Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Nightmare on Elm Street: Ex Post Facto

A Nightmare on Elm Street
In 1984, a film was released that changed the boundaries of horror cinema. By releasing this new icon of fright to the masses, new rules were brought forth to the horror movie world and it basically was this: the new rules are.there are no rules. The antagonist in the film was—and still is—terrifying enough to induce nightmares in us all. In the first film of the series—in which there are seven films (or eight if you count the remake)—this new personification of terror was conducted by an established master of horror, Wes Craven, giving us a new name to strike fear in us all. We had Michael Myers, then Jason Voorhees, but in 1984, Craven gave us Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street.   

We all know the name of Freddy, as he's been a household name for years, and nowadays it doesn't frighten us as much to speak about the character. Although Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers still seem like frightening characters even though the sequels of their respective movies flopped and went to the wayside as much as the A Nightmare on Elm Street films, it was the evolution of the character that made it go from a terrifying figure to the clown we all know it as today. Even the re-imagining of Freddy in the new remake didn't help much as I feel everyone is just tired of remake after remake in the movie-making industry. But let's go back to 1984, when the name of Freddy Krueger was barely known, yet petrified anyone who knew this name of the newest movie boogeyman.

In 1984, Wes Craven was known for a few horror movie hits like The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, with a few so-so flicks, such as Deadly Blessing and Swamp Thing. But it wasn't until after the world witnessed A Nightmare on Elm Street that the horror movie-going public had gotten to know the name of Craven and referred to him as a master of horror. I, myself, didn't know about him until I saw this film, which I waited until it was released on VHS the following year. But rest assured, that was one film and director who had stayed in the forefront of my mind for years to come, giving me nightmare after nightmare until my psyche was scarred for life.

Looking back, it seems as if Craven had followed the same recipe as John Carpenter had when making Halloween. Basically, Craven had cast a bunch of unknowns for the parts of the teen-aged characters—and even for the part of Freddy himself (Robert Englund)—and rounded off the actors with an established one...a Mr. John Saxon. Yes, we all know Johnny Depp was in this movie, but this was his film debut, not even having any television experience beforehand. But the cast worked and meshed together perfectly, showing a great chemistry between everyone to give us an awesome movie.

In case you've been living under a rock during the 1980s and 1990s, A Nightmare on Elm Street is about a group of friends in high school who start experiencing nightmares and, upon discussing them with each other, learn that they are dreaming of the same man who's trying to kill them in their dreams. One by one, they're killed in their dreams—and die in real life—until one of the teenagers, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), decides to fight back.

I can't gush enough about this film and what a fresh idea it was back then. By 1984, the recipe for a horror movie was the same ol' mystery slasher, featuring a serial killer in a mask, killing everybody off with a knife, machete, axe or chainsaw. A few years into the decade, it was already getting old and tired.

A couple of key scenes in the film are great and are due some credit here.

The beginning credit scenes, showing us Freddy's hands as he manufactures his signature killing tool—his finger-knife glove—is awesome as we see, step by step, how he makes a digit of the finished product. It actually makes me want to go into my tool shed and see if I can construct one myself. A similar scene, right before the climatic end of the film, shows our heroine, Nancy, creating traps and setups in order to defeat Freddy. Again, I want to try some of these devices—especially the gunpowder in the light bulb trick. Of course, all the nightmare scenes are eerily filmed, making us never want to dream of anything so terrifying.  A Nightmare on Elm Street is definitely the best of the lot—even better than the remake—and you'd do yourself a disservice if you don't watch this film.

A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge
The following year, in 1985, New Line was able to fast track a sequel to Craven's hit film so quickly, it's a wonder it was as good as it was. I know a lot of people kind of bash this film as the redheaded stepchild of the ANOES series, but I really dig it. I'm also aware of the so-called homosexual undertones and subliminal messages it supposedly contains in the film, but I don't really see it. There's a bit of weirdness to it and some rules broken, according to the first film, but I like it just the same.

