With the death of Wes Craven still carving the hearts of the horror community, many tributes have flooded social networks. They’re heartfelt, and many show great imagination. Some, however, are showing the wrong Freddy. I know what you’re thinking, What do you mean “the wrong Freddy”? How many Freddys are there? The answer is nine. There are nine Freddy Kruegers. Official Freddy Kruegers, I mean, that have been in the films (and even on TV). Two actors (primarily) played him. I know, it may not seem like a big thing, but seriously, if you’re so much a fan of something that you want to make a tribute to it, then do it right. And since I’m a teacher by day, I’ll take it upon myself to teach you.
Any questions? No? All right, let’s begin with a….
What is wrong with these DVD and Blu-ray covers?
If you answered “Nothing,” then this why we’re here. The Freddy Krueger on the cover of the Blu-ray cover of the A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 & 3 collection isn’t in either of those movies. It’s the Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street 4. Hell, the house doesn’t even appear in any of the movies. Now the cover of the Nightmare on Elm Street Collection DVD cover is even more problematic. This collection offers all the Nightmare movies from 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street to Freddy vs. Jason, all of which starred Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger. However, the cover shows Jackie Earl Haley’s Freddy Krueger from 2010’s A Nightmare on Elm Street remake—er…reboot, sorry. Oh, and poorly Photoshopped onto Mr. Haley’s Freddy’s body is the classic Freddy glove. And by classic, I mean the glove from Freddy vs. Jason, which is supposed to look like…oh, we’ll get to that in another lesson.
Anyway, let’s begin….
A Nightmare on Elm Street, written and directed by Wes Craven and released in November 1984 smacked the horror movie across the face. The slasher subgenre specifically. Instead of a masked stuntman stalking victims, audiences were given an actor whose face was the mask. The makeup, designed by David Miller, was a fantastic representation of the burn scars in Craven’s screenplay. Craven and Miller purposely decided to stray from realistic burn victims to create something that would be realistic but fantastic. Englund’s makeup is layered in spots, so the burned flesh appears to be falling away from the muscle underneath, and there’s even melted pieces dangling. Vaseline and K-Y Jelly was applied to the makeup to give it a nasty sheen. And if you want to nitpick further, Fred Krueger’s sweater only has green stripes on the torso, the arms are red.
For the 1985 sequel, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, written by David Chaskin and directed by Jack Sholder, the makeup changed. Kevin Yagher picked up the makeup effects duties and redesigned the look. He and Sholder decided that Freddy should appear older, more healed. Gone was the double layer of makeup, never to return, and instead came a single layer of prosthetics but with more of a sculpt. Yagher thought a sharper chin and cheekbones would be more intimidating. He also gave Freddy’s nose a hook, a symbolic reference to one of cinema’s scariest villains, the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. The fedora Freddy wears is also different. It’s bigger with a wider brim. Freddy also occasionally had brown eyes in this movie. Finally, the sweater isn’t as thick as it was in the first movie, and green stripes have moved onto the arms. There are other differences in costume and such, but let’s focus on the face in this lesson.
In 1987’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, written by Wes Craven & Bruce Wagner and Chuck Russell & Frank Darabont, and directed by Chuck Russell, Yagher returned but changed the makeup again. The chin was dropped and the cheekbones were lessened. The scars became more defined again, though not as much as in the first movie, and the revealed muscles are a light, light pink, almost the same as the flesh. The differentiation between the open flesh and the melted flesh can only really be seen in bright lighting, which there is little of in this film. The hook nose is also brought back a little, though it’s still present. Finally, the fedora has changed again. It’s small than both of the previous movies’ hats, though more in style with the first film’s hat. The sweater’s thickness and bulkiness is also different.
Yagher’s makeup for A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988), written by Brian Helgeland, Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat, and directed by Renny Harlin, is very similar to the previous movie’s makeup. The chin is given only the tiniest bit more definition and so are the cheekbones. They’re not the overdone version seen in Freddy’s Revenge, but are just noticeable. Also, the nose is a little more hooked again. The patterns of the exposed muscles are very similar to that of the third movie’s but are more define by their paint jobs. This is, arguably, the most famous Freddy Krueger look. At least for anyone who was aware of Freddy in the 1980s.This was the face that appeared everywhere! The hat is very similar, if not the same one as, the third movie’s. Ditto the sweater.
David Miller returned to Springwood in 1989’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, written by Leslie Bohem and directed by Stephen Hopkins. Some of the wounds on Freddy’s head in the original film were quite big and Miller went back to that. He kept the hooked nose but lost the cheeks and chin. The neck is almost chicken-like. Freddy looks withered and old in this movie. The hat is seemingly similar to the previous two entries but the sweater is different, brighter in color.
When Freddy returned for the final time in 1991’s Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, it was only natural his originator should return. By that I mean David Miller did the makeup again. With a script by Michael DeLuca, director Rachel Talalay’s Freddy Krueger is a strange hybrid between the 3/4 makeup and the 5 makeup. The fedora has changed again, looking much more like Indiana Jones’s fedora than ever before. The sores on Freddy’s face are a little smaller and the cheeks, chin, and nose are amplified again, but there’s a strange fleshiness to the face now. Maybe Englund gained weight? Either way, the makeup is some of the weakest in the franchise, because in close-ups, it looks like a man wearing a rubber mask.
Do I even have to talk about Freddy’s look in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare? Craven’s true return to the franchise as writer-director had him rewrite the rules and turn a magnifying glass on his own movie. The Freddy in this film isn’t really Freddy Krueger, but rather an evil spirit/demon that had inhabited Freddy. The look is purposely different, though Craven said in an interview sometime in the last year or so that he thinks he maybe should’ve left Freddy’s look alone. I disagree. David Miller also did the makeup for this movie.
How do you follow up a masterpiece? With a cheesy money-grab monster fight. Still, in 2003 I paid my money down to see Freddy vs. Jason, written by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift and directed by Ronny Yu. In recent years, this makeup had superseded the Yagher makeup from The Dream Master as the most recognizable, though it obviously has its origins in Yagher’s design, which is a smart choice. That big spot that’s roughly the shape of South America on Freddy’s left cheek is like a feature-defining mole. I can’t seem to find any one person responsible for the look of Freddy in this film, but do you really care? Neither do I. (Not true, I do care, but it’s past my bedtime and I need to finish this thing!). Anyway, the chin and cheek enhancements are gone again. The hooked nose is far less prevalent but still there. The exposed muscles are much darker in color while the melted flesh is much brighter in color than their predecessors. This makeup really looks like a fan-made version of Freddy’s makeup. I wonder if they moved to silicon in this version. Anyway, the hat is different, still Indiana Jonesish, but by this point, what were the chances that Harrison Ford and company would return to that old franchise? The sweater is also much, much too dark.
And, finally, the Freddy Krueger makeup for the 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, written by Wesley Strick and Heisserer and directed by Samuel Bayer, goes realistic. To break free from the fantasy look that David Miller and Wes Craven agreed upon in 1984, they wanted Jackie Earl Haley’s Freddy to look more like a true burn victim. The problem is that when the camera is anywhere but up close, Freddy’s head looks like a meatball. Digital effects meant to enhance the design only hurt it because their work doesn’t match up from scene to scene, making there no one definite look to Freddy in this film. Even the hat changed throughout production. Basically, like the movie itself, the look is a mess.
All right. Are you ready for your test? I’ll let you review the material for a few moments and we’ll begin. Ready?
What’s wrong with the DVD cover and the Blu-ray menu?
And next time, we’ll talk about the differences in Freddy’s glove between movies.
The first time I saw the name Wes Craven, it was in TV Guide, around 1986. It was in the synopsis for A Nightmare on Elm Street, which read something like, “Horror maven Wes Craven’s tale of teenagers terrorized by a killer in their dreams.” The fuckers gave it two stars if I recall. In the following years, his name popped up on TV more, usually for commercials of his follow-up movies: “From the creator of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven, comes…” Shocker. The People Under the Stairs. The Serpent and the Rainbow. As I found and read Fangoria, and other stuff about horror, I learned more about him, but it really wasn’t until I was in high school and I saw interviews with Craven that I learned really learned about him.
When I saw the news of his death last night, I was rocked. It came on the night before I was to start a new school year as Mr. Gauthier, so maybe I wasn’t as rocked as I may have been two weeks ago, when I wasn’t as stressed. Still, it was a shock and very, very sad.
I can’t say I’ve seen every Wes Craven movie because I haven’t. I feel like I only saw the original The Last House on the Left in the last eight years. I saw The Hills Have Eyes sometime in the mid-1990s. I saw Shocker and The People Under the Stairs when they first came to cable. I know I saw The Serpent and the Rainbow but can’t remember when, though I think I was in high school. Deadly Friend was viewed not long after seeing A Nightmare on Elm Street the first time, but I didn’t know who Wes Craven was and it was on cable as I was discovering horror. I barely remember any of these movies except the first two. Have I seen Swamp Thing? I don’t know. I’ve definitely seen pieces of it, just as I’ve seen pieces of A Vampire in Brooklyn.
Truth be told, I’m really quite astonished that I haven’t seen more of his movies. I really only know his creating and contributions to the A Nightmare on Elm Street series and directing the Scream movies. This upsets me.
Craven has been someone I would’ve loved to have met. When I found out he bought a house on Martha’s Vineyard, a ferry ride away from where I live, I sometimes thought it might be cool to run into him somewhere, let him know how much he meant to me, and ask if he’d have coffee with me. I know it’s crazy talk, like a deranged stalker or something, but Craven had this feel about him that he was approachable and would sit down for a conversation.
What I think was my favorite aspect of Wes Craven, other than writing and directing my two favorite Nightmares, the original and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, is that he wasn’t just a guy who was into horror for the sake of making money, but that he was actually releasing fears, his own and others. When you look at someone like Sean S. Cunningham, creator of Friday the 13th (and mentor of Craven’s), this is a guy who made horror films for a fast buck. His producing of Craven’s first film, The Last House on the Left, came about because low-budget horror movies were starting to do well. He told Craven, who was itching to direct a movie, that if he wrote a horror movie, Cunningham would let him direct it. What probably wasn’t expected was that Craven would actually make a movie that was almost too dark, too scary, too violent, a movie that became an underground classic almost immediately.
Craven loved cinema and understood how to scare. He saw it as cathartic and necessary. The creation of Fred Krueger is an amazing story of thought, feeling, and psychology. Breaking the mold of having a stunt person play the killer and instead hiring Robert Englund, who knew no boundaries to get the desired effect, Craven revolutionized the horror film bad guy. Suddenly they all had to have personalities, make quips, and find creative, supernatural ways of killing. A range of sharp objects and tools were no longer good enough, they had to have interesting weapons or a cool new way of killing.
Then in 1994, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare just knocked the whole block castle down. It’s a shame it didn’t do better business at the box office, but the movie is, I think, a masterpiece. He asks important questions. Do horror films negatively impact their viewers? What about the people who make them? This line of questioning is woven throughout his Scream movies.
Wes Craven was 76. He was an old man who lived a great life. This doesn’t stop my sadness. A Nightmare on Elm Street is up there with Star Wars as movies that shaped me. Knowing that he will never make another movie, never impart more of his wisdom, and never scare the hell out of me deeply saddens me.
“Some people ask why people would go into a dark room to be scared. I say they are already scared and they need to have that fear manipulated and massaged. I think of horror movies as the disturbed dreams of a society.” — Wes Craven
Look, I already wrote this essay, but this one is going to be a little different. When I originally wrote about Freddy vs. Jason, it was from the viewpoint of a Freddy Krueger fan who’d hardly seen any of the Friday the 13th movies. At this point, I’ve seen them all and feel a little more comfortable going into my thoughts on this movie in regards to Jason. If you haven’t already read my original (and I’ll say, for now, definitive) take on Freddy vs. Jason, click on the link and read it. It all still applies.
I like this version of Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger) probably more than any other. I know that Friday the 13th fans (those poor souls who will admit to it) were outraged that Kane Hodder was not cast as Jason in this movie, even after it had looked like he would be. I know there are still people upset by this. Get over it. Ken Kirzinger’s Jason actually performs in this movie. One gets a sense of vulnerability even though Jason is still the cold-blooded, mindless killer who has been through ten (should I even count Jason X?) movies. And his size is quite imposing.
The movie has a silly basis and is fun. There are a few creepy parts (belonging to Freddy) but it’s really not scary. It’s gory, silly fun. Anyone going into a movie called Freddy vs. Jason wouldn’t want it any other way. In this movie, Jason is his normal force to be reckoned with. He stabs, crushes, beheads, impales, and slashes his way through the victims in this movie in the way he always had. If anything, this movie’s silliness allows it to be the goriest of all the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street movies.
There’s an attempt by the screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, and director Ronny Yu, to give both characters a little more background, and make them more human. In this case, it’s mostly Jason who gets the real winning treatment. Because Freddy is portrayed as a manipulative monster who is more than willing to torture any- and everyone, it falls on cold-blooded, murdering, mindless Jason to be the more “sympathetic” one. In some ways, it actually works.
Katharine Isabelle. All right, I mentioned her in the first Freddy vs. Jason essay I wrote for A Nightmare in Gautham. I think she’s beautiful.
