Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

As much as I can vividly remember watching movies at the theater when I was a young kid, I often can recall watching the movie’s trailer even more. I’ve always loved movie trailers. When shot, edited and scored correctly these mere pieces of advertising can become a work of art. Some trailers can evoke such a feeling of exhilaration that the experience stays with you long after the feature presentation is over. Many of today’s best writer/directors choose to edit their own trailers and it shows. I can remember watching the trailer for Punch-Drunk Love and found myself days later still singing Shelley Duvall’s rendition of “He Needs Me” that plays over the commercial. Or the night I screened 3:10 to Yuma which was preceded by the trailer debut of There Will Be Blood and I spent the rest of the feature damning life because I was watching Yuma and NOT Blood.

I bring up trailers for two reasons. One being that fellow editors, David and Adam and myself spent Saturday night watching a two hour plus trailer pack at our theater. Sort of our farewell to 35mm since in two weeks our place of business is going all digital and consequently making our collection of 80s and 90s trailers obsolete. And two because trailers were often my first exposure to movies I was underage to see at the time. It is the trailer for Under Siege 2: Dark Territory that led me to run home and pretend I was Steven Seagal taking down terrorists on a train. The trailer for Tombstone that led me to pretend I was Wyatt Earp (or most times Sam Elliott) strolling the Old West. Of the recent trailer pack I had chills rewatching the Independence Day trailer and being taken back to the excitement I felt of seeing it for the first time in 96.

Which brings me to tonight’s post: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.

At the age of 8 I had already seen a handful of the latter Elm Street films and always found them intense, a little creepy but rarely ever scary. I imagine it was the benefit of watching them with older audiences, like my older sister or older cousins and their friends who would make second rate Mystery Science Theater puns throughout each viewing. Even at a young age I knew that no matter how horrific the event, it was still just a movie. That is until I saw the trailer for Wes Craven’s New Nightmare in which the director’s original creation has somehow manifested itself into a real life terror. This meant that at the age of 8 I would scream “Holy shit you mean Freddy’s real!!!”

Throughout the late 80s and early 90s Wes Craven witnessed the genre he created, “the slasher film”, plummet to the depths of straight to video knockoffs and endless sequels barely resembling the presence of its original roots. In the age of Critters 3: You Are What They Eat and Scanners III: The Takeover and Puppet Masters 5: The Final Chapter it was clear that something needed to be done to save the empire that Craven had built on disembodied teenagers. Horror filmmakers needed a new way to strip and murder the innocent. In 1994 Wes Craven began the notion that would reinvigorate both his career and the genre for another decade. The plan was simple: Let the victims know they are in a horror movie. Lay out all the classic horror movie cliches in plain sight and watch as the knowing teens still meet their demise. Horror movies were now in on the joke and audiences were laughing with the movies and not at them.

A year before Craven perfected this idea with the genre busting Scream franchise, he wrote and directed the final official sequel to the Elm Street series. The plot follows Heather Langenkamp as herself who begins to suffer from nightmares similar to that of the Elm Street franchise just as production on the latest sequel gears up. Heather’s husband Chase is a prop designer on the film and in the opening sequence of the film she dreams he is being maimed by a robotic Freddy glove. Its spider-like crawl across the table being one of the images that terrified me as a kid.

Heather is invited to the set of the film by real life New Line producer Bob Shaye where she is offered the chance to reprise her role as Nancy from the original film. She declines but still arranges a meeting with director Wes Craven for information on her dreams. Craven explains to Heather that the new film he is writing has been coming to him through a series of dreams. In his script pure evil can be defeated if its essence is captured in a work of art that is able to allow evil to express itself and that the evil has taken the familiar form of Freddy. Apparently Freddy has decided to stalk Heather since she was the actress who portrayed Nancy and thus gave Nancy her power. What!!