Just like any horror film, when you establish a character—especially a villainous one—to the popularity Freddy proved to be (not to mention the money it raked in), the studio is going to want to bring that character back on the screen in a sequel. Michael Myers did it before him.  So did Jason.  So why not Freddy?  Well, Freddy returned, so let me break down A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge.

The story takes place a number of years later, with a new family moving into the house of our heroine from the first film, Nancy, lived in. The family start noticing different oddities of the house, like the heat and electrical problems, and Jesse (Mark Patton), the teenager of the household, starts experiencing Freddy right away. With the first film, Freddy killed teenagers in their dreams; in this film, he uses Jesse to do his deathly deeds.

Yes, the film is plagued with a few inadequacies when comparing it to the first film. In the first film, it was recognized that Freddy could only do harm in people's dreams, not being able to go out into the real world unless someone pulled him out of their dreams. It's obvious he's back in the dream world at the beginning of this flick, yet he's able to come in and out as he pleases. I used to theorize that he's either using Jesse as a door to come in and out or that it's just Jesse sleepwalking. The second theory doesn't pan out during the night time barbeque party because the kids definitely recognize Freddy as a threat and not see Jesse, making my first theory a possibility. But I do agree that some of the things that happen in the house seems like the filmmakers wanted to make a haunted house story but decided to use the elements in this one (i.e., the unplugged toaster that burns the toast to fire, the exploding bird, etc.). I don't know and I don't care about all the shortfalls. All I know is that the film is entertaining and pretty damned scary to watch.

Again, as with the first film, there are a few scenes that solidify this flick as a classic. The beginning scene with Jesse in the school bus as it races off into the desert and reintroduces us to Freddy for the first time in this one is remarkable. I can see now that it's a lot of miniature work, but it's still nightmarish in scope. The kill scenes are done better and the studio definitely put more money into the special effects (I love the transformation scene in Grady's room!).

All in all, it's another fun watch with plenty of entertainment and a good chapter in the Nightmare series of films.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
In 1987, two years later, New Line put a bigger budget together for a bigger sequel, bringing back our heroine from the first film, and giving Freddy some worthy adversaries.  The film went back to the original rules and stuck with the dream world for the plot to take place.  To add to all this, we even get a very interesting origin story of how Freddy Krueger came to be.

The film opens with Kristen (Patricia Arquette), having trouble staying awake as she swallows spoonfuls of ground coffee and chasing it down with Coca Cola, building a model of a house we all know is Nancy's house on Elm Street, and looking worse for wear.  In a nightmare, which is a pretty cool practical effects shot in her bathroom, one faucet handle grabs Kristen's hand, while the other sprouts blades and slashes at her wrist.  As she awakens to her mother running into the bathroom, we now see that Kristen has a razor blade in hand while she bleeds out from her wrist, appearing that she attempted suicide.  Her mother commits her to an institution and that's where Kristen meets all the other troubled teens who happen to all dream about the same burnt man in a red and green sweater.  Nancy shows up as the new staff member whose expertise is dreams and bonds with Kristen right away.  Later, we find out that all the teens have special powers in their dreams and, with the help of Kristen's gift to bring other people into her dreams, they decide to fight back against Freddy.

The story is very well written and translates to the screen impeccably, especially since the filmmakers had the money to use on pretty impressive special effects for its time.  Bringing back Langenkamp to recur her role as Nancy, as well as John Saxon coming back as her father, really gave credence to this film.  Without them, this film wouldn't be as interesting as it is, but still would've worked as an earnest sequel nonetheless.

