No sooner had I recovered from Laser Blast's Hellraiser marathon, my friend Serena hosted a similar event for the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise. Eight movies in fifteen hours. That's a lot of one-liners, folks!
I grew up with Freddy Krueger, and though I really responded to him then, I've found as I've gotten older I have lost touch with the films. I often re-watch entries of the Friday the 13th and Halloween (the first three anyway) series, but it's been decades since I've seen the middle chunk of the Nightmare series.
Serena put her own flourishes on the event, with fifteen minutes of old Freddy videos, promos and other parodies in between each feature. We even watched the origin story episode of Freddy's Nightmares, No More Mr. Nice Guy between Parts 4 & 5.
When you view all his content at once, you can really see how ingrained Freddy (brought so wonderfully to life by Robert Englund) was in the public consciousness back then. He might not have the same resonance with younger generations now, but in the late eighties/early nineties he was as ubiquitous as Santa Claus. He even had his own telephone number!
I called it yesterday for shit and giggles, but sadly it is no longer in service. Thankfully though, a kid recorded a bunch of them with his Darth Vader microphone back in the day. Can you imagine what happened when his parents got the phone bill???
Let's get back to the task at hand though. We kicked things off at eleven a.m with Wes Craven's 1984 classic, A Nightmare on Elm Street.
It still remains my favourite. Craven envisioned a film with a killer concept. Freddy was a boogeyman that wasn't held back by the same constraints as his contemporaries like Jason and Michael. Everybody has to sleep eventually. I also love the dream-like quality of the film itself. It has a pace that makes it inherently watchable and Heather Langenkamp as Nancy still remains one of the greatest final girls of all time.
|Heather Langenkamp in A Nightmare on Elm Street.
It was during this movie that we reached our first point of contention. Serena & I have watched this movie together a few times now and every time, she can't help but bring up how terrible Ronee Blakely's acting is as Nancy's mom. I don't see it myself. I never really thought about it growing up. I guess I just figured her glazed-over expression was from years of drinking from linen closet vodka bottles. Serena tells me I'm in the minority. Maybe so. It's still my favourite.
I think rather than go in chronological order (which was how we watched them, no Kirstie tricks this time!) I'm going to rank them from my best to worst. Which leads me to-- (cue Dokken)
Nightmare 3: Dream Warrrr-i-orrrs! I think it's safe to say this is the movie launched that Freddy into the pop culture stratosphere. The first sequel hadn't been as well received, so this one was considered to be a return to form. It had a great hook with teenagers who were ready to fight and benefitted from some great direction by Chuck Russell, who followed this up with one of the best horror remakes of all time, The Blob.
With the three-pronged awesomeness of Screaming Mad George's effects, Angelo Badalementi's score and the tandem of Patricia Arquette as Kristen, along with the returning Langenkamp, this movie delivers in every way. Oh, they finally bent to peer pressure and put some honest-to-goodness boobies onscreen, as well.
Right under Dream Warriors for me, is the follow-up Nightmare 4: The Dream Master.
It had been a long time since I'd seen this, but it really held up for me. This one was the first Nightmare movie I was able to see in theatres, so it holds a special resonance with me. A lot of people (including some in attendance) don't like the fact that the survivors of the previous movie are killed off – a possible response to Arquette's absence – but surprisingly I'm okay with it. It might have something do with the fact that the Dream Master's roster of teens were equally as likable. Alice (Lisa Wilcox) who inherits Kristen's powers, her brother Rick (Andras Jones) who deserved a better death and Debbie (Brooke Theiss) who had great taste in music were easy to root for. I may have had a small crush on Tuesday Knight (Arquette's replacement as Kirsten) as well.
|Tuesday Knight in Nightmare 4: The Dream Master
But it goes deeper than the cast. I feel Part 4 was when the effects – shepherded by gore guru Kevin Yagher – hit their peak with the Crave Inn, roach motel and Freddy's death sequences. In addition to the rocking soundtrack – the best of the bunch – I thought Renny Harlin also brought a real energy to it. I think Part 3 & 4 link together as well as 1 & 3, and 1 & 7 do.
Part 4 was the most commercial of the franchise, which is likely the reason it was, at least until Freddy vs Jason came along anyway, the highest grossing one.
Moving on from the eighties for a bit, we get to the seventh movie in the franchise, Nightmare 7: New Nightmare.
This was a really interesting film that was way ahead of its time. Though it may not have as been as well received as it should've been, Craven laid the self-aware horror seeds that would germinate two years later with Scream. Watching it within twelve(!) hours of the first one, you really notice all the wonderful callbacks to the first film.
It's a great piece of work with some really cool ideas with a retooled Freddy make-up that didn't suck. I have to say that are a few characters in this series I was sad to see killed off and Julie, Nancy's nanny (Tracy Middendorf) was certainly one of them. But I guess somebody had to recreate Tina's death from the first film.
Fifth on the list is Nightmare 2: Freddy's Revenge.
Man, this movie is chock full of gay. It's been talked about at length in the exhaustive Nightmare documentary Never Sleep Again, but it still wows me that anyone could contend this wasn't intentional. Homoerotism permeates almost every frame of this movie. Sweaty dudes. The Probe board game in Jesse's (Mark Patton) closet. The rainbow sticker in a random car window. And then lines like;
Jesse: He's inside me, and he wants to take me again!