Following the death of her husband, Heather must protect her son from Freddy and takes sleeping pills to put the two of them into a final showdown. The ending culminates into a Hansel and Gretel-like display of inserting Freddy into a lit furnace. At the age of 8 the idea of placing Freddy into the real world was quite terrifying. Watch the film now and it is a hilarious parody of the Hollywood system. Robert Englund is a tour de force in his dual role playing himself and the wretched Freddy Krueger. The great John Saxon appears playing the dual part as well and Craven seems to be having a ball letting his inner Hitchcock roam free in a portrayal of Hollywood directors. The movie doesn’t quite have the self-mockery smarts as Kevin Williamson’s script for Scream but its a nice direction toward madcap parody. Freddy’s look was also updated to resemble more of Craven’s original conception of the clawed one, attempting to make him more menacing than comical.

Though not a box-office or critical juggernaut, New Nightmare still holds as one of my personal favorites of the series and will remain the launching pad for the late 90s resurgence of slasher films and more importantly the “horror-satire”.

-John

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Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)

After the 5th Nightmare on Elm St. film, “Dream Child,” the series was beginning to feel especially long in the tooth. The plight of the Alice character played by Lisa Wilcox was beginning to feel stale, and the storyline needed a fresh plot. Despite this, for the 6th film, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (notice that whenever a film has the sub-title “final” it never is?) the original script would have called for a continuation of the 4th film and brought back characters from the 3rd, which would have made it the 4th film in that story arc. Director Rachel Talalay (1995’s Tank Girl), unhappy with the script, decided to use an entirely different one by Michael DeLuca, eschewing the cast and story of the previous sequels.

This go-round, “John Doe” (Shon Greenblatt) is a teenager with amnesia whose dreams are constantly tormented by Mr. Krueger. Curiously, Freddy seems less interested in killing John and more interested in pushing him to a specific destination. This destination is a home for “troubled teens” who have suffered from abuse and/or otherwise can’t seem to play nice with the rest of society. Counselors “Doc” (Yaphet Kotto) and Maggie (Lisa Zane) attempt to help them resolve their troubles, and “Doc” is especially found of dream therapy (no surprise there). Maggie herself has a recurring dream that she can’t quite figure out, but discovers that a newspaper clipping John has on his person has ties to parts of her dream. She decides to investigate the town mentioned in the clipping along with John, and is accompanied by stowaway teens Spencer (Breckin Meyer), Tracy (Lezlie Deane), and Carlos (Ricky Dean Logan).

They arrive in the town of Springwood and find the town bereft of children, apparently Freddy has cleaned the place out (look for Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold as childless parents “This time I swear it’ll be different. This time I’ll be careful and I’ll hide you better so that he’ll never find you!”). Here Maggie and John attempt to discover their pasts while Freddy goes to work on the stowaway teens.

Despite the change of scenery (and a cameo by original Nightmare star Johnny Depp, credited as “Oprah Noodlemantra”), Freddy’s Dead still doesn’t quite pull itself out of the deep rut that the series had dug itself into at this point. The film doesn’t bring anything new to table aside from a new story arc and characters, it’s a very “safe” film that relies on the established Freddy Krueger character and the series’ hallmark, the creative ways that Freddy eradicates his victims. The revelation towards the later half of the film that “Freddy had a kid!” isn’t a particularly believable plot point either, and that, combined with a lazy explanation for the source of Freddy’s powers (flying, evil, worm-shaped “dream demons”???), only further erodes Freddy Krueger’s viability as a scary, rather than solely humorous, character. As far as performances, Shon Greenblatt has some pretty awful dialogue, as does Lisa Zane, and it’s hard to tell if it’s a failing of the actors or just spots of terrible writing they’re given to work with. Honestly the scenes that work best are those that are less about story exposition and are more focused on the bizarreness that typically flavors a Nightmare film, which should tell you the caliber of the storyline.

In this editor’s opinion, however, this film is still relatively entertaining. It has its share of eye-rolling dialogue and wooden acting, but still has some of the charm that makes the third film enjoyable, and is less groan-inducing than the somewhat painful plotline of the 5th film, special effects nonwithstanding. The deaths, though fewer in number than most of its predecessors, are both funny and unique. Freddy’s Dead marks the last of the “traditional” Nightmare films, followed by the unconventional film-becoming-real-life New Nightmare (1994), the crossover Freddy vs Jason (2003), and the 2010 remake of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Given that Robert Englund is in his mid-sixties, and that the series has already received a gritty, “modern” remake (a critically panned one at that), it may be that we never see another “classic” Nightmare film ever again. Whether you think that’s a blessing or a curse is up to your personal taste, but with Freddy Krueger having more or less completely transitioned from legitimate slasher villain to commercial funny-guy, it may be for the best.