ANOES-3 could've been the final chapter of Freddy's lurid escapades into children's dreams.  The story ends perfectly and makes this film the perfect bookend to a great horror movie series.  Usually, when I delve into these films (I bought the box set years ago on DVD), I stop at this film and really can't find myself wanting to watch the rest of the series.  Sometimes I skip ahead to New Nightmare, but I don't think I've watched parts 4 through 6 since they came out in theaters years ago.  But for all personal intents and purposes, I stop after this one.  However, for the sake of this editorial I've written here, I pushed on and watched the rest of the series in multiple sittings, of course.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
Once again, New Line fast tracked another sequel and, boy, does it show in this one.  Yes, a year later, in 1988, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master showed up in theaters and I don’t think I saw this one when it was released, but on VHS when it hit the rental store shelves.

Don't get me wrong…this film is still enjoyable, but the filmmaking is not as polished as the first three films. But for all its faults, it's not a bad story. Kristen is now played by a different actress, Tuesday Knight, so it's a little off-putting to see her in the role so recognizable as being played by Patricia Arquette. However, all that's redeemed by returning the same actors, Rodney Eastman and Ken Sagoes, to play Joey and Kincaid respectively, so there's some saving grace by having some familiarity in the cast.

To give a short synopsis of the film, Kristen, Joey and Kincaid were released from the asylum and are now living normal lives while going to high school. But Kristen is still having dreams about the Elm Street house. One night, Kincaid has a dream where he's at the junkyard where Freddy's remains are buried. His dog digs at the area and urinates on it, causing Freddy to be resurrected. The film then follows the same recipe of dream kills—albeit more elaborate and original—until the climax of the film.

I don't want to give too much away, because despite ANOES-4 being an inferior sequel, it still has an interesting storyline.  The only thing I can't get past is that Freddy was resurrected by dog piss?  They couldn't come up with anything smarter than that?  The other thing is the ridiculousness of Kristen's boyfriend, Rick (Andras Jones), and his Japanese martial arts.  It's just so laughable and the fact that he looks like Corey Haim just adds to how inadvertently funny he is.  And speaking of funny, Robert Englund really turns it up a notch as Freddy spouting out the one-liners.  It was acceptable and spread out in part 3, but here he just turns out to be a clown and you really can't take him seriously.

But what's interesting is how the secondary heroine, Alice (Lisa Wilcox), starts to gain powers and confidence from the friends of hers who have died at the blades of Freddy and uses it against him.  Also, the one standout death is the roach hotel scene with Debbie (Brooke Theiss)…very cool.

All in all, if you're a Nightmare fan, you'll enjoy this flick.  It had an interesting climax, but I think the filmmakers could've done better.  So, on to the next one.

A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child
Here we are at number five and the filmmakers decided that with the fifth film, they're going to drop the numbering system of the sequels.  It's probably because, at this point in 1989, movies with a high sequel number tend to be ignored and don't make us much money.  So, in a way, it's an approach to try to fool the movie-going public to think that this is an original film.  Then again, some movie posters (like the one pictured) show the number 5, so...never mind…it doesn’t matter.

Although this film isn't well acted and Robert Englund goes waaaaaaay over-the-top in his Freddy Krueger acting, making him look less menacing and more like a clown than ever before, it still has an interesting story.

The film opens with Alice (Lisa Wilcox reprising her role) dreaming she's Amanda Krueger locked in the asylum with a hundred maniacs and going through the living nightmare Freddy's mother would've went through.  It's a recurring dream and eventually, in her dream, she gives birth and the little monstrosity turns out to be Freddy, resurrected.  Once again, Freddy is back to terrorize teenagers in their dreams.

Although this is a forgettable outing of the Nightmare series, there is a couple of things that make it interesting. One concept I liked was how Alice finds out her baby was pulling her into its dreams while it was still in her womb.  Another was the addition of the creepy boy, Jacob.  But other than those superfluities, this is the same ol' Freddy-fare with him acting less intimidating and more comedic.

I've got to say, the weirdest thing about this movie is the music chosen to play during the end credits.  We are treated to Kool Moe Dee's rap song, "Let's Go," really unfitting and waaaaay out of left field.  If you listen to the lyrics, the song is about putting down LL Cool J.  Why they chose this song to accompany the end credits of a so-called horror movie, I'll never know.

