Freddy’s back, and the Cinefantastique Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction Podcast has him in its sights. Is the new A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET a dreamscape of unspeakable terrors, or is it a big snooze guaranteed to induce micronaps? What’s up with those dour teens? Why are their parents so oblivious? And how big a distinction should be make between the old “child killer” Krueger and the new “child molester” version? These and other questions will be pondered, ruminated upon, delved into, and dissected by Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski.
Although I have never been a fan of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET films, Freddy Krueger, or slasher films in general, there are several aspects of the series that I find intriguing. They are all related, arising out of Freddy’s ability to enter into the consciousness of his victims as they sleep in order to launch his attacks. Like other films such as The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), and more recently Paranormal Activity (2009), the Elm Street films were able to tap into a basic human fear related to our extreme vulnerability when we sleep. We have all read news reports of sleeping homeowners awakened by intruders who have broken in in order to steal their belongings, and horror films like the Elm Street series take this one step further by suggesting that it is not merely human entities that we should fear during our nocturnal slumbers. Our childhood fears of the dark at bedtime continue into adulthood as filmmakers suggest that various slashers, monsters, aliens, or paranormal entities threaten to inflict harm, perhaps even to the point of fatality while we sleep.
But the Elm Street films take this further – into a realm where not only does the most basic and necessary of human functions such as sleep subject us to risk of attack, but our dreams become the entry point into which Freddy inserts himself to engage in his mayhem. Scientists and psychologists do not agree on why we dream, but it is certainly a common human experience, and this important part of brain functioning demonstrates another example of vulnerability exploited by Krueger.
Finally, the question of discerning reality in relation to dreaming and awakened states of consciousness is one of the frightening facets of the Elm Street films. In the series the victims try to stay awake, and when that ultimately proves impossible, they are also unable to realize they are dreaming, and thus vulnerable to Krueger’s attack. If they could awaken they might be able to avoid their doom. And yet this never seems possible. Perhaps the greatest cinematic treatment of this problem is found in The Matrix, in which Morpheus says to Neo as he begins his own journey of “waking up” from the illusionary dream world of his “reality”: “What if when you woke up, you didn’t know the difference between the dream world, and the real world?”
Freddy Krueger has been frightening filmgoers for generations. Perhaps the reason that so many have found this horror mythology intriguing is its ability to exploit some of our most basic human processes and needs.
NOTE: This article was originally posted under an incorrect byline.
Although a lot of fans and critics find A NGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE (1985) one of the weaker entries in the series, what I’ve always admired about it was the progression of Freddy’s character in it. The burn make-up is more vivid. Freddy sheds his glove for genuine finger-knives, embedded in his digits. He starts wise-cracking as a way to bait his intended victims. Robert Englund’s voice was even more heavily filtered than in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984), although in some scenes it’s pretty much left untouched. While the film is barely referenced in any of the other entries in the series, it really was the film that put Freddy on the path to horror icon status. Which was then cemented with PART 3: DREAM WARRIORS, which played off many of the character progressions made in PART 2.
For my favorite nightmare from Elm Street, I’m gonna go with NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS, mainly ’cause it’s got a guest appearance by John Saxon and I got a soft spot for the guy. He co-starred in the first Hollywood film I ever worked on, MY MOM’S A WEREWOLF, and though he was a rather quiet, reserved fellow, I personally thought of him as calm and patient. I never saw him get upset around the crew.
But to focus on the less personal, I also got a kick out of the battle in the junkyard with the stop motion Freddy skeleton. It’s jiggy, man! And how can you not like the decapitated head of Kristen’s (Patricia Arquette) mommy dearest (Brooke Bundy) telling her that she always spoils things whenever mom brings home a beau?
Though not a huge fan of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series, I did enjoy the first film. What fascinated me was the premise: the daemon that stalked you in your dreams, leading to the fear and desperate avoidance of falling asleep. Since we must all in the end sleep or die, this encapsulates the horrifying ultimate “no-win” situation. The film also excelled at blurring the line between the real and the nightmare world.
