Because I saw the final film for this marathon on Halloween night and also because I finally finished Cowboy Bebop, I present you five more horror movies to watch: whenever or for the next Halloween season.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the better regarded slasher series overall when it comes to critical reception. The first, third and seventh entries were, if you can believe it, slasher films that were actually liked by those discriminating critics.
The second has had a positive reappraisal, especially for it’s surprising homosexual undertones and subject matter that wasn’t totally punching down on that community and the fourth has its share of defenders. Entries five and six are seen as the weakest if not just bad entries by fans and critics. Freddy’s 2003 crossover bout with Jason Vorhees and the 2010 remake are not really of concern to me in this discussion.
The original 1984 film is widely considered the best, scariest and most thought provoking. The terror is fresh, the uncertainty of what is and isn’t real is horribly prevalent and Freddy barely jokes around. He’s mostly business and by extension the most monstrous.
Nancy is part of the Elm Street kids in Springwood, Ohio and they have no idea what is about to happen. Their parents, without their knowing, once committed an act of vigilante justice against a man named Fred Kreuger. He was an awful human being that molested and murdered kids around town. He got off way too easy at his trial and the parents took matters into their own hands.
They cornered Freddy in an abandoned building and torched it, taking the molester with it. Freddy “died” but some hellish power has given him life after death. Now, as some kind of dream demon, the children of those avenging parents are next.
The most warning you’ll get is that iconic, creepy nursery rhyme sung by two young girls who maybe, maybe not were Freddy’s victims before his death and possibly surviving your first dream with him and his bladed gloves. Even then, you have no idea how it’s possible for him to even do what he does, let alone convince anyone of what is happening.
The dark imagination of Wes Craven’s 1984 work is part of what compelled critics over the comparably more “mundane” slashers like Michael and Jason. It’s not just the thrill and curiosity of how Freddy will strike in your dreams and when will it happen, it raises questions if you’re witnessing waking life or not.
The third act and finale contradicts much of what is established to have happened in the later Elm Streets. It’s confusing more so for how your possible knowledge of certain aspects about the sequels, such as Nancy’s survival to become a main character in the third, contradicts much that the ending implies or outright states.
Namely, it is implied that most or none of the movie is actually in waking life. It’s all a dream and Nancy isn’t even necessarily the dreamer, if the final shot involving her mother is any indication.
It really is a movie worth more than one watch and can lead to interpretations of what actually happened that while contradicting the latter films perhaps in keeping with the theme and mood of the movie, being no less valid still.
Wes Craven stated that one of the major themes of the first Elm Street was about the gulf he viewed between teens and their parents in the 1980s, how neither party was really right or wrong completely in their familial divisions.
The parents believed they did the right thing by killing Freddy and yet when he returns in their kids’ sleep, they aren’t willing to fully accept their culpability in what is happening.
This is particularly egregious considering that one of those parents, Nancy’s Father( John Saxon) is a police officer. A lack of trust in a situation that absolutely needs trust can be quite deadly.
A Nightmare on Elm Street also wants the viewer to be distrustful, not of any of the characters and their actions but of the film they’re watching. How certain is it which dreamer’s dream you’re watching? What is and is not a clue to tip you off that this film’s figurative narrator may be unreliable?
Actual dreams, in my own experience, are less coherent, less narratively constructed and of course much safer for my health than ANOES. One thing that never came up in these movies is the idea that what if Freddy could or did fake his defeat? After all, outcomes in dreams can be either confusing or misleading. If Freddy has true control over your dreams, then could anything really save you hypothetically?
Of course, more so in the sequels than here, the answer is yes, you can beat Freddy, temporarily or otherwise. A grimmer yet more realistic take would be: No, you can’t and the first film is perhaps the most haunting because it comes the closest to recognizing that cruel truth.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
In spite of the second film (Freddy’s Revenge) getting more respect over the years, much of it coming from the LGBT subtext that was quite daring for the time, I chose to go to the third movie next due to it having a direct connection with the first and because it’s widely viewed as the best sequel and perhaps peak of the series’ imaginative spirit.
In the undefined period of time since the events of the first movie, Nancy has gotten a psychiatric job dealing with the science of sleep and dreams. As the third film confirms, she really did lose her friends to Freddy, including her mother and she knows on some level that he’s not gone. A fictional dream prevention drug allows her much needed respite.
The remaining Elm Street children are residing at a nearby mental institution due to Freddy’s return. Subtly, slowly, he threatens to strike and this time bring a sick sense of humor to the proceedings, a trend that depending on who you ask, dragged down the series’ quality over time.
One of the Elm Street kids, Kristen, has an unusual power, one that might give Nancy and the others a fighting chance against Freddy. She can contact other dreamers, pull them into her own and thus in theory can one up Freddy through using their distinct powers they have while dreaming.
