Sinister Summer: Dream Warriors

“Welcome to prime time” in the final article of my 2021 Sinister Summer series. This month’s article is covering the much lauded tertiary installment in the A Nightmare on Elm Street (ANOES) franchise Dream Warriors written by Wes Craven & Bruce Wagner (Maps to the Stars) and directed by Chuck Russell (The Blob, 1988), with returning ANOES stars Heather Langenkamp reprising her iconic role as the (in my opinion) definitive final girl Nancy Thompson, John Saxon as her father and the now disgraced former police Detective Thompson, Patricia Arquette in her breakout role, Laurence (credited as Larry) Fishburne, and of course Robert Englund as the terrifying and hilarious nightmare-inducing Freddy Krueger! Talk about a powerhouse cast! It’s not often that a sequel can rival the original installment in a horror franchise, much less the third installment. But A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (from hereon out Dream Warriors), is a heavy hitter that some even argue is better than the first one (a sentiment that I don’t share); however, it is certainly on par with the original, and that is largely due to the outstanding writing of Wes Craven. Dream Warriors is not simply a great horror film, it’s a great film period! And it’s Craven screenplays like the original, Dream Warriors, and New Nightmare that cement him as one of the great horror screenwriters of all time, not to mention his brilliant direction in the SCREAM franchise (particularly the original and SCRE4M). While cinema academics and critics can argue all day long which is better (I or III), what both camps of subject matter experts can agree on is that THIS is the film that transformed Freddy from great horror villain to the revered, timeless icon of the horror genre that he is!

For those of you who haven’t seen this excellent work of horror cinema (what are you waiting for?!?). Expanding the story universe, the action takes place outside of the titular address 1428 Elm Street this time around; and instead focuses on a bunch of Springfield teens who occupy the local psychiatric institute. These teens are the last of the Elm Street children, and all suffer from various sleep disorders. The clinic’s answer: keep them doped up on dream blocking drugs (hypnocil). Nancy Thompson is now a graduate student at the institution whom specializes in sleep disorders. Through a series of accidents, she realizes that the patients are being hunted by Freddy Krueger in their dreams. Over the years, the stories of Freddy and the kills from seven years prior are all but the stuff of legend, and so Freddy has lost much of his power because no one remembers (or fears) him. That is all about to change when he figures out how to gain his former strength. Nancy becomes a de facto general as she leads her Dream Warriors into battle against the malevolent Freddy IN the dream realm.

The Dream Master is back, and with all the one-liners and signature kills that are on brand for him! Having seen his beloved character completely misinterpreted in the first sequel (Freddy’s Revenge, which was panned by critics but has sense seen a cult following within the gay community because of the homoeroticism in it), it was completely understandable that he wanted to return as the Godfather of Freddy this time around. He took on both co-writer and executive producer duties. Sharing story by and screenwriting credits with Bruce Wagner. The film’s director Chuck Russell also contributed to the script but only officially holds the director credit–not a bad deal. Before the first draft of Dream Warriors was written by Wes Craven, he conceived of an idea that the film’s characters be self-aware and the plot would play around with the idea of knowing what the horror tropes are and play it to both dark comedy and tragedy. New Line did not go for the idea, and said it wouldn’t work. Gee, a Craven-helmed self-aware horror movie that plays around with horror tropes to create a meta horror movie? Nah, that’ll never work. It would be another seven years before we would get meta horror in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and nine years before SCREAM.

The final product of Dream Warriors differs greatly from Craven’s original ideas and screenplay for the film, which was much darker in tone (even darker than Freddy’s Revenge). In fact, the characters themselves were quite different in Craven’s original script. For example, Freddy does not have his trademark one-liners, so yes that means no “welcome to prime time, bitch!” (arguably his most Freddy line out of the whole series). Instead, he was much more brutal and violent, and even more graphic in how he taunted and terrorized the teens. The two elements that all, involved in the writing of this film, agreed on was that the teens would have special powers when in the Dream World with Freddy and the plot should include Nancy Thompson. When it was conceived to bring the teens into Freddy’s dream world, Craven questioned “why would Freddy be the only one to have powers here?” So the Dream Warriors were born. New Line eventually ordered a rewrite of the script to increase Freddy’s memorable, twisted sense of humor and witty one-liners and to transform the screenplay from an action-driven plot to a character-driven one. And it’s that character-driven nature of Dream Warriors that gives it the high level of quality that it has. It’s not just about Freddy or his kills, but it’s about the emotional hero journey of these vulnerable teens.

