Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: A Nightmare on Elm Street Franchise (Part 1)
In order to discuss a franchise and its sequels, certain plot elements have to be explained. In short, spoiler alert!
Of all the horror franchises to come out of the 1980s, there are two distinctive ones that I feel defined the decade. Friday the 13th provided a wealth of roller coaster entertainment with cheesy stories of kids going out to party only to have a killer on the loose. It was pure fun but there is another that I feel defines not only the era but also the culture at the time. A Nightmare on Elm Street opened a lot of doors that excelled the slasher genre into ways unimaginable. The idea of a horror revolves around dreams is a very unique one. Who isn’t interested in dreams? The question of what they mean and how they connect to real life. A film series like this has a lot of room for creative concepts and ideas. Thankfully, each movie took the opportunity despite how good or bad they got.
In the first film, we were introduced to Freddy Krueger, a child murder who exists in teenager’s dreams who sought to avenge his death. The mythos goes is that disgusted parents burned Freddy alive in revenge for the kids he murdered. Now, he haunts the nightmares of the parent’s kids by killing them in their sleep. Its a scary thought that leads to much potential and tension. We have a common fear of dying in the most innocent and unlikely way. And I think we all can agree that getting murdered in your sleep is the worst fear imaginable.
The first entry treats Freddy like a mysterious monster hiding his face in shadows and seeing less of him. Its a clever idea when can sense his presence at times when you don’t see him. Once our heroes enter the dream land, nothing is the same as we question what is real and what is a dark fantasy. In the world of Freddy, everything is twisted and distorted much like a dream which raises the stakes. Even when he’s on screen, the performance of Robert Englund helps by making him unpredictable with his powers and how sick minded he is to deliver a scare. One the most chilling scenes is when his face appears through a wall as he looks on the next victim. Believe it or not, the special effect is really a spandex sheet but the lightening and execution makes it a bone chilling moment.
Unlike Friday the 13th which had stock teens, we are given characters to care about with personality and want to see them live. In the middle of it all
is Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) who tries to remain one step head of the nightmare walker and figure out his weakness. This is a perfect definition of a smart female protagonist. She will even under go experiments which much risk in order to see a way to defeat the monster. As her friends get axed off, the levels of terror get raised so much that we care for her. She is surrounded by her parents who secretively know but only dismiss it as a myth. Without much help, we sympathize in Nancy’s dilemma and hope she will survive. This was during a time when the teenager of the 1980s was hitting some hard times from rebellion to young death as well. And for a horror movie to subtly inject these themes was very rare. Mostly it would just be a thrill ride but we get something deeper here as parents ignore the adolescents while the kids strive to prove not only they are right but more than just party kids.
The deaths in this one are truly iconic. I don’t think anyone will get into a bed again after seeing how Johnny Depp gets killed and I’m certain viewers will want to sleep a night without bed-sheets after seeing Rod’s death scene. For the limited budget, less is truly more as director Wes Craven had to get really creative with the special effects. Even the point they had to build a rig that would turn a room upside down just to get a scare performed right. There’s such a level of detail pertained to here that not only does it pull us into this world and frighten us but keeps us engaged. There’s such a great balance between story and horror that my own words can’t do much justice. This is a horror classic that deserves to be watched around this time of year.
Its no surprise A Nightmare on Elm Street would be such a big hit for how original and engaging it was for audience back then. And without it, New Line Cinemas would just be an independent studio when you think about it. The Nightmare franchise really got its legs off the ground and without it, we wouldn’t have the studio that it is today. But perhaps I should back up and mention there was no sequel intended as Wes Craven wanted the movie to end without a hook. Unfortunately, Nancy never got her happy ending thanks to studio executives who opened the door for a sequel. Sadly, the first sequel Freddy’s Revenge has some promise but falls due to the weak tropes and cliches the first movie was re-writing and improving. Instead it becomes a flat slasher clone with some interesting ideas.
This time, Freddy is haunting a shy teen named Jessie (Mark Patton) who plans to posses his body in order to kill more teenagers. Apparently, Jessie’s family moved into Nancy’s house upon discovering her dairy as he tires to find a way to defeat the dream demon. There are some good moments here and again, I can’t deny a good special effect. But the rest of the movie is full of stock teenagers and stiff characters that it really goes against what the first Nightmare was doing. We had teenagers with soul and personality trying to deal with their walk into adulthood while a Freudian monster axed them down under their own fears. The way this entry is executed feels more like a Friday the 13th clone and it doesn’t help the death toll is very low. In fact, its probably the lowest in the franchise with only two deaths.
I can tell the actors are trying to make this a workable entry. In fact, I’m positive Mark Patton is a nice guy and is trying to bring on the same innocence that Heather Langenkamp delivered. But there is nothing really that interesting about his character. Just an awkward teenager that is trying to find a balance between his identity and fitting in. Some critics have gone on to claim there is a homosexual subtext with the character but it feels more like a distraction and something tagged on as opposed to fitting in with the story. Yeah, Jessie goes to an S&M bar and there are some homoerotic overtones but they just feel like filler to me or come off as awkward execution.
