Zombies are the middle children of the otherworldly family. Vampires are the oldest brother who gets to have a room in the attic, all tripped out with a disco ball and shag carpet. Werewolves are the youngest, the babies, always getting pinched and told they're cute. With all that attention stolen away from the middle child zombie, no wonder she shuffles off grumbling, "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha."

- Kevin James Breaux

Thursday, September 3, 2015

"Rants & Ravings About Horror" - Week 29: “A Look at A Nightmare on Elm Street Franchise”

Week 29: “A Look at A Nightmare on Elm Street Franchise”
Freddy Krueger is one of the most iconic horror film icons ever created.  In addition to having been featured in nine films he’s also graced a television series, comic books, novels, and CDs, not to mention the fact that his image is one of the biggest selling items during Halloween.  Freddy has become an icon of pop culture that doesn’t seem to wane even when there isn’t a new film on the horizon.  I’ve decided to take a few moments to give my thoughts on each of the films as these films played a tremendous part in my love of the horror genre growing up.

I don’t know when I first saw the original film A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) but I do know it was after the second film as I saw them both at the same time.  Despite being a Michael Myers fan growing up, Freddy Krueger was the more dynamic character.  For one, his sound and dialogue played a huge part in terrifying me as a kid.  Director Wes Craven’s original film was atmospheric, dark, filled with suspense and had a great cast of “normal” teenagers.  Craven’s talented cast led by the charming Heather Langenkamp created a group of characters that could easily represent your own best friends and neighbors. This would play a key point in future sequels which all featured young high school or college aged students haunted by the un-killable Fred Krueger.  Whenever I was in the mood for Freddy Krueger this would be the first film I’d take in.

Despite the infamy of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985), it holds a special place as a favorite of mine because it was the film that prompted me to watch the first film.  Actually, it was the trailer for this film that put the bug in me to see these films.  I remember seeing the trailer for this film and was in awe at the moment where Freddy stood over all the children at the pool party and exclaimed, “You are all my children.”  Freddy had this ambiance and menace that was undeniable.  When I finally saw this film on video I ended up watching both the first and second one.  I can’t remember which one I saw first but this is the one that was calling out to me.

The film itself is dark and moody and atmospheric like the original.  In fact, it comes the closest of any sequel to that dark mood of the original as it wouldn’t be until the third film that the deaths and carnage would become more “light hearted” and “comedic”.  This film also happens to be the only one with a male protagonist which sets it apart from the others.  Even though I was unaware of the homoerotic motifs and imagery in the film when I was young, there is no denying their presence or impact on the film overall.  It didn’t matter to me then about this (when I didn’t know any better) and it doesn’t matter to me now (since I am very aware of it).  For me this is more entertaining and raw than the subsequent sequels which all focused on the comedy and more imaginative death sequences.

Now I’ll be the first to say how glad I was that Heather Langenkamp returned for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987).  By then I was well aware of the impact of the series.  By this time I wanted to actually go see this film at the theater (but sadly that would not happen until Wes Craven’s return to the director’s chair).  For a long time I considered this my favorite of the franchise.  It was the “coolest” of them all with some of the best visual SFX in addition to the best dream sequences and death sequences in the entire franchise.  Also, the tragic death of Langenkamp’s character Nancy who had once been a victim but now a savior and hero to a new generation of kids made this film poignant.   Something future sequels would lack.  This would be the film most often paired with the first film in my Freddy double feature nights.

I’ve never really been a fan of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988).  I was a little thrown by the fact that Kristen (played so eloquently in the previous film by a young Patricia Arquette) was now played by Tuesday Knight and that she was killed off within the first fifteen minutes of the film.  I didn’t really take to any of the other characters because of this despite the fact that Lisa Wilcox did a fine job of taking over the franchise as Alice.  The most memorable death scene was Elaine turning into a cockroach (which will stay with me forever) but everyone else’s death was pretty forgettable.  The only reason I ever continue to revisit this film is to pair it up with its direct sequel Part 5, which I enjoy so much more.
It should be noted that even Robert England continued to do a fine job as Freddy Krueger throughout the subsequent films never missing a beat despite the films becoming less scary and more comedic.  He was able to take the punches and keep getting back up after being knocked down.