Responsible for the rewrites were Russell and Wagner. Analyzing the screenplay itself, it is clear that both Russell and Wagner were knowledgable in not only the previous two ANOES movies, but the nuance of the horror genre itself. Much more than in the original film, the rewrites also show a penchant for integrating pop culture influences into the dream-state personalities of the characters; and it’s the obsession with pop culture that ultimately contributes to their demise. Among other narrative elements, Russell and Wagner are particularly responsible for the demographic makeup of the teens that we get in the final product by changing many of the ages, sexes, and ethnicities of them. And talk about diversity in ethnicity, physical ability, intelligence, and gender! Jennifer, the young girl obsessed with TV and becoming an actress in Hollywood. Will, the young man confined to a wheelchair who is a huge nerd Dungeons and Dragons geek. Phillip, a young man who loves to create marionette puppets. Taryn, a former heroin addict looking to stay clean and sober. Joey, the quieter one in the group but incredibly horny for the ladies. Kristen (Arquette), who dreams of being an olympic gymnast and has a special kind of ESP that connects her with others. And Kincaid, a tough, short-tempered, and at times violent teen with a sarcastic sense of humor. Outside of Nancy, the other important adults include the often misinterpreted Nurse Ratched-like Dr. Simms, whom really is doing what she thinks is medically best for the teens to help them recover. And Max (Fishburne), the brave orderly.

Dream Warriors‘ screenplay is incredibly lean, and wastes no time in establishing the world of the disturbed teens before launching the audience, full-throttle, into the action plot. For starters, the opening scene of Dream Warriors is fantastic! I would put it up there with the opening to SCREAM, although SCREAM is at the top of my list of best openings–not just in horror-but in all of cinema. The opening to Dream Warriors is perfect because it re-introduces us to Freddy, including his grisly past and insight into the epic, terrifying dream world he creates for his victims. Furthermore, we get an elaboration on his backstory, including more insight into his fiery earthly death and his origin as “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs.” Adding to his intriguing, horrific origin is the idea that his mother was a nun, which is a terrifying idea that this horrific figure could have been spawned by any number of madmen raping a nun. All this adds to Freddy’s mythos and is perfectly accompanied by the iconic ANOES score. All these storytelling elements work together to set the tone for a masterful work of horror cinema. One that is more concerned with the characters, themes, and social commentary than merely the elaborate, entertaining, showman-like kills and memorable one-liners.

Showing the depth and complexity of the American horror film, this film tackles the tough, taboo subject of teen suicide. While teen suicide remains an issue today, it was more pronounce in the 1980s. Beyond after-school-specials and PSAs, this was a difficult subject for films (certainly at that time) to tackle. But when there is a tough subject to tackle, leave it to the American horror film to provide insight into and comment on it in unique ways. Much like Nancy and the Dream Warriors face their worst nightmares, the horror battles tough subjects face on! Not only does Dream Warriors tackle teen suicide, it also tackles drug addiction, broken families, self-esteem, and identity issues. A close reading of the imagery associated with the trauma experienced by the teens can be read as a metaphor of adolescence, transitioning from childhood into adulthood. Whether experiencing direct or implied trauma from Freddy, their family, friends, or the hospital staff, the teens endure gaslighting, imprisonment, mental rape, and attempted murder (and times, murder itself) all within the confines and intimacy of the mind. One can easily make the argument that Dream Warriors is a clever PSA on these subjects masquerading around as a horror movie.

