Thursday, October 17, 2019

Top Ten Things: 10 Ways to Fix WWE

Welcome to a special edition of Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!


It's no secret that WWE's product is in tatters these days, with disorganization at an all time high, ratings and morale nearing all-time lows, storylines with no endgame being thrown at the wall willy-nilly in the hopes that something, anything, sticks, no current roster members getting over (except maybe one), old-timer appearances yielding inevitably diminishing returns, young audiences walking away in droves, etc.  Creatively the company is resembling WCW in its dying days more and more, and were it not for the exorbitant fees they're getting from Fox, USA and Saudi Arabia we'd likely be watching the death throes of Vince McMahon's juggernaut.  Inexplicably virtually everyone in the industry seems to understand some of the fundamental mistakes Vince has been making for the last fifteen years except Vince himself.  Ever the fragile ego, Vince has long surrounded himself with sycophantic yes-men too terrified to challenge him on his creative decisions, and the result is a product that's hopelessly out of touch with what wrestling fans in 2019 want to see. 

But I'm here with some constructive suggestions, most of them pretty simple, to fix WWE's creative process and return the product to its former glory.  Before you call me a "WWE hater," know that I've been watching this company's product since 1986.  I've been a Network subscriber since Week One.  I don't hate WWE.  I want WWE to put on compelling television again.  I've seen them do it and I know they're capable of brilliance, they just need to find it again.  So let's get started.  Vince, if you're reading (you're not, I know), please take these suggestions to heart...



1. No Scripted Promos

First and foremost, this, this, a thousand times this.  Scripted promos are maybe the most counterproductive creative policy in wrestling history.  Literally every major star in the history of the business who got over even partially by cutting promos (which is almost all of them) did so because they had the freedom to develop their character and speak in a way that sounded spontaneous and heartfelt.  You hired these people because you saw in them something compelling, yes?  Presumably they know better than a team of hack writers how their character would speak - after all, the best wrestling characters across the board were simply extensions or exaggerations of the person underneath.  Imagine someone like Steve Austin or The Rock or Ric Flair or Dusty Rhodes trying to get over in this climate.  We'd never have "Austin 3:16," that promo was a spur-of-the-moment idea in response to something Jake Roberts said earlier on that show.  We'd never have smelled what The Rock was cooking, that's just a fun catchphrase he came up with off the cuff.  We'd never hear from the "limousine riding, jet flying son of a gun," who was given as much mic time as he needed, or the "son of a plumber," whose promo philosophy was all about selling his upcoming match, not himself.  The art of cutting a promo is one of the most vital parts of making a wrestling product successful, and WWE lost that art a long time ago thanks to stilted, forced, unnatural-sounding dialogue, where two people wait for their turn to recite rather than have a conversation.  Maybe the worst part of all this is that Vince McMahon for a long time hasn't understood what makes a babyface likable, and therefore every babyface is written as either a shriveling coward or a jerk.  Get back to real promos again and you'd see probably 90% of WWE's creative woes go away.  A good talker like the former Dean Ambrose would be able to connect with the audience AND hype his big match with Seth Rollins, thus making the fans genuinely care about seeing the former friends duke it out.  Ratings and buyrates would go up, thus getting more eyes on the other talent as other natural talkers organically rose to the top like so much cream.  We as the audience would believe in these characters and their feuds, and the live audience would actually seem excited to be there.  Emotion and excitement are contagious, and a good promo generates both.      



2. Stop "Producing" Matches and Commentary

Along those same lines, the practice of "producing" everything else on WWE television, from the corporate buzzword-infested commentary to the matches themselves, needs to end. 

No one wants to see a show full of essentially the same match over and over.  This philosophy about how WWE has its own "style" of wrestling is pure nonsense.  WWE doesn't have a "style," it has a corporate policy wherein nearly all the in-ring creativity of its wildly talented roster is sucked out of nearly every match, resulting in every match feeling meticulously planned out and identical to the last.  Compare for example the AJ Styles-Daniel Bryan matches from this past year with their mid-2000s work in Ring of Honor.  Yes I get that there's an age difference factor, but their indie matches felt urgent and organic, like they were actually involved in a real fight.  They listened to the crowd and proceeded based on what was connecting and what wasn't.  Wrestlers need to be able to improvise in response to the audience so they don't lose them over the course of the match.  Now look at the Styles-Bryan match from the Royal Rumble, which was already facing an uphill battle because it had to follow Becky Lynch's Rumble win.  The bout was slow, overly methodical, lacking any urgency, and too long for a slot following a 72-minute Rumble.  These two guys needed the freedom to change the planned bout (like Bret and Owen did in 1994 when Bret realized Owen's aerial tactics would've hurt his effectiveness as a heel) and get the crowd invested, but in 2019 WWE that sort of free-thinking is a no-no.

As for the wretched banter that passes for commentary in this company, WWE needs to remember that the commentators are the de facto hosts of the show.  We as the audience need to actually like spending time with our hosts.  The play-by-play announcer needs to be someone we trust to guide us through the stories being told and enhance them, not a corporate shill we think is trying to sell us more shit.  Michael Cole, for as good as he is at navigating Vince's barrage of order-barking through the headset, comes off as the latter.  I don't feel anything genuine from Cole as an announcer and he's not someone I'd ever want to hang out with.  He's a company man who's there to further a mandated narrative and parrot idiotic buzzwords like "sports entertainer" and "WWE Universe," or cringe-inducing phrases like "controlled frenzy" to describe Kofi Kingston, or "real-life superhero" for Ricochet.  He doesn't talk like a real person and he's almost never given a chance to enrich the story in the ring.  The color commentator (and there should almost always be one, not two), needs to have an easy chemistry with the PBP announcer, whether from a babyface/neutral position or a heel position (Jesse Ventura and Bobby Heenan were masters at being heel color-men).  If both announcers are babyfaces we need to get the sense that they really like hanging out together (JR and Tony Schiavone anyone?).  If the color man (or woman) is a heel, they need to disagree with the lead announcer without it coming off as bickering.  Gorilla Monsoon and Ventura/Heenan could argue in a way that was amusing.  Michael Cole and Corey Graves don't; instead it comes off like petty squabbling and it's like listening to your parents have a fight.  If we don't like the people hosting the show, why would we want to spend three hours watching it?  


Awesomely Shitty Movies: Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Sigh.....welcome to another edition of Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at Enuffa.com.  Today we look at the moment when Universal's Frankenstein franchise took a screeching 90-degree turn and went tumbling, ablaze, off a cliff into the night.  That moment when the studio ceased making top quality films about everyone's favorite flat-headed clod and transformed him into a mindless B-movie ghoul.  That's right, I'm talkin' about Ghost of Frankenstein....  (Click HERE if you missed Son of Frankenstein)


When Son of Frankenstein was another smash-hit, Universal realized there was still a ton of money in these movies and began churning them out at a rapid-fire pace, without paying attention to the annoying little details like story, characters, acting, or in this case visual style.  Ghost picks up the story shortly after the events of Son, where the villagers of Frankenstein are still angry and hysterical because the apparent death of the monster hasn't magically fixed all their woes (Kinda like with American politics).  They believe the monster might still be alive, not to mention Ygor (Good guess), and it's kept them under a curse.  The mayor eventually gives in to their badgering and greenlights their plan to destroy Frankenstein's castle (Because apparently the authority figures in this town are cool with rioting).  As they smash and burn the castle, Ygor stumbles onto the preserved monster, embedded in a block of solidified sulfur.  He breaks free and Ygor takes him to the village to find Wolf Frankenstein's brother Ludwig, also a scientist who might have the secret to restore the monster to his former glory.  Here we go again.....

So what worked and what didn't (Spoiler alert: Most of it didn't work)?  Let's take a look.....



The Awesome


Bela Lugosi

Bela's back as Ygor, and despite being directed to play the character completely differently than before, he gives another solid turn as the villainous hunchback, manipulating both the monster and the scientists to bend to his will.  No matter how cheesy and low-rent the movie, Lugosi's presence is always a welcome one.  Just ask Ed Wood.