-Adam

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)

Allow me to introduce you to one of the most underrated directors of all time. The Jamaican-born and Australia and England raised filmmaker Stephen Hopkins was one of the greatest rising talents of the early 90’s. He had a certain style, a color scheme and camerawork that were entirely his own. His films had such a signature look that you could instantly recognize his work as his own, much in the way you view a Walter Hill or Tony Scott film and automatically feel at home in the filmmakers hands. His first two major features were follow ups to million dollar blockbusters that each performed less than stellar when compared to their predecessors and ultimately took a critical backlash. His masterpiece is a totally forgotten 90’s film and his biggest success was a disaster of a film that flushed his feature film career down the toilet. Yet he deserved so much more.

After breaking through with his Australian feature Dangerous Game in 1987, Hopkins took to the high octane world of Hollywood blockbusters. His third effort was the Schwarzenegger-less sequel Predator 2, a completely badass movie that transports the Predator from the treacherous jungles of Central America into an equally terrifying jungle: a futuristic crime-ridden Los Angeles with an elite police task force that includes Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Bill Paxton and Ruben Blades. His 1993 film Judgement Night is his masterpiece. A criminally forgotten horror/action/suspense thriller with the perfect ensemble cast (including then “new comers” Cuba Gooding Jr., Jeremy Piven and Stephen Dorff). A film that certainly deserves a post from either David or myself, both avid fans.

In 1994 and 1995 he executed two extremely entertaining action films Blown Away starring Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones and The Ghost and The Darkness with Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer. His career culminated with the 1998 adaptation of Lost in Space, a misguided sci-fi actioner that despite its box-office performance ended up one of the worst regarded films of that or any other year. His 2000 effort Under Suspicion is a seldom-seen thriller that officially lacks the style and pizzazz of his earlier efforts. Since then Hopkins has found success in television by executive producing and directing half the episodes of the first few seasons of 24. He’s also worked on Shameless and Californiacation and received worldwide acclaim with his 2004 HBO film The Life and Death of Peter Sellers. Oh yeah…in 2007 he did do that Hilary Swank horror movie called The Reaping but I’m gonna choose to ignore that.

What makes Stephen Hopkins a true talent is obvious in his first Hollywood feature, 1989’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. This is probably one of the best executed and stylized movies in the entire Elm Street series. Dream Child is a more Gothic and darker toned effort than the previous entries. In fact the films moderate box-office performance can be attributed to the darkness of the subject matter which perhaps alienated the avid slasher film fans. Certain subjects that the film approaches including abortion, teen motherhood, drinking and driving, bulimia and anorexia, can hit closer to home than a killer who stalks you in your dreams. With every extremity Hopkins hits the mark.

Picking up a year after the events of The Dream Master, we quickly find survivors Alice and Dan happily dating and free of the terrors of Freddy Kruger. All goes to hell when Alice begins having nightmares placing her in an insane asylum occupying the clothes and name tag of Amanda Krueger, Freddy’s mother. In one dream she finds herself strapped to a gurney and wheeled into a delivery room where she seems to give birth to an infant Freddy. In the real world, Alice discovers she is in fact pregnant with Dan’s child and Freddy returns to take down her lover and remaining high school friends including Greta the supermodel, Mark the comic book geek and Yvonne the nurse.

When hospitalized after a vicious attack by Freddy, Alice learns that Freddy is using her child to infiltrate her friends dreams and brutally murdering each of them. After a series of ultra cool death dream sequences including the Se7en-esque torture of Greta who is forced to eat herself to death and comic geek Mark who is turned into a paper character and cut apart, Alice begins her final quest to eliminate Freddy and save her unborn child. The climax features an M.C. Escher-like labyrinth and a powerful battle between Alice, her unborn son Jacob and two forms of Freddy, one internal and one infant.