Langenkamp’s Nancy’s return to the series showed us more mature side of Nancy. Gone was the shy girl turned bad ass from the original; now she truly was a survivor! And in Dream Warriors, she is the only adult authority figure that actually takes the time to listen to the teens, which is what ultimately points her in the direction of Freddy. Interestingly, her care for these teens evolves into a sort of maternal role in this film. Throughout this film (and franchise) there are images of mothers (and parental figures) that are explored through the conflicts, kills, and dreams. We know that Nancy had an absent mother before she got fired, so Nancy is striving to be the mother to these teens that she never had. While Detective Thompson is washed up at the beginning of this film, and took him a while to come around to Nancy’s plight in the original, he is actually one of the better parents (and fathers) we have in horror. And this film gives him a sort of redemption arc that I greatly appreciate.

Nancy also demonstrates the ability to be in a constant state of learning, even though she is a subject matter expert graduate student in this film. But Nancy is not without her own vulnerabilities. She may have exchanged her pink rose pajamas for 80s power suits, but she is still the same Nancy. Despite her more mature, calm, collected exterior, she is still haunted by her former Freddy nightmares and the ordeal from seven years prior. This makes her character incredibly relatable because she isn’t (and neither is anyone else in the movie) a superhero, she isn’t morally/ethically perfect, she is a flawed person like you and me. But she is harnessing the energy of these fears and flaws, and channeling them into making a difference in the lives (and dreams) of these teens.

The film is called Dream Warriors for a reason, and that reason is because each of the tormented teens gains supernatural power in Freddy’s dream world. And it’s not some arbitrary super power–no–it’s a power that is an answer to their vices and weaknesses. One of the common themes of horror is perceived powerlessness. And there is no better franchise for exploring powerlessness than ANOES because Freddy attacks you when you are your most vulnerable–when you’re sleeping. And we must all sleep at some point–it is unavoidable. Except in this film, his victims band together to battle Freddy on his own turf. While most of them wind up dead–after all, we are usually left with the final girl in slashers–they do not go down without a valiant fight! Through their nightmares, they show that they can overcome that which torments them. On the surface, they are fighting Freddy, but really, they are fighting their own personal demons that have traumatized them.

Now, it wouldn’t be ANOES movie without Freddy’s magnificently creative kills and catchy one-liners. And Dream Warriors has some of the best kills in the entire franchise! I do not have time to go through each of them, but I just have to highlight my absolute favorite Freddy kill and one-liner of all time. Not only is it mine, but this kill and accompanying one-liners are often in the Top 5 and even Top 3 from fans, critics, and scholars alike. And it’s Jennifer’s Welcome to Primetime kill!

The beauty of this particular kill lies not only in its simplicity, but in this scenes’s energy and showmanship that is 100% trademark Freddy from beginning to end! Jennifer is trying to stay awake by watching television in the TV room. Max comes in to escort her to bed because it’s late, but she begs him to let her stay up a little while longer. Reluctantly, he agrees to let her stay up and watch TV but he warns her that if she’s caught that he won’t help her out. She agrees and Max leaves. Thinking that the TV alone may not be enough to keep her awake, she burns herself with a cigarette. While much of this film could very well happen today, we get a totally 80s moment here with Jennifer watching the Dick Cavett Show featuring an interview with (and cameo by) the legendary Zsa Zsa Gabor! During the interview, Dick turns into Freddy and slashes at Ms. Gabor! Then the TV turns to that static screen that we don’t get anymore. Confused by what is happening and at the sounds of those all-too-familiar Freddy victim screams, Jennifer gets up and turns the channel knob, but it does seem to fix the problem. Angry at the TV, Jennifer smacks it and suddenly two razor-clawed mechanical arms burst out of the side and pick up Jennifer. Then Freddy’s TV antennae-wearing head emerges from the top of the TV and makes cinema history by saying, “this is it Jennifer, your big break…welcome to primetime, bitch!” Then smashes Jennifer’s head into the TV. And it is likely due to that kill and line that Freddy continued to develop more of a twisted sense of humor throughout the series. Of course, too much of a good thing is a bad thing, which we also see in the subsequent installments.

