Film Review: Touch of Evil (1958)

Release Date: February, 1958
Directed by: Orson Welles
Written by: Orson Welles
Based on: Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson
Music by: Henry Mancini
Cast: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor

Universal International, Universal Pictures, 95 Minutes, 111 Minutes (restored cut)

Review:

“A policeman’s job is only easy in a police state.” – Ramon Miguel ‘Mike’ Vargas

Touch of Evil wasn’t a roaring smash when it came out but it got the respect and the recognition that it deserved as time marched on. In 1993, this motion picture was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. Over the years, it has become recognized as one of Orson Welles’ greatest bodies of work.

While the appearance of Charlton Heston as a Mexican is a bit bizarre and would have all the people up in arms today, once you get beyond his pencil thin mustache and brownface, you realize that beneath the visual stereotype, he is at least playing the Mexican character heroically. Plus, Heston’s not a bad actor anyway and he does his best to make the character of Miguel “Mike” Vargas work.

The cast also includes the eternally alluring Janet Leigh and Orson Welles, who wrote and directed this thing. Zsa Zsa Gabor even shows up in a strip club but this is the 1950s and boobies weren’t allowed to be seen in legitimate motion pictures.

Watching Heston and Welles play off of each other was a magnificent sight. These two men truly felt at odds with one another and their rivalry developed flawlessly on screen. The tension between them was so strong and overbearing that it really drove the picture. Janet Leigh and her character’s situation also added an extra level of suspense that made this one of the most powerful film-noirs I have ever seen.

The story takes place on the Mexican border in Southern California. A bomb explodes in a car near the border gate and it brings in the American detective, played by Welles, and the Mexican detective, played by Heston. As the story rolls on, Heston’s Vargas realizes that Welles’ Quinlan is a crooked and racist prick. As Vargas delves deeper in trying to solve the mystery, Quinlan fights back and takes action against Vargas and his wife. Ultimately, the film paints the white American police force as bigoted and corrupt while painting the Mexican detective as just and true with many of the Mexican characters being victimized by the corrupt white cops. I can see where this would have ruffled some feathers in the 1950s.

While not quite the masterpiece that Welles’ Citizen Kane is, Touch of Evil still greatly showcases Welles’ ability as a filmmaker and an auteur. He has a dark and brooding style that is remarkable and stands tall, in a way that is very uniquely his own. Truthfully, Welles was using a noir visual style before the genre even cemented itself into 1940s Americana.

Touch of Evil is a magnificent picture. It challenged social norms and still provided the world with a solid film-noir, as the genre was coming to its end. It doesn’t feel derivative or like something we’ve seen before, which is pretty impressive, nearly two decades into this genre’s peak in popularity.

Rating: 9.5/10

Film Review: The ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ Film Series, Part I (1984-1987)

A Nightmare On Elm Street was my favorite horror film series, as a kid. Today, it still ranks up there and I consider it to be the best of the big horror franchises of the 80s. Sure, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Hellraiser and several others are great but nothing is as imaginative and as creative as the world Freddy Krueger lives in.

Freddy Krueger is a force of nature, in the films and in reality. He went on to be a pop culture icon and even had the highest grossing independent film of all-time.. twice!

In this review, I will cover the first three films in the franchise.

A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984):

Release Date: November 9th, 1984
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Wes Craven
Based on: characters by Wes Craven
Music by: Charles Bernstein
Cast: Robert Englund, John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri, Johnny Depp, Robert Shaye (voice, uncredited)

New Line Cinema, Media Home Entertainment, Smart Egg Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

The original film was written and directed by the series creator, Wes Craven. This is the film that cemented Craven as a horror maestro. While he had some solid successes before A Nightmare On Elm Street, this film was his first massive hit.

Being created during the height of practical effects, this film features some technical marvels from a filmmaking standpoint. Craven and his crew used several rotating sets to achieve a few different effects and it turned out to be pretty stellar. Also, they were very inventive on how to achieve things visually on a film with such a small budget. This film is a must-see for any film student just for the special effects alone.

In regards to the horror, this is the scariest film out of any of the Elm Street movies. It is dark, it exudes terror and Freddy is a lot more sinister in this. He gets funnier as the series rolls on and almost becomes a twisted anti-hero.

In the first film, he is still frightening. Robert Englund was the perfect actor for the role of Freddy Krueger and he would get more comfortable with the character in each installment. But whether it was Englund not being too comfortable yet, Craven’s direction or both – the character of Freddy is on a different level of dread in this chapter.

Heather Langenkamp was great as Nancy and was always a delight every time she showed up in one of these movies. Johnny Depp was pretty decent as Glen and this was his first film. Amanda Wyss did good in the role of Tina. The film also featured John Saxon, formerly from Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon and the Canadian slasher film Black Christmas, as Nancy’s dad and the top cop on the Springwood police force.