Okay so the story for this one can be quite outlandish at times and not every plot twist or mythology expanding scenario gels together completely. However there is a master at work here that cannot be denied. Using a blue filter lighting technique, wide angle lenses and swift camera movements, Hopkins creates an incredibly surreal atmosphere. This is easily one of the most colorful and energetic of the Elm Street series. The use of blues and purples and the top-notch special effects recall Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II, Fred Dekker’s The Monster Squad or even Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop. This is also one of the few Elm Street films where the look and style of the real world is nearly as engaging as the dream world, blurring the line between fantasy and reality that much more. The nefarious Robert Englund has a joyous time chewing the scenery and delivering such playfully tongue-in-cheek, knife-in-spleen one-liners like “Faster than a bastard maniac, more powerful than a loco-madman, its…Super Freddy!” a classic play on the legendary Superman tagline.

When us editors decided on which Elm Street films to post on, I chose my personal favorite next to the original and Dream Warriors: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare from 1994. However I am extremely happy that I also had the opportunity to take on the lesser known of the series, simply because it has the best director attached to it. Stephen Hopkins is the man and his visual style and personal stamp on franchises is classic 80’s/90’s cinema. His work in horror in particular is quite edgy and way ahead of its time. For proof look no further than this truly underrated installment in the Elm Street franchise, as well as his incredible episodes of Tales from the Crypt.

-John

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)

I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable horror movie veteran, but if there is a chink in that armor it is the Elm Street series of films. I devour mainstream, foreign & indy horror alike, but I’ve never seen any of the first six Freddy movies. When it was suggested that we do a Nightmare week here I decided it was a good chance to watch them all in succession, a task which I am still in the middle of completing. Ignorant of any quality regarding the sequels, I went with A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Master. After watching the first three films, the third being my favorite of the lot up to this point, I was hopeful that the fourth installment would continue what the third film achieved in regards to imaginative deaths, makeup effects and set pieces. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that I was in deep shit without a shovel in sight.

Dream Master starts very promising and disappointing at the same time. For the first time in the series, we get a straight forward continuation of the story from where Part 3 ended. Sadly, Patricia Arquette is nowhere to be seen, yet her character, Kristen Parker, is now portrayed by Tuesday Knight (I can hear her parents snickering to this day). Arquette was pregnant when the film was scheduled to shoot and from how things turned out, it looks like they should have waited for her. Knight is a huge step down in talent, but she gets by on her looks more than her acting here. Knight is joined by a couple of returning warriors from Part 3 Kincaid (Ken Sagoes) & Joey (Rodney Eastman). Kristen is convinced that Freddy is still out there waiting for her in her dreams and tries to convince Kincaid & Joey that he isn’t gone. Well this wouldn’t be much of a movie if Freddy wasn’t in it, so obviously he gonna show up sooner or later (scope the horror movie knowledge there). When he does, he’s back at it trying to collect the souls that he missed out on before. Eventually the torch is passed to Alice (Lisa Wilcox) to stop Freddy when Kristen imbues Alice with her gift of being able to draw people into her dream. Alice’s brother and self-taught karate expert (seriously), Rick (Andras Jones) does his best to help defeat Freddy with his sick martial arts skills in an epic Rick vs. nobody fight (because Freddy’s invisible). This looked retarded when I watched it, and it sounds even worse when I’m writing this.

The remainder of the film is quite possibly the most commercial heavy piece of horror schlock I’ve ever seen in my life. Wes Craven had almost nothing to do with this film, and it showed. Directing duties fell on up and coming filmmaker Renny Harlin. Harlin has made a few solid action films (Die Hard 2 & Cliffhanger), but most of his work seems to fall into the steaming cinematic turd category. In Dream Master we are subjected to a sellout to end all sellouts. Now don’t get me twisted, I love a good one-liner. Some of my favorite actors are known for them, but when your entire speaking performance in a film is one-liners they better be fucking great. Me personally, I don’t think that Freddy using AT&T’s slogan at the time “reach out and touch someone” was fucking great. I think it was fucking lazy. It felt like this entire production was streamlined by the film studio and corporations out to make a quick buck on the immensely popular horror franchise. Pepsi, I’m looking at you. By the end of the film I really thought Freddy was going to sit down, drink a Pepsi, look at the camera and say “AHHHHH, Pepsi! The choice of a new generation. Bitch!” All of this made Freddy Krueger, one of  Hollywood’s ultimate boogeymen, into a cornball. I know that it’s all about making money at the end of the day, but compromising this much creative integrity to increase your bottom line sickens me. Giving Freddy a twisted sense of humor is perfect given his grotesque nature, but infusing it with pop culture was a huge mistake. I’d like to think of Freddy Krueger as the monster who would slice off his own fingers just to freak you out, not featured in a rap song by The Fat Boys in the end credits. Shark, consider yourself jumped.