These ideas are very good ones, and naturally had occurred before in fiction and film. The Robert Bloch scripted William Castle film THE NIGHT WALKER (1964)had touched upon the idea of the breakdown of the barrier between one’s waking life and dreams, and the madness that could cause. THE TWILIGHT ZONE’s “Perchance to Dream” and “Shadow Play” (both based on Charles Beaumont’s short stories) has touched on these very subjects, and THE NIGHT STALKER’s “The Spanish Moss Murders” (Al Friedman & David Chase)had even introduced the element of an item of the dreamlands crossing over in the physical world. All of this is potent stuff.
Wes Craven was inspired by actual events reported in newspapers (see Wes Craven on Dreaming up Nightmares) about men from Southeast Asia who had died in the middle of dreaded nightmares, and a case of a young man so fearful of the same fate that he resorted to desperate tactics to stay awake, duplicated by the character Nancy in the film. Only the real world model eventually did fall asleep… And died.
Favorite effect: Well, to be honest I’ve only really seen the original and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 3: THE DREAM WARRIORS in their entirety. I consider them the best of the series.
Gore effects, no matter how inventive, don’t entrall me. There are a number of notable dream effects and distortions that are very impressive. But what immediately stands out in my mind is the convertible-top/Freddy sweater ending of the first film, and the skeletal remains of Krueger coming to life (via Doug Beswick’s animation) in the third film. Call me old-fashioned, but I just love those walking stop-motion skeletons — something right out of my own film-fueled childhood nightmares.
Between the utter cock-up that was NIGHTMARE 2 and Freddie’s eventual metamorphosis into the most beloved, happy-go-lucky trickster-child-murderer ever, Chuck Russell hit a kind of mid-point sweet spot with the energetic and imaginative NIGHTMARE 3: THE DREAM WARRIORS. As if watching the kids gang up to get their own back on Freddie wasn’t enough of a kick, Russell snuck in a neat little pop-culture dig as urbane, late-night host Dick Cavett went suddenly and almost subliminally feral on talk-show perennial and professional speed bump Zsa Zsa Gabor. Watching the Yale grad unleash a brief flurry of invectives while launching for the throat of the less-than-erudite “actress” answered the long-muttered prayers of many an
Welcome to Cinefantastique’s first mini-blog-a-thon. With the remake of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET currently in theatres, now is a good time to take a retrospective look back at some of our favorite Freddy moments from the old films. Although the 1984 original was born during the slasher era, the franchise had much more going for it than yet another iconic killer of teens: the dreamscape of its premise opened up the gates for some wildly imaginative imagery that touched a primal, shuddery chord in the spine of trembling viewers. You could never completely trust what you were seeing – literally anything could happen – and frequently it did, usually with terrifying results for the on-screen victims. To assist in this little nostalgic exercise, I’ve asked several of our Cinefantastique staff to contribute their own favorite Freddy moments of various shapes and sizes, which you can find linked at the bottom. I’ll kick things off with my list of personal favorites in the various films.
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
The original film remains the most satisfying overall, filled with so many good moments that it is hard to pick just one. I like the classroom scene wherein the quotation from Shakespeare, which references bad dreams, precipitates a nightmare. The vision of a previous victim in a body bag is not merely startling but deeply unnerving. The Freddy tongue in the phone is simple but shocking. The gloved hand rising from beneath the bath water is a stand-out. Freddy Krueger’s silhouette pressing through a wall above a sleeping victim is a wonderfully literal visualization of the “rubber reality” of the dream world (a scene horribly botched by CGI execution in the remake). But by far the most spectacular scene is the death of Johnny Depp’s character, dragged down into a bed, from which erupts a geyser of blood. The scene is way, way over the top, not just gory but delirious – one of the great scenes in any horror film. (Check out the video at top.)