A good example is the death scene of his gym teacher (Marshall Bell) who throughout the whole movie has a sadistic sense of punishing his students with push ups. I really don’t understand the motive behind this character or his purpose. Is he supposed to be a bully? Does he have this twisted mentality for punishing students this way for his own pleasure? The way they set him up is just weird. Even stranger is the death scene when he gets tied to the showers by gym ropes under Freddy’s control, stripped butt naked, spanked with towels and eventually clawed to death by Jessie under Freddy’s control. Yeah, the way that scene plays out has me really confused. Is it meant to be some kind of homosexual subject or is it just there for shock value? Or am I looking too deep?
In fact from what I heard the writer of the script deliberately wrote these “subtexts” into the movie and yet director Jack Sholder didn’t pick on them. I’m not positive if everyone was aware of these “elements” but someone had to have at least ask why it exists. And I’m not someone who is against questioning sex orientation or having it be depicted in a movie. But the way these scenes play out makes it awkward and weird. Even the dialogue doesn’t help pushing it further. “Something is trying to get inside my body.” Jessie says while trying to sleep over at his friend’s Ron’s place in fear of Freddy. And Ron’s response is “Yeah, and she’s female, and she’s waiting for you in the cabana. And *you* wanna sleep with me.” I don’t think I need to sum up anything else.
I guess I’m a tad forgiving on Freddy’s Revenge seeing it was New Line Cinema’s first sequel. But with so many problems in the story and campy tone that plague it, this entry becomes harder for me recommend. It feels more like an annoyance because there is some potential and its well-shot. But the concept dives into a generic slasher motif and the climax still has me scratching my head in confusion as Freddy attacks teens at a local party for no reason and somehow is defeated by a strange way. It pays off like a weird and clunky haunted house that doesn’t know if it wants to be creepy or dumb campy fun.
Thankfully, Wes Craven returned and made a script for the third film. After the negative reception from critics (yet still was a box office hit), things returned to basics for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. However, Craven’s script was deemed too dark and intense despite a good bulk of his material remained in the final cut. The results was an entry that went back to the roots of the first film making kids the heroes and increasing the tension. Arguably, I think its better than the first movie because it expands a lot more on the Freddy myth while giving us a story that surprisingly goes more darker than the first.
Freddy is back terrorizing kids on Elm Street but this time make its look like his victims are committing suicide. Already, this idea is really crawling under its viewer’s skins as a bulk of the movie takes place in a hospital where other youths are being treated. The subtext is much deeper here as we question not just the aspect of reality and fantasy but also the mind of a teenager. As Freddy makes the kills seem like self-harm, we start to question if these kills are really the control of the dream killer or a craft by the kids themselves. Of course, seeing this is Nightmare on Elm Street, the viewer knows that nocturnal demon is to blame as parents begin to wonder about the sanity of their kids. Its a heavy concept already but the likeness of these characters really help us through.
At the center of it all is Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) who befriends the group while trying to ward off Freddy. Already we feel sympathetic because we know she is telling the truth and yet next to no on believes her. That is expect for Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) who returns as a worker on the ward. She is aware of what these kids are talking about and fears the worst when she finds out the monster from her teen years is back with a vengeance. If that wasn’t enough, we learn that each kid has a certain power that pertains to their personality when they dream. One kid is strong, one is athletic, another is a wizard and so forth. It questions more than just the nature of dreams but what we can do in a dream. Our dream is our own reality and we can bend it anyway possible. This gives new rules and ideas that are deeply explored more that were left ambiguous in the first film.
As for Freddy, well Robert Englund is back and more frightening than ever. Now, Freddy can morph into different things and finds new ways to kill off the unfortunate kids. The only drawback is that he has a more campy menace with one liners but it adds a dark comedy feel that doesn’t go over the top or groan-inducing. The deaths do get a little over exaggerated but its a fresh welcome seeing how surreal and demented they get. My favorite kill has to be when the dream demon morphs with a television to kill a kid. It sounds crazy on paper but on first watch, it comes as a huge surprise. The unexpected moment almost becomes laughable due to how unpredictable it feels.
However, Dream Warriors is not for everyone. The concept does get too dark and may upset some viewers with themes of suicide explored along with some disturbing images. These scares are not heavily dark as the first film but they come nearly close. If you are really sensitive to things like self-harm and questioning one’s mental capability, I say watch with caution or with a friend for comfort. Other than that, I think this surpasses the first movie in many ways and already this entry is one of my favorite horror movies. Some can see it as overrated but I feel everything works in the film’s favor. We get to explore more the unlimited dream world and even the origins of Freddy as well. And with a kick-ass theme song by Dokken, you can’t go wrong. It ties the knot with everything from the first film and ends it all nicely. It could have made for a perfect conclusion for a possible trilogy. But oh no, they couldn’t leave Freddy alone…..
Posted on October 7, 2015, in Horror-Wood 2015 and tagged A Nightmare on Elm Street, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Dokken, Dreams, Freddy Kreuger, Heather Langenkamp, Homosexual subtext, Horror, Horror-Wood, Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon, Mark Patton, Nancy Thompson, Patricia Arquette, Robert Englund, Supernatural, Wes Craven. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.