 

-Wes

A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)

With the success of 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (a success that rescued New Line Cinema from the edge of bankruptcy, and was the company’s first commercial success), it was inevitable that a sequel was going to be produced, even though Wes Craven voiced his opposition to the idea. New Line handed direction to Jack Sholder, and writing duties to David Chaskin, due to Wes Craven’s unwillingness to work on the film. The resulting sequel, which narrowly avoided having someone else cast as the infamous Freddy Krueger*, grossed nearly twice as much as its predecessor, further cementing the Nightmare franchise as a bankable commodity.

But sequels, especially those taken from the hands of their original creators, have a tendency to be unable to live up to expectations; even more so if the preceding film was especially well-received. Does A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 break this trend?

This time around, Freddy Krueger is seeking to return to the realm of the living, by taking over the body of Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton), who has just moved into a familiar house in Springwood. Jesse has a hard time adjusting, between the heckling he receives from the school bully Grady (Robert Rusler), awkwardly attempting to foster a budding romance with his friend Lisa (Kim Meyers), and having his dreams tormented by Freddy, he begins to slowly lose his mind. After he has a “dream” in which he is taken from an S&M bar by his gym teacher to the school’s gymnasium and said teacher is killed by Freddy, he discovers that the murder actually has happened, and it is apparent that Freddy is gaining control of his body. With the help of Lisa and an old diary he finds in his house, he attempts to fight back against the ever-looming threat of losing himself.

Though A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 has several memorable scenes mostly owing to special effects that were impressive at the time (some examples include an exploding parakeet, Jesse’s tongue extending and gaining a life of it’s own, Freddy tearing his way out of Jesse’s body in one sequence, an eye in the back of Jesse’s throat, a pool party gone horribly wrong when Freddy arrives and begins causing havoc, and human-faced dogs guarding a gateway), it fails to deliver the same kind of impact that the original had. By making Freddy a run-of-the-mill slasher through taking over Jesse, the unique “dream-killing” aspect is taken away. All that is left is Freddy’s dark sense of humor, which, at this point in the franchise, is still underplayed, especially since Freddy is given a meager 13 minutes of screen time. And, although I didn’t notice it the first time I watched the film, writer David Chaskin says he deliberately wrote in homoerotic undertones throughout the film, which, as far as I can tell, serve no apparent purpose aside from being laughably bizarre and somewhat out of place with the tone of the rest of the film. Perhaps one of the worst parts of the film is that the ending is somewhat trite and unremarkable, and simply feels underwhelming given what precedes it.

As for the acting, Mark Patton handles the role of Jesse in a sort of shrill, hammy-in-a-bad-way manner that is more irritating than something to empathize with, and unfortunately the rest of the cast either doesn’t impress or simply gives a passable performance, save a humorous display by Clu Gulager as Jesse’s father and of course Robert Englund continuing in the role that he’s still the most famous for.

Despite its commercial success, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 is really the point at which the franchise stumbles and is trying to find its legs. It hits its stride in the following film A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (1987) and its somewhat formulaic sequels that establish Freddy’s personality and his unique methods of teenager disposal as the series’ real draw. Simply put, this is a rather weak offering for a Nightmare on Elm Street film that suffers for its attempt to go in new directions, which, though admirable in spirit, ultimately misses the point.

