Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, January 03, 2014

Beginning the Year of Freddy Fear with the original Nightmare on Elm Street

Welcome to my yearlong look at the Nightmare on Elm Street film franchise,in celebration of the first movie in that scary series,A Nightmare On Elm Street,having it's 30th anniversary in 2014.

While that film was actually released in November of 1984, I thought it would be best to get the show started with the one that started it all. I didn't see NOES in theaters back then but do remember watching it with my dad on VHS(back in ye olde days of home video) and we both really enjoyed. Horror in general was a genre that was introduced to me early on,with repeated viewings of Boris Karloff films and scarier stuff as I got older.

What my father and I quickly responded to in this film was the initial concept of being literally haunted by your dreams. That creative element alone set the movie apart from most of the slasher fare that dominated the eighties horror scene.

 Earlier that same year,the dreams as real life menace notion was played out in a sci-fi film called Dreamscape(starring Dennis Quad and it's a pretty good movie) and even years later in 2000's The Cell but those involved technology and psychic ability while Freddy Krueger was strictly a dream demon out for revenge against the wrathful parents who delivered some fiery street justice to this twisted child killer.

By having those potential young victims being hunted down as teenagers,the indirect motive for their deaths was placed squarely in the "paying for the sins of the elders" category rather than the typical Friday the 13th mode of "sex,drugs and drink" punishment mode. Not to mention that sleep is one of the few safe havens against the harshness of life and something that for most people is truly unavoidable,whether it's at home in bed or dozing off during class.  

The chilling cherry on top of this scary sleepy time sundae is that jump rope song where kids sing out their doom with "one...two...Freddy's coming for you..."(I think you know the rest of the words). That image of chanting children has become as iconic to this film and it's follow-ups as much as Freddy's finger knives glove and almost as creepy as those two twin girls from The Shining:

Equally as iconic is Nancy(Heather Langenkamp), the first of many female protagonists to defeat the Krueger boogeyman.

 While she was not the only "final girl " in horror cinema of that time to destroy her would-be destroyer, Nancy made several leaps and bounds over the other ladies by being willing to accept what was happening and using her brain power to save the day(night in this case).

I'm sure some people can see her as an early example of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer heroine but in my mind, she's more of a Veronica Mars. Let's look at these connecting facts: both have bonds with a police officer father, a flighty mother, a girl friend who dies under mysterious circumstances, another friend accused of a crime he didn't commit and who needs his name cleared and each one recruits a male partner into helping her trap the real murderer.

 Add in both gals live in towns with honking big secrets to keep and share a flair for setting up gadgets and you have a solid sisterhood of the terrified pants here:

Of course,the ultimate draw of this film and the others to come was Freddy himself. Actor Robert Englund set quite the high bar for this character,who starts out as a brutal beast with a sick sense of humor but is not the sinister quipster that many fans came to know during his sequel years.

The 2010 remake of NOES(which I will NOT be including in this retrospective) tried to tap into that first fearsome incarnation of Freddy but despite the best efforts of Jackie Earle Haley(a good choice,I do admit), that uneven and overwrought retread just couldn't match the low budget chills that  made the dream stalking sequences of the original film so intensely thrilling.

 Writer/director Wes Craven made excellent use of the shadows and lighting,along with the special effects at his disposal, to enhance the vicious nature of Freddy's nocturnal assaults. Having such a capable performer to bring his imaginary monster to cinematic life was an extra special bonus there:

The only truly awkward moment is the ending,which was a source of contention between Wes Craven and the folks at New Line Cinema. Three different finales were shot and audience tested,with varying reception and the end result was a combination of all three stitched together.

Since Craven never intended for this film to launch a franchise, he wound up making peace with the much labored ending but didn't return to the NOES films until the third movie and as we will see in the second movie,there was a major difference in f/x and plot focus. Nevertheless, A Nightmare on Elm Street turned into a box office dream come true and a new movie monster was born:

Altho my dad didn't continue being a Nightmare on Elm Street fan, I happily took up that menacing mantle(yes, I do own a Freddy glove and even dressed up as Krueger one Halloween) and still a fan to this day.

My father passed several years ago but the memories of watching the original NOES with him are pleasant to recall and I'd like to think he might have gotten a kick out of Freddy Vs. Jason,which will be last film covered in my series.

Along with the eight NOES films,other fear fare starring Robert Englund will be spotlighted in my Year of Freddy Fear and next month has Valentine's Day,so for a gruesomely romantic treat, I'll be looking at Englund's turn as Phantom of the Opera in 1989 where he makes some murderous music of the night.

 Hope this first look into the beginnings of Freddy mania doesn't give you any bad dreams but instead, awakens an appreciation of the gritty genius of that frightening film:


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