Alright fright fanatics, it’s Double Feature Adventure time. While my usual sidekick Natty isn’t along for the ride this time (she’s currently hard at work writing the next Pauly Shore film. Not really, but hey, she has big dreams, ok?), I had a jonesin’ for the early horror entries from Finnish director (and obviously my best friend, if only in my childhood dreams), Lauri Mauritz Harjola AKA Renny fucking Harlin. Now before you crazed readers call me out on this one, just take a second and try your hardest to mind-erase the last few films that Harlin has done, and think about how at one time, he was THE go-to guy for action films in the ’90s. It would be a lie if I told you that I don’t completely love everything the man did from 1988 to 1999 (which a definite exception given to 1995’s CUTTHROAT ISLAND, even as a teenager I was not having that one). From Harlin’s trip to Elm Street, all the way to his “Deepest, bluest, my hat is like a shark’s fin” venture into the DEEP BLUE SEA, growing up, if there was a Renny Harlin film playing at one of my local theaters, I was there opening day. My hometown, Visalia, located in the Central Valley of California, has a few landmarks and one of them has always been the Fox Theater. As a child, I would rush there after school and digest whatever new films were playing. When the Fox closed in 1999, the last film I saw there on its closing day, was 1999’s THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT. Sure Harlin’s output as of late hasn’t matched his earlier films, but that doesn’t take away from how grand and over the top the classic ones were. So, for this week’s Double Feature Adventure, I went with two of my favorite Renny Harlin films, which also happen to be two of my favorite horror films. A 1988 double of PRISON and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER.
PRISON marked Harlin’s first attempt at directing an American film, and it’s one hell of a debut. Conceived by HALLOWEEN executive producer Irwin Yablans and written by C. Courtney Joyner, the film is basically a supernatural slasher film set in a defunct prison. Instead of a knife-carrying masked man this time around, the killer is the soul of an executed inmate, hellbent on getting revenge. It’s heavy on special effects, and really showcases that fantastical vibe that Harlin later incorporated into A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4. The kills are extremely over the top, in the best of ways, and the film is full of fun performances by a fresh Viggo Mortensen as the film’s hero, fellow LEATHERFACE castmate Tom Everett as a crazy inmate, and hell, there’s even Tom “Tiny, Zeuss, Deebo..are we even counting?” Lister in there, doing his trademark chest hitting AFTER being blasted by a shotgun!
It’s a fun time, completely bloody as all hell, and gives you a villainous warden (played by SON IN LAW‘s Lane Smith) that you’re just wanting to get off’ed throughout the whole film. Plus, does having the incredibly beautiful Chelsea Field in a film a bad thing? Ask He-Man:
When PRISON was released, after somewhat of a delay, it didn’t do much at the box office, in fact, it pretty much came and went. Where the film found its audience, is on VHS during the video store boom of the ’80s and ’90s, and more recently, when Scream Factory released a special edition Bluray of it during their first run of releases in 2013. It’s awesome that the film has been experience a new life, because it’s a really fun movie, and a good place to notice Harlin’s eye for visual detail.
After PRISON came and went, Harlin got the job of giving A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET‘s Freddy Krueger life again, and in turn gave fans what is, in my opinion, the best film in the series, after the original. A visually stimulating, fantastical kaleidoscope of craziness, full of fire-pissing dogs, powers getting transferred to different characters, karate fights between a character and an invisible Freddy and a pretty badass end death scene (complete with Linnea Quigley inside of Freddy’s chest).
With future L.A. CONFIDENTIAL and MYSTIC RIVER screenwriter Brian Helgeland tackling the script and with Harlin at the helm, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4 further pushed that one-liner approach to Freddy into maniacally interesting territories, with Krueger spouting off classics like “Wanna suck face?” right before completely deflating the oxygen from an asthmatic character, “How’s this for a wet dream” to a character who he’s about to drown after the kid’s tricked by a naked woman inside of his waterbed…they just keep coming. What makes THE DREAM MASTER so much fun, is how imaginative it is. The death scenes are absolutely crazy, in every essence of the word. A Katsaridaphobic (afraid of roaches) character meets her end by being turned into one and being squished by Freddy inside of a huge roach motel for crying out loud. How could anyone not LOVE that?
The whole last quarter of the film is absolutely genius, with the characters of Alice and Dan being stuck in a loop. The way it’s written, combined with how it’s setup visually, it’s a sequence that is able to make me nauseous to this very day. Topped off with a great end confrontation between Alice, prepared and armed with the powers of all of her dead friends, and Freddy, having souls literally ripping themselves free from his insides, the film is a completely solid and fun one through and through.