The latest edition of Twisted Parallels features a slasher flick, several of David Lynch's visual references, new horror— even Francis Bacon shows up!
The newest edition of Twisted Parallels features a bunch of homages from Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, alongside some other great visual references.
A Nightmare on Elm Street. 1984. Directed & Written by Wes Craven.
Starring John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia, Johnny Depp, Charles Fleischer, Joseph Whipp, Robert Englund, Joe Unger, & Lin Shaye. New Line Cinema/Media Home Entertainment/Smart Egg Pictures/The Elm Street Venture.
Rated R. 91 minutes.
All those who love horror, truly, are bound to miss Wes Craven. He’s firmly planted amongst the masters of the modern horror genre. His film The Last House on the Left completely rocked and shocked viewers, though, even behind that brutal picture are bigger things than merely a rape-revenge horror. Some people pass over a later effort of his, The People Under the Stairs, yet that attacks everything from racism to Regan.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is a different story. Craven completely hit the mark in every way imaginable, both on a subtle level and the more obvious ones. Freddy Krueger became synonymous with nightmares, the bad dreams which shake you from your sleep. Little kids weren’t afraid of a faceless boogeyman anymore after 1984 – from then on, it was Freddy. Because he was different than the other popular slashers, being a totally mind-based killer; he comes for you through dreams, and that means rules change. The unconscious is our most vulnerable place. He gets there, invading the private spaces of our inner mind. It’s a delicate subject when you boil this slasher-horror down to its basic parts. Craven does his best job crafting a masterpiece of horrific dreams on the back of Freddy, along with the appropriately impressive and inventive effects to boot. This is a classic of horror if there ever were one.
We all know the plot. Let’s skip that part this time around.
Part of my love for this movie is the innovation of Craven and his team. Everything from the blood bed to the simplest practical effects. Such care goes into the movie to make it look so excellent.
Love the effect of Freddy pushing through the wall, then Nancy wakes up with the cross knocked off on her, and the wall’s back to normal. Always thought it was creepy, subtle. Then not long afterwards Freddy comes down the alley with those long arms, so surreal and dreamlike. Everything is warped and weird. And it is terrifying. Plus, once we finally get the few looks at his face, all scarred and burned up, it’s hideous.
Freddy’s the pure mercury liquid of nightmares. At first he doesn’t even respond to Nancy when she asks “who are you?”, but simply cuts his chest open to reveal ooze and maggots.
And that’s the most terrifying part about Freddy. He’s a dream, a nightmare figure. He gets you if you fall asleep, which time and time again tests the characters of the film. There’s an unfathomable aspect to Krueger and his entrance through the unconscious mind. Almost as if your fears will literally eat you alive when he’s around. Plus, there’s also the angle of the buried secrets in a tight-knit community. Once the truth of Krueger, who he was and what happened to him comes out, then we start to see what the past does to the present. It invades and infects the next generation. You could make a case that Craven is talking about generational trauma, in a sense. Either way, the fact Freddy worms his way into the minds of the young people on Elm Street is a creepy sort folktale, a modern era Pied Piper leading the kids to their deaths. Sort of the death of youth, bringing adolescence to an end in horrific ways. Freddy is ultra creepy, as he’s already a child murderer, but the injustice portion of things comes into play; questions of morality, and what exactly is justice, so on. You can dive deep into Craven, I’ve been saying that for ages.
Apart from being the big screen debut of Johnny Depp, there are a couple good performances. Heather Langenkamp as Nancy is a perfect choice. She’s likeable, as well as sweet. Yet she’s strong and independent, she wants to track Freddy down, no matter how she has to go about it; whether by force, or by dream. As opposed to the typical “Final Girl”, Nancy is much more than just that. She’s an antagonistic protagonist, if I can mix and match. I say that because she’s able to turn the tables on Freddy and get the upperhand by going at him on his own turf. So, Nancy comes off as a decently strong, resilient female character in a genre with a dearth of those types of characters.
Of course we can’t talk about this Craven masterpiece without mentioning the talent of Robert Englund. Nobody else can ever fill his shoes. Sure, you can remake it. And Jackie Earle Haley is actually a great actor. But certain roles are not meant to be played over and over like in the theatre. In stage acting, nobody is recording you (or at least they never were before these days), and so the performances are not cemented; many people can grace the role. Someone like Freddy Krueger can never be anyone else but Englund. He put the stamp on that role, giving it the performance of a lifetime. His character remains ever creepy, both slightly perverted and terrifyingly mad. The makeup effects involved with him, just his appearance alone, are insane. They remain with you, after years and years. You could be on a desert island for a decade and still remember who Freddy was if they showed you a picture. It’s an iconic piece of horror, of cinematic history itself.
