Saturday, April 24, 2010

Elm Street Week Day 1: The One that Started it All

Back in 1992 I watched one of my second horror films ever on VHS...it was a little film you might have heard of called Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, the 6th film in the Elm Street series.  It was fresh to video and I convinced my Mom, against her better judgment, that it was more funny than scary and thus would not cause any bad dreams or deviant behavior.  Plus, it was supposedly the last one in the series and how could she deprive me of seeing that??  It ended up being a lot of fun for my little 8 year old mind, I got to see the main man...Freddy Krueger cut through some teens, make some funny one-liners, and get his butt kicked by Lisa Zane.  Sure, some of the cameos made no sense (Roseanne and Tom Arnold?) and it couldn't possibly have its 3D ending on video, but I didn't really know that the quality was shifty.  At that point, I was in macabre heaven (having loved dark stuff from my early years with Disney's The Adventures of Ichabod Crane) and simply loved this character.  Oh, and I was never scared...not once.  It was after this that I convinced my father...since I had seen the 6th film that surely I could handle the first.  So one summer night, he rented A Nightmare on Elm Street for me from the video store for me and I settled in to watch.  I had no idea that it would be one of the scariest films I would see at my young age, nor did I know that it was something that would haunt me for years.  By the time 1994 rolled around and Wes Craven's New Nightmare opened in theaters, bringing Freddy back to life one more time, I was hooked.  I was a Freddy Fan for life and I avidly ate up everything I could find on him and his films.  Now that New Line Cinema and Platinum Dunes have joined forces to bring him back to the screen in their remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, I've decided to do a week's worth of coverage on the Elm Street series going from number one to the new remake next Friday and all of my 8 readers are hopefully on for the ride.  So lets dive right in!

The first A Nightmare on Elm Street opened November 8th, 1984 in limited theaters and then expanded slowly into wide release, much like Halloween before it.  Wes Craven, who wrote and directed the film, had become known for violent and gritty horror films like The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes and was eager to branch out into something a little more challenging and fantastic (the two previous films being very rooted in reality).  Craven was inspired by several stories in the paper about young Cambodian refugees who had died in their sleep from no apparent causes after complaining of horrible nightmares.  One particularly strange case featured a boy who did everything he could to stay awake because he was so afraid of his nightmare, and then he finally lost the battle.  He fell asleep, his family put him in bed, and then ran in to find him screaming...then he just died.  So, after combining this idea with the image of a creepy derelict he had seen outside of his window as a boy, Craven finished the script and tried to sell it to a studio. However, fantasy horror films were not in vogue at the time...in fact, Warner Bros. had just released Dreamscape, a similarly themed film that hadn't done so well at the box office.  Then one small studio, New Line Cinema, agreed to make the movie with Craven as director.  The rest, as they say, is history.

The story begins with Tina Gray finding herself in a dilapidated boiler room being stalked by a mysterious man in a red and green sweater and fedora who enjoys scraping his long finger razors over metal to create a nerve-wracking sound.  He finally catches her and she wakes up, realizing it was a horrible nightmare.  However, she slowly discovers that each of her friends, Nancy Thompson, Rod Lane, and Glen Lantz, has been having the same dreams about the same man.  They all find this very strange, but not life threatening, and after a small get together (where Tina goes to bed with Rod) she finds herself asleep and in the same nightmare again.  This time, however, Tina cannot wake up and Freddy slashes her with his razors.  Rod, who is awake and seeing Tina simply thrashing about on the bed is shocked to see four slashes appear across her chest.  Then she is lifted into the air, dragged up the wall, and onto the ceiling where she dies and is then dropped to the floor below.  Nancy then goes to school the next day and falls asleep in class, where the dead Tina leads her down into the boiler room and she comes face to face with the man, who calls himself Freddy.  She burns herself on a pipe, which wakes her up, but also leaves a very real burn on her arm.  From this moment on, Nancy is determined to find out what is going on and who Freddy is, before she can no longer stay away and he kills her.

This film was something that many other slashers weren't in 1984...clever.  Every other movie had a killer with a mask stalking kids at a camp, or at a college, or on some calendar holiday...very few of them spoke and most were Agatha Christie-type mysteries.  Craven took a chance by making a fantasy slasher...a movie that delved into the subconscious mind and the unexamined idea of what a dream world would look like on film.  No studios wanted to take a risk like this, introducing a new kind of slasher film into the comfortable realm established by Black Christmas, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween, and Friday the 13th among others.  New Line did, and the gamble paid off.   Nightmare was an immediate success critically and commercially and history was being made, who knew if the film would have the legs to become a franchise...but one thing was clear, Nightmare was a new classic.

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