Horror's Cover Tunes of Our Favorite 80s Slashers
Editor's Note: Last year, I wrote a FIRST LOOK a few days before the FRIDAY THE 13TH remake came out. As I had seen a preview three days before its opening weekend, I had hoped to give readers a review before it hit the streets. For whatever reason, Icons' last editor never got around to publishing it. I put it aside, thinking I would post it as a DVD review, with added paragraphs about the extras. I despised the movie so thoroughly, I shelved the piece, thinking it would never see the light of day.
And then ace staffer Aaron Pruner sent me his take on the new NOES. His first paragraph echoed mine from the F13 piece. And so I dusted off my piece and decided to make it a companion piece to his. Read on as two of Icons of Fright's heavy hitters take on the remake craze in style (coincidentally, the same style).
A Cover Song On Remake Street
Pruner’s Take on A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010)
This past decade has been clouded with horror movie remakes. I view remakes the same way I view cover songs. I'm not a big fan. Usually, they turn out to be crap and not live up to the original work. Let's consider Scarlet Johannson's attempt at a Tom Waits cover album. I really wanted to like that project. I'm a huge Tom Waits fan. When I heard the attractive actress was putting out "Anywhere I Lay My Head", I was excited. Well long story short, the album was awful. Sure, there are exceptions to the cover song rule. For instance, Johnny Cash's cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" makes that song palatable to the ears again.
I went to see A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET opening weekend with my best friend. We were both really excited to see Freddy Kreuger back on the screen, even if it wasn't Robert Englund behind the makeup. It seemed only fitting since my same friend introduced me to NOES back when I was 11. If I was to see this movie with anyone, it'd have to be him.
When the movie finished, I left feeling pleased. He disagreed with me, exclaiming an overall sense of disappointment. We stood in the parking lot of the theater for a good ten minutes comparing the original and the remake. I found myself whole heartedly defending the remake. Three weeks later, after sitting on my hands regarding any attempt at writing about the movie, I have to admit the movie is a disappointment. It annoys me even to admit such a thing. I realized I left the theater feeling the same way after seeing TRANSFORMERS. Besides robots, ‘splosions and Megan “toe-thumbs” Fox, that movie was a travesty. I suppose nostalgia really is a powerful thing, and it’s got its hold on me.
Throughout the entire duration of NOES, I found myself doing the exact same thing I did during WATCHMEN and LITTLE CHILDREN; waiting impatiently for Jackie Earle Haley to come back on the screen. He's a very interesting actor to watch, in my opinion. However, taking on the role of Freddy Kreuger is much like that of taking on the role of Vito Corleone or Travis Bickle. Those film characters are so embedded in our society's psyche, anyone else attempting to play them will suffer the wrath of comparison after comparison. I give Haley credit that he put his own spin on the character of Freddy. As an actor, one should bring one’s own truth to any role. It would have been worse if he did his best Robert Englund impersonation. That being said, Jackie Earle Haley was the best thing about the new NOES.
My main issue with this movie is Samuel Bayer's direction. Mostly known for his work in commercials and music videos, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET looks to be his first attempt at a full length feature film. Given that Platinum Dunes is involved, I can only imagine Michael Bay thought choosing him as a director would be a genius move. I knew early on while watching the opening credit sequence that this movie was going to be different. It seemed production quality outweighed the importance of dialogue and mood. Granted, it's a tough feat to match Wes Craven in creating mood; the opening credit sequence in the original NOES where we see Freddy's hands creating the glove is a great example of his genius. Sadly, I saw no example of this in Bayer's remake. Actually, there was no moment in the movie I felt scared. Maybe it's because I knew what to expect regarding character and story. Or maybe it's because I didn't feel invested in any of the characters, though I do have to hand it to Connie Britton's acting for making Nancy's mother way more likeable and believable than Ronee Blakley's horrid performance in the original.
Now what was up with the story choices here? I honestly don't think it was necessary to evolve Freddy from child murderer to pedophile. I believe if we all exercised our deductive reasoning skills, we'd come to the conclusion that he probably was both. But taking that direction with the story, especially in a reboot of the series, I believe puts the cart before the horse. One of the things that made Freddy Kreuger scary in the original NOES was the mystery behind who he was. Adding the nursery school/pedophile element I believe made Freddy less frightening and more of a disgusting creep.
