By now, the reviews are out, and the Nightmare on Elm Street reboot is getting the worst notices in the history of the franchise. The critics say it’s generic, short on scares, and ultimately unnecessary. I am essentially in agreement with the majority, and although I’ll add my two cents, I won’t run on too long for those of you who plan on seeing Nightmare this weekend.
If you want a plot summary, read my entry on the original A Nightmare on Elm Street since, for all intents and purposes, they’re the same. Even some of the original’s most famous moments (like the above-the-bed slaughter, or Freddy’s claw peeking out of a bathtub) have been faithfully (if redundantly) reproduced here. Nightmare is made with a professional sheen; the director, Samuel Bayer (making his feature debut), was responsible for some of the most iconic music videos in recent memory (most notably Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”) and he is clearly a skilled stylist. However, this Nightmare fatally suffers from several major problems.
Wes Craven wisely sidestepped two of the trickiest plot elements of the original — namely, the issue of Springwood’s parents rising to enact vigilante justice against Fred Krueger, and the actual nature of Krueger’s crimes. The Nightmare films may have hinted that Krueger was a pedophile, but none dwelled on it. Nor, with the exception of a brief moment in Freddy’s Dead did they explicitly depict a group of suburbanites torching an abandoned factory, since such a scene would either elicit unintentional laughs or a sense of disbelief, and thus is best left to the imagination. Unfortunately, this Nightmare puts both of these things onscreen, which is a big mistake; the intention must have been to get back to the dark soul of Freddy, but the result is distasteful, particularly the scenes involving pedophilia. This movie hasn’t earned the right to utilize such material in so haphazard and unserious a manner.
The other issue is that the dream sequences aren’t particularly interesting, and they’re never actually scary (unless your definition of scary is “quick jolts of sound effects”). The original Nightmare made the absolute most of a limited budget, and its audacity of imagination still has the ability to shock and unsettle. Wes Craven’s movie probably cost a fraction of the reboot’s catering budget — couldn’t anyone have come up with anything scarier than a bunch of replays in the boiler room? Ultimately, despite the best efforts of a talented cast, this reboot is generic, flat stuff, which is a shame — say what you will about Freddy Krueger, but he was never dull.
Rather than end this series on a down note, however, I wanted to get back to the heart and soul of the Freddy phenomenon: the fans. To that end, I talked to Patrick Luce, an old friend of mine who’s my go-to guy for slasher movie info. Though he’s currently an upstanding member of society – he’s the opinion page editor for a fine New England Daily, the Fall River Herald News — he still indulges in plenty of gorefests, and loved Freddy movies because of their unique slant within the genre.
“I liked the inevitability of it,” he said. “You can’t escape, no matter what. It’s not like you can run away from Camp Crystal Lake and you’re fine. You can’t stay awake forever, so there’s that constant dread, because you know that eventually he’s gonna get you. That’s kind of the fun of them. It’s something out of the norm. You’re not supposed to like watching people get slaughtered, but somehow you do! I don’t know why.”
Luce vividly remembered his first encounter with Freddy Krueger — one that involved disobeying his mother to get a taste of the dark side.
“I was a little kid — I think I was six or seven at the time,” he said. “My mother had taken me and my sister to see a matinee — I think it was some dance movie — and I had to go to the bathroom. I snuck into the next theater, and it was playing A Nightmare on Elm Street. I was watching it from the back of the theater. I didn’t watch the whole thing, but it was the first time I’d seen it. I remember the scene where [Nancy Thompson] is in class, and she gets up and goes into the basement of the school. And Freddy’s got the knives and they’re scraping against the pipes –” he shuddered “– the screeching noise, and the darkness, and the music — it was very exciting, especially since I knew I shouldn’t have been there.”
That seems to me to be part of the appeal of the Nightmare films — kids from my generation watched them partly because they thought of them as forbidden fruit. I wanted more anecdotes, so we at RT decided to ask our friends on Facebook and Twitter for their early experiences with the Nightmare movies.
Some, like Marc LeBoeuf, found Freddy getting under their skin without even seeing a Nightmare movie.
“I remember we were at the video store looking for movies to rent,” he wrote. “My dad asked the owner for any recommendations. To this day, I remember him confidently saying that the original A Nightmare on Elm Street was suitable for both me and my brother to watch. Unfortunately, we were only 11 and 8 at the time! Despite now being 37, I still think about that every time I see it at a video store.”
Others told of getting up close and personal with Freddy — even if it was just a guy dressed like the famous killer.
“I was working at a movie theater in Massachusetts in 1984,” wrote Toni Williams. “The theater was hosting a premier party for Nightmare and I was the cashier. Tons of people were coming in. There were a million cameras everywhere, [and the] cast and crew [were in attendance]. It was really cool, and I was in heaven thinking that a piece of Hollywood had come to my movie theater. We were told in advance that we needed to be on our best behavior. I was selling tickets and moving along when all of a sudden I heard screaming. I looked up and saw Freddy Krueger was walking towards me. Slowly and methodically. I freaked. I ran like the teenager I was into the back room and I refused to come back out until after he was gone. Yup, I won’t ever forget that night.”
Some impressionable youngsters found Freddy a little too much for their delicate sensibilities to handle.
“I was able to convince my mom to allow my dad to take me and my horror-loving friend to see [A Nightmare on Elm Street] at the drive in theater,” wrote Melissa Slade. “We started out watching the movie, sitting right in front of the screen, eating our popcorn in the grass, cuddled in blankets. About 20 minutes into the movie we had moved our butts, quite quickly I might add, to the safety of my family’s van and more importantly, to where my dad could protect us.”
However, not all budding Freddy-philes could take solace in their parents.
“After watching one of the films, I went to the washroom,” wrote Bryce Bass Nielsen. “My dad had taken fake blood and put scratch marks everywhere. I freaked out and ran into my room, which had a fake severed head under the blankets, and my dad was hiding behind my door wearing a mask. You can see how that worked out.”
Over on Twitter, sue215 told us that she loves Freddy for his good humor: “I am usually too afraid to watch horror movies, but always watched A Nightmare on Elm Street. Freddy’s one-liners are the best!” kourtadactyl finds him to be perversely inspirational: “I like Freddy because when I want to stay up to do homework, I just think of him killing me in my sleep. I stay wide awake.” And ejvaldes considers him to be one of the greats of the genre: “Freddy used to scare the heck out of me when I was a kid. Then, he became a slasher idol to me.”
So there you have it. I don’t know if I’m going to miss Freddy now that he’s gone, but I had plenty of fun with the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, and I hope you enjoyed following them along with me. I’d like to say thanks to everyone who posted their comments and shared their memories.
Schedule of Nightmares: