Monday, April 14, 2014

"Hey Good Lookin' "(1982) d/ Ralph Bakshi

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Following the success of Heavy Traffic the previous year, Ralph Bakshi began work on tonight's review, a feature that would incorporate animated main characters who would interact with a live-action supporting cast, initially completing the film in 1975 for Warner Brothers, who repeatedly postponed and pushed the project back for various reasons, until it was finally granted a limited release seven years later as a much different film than the one it began as. I remember excitedly snagging a VHS copy off the shelves at Wyoming Valley Video, a favorite hole-in-the-wall shop of mine at the end of an avenue strip mall in the eighties, only to walk away feeling mostly indifferent about the entire experience in the end. I really hadn't watched it in thirty years or so, but since we're on a Bakshi kick here of late at the Wop, and my recalcitrant Libran values demanded a revisit before casting a final judgmental stone, here we are...

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Oblivious to Mr. Kotter's pleas, Barbarino prepped for the big rumble with Boom Boom.
We see a garbage can and some trash having an existential debate before the trash hears an epiphany or an approaching garbage truck, and hops on, shouting "Fuck this city!". What an opening. In 1980's Brooklyn a shadowy figure rendezvous with a washed-up-on-the-beach (Eyyy-yo, Slade!) dame under a streetlamp, throwing her a chunk of biker leather, which she sobs over as he takes us back to the fifties, and the coat's origins. Vinnie (Richard Romanus) is the leader of a gang called The Stompers, his best friend is a Joker-esque cat called "Crazy" Shapiro (David Proval) whose homicidal father is a badge named Solly (Angelo Grisanti). When Vinnie's attempted coitus with a local kosher dish named Roz (Tina Bowman- later Romanus) is interrupted by her smothering papa (he chains her to her bed), the guys score some hookers and crash on the beach, waking up in the middle of a mafiosi beach party that Crazy eventually beats to death in a bloody brawl. On the run, Vinnie bumps into none other than Boogaloo Jones (Philip Michael Thomas), the head of the Chaplains, on the black side of the beach, leading to an inevitable rumble.

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"When Milton Berle Ran with Street Gangs" will return after these messages...
After Crazy ices a couple of Chaplains while on a double date with Vinnie, Roz, and Eva, his father investigates the murders and is pointed towards the Stompers by Boogaloo. Roz tells Crazy that his best pal is ditching town, making him the new head of the gang, entitled to her goodies as such, and he breaks himself off a warehouse piece upon hearing the news. Solly makes the scene and beats his son like a rutabaga until he sells Vinnie down the river over the double moidahs. As Vinnie's about to break the eff out like the measles, he unwittingly bumps into his old crew as they're about to rumble with the Chaplains. Crazy lives up to his nickname and busts wild shots from a nearby rooftop just as his old man is about to arrest Vinnie, and in a surreal swirl of psychedelia, swan dives on top of the detective, killing them both. As a heartbroken Roz makes a song request for her lost love, Vinnie leaves the city. Back in the eighties, the overweight has-been reveals herself as Roz and fingers the shadowy stranger as Vinnie, who decides to stick around this time, bringing the story to a happy ending of sorts...

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I think you know which side of the beach towel I'd be on.
There are a lot of good ideas and nice visuals here, but they seem disjointed by time, and further hindered by an unflattering, mismatched score that wears a synth-soaked eighties stamp even when recalling sounds from three decades earlier. Bakshi probably should have paid the licensing fees for the original tunes he wanted on the soundtrack, for better results. I would have liked to see the live action sequences with Yaphet Kotto and the New York Dolls that were ultimately cut from the film, too. When talking about this one, I find myself saying "I would have liked" more often than any of the other Bakshi films, and that ought to tell you something. On the scale, Good Lookin' earns a pair of Wops; not entirely unattractive, by anyone's standards, but far from gorgeous.

