Waking Nightmares…

I am late with this.

I get it. Halloween is over. Merry Christmas now.

But I promised you all a nice ol’ Merry Nightmare overview since I binged that franchise after binging Friday the 13th and goddammit, I’ll do it. Add to the fact that I spent over 72 hours awake and busy with other work and only got to sleep earlier yesterday and I say I’m allowed to be as late as I am with this and the upcoming Evil Dead ’13 review. Dammit.

So, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Another very influential slasher franchise of the 80s, possibly the one that introduced the idea of adding supernatural elements to your killer. Also spent its entire lifespan up until 2010 as the bread and butter of New Line Cinema.

Prior to the movie’s production, New Line was simply a distribution company until founder and CEO Bob Shaye decided he wanted to expand to production and tapped the late Wes Craven into their first picture… A Nightmare on Elm Street, a little piece of hellish creativity made by a man who had by then established himself as a horror movie craftsman in the best of ways with The Hills Have Eyes.

At the center of that film was the killer Freddy Krueger played by Robert Englund for the entire franchise until its remake in 2010 – a man deformed all over his body with fatal burns donning a fedora, red-and-green sweater, and a glove with knives for each finger. Inspired by an incident in Craven’s childhood (he tells different versions of the story every time, but they always revolve his encounter with a hobo as a child in his home and ending up frightened by it). A guy scary looking enough to put me off watching any of those movies for a long while after I first about him.

It also doesn’t help that I had a friend as a child who swore to me that they hired an actual serial killer to play Freddy Krueger, despite how obviously illogical that would be.

So, yeah, the Nightmare on Elm Street used to keep me awake for a very long while. On top of them actually doing their job as opposed to Friday the 13th, there’s also another thing that makes me hold the Nightmare franchise above the Friday franchise…

… the Nightmare on Elm Street films are made less by people who want a quick buck (though of course they are there – it’s why its a franchise in the first place) and more by people who want to be involved creatively and turn the game around a bit. It’s kind of rare to find a Nightmare film that actually fits into the same mold as any slasher film, they are too inventive to be so formulaic. There’s always a brand new twist to a Nightmare film and while a lot of those attempts to shake things up fail as a motherfucker (it’s 3-4 on my count; 3-5 if we count Freddy vs. Jason), we at least know that they come from an honest attempt to be something new.

Anyway, this intro is making me tired and I can’t think of any way to sound lazier than I am so let’s dig into the series so I can late-wrap my Halloween posts and move on to the Feast of Gobbles!

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) or: the one where we have to pretend we don’t know what’s up

That’s more than just a tongue-in-cheek jest. I regret that I hadn’t seen the movie before I knew about the franchise – partly because I would not have taken so much time to actually see it, but largely because… well, it’s hard to know this now that Poppa Freddy is such an icon, but the point of A Nightmare on Elm Street is that we don’t know what’s up and neither do the victims. We’re following this alongside Nancy (Heather Lagenkamp doing, for my money, the best job any actor has done in a slasher film save for Donald Pleasance), we’re learning about Freddy with Nancy, and for that, A Nightmare on Elm Street strikes me as a mystery I would have been totally satisfied by if I had come at it clean. And that’s only on top of being impressed by how scary it can be, leaving Freddy to be a pair of shining eyes in the blue night and ghostly fog and having most of his victims liquified in the worst way (obviously Johnny Depp’s death is the one that is iconic most, but Tina’s death in the opening minutes to me is the one that I find fully unnerving as she is simply tossed around and slashed and thrown all over the room by a force out of her or Rod’s control). And the script and editing’s absolutely sublime job of leaking the waking moments into the dream sequences so that we only find the rug out from under us when it’s too late.

You don’t need me to continue praising A Nightmare on Elm Street. Everybody has praised this movie. It is an out-and-out classic.

It is almost fully a masterpiece.

But my problems have fallen on the ending. Not even just the whole Home Alone third act, just the ending moments. This movie that did a fantastic job of attaching story logic to a concept that could have easily leaked banality (look at the next film…) and then it ended on a note that is so out there that I can’t reconcile that burnt end of the storyline they gave us. But hey, at least we have a hell of a movie leading up to it.

Also, this will get my ass kicked but… the score. Funny enough, I like Friday the 13th‘s theme, but A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s is 80s in all the worst ways and it actually takes down the movie’s scare factor to have it given this sort of jingle to it.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) – or: Killer Eye for the Queer Guy

Here’s the thing: I think the premise is… fucking brilliant. Jesse (Mark Patton – whose name constantly makes me double-take on it thinking of my favorite vocalist) is a dude who is struggling right now with his sexuality (that homoeroticism is totally deliberate). Freddy knows that Jesse is emotionally and psychologically weak because of his inability to accept or be open with himself. That could easily lend itself to a lot of psychological horror.

There’s another silver lining to this – This is easily the scariest Freddy has ever been as a character. Englund isn’t given a whole lot to do in the role with the franchise’s debut since he had to be hidden and only sporadically appear. That had its charms and worked, but here… he’s still in the shadows (in fact, I don’t think we see him in any scene that is not underlit), but because he’s trying to possess Jesse and use him as a tool for killing, he’s more involved with the character, he’s trying to psych him out, he’s getting closer and closer in all the worst ways.