The silliness is a cliché and wouldn’t it have been interesting if the filmmakers actually tried to make a genuinely scary movie? With the brute freight-train of Jason, and the psychological menace that is Freddy, the filmmakers could’ve really gone for the jugular with a movie in which no one is safe anywhere and in the end, the monsters fight for more than just survival (or the audience’s amusement). Just a thought.
Jason’s wardrobe doesn’t match anything he’s worn before. That said, I like this outfit better than all the rest. Freddy’s wardrobe has also changed in its details, and that bothers me.
Jason is afraid of water. I understand that the filmmakers wanted to do something that would mess him up, to give Freddy an advantage over him, but a fear of water? This same character who has, time and again, walked willingly into Crystal Lake? Who boarded a ship going to New York City? Really? But…yeah…he’s afraid of water in this.
Saturday the 14th
As I said in the other essay, Freddy vs. Jason is really Freddy’s movie. Jason has about as much screen time (and way more kills) but it’s really Jason in Freddy’s world. The last act of the movie takes place at Crystal Lake, but by then, Jason has terrorized Springwood and all the locales Nightmare on Elm Street fans know. While Jason is placed in a fairly sympathetic light, Freddy owns the movie. Maybe it’s because this was done by New Line Cinema but I think it boils down to the Nightmare on Elm Street movies show far more imagination than the Friday the 13th movies. In 10 movies, nearly every story involves Jason coming back and butchering people in various ways and in various locales. In seven movies, Freddy Krueger doesn’t kill as many people, but the deaths are far more memorable, as are the victims. By using the dreams and secrets of the teenagers Freddy haunts, he gives them a life that their waking interactions don’t in the weakest of the movies. With Jason, it’s just killing. This movie highlights those differences.
A sequel was proposed as New Line Cinema was looking into acquiring the Evil Dead franchise. Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash would’ve had the stars of this movie square off against Ash, presumably played by Bruce Campbell. The deal with the Evil Dead people fell through and New Line decided that remakes would be the best thing to utilize these characters.
I’m not opposed to remakes in general, especially if really good filmmakers are behind it….
In 1991, New Line Cinema decided to kill Freddy Krueger with Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Around this time, they acquired the rights to Jason Voorhees and Friday the 13th and wanted to bring the two monsters together. However, when they asked Wes Craven if he wanted to be involved, he said no, but said he had an idea for a possible seventh installment. New Line jumped at the chance to have Craven back to helm a Nightmare film. Friday the 13th co-creator Sean S. Cunningham thought it would be a good idea to do with Jason what had been done with Freddy and officially kill him off, while also hinting at the long-desired team-up movie. New Line agreed and 1993 saw the release of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. You know this because I wrote about it in the last essay.
Jason Goes to Hell did all right at the box office but not as well as they’d hoped. New Line was eager to see what Wes Craven’s return to the dreamscape would do to revitalize interest in Freddy Krueger. Unfortunately, when Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was released in October 1994, it failed to live up to expectations. Interest in making the long-awaited team-up were put on the back-burner. At least until a different Wes Craven film, Scream, was a huge hit. Suddenly, New Line wanted a Freddy vs. Jason movie and even promised one for 1998. There was a major problem with that promise: They didn’t have a script.
Time passed and script after script was written, director after director was attached, and it kept falling apart. It seems that every year between 1994 and 2003, Robert Englund would tell an interviewer that they had a new script and there should be a movie within the following year. And each year would pass and nothing would happen.
Sean S. Cunningham didn’t like this. He was afraid that people would forget about Jason Voorhees. So he went to New Line head Michael De Luca and asked about a tenth Jason movie. Writer Todd Farmer pitched the idea that Jason goes to space and De Luca, he who co-penned the cinematic masterpiece Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, greenlit it.
Jason. In. Space.
Though the film was supposed to be released in 2000 or 2001, it was eventually released in April 2002. I didn’t see it then. Seeing now for this essay was one too many times.
David Cronenberg appears in cameo role. Until Jason (once again, Kane Hodder) kills him. It’s always a surprise to see a director that is considered very good make a cameo in a less-than-stellar movie, and here it’s downright shocking. To think that the man who directed one of the best horror films of the 1980s, The Fly, would appear in this horror (I use the term loosely) movie is shocking. But it’s fun for the What the FUCK?! factor.
The escape ship explosion was another nice touch. The set-up is typical horror movie stuff. A girl who is freaking out locks her friends out of their safehaven, in this case, the spaceship that will allow them to escape. Despite them banging on the door (or whathaveyou), she decides to leave the main spaceship without them. Typically, this is where Jason would suddenly appear to kill her. In this case, her own stupidity does her in and it actually surprised me. So did the spaceship’s crash into another safehaven, a space station, earlier in the movie.
The special effects are surprisingly good. I’ll give them credit. For a movie with a fairly small budget, the effects mostly came off.
Jason looks funny in this movie. His head isn’t malformed enough and he had a strange buzz-cut thing going on. His hockey mask is different. His clothes are different. And that’s before the Uber-Jason at the end. Uber-Jason is one of the worst monsters I’ve ever seen. The costume looks like something from a bad SyFy Channel movie. I understand that Jason has looked different in each movie, and there’s certainly a Who Gives a Shit? attitude about that, but this Jason just didn’t do it for me. I think there was too much of Kane Hodder present.
The acting is some of the worst in the series. But I can only blame them so much, because–
The story is ridiculous and full of clichés. I’ve read or heard somewhere that the movie was better before the studio watered down the script. Who knows? The very idea of putting Jason in space is stupid. At best it can only be a low-rent version of Alien. Add to that the most obvious one-liners and scripted dialogue, and we’re talking a disaster of a movie.
The Saturday After
Look, these have been some of the most negative essays I’ve written, and I know fans of the series are used to that sort of thing from non-fans. I almost feel bad about these essays, but I have to call it like I see it. Whether they made money or not, these movies just keep getting worse. The box office for Jason X was also lackluster.
But that was okay, because in 2002, news broke that horror nerds had been hearing for a looonnng time. And this time, it looked like it might actually happen….
With the lackluster performance of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan in 1989, and with the urging of series co-creator Sean S. Cunningham, Paramount Pictures sold the franchise to New Line Cinema, whom they’d attempted to “rent” the Freddy Krueger character and situations from a few years prior. This would prove a major coup for New Line because now they could finally set up the Battle of the Ages: Freddy Krueger versus Jason Voorhees. The sale in the early 1990s came at just the right time because 1989 wasn’t a good year for Freddy, either. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, released a year after the highest-grossing Nightmare, earned the lowest amount for the franchise at that time. Hoping to cash in one last time, New Line released the final Nightmare movie, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, in 1991, and it made a good amount of money. The purchase of the Jason Voorhees character and Friday the 13th meant they now had the two most popular monsters of the 1980s and could finally put them together.
Robert Shaye knew Sean S. Cunningham would be on board since he’d been trying to get the Jason/Freddy project off the ground for years, but decided to ask Wes Craven if he had any ideas. As it turned out, Craven did have ideas…only not for a monster mash-up. Excited by any Craven involvement in a new Nightmare film, New Line Cinema went ahead with his idea for a seventh movie. This gave Cunningham and the studio the chance to do what the eighth Friday the 13th movie couldn’t do: Put an “end” to Jason and set up the eventual Freddy/Jason movie.
With a screenplay by Dean Lorey and Jay Huguley, from a story by Huguley and director Adam Marcus, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday was released on August 13th, 1993. I remember watching it when it came on Cinemax about a year later, when I was either a junior or senior in high school. I was interested in watching it in and of itself but the real reason I wanted to see it was because, by that point, Fangoria had reported the surprise ending….
The acting is slightly better in this movie than in the previous Friday movies. The script gives the actors a little more to work with. That said, the stand-out performance for me was Erin Gray’s. Now, it could just be the nerdboy in me talking, except that I never saw her in Buck Rogers (because I never saw the show, not because I couldn’t see her, that’s weird of you to think), I only knew her from Silver Spoons. But she brings real pathos to her role. John D. LeMay as Steve Freeman is also pretty good. He also starred in Friday the 13th: The Television Series, only he played a different character.
I know I write this often in these essays, but I feel like I’m often grasping at straws, so my apologies for repeating myself, but the fact that the screenwriters tried to move into a totally different direction with Jason (Kane Hodder) and the series needs to be applauded. They truly leave the idea of Jason terrorizing teenagers/young adults behind and take the movie into a new direction. Jason is now a known enemy to the United States and a task force has been employed to destroy him. Playing with horror as a genre, they reference the Evil Dead films and give a reason for Jason’s supernatural ability, as well as a way to destroy him. They also give him a larger family that changes the way he can be viewed.
If you’re into these movies for the gore, then you’re in luck. Whatever shenanigans that kept gore out of the eighth movie seems to have gone away for this one. It’s ridiculously gory. So if you’re into that, that would be a plus.
Freddy! Yeah, you must’ve known I was going there. At the end Jason is dragged into hell by monsters. There’s a close-up of his hockey mask. He’s dead. And then Freddy’s gloved arm shoots up, grabs the mask, and drags it into hell, with Freddy’s signature laugh. Of course, the arm looks strangely muscular (Kane Hodder provided the arm) and the blades of the glove bend when they hit the dirt, but it’s Freddy.
While the overall acting is slightly better in this movie, there are still some horrible performances. For me, the most surprising of these bad performances was given by Steven Williams as he played bounty hunter Creighton Duke. Williams has had a long, good career. I first knew him as the boss on Fox’s hit 21 Jump Street, which starred A Nightmare on Elm Street alum Johnny Depp. Williams was also a nerd favorite on The X Files as Mr. X. He’s a pretty good actor who is terrible in this movie. Maybe it’s not the right role for him. I don’t know, but it’s bad.
The story is real bad. That’s the problem with the Friday the 13th movies (or the Jason movies, as I guess they should be called for the next few essays), even if it’s the best written one, chances are likely that the movie is still shitty. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday is no exception. It begins with Jason stalking a young woman who turns out to be part of that federal task force I mentioned earlier and ends with him being dragged to hell by some of the silliest monsters I’ve ever seen (though less silly than the Dream Demons from Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, I’ll give Jason the point for that). And then a young family walks into the sunrise. What? Yeah, you read that correctly. There’s a baby in this movie, and family issues, and a love story, and stereotypical foul-mouthed fat ladies, and more plot holes than I have time to list. And, the biggest problem by far is–
Where’s Jason?! New Line Cinema acquires their biggest horror competitor. They want to do a Freddy vs. Jason movie. They’ve already killed off Freddy (and it won’t be an issue that he returns for Wes Craven’s new Nightmare movie, which will be released the following year). And here we go with killing off Jason and…we’re going to keep Jason out of most of the movie.
Jason appears at the beginning, as I mentioned, until the U.S. government blows him up. Then his remains spout some creature that then goes around possessing people. We’re told by the bounty hunter that Jason the person has long been dead, but the evil entity in him takes his evil essence and finds new hosts for him. The idea is that Jason has been different people all the time. Forget the fact that almost every Friday the 13th movie showed him return from the prior movie’s resting place. The only other time we see Jason until the very end when he finally returns (plot hole alert), is in the mirror whenever his hosts stand in front of one. Instead of seeing Jason kill, which is all his fans pay to see anyway, we’re given a variety of characters committing Jason-style violent deaths.
Which only highlights what I’ve been saying throughout these movies: the true reason for the horror of a horror movie isn’t even being attempted, not even for laughs. The movies have devolved into a slaughterfest meant to do nothing but make powerless adolescents laugh at gruesome, horrible deaths. The fact that this is the ninth movie of this is a horrific happening unto itself.
Oh, and let’s talk about Jason himself in this movie. He looks stupid. His head has somehow inflated to twice the normal size, he’s regrown hair, and he’s not even close to wearing what he wore in the last few movies. If this is because he’s in a new body, how did the head come to look like a watermelon-sized meatball? He’s lame.
The Saturday After
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday is a new day for Jason. New Line was able to make it more supernatural than the character (and story) had been but ultimately failed to do anything interesting with the movie. It’s essentially a 90-minute prologue to Freddy vs. Jason, which they hoped to make after the new Wes Craven Nightmare was released. As a teenager, I thought the movie was okay. As an adult, I’m shocked by how bad it is compared to my memory of it.
The movie did okay and it certainly promised fans what they’d been hoping for for nearly a decade. With all the pieces in place, what could possibly go wrong?
I look at A Nightmare on Elm Street and its follow-ups as a huge piece of my childhood. You know my feelings on the movies, I spent enough time and energy on them, but I felt compelled to say a few more words on the Nightmare series before moving on.
New Line Cinema had a chance to create a horror film franchise that could actually maintain its scariness, in much the same way Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson would later do with Scream. They had a great villain and a great premise, all they needed was to understand what the nine-year-old in me, and those who have followed me this far along (and all the children in all the adults who are fans of series like this): You can’t do it for the money. Yes, you should be paid for it but the pay should be the frosting when it comes to art. Wes Craven made A Nightmare on Elm Street (and, I suspect, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare) out of the compulsion/obsession to tell the story, and the love of storytelling and filmmaking, not out of the desire to get rich and famous. By focusing on telling a really good story, by hiring people who understood the possibilities of the horror story (someone like Frank Darabont, for example), the Nightmare movies could have been scary as hell and still would have made New Line Cinema money.
