31 Nightmares

31 Nightmares

Monday, October 22, 2018

I'll Get You, My Pretty! And Your Little Soul, Too!

Freddy’s Dead (1991) is tonally almost the complete opposite of A Nightmare on Elm St. (1984). Freddy Krueger is no longer a grimy mysterious stranger, he’s now familiar, and playful; a murderous Bugs Bunny figure who throws chaos into a situation for laughs as much as horror. There’s nothing really dangerous about the series at this point, it doesn’t delve into topics like drugs, teen suicide, or sexual abuse. The Nightmare films were never exactly a font for social topics, but those elements were woven into the texture of the horror. Instead, we trade that for wacky antics and a finale in 3-D.

Once again a Nightmare film reaches into Freddy’s lineage and involves him plotting to find a way to gain access to kids who were not descendants of the people who murdered him, this time by having him draw his secret child back to Springwood. It tries to pull a surprise twist by having the obvious choice for Freddy’s kid end up dead, but the true reveal still feels a little flat.

That’s not to say Freddy’s Dead isn’t fun. It’s filled with some inventive and ridiculous moments, including a huge ever-unfolding road map, a silent comedy routine, and the infamous Powerglove sequence. Even when the Nightmare series was starting to come to an end it was still far and away the most imaginative of the pop-culture slasher films. Freddy’s arrival and demise mirrored the horror boom of the 1980s, gritty and fearsome early on, and goofy and safe by the end.

It wouldn’t be the last time we see Freddy, but what would come next was honestly surprising…

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Oh, Right. You're Gonna Be a TV Star.

One of the things that really propelled Freddy Krueger to becoming a cultural icon was his appearances on MTV. None of the other notable horror icons of the 1980s were really able to harness the medium as well as Freddy. In a large part, this is because Freddy not only has a personality but he’s much chattier than Jason or Michael Myers. Pinhead might love to give florid soliloquies but Freddy was filled with bite-sized quips and a meta awareness that made him a perfect fit for MTV.

The Nightmare series not only allied itself with rock music by featuring the Dokken song ‘Dream Warriors’ but later films would also feature rap, Kool Moe Dee and Schooly D were both featured on the Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989). Just as MTV helped popularize rap music with suburban white kids, the Nightmare series recognized the strong African-American following for horror films and MTV was meeting ground for that.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Kids... Always a Disappointment

What went wrong with Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)? On paper, it all seems like it should work. Structurally it copies the successful part 4, and we have a relatively intricate plot involving Freddy’s rebirth and his origins. Once again we are given a cast of characters who are pretty thin but given elements that lend themselves to nightmare scenarios. Freddy’s attacks are big, dramatic, and visually arresting most of the time. By all rights, this should have been another popular hit for the series, but it never hit the heights of the previous films.

One of the biggest issues is that most of the graphic violence was cut down considerably. By 1989 concerned parents' groups were successfully waging war on what they saw as excessive violence and sexuality in popular media. This would be felt most strongly in horror films of the 1990s, but it can already be seen in The Dream Child. Scenes are cut down to the point where they are almost incoherent. A series like the Nightmare films thrived on big bold fantastical moments that were undercut with horror, and taking out the blood began to reduce them to little more than dark cartoons. Another element was, that up until this point, each Nightmare film put its own stamp on the series in some fashion, but The Dream Child feels like it just copies The Dream Master without adding much of its own personality.

The Dream Child isn’t a complete loss, visually it does have a wonderful dark gothic sensibility that feels like an intriguing direction for the series, it is only too bad that the story couldn’t follow.

Friday, October 19, 2018

You Can Check In but You Can't Check Out

Second maybe only to the Johnny Depp blood fountain from the first Nightmare film, the Debbie Stevens (Brooke Theiss) cockroach massacre in Nightmare on Elm St. part 4: The Dream Master (1988) is one of the most memorable kills in the entire series. Debbie’s demise follows a predictable set-up for the later Nightmare films. The character is introduced. The character is given a quick sketch of a personality. The charter is given an Achilles’ Heel for Freddy to exploit. Wash. Kill. Repeat.

