I know most men when they have a son dream of teaching them how to throw a curve ball in the backyard, showing them the finer points of deer hunting, casting the perfect line on a crystal clear lake at dawn, or standing teary-eyed in the bleachers as their boy throws the winning touchdown pass thinking, “That’s my boy.” Well, none of those things ever even remotely crossed my mind. I’m not a hunter, I don’t fish, and I’m not into sports(unless drunken badminton counts.) No, my son was blessed with a dad that played with action figures till he was 12. When those were shelved(neatly in their original packaging in my closet) I traded them for a guitar. From that point on it was music, horror films, Woody Allen, and Stephen King.
So what does a guy like me have to teach his son? Well, there are the basics of life: manners, empathy, riding a bike, right and wrong, etc, etc. But then as he gets older we get into the meat and potatoes(or blood and guts) of horror movies. Right off the bat I’ll say that my kids have always watched more mature content than most kids. In my worldview, if you teach your children young about reality and fantasy and that what you see on TV isn’t real then you can trust their brains to figure things out. You can trust that watching The Simpsons at 5-years old isn’t going to turn them into serial killers. Or worse, politicians. Plus, this means we can spend TV time watching something I want to watch as well. Win win.
My son and I’s horror journey began three summers ago when we began watching all of the Friday the 13th films. Sure, he was 11. I was 10 when I started watching horror. First movie we rented in 1984 was Creepshow. It scared the hell out of me, in all the right ways. The boy and I had already been dabbling in horror films on Netflix, but I felt it was time for him to jump into some franchises. After watching the first four he didn’t suddenly turn inwards and start killing birds outside. He saw them for what they were, fun and ridiculous(and Part 4 was our favorite, btw.)
It had been a long time coming, but I’d decided it was time to dig into Freddy Krueger. I snagged a DVD box set on the cheap(which included Freddy VS Jason and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.) We still have Part 6: Freddy’s Dead and Freddy VS Jason to watch, but I’ll talk about what we have watched.
Nightmare On Elm Street
The original, straight from the mind of the master himself Wes Craven. There will never be another horror film like this. The concept is solid from the the get-go. If you die in your sleep you die in real life. Boy, isn’t that one way to make bedtime an even more difficult task. Craven had read an article about kids dying in their sleep in another country, which led to his idea for the film. Put the story into a quaint, Midwestern location like Springwood, Ohio and involve normal, everyday horny teens just trying to make it thru another day of classes and it becomes instantly relatable. Of course make sure the parents are distant enough to never truly believe the horrors their kids are telling them about and you have a recipe for mayhem.
The first film even today, after 35 years, still holds up. It has that gritty, independent feel to it. All the “teens” in the film are believable. Their acting isn’t the run-of-the-mill horror stuff. Heather Langenkamp did a great job as Nancy Thompson, the troubled teen whose parents hid a dark secret that came back to haunt her. Robert Englund created the perfect horror villain here, too. There was a bit of gallow’s humor thrown into his Freddy Krueger, but for the most part he was menacing and really changed the way a horror movie monster could act.
I hadn’t watched the original in years, so revisiting it I was pleasantly surprised by how well it still holds up and hangs on to its general creepiness. Just an absolute classic in the genre that can’t be touched.
Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2 : Freddy’s Revenge
If you’ve watched the four hour doc Never Sleep Again, then you know the story behind this quickly slapped together sequel. If you haven’t seen Never Sleep Again, you must seek it out. I feel its as essential a piece as watching one of the movies itself.
Anyways, Freddy’s Revenge.
If there ever was a perfect example of a movie company trying to ride the coattails of a surprise cult hit, then this was it. We move to a new house on Elm Street with another unsuspecting teen having nightmares with Freddy in them. It’s the usual schtick, the teen having nightmares about Freddy trying to kill him. Of course no one believes him so he just comes comes across as insane. The teen Jesse was played by Mark Patton. There are things you find out about this film in the documentary Never Sleep Again that makes the film as a whole make more sense. Going in blind, there’s just too much bizarre behavior and WTF moments to give this film any kind of kudos. One of the differences here is that Freddy is trying to take over Jesse’s body, so there are some transformation scenes that are, well, odd. And one death scene in-particular could’ve been taking from the some cut scene in Friedken’s Cruising. All in all, money grab 101.
Editor’s Note: One more time, if you haven’t watched Never Sleep Again, do so. Then go back and watch(or re-watch) Freddy’s Revenge. It’s much more enjoyable with context.
Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
Of all the films, Dream Warriors probably impressed me the most in regards to production values. This thing looks great. It’s high concept, and has some of the best dream sequences. It stands out as an outlier I think because Craven came back and helped develop the story. Chuck Russel is a solid director, too. As far as the story goes, it’s engaging as it follows our heroine Nancy Thompson from the original to an institution for troubled teens. She counsels them, but is also secretly training them to battle Freddy in their dreams. The cast of misfits is pretty well-balanced, with the quiet quiet girl, the artsy kid, the nerdy D&D kid, the tough kid, and of course the mute. It’s almost like some R-Rated version of Goonies, except with nudity and gore. A young Patricia Arquette does a great job as Kristen Parker. She’s misunderstood at home by her overbearing mother(who apparently doesn’t understand what suicidal ideations are.) Englund continues to turn Freddy into more of a vaudeville performer as opposed to a child murderer.
I enjoy Englund’s work in all of these movies, but I think what he did backfired at some point and these movies just weren’t scary anymore. They just turned into more like Groundhog Day exercises in repetition. I think we got the best of both worlds with Dream Warriors. From here, things went downhill quick.
Nightmare On Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master
Man, I remember seeing this one in theaters(along with the previous two), but I didn’t remember how bad it was. There were some inventive kills and some great practical effects moments, but overall this was pretty much garbage. Flat acting, stupid teens, some fun set pieces, and Englund hamming it up making his one-liners the best thing about this crap sequel. Hell, they couldn’t even persuade Patricia Arquette to come back and portray Kristin. They grabbed another blonde that really looked nothing like her, who was played by Tuesday Knight. The “Dream Master”, played by Lisa Wilcox, just wasn’t that great of an actress. Am I being too picky? Maybe. Oh, and they snagged Renny Harlin to direct this. I suppose that’s why the production value is so high here. There are some truly inventive set pieces, like the theater scene, the meatball pizza, and the end sequence was actually pretty brilliant with the souls trying to rip from Freddy’s body. Otherwise? Meh.
Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
They just keep getting more ridiculous as you go along. This one was so high concept that on some level I think I enjoyed it. At least more than The Dream Master. Lisa Wilcox returns as “Dream Master” Alice Johnson. She’s graduating high school, dating the jock football player Dan Jordan, and seemingly has created a whole new friend group only a year after the deaths of all her other friends and brother. The friends are a future model, a serious swimmer, and the artsy kid that longs for the model. Seriously, this movie was made in 1989 and the original in 1984. Only 5 years have passed yet how many kids have died from this same street and nobody seems to notice something strange? Anyways, Alice has dreams of Freddy’s nun mom Amanda and is starting to have dreams while awake. Freddy is reborn and the only way he can be killed is if Amanda’s remains are found and her soul freed. Oh, Alice and Dan are expecting, but she only finds out after Dan is horribly killed in a waking dream sequence. Freddy is trying to corrupt the baby, and Alice is visited by her own child, who looks like he’s 7-years old and talks about his friend with the glove. He also has bags under his eyes bigger than tractor tires.
This thing is so convoluted it’s hard to even explain. Once again they hire a decent directory to steer this sinking ship. Stephen Hopkins went on to direct Judgement Night, The Ghost and the Darkness, and Lost In Space, but here he adds some truly far out moments towards the end. Some MC Escher-like camera play, the Freddy escaping from Alice scene is truly a hoot, and then the future son of Alice going full Freddy at the end will at least make you chuckle a bit. Overall, a truly WTF flick.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
I loved this movie. It combined sort of a tongue-in-cheek approach to the horror genre, pulled from real life trauma, and it was genuinely a great little horror movie. Craven got the idea from when friend and actress Heather Langenkamp was stalked by a fan. He decided to make a film about her real life struggle, but to then turn it into Freddy as the stalker. But not Robert Englund’s Freddy. The concept of Freddy taking on a life of its own, a made up nightmare becoming a truly horrifying and real nightmare of flesh, blood, and steel. Craven was doing meta before meta was cool. A completely standalone film that stands on its own two legs. I mean, maybe at least watch the original before watching this. It’s worth your time.
Up next is Nightmare On Elm Street Part 6: Freddy’s Dead, then Freddy VS Jason. I honestly don’t remember either one. I know I’ve seen them, but they seem to have been deleted from my brain for more storage. This cinematic journey may be unnecessary, but I feel for my son to truly appreciate the great modern horror we’re seeing here in the last few years you need to go back to the golden age of slasher horror. What better place that Elm Street?
To be continued…