Still, Freddy Krueger haunts me. At least once a year since I saw the first movie I have a bad Freddy Krueger nightmare. Love it or hate it, these movies turned me onto horror, which led me to Stephen King, which led me to reading and writing, which led me to…you. The imagination was there and Star Wars and superheroes and action figures helped cultivate it, but Wes Craven’s child is what led me to the realization that I could do something with all these fears and anxieties I have. Sure, it was Stephen King’s prose and storytelling that turned me to the typewriter (and, eventually, the computer), but….
And I’m not the only one. A group of fans made a great documentary in 2010 called Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy. It’s a huge documentary on the entire series, weighing in at about 4 hours, with lots of bonus stuff on disc 2. I highly recommend it. Anothe documentary I recommend is Heather Langenkamp’s own documentary I Am Nancy, in which she looks at fandom, the power of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, as well as the importance of the character she originated, Nancy Thompson. There’s a lot of heart in this documentary and it brought tears to my eyes, especially when a young woman in a wheelchair explains to Langenkamp how the character of Nancy has inspired her to keep going. Another highlight is an excellent interview with Wes Craven about the symbolism of Freddy and Nancy.
I feel like the guest who stays at the party too long, the person at the hair place who will not drop the topic even though it was over before it began. I hope that’s not the case. I also hope that if you’ve read this far, you’ve been entertained and perhaps have felt the desire to re-watch those movies. For those who give a damn about such things, here’s my Nightmare ranking list:
9. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991, dir. Rachel Talalay)
8. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985, dir. Jack Sholder)
7. Freddy Vs. Jason (2003, dir. Ronny Yu)
6. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010, dir. Samuel Bayer)
5. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989, dir. Stephen Hopkins)
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988, dir. Renny Harlin)
3. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987, dir. Chuck Russell)
2. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994, dir. Wes Craven)
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, dir. Wes Craven)
And, as my Dad used to say, happy dreams.
I believe I was still living in Boston–or about to move to Boston, anyway–when the news hit that Michael Bay’s production company was going to try its hand at remaking A Nightmare on Elm Street. I want to note right here at the beginning that I am not totally against remakes. There have been fine remakes over time. The Wizard of Oz (1939) was a remake from the original silent version (Pamela disagrees with me on this, since one had sound and one didn’t; but back then it probably didn’t matter to the person bitching about it). Ben-Hur with Charlton Heston was a remake. The Man Who Knew Too Much with James Stewart, directed by the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock, was a remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much by a young British director named Alfred Hitchcock. David Cronenberg’s version of The Fly. The most recent version of Dawn of the Dead. Stephen King said that the a few years ago remake of The Last House on the Left was one of the ten best films of 2009 (I haven’t seen it, but will). No, I wasn’t against anyone remaking A Nightmare on Elm Street, I was against Michael Bay, Brad Fuller, and Andrew Form doing so.
They’d produced the remake of The Amityville Horror, which I thought was horrendous. I didn’t see any of their other remakes because they just looked…well…bad. I respect Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre but it’s not a favorite movie. Friday the 13th has never done much for me. But A Nightmare on Elm Street…well, that was another story. If you’ve been following my Nightmare in Gautham series, you know why. I had always sort of fantasized about someone who got the possibilities of the mythology of Nightmare, who understood that Freddy Krueger was as much metaphor as slasher monster, someone who knew how to get under people’s skins and create a beautiful shot would step up to the plate and take it over. Better than that, I would have loved for Warner Bros. through New Line to return to Wes Craven and see if he wanted to try to redo it with a larger budget and better effects. Even better than that, I fantasized that my writing would become huge, that the movie studios would call and ask, “What do you want to do?” and my answer would be, “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”
But Platinum Dunes with Michael Bay, the creative genius who directed the crapfest known as The Transformers, was the guy who got the glove. I was nervous.
Then came news that Samuel Bayer, who’d directed Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (which always reminded me of a horror movie), had been tapped to make his feature film directorial debut with this movie. Interesting choice, but maybe….
Then came news that Jackie Earle Haley had signed on to play Freddy. Now my interest was piqued. I hadn’t seen him in anything but had heard enough about his performances. As time passed, I saw two of his most recent big roles. First I saw The Watchmen on DVD. Haley is the best part of the movie. Then I saw Little Children, where his performance was great. Yeah, I got jazzed for the new Nightmare.
As I saw more and more about it in the months leading up to the 2010 release, my interest grew more and more. That was when I originally wrote the Nightmare in Gautham series, fueled mainly by anticipation (not to mention ideas that had run through my head for decades).
So the Sunday morning of May 5th, 2010, Pamela and I went to a local movie theater for a private screening. Actually, it wasn’t meant to be a private screening, but Pamela and I were the only two people in the theater. I guess no one wants to go to see a horror movie at 10:20 on a Sunday morning. Yeah, my wife loves me. The movie was done by noon and we went for pizza afterward. That night, I wrote the first version of the following essay.
I have seen the remake/reboot of A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) only one other time. I think that tells you something.
Some of the actors playing the central characters. Rooney Mara as Nancy Holbrook. She had a strong personality and isn’t too bad as Nancy. My biggest complaint about her character is that it takes the audience too long to get to know her and then doesn’t give her as much to do as she deserves. In the years since, Mara was in The Social Network and was the titular character in the U.S. version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She brings a frankness and intensity to Nancy that the other characters lack. The same could be said about Kyle Gallner as Quentin and Katie Cassidy as Kris. I thought both were pretty good in the movie but neither were given much to do. The stand-out performances came from the adults, Connie Britton (though this didn’t show her range like Nashville does), Clancy Brown, and even Jackie Earle Haley as pre-burn Freddy.
Some of Samuel Bayer’s visuals. This movie is miles above some of the visual styles in the later Nightmare sequels, though with all the talk in the interviews about how “beautiful” the movie is, there could have been more from him. There have been some internet reports that there were clashes between Bayer and the producers and I wonder how much that had to do with it. Still, the film was pretty solid visually.
Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger. I write this with some reservations. He was, physically, a good match for Freddy. Also, the dude is creepy without makeup, so in the makeup he was able to go a little further. Freddy’s anger and rage came through quite clearly and it was Haley’s performance more than anything that helped with that. Of course, the strongest part of his performance had been seen last year in the teaser trailer, which features Freddy running from the Elm Street parents and eventually getting burned alive.
The feeling of the movie. I was actually pretty tense during most of the movie the first time I saw it in 2010 (for the record, Pamela didn’t feel the same way; she disagreed with me, “I was never scared or even startled, mostly because they showed it all in the promotional stuff and because the movie was just not scary”). Upon watching it again, the tension that the film brings has little to do with the story but more to do with the anticipation that something is going to happen, some sort of boo! More on this later.
The final battle between Nancy and Freddy. The creepiness of Freddy tormenting Nancy on her bed with her unable to move was a nice touch. The rage that Haley brought to Freddy and Mara’s perseverance in battling him gave the movie a harder edge. Rooney Mara nearly matches Heather Langenkamp’s resolve, but without the silly Wile E. Coyote gimmickry. It’s not perfect, and has some terrible missteps, but overall in enjoyable.
Freddy’s new personality is a little stale. Haley wasn’t bad with the lines (“Talk about a wet dream,” for instance) and some of the other Freddy things he did; licking Nancy’s face when they are outside the preschool; the scene at the end when Nancy is in the little girl dress on her bed and Freddy is taunting her; these are some of the good things about the new Freddy, but he doesn’t have the bad-ass strut he once did or that defiant stance that fucked with his victim. In other words, some of the things that made Freddy what he was is missing. It would’ve been a bad idea for Haley try to mimic Robert Englund’s performance, but you’ve got one of the coolest weapons in cinema history on your hand, and all you do is scrape pipes and the walls with it, and sometimes flicker the fingers? Sometimes Freddy limps. Sometimes not. Also, he just doesn’t fuck with the victims enough, and he barely takes joy in it when he does. In the attempt to take Freddy away from the clown he had become, they made him a little too serious.
The Freddy makeup. The decision to go with more realistic burns was an error. What made Freddy’s burns scary in the original series was that they were kind of fantastic, not all that realistic. They were creepy in the dark, they were creepy in the light, they were creepy from afar, and they were creepy up close. The makeup in 2010 Nightmare looks too similar to that of real-life burn victims and becomes unsettling in a way that the filmmakers probably didn’t intend. And unless the camera is close-up, you really can’t tell what’s going on with Freddy’s face. He looks like a strange meatball with a body. Haley also wore contact lenses, one that was milky-gray, again, like a real burn victim might have. Robert Englund (mostly) didn’t wear lenses which helped give Freddy character. You never see the glee Freddy has taunting his victims because the eyes are hollow.
The CGI wall. It didn’t work in the commercials or in the movie. The $1.98 version in the original still creeps me out. This one made me roll my eyes and shake my fist at the screen.
The plot holes. The Elm Street parents never had any evidence that Freddy hurt their children, yet they track him down and burn him alive. The thing that made Wes Craven’s original so chilling was that the justice system failed the parents, so they then took the law into their own hands. I would think that with the Tea Party out there saying that people need to take their government back, with people like O.J. Simpson getting off a murder rap, that the twenty-first century Nightmare would eat that shit up. But no, the parents take the five-year-olds’ word that Freddy the gardener had done something bad to them and then go cook the guy. Quentin was shocked at this, and so was I. It doesn’t make sense.
Then when Nancy and Quentin go to the old preschool where Freddy had done some bad stuff to them as children, it’s pretty apparent the place has been closed down for a while. They break in, see how it has been vandalized over the years, go into the basement…and find Freddy’s little home, dusty, filled with cobwebs, but still there. How do they know? Why, because of the fingerknives lying on the workshop table. Yeah, so, all the parents pull their kids out of the preschool, the gardener disappears, the place closes down, and no one cleans the fucker out? I would understand if Freddy’s secret room were still there, untouched, with the pictures of Nancy and his Dark Knight clown mask on the wall, but the living quarters? Really? Which leads me to:
The past. Freddy Krueger was the gardener living in the basement of the preschool. Yeah. In the early 1990s, after Adam Walsh and all those other happenings in the world, would a preschool allow a gardener to live in its basement? And if it did, would a good parent send their child there? And even if one parent did, would others? It doesn’t make sense. There is no logic, which is scarce in this movie (remember, Michael Bay’s name is attached).
So in the past, the kids go home with cuts on them and tell their parents about going into “the special cave” where, it’s hinted at, Freddy molests the kids. However, he doesn’t seem to kill any of the kids. So when Craven was making the original, they dropped the molester part and for this one, they drop the killing part. All right…when Marge Thompson tells Nancy in the original that Freddy was “a filthy child murderer,” the audience understands what filthy means. But if this Freddy isn’t a killer, why fashion the glove? Because of all the things wrong with Krueger’s mind, he isn’t stupid. So he’s going to do bad things to the kids and cut them and expect the parents to never find out?
Nancy Holbrook had repressed memories. All right, I diggit. Nancy Thompson and all their friends do, too. Huh? That was always a plot point that stuck in my craw, from Craven’s masterpiece to this movie. Now, I have a very good memory. I remember being five years old in kindergarten, and four years old before it. Like the guy who knocked me into the snow as he was walking by carrying a shotgun after an argument with his girlfriend. I can remember that day very well. I also remember at two years old stepping on a large, black thumbtack-thing that lodged itself into the center of my foot. I still hate going barefoot. But Nancy, Nancy, Tina, Kris, Glen, Quentin, Rod, and Jesse can’t remember their peers either disappearing or themselves being molested by someone they seemed to love? One of them repressing the memory, sure, but all of them? I don’t know.
Another story issue concerns the Elm Street kids. Nancy, Kris, Jesse, Quentin, and Dean are all aware of each other and are all friendly, but they aren’t friends. The movie opens with Dean, who’s been having nightmares. We even see a bit of one. Kris comes to the diner where Nancy works (only for this scene) and Quentin and Jesse are eating. Jesse and Kris have recently broken up and Quentin and Nancy eye each other. This is pretty much what this version of A Nightmare on Elm Street does to introduce and build characters. By the end of the scene, Dean is dead. Kris believes in Freddy right away, and tells Jesse this at Dean’s funeral. Jesse tells her that nothing is going on when Nancy approaches them and tells Kris she believes her. Jesse tells Nancy to fuck off. We then spend more time following Kris, who seems like an over-privileged girl than her 1984 counterpart, Tina. Kris is the Janet Leigh of this film, just as Tina was in her version, only Kris is devoid of any real character. Even the sadness inherent to Tina’s life with her mother who went away for the night with her boyfriend is gone: Kris’s mother is a flight attendant who’s leaving for a bit. By the time Nancy becomes the star, we still don’t know her, because no one is really talking to her. Still, Jesse goes to see her after Kris’s death. After Jesse dies, Quentin informs her that he died in his sleep, though anyone in the jail who found his mangled body would believe otherwise. Again, there is no logic, and there certainly isn’t any characterization.
Because these Elm Street kids aren’t friends, we never learn who they are, and we never care who they are. The second half of the movie, which focuses on Nancy and Quentin in their search to uncover the truth about Freddy, almost reach a level where one may care about them. Almost.
The use of the quick extreme close-up and Freddy turning his head. It’s used too much. In a promotional video for this movie that is on the DVD of The Final Destination, they show Kris in her attic with a flashlight. The beam goes over some boxes, one of which has an old fedora on it, and when the beam slips back, the hat is an inch higher and Freddy is peeking at her. She screams and I screamed when I saw it on YouTube. They replaced this creepy moment with Freddy’s face coming at the screen quickly, like those internet videos meant to scare people. A genuinely creepy moment replaced with an internet scare. Nice.