Jesse: I'm scared, Grady. Something is trying to get inside my body.
Grady: Yeah, and she's female, and she's waiting for you in the cabana. And you wanna sleep with me.
I could go on. Aside from that though, this movie was a strange way to follow up the original film. It may have not been as well received on release, but time and re-evaluation have warmed to it, much like they have to Halloween III.
I also noticed two connections to the Hellraiser series, as lead actress Kim Myers (or Meryl Streep lite as I like to call her) was also Hellraiser 4 and composer Christopher Young did scores for the sophomore efforts of both franchises. Just a little trivia for you there.
Next on the list was the last movie we watched that night, Freddy vs. Jason.
Quality-wise, this is where we start our sharp decline. This movie is largely a mess, but I can't help but marvel that this finally happened after over a decade of half-starts and discarded scripts that included everything from a Freddy cult – which actually sounds a lot like Hellraiser 7 – to Freddy being revealed as Jason's father. Freddy vs. Jason is problematic, because every good thing is counteracted by something shitty. Jason on fire at the cornfield rave is great. The previous scene where Jason ostensibly “saves” Gibb (Katherine Isabelle) from being date-raped by skewering her is... not so great.
There's also the fact that this movie features some of the worst dialogue of both franchises. Choice cuts like Lori's (Monica Keena) epiphanous;
Wait a minute! Freddy died by fire. Jason by water. How can we use that?
Or when Blake (David Kopp) lets us know he narrowly escaped death from Freddy's as yet non-corporeal glove by needlessly exclaiming;
I'm okay! I'm all right!
And let's just forget anything that comes out of Kia's (Kelly Rowland) mouth. Obviously, the biggest faux-pas is that Kane Hodder wasn't cast as Jason Voorhees. They went with Ken Kirzinger, who was a tall fucker to be sure, but just doesn't have the swagger. Also, I really didn't care for the design of Jason and the blackened glossy look of his head.
Having said all of that, the final fight between the two of them made it all the crap worthwhile. They beat the ever living shit out of each other, battling to an inevitable stalemate.
Now we move onto the legitimately bad ones with Nightmare 5: The Dream Child.
I think it had been even longer than Part 4 since I had seen this one. I remember being disappointed, but was willing to give it a chance. Fellow marathon participant Matt Therrien spent a good deal of the first four movies talking about how much he hated Part 5. He's right, it's not good, but still better than some of the entries in the Hellraiser & Halloween franchises.
I was actually on board for the first half of this movie. I still dig the Dan (Danny Hassel) and Greta (Erika Andersen) death sequences – though they were cut down in the theatrical version we watched – but yeah pretty much when Jacob (Whit Hertford) shows up, the movie takes a nose dive.
|Freddy (Robert Englund) & Jacob (Whit Hertford)
The franchise had been playing fast and loose with Freddy's weaknesses, but this one just gets nonsensical. Lisa Wilcox, reprising her role as Alice, tried her best to hold things together, but the last act of this movie has already left my brain. It's evident that the franchise was running out of ideas. They should have sent Freddy to space and got ahead of the trend!
After much thought – it really was a dead heat – I have to say Nightmare 6: Freddy's Dead is my least favourite of the bunch.
An unpopular opinion, as most in attendance thought Dream Child was the biggest stink pile, but I'm not convinced. Freddy's Dead seems so apart from the rest of the series and bordering on parody. There are callbacks to the series, but they are so on-the-nose and not nearly as clever and fluid as they are in Part 7. And this Escape From New York opening was so ridiculous.
It also featured the worst sequence in any of the movies – Spencer's (Breckin Meyer) video game death scene. This shit was so fucking dumb that it literally hurt my eyes to look at it.
I spoke about that Cops vs Cenobites scene in Hellraiser 3 was what broke that franchise. Well, that “great graphics!” scene is Nightmare's equivalent. I'll take anything in Part 5 over that idiocy.
Oh, I forgot to mention. In keeping with Serena's movie night traditions, Freddy's Dead (and New Nightmare) were also drinking games with the usual personal and secret drinking rules.
|Nine, Ten... Never drink again...
So yes, this is what you would call taking it up a notch. I'll tell you one thing about this movie. You'll really notice just how much Doc (Yaphet Kotto) says the word “dream” in this movie when you have take a swig every time he does so.
I will say there were two glaring positives to Freddy's Dead though. To my surprise, the Girl #2 of this entry, Tracy (Lezlie Deane) survived the movie. I was happy about that. Second, the last act – the 3D section – brought me back in. I remember seeing this back in 1991 – after my brother snuck me into the Drive-In – in all its 3D glory, so that was a nice bit of nostalgia.
So, just after the clock chimed two a.m, there remained just three dream warriors in Serena, Matty and myself. It was good to revisit some of them and in terms of overall quality, I think it beats out the Hellraiser franchise. Nightmare has more of a through line and none of the re-appropriation that befell Clive Barker's baby.
Oh, and in case you're wondering about the remake. We didn't do that one. Michael Bay can ess a dee.
I'm not sure what will be up next. I think Halloween is on tap for next October, and maybe I'll pitch the Fridays for the fourtieth anniversary. Until then, sweet dreams, kiddies.