Monday, September 17, 2012

A Nightmare on Elm Street (Original; film review)

Nightmare on Elm Street

The new Nightmare on Elm Street is somewhat panned by fans of the series. However, I am probably one of few horror fans who feel that the film isn't as bad as the fans make it out to be, although I still feel it has some serious flaws.  That being said, the original still holds a place in my black little heart, and I recently rewatched the film to see if it stood the test of time.

There... were a few issues I may not have noticed when I was a kid, watching it for the first time.  The film opens up strong, with footage of the infamous glove being made through some basic but eerie blacksmithing. For some reason, this is shown with some... very odd aspect ratios. I'm not sure if that is intended, or if it is a function of my specific DVD, but it serves to limit the view to only the hands as sparks fly and they test the mechanism of Krueger's killing tool.

We then are introduced to the band of teenagers.  Now, normally, I hate films with disposable teens-- as they suffer from severe unoriginality, especially when they are all lined up on the cover-- but here, I was more forgiving, knowing that this was not as much of a cliche at the time of the film.  And the teens are likeable enough, although rather awkward and goofy. This film is notorious as Johnny Depp's first film, and here... he... is plenty awkward. Story goes that the man who would end up playing the new Freddy in the remake was actually the one who auditioned for the role, and Johnny merely accompanied him, but when the producer's daughter (according to the lore) found Johnny Depp 'dreamy', he got the role.

At any rate, the teens proceed to... be... teens, in all their awkward glory.  Of course, once again this is forgiven as being not as much of a cliche at the time of the film, but two proceed to have sex. Johnny's character, Glen, has agreed with his girlfriend to not fool around-- since they are there for their friend, Tina, who has begun to have intense nightmares and is home alone-- so he sits on the sofa, listening to Tina and her boyfriend, the obnoxious Rod (played by Jsu Garcia). If there is anything that made me want to hate the film, it was this character... he's about as pleasant as a punch to the groin, but somehow he manages to woo Tina into a night of passion, to which Glen responds, endearingly, "god, moral sucks." Tina wakes up afterwards to a ticking at the window, and tries to wake up her wonderful boyfriend, Rod, who responds with a snore. That's right, he actually isn't snoring and only RESPONDS to her appeals to wake up by snoring. It actually made me chuckle.

It is here that we start to see the film's effects, which I am actually surprised at how much these practical effects served as a staple of the film. When I saw Freddy coming from the walls again, there was a very specific feel to the effect that brought me immediately back with a smile. And when Tina gets slaughtered, being thrown to the cieling, bloody and screaming as her boyfriend Rod is seen in the same frame still impresses me to this day. The effect of Tina's death by itself is pretty obviously a rotating room, however, we can clearly see Rod on the ground, reaching out to her in the same frame.

There's a... yeah... you should look up...
At any rate, beyond the practical effects, another thing that struck me is how well the film was at being sincerely creepy. From the sets, that belch steam and drip water from every inch, to the minimalist cackle of Robert Englund as Freddy taunts the teens, the film feels sincerely malevolent. Of course, this would be watered down in the many sequels, which would become more comedy than horror, but here, the film does a good job of actually getting under the skin.

That isn't to say that the film is flawless. When I encountered Nancy's mother, Marge (played by Ronee Blakley) I almost laughed. I'm not sure if it is the actress-- who plays the role of the drunken mother with an overwhelming amount of ham-- or the ridiculous lines given to her (one noteable steamer is "what the hell are dreams anyway," which she asks a therapist as she pops a cigarette), or the even more ridiculous amount of hidden booze she has to continuously find, but the character is just atrociously ridiculous.

The rest of the cast behave more believably, for all their goofiness.

At any rate, it doesn't take long for Nancy to realize that her nightmares are being shared with all her teen friends, and she begins to solve this dilemma, when they start being picked off, by taking what are essentially caffeine pills and downing copious amounts of coffee (which she actually hides under her bed). When her boyfriend confronts her about her lack of sleep, she responds, "god I look like I'm 20 years old." Which... again made me chuckle. Considering the actress looks pretty well 20 years old anyway.

Another noteable moment is when Nancy attempts to return to school after her friend's death. She falls asleep and sees her friend in a transparent body bag, covered in blood. Her reaction is one more of those accidentally funny moments we've bumped into a few times in this film: she simply calls out to her friend. "Tina!" Because... you know... the dead body in the bag is going to just shake it off and go out for a skinny dip with the other teens (oh wait... wrong horror franchise).

Another such moment of ... surprisingly delicious silliness is when Nancy confronts her mother about the dreams she is having, and the deaths of her friends: "It's this guy. He's after us in our dreams." OH no! Not ... that... guy!

At any rate, even with these silly moments, the film still feels like the fun creepy film I remember from my childhood. The children skipping rope to their evil little nursery rhyme ("One two, Freddy's coming for you... three four, better shut the door..."... well you know the rest), all these things just feel right and come at the viewer with a nightmarish snarl.

"The fish was thiiiisss bigggg!"
One moment, however, popped me out of the fun of the film for a moment. It comes near the end, when Nancy tries to reach her boyfriend, Glen, who has fallen asleep, much against Nancy's advice. In fact, he ... seems to have a bit of a neurosis that way, as every time she tells him to stay awake, he conks out in record time. At any rate, she receives a call... from Freddy. Now, this wouldn't be an issue if she was asleep too, but at this point, she is fully awake, and even dressed, ready to rush over to help Glen, who she fears is asleep. Freddy calls her and taunts her, telling Nancy that he is her new boyfriend. The logic of the film is that Freddy can only interact with people in their dreams, and to everyone awake he is invisible. However, for one moment, here he seems able to cross over into the waking world. It completely defies the interior logic of the film.

However, it's a small moment, and just as it risked popping me out, the film carried on and never again allowed such ... blatant disregard for its own logic.

All in all, the film seves as everything I remember it to be, and a rightfully iconic moment in horror history. The film isn't heavy in its seriousness-- unlike the remake, which seems intensely humorless-- but the first in the series is also not as ridiculous and tongue-in-cheek as the later films would become. Although this humor is a trademark of the series, I must admit, I dislike humor that comes at the  cost of losing the creepy atmosphere necessary for horror, and I feel the sequels played with this cost dangerously. Here, though, the film tries its best to creep you out, and for the most part succeeds. Freddy popping out of the dark corners of the dream-world with a malicious chuckle serve as truly the stuff of nightmares.

With all this, I have to give the film an 88%. Because of some of the bad acting, and obvious silliness, I hesitate to give it a perfect score, but because of its iconic (and well deserved) place in horror, I cannot give it less. A wonderful watch for the upcoming path to Halloween...

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