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: THE DREAM WARRIORS (1987)
My favorite scene here is rather low-key, involving neither special effects nor Freddy himself. It comes when Nancy (Heather Langenkamp, returning after sitting out Part 2) talks her superior at a psychiatric hospital into prescribing a controversial new dream-suppressing drug to her troubled teen-age patients. As important as Krueger is to the ELM STREET movies, equally important is the generation gap between his victims and their parents, who are reluctant or unwilling to accept the danger faced by the teens. Nancy, somewhere in between the two age groups, goes to bat for her patients, putting her own professional reputation on the line: for once, an authority figure takes the danger seriously, instead of dismissing it. The scene also raises an interesting question about psychiatry: does having suffered from a particular problem disqualify you from trying to cure it in others, or does it give you a special insight and sympathy for your patients that makes you more qualified than other doctors?
FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE (1991)
As the supposed finale to Freddy’s inglorious career of murder and mayhem, this cannot live up to what it promises, but I do enjoy Johnny Depp’s cameo spoof of the “This is your brain on drugs” public service announcements, in which an egg is identified as “your brain,” which is then cracked and fried as a way of illustrating the negative effects of recreational drug use. After Depp concludes the illustration by asking, “Any questions,” Freddy (showing more good sense than usual, whacks him over the head with the frying pan and replies, “Yeah, what are you on? It looks like some eggs in a pan to me.” I also enjoy the moment that deliberately seeks to break the fourth wall between audience and on-screen characters, when Lisa Zane dons her glasses in the dream world and tells viewers in the theatre to do the same. This is to set up the final-reel 3D-enhanced smack-down of Freddy; although the 3D itself was mediocre at best, the brief sense of following the protagonist’s lead lent an air of active participation in the film.
JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY (1993)
Freddy was supposedly dead, and Jason was supposed to be, too, at the end of this film, but the final shot lets us know that the rumors of their deaths have been greatly exaggerated: Freddy’s familiar knife-gloved fingers reach up from beneath the earth to grasp Jason’s hockey mask, pulling it out of sight. This final fade-out promised an on-screen match-up that would not materialize until a decade later, with 2003’s JASON VS. FREDDY.
WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE (1994)
This self-reflexive re-imagining of the ELM STREET mythos, with various reel-life cast and crew (including Wes Craven) playing themselves, is perhaps more intellectually interesting than viscerally horrifying, but it is filled with great moments, many of them deliberate echoes of the first film. What I like best about it is the new vision of Freddy Krueger. I had never particularly liked his back story as a child-murderer. When we first see him in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, he seems an inexplicable mystery, a dream demon; the revelation of his past turns him into a relatively garden variety ghost seeking revenge. NEW NIGHTMARE recreates Krueger, suggesting that the familiar movie character is merely the current version of an archetypal evil stretching back throughout the ages; the film visualizes this with actor Robert Englund looking familiar in the makeup and costume, yet bigger, stronger, and more menacing than ever before. It’s as if Kruger has finally become fully what he seemed to be in those early scenes of the first film – an evil too big to have been ever merely human.
So, those are my favorite Nightmares from Elm Street. What are yours?
Once again the horror genre proves itself to be critic-proof as Samuel Bayer’s remake of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is sitting atop the weekend box office with a respectable $32.2 million. The film currently holds a ‘rotten’ 15% rating at Rotten Tomatoes but that didn’t stop it from storming the box office and fending off other high-profile releases.
Rounding off the top three were two films with surprisingly strong staying power; HOW TO TRAIN YOUR earned another $10.8 million at second place and DATE NIGHT came in third with $7.6 million. Jennifer Lopez’ tax paying vehicle, THE BACK-UP PLAN, went from second place to forth with $7.2 million whilst new entry, FURRY VENGEANCE, couldn’t even muster up $7 million (it earned only $6.5). Seems the lure of Brendan Fraser being hit in the testicles by animals wasn’t enough for cinema-goers.
As for the last five, THE LOSERS came in at 6th, CLASH OF THE TITANS went down to 7th, KICK-ASS was 8th, DEATH AT A FUNERAL 8th and OCEANS, the new Disney sea documentary, rounds off the list at 10th. In related news, IRON MAN 2 was released on the other side of the pond and has already managed to drum up over $100 million.
These box office stats. come courtesy of Box Office Mojo.
