Last night I attended the opening of “Friday Fright Nights,” a monthly showcase of horror films brought to us by the Odyssey Cinema. What’s that? A regular chance to see horror on the big screen? Sounds like a dream for a devout horror fan like me.
Arriving at the venue certainly did not disappoint. The staff were clad in horror attire, the entrance was adorned in scary decoration and the eerie soundtrack that accompanied us as we checked in consisted of all the classic horror themes. Further ahead I could hear the distant sound of screaming patrons and suspected instantly that I may be in for some sort of prank.
The next corner that I rounded confirmed this when professionally dressed cosplayers arrived to jolt us. It created a fantastic atmosphere for horror lovers and hats off to the Odyssey for providing it: of course I’m far too macho to fall for such cheap tricks so you’ll have to do better than that next time guys (I feel like I’ve opened a can of worms here?).
A glance at the programme of films is a definite cause for further excitement. There are of course the perennial classics such as Child’s Play and The Thing, as well as modern cult films like James Wan’s Dead Silence.
What is interesting is that nestled amongst these classics are the odd inclusions of sequels rather than the original definitive movies that spawned them (Halloween H20 on October 27 is a fantastic addition in my opinion. Kudos Odyssey Cinema, kudos!).
This is a novel approach by the cinema and personally I welcome it as it offers something other than the typical standard fare to us horror devotees.
The Dream Warriors
Opening night was one such occasion. On display was Chuck Russell’s A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors (1987), the second sequel to Wes Craven’s original horror classic. Despite a troubled production, this instalment (co-written by future Oscar nominee Frank Darabont) has always been a fan favourite of the franchise, and was one of the most successful in terms of box office revenue.
Set around 6 years after the events of the original (and ignoring the events of A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge), Dream Warriors takes up residence in Westin Hospital, where the remaining Elm Street children, led by returning heroine Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) and Kristen (Patricia Arquette, making her film debut), learn to develop and control special dream powers to battle Freddy Kruger and defeat him once and for all… until the box office revenue brought him back in part 5.
As I have said before, this instalment is a fan favourite and the turn out to our excellent hosts at the Odyssey Cinema certainly reflects this. However, the overwhelming sensation that I felt upon leaving the cinema was one of disappointment. Personally, I dislike this film for one simple reason. I consider it to be the beginning of the end for the entire Nightmare franchise and unfortunately it did what the characters in the film could never do… It killed Freddy Kruger.
Beginning of the End?
Let’s go back to 1984 when Wes Craven gave birth to the “bastard son of 100 maniacs,” Freddy Kruger. Back then the character was the embodiment of the expression “iconic villain”. Craven (a formidably intelligent man) designed the character based on primeval and subliminal fears.
For example, the claw relates back to man’s first fear of animal attack. The sweater is green and red because the human retina has difficulty placing the colours side by side. Kruger’s name even derives from that of Krug, the murderous rapist from The Last House on the left, a film considered so shocking that it was only released in its uncut form in 2007.
Freddy Kruger began life as a relentless child killer and molester (a trait played down in the original due to the McMartin case which broke as filming began) burned alive by the anguished parents of Elm Street. Unlike other slasher movie icons of the era, Freddy would return as a metaphysical monster, stalking his victims in their dreams. A truly terrifying character, no?
Nightmare Part 2 was wrought with script problems and the homoerotic undertones are more remembered than most aspects of the film. However, one thing that remained intact from the original was the relentless and terrifying Freddy Kruger. The pool party attack scene is particularly chilling to me and marks an important moment… the last time I feared Freddy Kruger.
Losing the Fear Factor!
Flash forward to Nightmare Part 3 and we find a remarkably different antagonist. The writers (and Craven himself) wanted to push the scale of the franchise and truly open up the boundaries of its dream-based aesthetic. And the film is not without merit or certain excellent set pieces (and the appearance of a younger Laurence Fishburne is a real treat). However, the screening at the Odyssey reminded me that the film has left a rather troubling legacy.
Freddy has always had a sadistic sense of humour that he uses to terrorise his victims. But in part 3 Freddy comes equipped not only with claws, but with one-liners. As the sequels progressed these became THE staple trait of the character and descended in to the downright ridiculous (Freddy on a broom stick is just when we hit rock bottom).
Part 3 started this trend and the sanitising sequels that followed ensured that by the mid-90s the franchise, whilst still profitable, was ultimately a creative wasteland. Wes Craven himself described the character as having descended in to miserable self-parody and named Freddy the Henny Youngman of horror.
A New Nightmare
Craven would ultimately seek to restore some horror to the character in his underrated Wes Craven’s A New Nightmare (an inventive, self-reflective film in which the creators of the franchise are terrorised by their own invention).
This sequel broke new ground and the self-reflective style would later reach it’s apotheosis in Scream (1996) which in turn kicked off a new era of slasher movies. For the Nightmare series there would be no resurgence and the 2010 remake has seemingly killed off the franchise entirely.
A sad end to one of the classic movie villains of our time!