My other issue with the film was the makeup. I'm not sure if it's simply the differences in facial features, but Robert Englund's face was another thing that made Freddy Kreuger scary. It was in his eyes and smile, his goblin-like features and witch-like nose. His face and personality was reminiscent of an updated character out of Grimm's Fairytales, a hobgoblin, if you will. With Jackie Earle Haley, it was tough if not impossible, to even see his eyes. As opposed to Michael Myers or Jason, it is an imperative that we as the audience see Freddy's eyes. Eyes are the window to the soul, they say. With Freddy, they're the window to his evil core.
With the bevy of remakes that continue to come down the assembly line, I'd have to say that NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET may blend into the ether soon enough. Overall, I didn't hate the movie or love it. With so many possibilities a director can take, Samuel Bayer seems to have taken the safe route that guaranteed the studio money. With a lack of risk and creativity, I'd have to give the movie a C. Much like Scarlet Johannson's attempt to cover Tom Waits' classic songs, Samuel Bayer may have bitten off more than he can chew in taking on Wes Craven's classic.
FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009)
Raining Blood All Over Tori Amos
When I first got into Slayer a few years ago, I was astonished when I came across a cover version of their song “Raining Blood.” The final song from pound for pound the heaviest metal album of all time, “Raining Blood” is a seminal masterpiece, a brutal and brilliant coda to their album Reign in Blood, which is an onslaught from beginning to end. My shock wasn’t so much over the idea that somebody would cover the song itself (there are many Slayer worshippers out there), but that Tori Amos was the one covering it. For those uninitiated to Ms. Amos, she’s a loopy singer whose catalogue probably best qualifies as experimental. As I listened to her version of “Raining Blood” for the first time, I knew it was wrong. Sure, the words were the same. Some of the notes were too. I could see that she was trying, in her own slowly gloomy way, to capture the essence of the song. But as much as it strived to be, this was not “Raining Blood.” And it certainly wasn’t Slayer.
No, this is not, as you can tell from the title, FIRST LOOK: Tori Amos’ Raining Blood. But much of what I said in my opening paragraph applies to the new remake of Friday the 13th. Michael Bay and company have taken a much beloved slasher franchise and turned it into a mind numbing waste of time that tries to hit all the notes of the original, but fails as a Friday the 13th film.
To address the film, it’s important first to address the franchise that it so desperately wants to imitate. Admittedly, the Friday the 13th films were never that good. The first one stole the “important calendar date” from John Carpenter (whose classy, well-made Halloween director Sean S. Cunningham never strived to equal with his sleazy, in-the-backwoods film); it then robbed most of its kills from Mario Bava’s superior Twitch of the Death Nerve, so much so that some of those deaths carried over into Part 2. The film and its sequels were fraught with glaring inconsistencies, actors whose talents were generally well below the Quality Equator, and characters straight out of the Generic Stereotype Generator. But for all that, the Friday movies always had one thing going for them: Jason Vorhees. The idea of a super strong mongoloid running around the woods slaughtering people in creative ways terrified me as a child, when I didn’t really understand just how poorly made many of those films were. As an adult, with a full understanding, I still love most of the Friday films, even the later ones; though their quality dipped further down the spiral with each, Jason was a zombie, and therefore infinitely cooler in my book.
Then along came the Platinum Dunes boys. Intent on “reimagining” every seminal 80s slasher franchise, Michael Bay and his producers, Brad Fuller and Andrew Form, hired music video/Texas Chainsaw Massacre “reboot” director Marcus Nispel. With Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, the writers of Freddy vs. Jason, on board, these men set out, as they claimed, to bring the series back to its roots and give the fans of the first three or four films what they wanted. Instead, they hit all the notes, yet the tune is nowhere near the original. Ms. Amos, take heed.
The first thing they did was to reduce the franchise’s Ground Zero to a glorified credits sequence. Pamela Vorhees gives the cut and dried version of her speech from Cunningham’s film, just before meeting the same fate her character suffered 29 years earlier (when the film’s opening is conveniently set, because I’m sure Bay and Co. figured fans wouldn’t have it any other way). Flash forward to six weeks before the Present Day (I can’t even make this stuff up, folks), to a group of teens hunting down a secret stash of weed. Not realizing, of course, that they’re committing every sin an 80s teen can ever commit in a horror film, right down to the underage boozing and premarital sex, they then commit the cardinal sin of splitting up into three factions. Seeing his prey is ripe for the slaughter, Jason kindly arrives and does his thing.