If Welcome to Primetime is the film’s (and possibly series’) best kill, this next kill is the most shocking out of the series. And it’s the death of final girl Nancy Thompson. Even though Nancy goes out as a ballsy warrior, it was completely unexpected that she would die. But that death made her return in New Nightmare all the better! In dying, Nancy successfully passes on the torch of the Elm Street protector to Kristen. While Freddy’s motivation for killing the other Elm Street teens in this movie is an extension of what drove him to murder the teens in the previous installments, his motivation for killing Nancy was more than revenge brought on by his death at the hands of the Elm Street parents; it was revenge for doing the impossible–defeating him by taking away the source of his strength: her fear. While it was “nothing personal” in the other murders, his desire to kill Nancy was very personal.

Dream Warriors was a hit with both critics and fans! How often do you hear that with horror movies, much less sequels. In fact, in my opinion as a film professor specializing in the American horror film, I argue that the best films in the ANOES franchise are: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Dream Warriors, New Nightmare, and Freddy vs Jason. The final script was praised highly for its pacing, thoughtful commentary, character development, and imagery. With a higher budget thanks to the successes of the original and Freddy’s Revenge, the special effects and set design were cutting edge! This is especially true of the scenes in Freddy’s Hell. Is the film flawless? No. However the few flaws the film does have in no way detract from the cinematic experience of the story. More than 30 years old, this film is widely considered to be among the best horror films of all time, and will continue to be the stuff of nightmares for decades to come.

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Ryan teaches American and World Cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

“FREAKY” Horror Movie Review

Friday the 13th meets Freaky Friday in the no-holds-barred, feel good horror movie of the year! Universal Pictures has certainly gone back to its horror roots in 2020. In February, it gave us The Invisible Man and on Friday the 13th of November, it gives us FREAKY. Writer-director Christopher Landon, who gave us many horror movies including Happy Death Day and Disturbia, delivers a refreshing horror movie filled with inventive kills, a fun plot, and frisky characters. Everything that you love about 80s slashers is here in this love letter to the horror subgenre that still brings friends together today. Funny how horror movies–movies filled with that which would repulse us in real life–have the opposite effect of promoting inclusiveness and community. And it’s that sense of community that separates horror, specifically the slasher, from other film genres. There was a magic in the decade of 80s horror that continues to greatly influence content creators and fans today. Landon knew this, and channeled so much of what made the slasher take the world by storm into this movie. While FREAKY is an entertaining movie regardless, it will be the nods to movies such as Friday the 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Child’s Play that will inevitably bring about the nostalgic thrill ride that Landon carefully crafted! Starting out as a masked killer, Vince Vaughn soon delivers the laughs as he captures every nuance of a mousey, bullied teenage girl trapped in a middle-aged man’s body. Likewise, Kathryn Newton perfectly captures a notorious slasher trapped inside a teenage girl’s body. Perhaps FREAKY is a little lite on the lessons learned from the body swap achieved through a Child’s Play-like mystic ritual, but Newton’s Millie does learn confidence. From the opening, that’s clearly an homage to the shock of SCREAM, through the hijinks and antics to the climactic ending, there is something for everyone in this movie–especially for geeky horror fiends like myself!

A mystical, ancient dagger causes a notorious serial killer to magically switch bodies with a 17-year-old girl. (IMDb)

