In your dreams

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images - Robert Ben­ziker

When I was in my early teens, I was ter­ri­fied of Freddy Krueger. I am em­bar­rassed by this be­cause I can only imag­ine how it may sound to peo­ple who didn’t grow up in the 1980s. Do peo­ple older than me think Freddy is sim­ply a corn­ball cor­po­rate brand that was cyn­i­cally spun off into end­less cheap se­quels? Do peo­ple younger than me re­gard him as an­ti­quated, the way many of my gen­er­a­tion felt about movies like The Blob?

I first saw the orig­i­nal A Night­mare on Elm Street in 1987 or 1988. It was at a Hal­loween bash, one of the first par­ties I ever at­tended in which the boys and girls were sup­posed to, you know, in­ter­act with each other (talk about hor­rors!). Af­ter pizza, we popped in the rented VHS tape. We chuck­led at the gal­lows hu­mor and the grue­some killings, main­tain­ing the brave faces we wore for the op­po­site sex. And I can’t speak for any­one else who was there, but ly­ing in bed that night, wide awake, all I could think was, Did I just hear a noise com­ing from the base­ment?

The con­cept for A Night­mare on Elm Street (which ar­rived in the­aters in 1984) is so sim­ple that it is a won­der no­body had thought of it be­fore. Horror movies have long placed their pro­tag­o­nists in night­mar­ish cir­cum­stances in which they are pur­sued by an in­escapable evil en­tity ( The Night of the Hunter and The Texas Chain­saw Mas­sacre are ex­am­ples.) Why not take that premise a step fur­ther and cre­ate a dis­fig­ured killer who can en­ter and even ma­nip­u­late your very night­mares? The po­ten­tial for scary sit­u­a­tions is in­fi­nite, and when you throw in an ur­ban leg­end about a venge­ful un­dead psy­chopath who was burned alive by the up­stand­ing cit­i­zens of his picket-fence com­mu­nity, you’ve got a recipe for a mon­ster hit.

Pro­ducer Michael Bay and di­rec­tor Sa­muel Bayer (whose most fa­mous work is ar­guably his video for Nir­vana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”) hope to re-cre­ate that suc­cess with their re­make of the orig­i­nal film, which opens on Fri­day, April 30. For­mer child star Jackie Earle Ha­ley — who is en­joy­ing a ca­reer resur­gence, hav­ing played creepy char­ac­ters in Lit­tle Chil­dren, Watch­men, and Shut­ter Is­land — dons Krueger’s sig­na­ture fe­dora, red-and-green sweater, and ra­zor-tipped gloves.

Bayer and Ha­ley have their work cut out for them. The orig­i­nal A Night­mare on Elm Street is a le­git­i­mately fright­en­ing film. Un­til it de­volves into some un­for­tu­nate Home Alonee-sque tricks and traps near the end, it’s a slow burner about a com­mu­nity in de­nial over its mis­deeds — and about that ev­er­p­re­sent mon­ster un­der the bed. Di­rec­tor Wes Craven builds sus­pense mas­ter­fully, re­ly­ing on eerie im­agery rather than loud scares and punc­tu­at­ing the drama with clas­sic horror mo­ments, such as the blood­ied girl be­ing dragged across the ceil­ing of her bed­room by an in­vis­i­ble force.

As far as the act­ing goes, the film is mostly re­mem­bered for Johnny Depp’s screen de­but and for Robert Englund’s turn as Krueger. Englund crafts a pow­er­ful beast of a vil­lain, de­liv­er­ing his lines in a gut­tural growl and wear­ing a con­stant smirk un­der all that burn-vic­tim makeup. In that first movie, he pur­sues his vic­tims with a pe­cu­liar hunch and an un­nat­u­ral gait, a bit like the Wicked Witch of the West when she chases Toto around. Englund clearly de­lights in play­ing the boogey­man, and as with many clas­sic mon­ster por­tray­als, his mis­chievous glee goes a long way to car­ry­ing the film.

So pop­u­lar was Englund’s per­for­mance that the first film would be the last one in which Freddy was par­tic­u­larly scary, as he — and not his teenage vic­tims — be­came the un­ques­tion­able star of the se­quels. Soon, Krueger was his own comic re­lief, hurl­ing in­sults at his vic­tims and is­su­ing terse one-lin­ers just be­fore the kill, much like Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger in ac­tion movies like Raw Deal and

Com­mando. (It is also amus­ing to note that Arnold, and cer­tainly Sylvester Stallone, prob­a­bly had higher kill counts in the 1980s than Freddy or Ja­son Voorhees of Fri­day the 13th — and they were play­ing he­roes!)

As the Elm Street se­ries ex­tended into six se­quels, it main­tained stronger qual­ity con­trol than com­pet­ing fran­chises such as Hal­loween and Fri­day the 13th. This may be faint praise, but it’s true. The fan­tas­ti­cal dream set­tings led to more va­ri­ety than could be found in other slasher films, and Englund’s Krueger had far more charm than silent, masked killers Voorhees and Michael My­ers of Hal­loween. Re­vis­it­ing

Elm Street re­cently, I was par­tic­u­larly im­pressed with the pre-com­puter-gen­er­ated spe­cial ef­fects, in­clud­ing the cam­era trick­ery in the first film, the school-bus-in-hell set piece at the out­set of the sec­ond, and the stop-mo­tion mar­i­onette in the third.

The se­ries only has one true high point af­ter the first film, and un­sur­pris­ingly, it was when Craven re­turned to write and di­rect. In Wes Craven’s New Night­mare (1994), Heather Lan­genkamp — the lead ac­tress from the orig­i­nal film — plays her­self, be­ing ter­ror­ized by Krueger dur­ing the film­ing of an­other Elm Street se­quel. Al­though New Night­mare runs a bit long (Krueger’s many vis­its to Lan­genkamp’s son get repet­i­tive), it is nonethe­less a clever, post­mod­ern pre­cur­sor to the Scream se­ries, which Craven went on to di­rect shortly after­ward.

New Night­mare would have served as a nice con­clu­sion to the Krueger story, but the char­ac­ter is just too profitable to stay dead, and he re­turned to bat­tle Voorhees in 2003’s Freddy

vs. Ja­son. With the re­cent avalanche of ’ 80s horror re­makes such as last year’s Fri­day the 13th and 2008’s Prom Night, it was only a mat­ter of time be­fore Freddy rose up from the ashes of that boiler room in the base­ment.

Will the pub­lic be in­ter­ested? Most likely. There’s just some­thing about Freddy. Even af­ter the char­ac­ter scared my acid-washed pants off me in the 1980s, I still stayed up un­til 12:30 a.m. to watch the bad, Twi­light Zone-ish TV show

Freddy’s Night­mares. I’ve all but mem­o­rized the Simp­sons spoof, with Groundskeeper Wil­lie wear­ing the glove and hat. I even had the DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince cas­sette with the Elm Street-in­spired nov­elty rap hit “A Night­mare on My Street.” So, yeah — I’ll be there.

And, I’d imag­ine, the teenagers will come, too. As long as the hor­rors of ado­les­cence ex­ist, horror movies will be around to re­mind us that there are even worse night­mares. Most teens in Santa Fe may not have base­ments, but Freddy will find a way to come for them any­way.

Ready for Freddy?: Robert Englund

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