And We're Back

As discussed in the previous entry, I decided to watch all of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies in one sitting to "celebrate" the upcoming remake. I had only seen a few of them and it had been years since I've watched even those. For those of you joining me without having read part one, it went something like this: I found myself liking the first one, not caring for the second, not hating the third and getting legitimately angry by the fourth. In the exciting conclusion to this piece, I take a look at the second half of the series. This is a tale of downfall, greed, stupidity and ultimately, redemption.

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A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child (1989, Directed by Stephen Hopkins)

"Fuel injection!"

Body Count: 3 (Dan gets a fuel injection, girl-whose-name-I-can't-remember pulls a Mr. Creosote, Mark the comic book geek learns that Freddy is a ferocious editor)

Dream Sequences
: A dream becomes an extended flashback about Freddy's conception which is revealed to be exposition. Freddy transports a woman into her own womb for a scene of exposition. Freddy drives drunk and turns into a motorcycle. Freddy is the world's worst waiter. Freddy puts on silly costumes and hams it up while delivering exposition. There's an attempt to make an Escher-like dream sequence, but whatever.

Sex and Drugs
: Alice is preggers. Some under-lit sex over the opening credits. ABORTION IS A SERIOUS ISSUE, OMG GUYS!!!11

Thoughts: I've never walked out of a movie. I never turn a movie off. I have to see a movie through to the end, no matter what. I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter-

What? Oh. A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child. Right. Sorry for that. You can forgive me for being distracted because this is one of the worst films I've ever seen and if I wasn't watching it with the intention of writing about it, I'm fairly certain I would have swallowed my pride and shut it off. It's one thing for The Dream Master to piss me off. That's an emotion that requires my active participation. It's another thing for The Dream Child to bore me to tears. Boredom is an anti-emotion. It's the total lack of engagement. It's the single greatest crime a movie can commit. I've sat through two and half hour, black and white Swedish films about living in a Godless universe without moving a muscle. Freddy's fifth outing had me checking my watch ten minutes in. It also made me believe in that Godless universe those Swedes were talking about.

The plotting is so lazy this time around that I actually wish I could get myself worked up about it. It's really just everyone going through the motions: Freddy is brought back to life for reasons that are not made clear, Freddy kills some survivors from the last film, Freddy has some sort of wacky dream scheme, more people die in elaborate "comical" dream sequences, Freddy is further demystified and ultimately defeated in an incomprehensible action climax, this time with the help of an unborn child and a ghost nun who apparently know the power of the deus ex machina.. Roll credits, see you next year.

Special attention must be paid to the scene where a character gets in his car and tries to get to his girlfriend, only to be intercepted by Freddy. So you're telling me that this guy, a survivor from the last film, fell asleep when rushing to his girlfriend after she was attacked by a murderer who can only hurt you in your dreams? And he fell asleep while driving? And didn't die on his own? Or does the film just blatantly break the rules of the Nightmare universe so this guy can die? Wouldn't be the first time. Either way, it's a bad scene from the start, even before Freddy turns into a motorcycle.

Because that's how far this series has come. Freddy turns into a motorcycle.

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991, Directed by Rachel Talalay)

"Hey! You forgot the power glove!"

Body Count: 4 (Some guy we don't care about has his parachute fail, Freddy kills his wife in a flashback, another guy we don't care about gets schooled in the fine art of video gaming, some hard-of-hearing guy we don't care about gets his hearing aid turned into a spider that amplifies his hearing so his head, yeah)

Dream Sequences
: Freddy re-enacts The Wizard of Oz. Freddy stars in a Nintendo commercial. My brain hurts.

Sex and Drugs: A kid smokes some pot. I think. As for I think?

Thoughts: The worst scene the entire Nightmare on Elm Street franchise occurs around the halfway point of Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare. After luring a stoned kid into a TV to the tune of "Inna Godda Davida," Freddy attempts to kill him in the 16-bit graphic world of an early-90s video game. While watching Freddy play a video game and ranting about his high score is pretty bad (even by the standards of this series), it's made even worse by the fact that the sleeping kid physically enacts what's going on in his dream, meaning he jumps around like he's on a moonwalk, smashing through the ceiling and through walls in an extended sequence of slapstick comedy. The scene goes on far too long, maybe ten or more minutes, and with each passing moment, it manages to find unique and terrible ways to top itself, to somehow get even worse. The fact that the scene culminates with a joke so specific to its time (and oh-so very, very terrible) is like the rotten cherry on the top of a crap cake.

