Every Town Has an Elm Street part 7 (Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, 1994)

wes-cravens-new-nightmare-movie-poster-1994-1020399753So…Freddy’s Dead ended the franchise on a disappointing and sour note.  Three years later, Freddy was back.

Sort of.  As far as Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is concerned?  It is outside the continuity of the six films that came before it.  Wes Craven crafted a clever horror film with thrills and also a philosophically challenging work of Meta fiction.  What does horror do to the people who create it?  How does it impact the people who watch it?  What separates the real from the fantasy?  Wes Craven returned to make a horror film to make you think.

I must admit that I just cannot take the snarky tone I did for the other sequels.  I really want to avoid spoilers as well, because of the entire series, this is the most clever and really worth giving a watch.

When New Line brought Wes back as writer and director, they did not stand in his way, and with clear reason.  What Craven delivered was intelligent, scary, chilling and exciting.  The film opens to reveal there is a new Nightmare film being made.  Heather Langenkamp (as herself) is not initially aware of it, because her special effects man husband has kept it hush-hush.  Heather is invited on a talk show where she meets up with Bob Shaye (former head of New Line, again playing himself) who tries to sell her on coming back to the role of Nancy.  She declines, but starts to find her world seemingly encroached upon by Freddy.  And it seems to be impacting her young son.

Craven explains that the original series tapped into an ancient evil.  It’s an evil that is kept at bay by being the inspiration in stories.  Apparently, it became very attached to Freddy, and the only way to cage the beast is for Craven to tell a new story.  He explains it much better in the film.  Heather finds herself going head to head with the Freddy monster (who is more beefed up and ominous than in pervious films-his claw is a boney extension-resembling the movie posters of earlier Elm Street films- and he wears a flowing trench coat) in several confrontations that culminate with a final battle in Freddy’s lair (which is a fantastic looking set).

Part of what works so well is that most of the cast is playing themselves (Langenkamp’s husband and son are fictional and portrayed by David Newsom and Miko Hughes-you might recognize him as the creepy little kid in Pet Cemetary).  Some are even duel roles (Robert Englund plays himself and Krueger, John Saxon plays himself and Don Thompson from the first and third films).  The effects are really nicely done, as is the set design.  Well worth renting.  Heck, Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars.

Every Town Has an Elm Street Part 3 (A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors, 1987)

nightmare_on_elm_street_3_posterNow let us take a look at the third Elm Street Film.  The Dream Warriors is easily one of the best of the series and one of the best loved.  Dream Warriors deftly handles horror, fantasy, action and comedy in one solid package.  Not entirely surprising, the cooks include Wes Craven, Frank Darabont  (writer of Shawshank Redemption, Green Mile) and Chuck Russell (who also directed, he is primarily known for directing the Jim Carrey film the Mask).

It’s a pretty effective story.  The last remaining Elm Street kids have been institutionalized, suffering from horrific nightmares.  No one seems to know what to do, because, again, in horror movies?  Adults are dumb and do not listen to anyone.  They presume the kids are really just, you know, suicidal.  Because suicidal people always claim a guy is stalking them in thei9r dreams and trying to kill them.  And they tend to do so en mass.

But these kids are lucky, you see, Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) is back to save the franch-uh-  I mean, the kids.  She, with help from Dr. Neil (Craig Wasson, of Ghost Story, Body Double and most recently, Sasquatch Mountain), work against an uncaring world to save the kids.   They do not of course, because frankly, that would be a boring horror movie.  Instead, Freddy kills a few of the kids rather creatively.  Nancy discovers that young Kristen (played by young Patricia Arquette) can pull people into her dreams.  This manages to give the surviving kids an edge.

Nancy and the kids manage to fight back against Freddy, while Dr. Neil meets a mysterious nun who conveniently knows a lot about Fred Krueger.  We also see the return of Nancy’s pop, Donald (John Saxon).

At Nancy’s funeral, a heartbroken Dr. Neil receives another visit from mysterious old nun woman.  Dr. Neil follows her through the cemetary, where she disappears…but then Doctor Neil sees a headstone…the nun was the ghost of Amanda Krueger-FREDDY’S MOTHER!!!!

