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.

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