-Adam

*Initially, New Line refused to give Robert Englund the pay raise he requested to return as Freddy Krueger, but after the extra cast to play the role failed to meet expectations, producer Robert Shaye agreed to Englund’s requests.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

For many years slasher films have become a huge staple in the horror film industry.  Some people site their invention as early as 1932 with the film Thirteen Women, while others look towards the 1960 classic Peeping Tom, but it wasn’t until the late 70’s and early 80’s that the genre really started to evolve, and take off.  While many classics lurk in the bowers of what some call a misogynistic or exploitative category, there are three names that often rise above any other; Vorhees, Meyers, and Krueger.

In 1984 Wes Craven terrorized audiences the world over with the beginning of what was to be a long, successful series he titled A Nightmare on Elm Street.  The graphic special effects and nonadherence to the formulaic plot standards of the sub-genre were unlike anything audiences had ever seen.  Initially performing on a limited theatrical release, the film skyrocketed to success and gave way to seven sequels, a 2003 crossover that sees Krueger alongside Camp Crystal Lake madman Jason Vorhees, a 2010 reboot with director Samuel Bayer at the helm, as well as a whole galaxy of comic books, video games, novelizations, and television appearances.  Hardly a man, woman or child would draw a blank upon the mention of Fred Krueger.

Heather Langenkamp, a Hollywood unknown at the time, starred as Nancy Thompson, a high school teenager in the throes of sleep deprivation.  Nancy and her friends (which included Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri, and a young Johnny Depp), begin to realize a frightening similarity in their dreams.  Each one is repeatedly haunted at night by a horribly burned man, with knives on his fingers, dressed in the dingiest Christmas sweater anyone has ever seen.  After several stylized deaths befall sleeping teenagers, startling revelations begin to surface about a child murderer who brought the hammer of vengeance down from the parents of Elm Street.  These concerned citizens decided to give the finger to our judicial system, and instead burned the man alive as punishment for his transgressions.  Nancy seems to be the only one hell-bent on stopping these mysterious murders, she takes it upon herself to put an end to Krueger by going “Home Alone” on his ass.

Robert Englund takes on the Freddy Krueger persona, a role which launched him into fame, and horror film history.  As opposed to most of the tight lipped psychos that were taking over the genre en masse, in films like Terror Train, Prom Night, Friday the 13th, and Halloween, Englund brought to the screen a murderer who had so many witty/vulgar quips under his hat, that audiences didn’t know whether to laugh or recoil in fear.  While later installments began to focus more on Krueger as a kind of psycho-comedian, the initial introduction or the character terrified audiences to a degree that the majority of Krueger’s peers at the time could not.

Craven found inspiration for his newest foray into the genre in a story he pulled from a newspaper article in the LA Times.  The article told the story of Cambodian refugees who had fled to the United States.  They began to experience horrifying nightmares, causing a refusal to sleep, and soon after several of the men died in their sleep.  Scientists began to refer to the strange occurrences as Asian Death Syndrome, for which they could provide no explanation as to the cause of death.  Coupling these events with elements of his own childhood, Craven produced a script that he shopped around to several different studios, before arriving at the then independent New Line Studios, who decided to release the film even though they were on the verge of bankruptcy at the time.  The box office success of A Nightmare on Elm Street single handedly saved New Line Cinema, and did so with flying colors.  The film is excellent and is executed almost flawlessly, even down to its tagline, “If Nancy doesn’t wake up screaming, she won’t wake up at all…”  Starting out on a very limited release of only 165 theaters nationwide, the film soon rocketed into popularity mostly through limited advertising and word-of-mouth.

A Nightmare on Elm Street relies on many great elements to present a truly shocking story.  Craven brilliantly attacked what at the time seemed to be the most innocent of places…the suburbs.  Grotesque murders, supplemented by the dark secret of the parents of Elm Street, give the audience an uneasy sense that despite the innocent exterior of the modern American suburb, something sinister can always lie beneath.  Viewers are left with a feeling that the fictional town of Springwood, Ohio, could just as well be their own corner of the world, and their own parents could be hiding a secret just as dark.  The film also incorporates the age old horror theme of the loss of innocence.  On this element Nightmare does very little to take the industry further, but due to the stylized way this theme is presented, it is little to no bother that most of us have seen this subtext played out for years.

