From Sept. 18-Oct. 16, we’re looking back at the nine films of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise. First up is the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984):
The last time we saw Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder), in 1993’s “Jason Goes to Hell,” he is dead and buried at the end of a story centered on the notion of killing him for good, using the requisite magical dagger. So when he’s alive and in government custody in the 2008 of “Jason X” (2002), one might assume an explanation is forthcoming. It isn’t, and that will understandably take many people out of this movie from the get-go.
Just as “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare” showed some verve a couple years earlier, “Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday” (1993) starts with fresh energy that’s a welcome change from the utterly tired “Jason Takes Manhattan.” As New Line Cinema takes over the “Friday the 13th” franchise from Paramount, it appears ready to commit to a higher level of quality. Indeed, a good actor, Steven Williams of “The X-Files,” is on board as a successful bounty hunter who sets his sights on Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder).
The “Alien” franchise didn’t have a new movie in the chamber to mark its 40th anniversary in 2019, but it did gift fans with several short films; all are on YouTube. They are part of a trend – which perhaps has its roots in George Lucas’ support of “Star Wars” fan films about 20 years ago – wherein major franchises allow up-and-coming artists to play in their sandbox.
Leviathan” (1989) is hurt by direct comparisons to “The Abyss” – which came out later that year – but it holds up as an entertaining “Alien” knockoff. Fans of this year’s “Underwater” might enjoy it as a historical precursor, as it features walks on the deep ocean floor, bulky diving suits and crumpling habitat modules. While the cast is filled with good character actors, the creature steals the show – but I wish director George P. Cosmatos (“Rambo: First Blood Part II”) would’ve given us clearer shots of it.
Lulu Wilson has built up quite a resume of horror films and thriller TV, including “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” “Annabelle: Creation,” “The Haunting of Hill House” and “Sharp Objects.” She’s in those projects, and she’s good in them, but in the home invasion thriller “Becky,” she truly stars. Also revelatory in this violent, tense, taut and not remotely comedic little gem is Kevin James (yes, that Kevin James).
Writer-director John Carpenter’s “They Live” (1988) is technically about aliens infiltrating Earth and posing as humans, but the metaphor is so thinly veiled it’s hardly a metaphor at all. Drifter John Nada (Roddy Piper) recognizes these people are aliens by putting on magic sunglasses that reveal their zombie-faced nature. The aliens are stand-ins for the “haves” who thrive in 1988 America. Actual humans are stand-ins for the “have nots.”
Fans of “Stranger Things” who are curious about the influences behind Netflix’s 1980s-set series have probably already seen “E.T.” (1982), “The Goonies” (1985) and “Stand By Me” (1986). But they might have overlooked “The Monster Squad” (1987). It’s not a huge oversight, as this isn’t a great picture by any means, but certain fanbases might get a kick out of it. In addition to “Stranger Things” fans, connoisseurs of creature effects and aficionados of screenwriter Shane Black might enjoy it.
John Carpenter has built up enough of an oeuvre that everyone has their own pick for his elite work, but for me it’s “The Thing” (1982) in a landslide. I appreciate “Halloween’s” status as a slasher trope codifier, and “Escape from New York’s” guerrilla grit, but “The Thing” is the director’s most fully formed masterpiece. It’s mentioned a lot for its elite practical creature effects and its portrayal of paranoia within a small group, and it has made must-watch lists during the coronavirus pandemic thanks to its story of a mysterious infection. But what most defines the film for me are its sense of place and sense of dread.
In 1998, I thought “Disturbing Behavior” was an elite portrayal of high school as a conformity factory, as that concept was a new discovery for me at the time. While the theme is now old hat, the movie still makes me smile as it meets at the intersection of blunt metaphor and derivative sci-fi warning but comes off as a dark comedy. It features a dizzying variety of performances in a tight 84 minutes, cut down by the studio into almost a trailer of itself. It’s a crystallization of 1998 (flannel), yet it exists in a parallel reality (“razor”). It’s not objectively great – and I can see why some people hate it — but it’s so fun to watch.