The Classics of Horror #15 – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Being the intelligent filmmaker he was, in the early 80s Wes Craven decided to get out of the hole he dug himself in with his early exploitation flicks. Great quality exploitation, though, with The Last House on the Left (1972) being a genre-defining, twisted flick and The Hills Have Eyes (1977) being a fun, extreme ride.

As a consequence, A Nightmare on Elm Street hit theatres in 1984, challenging a market filled with slasher flicks and dominated by the Halloween and Friday the 13th movies. The result was one of the most loved movies by horror fans in cinema history, other than a unique take on the sub-genre.

Kicking off in medias res (in the midst of things), without any character’s introduction, Was Craven film sets itself apart from any other slasher back in the 80s.

Nightmare 1The plot follows four teenagers who are having recurring, similar nightmares about a disfigured man who wears a shabby hat and a glove made of knives. They soon discover than what happens in their dreams has a repercussion on reality and Freddy Krueger – one of the most iconic villains in cinema history – is not just a figment of their imagination.

Freddy (memorably portrayed by Robert Englund) is the show-stealer in this movie that went on creating a long-lasting franchise and an endless series of remakes and reboots. Unlike Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, Krueger utilises a more psychological approach to hunt his victims down: with creepy sense of humour he winds them up and confuses their reality and dreams. He makes them terrorised, sleepless and weak; thus, more vulnerable.

The concept behind A Nightmare on Elm Street is what’s truly scary about the film: you can escape Myers and Voorhees, as long as you don’t cross path with them, but you can’t refuse to sleep and run away from your subconscious, your dreams.

Although many fans consider A Nightmare on Elm Street an entertaining movie (which, in fact, it is), the idea it’s based on it’s genuinely frightening and the backstory of Freddy (a child molester and killer, who was burnt alive by the families of his victims) make for a great horror, driven by a fantastic antihero.

Nightmare 3Yet, Craven is amazing at executing the concept, by melting reality and dreams from beginning to end. Because of that, the grand finale of Nightmare is one of the most satisfying in cinema history (in my opinion), because it gives the viewer food for thought and doesn’t betray the rest of the movie. Something modern horrors do a lot more than they should…

Nightmare 2In clever contrast to the dream-like vibe that permeates Craven’s masterpiece, the characters (among which there’s a young, but always charming Johnny Depp) are extremely relatable and feel like real people: similarly to Halloween (1978), dialogues and actions of the protagonists are believable. The best compliment I can make to the cast is that they don’t feel like actors.

Again, the parents of the main guys are aware of the things that are happening in their community and, to different extents, participate actively to the story, as opposed to being completely irrelevant or absent (which happened in most of the slashers back in the day).

As per flows, I’d say that the police reaction to the assaults towards the end of the film is a bit laughable – worst police squad ever! However, this doesn’t detract from the high-quality value of this flick.

Nightmare 4If you haven’t seen A Nightmare on Elm Street yet, this is the moment to check it out: besides all the features mentioned above, this film contains the right amount of jump-scares (a couple of them startled me even upon fourth viewing!), blood (a lot for the 80s standards) and comic relief, which make for a viewing experience that should please modern mainstream audiences as well.

“One, two, Freddy’s coming for you”! Thus, watch the film and be prepared: you never know what you might dream about tonight!

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Classics of Horror #10 – Halloween (1978)

John Carpenter’s Halloween is the first modern slasher and, therefore, it inspired every other flick of this sub-genre ever since, including the beloved Friday the 13th and Nightmare franchises.

Halloween 1For horror purists, I know that some previous films could be considered as slasher as well: Psycho (1960) represents a prime example. Nonetheless, Halloween had redefined the sub-genre and made it suitable for mass audiences and many forms of exploitation.

Basically, John Carpenter’s low-budget film represents for the slasher sub-genre what The Blair Witch Project (1999) meant for the found-footage style: it’s been done before by Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, but BWP undeniably gave it an unprecedented popularity.