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"Somebody dosed Kid Creole's drink! Get the Coconuts, he's freaking out!"
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Sunday, April 13, 2014

"To Kill A Mastermind" (1979) d/ Sun Chung

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1979 was a productive year for Shaw Brothers director, Sun Chung, who'd planted his martial flag the previous year with the epic Avenging Eagle, starring Ti Lung, Fu Sheng, and Ku Feng. Tonight's review is the third of his efforts from the decade's end, with The Deadly Breaking Sword and The Kung Fu Instructor preceding. Mastermind has always been the most difficult of the three to score a decent print of, having been unavailable in anything clearer than a ghostly VHS print with cut-off subtitles and a bootlegged rip from Chinese YouTube for what seems like forever. Don't let the mostly unknown cast scare you off,  this one's got a little bit of everything, from one of Ku Feng's "Avenging Eagle" metal claw-gloves to dart-shooting backpacks to  modified Venom Mob masks. Besides, where else are you gonna catch Johnny Wang Lung Wei, strawberry variant?

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"Poison Clan? No, no, no, we're the Seven Evil Spirits Clan. This isn't the Snake, Number Two's mask, either."
Some eight years earlier, a failed attempt by the Imperial Court to bring down the murderous Qisha gang sent it's surviving chief into anonymous seclusion, where he plotted to raise his syndicate from the ashes back to criminal prominence. Now, with the Qisha receiving orders from their mastermind through an elaborate Electric Company-esque gold ball maze in their secret headquarters, they have again become the target of the court and Lord Yang, who has enlisted a spy among the ranks of their eight chiefs, setting up an ambush for their ranks after intercepting gang orders, raising the levels of mistrust and dissent among the bandits and to ultimately flush out the titular mastermind, whose identification is unknown even to his own chiefs.

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"Of course, I haven't the balls to call Wang Lung Wei 'Strawberry Shortcake', are you kidding?"
Despite their array of flashy, hidden weapons, the Qisha chieftains fall one by one to Yang's carefully concealed counterintelligence, and he fells a large stone effigy of each bandit with a rope noose with every successful mission. With trust disintegrating as rapidly as their numbers, it isn't long before the Clan Leader reveals himself to be...Wang Lung Wei! Big surprise there, right? He of the strawberry hair streaks in turn, reveals his insidious plot to flush out the spy, while blowing up Clan HQ with most of Yang's army inside, and when he flexes his shoulder muscle to send a sword blade flying out of his torso into a nearby clay pot, destroying it instantly, you just know this cat isn't effing around anymore. What follows is a wild wushu finale, that you're gonna have to see for yourselves.

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At that moment, Zan and Jayna both realized they'd left Gleek out in the hot car with all the windows up. 
 Though widely considered a box office flop, Mastermind is an excellent showcase of everything one could love about Sun Chung movies: excellent swordplay and fights (choreographed by Shaw reg Tang Chia), with his trademark picturesque wide shots and dramatic slo mo sequences at the height of the martial mayhem up on the screen. Perhaps competing with the genre hits of the day like Jackie Chan's Fearless Hyena, Samo Hung's Magnificent Butcher, and Fu Sheng's Proud Twins, combined with the audience's unfamiliarity with most of the cast proved too great a task, but to Chung's credit, he gets memorable performances from everyone involved. Interestingly, among those formidable Qisha chiefs are Lo Chun and Lo Sheng, brothers in real life of Venom Mob strongman, Lo (The Toad) Meng. Needless to say, this one should not be missed, at any cost. On the scale, Mastermind schemes and plots its way to three Wops, and comes highly recommended. Catch it!

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"I'll give you some strawberry shortcake, you bastard!"
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Friday, April 11, 2014

"Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde" (1975) d/ William Crain

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Watching the vintage trailer for tonight's review, another slice of blaxploitative horror from the guy who served up the likes of Blacula to cult audiences three years earlier, might leave you in a mad jones to hunt down the 35th Anniversary release (which should only set you back a couple of bucks at the time I'm writing this), what with all the rappin' narration, afro-coiffed homeboys gettin' chucked through plate glass windows, and promise of  further goings on of a freaky, outta sight nature within. Who'd blame you? You've got former 1968 L.A. Ram Pro Bowler and head Gargoyle himself, Bernie Casey, in the lead, ably supported by Rosalind "Omega Man" Cash, Marie O'Henry, and prolific tv actor Ji-Tu Cumbuka as a police lieutenant whose dryly intelligent quips predate Jules Winnfield by two decades, but recall Samuel L. Jackson's famous performance just the same. Casey's inner homicidal honkey-by-night was created by none other than Stan Winston, who teamed up with Ellis Burman on Casey's reptilian look on the aforementioned made-for-tv cult classic, Gargoyles.