The special effects are especially well done, considering the minimal budget the crew was working on.  Working with a modest filming budget of only 1.8 million dollars, the filmmakers gave audiences a show that seemed to be lacking from many of the slasher films of that time.  Any fan of the genre loves seeing Jason or Michael with a machete or butcher’s knife, respectively, but no one at the time expected to see a geyser of blood skyrocket through a hole in the bed, with no killer in sight.  Other highlights include a half-naked teenager being drug up the wall and onto the ceiling above her helpless boyfriend and being torn to shreds, the film’s heroine unwittingly having the infamous Freddy glove rising up between her legs while she’s sleeping in the bath tub, or Langenkamp attempting to walk up a set of stairs that begin to suck her in.

Not only does Craven strive to bring audiences some of the best gore, and in your face horror of the time, he also builds some good suspense.  There is, of course, plenty of the age old horror cliché of teenagers walking around in empty houses, which most of us have grown so accustomed to that we feel the need to get up and go to the fridge during these moments, but Nightmare adds a little something extra.  Most memorable being the small children jump roping and singing the song that would become a staple for the franchise, “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you.  Three, four, better lock your door.  Five, six, grab your crucifix.  Seven, eight, gonna stay up late.  Nine, ten, never sleep again.”  Nothing quite captures a sense of dread quite like children, and of course it’s only an added bonus if they are singing.  Admittedly this is a device that is grossly overused by today’s standards, but at the time Nightmare was made, not every horror film maker was as subject to as much conformity as we see today.

While the good name of A Nightmare on Elm Street may have been slightly tarnished over the years by a slew of sequels, cartoons, and daytime television appearances by Fred Krueger himself, the original will always hold a special place in the hearts of all horror fans, and regardless of what some overly critical people might say, it’s a good movie.  One of Craven’s true masterpieces, and the madman associated with it, will continue to live on as a cornerstone of pop culture, not just for horror fans, but everyone.  So stop complaining, and embrace it…bitch.

-Matt

Matt Oakley is a journalist and investigator of the unexplained.  He has written articles for the Politomatic & Culture of Spirits Blogs, as well as Intrepid Magazine, and made appearances on several radio programs.  Oakley currently writes, and is a radio personality for www.gralienreport.com and its sister radio show and podcast The Gralien Report.

Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Unbelievably, we are already in the home stretch of 2012, a majority of films have already come out, and the whittling down process of making a year-end, best films list has begun. All things considered, it’s been a decent year at the movies, and with the slate of films still unreleased it could conceivably push up to, and hopefully past, the great standard. What has made this year unique—at least for me—is that the two best films of the year were released in the early part of it, the time that is primarily known as a dumping ground for films that studios don’t know how to handle (The Grey), or, for the most part, a cinematic abomination (One for the Money). As you might well have guessed, in my somewhat humble estimation, Cabin in the Woods is, indeed, one of these films I speak of, as it successfully presents itself as THE smart horror film of the year and also the most exhilarating ride I’ve gone on at the cinema all year. I held off in posting on it upon my first viewing for two reasons:

  1. It’s a perfect movie to start off my series of posts on the horror/suspense genre and to kick off our celebration of the month of October and Halloween. Duh.
  2. I rarely respond to a film in a 100% positive nature. Therefore, I needed to view it a couple of more times (3 watches and counting) before issuing a declarative statement like the following:

 AS OF NOW, CABIN IN THE WOODS IS THE BEST FILM OF THE YEAR.

There. I said it. Commence stone throwing now, if you wish.

What is even more unbelievable is that Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s meta horror/comedy took an eternity to see the light of day as MGM shelved the movie—despite a positive reception at a test screening—in the hopes of needlessly converting it into a movie sporting the THIRD DIMENSION, a move that the creative team rightly disagreed with. Then there was a pesky regime shakeup and the projects belonging to the old suits got shelved in favor for the projects of the new suits. Idiots. The end result was an excellent movie languishing in MGM’s basement until they finally saw fit to hand off the rights for distribution to Lionsgate. All we horror fans could do was wait; wait and hope that the word leaked onto the Internet about that mythical screening was true, that Goddard and Whedon had indeed crafted an intelligent horror flick, one that was superior to 99% of all the other recent genre offerings, and that they had somehow managed to enliven the horror film by introducing a few new creative twists to a type of photoplay that often gets weighed down by the inertia of a cookie-cutter thought process.