"Hello young lady.... vant to see the inside of my van?"


Twist Ending

After a pretty tedious, meandering hour, it all comes down to Ludwig's decision to take out the monster's criminal brain (Remember that from the first movie?) and put in a healthy one.  Unfortunately though, Ygor has convinced his assistant Dr. Bohmer to substitute Ygor's brain, which will allow him to live in a strong, healthy body instead of his current mangled form.  Ludwig unwittingly puts Ygor's brain in the monster's head and revives him, and the monster begins triumphantly speaking in Ygor's voice.  But just then he discovers his eyesight is failing due to Ygor not having the same blood type as the monster.  Yeah this is all pretty goofy, but it's kind of a cool, disturbing plot twist for this series and I would've liked to see where they took this storyline.  Problem was, in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man the studio hated Lugosi's performance as the monster and cut all his dialogue, removing any references to this scene, including the monster's blindness.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Top Ten Things: Wrestling Championship Belts

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!

Today I'm talking about some of my favorite championship belt designs in wrestling lore.  For decades the WWF generally seemed to have the most eye-catching belt configurations, but in recent years other companies have somewhat surged ahead in this area.  With the advent of the Universal Title it became clear WWE was endeavoring to make all their belts look the same, a la UFC.  To me that's both uncreative and bad business - if you're trying to sell loads of belt replicas wouldn't you want each one to look unique?

A great-looking belt design can add a sense of grandeur to a title, helping elevate it beyond simply being a prop, to being one of the richest prizes in the game and a symbol of excellence.  Of course a lot of that also depends on who wears the strap, but a championship belt needs to look like something for which every wrestler would be willing to risk it all.

Anyway, here are my ten favorite championship belt designs of all time....




10. WWE US Title (current)


Probably the least conventional of the designs on this list, the WWE version of the US Title uses the American flag as the center plate background, with images of the Statue of Liberty on the side plates.  While the NWA and WCW versions of the belt sported understated stars and stripes imagery, the WWE version just took it one step further, conveying literally the idea of a United States Champion.





9. WWF Intercontinental Title (1985-1998, current)


For years this was the best-designed belt in the WWF.  When the "Winged Eagle" belt was adopted in 1988, the Intercontinental Title became physically the largest belt in the company, and for a long time this was the top belt for the in-ring workhorses.  It displayed a simple, blocky design (which was borrowed by both WCW and ECW for some of their belts) with the side plates all carrying the company logo behind the image of two wrestlers grappling.  This design was so successful the company went back to it in 2011, after the rather bland Attitude Era design was discontinued.  It's kinda sad the best-looking current WWE Championship is the one recycled from the 80s.





8. TIE: ROH World Title (current, 2012-2017)






I had to cheat here and include a tie.  The current and former Ring of Honor belt designs are both incredibly ornate and gorgeous to look at.  The previous one boasted leaves climbing up the sides in incredible detail, bringing to mind Roman gladitorial games, while the new version smacks of kingly tradition, with its paisley flourishes adorning a stylized crown above the nameplate.  These are both beautiful belts.


Parents' Night In #13: Frankenstein (1931)

Join Kelly & Justin as we discuss the horror classic Frankenstein!  We'll talk about Boris Karloff's performance, James Whale's direction and set design, Telling Bird Zinfandel, and more!


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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Parents' Night In #14: The Shining (1980)

It's Halloween time and that means Kelly & Justin pop in one of their favorite scary movies, Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's classic The Shining!  That also means Kelly & Justin pop open some delicious beer and wine and talk about said film for your enjoyment!  

From Jack Nicholson's operatic high-wire act to Shelley Duvall's brilliant hysterics, to the gorgeous steadicam photography to the amazingly realized Overlook Hotel set, The Shining is as fascinating today as it was in 1980....

Watch, listen, laugh, like and SUBSCRIBE!





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Wrestling Do-Overs: The Invasion Angle, part 1 (Bischoff Buys WCW)

Welcome to another edition of Wrestling Do-Overs, where I'll examine a famous (or infamous) event or angle from pro wrestling's rich history and reimagine it as I would've executed it, thereby demonstrating that a) I should be booking this stuff, and b) I should immediately seek psychological help.


Today I'll be talking about the 2001 Invasion - the fallout of the WWF's purchase of WCW.  As we all know this disappointing angle was a trainwreck from the start and Vince McMahon threw away tens of millions of dollars just to satisfy his own ego and present WCW as a vastly inferior organization/product.  After about five months of excruciating storylines the whole angle was prematurely nixed at Survivor Series 2001 and things went back to normal the next night.

Modern North American wrestling had seen two major invasion angles prior to this one.  One of them (the NWA's purchase of UWF) was an utter disaster and its architect Jim Crockett sold his own company to Ted Turner less than a year later.  The other (obviously the nWo) was a monumental success, at least for a little while, and made WCW the biggest wrestling company in the world.  Vince unfortunately modeled his Invasion angle after the former.

But what could the WWF have done to make the Invasion the record-breaking all-time classic it should've been?  I'm going to create an alternate reality where the WWF didn't horribly botch potentially the biggest money-making storyline of all time.  This will be a multi-part column covering a full year: March 26, 2001 (the date of the final episode of Monday Nitro) through March 18, 2002 (the RAW after WrestleMania X8).

Vince's first mistake was refusing to hire the handful of remaining top WCW stars because they were still under contract to Time Warner and buying them out supposedly would've cost too much money.  But the ratings and PPV buys yielded by such signings would've easily offset these costs and more.  Really Vince could have hired just five additional people, for a total of probably $15 million, and this angle immediately would've been a massive hit with almost no effort required.

With these five names they could earn back that $15 mil in probably two months:

1. Hulk Hogan
2. Ric Flair
3. Goldberg
4. Sting
5. Eric Bischoff

Four of these five men would end up signing with the WWF within two years anyway.  Hell, Flair redebuted with the WWF the night after the Invasion ended!


The Final Nitro

So here's how things should've kicked off.  On March 26, 2001 the final Nitro aired, and at its conclusion Shane McMahon showed up to announce he had bought the company out from under his father.  This is all wrong.  The McMahons' egos were so out of control they actually believed they and their family squabbles were bigger draws than the wrestlers themselves.  It obviously got worse that summer when they put Stephanie in charge of the ECW squad, and then in 2003 the PPV calendar was littered with McMahon in-ring appearances.  So this whole saga got off on the wrong foot, turning WWF vs. WCW into little more than a convoluted Vince vs. Shane feud.  Anyone who thinks Vince vs. Shane was really what the fans wanted to see is not being honest with themselves.

The man fans really wanted to see mix it up with Vince was a fella by the name of Eric Bischoff.  Vince and Eric had real-life animosity, and ever since 1998 when Bischoff issued a public challenge to fight Vince, fans had been intrigued by the potential matchup.

This is the power struggle we all wanted to see

Monday, October 14, 2019

Winery Outlinery: Broken Creek Vineyards (Shrewsbury, MA)

Welcome to a brand new feature here at Enuffa.com, Winery Outlinery (sister series of Brewery Reviewery)!  Yeah that's right, I'm branching out into wine reviews.  Thanks to Adam from EatDrinkLearn.com I've been drinking and discussing a lot of wine lately, so let's give this a go.  Hopefully I won't come off as a wine amateur....


Broken Creek Vineyard
​​614 South St 
Shrewsbury, Ma 01545


This past weekend my family and I traipsed out to Worcester to see my mother sing at the Worcester Jazz Festival, and on the way home we drove through the Shrewsbury, MA neighborhood where I grew up.  Right down the street from our old house there just happens to be a young little winery called Broken Creed Vineyard.  Launched in late 2015 by Eric Preusse, Broken Creek is a small boutique vineyard offering an eclectic variety of reds, whites, and a few special editions, all of which have big, bold flavor and a ton of character.  Of all the wineries I've visited, Broken Creek has perhaps the most memorable roster of wines; each one is an unusual take on its respective varietal and they stick with you after you've left.  Tastings are $10 for five one-ounce pours and you get to keep your branded wine glass - that there is a bargain.  Broken Creek also books private events in their welcoming, rustic tasting room.