Halloween 2.jpgHalloween, which is the turning point of my series on The Classics of Horror, tells the simple story of Michael Myers who escapes a psychiatric institution he’s been locked up in 15 years before, in light of the murder of his sister when he was only a child.

The serial killer on a loose comes back to Haddonfield on a Halloween night to satisfy his blood thirst and kill the local teenagers.

As oppose to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), which I didn’t like as much upon second view, Halloween deeply struck me the second time I watched, in order to right this review.

In general, the first film of what would have become a successful franchise based on Michael Myers is just an amazing, unpretentious, entertaining movie.

However, three factors made me fall in love with it.

Firstly, the good characters are extremely compelling. In comparison to the majority of slasher flicks (actually, 99% of the slasher flicks), the three main girls (played by Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Kyes and P.J. Soles) are well-rounded and feature different, distinguishable traits. Their ways of speaking resemble closely the way teenage girls used to argue with each other in the late 70s, which provides the film with an extra layer of realism.

Halloween 6.jpgYet, Donald Pleasence as Doctor Loomis – the psychiatrist who took care of Myers for 15 years – is simply eye-grabbing. His performance is fully rounded and features a vast range of emotions which make for a compelling character who, basically, carries an entire sub-plot along by himself.

Another prime character in Halloween is the soundtrack: composed by John Carpenter himself, the score is iconic to say the least and it’s able to deliver a subtle sense of angst that never fades away. Personally, I think the sound design alone makes the film worth watching.

Halloween 3.pngFinally, the cinematography is spotless. Every single shot is a feist for the eye and, in my humble opinion, such a high level of gorgeous cinematography has never been reached since in a non-artsy horror film (with the exception of It Follows, 2014, which indeed constantly pays homage to Halloween).

Halloween 4The combination between music, camera-work and photography creates an overall dreadful atmosphere which doesn’t need Michael Myers on screen to give the audience goosebumps. Some shots that frame Myers from behind, while focusing on other characters are just so simply beautiful. At the same time, long sequences composed by single takes give a realistic impression, make you feel like you’re integral part of the Haddonfield community to the point that you could communicate with Laurie, Annie or Linda.

Besides that, Halloween is just an entertaining flick with a few, tiny, plot holes that can be easily overlooked: for instance, after having been in a mental institution for 15 years, Myers escapes and drives a car, something that, realistically, he shouldn’t be able to do.

Halloween 5If I could only change something about the film, it would be Myers’ behaviour in certain scenes. In the first half of the movie, the villain just stares at people from behind bushes, cars, trees and so on, which is not really scary or unsettling in my opinion.

On the other hand, though, I understand that this specific behaviour humanises his character rather than turning him into an indestructible monster – which, eventually, he became in the sequels.

All in all, I think Halloween should on everybody’s must-watch list and, although not really frightening, it well deserves its spot among the classics of the genre. One last suggestion: if you can get the Blu-ray of this film, please do, it will make your viewing experience unforgettable.

The Classics of Horror #5 – Psycho (1960)

As I previously mentioned in my Rosemary’s Baby review, I have a ‘special’ chapter of The Classics of Horror dedicated to Psycho.

My girlfriend and I, in fact, went to watch the screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece at Grosvenor Park – a quiet oasis in the middle of the chaotic Londoner nightlife on a summer Friday night.

The location itself – which my girlfriend will talk about shortly on her blog – was worth the price of the ticket (22£ each, including a glass of fine wine) and created a mystical atmosphere that added to the quality of the film.

If you’re interested in Nomad Cinema initiatives and want to catch a glimpse of our day at the outdoor screening, check their website and enjoy the photo gallery at the end of this post.

In regards to Psycho itself, I thought to write about what makes it so iconic and inspirational to these days, since its plot, cinematography and general features have been discussed quite a lot within the last… well, 57 years!

Considered as the first slasher flick ever – although the origins of this sub-genre may find their roots back in Maurice Tourneur’s The Lunatics (1912) and countless giallo novels in the late 1880s – Psycho is much more than that.