Freddy’s back, in all his gory glory, but revisiting him in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is less likely to inspire an attack of night terrors than to elicit a bored yawn, followed by a restful sleep, wherein one’s pleasant dreams are disturbed only by the eternally unanswered question: When will all these pointless remakes end?
The 2010 NIGHTMARE ON ELMSTREET is not a bad film in the usual sense – it is technically competent and reasonably well acted – but it lacks the kind of inspiration that would justify dusting off the burned-up old bogeyman and turning him loose on another generation of terrified teens. Although the credits list Wes Craven only for “characters created by,” the new film is simply a slicker, glossier remake of Craven’s 1984 original: the narrative follows the same overall progression, with most of the key scenes and settings intact (the boiler room, the victim levitating to the ceiling, the gloved hand rising out of the bath water);* some of the character names and relationships have been juggled around, but the “updating” consists mostly of adding cell phones, laptops, and Internet search engines (here represented by Gigablast in some of the most prominent product placement in recent memory). The grim and gritty feel of the original has been lost, drowned in a sea of CGI and modern makeup effects that duplicate but seldom if ever surpass the source material.
What this NIGHTMARE has going for it is the same great premise that fueled the old ELM STREET movies, an idea so profound and so simple that it’s like a great song, whose melody can survive even a mediocre rendition. The concept of a demon who stalks your nightmares, blurring the line between dream and reality, opens up vast vistas of cinematic potential – which, sadly, go mostly untapped here. Fortunately, there’s more to the franchise than that.
Unlike their slasher brethren of the ’80s, the ELM STREET films depicted a reasonably believable high school milieu peopled with students punished not for sexual promiscuity but for the sins of their fathers. This gulf – between the teens who need to know the truth and their parents who want to bury the past – effectively isolated Freddy’s young victims from the assistance of the adult world. Perhaps all teens feel isolated; here, the isolation was not a sullen pose, but a plot point. It is here that the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET remake fares best. The sad-eyed cast look not merely sleepless but often hopeless, and the dialogue does a nice job of etching their concern and despair without descending into bathos.
The script Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer (for which Strick inexplicably receives a “story” credit, even though it’s the same old story) manages a few interesting changes. The back story of Freddy’s immolation is revealed through a dream-flashback instead of dialogue. Somebody obviously thought through the big question: If Freddy lives in the dreams of his victims, what happens when all his victims are dead? Also, his victims are no longer merely the children of the vigilante gang that burned Krueger to death; they were, years ago in preschool, his intended victims – an ugly past that all of them have forgotten, which makes Krueger’s eruption into their dreamworld an almost literal example of Freud’s “Return of the Repressed.”
This last is a very nice touch, but it is not properly explored, simply offered as a plot device, in case anyone asks, “Why did it take this long for Krueger to manifest?” (Answer: because it took this long for the repressed memories to return.) The uncomfortable suggestion is that we’re better off with memories suppressed rather than bringing them to the surface (which is in fact the exact opposite of what psychology teaches us). This bungles the movie’s theme, which is that the parents, in trying to protect their children, actually made things worse; the way the script presents it, if the parents had achieved their goal, and everyone had forgotten about Krueger, then everything would have been okay.
Also, this plot device raises questions that the film doesn’t bother to answer, at least not in the theatrical cut. Are we really to believe that each and every child has absolutely no recollection of what Krueger did to them? The film is vague on this point: one could argue that only Nancy was actually molested, and the other kids were merely telling frightened parents what they expected to hear; but even so, someone should remember Krueger’s existence. One wonders whether the original idea was that the memories had been deliberately suppressed, through drugs or hypnosis – supposedly to protect the children’s fragile minds but really to hide the guilt of their parents.
And speaking of the parents, unlike those in the original, this seems to be a group of rather dim bulbs. Yes, the original parents were understandably reluctant to believe that their children were being murdered in their dreams by someone they had torched years ago, but these new parents seem completely oblivious to the fact that their children are systematically dying in inexplicable ways. Yes, the first seems to be suicide, and the second is passed off as murder, but the third takes place in a jail cell with a surveillance camera – but no one ever looks at the tape to see what happened; apparently, the police simply assume he was killed by his cell mate. Case closed.
