Son of 100 Maniacs Part 1
The first of a series of articles looking back at the Nightmare On Elm Street films
It was around 1988 when I was five years old and in kindergarten class. A group of boys were playing with blocks when one of them suggested, "Hey, let's make the Freddy Krueger house!" I remember thinking to myself, "Who's Freddy Krueger?" There were other instances where I heard other boys my age reference the name and I began to feel intrigued, apparently I was missing out on something really popular and cool.
Shortly after, I realized that Freddy was the central character of a popular series of horror films titled Nightmare On Elm Street. I began seeing his disturbingly burned face just about everywhere, from the makeup kits sold in Toys 'R Us during Halloween, to the large cardboard displays in video rental stores. At the time, however, I was brought up to believe that horror movies are not to be watched under any circumstances, as they would most likely give me nightmares. As a result, I was apprehensive over the prospect of watching one, even out of sheer morbid curiosity.
It was around the time when I was about 11 or 12 when I began developing a fascination of horror films, which I believe stemmed from the taboo principles my parents instilled in me at a young age. I began to watch them on cable, and started renting video tapes on a regular basis, and even though at the time I was squeamish over extreme violence, I was still interested in seeing more. After experiencing the likes of Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, I realized there was still one character I hadn't quite discovered yet, ironically the first one I had ever heard of. After renting the original Nightmare On Elm Street, I discovered that Freddy was arguably the most interesting, complex cinematic serial killer of them all, and to this day he remains my favorite. That being said, I thought I might analyze each chapter of the series and critique them on a scale of one to four claws. So lets get started.
Writer: Wes Craven
Director: Wes Craven
Release Date: 11/9/84
Domestic Box Office: $25,504,513
Adjusted for Inflation*: $57,000,000
In this first entry, a group of teens in a small mid-western town start to mysteriously get slaughtered in their sleep, often in fairly outlandish ways. Heroine Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), who begins to fear to her life, forces herself to stay awake, and to uncover the identity of the killer. She discovers through her mother that the man in her dreams was once a child murderer who's court case was thrown out on a technicality, and as a result the parents of Elm Street tracked him down and burned him alive in an act of vigilante justice. After Nancy manages to pull Freddy's hat with her outside of her dream, she devises a plan to bring him fully out, so he can finally be stopped.
Freddy: "This...is God!"
Made on a budget of $1,800,000, A Nightmare On Elm Street brought a chilling and fresh approach to the slasher genre, as well as launched the career of actor Johnny Depp. Its effective use of low lighting, disturbing visuals, and impressive special effects brought more depth into the films of its caliber. I was also impressed by the character of Nancy, who unlike previous female protagonists, was smarter, more resourceful and stronger. While some may argue that the film hasn't aged well over the last 25 years, I disagree. I think it's just as effectively scary today without excessive reliance on "jump scares" and proves you can accomplish so much with a shoestring budget and a crew of creative minds.
FOUR OUT OF FOUR CLAWS
Writer: David Chaskin
Director: Jack Sholder
Release Date: 11/1/85
Domestic Box Office: $29,999,213
Adjusted for Inflation*: $64,000,000
After the success of the first film, New Line Cinema decided they had a potential goldmine on their hands for a series and almost immediately began production on a sequel. This time, the movie follows male protagonist Jesse Walsh, who moves into the Thompson house with his family, and discovers in his dreams that Freddy has a new agenda in mind. He plans to use Jesse as a human avatar to more efficiently kill the teens of Elm Street, without the necessary use of dreams. That, in a nutshell, is where the movie ultimately goes wrong. By breaking the rules established by Wes Craven, the movie comes dangerously close to becoming just another generic slasher flick.
Another of the film's glaring flaws is one of the most heavily debated aspects over the years, its blatant homoerotic undertones. Screenwriter David Chaskin even admits that the movie's themes are more than coincidental, and as a result the film has developed the reputation of being declared the "Gay Freddy Movie". One scene in particular involves a gym coach first being pelted with sports balls, before being tied to shower heads, stripped naked and whipped with a towel. And that's only one example of many.
Jesse: "Something is trying to get inside my body."
Ron: "Yeah, and she's female, and she's waiting for you in the cabana, And you wanna sleep with me."
While it's clear that the filmmakers were at least trying to do something different instead of simply rehashing the formula, this entry still remains one of the weakest in the series. Sometimes you just gotta realize, if it aint broke, don't fix it.
ONE AND A HALF OUT OF FOUR CLAWS
Writers: Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont, Chuck Russell
Director: Chuck Russell
Release Date: 2/27/87
Domestic Box Office: $44,793,222
Adjusted for Inflation*: $91,000,000
After years of Freddy's sadistic reign of terror, the last remaining survivors of the Elm Street children have all been confined to a sanitarium where Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) has just taken a position as a counselor. Over time, each of the teens discover they all possess unique abilities in their dreams that'll potentially give them an advantage over their attacker, and possibly finally take him down for good. Perhaps the most imaginative of the series, as well as one of my personal favorites, the film provides a whole new level of fun to the series through its increasingly impressive visuals and appealing characters. It manages to remain faithful the original's established rules and expands the mythology by revealing further details of Freddy's origin. It also launched the career of actress Patricia Arquette and is responsible for kick starting the trend of Freddy's quips and one-liners.
Freddy: "This is it, Jennifer. Your big break in TV. Welcome to prime time, bitch!"
While in Nashville, Tennessee ten years ago, I visited the local Planet Hollywood and was pleasantly surprised to find props specifically from Nightmare On Elm Street 3 in their collection. Those included the infamous wheelchair from Will's nightmare and the melted tricycle from Kristen's. Unfortunately, this particular Planet Hollywood location amongst many others has closed down since then.
After nearly doubling the success of the first movie, Nightmare On Elm Street 3 proved that New Line had truly invested wisely in an increasingly popular franchise. They didn't hesitate to begin production on a fourth entry, and see just how much appeal Freddy had left in him.
THREE OUT OF FOUR CLAWS
To be continued...
* Approximately calculated based on average ticket price of year released versus 2010.