Monday, October 6, 2008

The First Horror Movie I Ever Saw...

...was Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare.

What? Do I have to turn in my horror card now? Am I not cooooool enough for the cool kids anymore? Whatevs.

As a little kid, my mom would take me to Diamond Video in San Francisco, which was a tiny little store nestled in the upper class strip mall a few blocks from Twin Peaks. All the original boxes were shrink-wrapped and displayed in the front. You took the box up to the surly teenagers at the front and they'd pull the cassette from a wall of black boxed videos behind them. You weren't allowed to take the original boxes home, but instead you got this ugly little boxes with the name printed on a little slip of paper.

I loved that place.

I think I was simply predisposed to escapism. I had a big imagination, and anything that sparked it could hold my attention forever. When I was really small, I watched Wizard of Oz over and over, every day, for a year. A couple of years later, it was Return of the Jedi. I wasn't necessarily a sedentary kid. Rather, exposure to fantastic worlds gave me a framework to base my imagination off of. When my parents or my au pairs took me to the gigantic playground near my house, I'd build entire games and adventures based on what I'd just seen or read about. One week, the play structure was the second Death Star's throne room, the next week it was Captain Hook's pirate ship, the next it was Voltron's battleground, and so forth.

All these bright, fun, kid-friendly stories could be found on the right side of the store, lined up bright and neat and shiny, like toy soldiers in formation for inspection. But what about the left side, behind the wall partition? What about the boxes lined up in the towering shelves, in the shadows away from the windows?


I remember sneaking away from my mom and wandering down that aisle, looking at the boxes and their lurid cover art, studying the back cover summaries carefully, trying to get as much as I could of the story from the still photos on the back of the boxes. I remember being fascinated by the multi-sequel series, particularly the maddeningly vague, beautifully designed Friday the 13th box art. Inevitably, my mom would either come looking for me or I'd see something so scary that I'd leave the left side of the store and go back to Family or Comedy or Sci-Fi.

I didn't watch a horror movie for most of my childhood. This is probably a good thing. It took next to nothing to scare Little Creature. Scary stories, the scary songs my classmates sang in Halloween music class. Shit, I saw this scene from Who Framed Roger Rabbit when I was eight and it TRAUMATIZED me!

Anyway, time passed, I got a bit older, and my intense attraction/repulsion to the genre only grew. We moved, there were other video stores, and eventually I picked up Freddy's Dead.

For the life of me, I can't remember why I started with this one. Maybe someone recommended it to me, or I heard it wasn't very scary, or maybe I just had some brand recognition thing going on. But I loved it.

I just rewatched it again last night, for the sake of this posting. Freddy's Dead is, by most standards, a failure as a horror film. It's absolutely not scary, full of now-dated pop-culture references, and it has Breckin Meyer getting killed in a video game while he's banged around a cartoon version of Freddy's home.

The weakest link of the movie in undoubtably Freddy. By this point in the series he'd been essentially neutered, with his cringe-inducing puns, his drag show costume changes, and the campy, cartoonish overacting that later directors forced poor Robert Englund to do. Because he was so de-fanged, this made a perfect entry point for me to get into horror. Sure, bad stuff happened, but it was so hokey and over-the-top and completely harmless that it wasn't going to keep me up at night. Better still, the universe Freddy operated in was strange and exotic and magical. I was absolutely hooked.

Coming back to the movie years later, I still really dig about Freddy's Dead.

I really liked the dream sequences. Sure, they're completely bereft of anything even remotely scary, but they're visually imaginative and entertaining. I liked the use of sound in Carlos's dream, the creepy echoes that move through the scene as he gets killed. I liked the cheesy exploration of Freddy Krueger's memories. And, Cthulhu help me, I liked the video game death scene, especially the bit where the room changes around Spencer as Freddy appears in the TV.

I also dig the fact that the lead protagonists all come from an at-risk youth juvenile care facility. Freddy movies tend to have slightly better defined characterization, if only so the viewer can know what vulnerabilities the characters have that Freddy can attack. Granted, this idea was done better in The Dream Warriors but I still like the environment of the facility, with the overworked and understaffed councilors, the edgy, angry kids, and the decay that filled the backdrop in every scene.

I also really liked the effect Freddy's work has on the town of Springwood. With all the teenagers dead, the town is essentially haunted by the living. People speak to imaginary children, offer cryptic warning to the doomed travelers, and generally act batshit psycho. It is implied that Freddy has become significantly more powerful since the start of the series, as Dr. Billy Zane's Sister discovers when she tries to report the death of her charges, only to find that they've been erased from the universe.

I dunno if I can actually recommend this movie. The fact that I lost my horror virginity to Freddy's Dead taints my objectivity. The jokes are pretty goddamn stupid, the Wile-E-Coyote sounds that Spencer makes when he demolishes the house are as ridiculous as clown shoes, and Freddy has the poor taste to die in 3-D.

Still, the movie does have a cameo by Johnny Depp. It can't be all bad, right?

ia ia cthulhu fhtagn


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