While this film is a technically savvy and paved the way for a lucrative franchise, I found the ending to be odd and kind of pointless. Nancy basically wins by telling Krueger that she takes away any power she gave him and he disappears into a cloud of dissipating photons.. or something. Her mother then sinks into her bed as a skeleton, waving goodbye. It was probably fine for the time but it plays horribly today. It just feels obvious that Craven hadn’t really thought the ending through before shooting it. Besides, Nancy defeating Freddy by ignoring him wasn’t really effective, as we got five more sequels in the regular series, A New Nightmare, Freddy vs. Jason and a remake years later.

Rating: 9/10

A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985):

Release Date: November 1st, 1985
Directed by: Jack Sholder
Written by: David Chaskin
Based on: characters by Wes Craven
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Robert Englund, Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Rusler, Clu Gulager, Hope Lange, Marshall Bell, Lyman Ward, Robert Shaye (uncredited)

New Line Cinema, Smart Egg Pictures, Heron Communications, 85 Minutes

Review:

Freddy’s Revenge or as it should be retitled, Freddy’s Big Gay Hilarious Gangbang, is a bizarre movie. It ignores the rules established in the first film in an effort to be completely different and to not retread the same story. While I respect the filmmakers’ efforts in not making a clone film, all it did was create a lot of confusion about the established rules and mythos.

The main character is Jesse Walsh (played by Mark Patton). Jesse is a loner and an outcast but weirdly, the hot ginger girl in school likes him.. a lot. In fact, she deals with way too much of his shit and Freddy’s shit just over her high school crush. Besides that, Jesse wants to spend more time with his new guy friend, Ron. He even runs away to Ron’s house after he freaks out about the girl being ready to bang him.

Many consider this to be the gayest horror film of all-time and rightfully so. It is amazing at just how gay it is and that’s not a knock, it is actually pretty fucking cool.

From Jesse and Ron wrestling each other’s pants off, to Jesse’s flamboyant sexual dance while cleaning his room, to the leather bar, to the school coach getting murdered while being tied to shower pipes as his ass is repeatedly slapped by a towel, to Jesse constantly whining about Freddy being “inside him”, to Jesse wanting to sleep in Ron’s room, to Jesse screaming like a girl, to Freddy emerging from Jesse’s body during one of the most obligatory gay exchanges in cinematic history, this is certainly a pretty gay but extraordinarily fabulous movie. Wikipedia has more information on the homoerotic subtext here.

The film lacked almost everything that made the first film scary. However, it had some of the best effects. For instance, the aforementioned scene where Freddy emerges from Jesse’s body was insane and still plays pretty well today. Even if Jesse’s body was replaced by a robotic dummy, it was there, on the set, and it looked more real than anything modern CGI can do.

Freddy’s Revenge is a bizarre installment to the series but the bizarreness is what makes it special, unique and definitely worth a watch.

Rating: 7/10

A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987):

Release Date: February 27th, 1987
Directed by: Chuck Russell
Written by: Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont, Chuck Russell
Based on: characters by Wes Craven
Music by: Angelo Badalamenti, Dokken
Cast: Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Patricia Arquette, Laurence Fishburne, John Saxon, Priscilla Pointer, Craig Wasson, Ken Sagoes, Rodney Eastman, Jennifer Rubin, Bradley Gregg, Ira Heiden, Penelope Sudrow, Dick Cavett, Zsa Zsa Gabor

New Line Cinema, Smart Egg Pictures, Heron Communications, 96 Minutes

Review:

Dream Warriors is my favorite film in the series. Wes Craven came back to write the story, which was then tweaked and fleshed out by Frank Darabont (The Walking Dead, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Mist, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and so many other projects).

This chapter pretty much ignores the second film, it goes back to the rules and mythos of the first movie and expands on it. It brings back old characters, introduces new characters and blends them together well. You care about the old, you care about the new and there is almost perfect harmony with the cast.

This is my favorite group of teens out of any of the films. Actually, they are my favorite group of any teen group from any horror film ever. They were all unique, interesting and had a great dynamic.

The film introduced us to Patrica Arquette as the lead heroine Kristen. It also brought back Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon as Nancy and her father. Laurence Fishburne shows up in this as an orderly at the rehab center where the teens are.

This movie introduces the concept of being able to control dreams in an effort to combat Freddy. Each teen also has a special power or skill set that makes their interactions with Krueger more interesting.

The one thing this film did, that set the stage for every film after it, is that the dream sequences got really elaborate and a lot more creative. We didn’t just have some guy taking teens to a boiler room in their mind in an effort to slash them to bits. We now had Freddy using their fears and things about them to torture them in unique ways. You like puppets? Well, you get strung up by your tendons like a puppet. You like TV? Well, you get killed by a TV. You like titties? Well, titties lure you to Freddy.

Dream Warriors is the perfect Elm Street film. It has everything and it also stars the most iconic characters in the series and opens the door for the future of the franchise.

Rating: 9.5/10

*Continued in Part II.