So let's dive in and talk about some wine, shall we?


Riesling: A dry white wine made with grapes sourced from California.  This wine has notes of nectarine and pineapple. ​

JB: My wife and I got into Rieslings a decade ago during a visit to the Finger Lakes (Riesling country), so I'm always on the lookout for a good dry one.  This fit the bill nicely; light and dry with just a hint of citrus.  The Riesling was my favorite of the whites and I picked up a bottle to go.


Chardonnay: This is a well balanced white wine with flavors of green apple, citrus and hints of vanilla.​

JB: Generally my favorite white varietal is an oaky, buttery Chardonnay.  Broken Creek's version is unoaked, drier than a typical Chard, with just a bit of fruitiness.  I liked this one too but preferred the Riesling. 

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Welcome to the third Awesomely Shitty Movies piece dedicated to the Universal Studios Frankenstein series!  In case you missed part 2, check it out HERE.  Today we're talking about the third film in the franchise, Son of Frankenstein!


After the critical and commercial triumph that was Bride of Frankenstein, it seemed like another sequel would be a natural.  But Carl Laemmle Sr and Jr were soon forced out of the company due to their extravagant spending, and it seemed monster movies were off the table as well.  It was only due to an LA theater reviving Dracula and Frankenstein as a double feature, and the ensuing huge box office success, that the studio opted to jump back into that pool.  James Whale was not interested in returning however, and Rowland V. Lee was hired to direct the third film.  Son of Frankenstein was originally to be shot in color as well, but the monster's makeup didn't look quite right, so that plan was scrapped.

Son of Frankenstein was another box office success and helped pull Universal out of its financial slump.  Following this movie the studio began churning out cheesy Frankenstein sequels and crossovers, making Son the last serious entry in the series.

So what worked and what didn't?  Let's take a gander...



The Awesome


Visuals

This series thus far has been full of rich, expressionist lighting, off-putting Dutch angles, and an emphasis on intense lights and darks to plunge the viewer into this bizarre world.  Son of Frankenstein continues this trend and in some ways takes it a step further, with some of the sets including angular, surrealistic staircases that cast jagged shadows on the walls behind.  Almost every set in fact has bare, textureless walls so the shadows can come across more strongly.  More on that aspect a little later.  The Film Noir genre was just beginning to blossom at this point, and many of those films must've taken some visual cues from Son of Frankenstein, among others.

Great use of lighting and angles


Friday, October 11, 2019

Top Ten Things: Vampire Movies

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!  Continuing with the Halloween festivities, today we'll count down what are in my estimation the ten greatest vampire films of all time.

Before Stephanie Meyer forever ruined the vampire genre by turning it into insipid teen melodrama involving beautiful undead emo heartthrobs (who despite not technically being alive can somehow procreate), there used to be quite a few excellent films devoted to the subject.

Being a vampire really isn't any fun when you think about it.  I explored this topic a little in my Awesomely Shitty Movies piece about The Lost Boys:

"It is possible to create complex, thought-provoking films about vampires, exploring at what cost such powers come: isolation, loneliness, unending bloodlust, tedium, having to live with murdering people, having to evade capture and prosecution for murdering people, etc."

The vampire, no matter how romantic a character you try to make him, is still at heart a repulsive, predatory creature who must kill human beings in order to survive.  Think of how awful his breath must be after drinking all that blood.  Imagine how filthy his clothes would be after sleeping in dirt every day.  Really, are the fringe benefits of being eternally young and having superhuman strength and speed worth all the other headaches? 


Anywho, here's my ten picks.


10. Near Dark (1987)


Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow's second film was an unusual mashup of the vampire movie and the Western.  Starring Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, and Jenette Goldstein of Aliens fame, Near Dark tells the story of a gang of vampires who live in a sun-proofed van and drift from place to place, going where the food is.  One of their group, Mae, inadvertently turns a young man named Caleb into a vampire and because of her romantic attachment to him, persuades the others to accept him into their gang.  Caleb spends much of the movie struggling with his transformation and trying to appease the others so they don't kill him.  Near Dark is a very unusual and modern take on the genre, portraying the vamps as scavenging marauders not unlike the post-apocalyptic villains in the Mad Max films.  They are evil but charismatic, and Bill Paxton especially shines as the brutal second-in-command Severen.  With this film Bigelow showed her adeptness at eschewing the conventions of genre films and gave us an exciting new take on the vampire mythos.




9. Dracula (1979)


In the late 70s the well-renowned John Balderston-Hamilton Deane theater production of Dracula was revived in London and on Broadway, and its success prompted Universal Studios to remake the 1931 Bela Lugosi film for modern audiences.  The result was this stylish, romantic Frank Langella version.  Directed by John Badham and featuring an excellent score by John Williams, this update of Dracula depicts the Count as a suave, handsome seducer, whom women willingly give their last drop.  Langella is excellent as this debonair demon, imbuing the character with both smoothness and a fearsome underlying rage.  The rest of the cast is also first-rate - the legendary Laurence Olivier plays Dracula's nemesis Van Helsing, Kate Nelligan is an unusually strong and independent Lucy Seward (in this version Lucy and Mina's names are oddly swapped), and Tony Haygarth is a rather degenerate incarnation of the Renfield character.  This film is a triumph of production design and atmosphere, and a gritty, original take on the Lugosi version.


Thursday, October 10, 2019

NJPW King of Pro-Wrestling 2019 Preview & Predictions: No Red Spotlights!

It's October and that means it's time for NJPW's biggest show of the fall season, King of Pro-Wrestling!


This year's lineup has five big matchups with potential Tokyo Dome ramifications, plus the usual undercard tag bouts.  Should be a helluva fun PPV to watch, and boy do we need one of those desperately these days.  One thing I can guarantee with this show, we'll never see a red-tinted, no disqualification match stopped because one dude was using a hammer.  KOPW will automatically be better than Hell in a Cell.

Sorry, had to get a WWE dig.  Let's do some predictions.



Ryusuke Taguchi & RPG3K vs. El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Douki


Your standard undercard six-man opener.  I suspect this is about getting Sho & Yoh a win.  I was on hand in Lowell to see them almost defeat GoD for the tag belts, which was a helluva match.  I'd love to see them move up to the heavyweight division full-time.

Pick: Good guys win




Hiroshi Tanahashi & Tomoaki Honma vs. Togi Makabe & Toru Yano


Okay, first off, how is Tanahashi in the second match of the night?  Bizarre.  Second, when did Makabe and Yano become buddies again?  Third, does this mean we'll see the violent Yano of old?  This could be good, could be a throwaway.  We shall see.  I guess Honma probably eats the pin?

Pick: Most Violent Players




Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi & Bushi vs. Zack Sabre Jr., Lance Archer & Taichi


Another shockingly low spot on the card belongs to Mr. Naito, who's been on a bit of a tailspin lately.  I'm guessing we'll see a Naito-White rematch at the Dome where he'll regain the I-C Title.  Or maybe he'll feud with Zack over the RPW belt.  One thing's for sure though, I wanna see an Archer-Shingo feud.  Goddamn that'd be something.

Pick: Either Taichi or Bushi is taking the pin in this one.  Flip a coin.  I'll say LIJ wins.



Awesomely Shitty Movies: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Welcome to the second installment in our Awesomely Shitty Movies series pertaining to Universal Studios' Frankenstein franchise!  (Part 1 can be seen HERE)

Today it's the Frankenstein sequel that is almost universally (heh, get it?) praised as being superior to the first film, Bride of Frankenstein!


After the monumental success of the 1931 adaptation, Universal Studios understandably pushed for a follow-up, but James Whale was initially skeptical, thinking there was nothing more that could be explored in the material.  Instead Whale directed another hit horror film, The Invisible Man, and the studio pushed even harder for a Frankenstein sequel.  Whale finally agreed on the condition that Universal would produce a film of his called One More River, and when directing Bride opted to swing for the fences.  It would be a much larger-scale production with garish surrealism and subversive undertones, blending monster horror with dark comedy.  On paper this movie should never have worked as well as it did.  Whale was allowed to inject so much of his own personality into the film and its characters, and thus it became a celebration of those who live outside the norm.  With the expressionist influences of the first film turned way up for the second, and the drama ranging from horrific to funny to genuinely touching, Bride of Frankenstein is the pinnacle of the Universal monster films.


Now let's criticize it.....



The Awesome


Karloff Again

Boris reprised the role that made him a superstar, once again slipping on the giant boots and flat head.  This time the monster actually spoke, lending more depth to the character and making him even more sympathetic.  Indeed, Bride of Frankenstein is much more about the monster's character arc than Frankenstein's.  His driving motivation in this film, much like in the novel, is the search for a companion of some kind, and Karloff gives a largely quite tender, vulnerable performance that further solidifies the monster as a misunderstood brute.

Still the man




Elsa Lanchester

Despite very little actual screen time between her two roles (Seriously, it's maybe five minutes total), Elsa Lanchester brought to life one of the great movie monsters and gave a tremendously memorable turn.  Also notable is the disparity between her two characters; Mary Shelley is sweet-faced and proper, while the title character is wild-eyed and bird-like (Lanchester apparently based her head movements on those of a swan).  Her brief onscreen interaction with Karloff is bizarre and climactic; one of the great monster movie payoffs.

Makes sense her hair is standing up,
she did just get electrocuted technically


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Brewery Reviewery: Blacklab Brewhouse & Kitchen (Barcelona, Spain)

Welcome to a special edition of Brewery Reviewery here at Enuffa.com, where I visit a facility in which they make delicious craft beers, and I drink 'em all.  For this review I traveled all the way to Barcelona, Spain with Adam from EatDrinkLearn.com (I'm a beer guy, he's a wine guy) and among our tapas, cava and vermouth adventures we happened upon Blacklab Brewhouse & Kitchen!


Blacklab Brewhouse & Kitchen
Palau de Mar
Pla├ža Pau Vila 1
Barcelona 08039

Located near the water in downtown Barcelona, Blacklab is a restaurant/brewery with a variety of brews and a robust menu split into western pub favorites like nachos, wings, fries and mac & cheese, and eastern fare like ramen, dumplings, edamame and Asian ribs, plus burgers, salads and more.  There's ample seating both inside and outside (we chose the latter), and events such as brewery tours and live bands.  The atmosphere is fun and relaxed, and if you like craft beer, chances are they'll have something for you.

So let's take a gander at these brews....


Renaissance Man NEIPA (5.1%): New England IPA. Creamy body, hazy appearance and a ton of juicy, citrusy hop aromas. Low bitterness.

JB: I love NEIPAs, and this was an excellent specimen.  Cloudy, tangy, full of that citra hops flavor I adore, with notes of mango.  I liked this one so much I had to order a full pint after the flight.


Manor Farm Saison (5%): Saison. Our last saison of the season. An updated recipe with more caramelized malts and abundant Belgian yeast characteristics due to high temperature fermentation.

JB: Saisons are always a refreshing, spicy bit of fun.  This had the signature wyeast flavor like a Hefeweizen, with just a hint of citrus and clove.


Terraplane (5.2%): Robust Porter. Great dark malt flavors, but not too much body. Made for the Barcelona climate.

JB: Drinking a porter in 70-degree weather seems odd, but this was pretty enjoyable.  Dark and rich with strong coffee notes and a slightly bitter finish.  I'd have maybe dialed back the coffee a tad, but Terraplane is a solid effort.


La Normal (5%): Golden Ale. Finally back on draft. Easy drinking and refreshing golden beer.

JB: If you're a fan of say, Night Shift's Nite Lite lager, this'll scratch you where ya itch.  La Normal is light and crisp with a balanced flavor.  Perfect for a hot day.


Music Review: Sturgill Simpson - Sound & Fury

by Mike Drinan
@mdrinan380


Sturgill Simpson’s third album, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, was a concept album that stood as an open letter to his first born son. It was a heartfelt project filled with love, lessons, worry, pain and hope and it garnered the Kentucky native critical acclaim and commercial success, but also the Grammy for Best Country Album. I ranked it as the #4 Album of 2016. It was some of his best work to date and caused critics and the country music establishment to go crazy over him.

His newest release, Sound & Fury? He’s just looking to burn all that shit down.

Turning to a new sound, Simpson has adopted a heavier, bluesier tone and combined with Bobby Emmett’s synths, his songs have a more dystopian feel to them. The listener is immediately oriented to the new sound by the instrumental intro track “Ronin”, a title that carries an underlying theme and statement throughout the album: Sturgill’s doing his own thing and leaving a trail of fire in his wake. “'Cause it's "fuck all y'all" season, don't give me a reason/And watch your house burn to the ground” he plainly states on “Last Man Standing”, a high energy, barn burner of a song that seems to take aim at the country music industry as a whole and all the bullshit and hypocrisy that comes with it.

Those who have followed Sturgill’s career are used to this attitude from him, but he’s setting the record straight for any new listeners coming his way, thanks to his 2016 Grammy win. Sturgill just wants to be left alone to do what he does best and be surrounded by those who care. “Mercury In Retrograde” takes exception to those that seek him out with ulterior motives, while “Best Clockmaker on Mars” sees Sturgill ache to be back home, alone with his wife who is not afraid of calling him out on his bullshit. It’s a refreshing love song from Simpson lyrically, yet with a sick bluesy guitar riff and heavy synths as the backdrop, he still sounds annoyed as fuck. Not that that’s a bad thing because it’s a killer track.

It’s the instrumentation that is the most jarring but also the strength of this project. At first listen, it was unsettling to hear Simpson’s thick country vocals in the middle of this heavy, psychedelic music. As my wife said, “This doesn’t sound like Sturgill Simpson.” Once I was on my second and third listens it clicked, and sounded like Sturgill was not only in his wheelhouse, but actually having a great time.  These elements only began to heighten the songs for me. There’s a great mix between the guitar, synths and bass on the lead single “Sing Along” that gives it such a unique texture. The song is also home to my favorite lyric “I know you know that you’re killing me but it’s worth it just to see you smile”. Hot damn y’all.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Top Ten Things: Chris Jericho Matches

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com.  Since it's WrestleMania weekend and I'll be watching The Show of Shows with the band Fozzy, I thought I'd count down the ten greatest matches of The Ayatollah of Rock n' Rollah himself, Chris Jericho!


A friend asked me a few years ago, "If you could be any wrestler, who would you be?"  And my answer was "I gotta go with Jericho.  Think about it, the guy had two dream careers growing up - pro wrestler and rock star - and goddammit, he got to do BOTH of them."  Jericho is one of those "complete package" wrestlers - athletic, innovative, charismatic, and a promo-cutting machine.  He has the uncanny ability to reinvent himself whenever he needs to, adding new layers to his character and churning out quotable lines and catchphrases with staggering frequency.  "Ever - E-E-E-EEEEVERRRR be the same againe," "Trashbag ho," "Would you please shut. The hell. Up," "I am the best in the world at what I do," "Drink it in, man," and "You just made the list" are just a sampling of Jericho's more memorable promo moments.  He's gone from an obnoxious rock star character to a soft-spoken sadist to a scarf-wearing hipster, and yet every new wrinkle he adds still fits the overall Jericho persona.

But today I'm here to talk about his accomplishments in the ring.  Jericho's turned in so many classic bouts over two-plus decades that picking just ten was quite a challenge; just when I thought I'd narrowed it down I'd remember another great match I'd forgotten about.  So a couple favorites like Jericho vs. Juventud at SuperBrawl, or the fantastic Ladder Match with Shawn (Yeah I know) just missed the cut.  I'm sure not everyone will agree with this ranking but here it is.....




10. Rob Van Dam vs. Chris Jericho - Unforgiven - 9.23.01


The much-maligned Invasion Angle will never win any awards for booking, but it did produce some classic matches, such as this show stealer.  Rob Van Dam had debuted in the WWF two months earlier and became the hottest star in the company, winning a blazing feud against Jeff Hardy before moving on to Jericho.  Their Hardcore Title match at Unforgiven was a searingly intense battle full of weaponry and aerial tactics, and ultimately RVD finished Y2J with the Five-Star Frog Splash to retain.




9. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho - Unforgiven - 9.7.08


The best feud of 2008 was undoubtedly Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels.  After a babyface return in late 2007, Jericho quickly turned heel again in early '08, modeling a new persona after the character of Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men.  Jericho became soft-spoken, sullen, and sanctimonious, insisting that born-again Christian Shawn Michaels was a hypocrite who didn't follow his own beliefs.  Their feud was intended as a one-off match that spring but stretched over nearly six months.  The best match of this saga in my opinion was the non-sanctioned street fight at Unforgiven, which sprung from an incident at SummerSlam.  Jericho invited Michaels and his wife Rebecca to his talk show, and their bickering led to Jericho accidentally knocking Rebecca out with a punch.  This was fairly tame by Attitude Era standards, but in the new PG Era it was treated as a huge deal, and the two wrestlers played it to the hilt.  Their fight was brutal without being bloody, and it ended via ref stoppage when Michaels had beaten Jericho unconscious.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Top Ten Things: Superior Movie Sequels

Yo yo yo!  Welcome to another Top Ten Things here at Enuffa.com! 

As a companion piece to my Disappointing Movie Sequels column I thought I'd compile a list of sequels that were actually superior to the original.  It's something that doesn't happen often, but there have been numerous second or third cinematic chapters that have either expanded on or generally outperformed their predecessor. 

**Please note, two common picks you won't see on this list are The Godfather part II and The Empire Strikes Back.  Don't start throwing fruit yet, hear me out.  While both of those films are great, I prefer The Godfather I and A New Hope, respectively, just by a hair.  I can understand why some like the sequels better but I'm not one of those people.**

**Please further note, I also haven't included The Two Towers or Return of the King, as the Lord of the Rings trilogy is really just one extended film.**


So let's get to business....


10. Terminator 2: Judgment Day


James Cameron's 1984 classic The Terminator took Arnold Schwarzenegger's already burgeoning movie career to the next level by casting him as an evil cyborg sent from the future to destroy the mother of his enemy John Connor.  From this simple concept Cameron created a mythic film saga of self-aware machines turning on their creators and laying waste to the entire planet; a concept borrowed for The Matrix series, among others.  Only problem with the first film was the modest budget, which didn't allow Cameron to fully realize the story.  Some of the effects were quite clunky and prevented full audience immersion.  Seven years later he more or less remade the movie but set it during John's childhood, when a second Terminator has been sent to kill him instead of Sarah. 
Unbeknownst to the evil machines, John's future self has reprogrammed one of the original Terminators (played of course by Arnie) to protect little John.  T2 tells a very similar story but expands on it both visually and conceptually.  John's mother Sarah is now a hardened badass who is determined to stop the creation of the network of machines before it ever starts, and she begrudgingly accepts Arnie's help despite her previous traumatic experience at the hands of his predecessor (not unlike Ripley's hangup with androids in Aliens).  As for the new evil Terminator, that one's an upgrade model comprised of liquid metal, who can shapeshift and is nigh indestructible.  This character is the subject of some of the movie's most innovative and expensive special effects, as he morphs from one likeness to another.  The result is a pretty thrilling action movie which, despite basically being a retread, is an improvement on the original at almost every level.  My only two complaints were that Edward Furlong wasn't much of an actor, and I missed Michael Biehn's presence.  Seriously, that guy rules!




9. Bride of Frankenstein


I first saw the original 1931 Frankenstein on the TV show Creature Double Feature when I was probably seven years old, and like most kids I was fascinated by this little film about a man who creates a monster.  It wasn't until years later when I actually read the book that I realized how simplistic the Karloff film was.  So many story threads were tossed out and the moral ambiguity of Frankenstein himself was sort of glossed over in favor of a hero vs. monster scenario.  Yes we somewhat sympathize with the monster, but he's kind of a mindless brute in the film, rather than the eloquent, tragic figure of the novel.  In college I finally watched Bride of Frankenstein, and my original assessment was that it strayed so far from the book and was so unabashedly weird that I hated it.  But upon later viewings I developed an appreciation for the film's uncompromisingly bizarre tone and for how ballsy its anti-religious and sexual undertones were for 1935.  The story is also much more complex and Karloff's monster is completely sympathetic, aided by his newfound ability to speak (Sadly all of his dialogue is monosyllabic and clunky, but you take what you can get).  The performances by Ernest Thesinger as the sinister, rather flamboyant Dr. Pretorious, and Elsa Lanchester as The Bride are also iconic in the pantheon of classic monster films.  The Bride's "birth" is obviously the most film's famous scene; Lanchester based her movements on those of a bird to achieve a sense of otherworldiness.  That this was such a memorable character is even more amazing considering how brief her appearance is.  My only real gripes with Bride of Frankenstein are a) that there was no effort to make the few characters recast from the first film look like the original actors, even though Bride begins immediately after the first movie ends (For example the Burgomeister is now thin and has a mustache and Frankenstein's wife Elizabeth is suddenly waaaaaay hotter), and b) that Frankenstein's lab has a lever in the middle of the room that blows up the entire building.  What might I ask moved him to install such an easily-activated self-destruct mechanism?


Thursday, October 3, 2019

WWE Hell in a Cell Preview & Predictions....For Three Matches

Umm, so there's still a Hell in a Cell PPV in three days, right?  Like, we're still expected to want to tune in and watch this show despite only three matches having been announced and almost all the RAW and Smackdown hype going toward Fox and Crown Jewel, right? 


I mean I'm actually interested in the three matches we know about, but would it have been that hard to announce two or three more over the course of this week?  Christ, another company starts up and Vince just forgets everything else.  RATINGS, people!  We need RATINGS!  Nah, screw the PPV!  Hey Vince, remember the last time you threw together a PPV the day of?


So, I guess I'll do predictions for the three matches we have, and speculate on a fourth.



Probable WWE Championship Rematch: Brock Lesnar vs. Kofi Kingston


Brock vs. Kofi is taking place on Smackdown, and I can't imagine Vince would book this unless he intended for Brock to win the WWE Title again.  Brock will win in a dominant performance, they'll anounce a rematch at the PPV and Brock will retain.  It'll be short and basic, and Kofi will just be one of the guys again.  Sigh....

Pick: Brock retains





Roman Reigns & Daniel Bryan vs. Erick Rowan & Luke Harper


Jesus fuckin' Christ.  Remember how this whole "Who attacked Roman" storyline was meant to set up Roman vs. Bryan?  First at SummerSlam, then Vince decided that was too soon so he dragged it out and left both guys off that show.  Then he changed his mind and had Rowan turn on Bryan and just be the mastermind the whole time.  Then he decided to have Bryan run to Roman's aid and now they're pals.  This is like a combination of "Who Ran Over Austin" and the Sasha-Bayley Non-Feud of 2018.  Fuck, why does anyone bother following along with WWE's angles from week to week when Vince himself can't seem to recall where he left off?  Anyway, this match should be good and should have a big-time feel.  It's nice that Daniel Bryan is finally getting another fucking PPV match after like four months.  He's only one of your biggest stars.  I'm a little pissed he's already a babyface again though, his heel character was awesome.  Maybe it's all a scam and he'll turn on Roman and reveal Harper and Rowan are both his henchmen.  That would be ideal.  But I dunno if Vince is smart enough to do it that way.  Plus Rowan's beaten both of them in singles matches now, so if Bryan were working Reigns he's been taking multiple asskickings from Rowan to get there.  I'll pick the good guys to win.

Pick: Reigns & Bryan



Awesomely Shitty Movies: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 - Freddy's Revenge

Welcome to yet another installment of Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at Enuffa.com, where I examine uneven films and try to separate the good from the bad.  Today I'm talking about A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge!


Click HERE to read about Nightmare 3 and HERE for Nightmare 4...