Several problems lie herein. First, he last few sentences of my previous paragraph should have described the entire film. Alas, it does not; Bay and Co. have set up not one, but two prologues. It’s blatant they shoehorned in Pamela Vorhees so the diehards of the Friday films would not cry foul. Even forgiving that, the larger problem is that the second prologue’s group of teens is thoroughly more likeable than the protagonists/sheep for slaughter that are to follow. I remarked in my review of Diary of the Dead that George Romero would have done his audience a favor by following the group of black militants, instead of his video toting college students. In the same vein, the Friday remake would have done wise to stick with this first group of teens who, though one dimensional caricatures who spout dialogue no teen ever would, represent a much more appealing group.
And therein lies the next problem. Though the Friday films have never been known for their profoundly forged characters, this second group of teens is so cardboard thin, I swore if they turned sideways they’d disappear. I maintain that Nispel must’ve told his cast: “Okay, folks. Make sure to play these kids as the most stereotypical caricatures in the history of film.” And it seems they complied. Straight out of the Generic Stereotype Generator are: the girl who just wants to have sex with the other girl’s boyfriend; the black guy who only speaks like black guys in horror movies do (and on a side note, black actors have to stop accepting these roles, which are the modern day version of the Stepin Fetchit characters that should no longer exist in our more accepting times); the Asian stoner whose every 2nd line is a quip; the caring girl who’s with the jerk, when she obviously shouldn’t be, because, hey, she’s caring. And then there’s Trent, who’s in a category all his own. Trent’s the 80s rich kid whose jaw and every word tell you that he’s slumming with this group, and that he came out of not a Friday movie, but a John Hughes movie. I kept waiting for Ducky to pop out, looking for Molly Ringwald. Bottom line, I have never before waited in such anticipation to watch a cast of characters die.
And here’s a scary thought. Jared Padalecki is the most talented actor in the cast. Ponder that for a minute.
Padalecki wanders in looking for his sister, one of the teens from the first group. He stumbles onto this ridiculous second group, and then onto Jason. Even if you want to discount the victims (because they’re only victims anyway, as you’d rationalize it), Jason himself represents some problems. I commend Derek Mears for doing an admirable job as what may be the largest Jason ever put to film. But this is not the Jason of old. Left to his own, Jason has become a survivalist, and this is another area in which the film falters. This Jason runs like a cheetah, and lays traps. Instead of a retarded mongoloid, he’s embraced his inner alpha male, and has become a much more clever beast than he ever was in the previous films. As my friend X decried after we left the theater, “Jason doesn’t run! He stalks!” I have to agree. Watching this stealthy, cunning Jason just didn’t do it for me. Nispel does him no favors; more than once, the director sets the camera low and in front of a character, revealing Jason behind him or her, where every self-respecting horror fan knew he would be. Worse, Nispel often focuses his lens on some high powered machinery (a wood chipper, a table saw), and then abandons the weapon without putting it to use. In fact, much of Jason’s work here is accomplished with simple tools, such as his machete or a screwdriver. If Bay and Co. were so intent on emulating the first four films of the franchise (and if you know the earlier films, you’ll see Nispel stole many of his shot compositions wholesale), they could have improved this movie vastly by sticking with the spirit of those creative kills. In fact, many of the murders are shot so quickly that much of the gore is hard to see, a sure reminder of Nispel’s earlier career in music video. Other kills suffer from the “weapon slashes, but the camera cuts away” school. In the post-Hostel age, these murders are unacceptable.
Having altered Jason for the worse, Bay and Co. also do harm by taking away one of the Friday franchise’s greatest strengths: the Harry Manfredini score. Though a little hokey, his music actually heightened the tension in the earlier films, making each kill an operatic moment of savagery. Though the credits don’t really clarify just who created the new score, it’s generic work that adds nothing to the overall film.
If you’re a Jason Vorhees fan and you’re not crying foul by the time this film reaches its logic-lacking final sequence, I’d be shocked. Much like Tori Amos’ cover of “Raining Blood” fails not only as a song, but as a Slayer song, Platinum Dunes’ Friday the 13th is not only a poorly made movie, but a bad Friday the 13th movie. Cunningham might not have had high aspirations, but at least he made an enjoyable Friday the 13th, warts and all. In their attempts to do the same, Bay and Co. merely made a pastiche that pounds out the same notes, but can’t even come close to carrying the same tune.