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"I'm hep to your atitis, Linda.", says Dr. Pride (Casey).
Dr. Pride (Casey) works slavishly towards a cure for the liver disease that took his mother, heating beakers full of Kool Aid and turning brown rats into homicidal white ones in his laboratory, when he isn't volunteering his services at the Watts Free Clinic/Thrift Store(!), throwing ten spots at poor old ladies and administering butt-injections to hep-riddled hookers-with-hearts-of-gold, like Linda (O' Henry). When his experimental serum turns an old black woman dying from liver problems into an aggro albino with a propensity to choke a nurse in a heartbeat, before she turns her toes up, an impatient Pride injects himself with the solution, transforming into Mr. Hyde, or a powdery Bernie Casey with whited-out contacts, latex applications across his brow line, and some white streaks in his afro, if you want to get technical about it. As Hyde, he joyrides through Watts in his Rolls Royce, and lays the smackdown upon some street corner brothers who give him jibes instead of directions. He shows up at Linda's favorite watering hole and proceeds to trash the joint. When Linda's old pimp, Silky, and his homeboys chase Hyde out the front door, they're surprised to find a groggy Dr. Pride, nursing a slash wound and dressed identically to the cat that was just kicking all their asses moments earlier. Hmmm, he musta split...

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"White in Watts??!! Honey, ain't nobody got time fo' dat!"
When the good doctor takes his trick-turning patient out for dinner on the promise of no "business" talk, he later takes her back to his pad and demands that she let him jab her with a syringe full of untested chemicals on the promise that it will cure her hepatitis (and apparently entirely unconcerned by the notion that she's out infecting johns all over California with hepatitis), before giving himself a good faith jab and changing into Hyde, sending her screaming into the night. At this point, Hyde takes it upon himself to strangle all of Linda's prostitute pals to death one by one, even squashing poor Silky against a cement wall with his Rolls. Several murders later, a heartbroken Linda approaches Pride in hopes that he will turn himself in to the authorities and get the help he needs, reporting him to the cops when he ignores her pleas, instead, and shoots himself up with enough serum to provide for an action-packed King Kong-y finale atop the Watts Towers. Roll credits.

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Death lies upon Silky the Pimp, like an untimely frost upon the mackin'-est flower of all the damn field, y'all.
Stan Winston would continue to keep it "street", providing the special makeups for 1978's ethnocentric answer to the Wizard of Oz, The Wiz, before famously helping to usher in the glorious eighties with credits in fare such as The Exterminator (1980), Dead and Buried (1981), Friday the 13th Pt. 3 (1982) ( uncredited ), and of course, The Thing (1982). O'Henry, who selflessly provides the film's breasseses, worked previously in 1974's Three the Hard Way, and would also appear in Deliver Us From Evil (1977) and Human Experiments (1979). As far as blaxploitation horror goes, this one's not nearly as rotten as Blackenstein (1974), nor is it as memorable as Sugar Hill (1974), and on the rating scale, I've given it a respectable deuce for it's troubles. Definitely worth a look, if this sort of thing is your bag, man.