Director Samuel Bayer manages some competent but unexceptional professionalism. He occasionally puts you on edge with the “is it real or dream” question, but for all the slick production values at his disposal, he seldom generates any other suspense, and even the shock-scares seem tame. As for the moral horror associated with vigilante justice, and the despair of seeing your friends die helplessly – forget it. Those are just arbitrary plot points linking the effects scenes together.
The effects themselves are occasionally impressive, but they lack real punch; their CGI origins lend a fanciful fantasy feel to what should be grim, stark terror (the image of Freddy’s shape pressing from behind a suddenly rubbery wall was much better two decades ago, when it was a physical effect).
Likewise, Krueger’s makeup has been updated, supposedly to render a more realistic depiction of a burn victim, but the results are negligible and misguided. What makes Freddy frightening is not the fact that he’s a burn victim; it’s that he resides in the rubber-reality of a dreamscape wherein he is virtually invulnerable.
If we had any reason to raise our hopes for A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, it was the casting of Jackie Earle Haley, who was so memorable in WATCHMAN, and turned in a great bit in SHUTTER ISLAND as well. He comes up short here; he is sinister, but his version of Krueger never as deeply disturbing as Robert Englund in the best of the previous films. The occasional one-liner – a sop to those who prefer the wise-cracking Krueger of the lesser sequels – hardly helps, but at least Haley delivers the dialogue in a voice intended to chill the audience rather than spoof the character. No one is likely to mistake this Freddy for a stand-up comedian, at least not yet.
The attempt to magnify the character’s evil, by having him gloat over how much longer he can toy with his victims, comes across as fading echo of the torture porn genre. They diminish Krueger, making him seem more like a human monster than a dream-demon; long before the surviving teens get the idea of dragging him back into reality, where he will be vulnerable, you wonder why someone doesn’t just punch him out and kick his ass.
Remakes and sequels based around characters (rather than situations) have a better chance of succeeding, but there is little that is done here with Krueger, even though Haley gets top billing. Dracula, Frankenstein, and other classic characters can benefit from a do-over as times change (making them more misunderstood than monstrous), but it’s not as if the cultural context of 2010 has measurably changed our attitude toward child-molesters. There is not much to do with the character or the concept to bring it up to date for 2010, and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET barely even tries. We seem to be living in an era when, according to Hollywood box office theory, ticket-buying viewers are bored with old movies and want to see something new, but the “newness” consists of slapping a fresh coat of paint upon the same old structure.
Although labeled “re-imagining” of the Freddy Krueger franchise, this “New Nightmare” (per the poster tagline) is in fact much less original than WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE, the 1996 sequel that actually did re-envision the Krueger character as a more profound, archetypal incarnation of evil. If there are going to be any future NIGHTMARE’s, it would be well if producer Michael Bay (also responsible for the recent FRIDAY THE 13TH, THE HITCHER, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE) would hire some writers and/or a director who truly could dream up something new for Freddy. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET(April 30, 2010). Directed by Samuel Bayer. Screenplay by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer, from a story by Strick, based on characters created by Wes Craven. Cast: Jackie Earle Haley, Kyle Gallner, Rooney Mara, Katie Casidy, Thomas Dekker, Kellan Lutz, Clancy Brown. FOOTNOTE:
But not the phone tongue or Johnny Depp’s death in the bed that erupts with a geyser of blood.
The second trailer for A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET brings back lots of memories from the original, with several famous scenes recreated with glossier production valuges and 21st-century style visual effects. Jackie Earle Haley cuts a mean figure as Freddy Krueger, but the overall effect of the trailer is…how shall we put it? Slightly blase. There is little on view to excite interest in the new film for its own sake; rather, you reaction to the trailer is based on your familiarity with the ELM STREET franchise. If you’re predisposed to anticipate a remake, you’ll see enough to confirm your feelings, but if you’re sitting on the fencepost, you won’t find much to excite your enthusiasm.