Lack of internal logic. I know I’ve mentioned this several times already, but it’s really bad. Nothing really makes sense, and not in a nightmare-come-to-life kind of way, either. By making this new Freddy not kill the children, they remove the need for the glove. By making him a gardener that lives on the premises of a daycare/preschool, they remove the very real fact that parents would not have allowed that by the 1990s. By having the kids not be friends, they remove any pathos or empathy from the viewer. The story falls flat because the characters are as bad as some from the worst sequels.
The Morning After
In the grand scheme of Nightmare movies, I rank the remake between Dream Warriors and The Dream Master in terms of direction and feel and between The Dream Master and The Dream Child for Freddy, but overall, it’s just above Freddy’s Revenge and Freddy’s Dead. During the pre-movie press, Platinum Dunes and New Line kept forcing every person who had anything to do with this movie to say the movie was a re-imagining but it feels more like a lame sequel. Also, the movie just isn’t scary. Well, not in the way I thought the original was.
Overall, this Nightmare doesn’t do it for me. When I first saw it, I liked it well enough, but time and a second viewing have changed my mind. I don’t like it, because it feels devoid of the very things that made me love the original and its sequels. I’m not against remaking Freddy or the Nightmare on Elm Street series (I even have a great idea for a reboot…one that people I’ve told it to have actually been surprised by), but this one is weak at best, and flimsy the rest of the time.
If you’re reading this (especially if you’ve read all the essays I’ve written about Freddy Krueger) then you are probably well schooled on the Nightmare movies. You’re also probably well aware of how New Line Cinema and Sean S. Cunningham wanted to put Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees together since about 1985 or so. First, Paramount Pictures had the rights to Friday the 13th and Jason and was willing to pay to “rent” Freddy Krueger for a team-up. New Line said no. Then, after Freddy’s Dead came and went, New Line got the rights to Jason and was finally ready to do the team-up. They even hinted at the idea in 1993 when Cunningham and New Line Cinema put out Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. The movie ends with Jason’s hockey mask lying on the dirt, the monster having finally been destroyed, when all of a sudden–Boo!–Freddy-fucking-Krueger’s gloved hand erupts from the ground, grabs Jason’s mask, and pulls it underground with a poor attempt at the famous Freddy laugh (upon rewatching this clip on YouTube, it doesn’t appear the filmmakers used a soundclip of Robert Englund’s laugh). This time it was Wes Craven who stopped the project with a better idea: New Nightmare.
Time passed, scripts were written, passed on, written and rewritten, and passed on, et cetera and so on until, somehow, the final script for Freddy Vs. Jason by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift was agreed upon and director Ronny Yu was hired to direct.
For me, 2003 was an interesting year. I made my first professional sale to Borderlands 5 (which features a story by David J. Schow, who wrote one of the early scripts for this movie) along with some smaller press stuff. My first marriage also hit the skids this year. The summer of 2003 was a soul-searching one for me, trying to figure out what to do with the marriage, my heart no longer in it, worrying about my five-year-old daughter, worrying about how I was going to move on. I had gone back to college to finish my degree and life was rapidly moving and I was terrified. On August 15th, nine days before I would turn twenty-six, I went to the local movie theater alone, sat in the middle of the back row, and awaited for one of my childhood “friends” to return after a too-long (and yet not long enough) absence.
There was almost no one in the theater with me when three people came in, two guys and a young woman. Of all the empty seats in the theater, they chose to sit next to me. I pegged the young woman to be in her early-twenties, only a few years younger than me, and the guys in their mid-to-late-teens. My guess was older sister bringing younger brother to the R-rated movie, but I’m probably wrong.
I’m a pretty quiet person when I’m with people I don’t know. I’m extremely shy and suffer from social anxiety (whee!) so I didn’t make any small talk with the young woman or the guys, just moved my legs so they could get by me. The young woman turned to me, though, and said how she loved the “Freddy movies” (a term I hate) and the “Jason movies” (another despised term). I said that I was a Freddy fan (sans “movie” after “Freddy” you should note) as well but had never really gotten into the Friday the 13th movies.
“So,” she said as the lights dimmed for the previews. “Do you think this movie will be a good movie?”
I gave her my best Harrison Ford half-smile and said, “Silence of the Lambs was a good horror movie. I’ll be happy if this is fun.”
She nodded and the previews began, and then the movie. I believe she said goodbye on the way out. I was just happy that the movie was fun.
The movie got bad reviews and good box office, which is no surprise.
Before we go any further, I feel that I should mention my knowledge on the Friday the 13th movies, or rather, my lack of knowledge. I have seen almost all of them, except Jason X and the Platinum Dunes remake from a year or two ago, only one time each. I can remember that Mom is the killer in the first, Jason wears a potato sack in the second, then the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth run together. I know that Corey Feldman is in one of them, and another has an older version of his character played by another actor. I faintly recall watching one called The New Blood, about a psychic girl, and then watching Jason Takes Manhattan (one of them had a girl who wanted to be a writer and her mother or father gave her a nice pen that was once used, they tell her, by Stephen King). I remember watching Jason Goes To Hell because Fangoria had reported the shot of Freddy’s hand grabbing the hockey mask (I also seem to remember enjoying it in the way one enjoys a bad horror flick). As I said, though, I’m more of a Freddy guy. Be warned that before going the rest of the way.¹
Freddy’s back. Robert Englund’s return as Freddy Krueger was, despite the clown he had become in the last few movies before New Nightmare, good. In the opening scenes of Freddy Vs. Jason, you know that Freddy is being brought back a bit to his darker roots. The makeup job is reminiscent of the makeup for The Dream Master. His sweater is darker, the glove looks different, and I daresay this version of Freddy looks the most like Robert Englund, but it’s fun to watch him again. Englund is able to channel Freddy’s darker ways in this movie, while still being able to deliver the one-liners and silliness he had also become known for. Perhaps the nine-year rest was helpful for him. Perhaps the very situation was helpful for this audience member.
Anytime two horror icons meet onscreen, there is a sense that the movie involving them doesn’t need to be serious. The idea of one of them existing is silly but we accept it for the sake of the movie, that whole willing suspension of disbelief thing. The idea of two of them existing in the same world and ready to fight each other is preposterous yet we anxiously pay our money down and go in to watch the fight. Robert Englund–who had made a second career being the burlesque Freddy on talk shows, at conventions, and on MTV–is able to do his shtick while not offending moviegoers expecting the horror movie to be scary.
This movie’s version of pre-burn Freddy is also the best version caught on film. The version shown on the premiere episode of Freddy’s Nightmares–A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series (the episode is called “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and was written by Michael DeLuca, the hack who co-wrote the screenplay for Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare) and the version shown in Freddy’s Dead are not really that interesting or scary. This time, he is creepy and Englund relishes the role. Also, it seems director Yu seems to know how to use Freddy in an interesting way, though not always greatly.
Ignoring Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was a wise choice. This movie takes place within the continuity of the Nightmare series pre-New Nightmare, even taking into account the THE WORST NIGHTMARE MOVIE Freddy’s Dead. (I suppose it also takes place within the Friday the 13th universe, though I don’t know it well enough to say for sure). It doesn’t make for a better movie, but one that is easier to digest. You know, for a bad horror movie.
Katharine Isabelle. All right, I just like her. She was Ginger in Ginger Snaps, one of the best horror movies of the last decade. I wish she’d been given a better part, but I was happy to see her in this movie.
The Freddy versus Jason fights. There are several fights between the two headliners. The first happens in Jason’s dream and Freddy kicks his ass. It turns silly when Freddy uses the Force to throw Jason all around, yet it’s entertaining enough. I mean, if you’ve paid to see a movie called Freddy Vs. Jason, then you have to expect some silliness. The second–and final–fight happens for most of the end of the movie at Camp Crystal Lake. Lori (Monica Keena) and Will (Jason Ritter, son of the late John Ritter, one of my favorite actors, who died less than a month after this movie’s opening) have figured out that they can pull Freddy out of the nightmare (sort of like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Freddy’s Dead) and then maybe Freddy and Jason will kill each other. They fight at a construction site, in an old cabin, and on a dock. In other words, they’re fighting for a good portion of the movie and it’s worth every penny of the too-high movie ticket. It is stupid, mindless, andgory cartoon violence…and it is exactly what the audience paid to see.
The teens/victims in this are all right but aren’t very interesting. As a matter of fact, none of the characters in this movie are interesting. While the attempt to give the audience a story that is more than just two monsters beating the shit out of each other is welcome, and the story is okay–a typical slasher movie at best–the actors just aren’t that interesting. Monica Keena, Jason Ritter, Kelly Rowland, Katharine Isabelle, and all the rest do their best with what they’re given (and with what talent they have), but they’re boring. Maybe a better script or a better director could have helped them, but the characters leave a lot to be desired.
The slow-motion in this movie is fucking annoying. I don’t remember either series having many slow-motion shots, but Ronny Yu seems to love them. I didn’t remember there being that many slo-mo shots until watching the movie again a few years ago. It detracted from the movie for me. Slo-mo is a handy effect when used properly but Yu uses the effect like a kid who has just hit puberty and has discovered his dad’s dirty magazines, he can’t stop doing it. One time, okay. Twice? Well… But by the third time (and there are more than three times slow-motion is used in Freddy Vs. Jason), give it a rest or you’ll hurt yourself.
The character of Bill. He’s so bad, that I gave him his own category. Played by Kyle Labine, Bill is a rip-off (homage?) to Jay (Jason Mewes) from Jay and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith). It’s a blatant rip-off and stops the movie dead in its tracks. Even the character’s death is lame, which leads us to–
The CGI worm. I’m not against CGI like some people seem to be. Practical effects are great, but CGI is fine when used wisely. While the character Bill (Kyle Labine) gets high in Westin Hills (see Dream Warriors and The Dream Child) Freddy comes to him as some sort of caterpillar monster thing (with red-and-green stripes, of course) with a hookah/bong á la Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The caterpillar takes a toke as Bill is doing the typical “Yeeah, duude,” thing, then blows the smoke in Bill’s face. Now, the merging of Freddy with Alice² and naming a character Bill all in one scene should be a wet dream for me, right?
Wrong. See, there’s one element to the scene that baffles me: the drug use. It baffles me on several levels. One, you and your friends are in mortal danger, you have all broken into this institution to steal an experimental dream suppressant (again, from Dream Warriors…it’s been experimental since 1987…say, wha–?) and, for reasons of plot convenience, have all separated. You are alone and to curb your anxiety, you decide to toke up a spliff. Huh? I mean, I know addiction can be a bitch, but really? Two, I’ve never been high. Or drunk, for that matter. I have no interest in getting high so drug humor sometimes escapes me. Now, I know that I’m the Odd Man Out on that count, but I really have to question the rationale behind having a character getting high in the middle of a covert operation that could land him in jail, not to mention the dude in the hockey mask trying to kill everyone who’s awake and the burned hombre in the Christmas sweater trying to get you in your sleep. But there the character is, getting high, and seeing a poorly animated Freddy caterpillar.
The Freddy caterpillar blows the smoke into Bill’s face which makes Bill see weird shit that makes him throw out the experimental drug. Then he looks up and there’s the Freddy caterpillar on the ceiling. It then drops down onto Bill and pushes itself down his throat. And now Freddy has possessed him. Wow, bad CGI and bad writing! Will wonders ever cease…?
The overall use of CGI in this movie is annoying. There’s just too much for no real reason, and it’s all bad. At least try to make it look as good as a movie by George Lucas or James Cameron.
1428 Elm Street is a totally different house. The first two Nightmare movies as well as Wes Craven’s New Nightmare used the same house in L.A., 1428 North Genesee Avenue. From Dream Warriors through Freddy’s Dead, a set was constructed for the haunted house version. This movie was shot in Canada (mostly British Columbia) and used a house that almost looks like the original, but not quite. It’s a small thing, but….
The Morning After
The filmmakers and the studio put just enough thought into Freddy Vs. Jason to make it sustainable for a 97 minute runtime. Even at just over an hour and a half, it’s too long by about fifteen minutes. This is a modern version of the classic monster duo movies and, like the 1980s movies that inspire it, it’s silly, gory, and devoid of any social merit. It works by combining some of the best elements of the Nightmare films and adding Jason. And that’s the thing with this movie, despite sharing the billing, Freddy is the star, outshining the other monster in this film in every way.
This makes sense. The Nightmare movies, for all their unnecessary killings, at least have imagination. The Friday movies (not the ones with Ice Cube) never did. While the first movie is a mystery filled with gory deaths and no characters that one can truly care about, the movies that followed didn’t even have a mystery element to it. They were all movies about a zombie killing teenagers with a machete and other tools. Freddy is the dominant personality. He’s interesting. He’s imaginative even if the end result isn’t.
Freddy is also more of the villain of the movie. While Jason definitely has some kills and isn’t someone these fresh-faced kids would have over for tea, Jason’s story is far more tragic. Jason is a victim seeking revenge for what happened to him and his mother. Freddy was a perverted murderer who pretty much got what he would’ve received had he not been let out of jail on that technicality. Jason is evil because of his own stupidity. Freddy is evil because it’s fun for him.
