NOTE: The following piece was used to introduce A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS at the FEARnyc Horror Film Festival screening.
Let’s talk about horror movies and time machines.
Time machines haven’t been invented yet. But we do have movie projectors, which bring a captured-moment out of the past and into the present. (There’s a reason Donnie Darko sees the wormhole on the movie-screen — it’s a time machine.)
Going into the FEARnyc screening of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS was a time-travel experience for me. It took me back to 1987, and made me think about how my life has changed since then.
Like a lot of adults who enjoy horror movies, the viewing experience has changed. There is nothing in my current life that provides the cheap thrill a child feels watching an R-rated movie. (How else can I explain my affinity for all the terrible Stephen King adaptations I grew up watching?)
This particular taboo is gone for me, but I was able to re-live the experience by bringing my 11-year-old son to see DREAM WARRIORS – and he’s never seen an ELM STREET film.
Granted, it’s not so dangerous when your dad shows you the R-rated movie, but it’s still a titillating thrill ride of a movie, complete with gratuitous nudity, foul language, a phallic snake monster, and a murderous Dick Cavett. Seriously, though, this is one of the better horror sequels. I wanted him to have the right context, the right history.
It reminded me of another time-travel story: when Marty McFly arrives in 1955, Doc Brown asks him who the president is. Marty tells him it’s Ronald Reagan and Doc is baffled. “Ronald Reagan! The actor?!”
Likewise, the people of 1987 would be surprised to learn that some asshole real estate tycoon from Atlantic City is running for President in 2016.
“So here’s the thing,” I told my son, “In 1987 ,Freddy Krueger was really fucking scary.”
When I was his age, I couldn’t understand my English teacher’s reverence for Elvis Presley. Elvis was a punchline. A human cartoon, seen on the cover of the National Enquirer. A blimp-sized drug-addict who wore ridiculous jumpsuits and died on the toilet. Once you saw him that way, it was nearly impossible to see him as “The King.” It’s hard to imagine that guy being so dangerously sexy that CBS couldn’t show his hips on The Ed Sullivan Show.
On the flipside of this historical wormhole, I consider myself very lucky, because when I was 11, I was able to watch and enjoy The Cosby Show.
Yes, back in the ‘80s, I was lucky enough to visit the Twin Towers AND hear Bill Cosby records, without any moral bargaining. Two things you can’t do today.
A third and final example from my pop culture timeline: Michael Jackson.
When the people of 1987 heard that name, they’d automatically think “The King of Pop.” (The worst connotation someone might conjure up was a Pepsi commercial gone wrong.)
But today, most people’s first association with Michael is far worse.
Which segues back to another glove-wearing (alleged) child molester with bad skin who didn’t go to jail: Freddy Krueger.
The same way you have to remember that Michael Jackson was once a moonwalking superstar, you need to understand that Freddy Krueger was a terrifying villain.
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The Christopher Nolan DARK KNIGHT movies introduced the idea that you either die a hero, or live love enough to see youtself become a villain.
Likewise, a horror villain can either die after one sequel, or live long enough to see himself become a Bobblehead.
When you watch A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREEET 3: DREAM WARRIORS, you go back to a cultural crossroads where Freddy Krueger cemented the franchise for New Line. He made people a lot of money, but what was lost in the process?
In the years that followed DREAM WARRIORS, Freddy became overexposed:
- The film series produced five more sequels and a remake.
- ELM STREET spun-off into a syndicated TV series that lasted for two seasons and 44 episodes, with Freddy delivering Crypt-Keeper style puns.
- In 1988, Krueger co-hosted his own MTV Special, to promote NIGHTMARE 4: THE DREAM MASTER. Freddy told VJ Kevin Seal about “his movies,” suddenly blurring the line between the character and pitchman. (For more of this shilling, check out Freddy’s sales tape for video stores.)
- That same year Fred Kruger rapped with the Fat Boys in the music video and novelty single, “Are You Ready for Freddy?”
You see my name is Freddy and I’m here to say
I’ll wrap you up and take you all away!
So if you feel like you’re tired and ready for bed
Don’t fall asleep or you’ll wake up dead!
- There was also an original album titled “Freddy’s Greatest Hits.” That came out in 1987, the same year as DREAM WARRIORS.
- In 1989, Krueger showed up in an episode of DC Follies, where he offered to help President Bush “slash” the budget. Freddy considers murdering the Commander in Chief, until he realizes that it would make Dan Quayle President.
- Toy stores sold little Freddy Krueger talking dolls, which said things like “Hi, I’m Freddy!” (I’m pretty sure he never introduces himself like that.)
- A money-grubbing 1-900 number offered brand-new stories at $2 for the first minute (Two bucks in 1989 is equal to $3.89 today).
- Also available was a comic book series, including one cover where Freddy’s gloved hand is rising up from a toilet. (Which suggests where the franchise had gone.)
- My personal favorite side-project is when Freddy became a wrestler in Japan. He battled Leatherface.
- And of course there was a board game, a 1990 Nintendo game, and a Freddy pinball game from 1994. (A wasted opportunity, since the pinball machine never has Freddy say “I’m just bustin’ your balls!”)
And that brings us back to DREAM WARRIORS.
The wise-crackin’ murderer was becoming a trope in 1980s cinema. DREAM WARRIORS was released a year and a half after COMMANDO. Sure, James Bond had been making puns in the face of fatalities for years, but the ELM STREET deaths were much more grisly. And the jokes weren’t coming from a charming spy-hero, but a hideous child-killer villain.
And that’s part of the shift that took place in 1987. Wes Craven’s original draft of the screenplay was deemed too dark, so it was gutted and re-written with more camp and more punchlines. New Line Cinema mapped out a future for their burnt-faced screen idol. The die was cast, and Freddy embraced his new fate as a goofy mascot of the macabre.
The success of DREAM WARRIORS would forge a path from the 1987 to the present, where Freddy Krueger is a limited-edition Mr. Potato Head.
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Post-script: My 11-year-old said the movie wasn’t that scary. We agreed the film has a lot in common with PHANTASM. Besides melding dreams and reality, the Freddy was a shape-shifter, like the Tall Man. Though Freddy takes multiple forms. I said I thought it would be funny if when the topless nurse seduced Joey, she transformed into Dick Cavett, and then back into Freddy. Maybe that was in the script, and Dick Cavett turned it down.
Immediately after the screening, a number of festival-goers approached my 11-year-old and asked how he liked the movie. Besides seeing a dynamic sequel, my kid saw that horror fans are also kind and considerate. Lesson learned: Just because someone spends money to see teenagers get mutilated on-screen doesn’t mean they’re not nice people.
Tags: Angelo Badalamenti, Chuck Russell, Craig Wasson, Dokken, Fandom, FearNYC, Frank Darabont, Freddy Krueger, Heather Langenkamp, Horror, Kevin Maher, Larry Fishburne, new line cinema, Patricia Arquette, Robert Englund, Robert Shaye, Wes Craven