A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 5: The Dream Child (1989) would be my next favorite in the series and it would create my triple feature night partnered with the original and Part 3.  This film returned the franchise to its darker mood and atmosphere especially considering that it partially takes place in an asylum and features Freddy’s mother.  With the theme of motherhood and children at its core it was also one of the few sequels to really touch on a taboo subject in horror films especially one geared towards teens and young adults.  Everyone was at top form and I loved that the film featured Kelly Jo Minter, one of my favorite actors at the time from Summer School (1987) and The Principal (1987) but would soon become more famous for her horror roles in Popcorn (1991) and The People Under the Stairs (1991).  With just these few roles she became one of my favorite actors of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s.  

I really hate Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991).  From the trailer I thought this would be a cool movie.  It was supposed to be the last, it had the Power Glove and part of it would be in 3-D!  The reasons why I hate it is because it wasn’t the last, it had the Power Glove, and only the ending was in 3-D (which I never even got to experience), among many other reasons why this film is bad.  None of the dreams sequences were interesting and them showing the truth about Fred Krueger and that he has a child all seemed ludicrous.  The film was poorly directed but that’s not nearly as bad as the script or the celebrity cameos in the film all of which contribute to the infamy of this bad film.  I don’t watch this film unless I get the urge to watch the entire franchise (which isn’t often any more).  In hindsight I do love Lisa Zane and it does have Yaphet Kotto but these are minor great things from a major disappointment of a film.

My faith in the franchise would be restored with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) which allowed Craven to return to the franchise he started and make everything right again.  This is my favorite of the sequels after the first film.  Craven was able to make a stale franchise fresh and invigorated it with smart characters, an intelligent script and amazing special FX and makeup FX not to mention the amazing score by J. Peter Robinson.  Unfortunately, the lack of love for this film at the Box Office spelled the end.  The film was way ahead of its time by bringing back actors from previous films to play themselves and being a film that focused on film myth in Hollywood as well as fairytale myth in a dark world of Freddy’s making.  This was as striking and original as the original film had been in ’84.  This also happened to be the first film in the franchise that I got to view on the big screen on opening weekend.  I remember the day very well as it was either this film or The Next Karate Kid (1984) and there was no way in hell I was going to be talked into seeing that film.  Other than the original film, this is the only film in the entire franchise I can watch on its own without adding in one of the sequels.  For me, this film stands on its own and doesn’t need to be paired with any of the others.

In 2003 Freddy would meet his match with Freddy Vs. Jason.  Having seen this film on opening night as well, I loved this film.  It was exciting and it invigorated the Friday the 13th franchise, which I’ve never been a fan of.  It featured the Freddy I wanted to see in the later sequels and the Jason Voorhees that should’ve been in all those sequels.  Unfortunately, time has not been very kind to this film.  It’s neither scary nor moody and plays like a pop horror-action-teen movie rather than a scary matchup of two of the horror genre’s most iconic images.  It was following the trend of horror films at that time like Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000), Cherry Falls (2000), Dracula 2000 (2000), The Forsaken (2001), Jeepers Creepers (2001), Thirteen Ghosts (2001), Dog Soldiers (2002), and Darkness Falls (2003), to name a few.  Even now, people who loved the film when it first came out despise it.  I hardly ever watch it.

This would be the last film in the franchise to star Robert England.  He had a great run that was longer than most others who played iconic fiends of horror.  England was Freddy and it would be hard for someone else to fill his shoes but Jackie Earle Haley was up to the task for the remake A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010).  This film was darker and more atmospheric than previous films but it was also less interesting, lacked suspense, and wasn’t any fun.  It tried so hard to be gritty and realistic that it forgot to be entertaining.  It also lacked originality and was generally a downer of a film despite Haley actually being the best part of the film.  This is the only film in the franchise I’ve never bothered watching a second time.  Why bother when all the previous films are superior and at least have England to entertain?  I’m sure there are fans of this film out there…I’ve just never met any of them.

I could saw some more about the films themselves but I know most anyone reading this has already seen the films several times over and had their own double and triple features.  Despite being a Michael Myers and Halloween fan there has always been enough room for love of this franchise with me.  I love horror films and I love franchises because they allow us fans to continue seeing the progression of some of our favorite characters in more stories.  They don’t all have to be great films but they do need to entertain and generally respect the franchise as a whole in order to satisfy us die-hard fans.    Freddy Krueger is by far the most interesting and dynamic of all the horror film icons and that was made possible not only from his creator Wes Craven but the man who brought him to life Robert England and all the adventures and characters he interacted with in each film crafted by a huge and talented group of actors and film-makers.

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