Sunday, June 12, 2011

Revisiting Old Friends: Re-viewing A Nightmare on Elm Street Parts 3 & 4

Hey spelunkers,

Sorry I've been away from the cave for so long. I have no excuse. I'm just an asshole.

I have been writing, however. For those who don't know, this is Eighties month over the the venerable The Mike's blog, From Midnight With Love, and I volunteered to write a column for him to post while he's on vacation next week. In it, I shamelessly drool all over The Lost Boys. That should be up on Wednesday, and I'll post a link for you then. In the meantime, I thought I'd continue my personal Eighties revival with a re-viewing on two entries from my favorite horror series from that golden(ish) age: A Nightmare on Elm Street parts 3 & 4.

A little history: After overcoming my intense fear of horror movies by totally falling in love with The Lost Boys, I decided to challenge myself by watching what I imagined to be the most terrifying horror film imaginable (aside from the Exorcist, which at the time was out of the question). My friends and I had been talking about A Nightmare on Elm Street for awhile. None of us had actually seen it, but we had heard things from people who had. We knew the story and had seen Freddy all over the place. Oddly, I can't recall my first viewing of Wes Craven's greatest film, but I do remember its effect on me. While The Lost Boys turned out to be not-so-scary, NOES freaked my shit out. And I liked it! It was the first time that I had experienced the sensation of pleasure at having been scared, and I was hooked.

The next time I went to my local video store's used movie sale, I talked my mom into buying me the first three Elm Street videos, took them into the basement, and reveled in the glory. I thought part 2 was still pretty scary, but not nearly as good as the original, but I thought part 3 was the greatest thing I'd ever seen. Iwatched those three videos on a near daily basis for the next few months. Part 4 hadn't come out yet, but my mom taped a behind-the-scenes special for me that I watched over and over again. I knew practically every scene of the film before I even got to see it. To this day, every time I watch it, I can't help but see the face of effects wizard Screaming Mad George grinning and explaining how he did everything.

Screaming Mad George

Bored yet? Alright, alright. I'll get to the movies (but I can't promise to be any less self-absorbed).

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors

I loved this movie so much as a teenager that I was almost afraid to watch it. Thinking back on it, it always seemed a tad ridiculous, and I'm not going to argue that it isn't, but I'm happy to say that the magic is still there.

First off, the characters are awesome. Patricia Arquette reminded me why I fell in love with her for her fantastic portrayal of the character Kristen, giving all of her scenes an autheticity that is lacking in too many horror movies (especially second sequels). And my two longtime favorites, Taryn and Kincaid, were as appealing as I remembered them.

"In my dreams I'm beautiful, and bad."

The main draw, back in the day, was of course the return of Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon. While Langenkamp's performance isn't flawless by any means, my lifelong crush remains intact. As for John Saxon, why isn't he being cast in every movie that comes out. He's been working, but I haven't seen him since Dario Argento's Master of Horror episode, Pelts, and From Duck Till Dawn before that. Seriously, every second this man is on the screen is a second God doesn't subtract from the span of our lives. However, on this viewing, I was taken with the perfection the is Laurence Fishburne's tough but kind and supercool Max. God actually adds minutes to the span of your life for every second he's on the screen. Elm Street 3 boasts a truly impressive cast. The man played Othello for God's sake.

"Shee-it, That's what keeps people alive."

Throughout the viewing, I was happy to find myself remembering damned near every line and reciting them along with the cast, using their same intonation and all. What I didn't expect was some actual chills during the film. I'll admit that I was only half paying attention, listening more than watching while I reorganized the personal hellhole that is my sons' room, but the movie would catch me off guard and bring back that old feeling of dread. In particular, any scene with Sister Mary Helena (aka Amanda Krueger) was just haunting. She give me the same kind of vibe I get from watching Maria Ouspenskaya in The Wolf Man (coming from me, this is high praise indeed, as Ouspenskaya's is one of my favorite performances in all of horror). The one that really got me is the unofficial group therapy session in which Nancy explains to the kids who Freddy is, and why he is doing what he is doing. I don't know quite what it was, but the combination of the original Elm Street score with the dialogue just did it for me. It reminds me of the scene from the original where Nancy's mother finally admits to her what is going on. "Fred Krueger is dead, because Mommy killed him." Freakin' awesome.

Mother of a son of a hundred maniacs.

I was impressed by the atmosphere of the movie too. The dreamscapes are all drear and decay, and the presence of children reminds you just how sick the character of Freddy really is. This is, of course, the film where the Elm Street series really took the step into fantasy horror and Freddy dispatched his victims in all kinds of creative and ridiculous ways. But somehow it works in this movie. Where things start to fall apart is in Part 4.

A  Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

I'm not going to lie: I still love this movie out of pure nostalgia, and it's a damned sight better than the pure crap of Parts 5 and 6, but if today was the first time I'd ever seen this movie, I'd think it was garbage.

The thing is, Part 4 is a natural extension of Part 3, repeating everything that made the previous film work, and rendering it ridiculous. In Part 3, Freddy takes the teens' individual fears and turns them against them. For example, in Part 3, Taryn is a former junkie who turned to dope to escape her nightmares. After she gets clean, her biggest fear is relapsing and succombing to addiction again. When Freddy shows up, his fingers turn from claws to syringes and he offs her with a heroin overdose. I always loved that. But fast forward to Part 4, and they set up each character to have some preposterous fear or weakness, specifically so Freddy couls exploit it. Case and point: Debbie is repulsed by bugs. So Freddy turns her into a cockroach and squashes her in a roach motel. Dumb.

"Let's get high."

Part 3 was also where the kills got creative. Instead of just using his talons to slash his way through teenagers, Freddy turns into a giant worm and tries to swallow them, he grows out of a television set and smashes the aspiring tv star's head into the set, and slashes the puppet-maker's arms and legs, and pulls the tendons out to manipulate him like a puppet. In that last case, the effect is gruesome and honestly pretty scary. Fast forward to Part 4, and you've got Freddy kung fu fighting, turning people into bugs, literally sucking the life out of an athsmatic girl after grabbing her face with some weird robo-claw, and eating meatballs off a pizza that are actually human heads. Honestly, writing that down just now, it doesn't seem like there's much of a difference. I guess it's the tone of each film that makes them different in my mind. Renny Harlin's entry into the series just seems so slick and Hollywood, while part three retains a sense of grimy, low-budget, ugliness.

"Rick, you little meatball."

The atmosphere in part 3 is fantastic. Creepy, dimly-lit old houses and labyrinthian boiler rooms seem firmly in Freddy's territory. Whereas Part 4 has killings occurring in brightly-lit classrooms, serene asian-stlye dojos, and one in full sunlight on the beach. Freddy has to wear sunglasses. Fucking sunglasses!

Fucking Sunglasses!

Then there's the question of what each film adds to the Freddy mythos. Part 3's Amanda Krueger/son of a hundred maniacs angle adds real depth to Freddy's backstory, and is revisited again in subsequent films. But Part 4's nonsense about the Dream Master and guardians of the gates of dreams was just plain ill-conceived. That said, I had a blast watching it. I liked most of the characters, and I knew all the dumb shit in advance. Guilty pleasure? Absolutely.

Only time will tell if I can bring myself to rewatch Parts 5 and 6, which I hated even as a teenager (yet I own anyway. It's the completeist in me). Perhaps I'll just skip to New Nightmare and Freddy vs. Jason. That or watch something from this century.

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