In 1984 fledgling film studio New Line Cinemas scored an unexpected monster hit with Wes Craven's weird little movie about a burned-up guy who kills teenagers in their dreams.  The studio had literally mortgaged its future on the project, and when it turned up a tidy $22 million profit, they were eager to follow it up with something equally successful.  The only problem was, Wes Craven (who as a condition of New Line's agreeing to finance the first movie had signed it away as his intellectual property) had no interest in making Nightmare a franchise and declined to participate in a sequel.  Instead director Jack Sholder and screenwriter David Chaskin were brought in to helm the project.  Sholder later confessed he wasn't a fan of the first movie (odd choice to have him direct this one then) and wanted to take the material somewhere else, while Chaskin loaded up the sequel with unusual social subtext for an 80s popcorn movie.  One gross early miscalculation on the part of the filmmakers was the idea that they didn't need a proper actor to play Freddy - since Robert Englund demanded a raise from his Nightmare 1 salary to return, producer Robert Shaye attempted to keep the budget low by casting a stunt double in a Freddy mask.  They got as far as one scene before realizing he was terrible, and wisely agreed to Englund's terms.

Picking up five years after the events in Nightmare 1, this film centers around the new tenants of Nancy Thompson's former address, in particular a teenage boy named Jesse Walsh.  Jesse is haunted by nightmares about Freddy, who asks permission to use Jesse's body as a vehicle for murdering people in the real world.  What follows is a battle of wills, as Jesse struggles to squash the evil growing within him.  The premise is simple, but the thematic choices and execution are what's really intriguing about this often-maligned movie thirty-plus years later.

So let's detach the good and the evil surrounding A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, shall we?



The Awesome


Performances

A few cheesy and awkward moments aside, the principle performances in this movie are strong, at times some of the most credible in the series.  Mark Patton brings a tortured sense of sexually confused teen angst to the role of Jesse, unsure what to do with both his budding physical maturity and his nocturnal hauntings.  Kim Myers is sweetly nurturing and warm as the beautiful girl-next-door Lisa.  Robert Rusler is the meathead jock you can't help but like as Ron Grady, who initially bullies Jesse but ends up being a friend and confidant.  Veteran actor Clu Gulager is cluelessly stern as Jesse's unsympathetic father, insensitive to the changes, both Freddy-related and otherwise, his son is going through.  And of course there's trusty Robert Englund as Freddy himself, who comes off possibly more malicious here than in any other film.  Freddy just seems especially hostile this time around, almost as though Englund resented not being asked back in the first place.  Or maybe I'm reading into things...




Freddy's Look

Original Nightmare makeup artist David Miller was unavailable to return for the second film, so 23-year-old Kevin Yagher was brought in for his first of three Nightmare films.  Yagher had nothing to go on in recreating Miller's makeup design except clips from the first film and a few photos, so he mostly started from scratch, making Freddy's prosthetics thinner, bonier and more witch-like, adding to his menacing look.  Another wonderful touch was giving Englund red contact lenses to further enhance his demonic appearance.  Yagher's makeup really established the exaggerated, shiny, "classic" Freddy look.  Of the entire series, this is my favorite execution of Freddy's makeup.



Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Frankenstein (1931)

Welcome to a special Halloween-themed Awesomely Shitty Movies, where I dissect a beloved classic and ruin everybody's fun, like an unwashed neighborhood kid pissing in the community swimming pool.

Today's subject, and the first of a series of ASM articles, is the 1931 horror milestone Frankenstein, based on the legendary 1818 novel by Mary Shelley (of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein fame).


Now look, before you get upset that I'm referring to this film as "awesomely shitty," please understand I hold Frankenstein in very high regard.  I've been a fan of this film since I was about six years old and I make it a point to watch it (and its first sequel) once a year during Halloween season.  That said, there are quite a few flaws with the film and I'm here to point them out and probably piss a lotta people off.  But whatever....

Frankenstein first emerged as a novel after its author, her husband Percy, and their friend Lord Byron were rained in one night on vacation and decided to have a little ghost story contest.  Mary had a "monster" of a time (Get it? Eh??) coming up with a story idea, but it finally came to her one night in a dream - the vision of a medical student bringing life to a man he'd stitched together from parts of the dead.  Eventually the tale grew into a full-fledged novel, and a literary classic was born.

The visual aspect of the story instantly lent itself to theatrical interpretation, and nearly a century later as the film industry blossomed it found itself the subject of several cinematic attempts (the first being Thomas Edison's 1910 short).  But it was Universal Studios and producer Carl Laemmle jr. who would make the word "Frankenstein" a household one.  Coming off the heels of a tremendously successful Dracula adaptation, Laemmle hired director James Whale and veteran actor Boris Karloff to bring the story to life.  Frankenstein was a "monster" hit (I did it again, did you catch it??), spawning three direct sequels and four crossover films, and changing monster movies forever (No no, that time it wasn't a pun).

So what worked about this immortal film and what didn't?  Well, I'm here to set the record straight....



The Awesome


Makeup

In bringing Frankenstein's monster to life, makeup artist Jack Pierce and director James Whale collaborated to create one of the most instantly recognizable characters in cinema history.  The flat head, heavy brow and neck electrodes were all strokes of genius, as was Boris Karloff's added touch of mortician's wax on his eyelids to give him a half-awake zombie-like appearance.  This makeup immediately became iconic and it's still considered the definitive Frankenstein look, used extensively in Halloween decor and marketing.

Such a great look


Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The History of NJPW Dominion (2014)

The Bullet Club has taken over, folks.  It's New Japan, 2014....


BodyMaker Colosseum - 6.21.14

By June 2014 the Bullet Club had gone through a major shift, as founder Prince Devitt left New Japan for TitanLand (following a Loser Leaves NJPW match at Invasion Attack), and was replaced as leader by the industry's hottest free agent AJ Styles.  AJ made a major statement from the start, capturing the IWGP Championship in his New Japan in-ring debut.  Also by this point buzzworthy indy tag team The Young Bucks had been added to the mix, making the Bullet Club a diverse, powerful stable.  The 2014 Dominion show was fairly strange compared to the others; with no IWGP Title match on the card it would instead by headlined by an Intercontinental Championship match (the third of five such NJPW PPVs that year), while IWGP Champion Styles was in a tag match third from the top.  What's weirder about this show is that by my count three of the five pre-intermission bouts scored **** or better, while none of the final four matches did.  What is this, a WWE show??  But Dominion 2014 was still a solid, easy to watch outing with some fine wrestling.

The show opened gorgeously with The Young Bucks vs. Time Splitters for the IWGP Jr. Tag belts.  This began with lots of innovative, fast-paced action, the Splitters mostly frustrating the Bucks.  Matt and Nick eventually took control after their patented head scissor/flying kick combo, and kept outmaneuvering Alex Shelley to keep him from escaping as they worked him over.  The Bucks broke out a slew of tandem moves over several minutes, and finally Shelley evaded them and got the hot tag.  Kushida ran wild, taking out both Bucks, but fell victim to a Doomsday Device dropkick for a two-count.  Time Splitters recovered and hit a tandem Sliced Bread for a nearfall.  Kushida went for the Hoverboard Lock but Matt countered with a tombstone setup for the IndyTaker.  The pin was broken up and the Bucks hit their tandem 450 splash for another two-count.  Finally they went for More Bang for Your Buck, but it was broken up, and Kushida snared a Hoverboard lock on Nick for the tapout finish.  Just an awesome, prototypical Bucks-Splitters match to kick off the show; exactly the kind of match you'd want from these teams.  ****1/2


The shortest match of the night, and the only one under ten minutes, pitted Tetsuya Naito against Tama Tonga in a crisp, energetic match.  Tonga attacked before the bell and controlled most of the early moments, taking the action outside and hitting a TKO-type move to drop Naito throat-first on the railing, which looked brutal.  Naito beat the 20-count and took over the match with a neckbreaker, and the remaining minutes featured quick back-and-forth action.  Tonga got the advantage with a backdrop suplex and the finishing sequence was full of reversals until Naito found a break and hit the Stardust Press for the win.  This was fun.  ***

Maybe the unexpected hit of the night for me (and I'm not sure why I was surprised by this) was Goto and Shibata vs. Yuji Nagata and Tomoaki Honma.  These four guys beat the shit out of each other for eleven minutes and it was glorious.  Honma attacked before the bell, pummeling Shibata with chops and stomps, but Shibata wasn't having it and engaged both guys with traded forearms.  Later in the match Shibata and Honma had an incredible striking battle, trading rapid-fire palm strikes until Honma leveled him with a lariat and tagged Nagata.  Shibata and Nagata then had a sick striking war of their own and traded backdrop suplexes.  Shibata and Nagata eventually spilled out of the ring as Goto and Honma fought inside.  Honma hit a blockbuster but missed his diving headbutt.  Goto landed a yushi guroshi but Honma countered the Shouten with a small package for a nearfall.  Goto then hit a Dominator-type move for the win.  Shibata and Nagata continued brawling all the way to the dressing room.  This was like a NEVER Openweight tag match, stiff as fuck and full of nonstop action.  ****

Top Ten Things: Scary Movie Moments

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!

