Sunday, March 07, 2010

Two Nightmares

I tried mucking with the fonts and styles and format of this page. Everything looks ugly, and I don't know enough HTML to make it prettier. So let's at least experiment with dropping the orange.

So I just watched A Nightmare on Elm Street and the ten-year-follow-up, New Nightmare, both by Wes Craven, for the first time. Dang, that first one's deeply ingrained in the pop-pulp consciousness, isn't it? I'd never seen it before, but somehow, nothing seemed unfamiliar-- the cut, bleeding body of teenaged Tina being drug up onto the ceiling, the faces stretching out of a wall, the Raimi-inspired geysers of blood (then again, did Raimi not use the blood geysers until Evil Dead 2, which came out after this? Craven and Raimi had such a back-and-forth during this horror era that I can't remember), etc. The imagery lingers still; we all know who Freddy Kreuger is, even if we haven't seen the films. The imagery, however, doesn't interest me as much as the ideas. The core concept-- that our dreams are when we are safe, no matter what happens in them, and what happens when that changes-- is a solid one, but there's some decent stuff in there about the human experience, as well.

It seems safe to say Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer was heavily inspired by Craven's first Nightmare, even if we forget about Whedon's own Nightmare-riff in the first season of the Buffy TV series. Whedon portrayed high school as hell, but Craven beat him to it by showing high school as a nightmare, and protagonist Nancy's nightmares are mostly tied to the horrors of being a teenager-- remember, Craven originally intended Freddy to be an invention of Nancy's mind, not an actual supernatural serial killer. Nancy's fears come to fruition through the loss of her friends, and her parents' unwavering disbelief in whatever she tells them, even when faced with the 'truth.' Teenagers often stuggle with their parents, and with the notion of their own mortality; I'd say the fear of death begins to emerge in the teenage years. If not a fear, then a grudging respect, an acknowledgement of its existence, even as teenagers try to act immortal. Nancy doesn't so much defeat Freddy as she accepts him, yet turns her back on him-- because she's grown and matured past the point where she needs him, where he derives his power.

Craven's creation grew without him, however, and the studio pumped out five more in rapid succession. On the series' tenth anniversary, Craven and the original Nancy, Heather Langenkamp, return, and New Nightmare focuses on distinctly adult fears. Craven throws amusing metafictional twists in-- this time, Freddy invades the "real world," tormenting the creators of his films. Rather than a silly romp where Freddy tries to kill everybody on-set, however, it shoots to be more ambitious than that. Langenkamp plays herself, and Freddy-- and Craven, whose script within the movie is also the script for the movie itself-- attacks her by playing to the fears of a wife and mother and actress: the loss of her husband, the taking of her child, a fannish stalker, and the haunting presence of her career, always drawing her back to the Nightmare series. Within the movie, Craven describes this new iteration of Freddy as a manifestation of the loss of innocence; how great is that? Such a loss occurs in the teenaged years, as showcased in the first film, but it doesn't end there, and kids don't just wake up as adults one day. The movie also likens horror film mythology to the grim and grisly fairy tales of yore, which is a neat comparison. Yes, the themes and ideas within the movie are great; the execution is less so at times, and the movie develops extremely slowly, lurching into plodding and repetitious at a few points.

The first one's wacky horror fun, a clear 80s classic; the, er, seventh one's a mediation on horror films and the adult experience. I'd say both are worth one's time.

And hey, who knew that Johnny Depp kid would make something of himself?
Sometimes I cross my 7s
and sometimes I do not
but they are all my children
and I love them.