Debbie is introduced as a tough gym-rat with one phobia, cockroaches. Naturally, she falls asleep lifting weights (as you do). We get a beautiful shot of Freddy reflected in the chrome weights just before the whole scene goes crazy. A more pedestrian approach would have had Debbie attacked by roaches or a Freddy roach come after her, instead, we get some explicit body horror. Freddy forces Debbie’s arms down, breaking them open, her arms fall off and we watch in horror as Debbie is transformed into the very thing she fears, before being crushed.

Without a doubt, this scene was influenced by David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986), it plays out the climax of that film in miniature. Debbie’s horrified shock as she undergoes a transformation into something inhuman is one of the most elaborate death sequences in the series. It also contains a thread of dark humor, not enough to overwhelm the moment which would become a problem in later films, but just enough to make it that much more memorable.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Faster than a Bastard Maniac! More Powerful than a Loco-Madman!

Movies, television, and music aren’t the only mediums that Freddy invaded. He also has been featured in comic books. The very first was produced by Marvel Comics in 1989. Written by Steve Gerber creator of Howard the Duck and Man-Thing, the artist was Rich Buckler, who had worked on dozens of titles since the mid-1960s. The comic was a huge seller but only ran two issues, due to Marvel fearing a backlash from parents' groups over the violence and dark themes presented. This fear was not totally unfounded as film, music, comics, and television were all facing pressure to tone down violence, and sexuality.

The two issues tell a complete story about a woman named Juliann Quinn who has been studying Krueger and a way to control her dreams. She’s come to Springfield to find a way to deal with him. More interestingly, the comic offers an alternative origin for Freddy that involves the established rape of his mother, Amanda Krueger, by a mob of insane people but then veers into Freddy's kidnapping as a child by burglars, and his own ability to control his dreams as a young man which leads to the eventual dissolution of his sanity. Gerber’s take on Freddy is much more in line with the monster we meet from the initial Elm Street film. It’s a much darker and more mature approach to a Nightmare story than the films at this point, and it’s a shame that Marvel cut it short. Freddy would show up in a number of other titles in the future, but this series always seemed like a missed opportunity. You can read both issues at this site.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Welcome to Wonderland...Alice

Nancy (Heath Langenkamp) may have been a problem for Freddy Krueger, but Alice (Lisa Wilcox) was his literal antithesis. Introduced in Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1987), Alice is a shy daydreamer with little to no personality of her own. After being given, Dream Warrior Kristen’s (Tuesday Knight) ability to pull people into her dreams, Alice begins to take other dreamers' powers as they die. She also seems to borrow parts of their personality as well. Late in the film, a new piece of Elm Street mythology is presented. Freddy Krueger isn’t just a ghostly child murderer, he’s also the guardian of the gateway of bad dreams. Alice is his opposite, the guardian of the gateway to good dreams.

It is at this point in the series, that it begins to veer away from horror and towards something more like dark fantasy. There are still plenty of gross-out gags and a little bit of actual horror. We move a long way from Nancy’s improvised booby-traps to straight-up kung-fu battles, sonic weapons, and super-heroic elements. All of the big slasher franchises were showing some fatigue at this point and filmmakers were sprinkling in new elements to keep them fresh, Jason was fighting a psychic, Michael had a mysterious figure show up as his ally, and Freddy Krueger now had an arch-nemesis who was he equal. Temporarily invigorating, but was it good for the series in the long term?

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

In Dreams... I Am Forever!

One of the most captivating elements of the Nightmare on Elm Street films are the surrealistic moments. Horror and surrealism are very closely linked, as in the opening eye slice from Un Chien Andalou (1929) will attest. It is a statement that exposes the viewer to a moment that is both literally and figuratively boundary crossing, which is something good horror strives for as well.

There are a number of horror films that may have been an influence on the Nightmare films, if they were not directly referenced, they may have drawn upon the same collective sea of bad dreams.

Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) is a surrealist short film that evokes nightmare logic, a strange central figure, and is often paired with an atonal score. It even addresses the idea of a nightmare leading to the actual death of the dreamer.

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) is a surrealist horror film from Czechoslovakia that delves into the fragile and often shifting narrative of dreams. Like many slasher films, it focuses on a young girl and her burgeoning sexuality. It also features a strange deformed man who weaves in and out of her dream world.

Carnival of Souls (1962) offers a more traditional horror story, but it is steeped in a gloomy world where dream-like visions of the dead continually assault a woman who seemingly survived a car crash. Here again we have a strange ghoulish male figure who features prominently in her waking nightmares as he draws further and further to her doom.