October 27, 2013

I Expected A Lot More From A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET

 “What is seen is not always what is real.”
For much of my life, Freddy Krueger has been considered the paragon of terror, the king of all psycho movie killers.  But while Friday The 13th genuinely surprised me with its smart and brutal filmmaking, A Nightmare On Elm Street feels like a trashy dime store comic book by comparison.

That makes sense to a certain degree.   Although he’s not actually present (in his most recognizable form) in the first Friday The 13th, Jason Voorhees is a flesh and blood attacker who’s extremely difficult to kill.  On the other hand, Freddy Krueger is ephemeral, a supernatural villain who exists purely in the dreams of his victims but whose lethality is not diminished by his lack of corporeal form.  As a result, he delights in torturing the local teens in a variety of almost cartoonish forms.  And while I’m always a fan of practical effects work, stuff like long-armed Freddy, Freddy wearing a Tina mask, and Freddy's tongue coming out of the phone receiver are actually more amusing than scary.  The sequences that work the best are the ones that focus more on the really intense gore, stuff like Amanda Wyss’s evisceration on the ceiling, or Johnny Depp’s bed sinkhole turned inverted geyser of blood.

I’m more surprised by all the movie’s missed opportunities.  The scariest thing in the entire film is the massive sleep deprivation.  These kids are terrified of what will happen when they fall asleep, so they end up going a full week without rest.  That will fuck a person right up, but there’s not a lot of attention paid to the possible side effects of keeping your eyes open for seven straight days.  Sure, we see Nancy popping some pills and chugging a lot of coffee (I particularly loved when she pulled a Mr. Coffee out from under her bed) but it just feels like lip service to a plot point.  Presumably Depp is also awake for most of the film but he remains completely level-headed throughout; he never gets manic, just drowsy.  This makes Nancy’s behavior feel less like the result of sleep deprivation and more like clichéd female hysteria.  They touch briefly on the idea of “dream skills,” or taking control of the dream in order to take away Freddy's power, but it’s never explored in any really meaningful way and quickly gets dropped in favor of pulling Freddy out of the dream and trapping him in a series of  elaborate Home Alone-style booby traps, which Nancy is hilariously able to set up in the span of ten minutes.

But the whole point of Freddy is that he’s an spirit wreaking vengeance upon the neighborhood kids as punishment for the sins of their parents.  Nancy’s mother explains that the real Fred Krueger was a child murderer who managed to evade conviction on a technicality, prompting the local parents to form a lynch mob, trap him in a boiler room and roast him like a charcoal briquette.  But Nancy’s parents are the only ones who readily admit their role in all of this carnage, and they don’t really express any remorse for their actions either, at least not until kids start dying.  Nancy’s mother drinks herself into a stupor and we barely glimpse any of the other parents at all, let alone discover whether they were involved in Freddy’s death.  Sure it makes for a nifty origin story for the character, but it also feels like an interesting thematic element that gets largely paved over in favor of more finger knives.  That's understandable, but it's disappointing all the same.  I remember hearing that the recent remake, with Jackie Earl Haley as Krueger, actually started with that lynch mob scene, so I’m curious to see if that movie picked up the thread further or did anything at all interesting with it.  I’m not getting my hopes up.

The end is also totally ridiculous.  After burning to death in the real world for the second time, Freddy reappears once more in Nancy's dream.  This leads her back to the "dream skills" strategy and she seemingly wills Freddy out of existence.  (Hilariously, the exact same ending was used in Rise Of The Guardians.)  That just feels like Wes Craven wrote two different endings and couldn't decide which one to use, so he stuck them both in.  Then the whole movie is basically retconned away and everyone comes back to life with no memory of what transpired.  That is until Freddy suddenly shows up to suck Nancy's mother through a window and possess Johnny Depp's car.  What the fuck is that all about?  Are they really alive?  She has to be imagining it right?  Since Freddy can't actually appear in the real world unless someone pulls him out of a dream?  So did Freddy not get sent back to hell a minute before?  Something doesn't fit here.


I’ll tell you one thing: a green and red striped convertible top doesn’t hold a candle to demon-child Jason popping up out of the lake.

You win, Friday The 13th.

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Title: A Nightmare On Elm Street
Director: Wes Craven
Starring: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Amanda Wyss, Johnny Depp, John Saxon, Jsu Garcia
Year Of Release: 1984
Viewing Method: Netflix DVD