him or herself transfixed. How dumb can it get next.

Sadly, there are only two good performances in the film. Daphne Zuniga isn’t as bad as everyone else, which isn’t a compliment, but both Harley Cross and John Getz are good. Getz is in a scene or two, reprising from the original, and he’s having a good time and cashing a paycheck. Cross is the lead character as a ten year-old and is actually quite good. If The Fly II were some crazy story about a ten year-old boy-fly, it’d be a lot more entertaining.

But Walas can’t direct actors. Inexplicably, he’s got lousy actors in the film. Ann Marie Lee and Garry Chalk are real bad as the sub-villains, while Lee Richardson gives it a very “Days of Our Lives” vibe as Mr. Big.

And Eric Stoltz is an anemic lead.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Chris Wales; screenplay by Mick Garris, Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat and Frank Darabont, based on a story by Garris and characters created by George Langelaan; director of photography, Robin Vidgeon; edited by Sean Barton; music by Christopher Young; production designer, Michael S. Bolton; produced by Steven-Charles Jaffe; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Eric Stoltz (Martin), Daphne Zuniga (Beth), Lee Richardson (Bartok), Harley Cross (10 year old Martin), Garry Chalk (Scorby), Ann Marie Lee (Jainway), Frank C. Turner (Shepard) and John Getz (Stathis).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED ON BASP | THE FLY (1986) / THE FLY II (1989).

The Blob (1988, Chuck Russell)

The Blob is a mixed bag. On one hand, director Russell does a good job throughout and he and Frank Darabont’s script is well-plotted. On the other hand, the script will occasionally have some idiotic dialogue and the actors just stumble and fall through it.

Similarly the special effects. There’s a lot of good work on the Blob effects, but the composites are often iffy. Russell does come up with an amazing, strobe flash sequence for the movie theater attack. Photographer Mark Irwin does quite well too, which makes the bad composite shots all the more perplexing.

Russell and Darabont plot the film to be a constant surprise, at least for the first half or so. Even after establishing traditionally safe characters are not, they still manage to surprise with how they take things.

A lot of the effects thrills are derivative, but Russell still manages them with aplomb. It helps he’s got Shawnee Smith in the lead. She sort of stumbles into the lead after a couple false starts and does exceedingly well. The film often succeeds simply for putting Smith in somewhat awkward set pieces and character interactions.

Kevin Dillon and Donovan Leitch play her two admirers, sort of. Leitch is the jock, Dillon the punk. Dillon’s appealing, but his dialogue’s often terrible. Leitch somehow manages to be likable if painfully straight edge.

Very nice supporting turns from Jeffrey DeMunn, Candy Clark and Paul McCrane. Terrible one from Jon Seneca.

The Blob’s problematic, but it’s not bad.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Chuck Russell, screenplay by Russell and Frank Darabont, based on an earlier screenplay by Theodore Simonson and Kay Linaker and a story by Irvine H. Millgate; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Tod Feuerman and Terry Stokes; music by Michael Hoenig; production designer, Craig Stearns; produced by Jack H. Harris and Elliot Kastner; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Shawnee Smith (Meg Penny), Kevin Dillon (Brian Flagg), Donovan Leitch (Paul Taylor), Jeffrey DeMunn (Sheriff Herb Geller), Candy Clark (Fran Hewitt), Joe Seneca (Dr. Meddows), Del Close (Reverend Meeker), Paul McCrane (Deputy Bill Briggs), Sharon Spelman (Mrs. Penny), Michael Kenworthy (Kevin Penny), Douglas Emerson (Eddie Beckner), Beau Billingslea (Moss Woodley), Ricky Paull Goldin (Scott Jeske) and Art LaFleur (The Pharmacist).


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The Mist (2007, Frank Darabont), the director’s version

It’s rare and relatively modern to come across the film where the ending can ruin it. The surprise ending as opposed to the natural narrative progression. They rarely work. I’d read The Mist had a controversial ending, which, watching the last minutes of the film, I assumed referred to the incredibly bold thing Darabont does. Instead, he cops out at the last second. Well, not the literal last second, but close to… the last two minutes maybe. It’s one of those films, somewhat common these days, where cutting it a few moments before would make all the difference.

These idiotic endings, it seems, rarely happen in films I don’t care about. The closest comparison for The Mist, in terms of damage done to an otherwise excellent and–if it weren’t so cheap–important film, is Vanilla Sky. Both films endings make them more palatable to mainstream audiences, something The Mist–most of which is a condemnation of modern American–shouldn’t really have cared about. Darabont managed an incredibly different balance at the end between horror, science fiction, and wonderment at horrors. What he managed was very good, then he flushed it all down the toilet to be cheap. It’s funny there’s a reference to John Carpenter’s The Thing at the beginning. I just wish Darabont had watched that film and looked at how the ending there worked.

The acting is all stellar, with Thomas Jane turning in a singular leading man performance. Marcia Gay Harden is good as the religious zealot, a role another actress wouldn’t have been able to imbue with the occasional–and necessary–humanity. Darabont standard William Sadler, good as always. The real surprise is Toby Jones, who brings the film some wry humor and a lot of sensitivity. Both Andre Braugher and Frances Sternhagen, no surprise, excellent. Jeffrey DeMunn’s also quite good. Laurie Holden, who I guess Darabont’s been trying highlight since The Majestic, is also good. She has the least to do, but she does well with it. Sam Witwer, in one of the showier roles, is good too.

Darabont’s director’s cut doesn’t feature any additional scenes, but is in black and white (he couldn’t get the studio to go for black and white for theatrical). The light grey mist, the wash of emptiness across the frame, is perfect. Darabont’s got some great shots here (some where it’s clear he wasn’t composing for black and white and some where it doesn’t make sense he’d be doing it for color).

The majority of the film is very smart, which is another reason the idiotic ending hurts so much. It’s not an all-encompassing blunder, which is why it doesn’t tear the film down completely… but it comes real close.

Jane’s the one who saves what’s left.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Frank Darabont; screenplay by Darabont, based on the novella by Stephen King; director of photography, Rohn Schmidt; edited by Hunter M. Via; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Gregory Melton; produced by Darabont and Liz Glotzer; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Thomas Jane (David Drayton), Marcia Gay Harden (Mrs. Carmody), Andre Braugher (Norton), Laurie Holden (Amanda), Toby Jones (Ollie), Jeffrey DeMunn (Dan Miller), Frances Sternhagen (Irene), Nathan Gamble (Billy Drayton), William Sadler (Jim), Alexa Davalos (Sally) and Sam Witwer (Jessup).


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