31 Days of Horror 2019: Week 4

Freddy was my first.

Last year I told the story of how I was introduced to him at my friend’s house at the tender age of 8, when her older sister decided it would be a good idea for all of us to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. I was excited by the prospect—an “adult” (I’m not sure if the sister was actually 18 or not) was giving me permission to watch a rated-R movie, a taboo idea that I never would’ve come up with on my own since I was a good little girl who followed her parents’ strict rules (for the most part). Moreover, she wasn’t just saying it was okay, she was encouraging me to watch it. Eventually I decided that because she was in charge and I was just a guest in their house, I should go along with it.

The result? It was love at first fright.

Needless to say, my mom was not happy when she found out (and by “found out,” I mean I enthusiastically chattered endlessly about the amazing movie I just saw), and I suspect that sleepovers at that particular friend’s house were expressly forbidden following the incident.

Since then, my Freddy Krueger/A Nightmare on Elm Street obsession has always simmered in the background of my mind, waiting for any opportunity to rear its psychopathic head. As a result I have a small but impressive collection of Freddy gear—DVDs, t-shirts, various small collectibles, and a book—as well as a couple fun items from parodies—specifically The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror segment “A Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace” with Groundskeeper Willie stepping into the role of Freddy, and the “Scary Terry” segment of the Rick and Morty episode “Lawnmower Dog.”

You can see some of my collection below:

It appears that week four of 31 Days of Horror has become the time for Freddy to shine, as I discovered that I also watched my selection of Nightmare movies the same time last year. But there’s more to horror movies than Freddy, so I ended the week with a few previously unwatched movies as well as a couple non-Freddy favorites.

I guess you could say that in addition to Freddy, this week has something old (And Then There Were None, based on a book published in 1939), something new (Burning, my first viewing of the movie released in 2018), something borrowed (Us, which I rented), and something blue (In the Mouth of Madness, in which blue plays an important role).

So by the power vested in me by the state of terror, I now pronounce you scared and entertained…

DAY 21
Title: A Nightmare on Elm Street

Year Released: 1984
Rating: R

First viewing: No

Quotable Moment: “Whatever you do… don’t fall asleep.”

Summary: A group of teenagers is terrorized by the same menacing figure in their dreams, a burned man wearing a glove with bladed fingers who starts picking them off one by one.

Terror Trivia: The stuntman who performed a stunt late in the movie involving fire and a staircase earned “best stunt of the year.”

My reaction: The original Nightmare is arguably also the best of the bunch. After reading my Freddy-infused ramblings, I’m sure you’ve figured out that this is one of my must-watch movies of the season. It also features one of the greatest “final girls” in the annals of horror, Nancy Thompson. The “final girl” trope is one of the more refreshing aspects of the genre—while other types of movies were comfortable depicting negative female stereotypes or marginalizing women, horror movies made their heroines smart and tough. These characters were often more realistic portrayals of what women are actually like than some of their counterparts. Even so, most “final girls” don’t get to do much more than run and hide. They survive solely based on quick thinking and tenacity. Nancy is different because she’s given the opportunity to take it one step further—she not only reacts in the moment, she fashions a plan to fight back. She does research, buys supplies, sets traps…she prepares for a final showdown she knows can only end in one of two ways: either she catches Freddy or she dies by his hand (claws). Nancy does more than just offer herself up as bait, though, she actively goes looking for Freddy; she’s sick of his sh*t and she’s going to put a stop to it. Of course, Nancy is just one of the many aspects that contribute to the movie’s greatness. I know I talked about this last year, but I think I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the still-impressive practical effects, like Tina’s murder and the scene where Freddy presses through the wall over a sleeping Nancy (as seen in the movie poster above). Many of the effects stand the test of time and help create the nightmarish atmosphere required to make the movie work. If you’ve never seen it, you definitely have to. Once you’ve gone Freddy, you’ll never go to beddy…

DAY 22

Title: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Year Released: 1987
Rating: R

First viewing: No

Quotable Moment: “In my dreams I’m beautiful…and bad.”

Summary: Freddy’s back, but this time his intended victims are patients in a mental hospital. Luckily, these teenagers get some assistance from someone familiar with Krueger’s tactics.

Terror trivia: This was originally intended to be the last movie of the franchise; there are several cut scenes that suggest Freddy was successfully vanquished.

My reaction: As previously mentioned, this was my introduction to the Elm Street universe, therefore it will always have a special spot in my heart. But it’s also notable because of the return of my beloved Nancy Thompson, the vanquisher of nightmares and overall warrior woman. This film allows Nancy to actually help others, something she attempted in the first Nightmare but ultimately failed to accomplish. She ends up arming Freddy’s targets with the knowledge and confidence they need to fight back; she’s completely honest with them about the potential consequences—facing Freddy can be lethal—but encourages them to stand up to him nevertheless. This time around there are more survivors, so our “final girl” won’t have to process recent events alone, but there are still significant losses along the way. As for Freddy himself, he’s changed a bit since the original. His kills have become more creative and he seems to take a great deal of pleasure in verbally skewering his prey before killing them, adding a few puns and one-liners in the mix for good measure. His look has also morphed into the more classic one that’s become so familiar. As with the first film, there are some great practical effects, like the Freddy snake scene and the rotting pig scene. It’s worth a watch for fans of the original movie, though if my experience is any indication, you could start with this one if you wanted to.

