Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Nightmare on Elm Street

I've been hacking away at this blog for about a year now and I haven't said much about Freddy Krueger, the dream slasher from the Nightmare on Elm Street series. If I were being honest with you, it's because I never connected to him as much as I did to Jason.

A passion for horror seems to be the flower that grows from the loamy soil of early adolescence, particularly troubled ones where a person feels powerless. I know I developed a certain degree of sympathy for Jason because of what was going on in my own life. I felt like an ugly outsider who couldn't connect to people and I used to imagine that Jason felt the same way, only he had the power to lash out against that. It made logical sense to my crazy 14-year-old head; no girl is ever going to sleep with me, no group is ever going to accept me, so they might as well fear me.

In commenting about an essay I wrote on the ordinariness of my street name, my writing instructor observed that I treat it like a cipher I can inhabit. To a large extent, that's true about the character of Jason. He's a cipher. You can make of him whatever you want, because he doesn't do much but lumber around and kill. Freddy is an actual character, with his own quirks and foibles, and doesn't have the same kind of role-playing possibilities. It's not to say I didn't love his movies, but when I started getting into the genre I was looking for heroes as much as stories.

Time has given me new respect for the series.

I think that everyone goes through period of bad taste, a point theoretically contained in their formative years where they enjoy the vulgar and the obvious. Watching The Hangover yesterday (or, indeed, most of the dreck that passes for "comedies") I'm inclined to believe most of us never bother to outgrow that stage. I know I was deep in that particular worldview when I started getting into horror and I favored the wilder, more ostentatious later entries in the series than the modest, restrained film that started it all.

Perhaps I'm giving the movie too much credit. Perhaps it was simply a new idea and they hadn't completely felt their ways around the borders of Freddy Krueger. But the fact remains that NoES feels almost completely different from the rest of the series, even beyond the budgetary constrictions. Freddy (or "Fred", as the movie calls him) isn't center-stage in the movie, which instead finds its scares through a really uncomfortable sense of surreality. As the movie goes on, we start losing track of when Nancy is asleep or awake, the bizarre effects Freddy causes start leaking into the real world, and the movie begins to take the shape of a non-linear, too-clever-by-half, foreign film.

I'm not going to pretend this is a perfect movie. The disco-club soundtrack is completely ridiculous, Nancy's dead mother sinking into the disco-ball bed while waving is laughable, and the notion of Nancy tricking out her house strikes me as part Vietcong, part Home Alone. Most of these quibbles are specific to the era, and are kinda petty given the pleasure I received from the work. Still, gotta pretend I'm not COMPLETELY fawning over it.

There is a remake coming up, and the new Freddy has been cast. It's done by the guys who did the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th remakes. I liked their previous work, but I worry that they're going to miss the potential with this franchise.

A big part of the reason Freddy appeals to people is that the movies are so much more visual and imaginative. Killing someone in the delirium of a dream is such a wonderful, wonderful concept, but most of the actual dream sequences are very literal and structured and shallow. The video game fan gets killed in a video game while working out his previously-alluded father issues, the gamer nerd gets killed pretending to be a wizard, etc.

If I could get the budget and the clout to hire my dream team, it would be either Michel Gondry or Neil Gaiman. Both men have created beautiful, surreal stories set in the dream world, and a chance for either of them to play in that particular sandbox would give me the biggest geekgasm ever. When all is said and done, Jason is completely formulaic. With Freddy there's potential to create something amazing.

As a side note, it's sometimes challenging to write this blog because I often find myself poking delicately at the bruises of my psyche. For me (and I'm sure for a lot of other fans) horror becomes inexorably tied to the strange sides of our souls.

I once met graphic novelist and personal hero Adrian Tomine and he told me that one of the hesitations he had in being honest with his work was a powerful desire to be liked. Sometimes I think about the way my audience will view me when I talk about idolizing monsters. It doesn't mean I am a particularly unpleasant or sinister person. I'm quite affable in public, truth be told. But my passions don't necessarily come from a place many people will understand or be comfortable with. I think that some of you understand where I'm coming from, though.

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