Its influence spread through various cinema genres, such as psychological thriller, mystery and, of course, horror. Putting aside various attempts on imitations of sorts and a shot-by-shot shameless – and soulless – remake (Psycho, 1998), Hitchcock’s movie has inspired, deliberately or unconsciously, an endless number of directors and filmmakers.

Needless to say, the iconic stabbing in the shower has had tons of reenactments in probably half of the modern horror movies. That specific sequence has been received as shocking and gut-wrenching for the 60s audience but, in all fairness, experiencing it before a big screen and surrounded by an excellent sound system… well, it’s striking enough even today.

Again, the sudden change of main character – typical Hitchcock’s signature – has pushed brilliant directors to try unconventional story-telling patterns.

As if atmosphere, cinematography and music (damn, that score!) weren’t enough, the abrupt switch from one protagonist to the other puts the viewer in an uneasy condition, where the audience feels abandoned within a film universe where there is no one left to rely on.

However, what keeps me – and, I guess, all the cinema lovers – going back to Psycho and re-watch it any time with the same attitude is the character of Norman Bates (masterfully portrayed by Anthony Perkins, in the role that made him immortal). First great horror villain, Bates’ personality and psychology are compelling and captivating to these days. His character, despite the psychiatrist’s exposition scene towards the end of the film, is still a mystery for viewers and critics.

Even though the direction of Psycho is nearly immaculate, in my opinion the success of the movie – as well as its effectiveness – massively rely on Norman’s bony shoulders. Bates is an unsolvable enigma, portrayed in a various range of emotions that make him more and more unpredictable as the movie progresses. He’s also such a quotable villain, whose statements will remain impressed in people’s memories, similarly to Darth Vader’s and Heath Ledger’s Joker’s.

No antagonist in slasher flicks history has ever reached such a complexed and all-rounded characterisation. The invincibility of Myers and Voorhees, the sarcasm of Krueger, the cruelty of Leatherface, the intelligence of Vernon, the pure evil of Pinehead can’t rival with the ‘regular madness’ of Norman Bates.

Hitchcock, similarly to a few directors in cinema history, had also a strong faith in audience’s intelligence and pleasure in challenging it. There aren’t many films, in cinema history, that feature nearly no exposition as Psycho did. Here, the story-telling develops through the characters’ actions and the actions, whereas the dialogues serve as creation of compelling protagonists.

Nonetheless, there is a huge exposition scene towards the end of Psycho, which makes it a bit less timeless than it could have been, although it doesn’t affect the perfection of the film itself.

Needless to say, I strongly recommend this film. If you can, try to find a cinema nearby where they show old classics, so that you can enjoy Psycho to its finest. Cheers!

Top underrated horror ‘gems’ – #4 Behind the mask: the rise of Leslie Vernon

*Skip the premise if you already read my previous posts on the list*

Premise – Horror movies have always been divisive towards the audience. From the 80s, the cult franchises have created a trend particularly appreciated by the viewers. The Nightmare movies, the Halloween franchise as well as the Hellraiser flicks have marked the path that walked us, the audience, to an overwhelming cinema market filled with non-original movies, remake, reboots, sequels and prequels.

The formula is basically this: a director makes a successful movie with a little budget and a big return at the box office. So that the Hollywood major labels exploit said success to make tons of sequels and prequels that hit the box office without telling anything new or original to the viewer (ehm ehm… Saw, Hostel… ehm ehm). Sometimes, even the first installment is disappointing by every means but the economical profit (ehm ehm… Paranormal Activity, Wrong Turn… ehm ehm).

All these franchises have something in common, i.e. poor writing, bland characters, jump scares, unoriginal villains, flawed cinematography. Why are they successful? Because the horror audience is now used to go to the movie expecting to have ‘a good time’ instead of being shocked and disturbed by an original, unsettling and brave script filled with good performances, relatable characters and true fear.