Essentially, Freddy Vs. Jason is a waste of time and money. Yes, it is the culmination of many schoolyard arguments over twenty years. Yes, I had fun when I saw it. Yes, I own a copy on DVD. But it’s a waste. The horror story they attempt to tell is only there to justify the movie’s runtime and ultimately fails because you never care about the possible victims thereby subtracting any horror. The reason you don’t care is because you didn’t pay to see Monica Keena or Jason Ritter or the chick from Destiny’s Child (one of the ones who isn’t Beyoncé), you paid to see Freddy and Jason beat the piss out of each other, and on that level, the movie delivers. In the end, though, Freddy Vs. Jason is the bastard of a hundred maniacs. It is a 97-minute essay on why the 1980s horror balloon popped. Too much focus on the dollar, not enough on imagination.
¹ I wrote this paragraph in 2010 and decided to leave it. My experience with the Friday the 13th movies has grown some. Last year, I began to watch them back-to-back. Unfortunately, I only got to the fourth one when Netflix suddenly stopped shipping them. It’s my intention to finish watching them this year and do a series of essays, like this series, either later this year or sometime next year.
² My novella, Alice on the Shelf, was first written in November/December 2003 based on a dream I had September 12, 2003–the day that I learned of John Ritter’s death. After many rewrites over the seven years, Alice on the Shelf was released in 2011. At one time, I would have casted Katharine Isabelle in the role of Miranda/Alice. Weird how it all comes together, huh?
I was probably a junior in high school when I first read that New Line Cinema was going to not only bring Freddy back from the dead but that none other than Wes Craven would return to rebirth Freddy. I was excited, albeit skeptical. I hadn’t been a huge fan of Craven’s post-A Nightmare on Elm Street movies Shocker and The People Under the Stairs but was hopeful that he would be able to rejuvenate Freddy. I was a senior by the time the movie was released.
I loved it.
I left the theater with a bounce in my step. Not only had Craven rethought Freddy and Nightmare but he made a movie that was more than a sequel. It was a film on its own; one didn’t need to have seen any of the Nightmare movies in order to understand and enjoy this movie, yet, knowing at least the first movie helped this one. Also understanding where Freddy went wrong enhanced the telling.
Unfortunately, despite some of the best reviews that any of the previous Nightmares received, New Nightmare hardly found an audience (if memory serves, I was the only person in the theater; or perhaps one of two or three people). The film was released amid very little fanfare and disappeared quickly. Except for the horror magazines like Fangoria and the Fred-heads (again with that silly term!), New Nightmare may as well not have happened. Except…in the years since its release, it seems to have found its audience.
Wes Craven’s return. For real this time. The legend is, this was the first idea Craven pitched in 1985/6 for Nightmare 3, a sort of behind-the-scenes/Freddy comes to haunt the filmmakers story and New Line Cinema passed. I can’t say that I blame them and while I’m sure it would have been an interesting movie, it probably wouldn’t have had the power that the movie did in 1994, ten years after Freddy’s debut. Craven, who’d had some ups (The Serpent and the Rainbow) and some downs (the aforementioned movies) after the original Nightmare, seemed to be ready to explore the idea of Freddy Krueger and what his (Krueger’s) success meant more than to make another Nightmare. He also seems to be as interested in the storytelling process and what the horror film means as he is to scare the shit out of you. So his script and his direction bring us a Nightmare like no other. This is a master at work, folks.
Craven’s story for this movie is one of my favorites. By moving outside of the continuity (ha!) of the previous movies, he is able to dissect 1) Why the hell is Freddy Krueger and the Nightmare movies so popular? 2) Do horror movies affect their audience and if so, how? 3) For the filmmakers of such movies, where does the line between fantasy and reality lie or is it blurry? 4) Do horror stories serve a purpose other than a) making a quick buck for their producers, b) to scare people, c) giving a hard-on to immature assholes who think it’s cool to watch people die gruesomely in movies? These are questions I believe all creators must ask themselves if they write scary stories. And like other creative people, Craven uses his art to look at these things. Stephen King has surely done it in almost every story he’s written that has a writer as the main character, though the most successful King writers are Paul Sheldon from Misery, Thad Beaumont from The Dark Half, Mike Noonan from Bag of Bones, and Stephen King from The Dark Tower. With New Nightmare, Craven has done the cinematic version of this.
Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, and Robert Englund. These three returning to the Nightmare playing themselves is great fun. Only an idiot would believe that the lives of these three are so intertwined that they are all so buddy-buddy, yet their acting is so good you do believe it. I’m sure that these three actors truly do have admiration for each other as well as a friendly relationship, but I don’t know that I buy Langenkamp and Saxon chilling in the park, talking about life while Langenkamp’s son is playing. The performances have me buy it for the movie, though, each time I see it. Langenkamp’s performance trumps either of her earlier Elm Street efforts. The decade between the first movie and this one (and a better director than the third movie’s) brings out a performance that should have gotten her more parts in good movies. Saxon plays himself restrained and understanding, the fatherly friend we all hope to know. Englund’s turn as the uber-celebrity of the series is both hilarious and understated. I should note that the acting by the New Line execs as themselves, as well as Wes Craven as himself, are all pretty good (although Robert Shaye is pretty bad, but in a good way, this time).
Robert Englund as “Freddy Krueger.” All right, he’s really not Freddy this time. He’s Freddy in one appearance at a talk show where Langenkamp is being interviewed, dancing around and doing the Freddy The Clown shtick. The demon that has taken the form of Freddy, though, is good. The new makeup is a streamlined, enhanced version of the burns that Freddy sported throughout the main series, though here is a more artistic rendering. The muscles underneath the broken flesh have lines coming from a center point and look unnatural and cool. The contacts that keep the entire eye white except for the tiny black pupils are creepy and work. The turtleneck sweater, leather pants, knee-high boots, and trench coat that are all tight around the Demon-Freddy’s more muscular body works. The muscular body, for that matter, works. And, of course, the claw fashioned after the claw on the poster of A Nightmare on Elm Street, complete with a thumb knife gives the final touch. This is a Freddy who wants to kill you. He’ll have a smartass line (I don’t want to use one-liner), but he’s really more about chopping you up.
The funeral scene. After Heather’s husband Chase (David Newsom) dies in an “automobile accident” (he fell asleep at the wheel), there’s a funeral with Heather, her son (Miko Hughes), the babysitter Julie (Tracy Middendorf), John Saxon, and Robert Englund all in attendence. Also in attendance is Wes Craven, the people from New Line, and several cast members from the previous Nightmares. Again, it’s unrealistic that this would actually happen, yet it’s a great touch to the fantasy of the piece. Craven has given us in this scene (as well as the examples I wrote of before) what many people believe happens in Hollywood. Everyone knows each other and they’re all friends. The sweep of the mourners is so quick, you really have to be paying attention to see Jsu Garcia, Tuesday Knight, and others in the crowd.
The style of the movie. The real world scenes of the film are shot in a documentary style that compliments the story and the nightmares are more cinematic. The cinematography of the movie is strong and the special effects are good, utilizing everything that was available in 1994.
The ending. About halfway through the movie, Heather is reading Hansel & Gretel to her son Dylan (Miko Hughes) and she gets to the where the children throw the witch into her own oven. The story gets graphic and, considering the hellish few days the two have been through, Heather decides it’s too much and stops the story. Dylan grabs her arm and says, “No, Mommy. Keep reading.”
“But, Dylan, honey,” Heather says. “It’s too much right now and besides, you already know how it ends.”
“But, Mommy, I have to hear Hansel and Gretel get away.”
I’m paraphrasing but it goes along those lines. This is brilliant. Most people who watch/read horror stories want the heroes to survive and the monster killed. When a book like Cujo comes along, or Darabont’s adaptation of The Mist, where tragedy seems to win (even though the monsters, for the most part, do not), they get upset. Yet, those same viewers will often be happy when Carrie’s hand pops from the grave for one last Boo!, as Brian DePalma and his screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen have happen in the film version of Carrie. This sort of Boo! has become a staple of the horror film and was forced upon Wes Craven during the shooting of A Nightmare on Elm Street. What this essentially tells the viewer is, “Yes, you’re safe for now, but this monster is still alive and is going to come back.” Perhaps it’s a means of saying that evil never dies and tragedy never ceases, or perhaps it’s a mistake because, essentially, there’s never any closure.
The ending of New Nightmare does no such thing. The ending has Hansel & Gretel get back home, so to speak. There is no Boo!, just a FADE OUT as Heather and Dylan read a screenplay they find on the bedroom floor after their final confrontation with Freddy. The screenplay is called Wes Craven’s New Nightmare by Wes Craven. Perhaps Craven has a point here.
Miko Hughes as Dylan Porter, aka. Heather Langenkamp’s fake son. Miko Hughes started playing Creepy Kids pretty young, as the ill-fated Gage Creed in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. Here he plays another Creepy Kid. I’m not against Hughes as a young actor–the boy was cute and seemed to have some talent–but I’m afraid Craven made a fundamental mistake that many movies make with their children in movies like this: the kid is creepy! It’s not because he’s taping knives to his fingers and swiping at his mother, or foaming at the mouth, or seemingly channeling Freddy, but that he looks doped most of the time.
Well, he hasn’t had much sleep because of his nightmares, one can argue. True that (I’m so gangsta sometimes I gotta check myself befo’ I wreck myself), but I’ve dealt with a child who has had little sleep and catatonia isn’t in the cards, not in the few days this story takes place. The kid lost his father, though, Bill! I know, but the kid is four/five-years-old. I’m pretty sure that he wouldn’t be so out of it. I may be wrong (and I’m sure you’ll let me know), but that’s what I’m thinking. The Creepy Kid thing is something that bothers me in movies and someday perhaps I’ll write an essay about it, but I’ll leave poor Miko Hughes (whom I’ll still quote, “I played with Mo-ommy and I played with Ju-udd, now I wanna play with yoou!”) alone here and say that a better performance could have been gotten from him. He has some very good moments in New Nightmare, but the majority of his part bothers me.
Johnny Depp was never asked to appear in New Nightmare. As mentioned above, a slew of actors from the Nightmare movies were asked to come and take part in the funeral scene. Noticeably missing, though, is Johnny Depp. In the 1999 DVD commentary, Wes Craven reveals that he didn’t think that Depp would be interested in making a cameo. He reveals that when they ran into each other at a function after the movie was released, Depp told him he would have made the cameo with no hesitation. So now we will always be haunted by Freddy smashing Johnny Depp in the face with a frying pan in Freddy’s Dead and long for a somber look toward his first onscreen girlfriend in New Nightmare. Lesson to be learned, kids: Always ask.
The final battle. Again, Craven fumbles the ball in the final battle. I had originally written that Craven drops the ball, but that’s not quite true. The final battle in this movie is superior to the final battle in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Craven utilizes matte paintings, miniature sets, digital effects, and practical effects to pull off Freddy’s labyrinth in the nightmare world, all of which is great. Heather, who has become Nancy again, has gone to the nightmare to rescue Dylan. There’s some creepy stuff here. Unfortunately, a lot of it is silly. Again, I wonder if it’s the old Evil-Isn’t-As-Strong-As-It-Seems thing. Two of the silly sequences in the final battle are that Freddy tries to eat Dylan…alive–his mouth opens wide enough to fit the boy’s head–and the long, long, long tongue that wraps itself around Heather/Nancy until it’s stuck down with a knife, then it retracts like a vacuum cleaner’s cord, leaving a snake-like forked tongue. This rubbed me wrong back when I first saw the movie and it rubs me wrong now.
The Morning After
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is really not a sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street. Had it been made twenty years later, it probably would have become an instant classic (of course, the story might have to change…maybe Heather would be the mother to a teenage girl haunted by Freddy…). Craven’s script and direction is superb. The film is a minor masterpiece in horror cinema and rivals the first Nightmare in many ways. The questions that Craven asks about the responsibility of the creator of horror stories are serious, important ones. His commentary on 1980s horror is also pretty important. By cheapening the monsters like Freddy Krueger, by diluting them and turning them from our worst enemies to the friends we can look forward to seeing once a year, the horror genre is cheapened. It becomes a sort of fun way to see terrible things happen to pretty people. The doctor Heather must answer to when Dylan is admitted to the hospital, played frustratingly well by Fran Bennett, is the voice of the censors and those who do not like and do not understand why some horror can actually be called art. She accuses Heather’s work in the Nightmare movies (and, in essence, Wes Craven, Robert Englund, et al) of being hazardous to children.
A good horror movie, a good horror novel, doesn’t just scare us but also mixes a real idea into the ingredients, just like any good book or movie does. Freddy Krueger acted as a way for people to release the stress for people living in the late twentieth century. Why was there a horror boom from the late 1970s through till about 1991/92? Because people were scared. The Soviet Union, the threat of nuclear warfare, AIDS, the results of the 1960s/1970s social movements that had changed the way things were (most often for the better, but whenever anything changes–for good or for ill–new fears surface), high inflation without higher pay, the old ways slowly dying as newer, sleeker ways came in–it was a hectic, scary time. The horror movie/novel and characters like Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, Michael Myers, Chucky (consumerism gone mad, folks), the Cenobites from Hellraiser, Cujo, Christine, and, of course, Freddy Krueger helped encapsulate that. In 1994, under a President who wasn’t as scary (despite what the Right would have had you believe) as Ron Reagan, Wes Craven was willing to look back and willing to tell us why Freddy worked and why he stopped working.