That’s it. Simple, right? Some of the best movies of all time have simple plots and complex characters. Okay, so FREAKY may not have incredibly complex characters, but what it lacks in dimension, it makes up in a diverse cast plus doubling down on its identity as a genre film. Horror movies have long since been the most progressive of all the genres, and Landon keeps this value alive in his latest movie. Even before mainstream movies began including strong female characters, critiquing toxic jock culture, and including non-parodied LGBT+ characters, horror was a leader in inclusion and diversity. Has it too evolved over the years, of course; but my point is that it’s always been the leader. Using a reimagination of Freaky Friday as a slasher as the foundation, the movie is able to get incredibly creative with the conflict, character dynamics, and the kills! It is unlikely that any of these kills will make Top 10 lists one day, but they are mostly homages to past kills from tentpole horror movies. Is the plot predictable? Yes. But does that take away from the entertaining factor? Definitely not. This movie knows what it is, and delivers the laughs and squeamish winces in spades! Predictable as the plot may be, it is not without its unique twists and turns. I appreciate how those that are killed by either THE Blissfield Butcher or Murder Barbie are bullies in one way or another. Perhaps this movie doesn’t go very deep, but it’s certainly a cautionary tale on the deadly consequences of direct and indirect bullying and assault.

If you go into this movie wanting something completely new, then you’re going in with the wrong attitude. If you want to see a new twist on a foundational part of horror cinema, then you’ve come to the right movie! It’s been quite a while since there has been such an unapologetically fun movie in cinemas, and this is precisely the antidote to uplift the geeky horror spirit!

PS. Can we please stop using the Mystic Falls (Covington, GA) town square from Vampire Diaries in every movie that needs a small town? At least this time, I couldn’t make out the Mystic Grill in the background like I could in Doctor Sleep.

Ryan teaches screenwriting and American cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

“IT: Chapter 2” Horror Movie Review

The larger, less terrifying chapter. Return to Derry, Maine with the Losers Club as they once again face the nightmarish clown Pennywise. With expectations set incredibly high from the critical and box office success of the first chapter, chapter 2 had some major clown shoes to fill. And was it successful? That is mostly up to the individual audience members; however, from a critical perspective, the second chapter falls short of the first one in both character and plot. While there are some scary moments (mostly driven by jump-scares) and some good character-driven moments, as a whole, the movie feels bloated for time, poorly paced, unintentionally campy, and not nearly as creepy as the first one. Even though I did not question the run time when it was announced, there is not enough plot to effectively justify the nearly 3-hour length of the movie. For example, you spend about a third of the movie in flashbacks that do little to advance the plot but thankfully provide some additional context for the characters. Although the movie chronologically takes place 27 years after the first one, it has only been two years for us, but the second chapter plays out as a sequel that is many years separated from the original. Whereas I am not impressed by the plot, I am incredibly impressed with the outstanding casting. The resemblance that the adult characters have to the teenage characters is uncanny. Solid performances all the way around, although none stick out to me as outstanding. Had this movie been in the neighborhood of 2-2.25hrs, then I believe that there would have been enough plot; but as it is, it was stretched too thin. I appreciated the original for expertly crafting the atmosphere of dread and delivering terrifyingly creepy moments not primarily reliant upon jump-scares; but this second chapter seems to fall victim to sequelitis and revert to using jump-scares more than the art of crafting suspense with the camera. At the end of the day, this is a fun way to kick off your Halloween season, but perhaps this isn’t THE movie that defines the Halloween horror season. Still, if you’re planning to attend Halloween Horror Nights Orlando or Hollywood, then this will still suffice as a solid way to kick off the season.

It’s been 27 years since the Losers Club thought they defeated IT. But Pennywise has returned to the sleepy town of Derry. Following the occurrences several mysterious missing children and teenagers and a Pennywise sighting, Mikey calls all his old friends back to Derry, with little explanation as to why, other than IT has returned. The group of old friends must band together and face their respective fears, past traumas, and deepest darkest secrets that have been eating away at them all these years.