DAY 23
Title: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Year Released: 1994
Rating: R

First viewing: No

Quotable Moment: “You are all my children now…”

Summary: The evil behind Freddy is trying to cross over into real life, but he has to get through the woman who played his original adversary first.

Terror trivia: This is Robert Englund’s favorite movie of the Nightmare franchise.

My reaction: You can think of this movie as a precursor to Scream…a distant relative, if you will. It blends reality and fantasy in a way we’ve never seen before in the franchise—this time around the focus is Heather Langenkamp, the actress who played Nancy Thompson, and includes some of the original cast and crew playing themselves, like Robert Englund (Freddy), Jon Saxon (Nancy’s father), and series creator Wes Craven. Heather’s husband and son are portrayed by actors, however, and the plot is obviously a fictionalized version of her life. The movie version of her son plays a major role in the story, as he is the conduit Freddy plans on using to cross over. Dylan is definitely a member of the “creepy children” club I mentioned last week, but he belongs in the distinctive subcategory of “creepy children who aren’t creepy all the time,” a far less common creature. There are times when Dylan is a normal kid, adorable and full of limitless energy, but there are also times when he’s strangely quiet and exhibits odd behavior. He’s very Danny Torrence-esque in that respect. One of my favorite things about “normal” Dylan is the fact that he’s selected his trusty stuffed dinosaur Rex to protect him while he sleeps. Placing Rex under his covers at the foot of the bed to prevent Freddy from climbing up and grabbing him is very true-to-life; it’s exactly what a little kid would do in that situation…I know that some of my stuffed animals were given the same responsibility when I was young. Of course, they didn’t have to protect me from Freddy (for some reason I was under the impression that he and I were cool, so he’d never come after me, in a Hannibal Lector/Clarice Starling kind of way), they had keep the monsters that lived in my imagination at bay instead. In any case, this movie gives a proper ending to the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. There may be reboots or remakes or whatever you want to call them, but the original series is over. They gave my beloved Freddy his due before sending him off to oblivion, and now everyone else can rest in peace.

DAY 24

Title: A Nightmare on Elm Street
Year Released: 2010
Rating: R

First viewing: No

Quotable Moment: “Why are you screaming? I haven’t even cut you yet.”

Summary: A group of teenagers experiencing similar nightmares start to uncover unsavory facts about their own pasts.

Terror trivia: The same woman who knitted Freddy Krueger’s sweater for the original A Nightmare on Elm Street made his sweater for this remake.

My reaction: I’m sad to say that this Nightmare reboot doesn’t live up to expectations. There are a few really interesting ideas scattered throughout and some great shots/special effects (which is why I keep coming back to it), but they don’t make up for the movie’s glaring flaws. Perhaps the most significant problem has to do with the characters themselves. In the original, we’re dealing with a group of four friends…or at least two female friends and their boyfriends. The relationship between Tina and Nancy is believable, and though their boyfriends don’t seem to particularly like each other, it’s reasonable that they would tolerate each other for their girlfriends’ sakes. In this version, we don’t have a believable friend group. I mean, yeah, I believe they know each other, but they’re clearly not close. This problem comes to a head relatively early on when one character emphatically claims, “Dean was my friend too.” Um… No way. Every time I hear that line I cringe a little because it’s so preposterous. And unlike the original’s use of practical effects, this one leans too heavily on CGI, ruining some of the more memorable moments they attempted to recapture. But there are a few bright spots in this otherwise sub-par remake, including the scene where Nancy is tormented by Freddy while flashing between a dream (his boiler room) and reality (a pharmacy). It even gets bonus points for using the Everly Brothers’ song “All I Have To Do Is Dream” in the background (an excellent choice). When all is said and done, I can’t in good conscience recommend this movie since it’s pretty much universally loathed, but I can truthfully say it isn’t the worst one I’ve watched this October.

DAY 25

Title: Burning
Year Released: 2018
Rating: Not Rated

First viewing: Yes

Quotable Moment: “The great hungry is a person who is hungry for survival. Why do we live, what is the significance of living? People who are always looking for these answers. This kind of person is really hungry.”

Summary: A love triangle goes awry when the woman involved disappears without a trace and one of the men begins to suspect that the other has something to do with her sudden departure. Based on the short story “Barn Burning” by Haruki Murakami.

Terror trivia: One scene took a month to shoot because it takes place during sunset so they could only film for a limited amount of time each day.

