One, Two, Freddy's coming for you......
Welcome to the official opening of Shocktober 2011.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, this is the film festival that you don’t have to travel to. In the build-up to Halloween, I watch a series of films based on a theme and review them here as I go through my list. This carries on through the month of October.
There’s interactivity too, in the form of a Facebook page dedicated to this site where you can discuss and/or leave a comment.
This year’s theme is Craven Images, where I’ll be taking a look as some of Wes Craven’s movies, and to kick off, it seemed appropriate to dust off A Nightmare on Elm Street, seeing that last year’s big Halloween movie of the evening was the lacklustre remake.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of those films that made a huge and lasting impact where I saw it, due in part to the unusual circumstances.
Let’s set the Way Back Machine to 1985, specifically, late summer. I was 25 years old, on a weekend break in London with a couple of my friends. London was an adventure such as I’d never seen before. An accommodation mix-up had meant that it was necessary for me to stay in a hotel. I had arrived earlier than planned and made my way to the hotel in the West End. My London based buddy was still at work. Despite my friend’s warnings to stay in the hotel in case I got hopelessly lost, I had decided to explore and found that by pure accident, I was only a few hundred yards from Forbidden Planet, which was on Denmark Street at that time.
Some things are just meant to be - right?
That was the first visit I ever made to a comic book store. First thing I saw when I went through the door? The ultra elusive Starburst #4 with the Lou Ferrigno "Hulk" cover. Starburst had changes ownership and Marvel now held the reins. This fourth issue had been their first and far fewer copies had been printed to test the waters. It was the only issue I had missed. Sold!
Anyhow, that first evening, a Friday had to belong to the big summer blockbuster that was opening that very day and had been endorsed by none other that President Reagan - so First Blood 2: Rambo it was. The Saturday evening found us once again seeking entertainment and I saw a poster for this thing called A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Now, before leaving the house the previous day, I had picked up my copy of Fangoria (my current reading habits go back several decades, I know). I hadn’t had time to read it, but remembered the title from a sidebar on the cover, which also showed a shadowy face, wearing a fedora. Due to the prominence of the character’s nose, at first glance, I had thought it actually WAS The Shadow.
I mentioned that y’know, this movie might be good to pass an evening. One friend came along and the other opted for the safe bet of a known quantity. So while two of us saw Freddy Krueger on the second night of opening - the other of us saw Police Academy 2. Something he has never, ever been allowed to forget or live down.
Robert Englund was a character actor at that point, usually a thug on TV shows to begin with. I’m certain I had seen him on an old Starsky & Hutch episode, but can’t find reference to it on the IMDb. I remember him on Manimal, a short run show I had enjoyed and faithfully taped and kept (so how about a DVD release?) And of course he was the lone vegetarian pacifist among the alien visitors in V which had taken the summer by storm the previous year and made the saturation TV coverage of the Olympic games easier to bear. But oddly, Englund’s name was way, way down in the cast billing. Topping the cast was John Saxon, known to me most of all for his role as Roper in Enter the Dragon. The rest of the cast - all unknown to me.
This would change. For example, a sleep psychologist was played by Charles Fleischer, who a few years later would become better known as the voice of Roger Rabbit. Oh, and one of the teens in the cast would do quite well for himself as well - a kid named Johnny Depp.
This was the first Wes Craven movie that I had seen. I knew Craven’s name, of course - you couldn’t really be a Fango or Starburst reader without knowing his name, but at that point, his Last House on the Left had been banned outright in the UK, and The Hills Have Eyes was busily being painted with the same brush by well-meaning (to give them the benefit of the doubt) pompous busybodies. Hence, I’d seen neither.
In retrospect, this film bridges two distinctly separate parts of Craven’s career. Movies like Hills Have Eyes and Last House on the Left were made on a smaller budget and were raw horror, edgy and credible. Nightmare was much more fantasy based though no less packed with tension, but it was nowhere near as downright nasty as the raping murdering gang in Last House, or the desert mountain dwelling cannibals of Hills. It was the beginning of Craven becoming less of an edgy outsider whose films were unlikely to been seen widely due to the censorship constraints of the day. Somehow, Craven became more mainstream and in my opinion, it started here, incredibly enough with a montage of shots of a man making a glove with razor sharp blades on the fingers.
I’ve always loved the opening dream sequence as Tina (Amanda Wyss) is stalked and chased through a labyrinth of a boiler room. What really sells this as a dream sequence to me, is the unexplained appearance of a sheep. Dreams are like that - bizarre and a mixture of unrelated images.
However, Tina wakes up from her nightmare and lives to sleep another night. But the following morning, she discovers that three of her high school friends are suffering the same nightmare, where they’re chased by a man wearing a dirty green and red top, fedora hat and a lethal knife glove.
If he gets you in the dream realm, then you’re not waking up. Tina dies the following night, thrown all over her bedroom from wall to ceiling - literally (she’s slashed open and there’s quite a bit of splatter) in a stunning scene while her helpless boyfriend looks on.
Her boyfriend is arrested on suspicion of murder and dies the next night, hung in his cell.
The culprit is Freddy Krueger, a child murdering psychopath who had been set free on a technicality and was tracked down and burned to death by a lynch mob of outraged parents.
This is where Nightmare really "got" me back in ‘85. I knew the vampire rules, I knew the
zombie rules, demonic possession, I knew that if the Martians invaded, then sneeze and they’re toast - but how the hell did you deal with a dream demon?
He’s not a ghost, he’s a vengeful spirit, I guess - but he gets you in your sleep and he’s after the children of those who killed him.
The goriest death goes to Glen (Johnny Depp) who is dragged into his mattress as he sleeps and then there’s a huge geyser of blood that sprays from his bed on to the ceiling. It’s literally a fountain - which although disturbing and surprising to see - I never understood until I read in an interview with the director that this was meant to convey the blood of ALL the children of Elm Street.
Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) is the sole survivor and this is where the film loses much of its coherence. It takes less than twenty minutes for this pre-college teen to booby trap her home with a number of home made anti intrusion devices like gunpowder filled light bulbs, trip wires and a perfectly angled, hinged sledgehammer. All this while her mother sleeps. (Though the mother IS bombed out on vodka).
But okay - let’s go with the flow on the traps. She falls asleep and drags Freddy out with her to the real world when her alarm wakes her up.
After a chase through the house and Freddy falling for every single trap, he kills Nancy’s mother on the bed as she sleeps. (Is that a dream?) He comes back, and Nancy used a form of dream control she was told about earlier in the film to deny him his energy, so he literally fades away as he’s about to stab her in the back. (So, she’s awake then?)
Stepping through the door in front of her, it’s bright daylight and she’s back outside on the porch with her friends (who were killed, one by one throughout the film) with her mother still alive, and swearing off alcohol - before Glen’s classic fifties convertible abducts them by having the roof slam down (striped green and red, of course) while Nancy’s mother is comically dragged back to the house through the small window in the front door.
At this point, I’m really, REALLY confused as to who’s awake, who’s asleep who’s dreaming, who’s dead and who’s alive.
But however surreal and confusing the ending is, this is still miles better than the remake.
NEXT UP - DEADLY BLESSING.
Copyright © 2010 - 2011 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.