If Derry was supposed to be characterized as a backwards town, then this movie does its job. I don’t think that anyone is going to desire to visit the quaint town steeped in death and bigotry. The opening of the movie is shocking, hooking you into the twisted world that is Derry, Maine. Unfortunately, the provocative opening feels largely disconnected from the rest of the  movie, except it serves to forcibly position Mikey in a place from where he sees Pennywise has returned to his hometown. The next sequence of scenes shows us the present lives of the members of the Losers Club and the reactions to the news that IT may not have been dead after all. Every one of the members of the Losers Club except for Mikey left the small town and built successful winning careers for themselves. Once the Losers Club is back together again, all hell breaks loose in the sleepy hamlet throws its worst at them. One of the disadvantages of one chapter having child actors and another chapter adult actors (portraying the same characters) is the increased risk of there being a disconnect between the audience and the characters. Moreover, that disconnect can affect the audience in such a way that the degree of empathy felt for a character mitigates. That is the case with IT Chapter 2. Since much of the character development was in Chapter One with the child actors, we are thrown back into this world with different actors and simply do not ultimately care deeply what happens to the characters. We care, but not as much as if we followed the same actors or we were provided with sufficient character development in this chapter. We simply don’t care enough about these characters (played by these incredible actors).

One of the cardinal rules of screenwriting that I feel IT Chapter 2 broke was allowing the flashback to encroach upon, if not become more interesting than the main story. Until a writer knows how to effectively use flashbacks, it is important to stay away from them because flashback abuse is all too easy. Few movies that make significant use of the flashback have done so in such a way the the stories are just as interesting as each other or make the main story even more intriguing. My go-to example of a film that makes brilliant use of flashbacks is the Americana classic Fried Green Tomatoes. The reason why flashbacks work in that movie is because both the stories from the past and present are just as interesting as one another; furthermore, the characters in the past help us to develop the characters in the present. Character development is strong all the way around, and the characters mirror one another in many respects. In short, the main plot is always moving forward, even the flashbacks provide direction for the main story. Unfortunately, the prolific use of flashbacks in IT: Chapter 2, come off as a lazy plot device that serves to drag down the pacing of the main story. In fact, there are so many flashbacks that are misused that it adds a signifiant amount of run time to the movie that could have been cut out to streamline the plot. Had there not been such a large sum of flashbacks, then the story may have exhibited better pacing and not felt so bloated just to be a nearly 3hr movie.

Seems like everyone wants to be a 3hr movie nowadays. The problem therein is that, in all likelihood, there lacks sufficient plot to cover three hours. It’s important for a writer to not only show scenes of characters facing conflict, but the writer needs to show the character’s reaction to the conflict. Much like with a screenplay as a whole, a well-written scene has a setup–conflict–resolution. This movie is often missing the resolution in the individual scenes. I still don’t know why we have the date gone wrong at the beginning of the movie other than to make the statement that this movie seeks to normalize that which should be seen as normal or that this is a progressive movie. Furthermore, we make the assumption from Chapter 1 that Richie is gay and even see some evidence to suggest it further in Chapter 2 as this is the deep dark secret that has been eating away at him for most of his life. Richie’s character-driven subplot and the opening scene could have been helped by including the scene from the book in which Bowers explores his sexuality with a friend because that would setup the inner conflict and denial that manifests itself in his treatment of Richie and violent behavior towards others. However, we never revisit this–what could’ve been an excellent–character moment. I think it’s great to have a diverse, inclusive cast of characters, but don’t start a subplot or setup character development that will go nowhere or is merely a plot device to explain something.

While horror movies are no strangers to camp, both literally and figuratively, this movie is unintentionally campy. A campy movie is one that intentionally contains extreme or perverse imagery that boasts an amusing quality that uses exaggerated genre or thematic tropes that over-emphasize an element of the movie. Camp is intentional. When camp is accidental, there is the chance that the director can capture lightning in a bottle, but that is not usually the cade. IT: Chapter 2 is not campy in the costuming, production design, or dialogue, but in the oversized monsters throughout the movie. From the giant old naked lady with her saggy boobs to the random Paul Bunyan statue coming to life, there are giant monsters seemingly everywhere. And it’s not simply the presence of the monsters, although I thought it reached ridiculous proportions, but the movement and purpose of them is what I call into question. The small creatures were great, but the large ones were not terrifying at all–more like laughable. Other than the initial jump scare, the monsters don’t help the level of terror at all.