That’s the end of the silver lining though. Freddy’s Revenge frankly makes no fucking sense, throwing away all the rules and logic the first film invented just to give us a bunch of exploding birds and Freddy crashing a pool party and it can’t pick up its spilled pieces fast enough to fix itself before the movie ends on yet another crazy ending that doesn’t give us answer to Jesse’s condition.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) – or: Start Believing in Fairy Tales, Freddy. You’re in One!

Let’s get one thing straight right now: THIS is where Freddy begins to get neutered. It gets worse as the series goes on and he won’t regain his menace again until New Nightmare. Somewhere, somehow, Englund and crew decided it made sense to give Freddy character by making him never shut the fuck up. He never shuts the fuck up. He’s always quipping and laughing and being more of a nuisance than anything.

And frankly there is not much of a scare factor in this movie either. The opening scene is jarring in all the right ways, but the rest of the movie is so dedicated to its victims being empowered and finally finding a way to fight back (led largely by Lagenkamp returning as Nancy, which is so fuck yeah for me) that you are more tense for the outcome of Freddy’s appearance rather than “Oh shit, Freddy’s here, they’re dead!”

That said… I don’t have much of a problem with that empowerment, even if it means the movie isn’t scary and becomes more of a superhero film. It’s too well-drafted out as a script that it feels rewarding to see it all come together so props to a returning Craven, Bob Wagner, director Chuck Russell, and some dude named Frank Darabont that I’ve never heard of and clearly never went anywhere in his life. Power to them for making maybe the only Nightmare script that didn’t feel like it fell apart, even when Freddy’s character and the effects sometimes do so.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) – or: Fuck Renny Harlin directed this.

That should be about it. That subtitle should sum it up. Harlin has no subtlety, all bombastics, and a horror movie like Dream Master fucking suffers for that. It sucks that everything else production wise is competent because this is the Watchmen of horror films, a movie that peaks with its physical craft because its substance misses the mark, the whole fucking way.

And there’s its whole soundtrack. Its whole soundtrack. The Dramarama song, the Go West song, the Sinead O’Connor song, there’s a song of Freddy rapping with the Fat Boys. What have they done to my Freddy?

At least Dream Warriors had Dokken.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989) or: The Baby Is Sleeping and So Am I

I’ve seen this movie like twice now and I simply don’t think I remember much of it still, so I might just make this short (largely I remember the death by food gag, motorcycle possession, and comic book death).

It feels like the one where the franchise finally submit itself to being just another boilerplate slasher and yet at the same time… it’s still not scary. Freddy is still just being a prankster who kills sometimes. And not even a fun one, Englund clearly did not want to be involved with this movie and only did so because of his contract.

All the more worse because, in addition to being such a misfortunate low for the franchise in quality, it’s also like Freddy’s Revenge – there’s some potential in having a pregnancy story and Freddy wanting to take over that child (and the child’s spirit involved with Alice’s life), but hell no, it’s all just flushed down the toilet.

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) or: Bullshit!

Wikipedia calls this film a comedy-horror. Oh god, it wasn’t worth that categorization for this movie to go the way it went. At this point, all logic, all rules, everything about the franchise went the fuck out of the wall and they just went as zany and crazy as they possibly could and…

… it is entirely as tiring as you would expect. Freddy’s Dead claims to have saved the best for last and they’re not wrong, but this isn’t what they saved…

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) or: Heather Lagenkamp’s 8 1/2

Let’s be frank, it’s not the best. That’s always a title that goes to the first movie. But it’s close. It’s certainly intelligent enough to be considered the best by anyone else. It’s clear that the only good Nightmare movies are the ones where Craven and Lagenkamp have actually had a hand in the production – 1, 3, and 7.

I constantly see some sort of suggestion that the spectacle of the concept should have been bigger. That, say, Freddy should have met with Robert Englund or that there should have been a showdown with the three female leads: Lagenkamp, Lisa Wilcox, and I’m guessing either Tuesday Knight or Patricia Arquette. And that just seems to miss the point of the premise: Lagenkamp – who in real life had a stalker who pretended to be Freddy much like in this film – is finding herself being unable to distinguish herself from her most well-known performance, like most of the Nightmare audience probably does and how Craven’s own fears fuel the story of Freddy Krueger. It’s a psychological tale, not a spectacle-driven one, and so it has to take time to use Craven’s same techniques in seeping between waking world and dream and leaving stuff very lucid.

Also, I find it so much more fulfilling and scary to just have Englund disappear halfway through the movie just when Lagenkamp is finding her life stuck in a movie. That’s some really creepy stuff without so much as a sudden appearance.

In my perfect world, we don’t have Freddy vs. Jason (or we have it in the 80s where that movie’s high concept really belongs) and we don’t have that 2010 remake. This is the final word on Nightmare, the last time Freddy will ever have a chance to leak beyond the screen into our dreams and thanks to Lagenkamp and Craven, he’s grounded instead on paper.

And that’s my final word on it (until maybe one day I actually review Freddy and Jason’s films full-length one by one). I’m tired, dawg. I gotta sleep.

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