Conceptually, I can almost kinda' sorta' get behind Freddy's Dead. When the film opens, Freddy has almost won. All but one kid in town is dead at his hands and he's closing in on his final victim. Heck, we even get an Escape From New York-esque map and voice over to explain this situation for us. Classy! Of course, the kid escapes, gets amnesia and returns with a psychologist eager to find out what made him lose his memory. It turns out that the psychologist is Freddy's daughter. Oops. Spoilers.

I've mentioned previously that I think this series made a mistake in stripping Freddy Krueger of his mystique. Apparently, being a deceased psycho who gets off on killing kids in their dreams was not enough. He's also the "bastard son of a hundred maniacs," collects the souls of the people he kills in his chest to grow more powerful, wants to become the ruler of the dream world (I think) and it's now revealed that Freddy's powers were granted to him by a couple of demonic fish-things that do...something. By that point, I think my eyes had glazed over.

Stripped of his mystery, Freddy is now a walking joke, speaking entirely in puns, the world's worst Looney Tunes character. Even Robert Englund's make-up, once so gross, horrifying and wet, has been toned down almost completely. Freddy doesn't look like the victim of a fire, he looks like he's had one too many botched plastic surgeries. The character has been so completely drained, rendered so lifeless, that it's not surprising that he goes out with a total anti-climax. When Friday the 13th had a "final chapter," they didn't just kill Jason, they killed him. What's Freddy get? Blown up by a stick of dynamite.

I almost ended this section by saying "Freddy deserves better," but then I realized that no, he doesn't.

Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994, Directed by Wes Craven)

"Every kid knows who Freddy is. He's like Santa Claus...or King Kong..."

Body Count: 4 (Mr. Lagenkamp gets gutted on the road, two VFX guys die at the hand(s) of their prop in a dream before dying for real off screen, Julie gets the classic Tina Treatment)

Dream Sequences: Freddy visits the hospital. Freddy helps a child cross the street. A little escapade to the Hell Dungeon Freddy calls home. You know, the little things.

Sex and Drugs: Nothing really, but that's not surprising in this series. But we get the triumphant return ofDEMON TONGUE!

Thoughts: Despite the promise that Part 6 was the "final" film of the franchise, Freddy Krueger did come back, just not in the way most people were probably expecting. Wes Craven's New Nightmare does two things to completely flip the Nightmare series on its head. First, it moves the action to the "real world" and features the series' cast and crew playing themselves as they realize that the character of Freddy Krueger is attempting to break through into the real world. Second, against all odds, it actually makes Freddy scary again.

Director Wes Craven makes his return to the series six films later and it feels like he had one goal: salvage the character that made his career. Of course, there was no way he could do this within the overly complicated (and downright stupid) continuity of the series, so he sidesteps all of that. It's high concept to say the very least: there is an ancient being of pure evil that can only be stopped by the power of storytellers. The creation of the character of Freddy Krueger "bottled" this being and kept him from entering our reality. But now, with the film series over, this evil is ready to break through. Taking the form of Freddy, he targets his captors (i.e., the cast and crew of the Nightmare series) with a string of violence. This means Heather Lagenkamp, Wes Craven, Robert Englund and even New Line honcho Robert Shaye appear playing themselves in a Freddy Krueger movie where the Freddy Krueger movies exist.

It's a trip. It's different. It's wild. It's exactly what the series needed. Craven would gain notoriety for his "meta-horror" with Scream a few years later, but this is him at his most experimental. The film not only has the nerve to take place in the "real world," it has the nerve to openly acknowledge that the films got progressively worse and that Freddy became less and less threatening. This is not only the best film in the series (yeah, I said it), it's Craven's stiff middle finger to films 2-6. If there's an inherent flaw at work here, it's that you have to be familiar with the entire series to appreciate how bold this is. That means you have to suffer some of the lowest horror lows ever burnt into celluloid to experience the full potential of the character of Freddy Krueger.