The themes that carried Craven through New Nightmare would be revisited two years later when a young screenwriter by the name of Kevin Williamson sold a script called Scary Movie to Bob Weinstein at Dimension Films and they approached Wes Craven to direct. Over the course of shooting, the movie would be renamed Scream and helped rejuvenate the horror film for a bit, straight through one very good sequel, one good sequel, and one shitty “Why bother?” sequel. But it started here with Freddy, with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
It would have been a bad choice for him to revisit Freddy and try to do an in-continuity movie (shit, those who made in-continuity movies couldn’t get it right!). This settles the argument. Even though New Nightmare is often lumped together with the other sequels, it really is so much more than that. Yes, there are a few small blunders, but the movie is worth watching and studying. It’s a movie as much about storytelling as it is about dreaming, though one could argue that storytelling and dreaming aren’t all that different.
I was ten, I guess, when I first learned of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, though it came out days before my eleventh birthday. I wanted to go to the movies to see it as I had the third movie but didn’t have the chance to. My first viewing of the movie was on VHS, rented from a video store (a local chain, I believe). I liked it a lot. At eleven, I loved that Freddy said all these sarcastic one-liners and that the movie was visually fun to watch. I liked that he was just so big, larger-than-life. I also liked that this movie had so many special effects, effects that were all over the tv.
Again, its place in American culture is important. The Horror Boom was at its peak. There seemed to be shows on tv every other weekend about horror special effects, including a special that aired in syndication called Stephen King’s World of Horror, a special that gave me the first hint of who this Stephen King guy was as well as showed me how some of the effects that garnished The Dream Master came to be.
MTV was at its height. It had changed the culture and was, at this moment in time, the place kids went for entertainment, news, and information. Freddy Krueger’s ascension was as much a result of MTV as it was the Horror Boom. Freddy had a very rock n roll/punk persona. He didn’t care about social norms or what was appropriate. He was a big ol’ Fuck You to the establishment at the end of the Reagan era and the kids, damnit, were listening. I may have only been 10/11, but I was one of them.
Wes Craven was officially off the movie. For some reason, New Line didn’t go with Chuck Russell or Frank Darabont to write/direct. I suspect it was a financial decision. With Dream Warriors a success, it probably would have cost more to rehire them than it was to go with new talent. One problem, though, was a writers strike that made the screenplay difficult to pin down. They went with Finnish director Renny Harlin to direct. The movie was shot in early 1988 and released that August.
Character continuity. Freddy’s Revenge kept Nancy’s house (and diary) but bailed out on any other character (except Freddy) from the first movie. Dream Warriors bailed on its predecessor and returned to the first movie without any mention to the second movie. The Dream Master takes place sometime after the events of its predecessor and re-introduces us to the survivors of Dream Warriors: Kristen Parker (this time played by Tuesday Knight), Joey (Rodney Eastman), and Kincaid (Ken Sagoes) in all his stereotypical glory. Freddy even returns from the junkyard grave he was placed in by Dr. Neil Gordon and Donald Thompson.
Lisa Wilcox as Alice. Her acting in this movie could be better, but the character isn’t supposed to have much personality in the beginning of the movie, so it sort of works. If she’d had a stronger script and a better director, her performance may have been better. She’s in the dream section because I find her purrrrty.
The overall acting. Look, there are no future Johnny Depps or Patricia Arquettes or Laurence Fishburnes in this movie, but for the third sequel to a low budget horror movie (and being a low budget horror movie in its own right), the cast is pretty good. The teenagers are believable enough. Nicholas Mele as Alice and Rick’s father is very good. I believe in the characters, which is all one could hope for. Another standout is Alice’s brother Rick, played by Andras Jones. Part wise-ass, part martial artist, part caring brother, he brings a certain level of realism to the part and helped make this movie a cut above the typical horror movie sequel.
Robert Englund as Freddy. By now, Freddy Krueger was more than just the bad guy in some horror movies, he was a genuine pop icon, up there with Lugosi’s Dracula and Karloff’s Frankenstein’s Monster. Englund is able to infuse Krueger with glee as he tortures and picks off the teenagers in this movie. Krueger looks like he’s having fun because Englund is having fun playing him. More on Freddy later on, though.
The special effects and the visuals. Renny Harlin may have won more Razzies than just about any other director, but he brought a certain style to The Dream Master that some of the other movies didn’t have. With the success of the previous three Nightmares, there was also more budget for more effects, which were interesting and fun.
The late-1980s charm. Like Freddy’s Revenge, it’s pretty easy to see where in American culture this movie takes place. From the music (this is the second Nightmare to have a real soundtrack, but the first for it to have its soundtrack so entwined with the movie) to the hair styles to the clothes, this movie reeks of the late 1980s. And like Freddy’s Revenge, it’s taken twenty years for that charm to surface. Hardcore fitness? Check. A nerd like Revenge of the Nerds? Check. A karate kid like…well…. Check. MTV reference? Absofuckinglutely!
The ending. I like the ending. The church set is pretty cool. The idea of evil looking at itself and dying is a nice one. The souls on Freddy’s chest introduced in Dream Warriors coming out and getting their revenge is a nice touch.
Who’s that girl? Ooohh…it’s Kristen. Patricia Arquette, who so famously squealed her way into our hearts as Kristen Parker in Dream Warriors, is replaced by singer-actress Tuesday Knight. According to The Nightmare on Elm Street Companion, producer (and Freddy’s Dead director) Rachel Talalay said that Arquette was never approached to reprise the role. Since it wouldn’t really be until 1993’s True Romance that Arquette would become a star, the only reason I can think of is the same reason I figure for not bringing back Chuck Russell or Frank Darabont: money. Arquette would probably have wanted a lot more. The other reason, and even more likely, is that Arquette probably would have said no. Coming from a family in the business, she might not have wanted to have been pigeonholed as a scream queen. After all, Joey, Kincaid, and even Kristen’s mother (Brooke Bundy) all returned to Elm Street for this movie. And even though Talalay says New Line never approached Arquette, I’m not sure that I’m convinced.
Either way, Tuesday Knight’s turn as Kristen Parker is okay, but there is a certain disconnect between her and the audience. She was a strong character in Dream Warriors and while Knight’s portrayal of Kristen is definitely more hard-assed, the character doesn’t feel right.
Again, stereotypes. Kincaid is written exactly as he was in Dream Warriors. Sheila (Toy Newkirk) is supernerd. Brooke Theiss plays Debbie, the hot fitness girl. You get the idea. Alice longs for Dan (Danny Hassel), the popular jock. In other words, A Nightmare on Elm Street is heading down typical 1980s slasher movie territory. Luckily for us Fred-Heads (I swear I didn’t make that term up), it’s not there…yet. But it’s damn close. I’ll get to the reason below.
Who wrote this thing?! The Dream Master was worked on during a writers strike. As a result, the story is by William Kotzwinkle and Brian Helgeland, and the screenplay is by Brian Helgeland and Jim and Ken Wheat (under the pseudonym Scott Pierce). There are also rumors that other people worked on the script and added things as well. Post-Dream Master, Helgeland went on to be nominated and win Oscars for such movies as L.A. Confidential and Mystic River, has written the upcoming Ridley Scott-directed movie Robin Hood, and directed Payback and A Knight’s Tale. (He’s also from my hometown, which is pretty cool). I guess the fact that the movie is good at all is a surprise, but the story is definitely lacking. It’s the kind of movie that if you’re watching it and not thinking, just being entertained by the cool camera angles and flashy effects, you don’t notice the holes in plot and logic. There’s a blurring of the nightmare/waking world in this movie toward the end that is major. At eleven years old I thought certain tricks, like Alice and Dan repeating a scene several times, was cool. At thirty-five, it doesn’t make sense. Are they awake? Are they sleeping? If they’re sleeping, where are they sleeping? They’re in an accident from sleeping at the wheel, but would that happen if they’re running to go save Debbie? And how come Nancy’s house is now very much Freddy’s house? And how come none of the three survivors of Dream Warriors mentions Nancy or Dr. Gordon, two people I would think they’d believe to be nearly saintly? And how does Joey get stuck inside his waterbed? And how come Kristen’s mother doesn’t know her daughter’s bedroom is engulfed in flames until her daughter’s boyfriend and his weird, mousy sister show up? And if what happens in your dreams happen in the real world, does that mean that Debbie’s parents are going to find a giant squished cockroach in their attic or will it just be Debbie’s crushed body? And…. Get it?
Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger. Yeah, that’s right, I said it. This is the first Nightmare that Robert Englund gets top billing, before the title no less. Not too shabby for the nerdy alien from V. By now, Freddy Krueger had become one of the 1980s answers to the Universal Monsters. Robert Englund had done interviews as Freddy, had hosted movies on HBO and music videos on MTV as Freddy. Freddy Krueger was on tee shirts, posters, yo-yos, albums, toys, pins, Halloween costumes…you name it. He was in music videos:
And where Freddy was, Robert Englund was. Freddy’s appearances became a sort of hammy, kitschy thing where Freddy would make quips at people, spin puns, and be a general friendly neighborhood child killer. I mentioned in my essay for Dream Warriors that Chuck Russell and his lighting people lit Freddy mainly outside of the shadows. In The Dream Master, Freddy is always lit very well. Not only that, but Freddy breaks the fourth wall!
You see, Freddy Krueger (and Robert Englund) is no longer just the bad guy in the Nightmare movies, he is the Nightmare movies. Teenagers are no longer paying to see whether or not the kids will escape Freddy, they’re paying to see how Freddy kills them, which makes The Dream Master different than the other movies of the series so far. However it’s the template created in Dream Warriors that starts it. More on this later. You see this in Kincaid’s nightmare where Freddy is reborn. The bones that were left in the junkyard at the end of Dream Warriors come together in The Dream Master (thanks to some flaming dog piss) and Freddy is born again. There’s a poorly dubbed moment when Freddy is posing, backlit, and says, “You shouldn’t have buried me…I’m not dead.” [Is this the best line they could come up with?!]. And then the camera, which means we, follow Freddy as he looks for Kincaid. We’re surprised when Kincaid, from nowhere, drops a car on Freddy. This isn’t the only time where it seems as though we’re following Freddy’s adventure. When Debbie becomes a cockroach stuck in a roach motel, we’re then outside the roach motel with a midshot on Freddy, who’s peeking into the small box with tiny screams coming from it. Freddy squishes it, ending the tiny screams and then says, “You can check in, but you can’t check out.”
Not only does Freddy become the star, but with all the zany camera angles, Freddy also becomes a model. Every line is accentuated with a flick of the finger-knives, or some pose that deals with the glove and knives. In other words, Englund’s performance as Freddy Krueger becomes too big. Though it’s still rather restrained compared to where it’s going (remember, I still have the worst of the movies to come), Freddy has officially stopped being the villain and has become the sarcastic 1980s antihero. Freddy becomes to the monster movie what Eddie Murphy became to cop movies around the same time.
The Morning After
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master opened on August 19, 1988 (almost a week before I turned eleven) and was a huge hit. It was the highest grossing of the original Nightmare series. That summer, Freddy was everywhere. Every entertainment magazine had a story about the movie or Freddy. He was on television and the radio. He had his own 900-number. Freddy was more than just the bad guy in a horror movie now; he was a star. The template had been set by the previous movie, Dream Warriors a year before. The anticipation for the third movie was pretty big and there were more photoshoots starring Freddy than previously done. With the success of that movie, the PR on The Dream Master worked overtime. Generally, the makeup job most people think of when they think of Freddy is the makeup job done for The Dream Master, even though this one is, again, different than its predecessors and successors. It’s very similar to the makeup used in Dream Warriors, only has more color to it. But I digress….
With Freddy the star, the teenagers are now automatic victims. Dream Warriors, trying to get away from Freddy’s Revenge, basically introduced us to teenagers whose purpose was to last only so long before Freddy picked them off. However, those teenagers were pretty well thought out and the audience could buy into them (though not as easily as Wes Craven’s original cast). With the fourth movie, even though we begin with three survivors from the previous installment, we get the sense very early on that most of these characters will not make it through. The reason: We never learn about them the way we learned about prior Elm Street characters. As a result, we have more stereotypes cast only for flashy death sequences and a villain who is now the hero.
This puts the Nightmare movies on track to become just another slasher series. Its saving grace is its imagination. Because Freddy haunts the dreams and nightmares of his victims, the audience is always given the treat of interesting and bizarre sets and imaginative terrors. Only, there are no terrors at this point in the series. There are no horrors. There’s some gross-out and a lot of eye candy, but nothing that really gets under the skin. The original Nightmare was full of horror and terror. Freddy’s Revenge has a few (albeit too brief) moments of horror and at least one of terror (again, Jesse fighting to keep the basement door closed but losing, only to turn around and find the monster right there). Dream Warriors had several creepy moments and, with Nancy and her father central characters, definitely had moments that qualify as horrifying/terrifying. The Dream Master has no real horrifying moments and certainly never terrifies us. It’s unsettling in a few minor moments, but mainly it’s fantastic (in the true sense of the word), gory, and over-the-top.
Yet, its popularity has cemented this movie’s version of Freddy Krueger into our minds.
It also helped get horror fans ready for Freddy on television. In the fall following the release of The Dream Master, an anthology television series called Freddy’s Nightmares — A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series came out. Freddy was a character in a few of the episodes but was mainly the host, a la Rod Serling in The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The first season (which has Brad Pitt in an episode) was the more “popular” season and had Freddy in his Dream Master makeup.