Craven’s Nightmare is a 5-star horror. It defined what a supernatural horror could be without the need for the same old ghosts and spooky things in the dark. Freddy branded himself onto the brain of genre fans forever. Not only that, he marked the world. He’s a phenomenon, still is really. Even kids knew who he was back in the ’80s when they couldn’t see the movies. They just knew. I knew who Freddy was before I’d actually seen the movie myself. So Craven not only gave people a good scare, he contributed to pop culture in a hugely significant way during the ’80s, and then later in the ’90s with Scream. This one always creeps me out, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. Never a boring watch, always good for that solid, enjoyable scare I crave.
The Hills Have Eyes Part II. 1985. Directed & Written by Wes Craven.
Starring Tamara Stafford, Kevin Spirtas, John Bloom, Colleen, Riley, Michael Berryman, Penny Johnson Jerald, Janus Blythe, John Laughlin, Willard E. Pugh, Peter Frechette, Robert Houston, David Nichols, Edith Fellows, Lance Gordon, and Suze Lanier-Bramlett. VTC.
Rated 18+. 86 minutes.
When it comes to The Hills Have Eyes Part II, I can’t say in any way that it’s a good movie. By the same token I like it, as in it’s enjoyable for me. Do you know what I mean? It’s one of those guilty pleasure films. Wes Craven shot a bunch of this before A Nightmare on Elm Street, but it got slowed down because of budget issues, then after Freddie Krueger rocked the world the studio got Craven to put together a film for this; except only using the footage already shot. The reason there are a ton of flashbacks used in The Hills Have Eyes Part II is due to the fact he didn’t have enough footage to make a full feature, so filling in all the gaps were bits and pieces from the first. Now, it’s not that which makes everything a mess here. Well… it’s not only that.
In comparison with the original 1977 horror classic, this sequel is not nearly as well written. Not sure what else Craven had planned originally for the movie. Because even some of the initial plot is truly hazy. There’s no real explanation for some of what continued from the first movie, as well as a good few scenes that come off as eternally cheesy, so much so it’s hard to even care about the characters because they’re mostly walking cliches and tropes. Perhaps had the studio allowed Craven to go back and reshoot, plus shoot more, there’s a possibility this sequel could’ve turned out much better. Unfortunately we’ll never know. What we’re left with is a bargain basement horror, filled with nonsense. It’s one of the handful of blemishes on an otherwise impressively terrifying horror movie career on the part of Wes Craven.
The Hills Have Eyes Part II begins with Bobby Carter (Robert Houston) seeing a psychiatrist, trying to work through the traumatic events which happened eight years ago in the first film. He and Ruby (Janus Blythe), now called Rachel, run a dirtbike team. They’re headed out into the desert for a race, nearby where the massacre from the first film took place. Bobby doesn’t want to go, though, his psychiatrist urges him to try and do it. Instead, Ruby/Rachel goes in his place with the team.
But out in that desert, after their bus breaks down, strange madness begins to take hold in the desert. Pluto (Michael Berryman) shows up out of nowhere, attacking Ruby/Rachel, but no one will believe her at first. Despite her warnings they head out into the desert on their dirtbikes, jumping and racing about. What follows is more murder and mayhem from the cannibal family in the hills.
A part of this movie I always thought was just way too excellent, amongst the foolishness, is when Beast has his own flashback. After Pluto (Michael Berryman) attacks Ruby/Rachel (Janus Blythe), we go back to when Beast and Pluto met in the original. There’s just something about this sequence I find both hilarious and also amazing at the same time. I can just see Wes behind his writing desk, cackling to himself, thinking that the dogs ought to have their day, too.
There’s nothing much to enjoy about this sequel. Sure, it’s fun to see Michael Berryman again. He’s an excellent character actor in horror movies. His condition – not sure what it’s called but I believe one of the things it causes is no sweat glands – lends a bit naturally to playing an outsider, so I love that he willingly takes on these weird, psychotic roles, or just the strange and outlandish ones. He’s absolutely a treasure of the horror genre and continues to be.
However, seeing him is not enough to make any of the film worth sitting through. Not to mention the fact so much of the other acting here is downright terrible. I’m not even sure what the one guy’s name is – the loud mouth one always cracking jokes and laughing and being obnoxious – but I cared so little about him I didn’t bother to remember who he was – Harry? I’m going with Harry. His acting was incredibly bad. I don’t know if it was mostly him or mostly Craven’s writing. Certainly overall, the script does not help in any way.