Of course, Freddy can warp and shape the dream landscape to his heart’s content. What advantage the “Dream Warriors” have may still not be enough. A surprising number of notable actors and actresses appear in Dream Warriors. A young Patricia Arquette plays Kristen. A young Jennifer Rubin plays Taryn, an Elm Street kid recovering from drug abuse.
A very young Laurence Fishburne plays a laid back hospital orderly. Considering his eventual involvement in another series which essentially involves “risk of death while asleep” marks his appearance here as humorously prophetic.
In spite of Freddy being more of a jokester, there is still that fearful malice in his presence. One particular death scene has no comic underpinning and is pure horror.
As the image caption mentions, Elm Street 3 sees the beginning of a staple of Freddy’s murderous methods that has become “common knowledge” to those with some passing understanding of the franchise. A potential victim of Freddy is given a character trait with positive and negative connotation.
A nerdy Dungeons and Dragons loving teen called Will is bound by a wheelchair and finds much comfort in being able to walk again while asleep. Freddy preys on his fear of that handicap while he in return uses his love and understanding of tabletop gaming as a weapon.
Taryn goes for an 80s punk thug appearance with skill in blades and actually matches Freddy’s skill with his own glove blades. Unfortunately, her drug addiction is played against her as the above image shows. At least here, there is more of an actual playing field given to Freddy’s targets against him. They’re not quite as helpless.
There are genuine surprises in store and expansion on who Freddy is and what actually makes him work as ” the man of your dreams” though not exposing too much at the same time. It’s a worthwhile continuation to the first in spite of it robbing the tantalizing ambiguity of the original. Freddy even gets a solid send off but of course this is not to be the end of the night terrors.
The first Nightmare on Elm Street did alright by 1980’s box office considering the low budget: $25 million not adjusted for inflation. Thanks to the success of the burgeoning VHS market, the first movie instantly became a smash through home video prompting the first sequel a year later to make $5 million more than the original.
In 1987, Elm Street 3 made nearly $45 million, double the money of the original and becoming the most successful slasher movie of the 80s. Elm Street 4 a year later would break that record. Of course that satisfying death wouldn’t stick.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
Elm Street 4: The Dream Master is maybe the most divisive entry in the series in terms of whether it’s the first in the series’ decline or if it’s the last good one until New Nightmare. Personally, I’m of two minds about it.
The production quality for the series has never been better, the dark imagination is still present and there is still some great ideas that are to be explored. It does begin with something of a bitter pill to swallow that is somewhat rectified by its sorrowful attitude in relation to it.
So, of course, Freddy doesn’t actually die by Nancy and co.’s hands at the end of Dream Warriors. How Freddy is resurrected to continue his dream murder antics is hard to figure out. Even if I typed in how exactly he’s brought back at least to dream-world-life, you and I would be more confused than satisfied with the answer.
Putting that aside, Freddy immediately goes to work in killing off the Dream Warriors that survived Elm Street 3 and while it might indeed cheapen the impact of the prior film, their deaths are still played as tragic and not just a throwaway set of deaths.
The new lead protagonist in opposition against Freddy is Alice Johnson(Lisa Wilcox), who in the once again unspecified space of time since the third movie has become friends with Kristen, the lead protagonist of Dream Warriors alongside Nancy. As it happens, Alice has her own special dream powers separate from Kristen’s.
While Kristen could communicate and bring in other dreamers to her, Alice can use objects relating to people in the real world and use their real life talents as tools in the dream world. An unfortunate ability she also shares and is the main reason why Freddy avoids killing her is that she can also find Freddy new victims beyond the Elm Street children.
Even after Freddy fulfills his evil vengeance, he continues his hunt for children for the fun of it. Makes sense, considering who he was before his death. What makes Alice’s abilities particularly sad is that she was witness and might have been partially albeit unwillingly responsible for Kristen’s death at the hands of Freddy and her brother suffers the same fate later on.
As much as people consider Nancy the best foil to Freddy in the series, I really like Alice as the “final girl” in this entry. She has reasons beyond survival for wanting Freddy to pay and we even get to see her suit up through artifacts from her fallen friends and loved ones before facing Kreuger at the end. Does that make her the titular “Dream Master?” Could be Freddy but who knows.
What makes Elm Street 4 worthwhile in spite of its flaws (unclear method of Freddy’s resurrection, killing of the Dream Warriors, some inconsistencies in established dream rules) is that it still has a sense of passion behind the camera for what is being filmed.
There is still a hearty interest in further building on the premise and of course, I can’t fault the perfect late 80s’ cinema atmosphere that is more a value nowadays than it probably was at the time. Also some great cameos from the series’ creative team and a funny Easter egg to Wes Craven through naming the diner Alice works at after him.