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare
"Do you know the terror of he who falls asleep? To the very toes he is terrified, because the ground gives way under him, and the dream begins..."~Friedrich Nietzsche

Well, this was it…the final chapter in a long series of horror films…part 6 to be exact. The announcement of this film actually made the news and was touted as being the last time we'll see Freddy Krueger on the big screen.

Yeah, right.

Being a staple of the slasher sub-genre of horror in the 1980s, this is the first of the series to be released in the 1990s—1991 to be exact.  Not that it matters, but I thought I’d tell you anyway.

The film starts off interesting, showing us the statistics of mass suicides by teens and adults experiencing psychosis. But the crux of the story revolves around troubled teens at a shelter and how one shows up with amnesia. They're all eventually lured to Springwood-which is now a dream world that you'll slip into once arriving-so Freddy can start killing them.

A few key parts of note is the opening part of the film that pays homage to Wizard of Oz and key cameos from Roseanne Barr and (then husband) Tom Arnold. Also Johnny Depp shows up, obviously paying back the studio that made him a star.

I've got to say, less than ten minutes into it, the film just gets boring and unintelligible...this was the one film I had trouble watching—it took me four or five sittings to see this one.  I don't know if it was the movie or the fact that I watched all these movies in a row in one week.  But then I thought of all the times I've seen all the Friday the 13Th films (which have the Nightmare films beat by 4 or 5 sequels) and I have to deduce that it was the movie.

By the time the movie's end credits were streaming down the screen, I had a terrible headache.  I guess it was the awful 3D effects (that we only get for 10 minutes or so) or it was the movie as a whole.  I'll  let you decide if you make the terrible choice to watch this.

Wes Craven's New Nightmare

When, in 1994, Wes Craven’s name came up in the poster for his new movie, I really didn’t think it was going to be another Freddy Krueger movie.  Even though the movie poster had the title New Nightmare emblazoned on it, I really didn’t it had anything to do with the rest of the series and just thought it was a whole new horror movie that was cleverly titled to get the ANOES fan base in to see it.

See, the original movie poster that I had seen in movie theater lobbies looked like the one I have pictured above, with the sinister-looking eyes surrounded by the blackness of the poster.  I really didn’t recognize it as belonging to Freddy Krueger.

Well, in all actuality, the movie does feature Freddy Krueger, albeit a manifestation of the character and not the way we’ve been seeing him in the last few sequels of the Nightmare series.

The film’s storyline takes place in a fictionalized real world of the cast and director of the original movie.  Turns out, Wes Craven has been writing a script about a demon that comes into the real world through the pages he writes and chooses the form of Freddy Krueger.  He explains this to Heather Langenkamp after she’s been experiencing weird goings-on regarding herself and her son, Dylan (Miko Hughes).  The demon Freddy uses her son to try and destroy her until Heather finally has a showdown with it.

I’m hot and cold about this movie.  I do like the fresh idea that it is, making this a real world movie with the stars of the original playing themselves.  All in all, the film is just another Nightmare movie just three years after it was touted that we’d never see another film featuring Freddy.  It’s nice that they brought him back to pure evil and canned the one-liners.  But the bottom line is, this is just another ANOES film.

The makeup effects on Robert Englund’s face looks a lot more scary and creepy.  The glove is awesome this time around…I love how they designed it, looking sleeker and with the bone pattern.  The idea to bring back Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon, as well as some of the other cast members of the original and some of the sequels, was a good plan, but it made for a boring story at times.  Bringing in some of the behind-the-scenes people—producer, Robert Shaye, of the series for one—wasn’t too smart, as they aren’t very good actors.

But…the film is enjoyable and interesting.  It just doesn’t grab you like the first couple of films in the series.  Compared to the sequels following part 3, however, make this film look like a masterpiece.

Freddy vs Jason
What a great idea!  What a great concept!  Bringing back the ideas of yesteryear with having an iconic monster go up against another was brilliant!  It’s just too bad that this next entry into the world of Freddy Krueger didn’t pan out so well.