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Oh no, it wasn't the airplanes. 'Twas booty that killed this particular beast.
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Friday, April 4, 2014

"Heavy Traffic" (1973) d/ Ralph Bakshi

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April jumps off the drawing table here at the Wop with another Bakshi review, in Heavy Traffic, his X-rated follow up to the popular and successful Fritz the Cat a year earlier. Gone are the trippy, anthropomorphic animals that audiences had grown accustomed to, and in their stead, real human characters facing the tribulations of life on the streets of the big city. Of course, tackling such a risky, personal project meant legendary clashes with the producer; leading to Bakshi actually being locked out of the studio along the way, as a disgruntled Steve Krantz searched for replacement directors, until Samuel Z. Arkoff threatened to pull all funding for the film unless Bakshi was re-hired. In the end, I'm sure the inner turbulence got laughed off by all over the bubbliest of champers, as Traffic's ambition and gritty realism were rewarded by both, the box office and critics, alike. While Tarantino gives PDA's to Hey Goodlookin' (1982), and Ralph often cites Coonskin (1974) as his own favorite, ol' Wop is here to tell you that tonight's review tops his list of Bakshi's cinema work to date, though nobody's ever asked me that question either. What are you afraid of? I only bite occasionally...

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"Michael! Twiggy's on the phone, she says you ought to be a good boy and return her hairstyle to her, ASAP."
Life as an underground comic artist in the big city is like being a pinball, as Michael (Joseph Kauffman) can attest to, as the twenty-four year old unemployed virgin son of a doting, nipple-slipping, Jewish mother (Terri Haven) and a shamed Italian father (Frank DeKova) with mob ties. Michael is constant mediator to their violent and abusive domestic quarrels when he isn't trading cartoons of a legless bouncer named Shorty for drinks from his favorite bartender, a together young black chick named Carole (Beverly Hope Atkinson). After a transvestite prostitute named Snowflake takes some gay knocks for hoodwinking a burly drunk on Carole's shift, she finds herself jobless and on the receiving end of unwanted charity from the enamored cripple, forcing her to cozy up to Michael in a hurry. This sudden pairing draws the scorn of a rejected Shorty and more racial venom from dad, Angie, who's generously enlisted the skills of a girthy Sicilian prostitute named Rosa to deflower his son, in between pistol-whipping his wife's face in, leading the impromptu young couple to vacate the premises for greener pastures...

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I faced similar obstacles finding my way back to Cowboy X's van in a Phish show parking lot back in the nineties.
In an attempt to raise funds for a California move, Michael pitches his unusual comic strip to a gravely ill executive, providing only disappointment when the mogul turns his toes up before he finishes, while Carole's stint as a taxi dancer ends abruptly when a fortuitous panty flash kills an elderly customer. Back at home, Angie turns to the Godfather to put a hit on his disgraceful son, but the Don refuses, claiming his gripe is personal, not business. The jilted Shorty makes the scene, gladly accepting the contract in the end. Meanwhile, the lovers have resorted to crime, with Carole turning to prostitution and Michael choosing cold-blooded murder, as he bashes in the brains of one of her tricks in a fleabag motel room, but as they walk out together, they're surprised to see Shorty, who pulls his burner and pulverizes Michael's skull with a single, slow motion bullet. Top that, Walt Disney. A bizarre, psychedelic montage of disturbing imagery leads the viewer back into the live-action world, where we see Michael angrily tipping a tilted pinball machine over and storming out of an arcade, only to bump into Carole, who, after some brief unresponsiveness, takes his hand and dances us into the end credits.

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"Alright, you win! Helen Reddy is better than Anne Murray!!!"
Jamie "Klinger" Farr of M.A.S.H. fame has a blink-and-you'll-miss-him non-speaking cameo in the live action sequence during the final reel. The fantasy sequence set to Chuck Berry's "Maybelline" experienced some censorship, with the tamest of three versions making it into the final X-rated cut of the film. I'd like to see the other two someday. The folks at Shout Factory, always at the top of their game, released the definitive 40th Anniversary Blu-ray last year, so there's no legit excuses as to why this one has no place upon your shelves. On the scale, Traffic naturally receives a perfect score of four Wops; a thought-provoking, visually dazzling masterpiece that comes with my highest recommendation. See it!