There is a considerable yet welcome number of notable artists in the licensed music department for The Dream Master. Expect music from Blondie, Billy Idol, Sinead O’ Connor and more. Also, the way Freddy is defeated this time honestly could’ve served as an even better conclusion for him than Dream Warriors.
In Elm Street 3, it takes pouring holy water on his bones in the real world and a crucifix in the dream world to do him in. In Elm Street 4, Alice throws an attack back at Freddy that allows the various souls of his victims that reside in him to rebel. He basically explodes following a gross but quite well-put together transformation he goes through. We also get justice not only for the Dream Warriors but everyone he’s ever killed.
Again, it was a good place to stop and yet wouldn’t because The Dream Master became the highest earning Elm Street film ever until his crossover with Friday the 13th’s Jason fifteen years later.
The following year came the fifth movie, The Dream Child, which saw a sharp drop in both profit and reception, even from series fans. They tried to close the book on the series in 1991 with Freddy’s Dead and died he did but not to anyone’s satisfaction. Freddy’s defeats in the third and fourth were seen as superior.
The seventh movie would see Wes Craven return for the second and last time to the director’s chair and the series would go down a meta road, which in turn would inspire Craven’s Scream series later on.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
Imagine being a child or teen in the 1980s and early 90s. Imagine having been exposed to the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, especially the first, and likely having nightmares of your own involving Freddy, though thankfully quite safe.
I would think it’s crossed the minds of more than a few of what would happen if Freddy broke the fourth wall and actually entered the real world. Wouldn’t that be something….horrifying. That is part of the idea behind the seventh Elm Street.
Like the first movie, Craven gives you a lot to think about, maybe even more than the original. It compliments the original by toying with your perception of what is and isn’t actually happening and the framing here makes it more of a mindscrew than ever before.
So, in the “real world”, the Nightmare on Elm Street series has ended. Heather Langenkamp, the actress who portrayed Nancy, has a family and helps run an FX company alongside her husband Chase. This is based on the real Langenkamp’s profession following her time as Nancy, as she chose that career instead of fulltime acting,
Heather has a cute little son named Dylan, which you’ll hopefully get used to her yelling over and over as the film progresses. She starts having dreams and daytime hallucinations of a familiar fiend and soon wonders if her most famous acting role is catching up to her in a nefarious manner.
At the same time, Wes Craven appearing as himself is brainstorming a new entry in the Elm Street series, which will go in a meta-satirical route. As Craven and other New Line Cinema folks try to get Heather interested in playing Nancy for the third and last time, “Freddy” starts interfering with the production process.
First by killing off the production crew one by one starting with Chase, who was working in preproduction on Elm Street 7 without Heather’s knowledge.
The other part to Freddy’s plan is to corrupt and control little Dylan into making him a lethal puppet, which oddly correlates with Freddy’s scheme in Elm Street 2 involving the teen protagonist of that movie. An additional curveball is thrown by stating in no uncertain terms that this isn’t actually Freddy of the films.
Craven, while explaining to Heather his script-writing process for his “New Nightmare”, invokes the idea that the real reason there were so many Elm Street films wasn’t just money, but to sate a demonic entity. Through the first six Elm Streets, this entity was appeased through fictional carnage. Now that the movies have seemingly concluded, it wants to continue its spree of horror in the real world.
Complicated as the reasoning is behind what New Nightmare is about, it certainly is potent commentary on the nature of franchises and the push for whatever reason to keep a series going, wise or unwise as it may seem. It also takes the reality-bending aspect of the series and transports it to an area where we would feel the safest: the audience’s world.
While this is all still fictional of course, it does touch upon the anxieties not just of the moviemaking business but of how your body of work can paint a picture people have of you that may not be wholly accurate.
Take Robert Englund, the man who plays the sadistically cruel yet uncomfortably charismatic Freddy. In both his fictionalized portrayal as himself and according to real life accounts, he is quite far removed in just about every way from Mr. Kreuger. His appearance as a sweet-natured character in the TV show V is closer to the real man.
This can be extrapolated to wondering how far and how close an actor’s fictional life can color in or affect their real life. Sometimes the contrast is clear. I imagine many of Tom Cruise’s characters in film would be at odds with the actual Cruise. It is both your self-perception and perception from others that is part of New Nightmare’s brilliant observation.
It is worth noting that this film was also cultivated by factors that were not intended on Craven’s part. Namely, that filming of the movie was affected by an actual earthquake that occurred in 1994 and that Craven decided to use that earthquake and create fake additional ones as a way of representing the entity’s growing power.
In keeping with Craven’s particular vision of Freddy as a mostly serious, malicious figure, he’s back to not cracking black, ironic jokes and just intimidating and freaking you out before he goes in for the kill. His appearance which includes a different, more organic set of blade gloves and a trenchcoat is all taken from the original design for the first movie.