This film is notable for many reasons.  For instance, this film introduced the concept of the “dream power”, in which kids have a unique power-usually based in their self image- which they can use to fight Freddy.  The fourth and fifth films fail to put this to good use though.  It also introduces the back story for Freddy that he was the “Bastard Son of 100 Maniacs”.  His mother was a young nun who worked in an asylum and was locked up for a weekend with 100 depraved maniacs who raped her.

The film also introduced far more elaborate dream sequences.  The first two films had dream sequences that challenged you to figure out whether the character was asleep or awake.  In the Dream Warriors, the dreams are more fantasy adventures.  This is easily one of the top three films of the franchise, and worth watching, it is not scary, but it is full of adventure, fun, solid effects ( a very nice stop motion fight is reminiscent of Harryhausen) and pretty nicely played.

However, the film is also guilty of starting the film down the path the series took that bothered so many fans, specifically, Freddy the Comedian.  This is the film that gave us the line, “Welcome to Prime Time, Bitch!!!”  And while it works in this film, it clearly took the character down a road of self mockery.  So, in spite of the snark, I really do recommend this as a entertaining film to watch.

Every Town Has an Elm Street Part 1 (A Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984)

In 1972, college professor turned aspiring film maker Wes Craven produced the low budget horror film Last House on the Left to some small success, in 1977, he got more horror cred with the survival flick the Hills Have Eyes.  After that it was a string of mostly forgettable TV movies and the like.  But in 1983 or so, Craven hit paydirt.

a-nightmare-on-elm-street-posterHe met with Bob Shaye of the indie studio New Line Cinema.  There he pitched the idea that would put New Line on the map.  Craven told Shaye about the idea of a killer who hunts kids in their dreams…and if you die in your dream, you die in real life.  Based on a series of news stories Craven had read, in which people had told loved ones of terrifying nightmare they were having, and then died in their sleep (all involved young people, in at least one case, the kid secretly went days without sleep, hiding coffee in his room).

Shaye saw the potential there and green lit the project.  What came about is one of the most memorable icons of 80’s horror.  Named after a childhood bully, Craven created Fred Krueger, a child murderer who got freed on a technicality and then was killed by the parents of Elm Street.

Years later, high school student Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) and her friends find their dreams haunted by a creepy man in a green and red sweater, oblivious to the fact that their parents murdered Kruger years before.  And, of course,  the parents would prefer to keep it that way.  Nancy’s mother (Ronee Blakely) is a fall down drunk, estranged from Nancy’s police lieutenant father (John Saxon) who is determined to keep the truth from coming out.  But the sins of the parents are threatening the lives of the youth in this story.  And the parents do not want to face the truth (hey, it is a horror film, parents never believe the kids).

As Nancy’s friends start dying, the police right them off as murders and suicides, but Nancy knows better.  She starts trying to fight the need for sleep, and manages to avoid Freddy’s claws.  But her mother is certain her daughter is just going crazy, while her father sticks to what he can see and is unwilling to accept his daughter’s claims.

In fact, truthfully, the greatest threat to Nancy is her parent’s unwillingness to listen to her.  In that regard, the film becomes, at times, unbearably preachy.  But ultimately, Nancy stands up to Freddy, apparently defeating him at his own game.

Overall, the original Nightmare On Elm Street holds up quite well.  Freddy was not yet as campy, and Robert Englund plays him with a real grim vibe.  Freddy’s voice is a guttural, throaty growl that is immensely threatening.  The first reveal of Freddy walking down an alley with distended arms, scraping his claws along garages is hauntingly creepy.  The practical effects and make up still are effective.  The music is one of the few things that really does not hold up over the years.  Those synthesizer based soundtracks rarely do.  One exception is that the main theme is pretty creepy.  The thing that truly risks ruining the movie though? The final scene is clearly tacked on for sequel possibilities and it really makes no sense.  Wes Craven has disowned that ending that was forcd on his work.  Producers should trust their directors.

But overall, this remains a solid effort, even if it is somewhat tainted by a slew of much lesser sequels (though there are a couple worth catching).

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