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J.F.K.? Cobain? Dwyer? I give up already, I'm just no good at charades.
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Monday, March 31, 2014

"Coonskin" (1974) d/ Ralph Bakshi

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Nobody ever asks me who's the guy responsible for my favorite animated features of all-time, but if anyone ever did, I'd tell 'em it's obviously Ralph Bakshi, once I'd gotten over the initial shock of someone actually having asked me an interesting question. Tonight's review, Bakshi's third such feature, and second to mix his highly stylized animation with live-action sequences, is an urban update of Uncle Remus' beloved children's stories starring a pre-Miami Vice Philip Michael Thomas, Scat Man Crothers, and even Barry "Can't-get-enough-of-yo'-looove-baaaybuh" White, that drew mixed reviews upon a limited initial theatrical release due to it's satire-heavy portrayal of the frustration of life in the inner city. Bakshi lays waste to racial stereotypes of all sorts here by giving them center stage, in all their absurdity (the main characters' looks are based on the black faced make up of the travelling minstrels of yesteryear), for the audience to interpret as they will, though it should be noted that any mafiosi in attendance will surely feel the sting of the piss-take herein. Just don't take it personally, Sollozzo, and may your first child be a masculine one. Here we go...

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You never see brunettes in this kinda predicament. Just sayin'...
Somewhere down south, we see Randy (Thomas) and Pappy (Crothers) in the midst of a daring midnight prison escape, and while camped out against a high wall out of the line of sight of any guards and waiting fo' the getaway whip, Pappy tells the funky story of three cats who remind him a lot of Randy and his ambitious homeboys: Brother Rabbit (Thomas), Brother Bear (White), and Preacher Fox (Gordone), who relocate north to Harlem, home to every Black man, when the bank forecloses on their southern digs, effectively turning it into a whorehouse ( you know, the kind that a racist sheriff's daughter would get caught turning comical interracial tricks at ). Upon arrival, they meet up with Black Jesus' cousin, Simple Savior, a black separatist who shoots up images of Elvis, Nixon, and John Wayne while hoisted atop a light-up cross on stage in the nude, ferchrissakes. Needless to say, Rabbit and Bear pull his card, making Rabbit the new boss of all of Harlem's underworld action, but he soon finds that with notoriety comes with a high price tag...

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Don King or Al Sharpton? You be's the judge, baybuh.
Rabbit goes head to head with Madigan (Frank DeKova), a badge-wearing palooka that's on the mafia payroll, who gets his drink dosed, gets duped into a homosexual interlude, and ultimately gets taken down by his fellow officers while on a black-faced shooting spree while coming down off acid. Meanwhile, the Godfather (Al "Grandpa" Lewis) puts a hit on Rabbit from the underbelly of the sewers, but when his only straight son, Sonny (Richard Paul), shows up to ice the hare at his nightclub, decked out in blackface, he's pumped full of lead then abruptly blown to smithereens, before his ashes are sent home to his bawlin' mama. Bear visits Fox, who's been running a brothel for the mob, is hastily married to one of the tricks, and talked into boxing professionally for the crime family. Rabbit builds an explosive-laden tar facsimile of himself and plants it at one of Bear's prizefights, where the remaining mafiosi unwittingly all get stuck while trying to off the bunny. Our heroes escape in the nick of time as the venue blows up with their cartoon enemies inside, as we switch back to the daring live-action bullet-riddled, broad daylight escape of Randy and Pappy, who are equally successful in the end. Credits...

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"C'mon, take the noose off, I promise I won't do any more James Taylor covers..."
Despite multiple title changes (Harlem Nights, Coonskin no more..., Street Fight, Bustin' Out, etc.), an undeserved demise at the box office, and much controversy along the way, you're bound to be entertained here. If you're the rare type of individual that equates racism with names like Ted Nugent or Steven Colbert, there's a good chance you'll be too highly offended by the exaggerated ethnic stereotypes on display here to ever pick up on the social commentary within. Those of us who live in the real world, on the other hand, will find a lot to love about Coonskin, a visually dazzling time capsule of the tumultuous and turbulent seventies, as edgy as it is funny. On the scale, it earns an impressive three Wop score, and comes highly recommended.

