Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Revisiting Elm Street....

So one of my birthday presents was the Nightmare on Elm Street box set which I'd been meaning to get for ages even though I've never been a huge fan of the series. They were always a bit too daft for me - I liked horror films that took themselves seriously like The Haunting, Hellraiser, or Halloween (or The Wicker Man for the sake of adding one that doesn't begin with H). Texas Chainsaw Massacre is perhaps the best example - it's bleak, loud, visceral and unpleasant which must surely be a closer representation of being in one of these films than you get from watching them. For some reason not everyone likes their films to be bleak and unpleasant!

That said, I had fond memories of seeing A Nightmare on Elm Street when I was about twelve or thirteen. Prior to seeing the film my only real recollection was a very basic PC game my friend owned where you'd run around a house until Freddy killed you, then you swapped to a different character until the same thing happened. I think those old games have an existential quality - they were always impossible to win so they'd just be about staying alive as long as possible before the monster got you. In this case it heightened my idea of how terrifying the film must be.

Later I remember talking to kids at school about the fact that it was on TV one night and it being a big deal. But it was on really late so I watched it on my small black-and-white TV with the sound down when I was supposed to be in bed - the best way to watch horror films when you're a kid. I don't remember it being scary though, not like the time I saw Friday 13th Part 3 at a similar age and it gave me nightmares.

Since then I've met a few hardcore fans of the series and though never truly sold on its merits I did once enjoy an evening being shown 2 & 3 back to back, but having had too much to drink that night they kind of bled into each other and I now only remember them as one film.

My scariest Freddy experience was the Elm Street maze at Universal Studios a couple of years ago where I learned that if a monster ever did come after me in real life I would either use my future wife as a human shield, or run away and abandon her. She was not impressed.

Anyway, I watched the first film again for the first time in ages and I thought it might be worthwhile writing down my thoughts before this happens:

It was a lot more fun than I remember. I think maybe when I was younger I had the problem that a lot of people seem to be having with Paranormal Activity now - I wanted it to scare me and it didn't, so I was disappointed. With that possibility removed I found myself really enjoying it. Most of the effects still hold up today and look all the better for being practical which adds a certain charm. Fred Krueger is not yet the clown he would later become (or so I understand - I can't speak from authority) and though I don't find him as threatening as maybe I should there is a subtle creepiness that Englund brings to the role behind the bigger performance aspect. The script is tight and moves along at a tremendous pace with barely a lull in the story at all.

I was particularly impressed with the lead character, Nancy. In the days since Carol Clover the final girl has become a tainted with the idea that she is really a man in disguise and Nancy does fall into the stereotype of being sexually unavailable throughout the film. But it's a stereotype that Craven helped create (then deconstructed with the help of Kevin Williamson in Scream) and it's only when the same stereotype turns up in contemporary films that it shows a lack of awareness on the part of the filmmaker - here it still seems interesting. And beyond that, Nancy is a refreshingly resourceful and proactive character. She figures out what needs to be done and she does it, and while she may try to convince others of what is happening their disbelief rarely hinders her determination. Male or female, that's a good trait for the main character and it's the reason the story never loses its pace.

So on recent viewing I find my perceptions of the film have changed considerably - I now agree that it is a classic of its genre and can see the appeal that others have tried to convince me is there over the years. But I am also keen to see the remake as I think there's room for a creepier, more disturbing interpretation of the story, much like Alexandre Aja managed with The Hills Have Eyes. Like the 13-year-old me who badly wanted to be scared by Freddy Krueger I'm probably setting myself up for a massive disappointment.

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