Since it's October I thought I'd do a Halloween-themed list, so today I'll be talking about truly frightening or disturbing moments/scenes in some of my favorite scary films.  I generally don't scare very easy when watching a film; I've seen so many in my lifetime, and coming up with new ways to shock audiences becomes more difficult with each passing year.  But there are some cinematic scares that have endured for me, either because of a visually harrowing moment, or because of the sheer genius of a scene's construction.



10. The Shining: Bear Suit - This first entry isn't terrifying in the traditional sense, but I've included it more because it's such a strange and upsetting image.  In this scene from one of the all-time horror classics, Wendy Torrance is running through the halls of the haunted Overlook Hotel trying to find her son.  She stops in her tracks and the camera abruptly zooms in through the open doorway of one of the rooms, on a ghost dude in a bear suit pleasuring another ghost dude in a tux.  The novel provides an explanation for these supernatural shenanigans, but it's so much more effective as an unexplained cinematic bit.  This visual is so traumatic, so bizarre and disorienting, for both Wendy and the audience, particularly since neither of these men is supposed to be there.  It's like something out of a nightmare that you can barely remember; one of those dreams where you can only recall fragments of out-of-context imagery that stay with you for weeks.

Seriously, what the hell's goin' on?




9. Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Pointing - The 1978 remake of this sci-fi classic (in my opinion the best version by far) ends with the entire city of San Francisco being taken over by human-impersonating pod people.  The protagonist Matthew Bennell has seemingly escaped without being assimilated and is spotted by his friend Nancy, one of the few humans left in the city.  As she approaches him, he turns and lets out the signature body snatcher screech, revealing to us that he's one of them, and alerting the other pod people to Nancy's presence.  It's a truly terrifying conclusion to the film, and the visual of Donald Sutherland pointing at her accusingly with this inhuman facial expression is an iconic horror moment.

If you ever suspect someone of anything, just point at them like this
and I guarantee they'll own up to every shitty thing they've ever done.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Awesomely Shitty Movies: A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 - The Dream Master

Welcome to another Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at Enuffa.com, where I pick apart the finer and lesser points of a piece of escapist cinematic entertainment and usually end up pissing someone off.  Following up our last installment about A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, let's take a look at its sequel, the Renny Harlin-directed romp, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master!


Nightmare 4 is the only episode of this series I saw in the movie theater, it having been released just before my thirteenth birthday.  I was old enough to convince my mom to take me to see it, and surprisingly she was pretty entertained by it.  My initial take was, "best of the series."  I loved the mix of horror and humor, I loved the idea of Freddy meeting his match in the dream-superpowered Alice, I loved the stylized look and special effects.  This film was everything a thirteen-year-old Freddy fan could want.

The fourth film in the series picks up a year after Nightmare 3.  The three survivors from that movie, Kristen, Joey and Kincaid, have been released from their group home and are back in high school, seemingly having moved past their shared trauma.  But Kristen begins dreaming once again about Freddy's house and boiler room and is convinced he's returning.  Joey and Kincaid don't agree, and begin to resent her for continuing to pull them into her dream.  Of course Freddy does return after being resurrected when Kincaid's dog pees on his grave, and he swiftly gets revenge on the last three Elm Street children.  But before her death, Kristen bequeaths her dream gifts onto her friend Alice, whom Freddy uses to pull other kids into her nightmares so he can continue killing.  Alice then must absorb the personality traits of all her friends and become a Dream Master so she can go toe-to-toe with everyone's favorite burned dream murderer.

By this point in the series things had become quite outlandish and comic booky, with Freddy's exploits leaning more toward dark comedy than pure horror.  This film doesn't quite veer into camp, but it definitely completed a four-film tonal shift from the original, before the fifth film returned to a darker feel.  On one hand you have to respect Renny Harlin's gleefully cartoonish take on this material, on the other hand you do miss Freddy being actually scary.  Let's take a look at what holds up and what doesn't, about Nightmare 4....


For our ASM article about Nightmare 3, click HERE



The Awesome


Alice

Probably the best thing about Nightmare 4 is the newly introduced character of Alice Johnson, in a dynamic, robust performance by Lisa Wilcox.  Unlike most horror protagonists she's given a real dramatic arc, going from mousy and awkward to confident and resilient, as she assimilates her friends' abilities after they die.  Alice is the daughter of a widowed, domineering, alcoholic father, who's trampled on her for so long she's all but retreated into herself (One nice touch is the use of Alice's mirror - she has it completely covered with photos of her friends because she doesn't like to look at herself, but at the end she takes all the photos down and embraces who she is).  But throughout the movie she keeps gaining strength, standing up to both her father and Freddy (metaphors, man).  This arc actually feels very relevant in 2019 and I couldn't help noticing how ahead of its time it was.  While the choice to totally shift to a new main character was jarring, they found in Alice a very relatable character with some nice dramatic substance to explore.  Her growth into the moniker of Dream Master also put Freddy on the defensive for the first time in the series, and Alice went on to be the only protagonist to survive two films.  As Sandra Bullock so eloquently quipped in Demolition Man, "He's really matched his meet.  You really licked his ass."

You go get him, Alice!




Nice Kids

One thing I found really refreshing about Nightmare 4 is the fact that the group of kids (with whom we actually get to spend some real time before everything goes to shit, unlike in Nightmare 3), despite being very different social types (Alice is a shy doormat, Rick is athletic martial arts enthusiast, Debbie is a fitness freak rocker chick, Dan is a football star, Sheila is an asthmatic science nerd), they all genuinely like each other.  There's no stereotypical high school bullying or cliques in this movie.  While that might not be the most realistic approach, it's something different for a movie about teenagers and since they're all likable we care what happens to them.  Nice people are more fun to spend time with.

The kids are alright.  In this movie.




Direction

Where Nightmare 3 was directed by a first-timer without much confidence or visual pinache, Finnish director Renny Harlin had a very clear vision of what he wanted to do, and a keen eye for dramatic, unique visuals.  He's really more suited as an action director, as his later work in Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger and The Long Kiss Goodnight would illustrate.  But his unconventional approach allowed Nightmare 4 to look and feel different from its three predecessors, giving the film a sense of kinetic visual excitement Nightmare 3 lacked, and taking the comic booky aspect of Dream Warriors to the next level.  Harlin also contributed to last-minute script changes, as the film was produced during the 1988 Writer's Strike; considering the scrambling most of it turned out pretty well. 




Effects

Like Nightmare 3, the special effects here look great, even more polished thanks to a considerably bigger budget ($13 million compared to $5 million).  Freddy's resurrection is one of the film's highlights, as his skeleton literally grows muscle and flesh before our very eyes (think Toht's melting face in Raiders of the Lost Ark but played in reverse).  Another is the nod to David Cronenberg's The Fly, when Debbie's human form molts off her body and she turns into a cockroach.  Still another is Freddy's ultimate demeez, when the faces and hands of the children he's murdered reach out of his body and begin tearing him apart from the inside.  These are all fantastically well-executed effects that further add to the series' pedigree.