First and foremost, Cabin in the Woods is an insanely entertaining movie that enjoys playing with the audience’s collective memory of horror movie troupes, which essentially demands that you see it in a packed movie house (if you didn’t get the opportunity, cue the sad trombone noise in your head now), or, as your second-best option, with as many like-minded friends as possible, with a good sound system, some suds, and a rather large TV, the monolith of our times. Simply put, it is lively, it is thrilling, and it is intelligent. Sadly, its nigh impossible to talk about without giving away its twists, turns, and secrets, as the film starts to dole those out from the opening minutes, creating an elegant, slow drip of information, giving up its pleasures to the audience little by little.

The setup for Cabin couldn’t be more elementary. Five well-known college-kid types meet up, jump into a motorhome, and head off together for a weekend vacation in the remotely located structure that gives the film its namesake. Along for the ride are Dana, the sensitive one; her sexed-up friend Jules; her athletic, handsome boyfriend Curt (Chris Hemsworth); the equally handsome but somewhat scholarly Holden; and everyone’s favorite character, Marty, the stoner who may not be as stupid or burnt out as he appears. With their liquor and enormous bong in tow, the vacationers set out, survive an unsettling (aren’t they always?) encounter with a redneck local, and then begin to explore their destination and all its unsettling, unusual décor, like a sadistic painting that hides an ominous 2-way mirror. Unfettered by their findings, they decide to play a round of Truth or Dare, which ultimately leads them to a basement full of worrisome objects, one of which happens to be the diary of Patience Buckner, the first resident of the cabin, whose entire family was brutally murdered by her deranged, pioneer father. By reading the words contained in the dust-covered diary, the reanimated corpses of the Buckner clan spring forth from the ground in a rather disconcerting, blood-thirsty mood, once again proving that nothing good ever comes from reading a young girl’s innermost thoughts out loud to your friends on the sly.

This is story B. Story A, which is moving along at the same time as the one above, follows Steve (Richard Jenkins) and Richard (Bradley Whitford), two guys who appear to be starting in on a fairly innocuous workday at some sort of military base or defense command center. You know, short-sleeve dress shirts and name badges, boilerplate stuff like that. These two gentlemen are boring and mundane, just like the conversations they partake in while getting their morning coffee, and we have no idea how they connect to the young, carefree, and sexed-up college students in story B. And therein lies the fun of the piece.

What Whedon and Goddard have done with Cabin in the Woods is create a world in which all the illogical and archetypal behaviors and characters inherent in offerings from the horror genre are framed in a light that begins to make real-world sense. There is always a reason for how things play out, and it’s not just because these people are obtuse. For me, this is the greatest pleasure in a film full of them, how it takes great joy in running down the checklist of horror clichés, subverting each one, much like Scream did 16 years ago but with the wink-wink, nudge-nudge, elbow to the solar plexus nature of Craven and Williamson’s work surgically removed, instead opting for a tone that is less self-conscious. If this is all the film had on its mind to do, it would still be fun, but the hard left turn it takes in the third act helps the movie go from good to utterly fantastic and provides at least 3 moments that I still can’t believe I witnessed projected onto a movie screen.

Some have argued that the ending is rather nihilistic, which is true. While I can’t claim to be the most avid of Whedon followers, I do know enough about his work to say that the ending isn’t one that seems out of place, and I would argue that in the work of his I have viewed, he’s certainly laid the groundwork for an ending of this nature. Jenkins and Whitford are outstanding (and hilarious) as they embody characters that seem to be avatars for the creative duo. They know the audience wants heaping doses of carnage in their cinematic diet—even if they don’t—and they’re here to give it to them. The fact that their film does all this with a wicked sense of humor, remain endlessly inventive while paying homage to the films that inspired it, and succeeding in coming up with a shot that somehow managed to act as a summation of all the things that brought me fits of terror at night when I was a child, is a rather impressive feat indeed, one that makes me happy on a truly pure level.

-David