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"You mobsters feelin' some type of way up in that tar right about now."
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R.I.P. Kate O'Mara

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                                   08/10/39 - 03/30/14

Sunday, March 9, 2014

"A Nightmare on Elm Street" (2010) d/ Sam Bayer

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Yeah, I know, I know. Freddy Krueger review. I'm a big fat liar whose flame-enveloped 501's are putting third-degree burns on my admittedly elephantine cazzies, on this end. After seeing 'nuff  net-gativity towards the 2010 reboot, which I hadn't bothered catching (like most of the original series...ziiing), coming from hardcore fans of he of the finger-knives, floppy fedora, and ugly sweater-fame (a character personified for three decades by character actor and genre fave, Robert Englund, for better or worse), I decided that I ought to give the remake a look. I'd always felt that Wes Craven had some solid ideas on his pioneer excursion to Elm Street back in '84, if handled differently, for lack of better words, and a fresh approach might work in the remake's favor in this regard. First of all, casting Jackie Earle Haley, who's made a career out of playing ugly little creeps (dating at least as far back as the friggin' Partridge Family), as Krueger is a genius move, away from the familiar wisecracking horror cornball favorite for ages eight and under.

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Shakey-shake...shake it. Come on, pilgrim, you know he loves you.
Russell's at the diner, waiting for his girlfriend Kris to show up, when he dozes off, and is seemingly dispatched in his dream by a horribly burned yet somehow familiar man wearing a fedora, gaudy Christmas-colored sweater, and a glove full of finger knives, though outwardly, it appears that he's slashed his own throat and committed suicide. Kris witnesses in horror, begins to dream about the same mysterious man, then suffers the same fate one night as she's invisibly tossed around her bedroom and slashed to death in front of her ex-boyfriend Jesse's eyes. Jesse runs to Nancy's house to tell her his story, to find that she, too, has been dreaming the same dreams, before being arrested and jailed for Kris' murder, where he also falls victim to the shadowy sleep murderer. Nancy (Rooney Mara) begins to notice a pattern in the teen slayings, eventually discovering that she attended a preschool with all the victims, and that the man she's been dreaming about was a quirky little gardener there named Fred Krueger (Haley) that abused all the children before being run out of town...

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Freddy transforms a tittilating teen into a forgotten chocolate bar left in some fat kid's pocket.
When Nancy's friend Quentin (Kyle Gallner) falls asleep during a swim team practice, he envisions his parents among the angry mob that corners a terrified Krueger and burns him alive, leading the teens to believe that they'd perhaps lied to their parents about the abuse as children, and that Freddy has been infiltrating their dreamscape to exact bloody revenge from beyond the grave for their lies. Except, in the climactic showdown at the preschool, they discover that Freddy really wants to kill them all for telling the truth, as his secret toddler-torturing room is stumbled upon, complete with kiddie crayon drawings and half-fabricated finger knives. Drawing upon a piece of sweater that Nancy managed to pull out of an earlier dream, the two devise a plan to do the same to Krueger involving syringes full of adrenalin, finishing him off when he emerges into reality. Believing they've done just that, Nancy sets the preschool ablaze with Freddy's corpse inside, ending the incredible nightmare, once and for all. At home, Nancy notices Krueger in a mirror's reflection, just as he slams his finger knives out of the mirror into the back of her mother's unsuspecting head. Roll credits.

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Snarky captions to Elm Street screen caps seem a bit redundant, don't they?
I even thought about laying three wops on this one, but let's face it, that's just crazy fucking talk, man. Still, where I experienced corny non-scares throughout my encounters with the original series, I experienced some real menace and tension in the remake, with Fred's trademark wisecracks wisely toned down for atmosphere's sake. I can go on for days on end with comparisons, which favor the remake for me, or we can simply cut to the chase, as tackling three reviews in one evening has left me slightly burnt out at this point, by summarizing that most of the gripes of the Nightmare fan base towards this ninth installment comprise a lot of the reasons why I prefer it to the original, which I'd probably score roughly the same on the rating scale. For the silent minority out there, who grew to despise all things Freddy over the years, check this one out, you might end up feeling the same way about it as I do when all's said and done. Two wops.

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" One, two...Kelly let the grounder roll through..."
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