Dream Sequences

Along those same lines, the dream sequences are creative once again.  I'd say Nightmare 3's nightmares were overall more imaginative, but this stuff is nothing to sneeze at either.  The three aforementioned moments are all great, as is Alice's scene in the old-time movie theater where she gets pulled across the auditorium and into the screen.  There's also Sheila's death scene, where Freddy literally sucks all the air out of her body, and Joey's death, wherein the sexy model from one of his posters transports into his water bed before morphing into Freddy and pulling him under, after which Joey's mother then finds him drowned inside the waterbed.  So while the Freddy scenes aren't quite as neat as in the previous film, they're still pretty creative and fantastical.  The one real miss is Rick's karate-themed death, where he has to fistfight an invisible Freddy (a last-minute change from an elaborate elevator sequence which was cut for budgetary reasons).  But they can't all be good, can they?

Freddy doing his impression of a Dyson....




Robert Englund

As with every good Nightmare movie, Robert Englund is one of the reasons this one works.  The role of Englund's career, in this film almost bordering on anti-hero, is the claw-wielding maniac with the burned-up face.  The screenwriters veered a little too far into Arnold-esque bad comedy in this film - Freddy's dropping bad jokes like an unfunny dad this time - but Englund as always brings it to life with a mix of menace and levity.  Oh, and unlike in Part 1 and 3 his vocal timbre is consistent throughout!

Dat's a spicy meat-a-ball.


Alright I've said enough nice things.  Time to complain about some shit....




The Shitty


Tuesday Knight

Sorely missing from this film is Patricia Arquette as Kristen Parker.  Arquette was offered a handsome salary to reprise her role as the main protagonist from Nightmare 3, but turned it down because she wanted to avoid being typecast in horror roles.  Unfortunately she was hastily replaced by an actress who looked, sounded and talked nothing like her, in Tuesday Knight.  Knight's performance isn't so much bad (though she has some amateurish moments) as it is distracting.  Never once did my brain accept her as the same person Arquette played.  She was just some other teenager with the same color hair and the same friends.  Recasting a major character is tough; if you're gonna do it you have to make sure the performances match, and this one doesn't.

Who the hell are you and what did you do with Kristen??




Soft Reboot

One thing I've never been a fan of in sequels is when a character (or in this case three) survives a horrific ordeal in one film only to be neatly and efficiently killed off early in the next (see Alien 3).  It strikes me as near retconning; why did we watch Kristen, Joey and Kincaid muscle through Nightmare 3 if they'd all be dead in the first thirty minutes of this movie?  The first act of this film too often feels like we're rushing to get the old characters out of the way so we can get to Alice.  I get that we needed to transition to a new main character, but couldn't it have been handled more gracefully?  Or couldn't Lisa Wilcox simply have been cast as Kristen and gone through the same arc Alice did?  What if Kristen is now mousy and shy after spending months at a psychiatric ward and nearly being killed by a dream boogeyman?  And then her last two friends from that ordeal die, along with the new friends she's made, and she's forced to grow from Dream Warrior into Dream Master (They could even have her absorb the other Dream Warriors' powers like she takes on the traits of her new friends)?  Wouldn't that have worked just as well?  She'd still have the power to pull other people into her dream and inadvertently expose the new characters to Freddy's shenanigans, right?  Then it wouldn't feel so much like the producers were just starting over with this franchise and it would tie more closely into the events of Nightmare 3.




One-Liners

I mentioned earlier that Freddy was rewritten here as a pun and slogan machine, and unfortunately his penchant for lame jokes undermines his value as a horror villain.  It was Renny Harlin's mindset that after three films audiences wouldn't be scared of Freddy anymore, and in fact they'd sort of be rooting for him because he's such an entertaining character.  But I think they took that philosophy a bit too far in giving him a cheeseball one-liner every time he murders someone.  Some of them are Schwarzenegger in The Running Man-bad.  Just before Freddy kills Kristen and dares her to bring a friend into her dream - "Why don't you reach out and cut someone?"  When he meets Alice for the first time - "How sweet. Fresh meat."  When he shows up in Debbie's basement as she's lifting weights - "No pain, no gain."  When he traps Debbie in the roach motel - "You can check in but you can't check out."  When he confronts Alice in the diner - "If the food don't kill ya, the service will."  It's too much, jokester, tone it down.     




Freddy's Downfall

As I said before, it was very cool to finally see Freddy tangle with someone who could go toe-to-toe with him.  However I feel like Alice had it too easy.  They have a brief physical tussle, Freddy gets the upper hand, and then Alice remembers the Dream Master rhyme about evil seeing itself and dying, grabs a broken piece of stained glass window, and shows Freddy his reflection.  This causes the souls of all the children he's killed to rip him apart from the inside.  As I mentioned, I liked the effect of the arms pulling out of him, a very cool visual, but it felt like Alice arrived at this solution too quickly, and the idea of showing evil its own reflection is never built up to.  This rule is just introduced at the last minute.  Just seemed like this moment could've felt more earned.

Freddy's soul inbox is full....




Nitpicks

-As cool as Freddy's resurrection sequence is, something about it doesn't make any sense.  At the end of Nightmare 3 Freddy's physical remains are physically buried in a physically-consecrated grave, causing the nightmare version of Freddy to disintegrate.  But then in this movie Kincaid falls asleep and in the dream finds himself in the junkyard where Freddy's buried, and his dog Jason (hardy-har) pees on Freddy's grave, which resurrects him.  Umm, if Freddy's bones are buried in the real world, shouldn’t the dog peeing on the grave have to happen in the real world for Freddy to come back?  He's still buried in hallowed ground in real life, right?

-Did Kristen and her mom move to a new house in the last year?  Her room doesn't look a thing like it did in the previous movie.

-Wow Kristen’s mom is an insensitive bitch huh?  At dinner Kristen isn't eating and her mom goes "Something the matter with the cuisine?"  Kristen replies "When two of your friends die in the same day, let me know what it does to your appetite," and mom goes "You're just tired."  Really ma?  Literally every friend this girl has ever had is dead, and your response is to tell her she's just tired?  Know your audience, ya douche.  Under the circumstances I think Kristen's holding it together like a fuckin' miracle.

-The classrooms in this film are lit like a film noir.  I ain't never been in a classroom like that.  Do they allow smoking and crooked fedoras in this school?

-Debbie's death scene is one of the best in the movie, but there's just one problem.  Debbie isn't asleep when Freddy shows up - she's working out.  So how does anything in this scene even happen?  Did Debbie fall asleep mid-rep?

Who falls asleep while weightlifting?

-Near the end of the film Alice and Dan go after Freddy in Dan's truck, and Alice rams him.  But it turns out that was just in the dream, and in the real world they collided full-speed with a tree.  Dan is rushed to the hospital but somehow Alice is totally fine.  Umm, they'd both be fuckin' vegetables after that crash with no airbags.

-Anyone catch the references to Wes Craven's The Serpent and the Rainbow or James Cameron's Aliens?  Freddy's first line after being resurrected is "You shouldn't have let them bury me, I'm not dead," and late in the movie Alice says to Freddy "Get away from her, you son of a bitch!"  Not a nitpick, just a nice pair of Easter eggs.



Conclusion

The first four movies in this series are hard for me to rank definitively.  I like aspects of all of them but parts of each don't hold up so well in retrospect.  If you took the best bits of each film you'd have a damn near perfect Nightmare movie.  But I guess that's what's so fascinating about this series - every film is different.  Like the Alien movies, each director put his own stamp on the material, and since Freddy is a surrealist villain the rules are whatever you make them.  Nightmare 4 is the film that made Freddy almost an action-adventure villain, tossing out one-liners and relishing his own evil.  Renny Harlin's kinetic signature style is handled with such unapologetic confidence it's easy to get wrapped up in it and overlook the elements that don't work so well.  This film is a horror comic book, not scary but exhilarating, and features maybe the most interesting lead protagonist of the series.  Alice is a unique invention in the pantheon of slasher films, a young woman who goes from mousy pushover to badass hero, defeating the demon all on her own and getting the hot, popular jock at the end.  If nothing else you have to respect how ahead of its time this film is.


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