“Sleep. Those little slices of death. How I loathe them.” – Edgar Allen Poe
In his docu-comedy Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock makes the obvious admission that no one is meant to eat McDonald’s three meals a day for a month straight. So too would I imagine that New Line never intended for anyone to sit through all seven Nightmare on Elm Street installments in a single bound.
Nevertheless, our esteemed editor and I decided to eschew our primal instinct for cohesive sanity and throw caution to the wind. By the end, we agreed that neither of us would ever need to watch another Nightmare on Elm Street film again, and by the time this piece is published, I’m sure he will have already sold his box set to a blissfully ignorant sucker.
In the past, I’ve not really been one for such long-hour viewings. Yes, I sat through nearly half of the series of Punky Brewster a few years back (sometimes clocking in at almost eight hours a day for a few stints), and I zipped through all 15+half hours of Fassbinder’s epochal Berlin Alexanderplatz (which had much more in common with Punky than you’d ever imagine), but I’m just not a film festival kind of a guy. I like variety in my watching material.
Besides, I was a little worried that my general state of anxiety would be terribly exacerbated by horrific and indelible visions in my head of Freddy Krueger eating my brain and laughing in my face. After all, as with most of us, I had not really seen any of the Nightmare films since my teens, less for bits here or there on cable, or the original film that I’ve only seen a few times since college. Little did I know that I had much more to worry about when it comes to my rapidly dwindling bank account than from nightmares involving Robert Englund ably backed by Dokken.
Of course, that may be the point and perhaps why so few horror films these days bother to invoke such innovative and fantastical concepts as Freddy. Now it’s all murderers and gushing blood torture. Yawn. These days, we have more to fear from each other than we have from make-believe monsters. I remember recently hearing Quentin Tarantino in an interview admit that he was never scared of traditional horror films, being frightened most by films such as the more naturalistic Last House on the Left, another Wes Craven classic, in which a Manson-esque family of heroin addicts wreaks murderous havoc on a suburban family.
But, enough contextual nonsense. I will say this, though: I was really looking forward to watching all of the Nightmare on Elm Street films, and I know our editor was as fascinated to put ourselves through such a physical and mental gauntlet. The second Nightmare, in fact, was in my top five favorite horror films of all time, after Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, The Shining, and The Wicker Man.
Admittedly, we found we could only take so much Freddy at a time, and I will confess we did cheat a little on our marathon. Still, here for you now are the fruits of our tireless labor, after two sittings with America’s favorite wise-crackin’ dream demon (the first: four movies back-to-back with only a 15 minute break halfway through, the second: three films, including the outrageously execrable New Nightmare that is almost twice as long as any in the series).
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
In comparison to the others, the first is the indisputable masterpiece of the series. There’s no question that after watching all seven Nightmares, not a single one comes close to the first in style, fright factor, ingenuity, direction, acting, tone and general ambiance. Commercially, the film didn’t do too shabby either, making its $2 million budget back within the first weekend, and breaking in at over five times that by the end of its theatrical run.
The only installment, aside from New Nightmare–which doesn’t really count, let’s admit it right from the get-go, people–that Wes Craven was actually involved with directly, the original Nightmare gave us more than just Freddy Krueger. It also introduced the world to a vivacious and delightfully ’80s young boy named Johnny Depp. Yes, three years before he found himself on the walls of prepubescent girls all over the country as Tommy Hanson on 21 Jump Street, Johnny was the love interest/boyfriend of Wes Craven’s little horror opus… and a whole new career was begun. Too bad that Capt. Jack Sparrow thing had to come along and ruin Johnny’s horror career.
Apparently, Craven took the name of his fiendish film friend Freddy from a bully who used to tease him in school, and designed Fred’s signature raiment–the red and green striped sweater, the Indiana Jones style hat, et al–from a homeless man who used to haunt his neighborhood. Why claws? It was Wes’ belief that to find something truly scary, something that would really get at people in a primal way, he had to go back to our primitive ancestors, to what they feared, to what we would fear by thousands of years of instinct: bears, saber-tooth tigers, beasts in the jungle and in the woods. And, there you have it: Freddy Krueger–the unholy combination of a bully, a bum and an unconscious human communal bonding–is born.
Another fun film fact: this was also the first original film produced by the ill-fated New Line Cinema. Before Wes was able to get his “little script that could” around the town for a few years of rejections to New Line, they were merely a distribution company that worked with college campuses. In fact, New Line almost went bankrupt right before and during production of Nightmare. Thanks to the series’ success, however, New Line was able to go forth, for a while. All thanks to what many in the industry refer to as “the house that Freddy built.”