At this time, between the movie (which I didn’t see until its home video debut), the press, and the tv series, I was in full horror mode, renting such gems as Hello, Mary Lou: Prom Night II and other classics (as an aside, give me the money and I’d happily write/direct a remake of Mary Lou). I watched some of the Friday the 13th movies if they came on HBO, Cinemax, or Showtime, and saw Halloween IV and V (the first one was difficult to come by, for some reason), but Freddy Krueger and the Nightmares he inhabited were the poison of choice in the monster category. I also became aware of the movies of Stephen King, Pet Sematary being the more recent of his movies released at that time.
Today, I still hold The Dream Master in my heart, not for any reason of quality but because it was part of the building blocks of what made me who I am today. I wish that the filmmakers/studio had had the interest/ability to get Heather Langenkamp back as Nancy. With her death at the end of Dream Warriors, and Kristen’s promise to “dream her into a beautiful dream”, it would have been interesting to make Nancy the anti-Freddy. This idea was done in the early 1990s in a comic book series (Nightmares on Elm Street) written by Andy Mangels and published by Innovation. It would have gone with Craven’s symbolism of Freddy as evil incarnate and Nancy as good. Alas, it was not to be.
The Dream Master stands out for all the reasons above and for being Freddy’s swan song for a bit.
But not our swan song, for we still have four more movies to get to, including what I think is the worst Nightmare in the series, and the second best (and on some days, the best) Nightmare. So stay tuned, folks. This nightmare is nowhere near over.
In the fall of 1986, just after seeing the double feature of A Nightmare on Elm Street and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge on HBO, my father took me to see the Sylvester Stallone movie Over the Top. Before you suggest that my father is horrible and should have been jailed for such a thing, I’ll remind you that in 1986, Sly Stallone was huge, and I don’t mean the growth hormones but as in a movie star. The best thing I remember from that day, though, is not Stallone’s trucking or arm wrestling, but the huge cardboard display in the lobby of the now-departed Cinema 140 for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. I was eager to see it, though I didn’t really think my Mom would take me. While she had begun letting me see some horror movies on HBO and on video, it was a whole other wall of pancakes to let your nine-year-old see a horror movie in a movie theater, right?
Yet, there we were in February 1987, Mom and me, sitting in the theater before the screen that would bring me to Elm Street. I wore my favorite red Raynor baseball cap with the brim in a position to protect me from the giant-ass Freddy Krueger on the screen. The brim would eventually be moved aside so I could actually see what was going on since Freddy is seen a whole lot onscreen at the end of the movie.
I was half a year away from being ten and I was jazzed as I left the theater. I thought that Dream Warriors was way better than Freddy’s Revenge and I couldn’t wait for there to be more Nightmares. I was already in a pretty deep NOES fever by this point. Dream Warriors intensified the fever.
Wes Craven returns. Kind of. Craven and Robert Shaye patched some of their problems up and Craven, with his writing partner Bruce Wagner, pitched and wrote a screenplay for Dream Warriors. For years I wondered what Craven’s screenplay would have been like without being touched by director Chuck Russell and co-screenwriter Frank Darabont. Thanks to The Nightmare on Elm Street Companion (the fine fansite where I’ve been borrowing the pictures that have appeared in these little diatribes), I was able to download and read Craven and Wagner’s screenplay. I have actually written a review of the whole script but for the purpose of this essay, suffice it to say that the script was bad.
Director Chuck Russell and co-screenwriter Frank Darabont brings Freddy Krueger back to his roots. Where Freddy’s Revenge alludes to the first Nightmare through conversation between characters as well as Nancy’s discovered diary, Dream Warriors makes no mention of Freddy’s Revenge. It’s as though the second movie were a nightmare best forgotten. Freddy first appears in a nightmare that Kristen (Patricia Arquette) is having and he chases her through hallways and tunnels, before finally appearing in a bathroom mirror and slitting her wrist. The rest of the nightmares take hold of Craven’s idea that in the dreamworld, Freddy can do and be almost anything, and runs with it. Even though the fans knew the rules by now, even though they’d been down this street before, the movie has enough surprises in it to make it feel like more than the third movie in the series. They use some of what Craven and Wagner put into the original screenplay, yet tamed it down, and actually make it more like the first movie, while still being its own thing.
Heather Langenkamp returns as Nancy Thompson. Without evil, there can be no good. Because Wes Craven is a writer as well as a filmmaker, and a very intelligent man to boot, he understands symbolism.¹ If Freddy represents evil at its worse, Nancy represents good at its best. During the course of the first Nightmare, Nancy becomes Freddy’s greatest foe. With her reappearance in the second sequel, the audience has someone they instantly connect to and root for. Now that she’s a little older and wiser, she’s a much more formidable foe for Freddy.
The overall cast for Dream Warriors also deserves kudos. Not every performance is great, and there are definitely stereotypes, but this cast far outshines that of the second movie’s. Patricia Arquette gets one of her first major film roles as Kristen Parker, the main character of the story. She is a little squeaky at times but there is a quality to her that makes one understand how she had a pretty good post-Nightmare career. Craig Wasson as Dr. Neil Gordon is superb as the stressed psychiatrist who cares so much for these troubled kids that he’s willing to put his career (and eventually his life) on the line for them. John Saxon returns as Donald Thompson, former lieutenant, current security guard. The cast portraying the troubled teenagers are also pretty good in this movie. Oh, and I can’t forget Priscilla Pointer as Dr. Simms and Laurence Fishburne (credited as “Larry Fishburne”) as the orderly Max. His understated performance also hints at the career he will enjoy.
One of the good parts of this movie is the information about Freddy’s origins. The mysterious nun that only Neil Gordon can see is a welcome addition. To find out that Freddy was “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs” is a pretty nice touch, while not a subtle one. Of course, an argument can be made that this information is one step toward making Freddy more human and more sympathetic, and that it’s also pretty melodramatic. All true, but it also sets Krueger up as more of a symbol. Evil is what spawned him, evil is what drove him through life, evil is what drives him in the afterlife. It also doesn’t excuse his actions in any way.
Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger. Yes, I know. I’ve put this in all the essays thus far. Don’t worry, it won’t always be this way (remember, my least favorite Nightmare is still impending…). This is the last film of the franchise where Robert Englund gets last billing in the opening credits. Freddy is still the villain at this point. Yes, his role is larger in this movie than in the first one, and maybe even the second one, but he is still the villain. The audience only sees him when his intended victim becomes aware of him. One of the most frightening shots of Freddy in the entire series is in Kristen’s opening nightmare. She’s running through a long hallway and far behind her, Freddy comes running around a corner with his glove raised, headed straight for her. I believe the shot is slowed down just a bit, just enough for the audience to think, Oh, shit! There he is! It is clear that Englund relishes the role and basks in playing this despicable monster. When he rips his sweater open to reveal the faces of his victims, the smile on his face is priceless.
The ending. I dare say that the ending in Dream Warriors is better than Nightmare‘s ending. The dual climax of Donald Thompson and Neil Gordon fighting Freddy’s skeleton in the junkyard where the Elm Street parents placed him and the nightmare boiler room from hell and the mirror room are more interesting than the Looney Tunes hijinks Nancy sets up to defeat the pulled-from-the dream Krueger. Even Nancy’s demise feels fitting, especially with Kristen’s promise to dream her into a beautiful dream, which could have been used as a set up for further movies (and was eventually used in a comic book series written by Andy Mangles in the early 1990s).
There are less nightmares in this film than the previous sequel and the ones that follow, but let’s explore them, shall we?
Heather Langenkamp’s return as Nancy. Huh? Didn’t you just tell us that is was one of the dreams of this particular movie? Yes, I did. While it was great to see Ms. Langenkamp’s return to Elm Street as Nancy, I feel as though her performance was a little wooden in some scenes and that Russell didn’t really give her much to do. By making Kristen the lead character, Nancy gets a smaller role in the film. Yes, a lot of the movie follows her, but I also feel as though she’s along for the ride a little more than she should be. Here’s a character that has so much more potential. Honestly, I believe it was less Russell as the director than it was New Line’s bureaucracy that’s to blame. For them, the Nightmare movies (and Freddy Krueger) were huge moneymakers. They got a small fan rebellion with the poor quality of Freddy’s Revenge‘s story and probably felt that returning to teenagers having nightmares was the thing to do. The fact that there are so many adults in the mix of this movie doesn’t happen again until Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, which we will get to in due time. Nancy’s return could have been more, especially if we’re going with the aforementioned symbolism of Freddy = evil and Nancy = good.
The beginning of the wisecracks. Yes, giving Fred Krueger a personality was genius on Wes Craven’s part, but here’s where the personality begins its decent. Freddy is still scary in this movie, but the sense of humor, while dark and smile- (and maybe even chuckle-) worthy, is a little too much. When Jennifer (Penelope Sudrow) gets pulled into the tv, do we really need, “Welcome to prime time, bitch.”? Yes, it makes us chuckle, but this is Freddy fuckin’ Krueger! I don’t mind him fucking with his victims, it’s one of the things that makes him so scary, but this is a little much.
The stereotypes. The idea of having troubled teenagers that everyone thinks have tried to commit suicide is a pretty good one. It brings us away from the suburban Elm Street, though these kids are supposed to be children of those original parents (it also brings us away from Craven’s viewing that suburbia isn’t as nice as one might believe) but some of the stereotypes are a little much. There’s a recovering young addict who liked to shoot up, played by Jennifer Rubin, who has all the stereotypical issues and fantasies (though Rubin’s performance is pretty good and transcends the stereotype). Then there’s the nerd who loves his Dungeons & Dragons-eque role playing games. There’s the girl who wants to be an actress (with a face for radio, if not the voice), the shy kid who refuses to speak but fantasizes over the stereotypical hot nurse. The head of the clinic, Dr. Simms, is another version of Nurse Cratchett, who lacks any real bedside manner or compassion. The worst of the stereotypes, though, the one that irks me every time I see this movie, is Kincaid, the young, angry, foul-mouthed black kid whose fantasy is to have Herculean strength. By 1987, we should have moved beyond that, yet there he is.
Nancy’s house becoming Freddy’s house. Boy, did this take a lot of Expanded Universe ‘splainin’! In Wes Craven and Bruce Wagner’s original script, Nancy and Kristen come across the home Freddy Krueger was born and raised in. It’s the typical haunted house. They find the house and their nightmares also bring them there. It’s not in Springwood on Elm Street, but somewhere else. Nancy is brought there in the same supernatural manner (though she doesn’t realize it) that pretty much brings many characters in horror fantasy fiction from place-to-place. Somewhere along the way from Craven & Wagner’s script to the Russell & Darabont script, Nancy’s house becomes Freddy’s house. Well, let me correct that: In this movie it’s still Nancy’s house. The idea, I guess, is that the nightmare version makes it look like a haunted house. For some reason, though, Freddy seems to have inhabited it in the nightmare. Maybe the boiler room was too uncomfortable. Who knows? But it throws us off. It’s good that it connects Nancy to the story again, but it doesn’t make sense that Kristen and others would go there.
The 1980s was a hot time for the horror genre. By the beginning of the decade, Stephen King had blown up and by the time A Nightmare on Elm Street came out, he was a household name. There were a lot of horror novels coming out every year and horror films being made. Maybe it was a sort of punk-anti-establishment thing. We had Ronald Reagan telling us everything was good, everything was fine, yet there was the sense that his finger hovered over The Button and all it took was his psychic to tell him he should push it; maybe this was one reason for the popularity of horror at this time. I think that a result of these times and the Horror Boom is that A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors benefited. Frank Darabont was (and still is) a huge Stephen King fan. By the time he would have been brought onto Dream Warriors, he would have already written and directed the short film The Woman in the Room, an adaptation of a Stephen King story. Of course, Darabont would go on to adapt and direct other movies based on other King works. The Shawshank Redemption–based on King’s novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Mist were all very good movies that captured everything that makes King not only such an entertaining writer but also a great writer. When work on Dream Warriors was underway, King would have been having one of his most prolific and biggest years ever, with the publications of It, Misery, The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three, The Eyes of the Dragon, and The Tommyknockers, not to mention the film adaptations of Pet Sematary, Creepshow II, and others I’m probably forgetting. Many of the ideas in Dream Warriors seem like something King might have put into the movie had he worked on it. The role of the adults in this movie is similar to the role of the characters of It, having to face something from the past, the teenagers being individuals with personalities, whether stereotypical or not. The way Nancy and Freddy seem to be drawn together is also reminiscent to how the characters of It are drawn to It.
Freddy has another makeover. Gone are the brown contacts and the too-high cheekbones, though the hook nose remains. His scarring is also more reminiscent of the second movie’s, yet less healed in some ways. His hat and sweater are pretty consistent at this point. The green stripes remain on the arms. The glove is back and there are no noticeable changes to it. What has changed is Freddy’s lighting. By now, everyone knew what he looked like. He was in magazines and hosting double features on HBO and doing interviews and appearing on MTV (to help sell the soundtrack) and showing up on posters, etc. His surroundings are still dark, but Freddy is lit better. The mystery of his face is gone and with it, so is the fright.
Freddy’s first music video! Dokken’s “Dream Warriors.” Patricia Arquette must be proud.
One other piece of info that you might be interested in. I mentioned above the copy of Craven and Wagner’s original screenplay for Dream Warriors (located at The Nightmare on Elm Street Companion). If you are a fan of the series, it might be interesting to read it. I read it with the hopes of reading a script that kicked the movie’s ass, but rather found a script with a lot of issues. I wonder if Craven truly intended that as a legitimate Nightmare or if he knew it would be rewritten. There are some interesting concepts in it, but I feel as though the script is lacking. Majorly lacking. What is interesting, though, is how much was borrowed by later Nightmares.
The Morning After
Overall, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors works. Freddy Krueger has his last hurrah as a frightening character, it’s great to see his original enemy back to square off against him, and the new kids (and adults) are formidable opponents. Chuck Russell (who would go on to direct the movies The Mask and Eraser with the likes of Jim Carrey and Arnold Schwarzenegger under the name Charles Russell) and Frank Darabont use Wes Craven and Bruce Wagner’s original story and build on it to success. Had they been interested (or allowed, I don’t know the behind-the-scenes story on why they didn’t work on any other Nightmares, though I have suspicions) in going further in this franchise, I suspect there may have been some interesting movies (or at least one interesting movie). At nine, I thought this movie rocked. I went home and built a Freddy glove with pens and pencils. Realizing how silly it looked, I built another one with popsicle sticks, until I was able to buy the official glove one Halloween. At thirty-five, I still enjoy the movie. It doesn’t have the power of Wes Craven’s original, but it is a solid sequel and is better than any of the Friday the 13th movies. It shows imagination and an understanding of fear.
In history, the movie made big change for New Line Cinema and garnered enough press that it was inevitable that Freddy would be coming back. Perhaps that’s where things went wrong. Eager to capitalize on Freddy’s ascent from cult figure to pop culture icon, the movie was barely out of the theaters before New Line was prepping A Nightmare on Elm Street 4. So the summer I turned ten, Robert Englund was in Freddy makeup filming the fourth movie, and things began to turn ugly….
¹ In 2010, a pair of great documentaries about the Nightmare on Elm Street movies had yet to be released. I Am Nancy, produced by Heather Langenkamp does not only show the importance of the character Nancy to the films she appears in, but also to the fans. It also features great interviews with Robert Englund and Wes Craven, who goes into great detail about the importance of Nancy as a character as well as a symbol.
I believe that there are low budget horror films that are masterpieces of cinema. Night of the Living Dead is one. Halloween is another. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is up there. Wes Craven had already done some pretty impressive films that dealt with fear by 1984. The Last House on the Left, with its shocking, no-holds-barred violence, and The Hills Have Eyes are both pretty interesting. It wasn’t until 1984, though, that Craven not only made a masterpiece of cinematic terror, but also unleashed on the world of cinema the best villain since Darth Vader first appeared onscreen: Fred Krueger.
I was nine years old when I first met Mr. Krueger in the fall of 1986. I have had at least one scary Freddy Krueger nightmare every year since.
You know the premise so I’ll save you a synopsis and go right to the nitty gritty.
Craven is a writer, maybe not the best writer to ever write screenplays, but better than many. He is a well-educated man who uses the horror film to express his ideas as much as to entertain. A Nightmare on Elm Street became an instant classic partly due to the writing. The characters are pretty believable teenagers and parents.
Though Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), Glen Lantz (Johnny Depp), Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss), and Rod Lane (Jsu Garcia) live on Elm Street¹ in Smalltown, USA (the town isn’t given a name until the second movie), the only teen who seems to have the sort of Americana suburban life one equates with a person living on Elm Street is Glen–Mom and Dad are still together, Dad makes the rules, Mom rolls her eyes but goes along. Tina’s mother has a boyfriend (we assume, there’s some guy shacking up with her and taking her on vacation) who says, in front of the fifteen-year-old girl, “Hey, babe, when you comin’ back to bed?” Rod Lane comes from a broken home and has had many skirmishes with the law. And the girl next door, Nancy Thompson, also comes from divorced parents. Mom (Ronnee Blakely) is an alcoholic, Dad (John Saxon) a lieutenant on the police force. Yes, some of the acting is a little wooden, but the young actors mostly bring Craven’s words to life.
The character of Fred Krueger was also well-thought-out. From the fedora to the red-and-green sweater to the claw to the scarred face, he is designed to be noticed and to strike fear. Most importantly, he is a character. Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and even Leatherface were pretty much silent killers. They chased their victims (hardly), slew them, and then went on their way. Fred Krueger fucks with his victims. Because his home is in the dream realm, he can do and be anything. Also, unlike most of those aforementioned baddies (including the body of Vader), Krueger isn’t played by a stuntman under a mask. Robert Englund took great pains to bring Fred Krueger to life and make him something more than the run-of-the-mill slasher. The thing that gets me most now is the pure fun Krueger seems to have throughout. The dude has a smile on his pizza face throughout the movie. He cuts himself to screw with his victims. He runs funny and makes funny sounds. He taunts them. On Krueger, the claw is more than just a weapon and a psychological motif, it is also a symbol that he is a cat and the teens are mice. He will chase them, play with them, and then eviscerate them, all while cackling and generally fucking with their heads.
There’s the way that Robert Englund carries himself as Fred Krueger, too. After Tina’s death, Nancy follows her body through the school to the boiler room. She finds a small habitat and then hears the knives on metal. She turns and Fred Krueger shambles out from behind boiler. His left shoulder is higher than his right, the sweater and the pants are too big for him, his fedora is messy, and he looks…well…terrifying. Even if he had no burns, I would not want that guy to be there.
One last thing before I move away from Fred Krueger: Interviews done by the cast and crew of the 2010 remake often mentioned Freddy’s campy one-liners and silliness as a point where they are re-imagining the character. Looking at the most recent incarnations of Freddy, I can see why, but Wes Craven’s first film has little-to-no campiness in the character. Krueger’s “sense of humor” comes directly from the goals I mentioned above, namely, to fuck with his victims. He’s not breaking the fourth wall to make the audience laugh as he does starting with the fourth movie. He doesn’t even really have one-liners.
Craven directs the film with a deft eye for details. The sheep that appears in the boiler room at the very beginning in Tina’s first nightmare is a great what-the-fuck?! moment. It’s a dream, after all. The nightmares have an internal logic but not an external logic. Nancy finds a “secret door” that leads to Fred Krueger’s boiler room. She also seems to be able to travel across town through a few, strange gates. Craven has fun playing with the strange happenings in a dreamscape. The wall that comes inward over Nancy, the stairs that melt below her feet, Krueger’s arms stretching out to create the sense that you cannot escape, the moment when he’s at Nancy’s front door wearing a Tina mask and, using Tina’s voice says, “Nancy! Save me from–” before returning to his own voice for the final word of the sentence: “Freddy!” Craven has done his research and it shows.
The music. I know it’s early-eighties synth crap, but it works.
Nancy’s watch. When I was nine-years-old, Nancy’s talking wrist watch was kinda cool. At 35, it’s kinda lame. According to the commentary track on the DVD, the watch was actually Craven’s watch at the time and was quite expensive.
Rod Lane’s characterization. He is the punk with a heart of gold. He was rude, crude, and antagonizing, but Tina loved him and so did we. Only, Craven never really develops Rod. He is far more realized than most of the characters that will follow in sequels, but I always felt he was a little too much of the stereotypical punk in the motorcycle jacket, complete with switchblade. All those things wouldn’t have been a problem had he been just a tad more developed.
Ronnee Blakely as Marge Thompson. Everyone else on the film seemed to be trying their best to give an A-movie performance to this low-budget (aka B) horror movie except Ms. Blakely. Her performance is a masterpiece of B-movie acting. It’s over-the-top, melodramatic, and borderline silly. I still love her in the movie, but, well….
The endings. I know, everyone agrees. From the moment Nancy pulls Fred Krueger out of the dream until the end credits, things go wrong. Not all things. Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon give great performances, but the Looney Tunes contraptions that Nancy put together in ten minutes or so from a book just underwhelms. If this is Craven’s way of displaying the popular idea that evil is, in actuality, stupid and not as powerful as first thought, well….
This is one of the few stories where the idea that “It was all a dream” might not be a cop-out, but to get to that point is ridiculous. I wonder if that was Craven writing his way out of a corner, or if it was because of his miniscule budget, or if he really thought mallets falling from the ceiling and tripwires that set off exploding lightbulbs would be a crowd pleaser. To me, it feels like, “Man, I have got to tie this story up. What can I do once Nancy pulls Fred out of the nightmare?”
I’m not going to bother mentioning Marge Thompson being pulled through the small window in the front door. If you’ve read this far, you already know the deal on that.
The Morning After
This movie rocked my world when I was nine. It introduced me to the horror genre. It gave me nightmares that I still have. It also opened a world of wonder. Craven could have produced just another slasher movie about a killer who comes back from the grave to seek some sort of vague vengeance on teenagers. Instead, he gave us a horror-fantasy story that was as filled with imagination as it was with fear. I wonder what would have happened had the larger studios not passed on it and he’d been given a larger budget. Would A Nightmare on Elm Street have been an even better film or would it have only provided more rope for Craven to hang himself with?
I still, obviously, love this movie. Nobody write 1,600 words on something without getting paid in some manner except for love. There are plenty of flaws but the good far outweighs those.
¹ But do they? As far as I can remember, the words Elm and Street are never actually spoken in the movie. The closest we come is when Nancy’s mother, Marge, tells her the “neighborhood parents” hunted down and burned Krueger alive. I wonder if the Elm Street in the title was more symbolic than an actual place.
An Introduction to the Introduction
Back in 2010, when I was still using LiveJournal, I decided that I would embark on what I thought would be a cool little project to keep my mind working. I would write about each of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, leading up to the release of the remake, starring Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger. I enjoyed doing this a lot, and I had several readers who seemed to enjoy it. Since Warner Bros. has finally seen fit to release the original series on Blu-ray, I’ve decided to bring those essays back over the coming weeks. I’ve decided to revise these essays and perhaps add/excise some material. If you enjoy them, please pass the link on to other Nightmare fans, aka, Fred Heads (I guess…). Following the Nightmare on Elm Street essays, I plan on delving into Superman on film, leading up to the release of Man of Steel.
I hope you enjoy!
The Original, Albeit Revised Introduction
When I was nine years old, I got it in my head that I was ready to watch scary movies. Part of it was insomnia. I had already begun to suffer from it by then and would sneak out of my bedroom to watch TV. HBO and Cinemax had a whole bunch of interesting choices, most of them full of violence, sex, and horror. Another part of it was surroundings. Before Mom went back to work (I was eight) she would watch Dialing for Dollars on the Providence CBS affiliate Channel 6 (it’s an ABC affiliate now), which would often show (very much edited) horror films. I’m sure the last part of it was nine-year-old bravado. I was a big boy now. So I told Mom I was ready to watch scary movies with her and she nodded. About a week later, she reminded me of my claim and told me about two movies she’d watched on HBO, back-to-back.
“They’re called Nightmare on Elm Street,” she said. “They’re about this guy with a claw who kills teenagers in their dreams. If you die in a dream, you die in real life. The first one was very scary, the second one stunk. I’ll let you watch them if you think you’re ready.”
I said I was.
So the next Friday night, HBO aired both A Nightmare on Elm Street and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, hosted by Freddy Krueger. Her assessment on them was pretty accurate.
There is a belief among some people that horror movies and children don’t mix. Maybe they don’t. As an adult, I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks and paranoia; but I don’t think that’s from seeds planted in my mind by Freddy but rather natural inclinations, not to mention a good five years of being bullied. I became obsessed with Freddy Krueger, which was great because a few short months later, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors came out and–after much begging–Mom took me to see it.
The Nightmare on Elm Street movies (or as people had taken to call them as early as the third flick, the Freddy movies) were something big in my childhood. Not as big as Star Wars or comic books, but pretty close. Without those movies, I may not have become aware of Stephen King, which means I may not have been interested in trying out his books, which means I may never have bought The Shining on my thirteenth birthday, and may never have tried my hand at writing, and….
Well, you get the idea. You can thank Freddy for this.
Anyway, even though I know they’re mostly bad, I still occasionally watch them. I’ll watch the first one far more than the others, though, followed by Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and then the third flick. But make no mistake, I love ’em all!
When it was announced that there would be a remake, I sighed. I’m not against remakes per se, but I was a bit bummed that a piece of my childhood that meant so much to me was going to be played with by someone other than its creator. When I saw who was behind it, I groaned. I had sat through their remake of The Amityville Horror and the most horrific thing about that movie was that I’ll never regain those precious hours of my life.
When it was announced that Jackie Earle Haley would be playing Freddy Krueger, my interest piqued. He was getting a lot of good buzz for Little Children and Watchmen (the former is a pretty good movie and his performance is great, the latter has brilliant moments but is merely good overall; certainly no Citizen Kane-of-Comic-Movies as some would have you believe, but Haley’s performance is, again, great).
Then came the Tweets and blogs and the normal press and…well…by July 2009, I was eager to see the movie. What can I say, I’m easy. To prepare, I watched all the original movies on DVD nearly a year before the movie would be released. And once the movie was released, well….
So over the course of the next ten weeks (usually on Thursdays), I’ll be releasing a newly revised essay on my thoughts about A Nightmare on Elm Street and its sequels. If you’ve read these before, I hope you enjoy rereading them. If this is your first time experiencing nightmares in Gautham, well, I’ll be here to guide you. Take my hand, but be careful for the knives on my fingers….