Don’t get me wrong, this film is a favorite of mine, giving us fresh reestablishments of a couple of symbolic horror film characters that, frankly, turned into a couple of clowns as their respective movie franchises churned out one tiring sequel after another.

2003’s Freddy vs Jason should’ve been an awesome start to a new amalgamated horror franchise bringing back and adding horror incarnations as the sequels spewed out year after year…and that was the plan, until this film didn’t make the money New Line was expecting.  It’s been said they were looking to have Ash from the Evil Dead series of movies be featured in a sequel.  Even Michael Myers was mentioned…how cool would that have been?

Alas, I’m here to talk about what we were given, not what could have been.

So, in the beginning of the film, we’re given a descriptive narration from Freddy Krueger, showing us clips from the previous ANOES films and explaining how he killed and terrorized children in their nightmares.  But, he says, they soon had forgotten about him and, in turn, he had lost his power.  He then explains he needs someone to put the scare back into the Elm Street teens, to give him power again.  We’re treated to a glimpse of Jason, shallowly buried in the ground as his heart begins beating again and seeing his eyes open through his trademark hockey mask.  So…our film begins.

I guess I can say that this movie is basically two stories in one.  On one half, we have the two monsters, one controlling the other to do his bidding.  But, the other half of the plot is sort of a love story between a girl dealing with how her boyfriend left town without saying goodbye and how he’s actually stuck in a mental institution, not allowed to communicate with the outside world.

The two aspects do tie in to each other, so I really can’t be too disappointed with that.  I guess my biggest complaint is the cast and their acting.

Now, Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger is back to his evil self, almost as frightening as his take in the first Nightmare film.  In for Jason Voorhees this time around is Ken Kirzinger—which caused a bit of controversy and anger throughout the Jason fanbase (more on that later)—and I really liked his take on the slasher icon.  Although I thought most of the teens were one-dimensional, we had solid performances from Jason Ritter, Mark Davis, and Chris Marquetter.  And the stoner, Freeburg (Kyle Labine) was pretty cool and funny at times.

Where it falls apart for me is the casting of the main characters of the teenagers.  First up, we’ve got Monica Keena as Lori Campbell, the lead female character of the story.  Now, she’s supposed to be a teenager in high school, yet she clearly has breast implants and has had lip injections to plump her limps.  I don’t know about you, but girls didn’t look like that in my high school days.  Then we have Kelly Rowland as Lori’s friend, Kia Waterson.  She just didn’t click with everyone else and her acting was terrible.  I know that horror movies are known for terrible acting, but this is ridiculous.  There was the boyfriend, Trey (Jesse Hutch), of the lushy Gibb (Katharine Isabelle), who treats her like shit and likes to use the phrase, “Don’t make me ask you twice.”  There’s so much more that I can pick out from this film that adds to why the casting of the teenagers didn’t work, but it’d be a waste of time.  But I really think that was the downfall of the film, financial-wise.

What works in this film is whenever Freddy or Jason or both show up on screen, whether they’re killing teens or fighting each other, that’s when this movie kicks ass.  There are also a lot of scary scenes, especially the dream sequences that seem really eerie, which almost stands up to the original first three films of the ANOES series.  I really loved the scene in the police station when Lori walks past the missing children posters and they all turn their heads to follow her with their stares.

Now, the controversy of casting Ken Kirzinger as Jason was understandable.  I guess a lot of people enjoyed Kane Hodder in the role when he was cast as Jason in four of the Friday the 13TH series of films.  Reason given for going with someone else was that they wanted someone taller and lumbering.  Yes, Hodder is just as tall, but I was getting a little tired of Hodder in the role.  I think the constant changing of Jason in the past helped with the mystery of who’s underneath the mask.  Hodder just became too familiar and connected to the character.  It almost seemed that Jason was disappearing and Hodder was who you recognized.  But that’s just my opinion…

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

So, it happened.  With the paltry success of remakes such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 2003 and Friday the 13TH in 2009, it was inevitable that we’d get a remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street.

