Sunday, October 24, 2010

Halloween Horrors: Nightmare & Friday Documentaries are Bloody Good!

Image from Wikipedia
 I often will watch a movie or two on the weekend, and write up quick reviews on the blog.  I'm usually way late in my review, sometimes reviewing a flick that's a decade old. The weirdest reviews come from watching two completely different genres of film, and finding a connecting thread between the two.  But they're often disconnected to anything going on right now, other than the fact that I happened to pick them randomly.

This weekend, as a pre-Halloween treat to myself, I purchased two documentary films of iconic horror movie franchises, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th.  Both series caught me at precisely the right age and era in time.  I caught the first Friday film first-run, by sneaking into a drive-in theater at 14.  The first Nightmare was watched on VHS video, not long after it was released. The whole concept of home video was only a few years old, and horror movies were a driving force in that phenomenon (well, that and porn). At one time or another, I've owned them all--in multiple formats--and watched them many, many times.

I'm also one of those people who likes to watch outtakes, gag reels, retrospectives, and sometimes even listen to the director's or actors' commentary tracks. I'm the guy "DVD extras" were invented for. So, buying Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy and His Name was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th was a foregone conclusion. The Friday documentary was priced at $6.99, so that was an easy pill to swallow.  But I didn't even hesitate that the other one was $19.99.  Somehow, the pricing structure seemed appropriate to the quality of its respective franchise.  Little did I know, it also relates to the quality of the productions.

Image from Friday the 13th Blog
 His Name was Jason (2009) isn't bad, in fact I'd recommend it to any Friday the 13th fan.  It features a number of original cast members, which is akin to a class reunion, where you get to see how everyone's aged.  Betsy Palmer looks terrific by the way.  Each installment of the franchise is discussed, with every Jason actor interviewed (two of them in the case of Part 2).  If you're a hardcore fan, you probably know a lot of what's being discussed, but it's great to get it all in one place, from the mouths of people who were actually there.  They didn't cheap out by only covering the Paramount selections, or glossing over the New Line years. They even cover a bit of the remake.  It's good, hosted by Tom Savini, creator of the original Jason Voorhees makeup, though in a thoroughly cheeseball way.  Another interesting thing, is that the kills and gore, cursing and nekkid boobies are all here. A lot of documentaries would be a lot more censored, but this one pulls no punches.  There's even some unflattering things said about certain people involved, and acknowledgement of things that didn't work so well.  The film is only an hour and a half, so they don't get to spend much time on each film (of which there are so far 12 editions). Also, the special features are limited to some extended scenes with the various actors and stunt people who played Jason.  Well worth the $6.99 though.  By the way, series stars Kevin Bacon, Corey Feldman and Crispin Glover do not appear. But Amy Steel does, and that's all I cared about!

I was glad I watched Never Sleep Again second, but wish I'd started watching it earlier in the day. This sucker is long. 240 minutes, to be exact, and clearly a labor of love by all involved.  The Nightmare series spans nine films counting the remake (which is not covered, at least not in the main feature), not to mention that one of them actually crosses over with Friday.  Each edition is covered extensively, and I'm tempted to say too much, except that I was never tempted to turn it off.  It's narrated and executive produced by Heather Langenkamp, the most iconic star of the series, besides Robert Englund's Freddy Krueger.

Each edition is relatively self contained, with many of the original stars and crew interviewed, with plentiful clips and behind-the-scenes action. The motivations for what was included, what was left out, what worked and didn't are all discussed, including backstage friendships and feuds.  I can't think of much of anything a fan wants to know not being in the film. It's really a rip-roaring good time,and is highly recommended to any fan--though you may want to watch it in stages if you don't want to burn through an afternoon.

Unlike the Jason documentary, Never Sleep Again is chock full of special features, though I haven't gotten around to them yet. They include a filmmaker commentary, slashed scenes, Return to Elm Street, Freddy in comics and novels, a condensed A Nightmare on Elm Street in 10 Minutes and other stuff I haven't discovered yet. If there is any letdown, it is that stars Johnny Depp, Patricia Arquette and Jason Ritter (not in the Friday doc either) were not involved.

And though I know these two films were bound to be related, I did find a little connection that struck me as interesting.  Gay fans of horror films know that A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 and Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood are "the gay ones."  ANOES2 because of actor Mark Patton (who is openly gay) and the film's so-much-more-than-subtext gay vibe; and F13VII because a large chunk of the cast was gay.  In Never Sleep Again, the issue is discussed at length with just the right touch, and with humor.  In Jason, the issue is never brought up.

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