That’s another thing. I happen to think Wes Craven is a pretty solid writer, most of the time. He has a few scripts I don’t find particularly intriguing, but I think a lot of his stuff is great horror. The Hills Have Eyes Part II is in no way a representation of his best writing, not in any shape or form. The dialogue is all stilted, as opposed to a lot of fun and creepy stuff which came out of the first film’s script. The characters are beyond generic; even worse, I happen to think Craven is decent enough at writing black characters most of the time, but his attempt to write the character of Foster (Willard E. Pugh) here is laughably bad.
My biggest beef is that we’re never fully explained anything concerning Ruby/Rachel and Bobby. It just makes zero sense to me. Why does Ruby bother to change her name? As if the census taker is going to come around wondering why Ruby from the hillside cannibal clan is now living in the city? I think not. It’s sort of silly, as if she’s escaping her past in a Witness Protection Act. Meanwhile, she goes back out into the desert with the dirtbike team. Why? She knows what’s out there. Bobby was smart enough not to go, I just don’t see in what universe Ruby would subject herself to going back out there; she clearly would realize if Pluto or any of the other mutants found her, they’d be pretty pissed, I think. Regardless of how the studio made Craven go back and work with things he’d already shot without being able to film additional footage, there’s no excusing a lot of lapse in intelligence that can be found in even some of the most basic elements of Craven’s script.
I can’t say there’s no way he would’ve been able to make this into a decent film, but it’s unlikely either way. The script is far too weak to start. Unless he planned to do rewrites if given the chance, I think we can certainly chalk this one up to a badly formed script on his part and that perhaps it would’ve been better off – on ALL fronts even his and the studio – just to leave The Hills Have Eyes as a standalone film.
Having gone through all the awful aspects about this movie, I can still put it on and enjoy it. Isn’t that strange? I’m not sure what it is. There are just movies I can sit through and get enjoyment out of even while they’re virtually useless. I like some of the music in the film, as well as the fact there are a couple genuinely creepy scenes. Outside of that, there’s nothing I can say is good. There’s simply a quality to this horrible and needless sequel that I can’t seem to shake; it sticks on me like a wet fart. But it’s a wet fart I happen to love, as bad as it is for me to enjoy.
This is a 1 star film simply because there’s a glimmer of something here, whatever it is I can’t tell but it is THERE. I’m telling you. Perhaps it’s the fact Beast is so prominent throughout a couple scenes, maybe I’m too attached to animals – dogs in particular. I’m not sure now, never have been, and I can’t be positive that I’ll ever figure it out. I think, above all, my lament for Wes Craven’s sequel takes precedence: I wanted this so badly to be a decent movie. There are a couple eerie moments, enough to make things creepy from time to time, but ultimately not enough for anyone else to call this even remotely a mediocre horror.
Don’t waste your time unless you’re a completist. Most likely you’re not crazy like me and you won’t find anything endearing about this dog turd of a Craven flick.
The People Under the Stairs. 1991. Directed & Written by Wes Craven.
Starring Brandon Adams, Everett McGill, Wendy Robie, A.J Langer, and Ving Rhames. Universal Pictures. Rated R. 102 minutes.
★1/2 (Blu ray release)
I really have a thing for Wes Craven. Do you think he knows?
He’s written and directed some incredibly disturbing, unsettling, and wild horror films. Let’s count the great ones, shall we? The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, Swamp Thing, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes Part II (maybe I’ll draw some ire by planting that one in here, but I love it, and think it’s unfairly maligned by a lot of critics and horror fans), The Serpent and the Rainbow (directing credit only), Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, Scream (directing again only).
This is not to mention the bunch of other fun horror films he’s had a had in producing, such as Feast, Wishmaster, and the fantastic remake of his own The Hills Have Eyes. I mean, for A Nightmare on Elm Street alone Craven gets a spot on the top horror masters of all time. Brilliance. But there are a few of his films (such as the aforementioned sequel to his The Hills Have Eyes) which don’t get the credit they deserve.
Cue: The People Under the Stairs.
At first the film could appear to be a crime thriller about some robbers, but (aside from having Craven’s name on it) you can quickly tell it isn’t going to be the same old story. The film starts off with “Fool” Williams living in a ghetto in L.A. His family is soon to be evicted. Luckily, or realistically unfortunately, for Fool, he knows Leroy who is a lifetime criminal. They quickly decide to rob The Robesons, who lovingly call themselves Mommy & Daddy (played fabulously by former onscreen husband & wife in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Wendy Robie and Everett McGill), who live in a big, old house with only their daughter Alice. Once they get inside the house, hoping to find all the supposed riches the Robesons have hidden away, they discover, to their horrible surprise, it isn’t any treasure Mommy & Daddy have been hiding; the secrets in the house are far worse.
