Posted on 8/26/04 04:46 AM
Horror films -- especially in the slasher genre -- operate off the audience's need to believe their fears and anxieties exist in a real, knowable form outside themselves, and as such are somehow manageable. You can't always run from complex, adult problems, at least not easily. But a slow moving man with a machete? Oh hell yes.
Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street took this basic concept and added to it the primal power of dreams. Everyone has experienced a dream or two that possessed the weight and instensity of waking life, usually nightmares that one awakes from with a large sense of relief. So it's doubly terrifying to put the idea of a manageable fear, the slasher stalker, into an unmanageable space, that of dreams.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors - Freddy continues to stalk those Elm Street kids, and now further removed from the pivotal events in the first film, no one believes their nightmares. As a result, they're locked together in a mental hospital, where Freddy creatively makes his assaults appear as nothing more than teen-suicide. Nancy from the first installment turns up as a grad student specializing in sleep disorders and attempts to help out, becoming drawn into their world and detached from that of her adult colleages. As it turns out, the kids all have their own style of super-powers in the dream world, but discovering and utilizing them before Freddy can get to them remains something of a problem.
Here we get a much deeper view of Freddy's nightmare dreamscape, and the film is awash in terrific visual concepts and solid special effects. There's a good deal of play between the reality of the nightmares and the disbelieving hospital staff, a good fictional mirror of the teenage belief that adults downplay and ignore their everyday anxieties and fears.
The character of Nancy is updated and given some depth, what with her sleep-disorder studies and fringe beliefs increasing her sense of alienation not only with her colleagues but also with her drunken father (a returning John Saxon). The presence of future veterans Patricia Arquette and Lawrence Fishburne add some weight and naturalness to the usual bad horror movie acting.
With the different levels of conflict keeping the story moving at a strong pace, and the inventiveness of the visuals throughout, Dream Warriors is a distinct cut above in the Nightmare series and one of the best horror movies of its period.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: Dream Master - This time, instead of a team of dream warriors, there's a dream master, who gains the skills and abilities of her fallen comrades. Naturally, Freddy keeps her alive as he wants to use her abilities to pull more kids into his nightmare world. No doubt an intriguing concept -- as your friends fail you become stronger, all the time taunted by their killer. There's a world of dramatic possibilties in the concept, one which could touch on teen competiveness, jealousy, and guilt. In a horror film, this could also be turned into a sort of delicious schadenfreude writ large.
But the most terrifying thing about the film is the placard at the opening which reads: Directed by Renny Harlin. He runs past any tempation for depth and turns out a dull rehash of the first few films with some interesting visual concepts marred by standard slasher-fare, which includes inept direction and abrupt editing. Of mild interest is the licensing fees they must have paid for the then-current pop-music sound track, the clothes, and oh my, the big scary 1980s hair. Oh, the hair. *Shudder*
New Nightmare - A sort of proto-Scream meta-horror, what with an evil force -- personfied as Freddy from the Nightmare films -- terrorizing cast members, directors, producers and special effects folk from the movies. Craven and crew seem to be completely unaware of the elements that made the francise so popular -- namely Freddy, who doesn't make an appearance here until forty minutes into the running time. The film is chock full of dialogue scenes between Langenkamp and her on-screen son, a poor, witless child actor of no ability whatsoever.
Instead of playing to the film fanatic's desire to see their favorite personalities terrorized by their favorite on-screen villain, Langenkamp is forced to carry the film by herself, as every scene is told solely from her point of view -- the film feels like it's on her and a series of one-off cameos, and she isn't a good enough actress to pull it through.
Worse, Craven isn't skilled enough to keep the story from veering closely to The Exorcist, with the son becoming possessed by the demon-spirit and Candyman, as Longenkamp becomes more and more unglued at being stalked by unseen forces in which no one but her can believe.
He also doesn't take the opportunity to delve deeper into the material, avoiding the chance to turn any of the elements on their head with wry commentary as seen in Scream. (It's no wonder he jumped at Williamson's script a few years later, as Scream is the film New Nightmare wants to be, although at the same time its presence makes Scream III all the more redundant and ridiculous). The film takes itself far too seriously, and at this point in the series, it may have been better to do something halfway between out and out parody and homage -- à la Freddy vs. Jason.
The final nail in the proverbial coffin is the mid-movie on-screen explanation -- delivered by a straightfaced Craven -- of the demon-spirit being an eternal evil occasionally trapped by a "good storyteller" in a stories, ie Craven himself and the entire Nightmare series. That's the real scare of the film; while it plays as laughable and arrogant, it just may be that Craven is a little bit nutty and a part of him believes such things. In which case, based on the quality of New Nightmare, the demon hasn't been trapped for quite some time and we're all in serious trouble.