The questions you might have—if you haven’t seen this film—are what a lot of people asked aloud or to themselves.  And, I’ll answer them for you.  Was this film needed?  No.  Did it bring anything new to the table?  A little bit.  Is it better than the original?  Hell no.

You might ask, “Should I even watch this movie?”  And to that, I say, sure…why not?

We all know the legend of Freddy Krueger, the boogeyman of the teenagers living on Elm Street.  He wears a weathered fedora, a dirty red and green sweater, and fashioned a glove festooned with razor-sharp knives on each digit (minus the thumb).  And that’s how we get into this film, right away, with Freddy killing his first victim in the local diner.  It’s a cool setup, with an eerie dream sequence that has a few jump scares before the dispatched death.  With that, we meet the new Elm Street children, all grown up and all having the same terrifying dreams of the burnt man in red and green.

Now, Jackie Earle Haley was a good choice to take over the glove from Robert Englund as the new Freddy Krueger.  But besides Kyle Gallner as Quentin Smith, all the other actors and actresses were pretty dull.  Maybe it was the writing or material they had to work with, but the cast was so dull and one dimensional, they really had no impact on the film whatsoever.

The beginning of the film was a little confusing, because the story seemed to stick to the character of Kris Fowles (Katie Cassidy), but the narrative suddenly changes to track Nancy (played by Rooney Mara).  As the audience, you invest in the Kris character and notice how she’s uncovering some evidence to get to the truth, but suddenly she’s unimportant.  Although her character wasn’t the most interesting individual of the plot, switching the story to follow Nancy was a little disconcerting. 

As small as the change was, I did like how they changed Krueger’s background from an accused child murderer to an accused child molester.  Also, instead of just adding some gross make-up to make Freddy look menacing, the filmmakers actually did their research to make the character look like a real burn victim.

So, what went wrong with this film?  For one thing, just the fact that they remade such a classic was an off-putting failure.  The original film was such a classic that was nearly perfect.  Sure, the 1984 film had its faults, especially with some of the special effects, but it’s a film that just cannot be duplicated or improved upon.  Another problem with this film is what I touched on already, the performances of the actors and actresses.  It literally seemed as if the filmmakers gave the cast the script minutes before shooting began.  Most of them seemed to be telephoning their lines in and not putting any feel into it…especially Rooney Mara.  She is capable of doing better than the performance she gave in this film—she was boring and didn’t do much to add to this movie.  The characters just weren’t fleshed out enough, causing the audience to not really care about them or their impending doom.

Now, what went right with this film?  Well, being that it was made in the 21ST century, the special effects were awesome.  Especially the makeup effects used on Jackie Earle Haley to make him look melted and scarred, using a little CGI to make his face appear to have holes burned through his cheek areas.  The dream sequences were good, especially the scene where the exhausted Nancy is going in and out of the dream world as she’s trying to get away from Freddy.  Without giving it away, I like the tie all the teens have with each—this was a fresh idea to include into the story.

If there’s one thing that irritated me about Haley’s portrayal of Freddy was the fact they had to re-record his lines to be dubbed in during post production.  I guess the prosthetics he wore on his face and mouth proved to be a detriment on his speech, so the filmmakers weren’t satisfied with his voice when reviewing what they’d filmed.

With all that said, it’s still a fine movie and I think most horror fans will enjoy the remade A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Well, my final "bit" on the A Nightmare on Elm Street series is that it's a great series to go through, understanding that you'll get a lot of late 80s cheese in the later sequels, but you'll enjoy yourself nonetheless.  As long as the film making industry realizes that they should keep their claws off classics like the first film and not make anymore insulting remakes like they did in 2010, we can preserve these films for the treasures that they are.

Thanks for reading!

You can reach me on Twitter: @CinemaBits

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