New Nightmare, for all its self-aware, meta-commentary is still an Elm Street film going back to basics at its heart. A chance to deliver a better conclusion to the original Elm Street series of films than Freddy’s Dead ever could. In many more ways than not, it succeeds and it even acts as a film that prophesizes the modern age of Hollywood film-making with a considerable mentality relating to franchise building and maintenance.
Perhaps there is more to not letting a franchise just die than profit motive. Perhaps there is a drive that is both beyond our understanding yet paradoxically intrinsic to us.
At the same time, it does act as Craven and Langenkamp doing something that the rest of Hollywood ultimately couldn’t: saying goodbye to Elm Street.
Videodrome correlates with the Elm Street series in how it challenges the viewer in trying to decipher what is and is not a hallucination or dream-like situation. I didn’t realize that Cronenberg’s gross-out classic would have similar subject matter to Freddy’s nightmares but here we are.
All the way back in the era of VHS and Beta tapes was a film that was willing to deep dive into our increasingly uncomfortable relationship with technology. If Videodrome was made today, it would be extremely relevant if maybe a little too obvious in what it is espousing.
Then again, the film we got is hardly subtle either. But, this is Cronenberg, the man who makes a point about the nature of psychic warfare by having a guy’s head explode. This is just Cronenberg telling a tale they way he knows best. And my God, what a tale.
James Woods is Max Renn, a Canadian TV channel producer in Toronto who controversially embraces the…titillating side of entertainment. His Channel 83 has caused quite a moral panic and he is grilled on the evening news on whether he is really comfortable with what he is showing on public television.
Of course he says yes and his more open-minded approach to consuming media has him discover Videodrome. Let’s just say that everything that Renn has cleared for broadcast, including explicit Japanese porn pales in comparison to Videodrome’s offerings.
It’s bad enough that Max discovers that the acts of torture, murder and the like in the program are real, not staged but that watching it long enough grows a brain tumor that at first creates creepy, sexualized hallucinations that ultimately leads to subliminal control. When Videodrome is through with you, you’re through yourself.
While the imagery of Videodrome can make someone quite uncomfortable even queasy (just ask my dad), it’s intent is not without merit. Cronenberg was inspired to make Videodrome by reading up on the works of Marshall McLuhan, the man who coined the term “The Medium is the Message.”
As part of my Communication minor in College, I had to study McLuhan’s work. Based on what I can remember from my college studies (difficult, I know), McLuhan made the convincing case that nothing can prevent our media consumption from having some effect on us.
From how we view the world, political issues and maybe even what we ourselves think we like, McLuhan makes a pessimistic argument on this not being entirely benevolent or benign. It would be very easy not just to effect our outlooks but our own habits.
Around the same time as Videodrome, Poltergeist was also seen as a more subtle criticism of television having a negative effect on the human experience. Craig T. Nelson rolling out a hotel’s TV following the TV-related paranormal horror of the film at the end was quite purposeful on Tobe Hooper’s and Spielberg’s part.
Videodrome goes the extra mile by making the television program a corporate mind control conspiracy and Max finds himself quite stuck in a situation I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
Due to the ominous tone, not helped by a more laid back than I’m used to portrayal by Woods, Videodrome crept me out on multiple levels. It spooked me sexually, viscerally through Cronenberg’s trademark and impressive body horror and making me consider how deep down a rabbit hole humanity at large is with today’s digital media.
Though Wall-E and Her would also comment on the smart device era’s deleterious repercussions, Videodrome, a film from 1983 made me think about my connections with my own media devices.
Think about how connected you feel to your smartphone, laptop or home console. You might feel lost and dare I say incomplete nowadays in their absence. Considering the poor effects of too much screentime that has been reported, this modern day symbiotic relationship might be an abusive one.
When I see James Woods’ literally fondle his sexualized, organic TV with Debbie Harry’s face, with emphasis on her lips, I find it uncomfortable how much this blatant symbolism connects more now than it did then.
Considering how I own multiple devices, including a TV, this bizarre relationship would be polygamous at this point, all vying for more of my attention.
Videodrome, in spite of its relevant subject matter and one hell of an ominous yet awesome score by Howard Shore, is not for everyone. It’s gross moments are, surprise surprise, very gross and its fearless exploration of taboo subject matter like S&M might further draw people away.
I’m an open-minded guy and when Cronenberg delves into this stuff, I know he’s examining it with care and his consideration makes Videodrome ultimately more fascinating than it is revolting.
Perhaps the gross out factor is part of Cronenberg’s warning and perhaps as early as the 1980s’, he figured that warning was already too late. Humanity would grow closer and closer to technology’s nigh intimate compulsion and us escaping it, as the grim ending suggests, is impossible. Pandora’s box was opened and inside was a television.