I really love the trailers for The People Under the Stairs because it has such a creepy, dreadful feeling. It starts with the ominous “in every neighbourhood… there is a house that even the adults talk about“, or something similar. Just superbly disturbing. Once you get into the film, past the bits of ham, there are some wild bits that really creeped me out. In particular, Everett McGill puts on a suit at one point that turned me away, by pure fright, from leather – long before I ever enjoyed the devilishly fun first season of American Horror Story, and the Rubber Man.
One thing I love is how hard Craven attacks the Reagan era. Particularly, you can see how he is really skewed in the Mommy and Daddy naming of the two crazy people who own the house. It’s known that Ronald often called his wife Nancy Reagan “Mommy”. While Nancy called the Commander-in-chief “Ronnie”, you can still see, along with the rest of the film skewing his era of presidency, how the names Mommy and Daddy were certainly meant to really poke at the political & social commentary of The People Under the Stairs. Even at one point when Fool is looking around the house, he comes across a television set, which is clearly blaring graphic news reports of armed forces conflict (most likely they’re videos from the Gulf War which ended the same year this film was released). I mean, Daddy even stalks Fool and Leroy around the house, eventually shooting Lero, using a high-powered pistol with a red dot sight on it. The artillery Daddy is packing in that house is beyond simple home protection. I think there’s a little message about guns, or at least the military, under Reagan floating around here.
It all lines up, with the plot itself of course, to be very clear Craven doesn’t only intend this as a sometimes campy other times disturbing little horror flick. There’s more than meets the eye.
The acting here is generally pretty good. Rhames is decent in his small part. Really it’s McGill and Robie who shine here. They’re perfect for the role. Of course, they were also perfect on Twin Peaks, so I didn’t doubt they’d do a great job here. Everyone else fills out the cast just fine for the most part.
The People Under the Stairs is mainly all about the plot and story. I liked where it all went. It was disturbing and creepy. Plus, there are some fun and camp-ish moments that really fit well with the overall film. I really do think this movie works as a social metaphor. I’ve seen a few good theories. One in particular talked about how there was, especially around that time in the late 80’s and going into the 90’s, a big divide between those being oppressed and those who were aware of the oppression. Maybe even not so much the times, it’s something that always happens. Generally, until a situation completely boils over (such as it would in 1991 after the Gulf War ended and then Rodney was beaten a month later, one of the many, continuing brutalities committed by police against black men), there are pockets of society unaware of how serious a particular group is being oppressed, and often times eradicated. Here, we see a couple black people break into a home only to discover there are white people literally trapped in the walls. The divide between these two groups being held down are Mommy and Daddy, perfectly representative of Ronald Reagan and his administration in the White House.
I don’t know – maybe it’s nonsense. But I happen to agree with the person who was giving out the theory. Others seem to agree. I don’t mean it’s a perfectly and amazingly profound film, it’s still a weird and wild horror, but there is definitely something else behind it. Craven intended The People Under the Stairs to speak both to horror fans, as well as those looking for a bit of social commentary in their movie-going experience.
As a film, I’d absolutely have no problem saying this is worth 4 out of 5 stars. I think Craven has taken a few missteps in his career, but this is not one of them. Some don’t particularly put this at the top of his filmography. Me, however, I believe it’s one of the better written horrors Craven has done simply because there is bit more meat to it; it isn’t all blood and guts and scares. There is a little dark comedy, some hammy acting, and disturbing moments, all wrapped into one package. I dig it.
The Blu ray is not great. Aside from the picture, there is nothing worth talking about. Literally nothing. You can put on subtitles, pause the film, or look through its chapters. Other than that? Don’t count on wiling away the hours on special features. There are none at all. Too bad. I wouldn’t have minded a bit of behind-the-scenes stuff, a featurette or two. Nothing here.
It’s still worth it to own this fun horror on Blu ray. The picture quality is fabulous. Makes a great 1990’s horror classic look pristine. If you haven’t yet experienced The People Under the Stairs do yourself a favour and watch it soon. Especially if you’re a fan of Craven; this one deserves more attention and less ridicule. I think it’s a solid horror, a little different from most. There are even some pretty gory bits just before the hour mark hits. This definitely stands out among a lot of shitty 1990’s horror.