Now, there is one scene in particular that is probably the scariest of all, and it’s the scene that takes place under the bleachers. I won’t go into spoilers. With all these monstrous creatures and jump-scares, the movie lacks in the same atmosphere of dread that made the first one work so incredibly well. It’s the little things that were scariest in the original. Speaking of the little things, Pennywise definitely stepped up his game in this one. There are so many nuances to his character and the performance that are terrifying–especially for those with a phobia of clowns. If any element is just as good, if not improved over chapter one, it is Pennywise, expertly portrayed by Bill Skarsgard.

Even though you may have to set your expectation bar a little lower, compared to the original, in order to best experience this horror movie, a true horror fan will still enjoy the movie. Perhaps not as much as the original, but it’s still a solid way to start the Halloween horror season. Speaking of which, Halloween Horror Nights Orlando and Hollywood open up this weekend! Consider starting with or pairing your theme park haunts with this movie.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa and teaches high school TV/Film production. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com!

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“The Forest” movie review

The ForestInto the woods…off to find a body. The Forest is a brilliant example of January’s reputation as a movie graveyard. Banking on its ability to over-utilize the cliche jump-scare to get a heightened emotional response from the audience, this film demonstrates little uniqueness in this sub-genre of horror; however, I gotta give it a little credit. It was successful in causing me to jump in my seat a few times and even cringe a little. If for no there reason, this film will possibly prompt you to lookup the legends of the Aokigahara Forest, surrounding the foothills and floor of famed and picturesque Mount Fuji in Japan. Starting off as a movie that feels as if it will have a slow burn but then pick up in the second and third acts, The Forest is more like an annoyingly dripping faucet that has a perpetual clog that you wish would eventually explode with excitement. There is definitely a sense of anticipation and anxiousness, but the movie fails to provide a thrilling release. The only intriguing element of the movie is that this fictional story is indirectly connected to true stories of the Aokigahara Forest. Unfortunately, the stories of people going into the forest with the intent to either commit or contemplate suicide is all too true. Furthermore, a friend of mine who lives in Japan told me that the forest really does seem to have a mystical power that compels people to harm themselves or others. Interesting. If you ever visit Aokigahara Forest, be sure to stay on the path and never remain in the forest after dark.

The Forest is about a young American woman named Sara (Natalie Dormer) who senses something has terribly befallen her identical twin sister Jessica. With the intent on finding her sister, Sara flies to Japan and begins to investigate the whereabouts of Jessica. Learning of the legends surrounding the mystical Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mount Fuji, Sara starts to develop a plan to rescue her. Unfortunately, the reputation of the forest scares the locals so much that she is unable to find anyone to help her. Just when all hope is nearly lost, Sara meets local Austrailian travel expert and writer Aiden (Taylor Kinney) and he contacts his guide friend Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) to lead them into the dark and twisted pathways of the forest. Against the recommendation of locals and Michi, Sara and Aiden remain in the forest after dark to find Jessica, but they have no idea that they are about to encounter the tormented souls of those who are looking to add to their numbers.

The characters aren’t the only ones who stray from the pathway, the film itself strays from the pathway of a well-paced and developed plot. I am not sure if the movie is supposed to be self-reflexive in that it is about exploring dark, repressed memories that subconsciously torment the soul or if it supposed to be a superficial cliche horror flick that provides an hour and a half of mild to moderate entertainment. From poorly written dialog to including too many poorly placed flashbacks, this film is all over the place. I have often commented on my dislike for films that rely on flashbacks to support or tell the story. Every once in a while, there come films that actually utilize the flashback in a way that works extremely well–but those are few and far between–this is definitely not one of them. The first several minutes of the film feels like a ping pong match because the audience is constantly tossed back and forth between present day and 20-30 year old flashbacks.

