Monday, September 6, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

by Jimmy “I Can’t Believe They Made a Movie Out of That Fresh Prince Song” Callaway

Yeah, yeah, it’s the scariest one in the series. The most original. The sequels are more “fun,” more light-hearted, but this one: this is the scary one. Your Uncle Jimmy’s heard it all before, kids, and it holds no more water than the million other times it’s been said.

A Nightmare on Elm Street is a not very good movie.

From the top:

Beth from Better Off Dead has a dream about a mysterious boogey-man and his drafty basement apartment. Oh, and a sheep. I want to say that the sheep represents the innocence of the intended victims as well as connotes that easily-slaughtered tendency said victims have, and it’s all very Jungian and everything. But it seems writer/director Wes Craven gives up on this potentially intriguing imagery almost immediately, and thus so will I.

Beth tells her friends about it, including tonight’s final girl Nancy, who has one of those unfortunate faces that looks kinda goofy when she’s not wearing glasses. She was much cuter on Just the Ten of Us, if not much of a better actor. Speaking of cute, this is also of course Johnny Depp’s first movie, and while, yes, he looks good enough to eat as always, he has yet to develop any of that patent Depp spark that will eventually elevate him from Tiger Beat to Cineaste.

Anyways, slumber party at Beth’s (yeah, I know her character’s name is Tina. I call her Beth). Beth and Rod make some really loud, fakey sex noises, and then, as such is the fate of all who screw, she gets killed. She goes out into the darkened alley of her dreams and, since she’s so easily frightened by a trash can lid, Freddy figures he’ll do the goofy long-arm thing and really scare her. Frankly, I thought the same bit was a lot creepier when Terry Jones did it in the “Find the Fish” bit in The Meaning of Life, but I guess Beth’s probably not as big into Monty Python as I am.

Since you can get killed in your dreams and the same thing will happen in real life (that’s a given, right?), there’s a pretty neat upside-down room sequence where Beth’s rolling around on the ceiling. Playing Siegfried to her Roy, Rod watches like a dope as she gets shredded up until her guts are like spaghetti.

Detective John Saxon and his usual squad of bumblers hunt down Rod since he was the only one in the room and because he wears a leather jacket with no shirt. This also gives Nancy more excuses to overact, and the look on John Saxon’s face makes it evident that he wishes Mitchell 2: Mitchell Harder hadn’t fallen through.

In order to highlight Nancy’s overacting, Nancy’s mom gets drunk and they have lots of screaming matches. It puts me in mind of my old girlfriend and her mom, except these fights are on my TV and not distracting me from the TV.

Meanwhile, Freddy and Rod’s re-enactment of the opening to The Goonies gets out of hand and Rod gets hanged. Fortunately, the Springwood P.D. doesn’t post guards anywhere near the holding cells. Even though the adults seem to know more than they are letting on, they insist it’s just Nancy’s time of the month or something and she just needs some rest. Nancy’s mom takes her to see Dr. Roger Rabbit to give us more half-assed exposition on dream-states, until it sounds like Carlos Castaneda wrote the screenplay.

Eventually, Nancy’s mom drinks enough bourbon to hip her daughter as to what’s going on. Seems there was a guy, a Mr. Fred Krueger, murdering a buncha kids in town. He was arrested and brought to trial, but walked when it was discovered somebody had neglected to sign a warrant. Given the crack police force in town, this could not have come as much of a surprise (But really, how often does this happen outside of the movies? There’s gotta be some precedent for this movie cliché, right? If anyone knows, give a holler). So the townsfolk decide to dispense some frontier justice and set the dude on fire. Hey, movie, you know you can show us stuff like this through the magic of the flashback sequence, right? You don’t have to just have some drunken country singer tell us all of it in a dramatic monologue. C’mon, movie, you’re a movie, not a Greek tragedy (Also, if they had to get a drunken country singer to play Nancy’s mom, I really wish they’d gone with David Allan Coe).

Later, Johnny Depp is wearing one of those really gay half-shirts, so he doesn’t have much longer to live. He gets sucked into his own bed in his famous death scene, and apparently has enough blood in his body for three other screen-idols to spare. Nancy decides she’s had enough and, in a scant thirty-second montage, booby-traps her house more thoroughly than Kevin McCallister. Nancy is going to attempt to bring Freddy out of the noumenal and into the phenomenological where she claims she can kill him, but I think she just wants to give him his hat back.

Nancy succeeds in bringing Freddy into the real world, and Freddy succeeds in perfecting his Shemp Howard impression. Nancy finally gets John Saxon’s attention long enough so he can bust the door down, and then stand there with his dick in his hand while Freddy kills Nancy’s mom. Since Freddy is Nancy’s nightmare, Nancy has to be the one to face him down, and so she does, and this would all be very inspirational if I wasn’t so bored by this point. I think this was probably the moment America decided to root for Freddy—he may be unappealing as a big, hammy character, but at least he’s killing off all the other unappealing characters.

Yes, there are some genuinely scary moments in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Big fucking deal. It’s a horror movie—should I be okay with just “some genuinely scary moments”? I wish I could go to my job and jerk off all day, and then when my boss begins to chew me out, I could say I had some genuinely work-y moments. Then I could have several sequels made of me and eventually become an icon of late-20th century American pop culture. Then I could laugh my way to the bank.

Yeah, right. In my dreams.