What are the consequences? Not just new masterpieces such as It Follows and The Babadook, among the others, are considered as boring movies. Not just the milestones of horror cinema are now considered worthless. But also quite good movies that came out in the last 20-25 years have been underestimated by both audience and reviewers. Here a list for you, hoping you guys can have some fun and meditation on something a bit more original and ‘out there’. Enjoy.

NOTE: some movie franchises are actually worth watching, please do not dismiss the first Saw movie as well as the well-directed Insidious movies. Both from the talent of James Wan. The guy brings it right home.


behind-the-mask-the-rise-of-leslie-vernon-02

Behind the mask: the rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) is a slasher mockumentary-style horror film written, directed and produced by Scott Glosserman. The movie consists of a television troupe that is filming and interviewing Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel), a guy from Glen Echo (USA) who wants to follow the footprints of Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger.

Yes, because in the movie fictional world these three horror icons are real and they are world-wildly renowned for their murders. Leslie Vernon so decided to became ‘the next big serial killer’ and to be shot on camera so that I can be famous – or infamous, if you prefer – like his idols.

This is an amazingly original idea at its core but the movie progression is even more unconventional and the development is surprisingly excellent. Behind the mask is also filled with comedic sketches and Easter eggs which wink to tons of horror cults – from The Shining to Hellraiser, from Nightmare to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Plus, the film contains plenty of cameos, with Zelda Rubinstein and Robert freaking Englund to shine among the others.

Beyond the cameos, Nathan Baesel is suitable for the role, being able to combine a quirky sense of humor with a foolish look and a bit of meticulous craziness. What is even more satisfying, is the relationship between Leslie and Taylor – the crew leader played excellently by Angela Goethals. The two characters confront one another throughout the entire movie and complete each other by any means.

Speaking of the direction of the film, Behind the mask is able to avoid all the found-footage flaws and cliché – except from one small moment in the library scene, towards the half of the movie. Being a non-Hollywood production (so CGI-free), Glosserman’s work succeeds in dragging the audience into a fictional world in which everything look just absolutely real.

The only complaint I perhaps have towards The rise of Leslie Vernon is that the shooting style switches abruptly from mockumentary to third person, when we are 63 minutes into the movie already, backing up the huge plot twists occurring at this point. These first 63 minutes to me represent a movie on its own, which doesn’t need a completion to be fully appreciated. To be honest though, the other 28 minutes or so procure the horror-slasher element which is largely absent in the first part that can be considered as a unique product, unconventional if there is one.

Without spoiling anything, I just suggest you guys to watch the film until the very last word of the end credits comes on screen. It’s worth waiting. Also because the very last song of the movie – Psycho Killer by The Talking Heads – is something you can’t miss out.

Let me get a bit ‘ranty’ before I sum up the reasons why you must sit through Behind the mask: the rise of Leslie Vernon.

Ready? Ready. This movie made a $69,136 cash-in at the box office. Seriously? Are you fucking kidding me? Yet, the Leslie Vernon story is largely unknown among the horror fans. Everyone knows Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. None knows Leslie Vernon, even though he probably is the best slasher villain ever since the 80s! I’m not gonna play it safe: this movie is pure genius. It should have been advertised by word of mouth all over the freaking planet Earth!

Okay, I held my horses now. Sorry guys, I really needed to rant against the mainstream audience, production companies and horror world in general that panned this great movie. Now I feel way better.

In conclusion, comparing the quality of the movie to its box office return, Behind the mask: the rise of Leslie Vernon is quite the gem on this ‘underrated horror movies’ list. Recapping: the characters are compelling and the chemistry between the two protagonists is excellent, the plot is original and refreshing for the genre, the storytelling is unconventional, there’s plenty of amusing and chuckling moments, the cinematography is good, the photography splendid and the direction is brilliant.

You must watch this movie, sponsor it to your friends and spread the fact that Leslie Vernon is out there and it’s waiting for you horror fans to fall in love with him. Cheers.