I feel strongly that this is a horror film that could have really used much more character development for Sarah. Not that horror films are the place to find development amongst its lead characters, but the story being told here was actually a good platform for integrating that element into the narrative. It’s almost like the writers were going that direction, but failed to see it through. Films like this one are not produced to add to the artistic medium of visual storytelling or offer up any degree of legitimate critical value, but still these types of horror films should continue to the library of other horror films by adding something new–even a small contribution. That being said, the fact that the film does integrate true elements of local folklore and true stories of suicide in the forest does give the film a little something that many do not have–a direct connection to the horrific reality of a place that anyone can visit on their trip to Mount Fuji. After talking with my expatriate friend who resides in Japan, I do look at this film a little different since the narrative appears to hit very close to home for many who live with news of the dark side of that forest as part of their lives.

For what it’s worth, it’s a fun movie to watch if you are looking for some cheap scares. Like with most horror films, it is best enjoyed or appreciated in a group setting.

Unfriended

Unfriended-posterBe careful what you post. Universal Pictures’ Unfriended is a new breed of horror that will have you terrified from beginning to end. Despite watching, what amounts to FaceTime/Skype, iMessage windows, and Safari the entire time, this film will keep you on the edge of your seat as the horror unfolds and the mystery comes closer to being solved. The studio that essentially invented the American horror film is back to the forefront of the minds of movie-going audiences everywhere with this spine-tingling and groundbreaking method of visual and visceral storytelling for the screen. A new take on the tried and true ‘ghost vengeance’ horror plot, Unfriended will have you completely hooked from the time the entity shows up in the group video chat. Of course, you will likely be asking yourself throughout the movie ‘with friends like these, who needs enemies?’ Although this is a revolutionary new concept, I feel strongly it should remain a one-time thing.

Unfriended is about a group of friends who encounter what they feel is a glitch in their group video chat. It isn’t long before the group deduces that the glitch is a molevolant individual hell-bent on seeking revenge for a shaming video that was posted to to the internet one year prior that was also the driving force behind a local high school girl’s suicide. With all the friends denying that they had anything to do with the video and gross taunting and shaming, the “ghost” engages them in a little game of “never have I ever…” that has deadly consequences.

This is one of those horror films that is pretty well straight forward. So, I don’t really have a whole lot to critique. The direction, writing, and score were excellent and the pacing of the film was spot-on. It’s a very well crafted and produced horror film that will likely become a cult favorite of those who appreciate and thoroughly enjoy this genre. Although there isn’t any traditional cinematography in the film, the camera acts as the eyes of one of the characters as we stare at her computer screen the entire time, and effectively communicates the focus of a given point in the story. One of the technical elements that stands out to me is the editing. Now, on one hand, it does not look like an incredible amount of talent and time would go into a film such as this; but, that is the beauty of high quality editing. The fact that it does not feel “edited” is proof that the editor did an excellent job in cutting the thrilling narrative together. My biggest negative critique in the production is the fact the respective wifi signals weren’t disabled when the power goes out. Unless each of the characters was using a battery powered hotspot or had a cellular/data signal in their computers, when the power disconnected, the wireless internet signal should have died too.

Although there isn’t really much in the way of character development, each of the characters can be read as possessing one of more of the infamous ‘seven deadly sins.’ This metaphoric perspective can be extended to the manner in which the various characters die during the movie. One of the characters possesses the “sins” of gluttony and sloth very clearly, another exhibits traits of wrath and greed, one of the friends is very prideful, showing acute signs of the sin of envy are seen in one of the main characters, and the sins of lust and bearing false witness (yes, I’m aware this isn’t one of the “deadly sins”) is demonstrably shown by the main protagonist. The aforementioned character traits are showcased throughout the narrative and are directly related to how each of the characters die. Yes, even the virgin dies in this film that breaks away from many horror tropes.

Gather a group of friends and head to the movies to be thrilled during this horror film for the social media enthusiasts. Watch as high school drama goes way overboard and has deadly consequences. This is definitely a great date movie because I guarantee that you will be able to put on the “movie move” (as coined by Carmike Cinemas). If you don’t know what that is, you probably need to go on more dates.

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