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
A year hot off the tail of its predecessor, Nightmare 2 had far less going for it than its impressively bland title. It’s also as bad as the first one is good. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the only revenge that Freddy gets in this one is on the audience. Oy vey. This is by far the worst installment of the series, particularly because Freddy shows up about as much as Jason Voorhees in the original Friday the 13th (a whopping 13 minutes of 87).
Instead, what we’re subjected to is some of the worst acting you’ve ever seen by Mark Patton, the star of this fiasco, who runs around killing in the name of our dark pal. This wouldn’t be such a problem, except for the fact that–did I mention this already?–Patton has got to be the most annoying, irritating, whiny little bastard ever spewed onto the silver scene. Most of the film, you want him to just shut the fuck up and get sliced and diced by Freddy himself. One less-than-satisfying scene in which Freddy literally emerges from the skin of Patton sates our bloodlust a bit, but then Patton comes right back in next scene, ready to bitch and moan, ending up riding away to the sunset in a bright yellow school bus.
Turns out that Wes Craven himself, who never intended there to be a franchise and in fact originally opted for a happy ending to the first, refused to have anything to do with this one because he hated the notion of the protagonist being manipulated by Freddy.
Funnily enough, word round the campfire is that Patton almost took the role of Depp in the first Nightmare. Just think, Mark Patton was this close to becoming Cry Baby, Edward Scissorhands, Hunter S. Thompson, and that pirate fella. Other actors who were up for Patton’s part: Brad Pitt, Christian Slater, and John “Uncle Jesse” Stamos. Go figure.
Truly strange here–besides the needless preponderance of the color red and an outrageously dull sequence involving a boring rat–is that Mark Patton and his love interest don’t even look good. Inconsistent, wooden acting is one thing, but you’d think these kids would at least be knock-outs.
Of course, for the few scenes we’re granted Englund, all is better than bad, but it’s simply not enough. Interesting footnote here is that Mr. Englund was not the only through line continuing from the first: the original Freddy glove that was used in the first is used in this one… then it was stolen from set and never seen again. Too bad the same can’t be said for the canisters of film stock for this blunder. And by blunder, I mean awful, awful film… that, thanks to the Freddy name, still made almost $25m theatrical with a paltry $3m budget.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Well, it took ’em two years–the longest gap between Nightmare films but for New Nightmare–to come up with this one, and perhaps they should’ve spent another two. Dream Warriors may not be as bad as Revenge, but that’s no more a compliment than it is being valedictorian in summer school.
Along with a few wounds, opening up here are the careers of director Chuck Russell (The Mask, The Scorpion King, Eraser) and Patricia Arquette, who makes her cinematic debut before wading through almost ten years TV and film roles until she finally shows us all how good a bad girl can be in True Romance.
Heather Langenkamp returns as Nancy (the heroine of the first installment), and brings with her a still relatively young Larry Fishburne. Wes Craven even comes back for the party, co-writing the script with a cadre of others… including a burgeoning Frank Darabont (who would later work with Russell on the remake of The Blob before showing us all how good bad guys can be in The Shawshank Redemption).
We also get a score by David Lynch’s composer Angelo Badalamenti that sounds rather like a soft-core porn version of his haunting Twin Peaks score. Then there is Jennifer Rubin as a drugged-out teetotaler who wants nothing more than to stop having nightmares about phallic-shaped snakes. She’s joined here by the last surviving Elm Street kids, all who have undergone significant psychological trauma due to the fact that they seem to be the only characters in all the films who comprehend the gravity of everyone they know their age having turned up horribly mutilated in their beds.
Dream Warriors has a few fun-filled moments–a kid has his veins and arteries pulled out of his arms and legs and is then led around as a horrific marionette to a gruesome bell tower death, and we get here that iconic Nightmare sequence in which a hopeful actress is bashed head-first into the television she watches–but for the most part, it’s all rather dull. The film also has the least style of any of the Nightmare films; even the more surrealistic sequences involving Arquette and Freddy’s “nightmare house” run rather tepid. Nevertheless, this is the first of the series to finally unleash Freddy’s greatest weapon: those campy, hackneyed one-liners that make him the most charismatic of all teen-stalking monster killers from the 80’s. “Welcome to Prime Time, bitch!”
Oh, and we also learn in this one that Freddy grows stronger with each film because he’s now into capturing the souls of his victims.
They were still able to depend on Freddy’s growing cult to make this one a box office winner: with only two million bucks more added to the budget of the last film, this one took in nearly $50m during its theatrical run… which also ended up with a sighting of Freddy’s missing glove: on the wall of Ash’s cabin in Evil Dead II.
To Be Continued…..
by Mathew Klickstein