Friday, April 30, 2010

Elm Street Week Day 7: The One Where They All Play Themselves

So we've come to the end of the Elm Street series (admittedly in a somewhat in-ordered way) and today it starts over full circle.  People everywhere are being reintroduced to Freddy Krueger, who is now being played by Oscar-nominee Jackie Earl Haley, and the reviews are disappointingly mediocre so far (though for me it is disappointing how predictably closed minded they are...more on that when I actually discuss the new Elm Street tomorrow).  However, we still have one more of Englund's turns at bat to go and it is my personal favorite.  Picture it, its 1993 and Freddy had been killed off 2 years ago...yet people still wanted more of the Springwood Slasher.  Enter Wes Craven, who is approaching the 10 year anniversary of his first entry in the series and who has started mulling around the effects that horror has on those who both watch it and create it.  What is horror and is it harmful?  It certainly was to Heather Langenkamp who, due to her popularity as Nancy in Craven's original as well as on the TV series "Just the Ten of Us", had her own stalker who gave her plenty of chills.  It effected Robert Englund too, who no longer could be identified as anything but Freddy Krueger (which was lucrative to his career, but also kept him from being cast in anything else).  Then there is Wes himself, who was type cast into the horror director mold after Nightmare and never quite produced a movie that a critical and a financial hit quite like Nightmare again (yes, his later films all have their fans...myself included, but lets be honest here).  Freddy himself has become a hero of sorts to his fans...a fun, wisecracking guy who kills with flare...a far cry from Craven's original image of the evil child killer....which added fuel to all those cases of people blaming horror movies for glorifying violence and for causing real life accidents and deaths of themselves or others.    With all these ideas rolling around, its no wonder that Craven decided to dip back into the Elm Street well just in time for the 10th anniversary.  So lets check out Wes Craven's first postmodern masterpiece, Wes Craven's New Nightmare.

The film begins similarly to the original Nightmare, with dirty grimy hands creating a claw for a new generation...mechanical, intelligent, and deadly.  Something meant to be part of the body rather than worn, which makes the maker of this claw cut off his own hand in order to attach it to himself.  Then Wes Craven yells "Cut!" and we see that we are on a movie set.  Craven, playing himself appears to be directing a new Nightmare movie with Langenkamp in the lead.  Everything seems to be going well, until the claw goes berserk and kills two crew members and nearly eviscerates Heather's husband Chase while her son Dylan disappears.  At the crucial moment, Heather wakes up and finds herself in the middle of an Earthquake in her Los Angeles home.  She and Chase hurry down the stairs to Dylan's room to keep him safe until the quake subsides.  It turns out that Heather's nightmare is the result of a series of threatening phone calls she has been receiving from a man pretending to be Freddy Krueger, which has put her and her family on edge.  She thinks nothing of it at first, but when Dylan begins dreaming about Freddy as well (even though he's never seen any of the movies) and her husband is killed, she begins to wonder if there is something much more sinister going on.  She soon discovers that everyone involved in Elm Street, including producers Robert Shaye and Sarah Risher, actor Robert Englund, and even Wes Craven himself are dreaming of this "darker and more evil Freddy", and she soon realizes that Freddy has become something much more than a screen villain...he's become a force that is threatening to rip from the film world and into our reality.

Wow...just wow.  There's a name for this kind of creativity and ingenuity...genius.  Wes Craven is a genius pure and simple.  No, he doesn't write the best endings and he is often much better directing work that other people have written rather than his own, but when he has an original idea he really goes after it.  New Nightmare was the perfect film to usher in a new generation of horror that really came into its own with 1996's Scream (also by Craven) that examined not just the horror cliches and conventions and how they work with audiences but also tackled the effect that horror films have on the people in them.  In this film Freddy is much more than just a villain, he is the flesh and blood embodiment of how the character changed the lives of everyone around him but also how the character got away from his creator's control.  It is well known now how New Line was built on the back of Freddy and how if it were not for him, they would not have produced some of the most quality films in both the horror genre but also of all time (Lord of the Rings and Hairspray come to mind)...and some will even say it is common knowledge that Craven was never happy with where New Line took the character in the sequels that followed his original and wasn't paid for his contribution to the character's beginnings and middles (Part 3).  However, Shaye and Craven met up in the early 90s and worked out their problems and Craven was both paid retro actively and also convinced to come back and resurrect Freddy.  It was quite the gamble for Shaye, buying a concept that was such a risk (would people take Freddy killing 'real' people seriously or find it campy?) but he also took a risk on the original Nightmare and look where that got him.  As a result, we get a story that is literally about how the creator loses control of his character who then lashes out and tries to destroy the creative minds who have the power to keep him imprisoned in the world of fiction.  Craven also works in Langenkamp's real story of being terrorized and turns it into her journey to try and escape the stigma of being associated with a famed horror icon.  Robert Englund's arc in the film mirrors his real life issue of always being seen as Freddy, with him disappearing without a trace once the 'real' Freddy begins appearing in full...suggesting that Freddy has replaced him in the world (afterall, the two cannot exist separately from one another in the public eye anymore).  And Dylan's arc is the representation of how horror's effects, as well as family problems, manifest themselves in a child's erratic behavior.  It is a rich and layered film that is, in many cases, better than the source films that it deals with.  It is adult and grown up, hardly a slasher film (since Freddy only kills 4 people in the whole thing) and moves with a slow and suspenseful gait that is unusual for the series (which is used to getting right to the dream carnage) which is probably why fans didn't take to it quite so quickly.  This is Krueger rewound to his dark beginnings and ramped up...which after Part 6, wasn't what people wanted.  They wanted a villain to root for, not someone who would scare them.  They also wanted something more jokey and carnival esque, which also isn't what this film is.  Critics however, loved the film (those who 'got' it) and today it is often considered the best or the second best Elm Street sequel.  I urge you, if you only see one Elm Street film (after the original of course)...see this one.  If it doesn't give you chills, then you simply cannot be reached.

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