Craven wisely keeps Freddy out of the picture for a good, long time, actually building suspense and letting us get to know the characters and become involved in their plight. This film even does the impossible and makes me not hate Heather Lagenkamp. When Freddy finally emerges for the film's final forty minutes or so, it's a great moment because the entire movie has been building to it. Freddy himself, stripped of his puns and given an updated wardrobe and a make-up make-over, is turned back into the relentless boogeyman of the first film. We could argue that this Freddy, more physically imposing and less chatty, isn't really Freddy, but the unnamed force that has taken on his form. If that's the case, than this unnamed force is a better horror villain than Freddy himself ever was. Special props should be given to Englund. Although the character's descent into camp is just as much his fault as anyone else, this is stellar work.

Even if you hate the Nightmare on Elm Street series, you should check this one out, because it's pretty obvious Craven hates the series, too.

Freddy vs. Jason (2003, Directed by Ronny Yu)

"My best friend was just KILLED tonight Dad. So how about you give me some F--KING space?"

Body Count: 2 for Freddy, 18 for Jason (Freddy burns one guy and stabs the heroine's mother in a flashback; Jason kills everyone else in every way you can possibly imagine)

Dream Sequences: We see the triumphant return of Freddy's boiler room, but otherwise, it's pretty simple stuff until he invades Jason's dreams and things get pretty silly.

Sex and Drugs: Since this is also a Friday the 13th film, the sex and drug quotient gets upped considerably. Lots of topless ladies and a shower scene or two. We also get a stoner character! A first for the Nightmare series!

Thoughts: Freddy vs. Jason should not work. It doesn't have the right to work. The fact that it does work is some sort of minor miracle, proof that, on occasion, the movie gods decide to bless the oddest projects. This movie manages to take both characters and build a plot around the two of them that not only makes sense, but is pretty darn clever. It has an excellent Jason and some of Englund's best work as Freddy, finding a tolerable balance between the deadly serious Freddy of New Nightmare and the wisecracking version found in the rest of the series.

I almost considered leaving this one off the marathon since it's not purely a Nightmare on Elm Street film, but that would have been a mistake. In terms of set-up, style and story progression, this is a Nightmare film through and through. Freddy is the main antagonist and it's his actions that set everything in motion, tricking Jason into doing his dirty work before realizing that he's bit off more than he can chew by unleashing the retarded zombie in the hockey mask onto his turf. The titular showdown occurs.

The whole thing is undeniably stupid, but director Ronny Yu embraces this film for what it is and keeps the tongue firmly in cheek. The final showdown is suitably epic, taking place in the dream world and the physical world, and Yu finds plenty of ways for these characters to mutilate, stab and chop each other to pieces. This is not a great horror movie, but one of the greatest pieces of fan service ever devised, letting the children of the '80s settle one the longest-running debates in the horror genre.

Conclusions and Such

I learned a couple of things from my experience with this marathon. When I started yawning around the fifth film or so, I learned that if I ever had to stay awake to combat a psychotic dream intruder, I'd be completely doomed. I also learned that I'm not a fan of the Nightmare on Elm Street series. I've realized that I'm strictly a fan of the concept, with the execution usually ranging from mediocre to completely dire. This feels like a series geared toward young horror buffs, kids who aren't quite ready for more sophisticated movies and won't notice just how lame Freddy gets and how the rules of this universe simply don't make any sense.

The love that still exists for this series, and for its woefully mistreated lead villain, must come from a place of nostalgia, because I'm just not feeling it. As I write this, the release of the remake is only a few days away. You know what? The idea of a remake doesn't bother me at all. At best, they'll be rescuing a strong concept from the clutches of a series that never knew what do with it.

At worst, it'll be another bad Nightmare on Elm Street movie. It'll have a lot of company.

Marathon Ranking:

1. Wes Craven's New Nightmare
2. A Nightmare on Elm Street
3. Freddy vs. Jason
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: The Dream Warriors
5. A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge
6. A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master
7. A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child
8. Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare

Total Body Count: 34

Best Dream Sequence: Tina's second nightmare leading to her death in the first film. None of the expensive, elaborate sequences in later films can top the surreal, uncomfortable low budget creepiness of Freddy's elongated arms.

Sex and Drugs
: Really, I think I'm just going to write N/A and be done with it.

Series High Point
: The final thirty minutes of New Nightmare, from Freddy making his grand re-entrance in Heather's closet all the the way to the end.

Series Low Point: The extended video game sequence in Freddy's Dead, which is one of the most embarrassing things I've ever seen in any movie. Ever.

Total Length of Marathon
: 12 hours, 50 minutes
categories Features, Horror