My reaction: There was a lot of buzz surrounding this movie when it came out, so I made a note to check it out during my 31 Days of Horror. As with Hereditary, which I watched during week one, I found myself incredibly disappointed by it; I’m genuinely confused by all of the glowing reviews, so much so that I started second guessing myself. Did I miss something major? Was it over my head? In situations like this, I turn to the internet for the many plot synopses and explanations it provides access to. After reading a few, I was able to come to a definitive conclusion—the answer to both questions is “no.” According to Rotten Tomatoes, “Burning patiently lures audiences into a slow-burning character study that ultimately rewards the viewer’s patience — and subverts many of their expectations.” I cannot express how strongly I disagree with that opinion. I mean, yes, it was an extraordinarily slow-burning character study…it was such a slow burn that I’d argue the flames were completely extinguished by the time there was a flicker of an interesting development. An hour and a half passed before it seemed like something might be happening, which was a relief because up until that point almost nothing had happened. That flicker managed to re-light the long dead embers of the supposed slow-burn enough that I was able to stay awake until the end. The last hour was full of ambiguous clues as to the fate of the missing woman, adding some much-needed intrigue to the story, though we never get any definite answers (for the record, I have no problem with that aspect of the movie). It’s beautifully shot and Steven Yeun (of The Walking Dead) is great as the inscrutable Jay Gatsby-ish character, but I was utterly unimpressed by the other male lead, played by Ah-in Yoo. Whether it was a result of poor acting or poor writing, I found his character to be almost implausibly inexpressive and just “blah” in general. Going back to the review I quoted before, I didn’t think my patience was rewarded and none of my expectations were subverted. In fact, the only reason why I didn’t turn it off in the middle is that I had already invested so much time in it that I wanted to see it through (it clocks in at a whopping two and a half hours). With all the terrific reviews out there, I wouldn’t blame you for wanting to give it a shot, but I certainly won’t be watching it again.

DAY 26

Title: In the Mouth of Madness
Year Released: 1994
Rating: R

First viewing: Yes

Quotable moment: “Sane and insane could easily switch places, if the insane were to become the majority. You would find yourself locked in a padded cell, wondering what happened to the world.”

Summary: The search for a missing author brings an insurance agent to a seemingly idyllic New England town that shouldn’t exist.

Terror trivia: The fictional town in the movie is called Hobb’s End…in the past, the word “hobb” referred to the devil.

My reaction: I’d say that this is the typical bad ‘80s horror movie except it came out in the ‘90s. The style reminded me of such cult classics as They Live and Hellraiser, neither of which I’ve watched in its entirety, but both of which have a certain feel to them…a kind of poorly-made cheesy quality. The acting in this film was atrocious at times, especially during the awkward attempts at creating sexual tension between two of the main characters. These scenes were so bad that they made me squirm in my seat uncomfortably and pray for them to end. Adding insult to injury, the forced chemistry led nowhere, making such scenes completely pointless. As for the plot, I suppose it’s fairly unique, though the big idea seems to have been inspired by the old Twilight Zone episode “A World of His Own,” and therefore less remarkable to someone like me who was already familiar with it. I’d say more, but I don’t want to ruin it for people who haven’t seen that episode because they could find it provocative. The character of the missing author is supposedly partially based on Stephen King, which might explain at least part of my reaction (I don’t particularly care for him as a writer), but I think a bigger part of it had to do with the fact that the whole concept wasn’t executed very well. It has some potential, but this movie falls flat for me. It wouldn’t hurt to try, but don’t expect much.

DAY 26 (continued)
Title: And Then There Were None

Year Released: 2015
Rating: TV-14

First viewing: No

Quotable Moment: “Either I’m embellishing a story for shocking effect, or I’m the only one telling the truth in a room full of liars.”

Summary: Ten strangers that are lured to an isolated island and killed in a manner described in a poem, a copy of which hangs in every room.

Terror trivia: Based on Agatha Christie’s best-selling novel; it also happens to be the best-selling mystery in the world.

My reaction: Coincidentally, Sam Neil starred in both of today’s selections: In the Mouth of Madness and And Then There Were None. I didn’t do it on purpose, it just so happens that’s how the timing worked out. Spooooooooooooky. Anyway, I’m a fan of the original novel, and this is the best adaptation of it that I’ve seen, though it still isn’t quite good enough. It’s beautifully filmed, with a chic, polished look to it, but it can be a bit heavy on the form and a little light on the substance. That said, the actors are perfectly cast and portray a wide range of personality types. It’s especially fun to watch how they react when each is accused of murder—some justify their actions, some make excuses and explain why it wasn’t their fault, and some deny it outright. There’s only one character who freely admits to his actions and takes responsibility for them, as despicable as they may be. Are the others innocent, or are they liars? And if they’re liars, do they recognize the truth and are just lying to everyone else, or are they lying to themselves as well…have they convinced themselves that they did nothing wrong? Furthermore, if they are being hunted, who is hunting them? Is there someone else on the island, or is it one of them? This is a fascinating character study that will have you guessing until the end, at which point it will provide you with the answers you seek. This was a TV miniseries so it’s on the longer side (just under 3 hours), but it’s much more enjoyable than Burning. It’s the perfect choice for those who love a good murder mystery.

DAY 27

Title: Us
Year Released: 2019
Rating: R

First viewing: No

Quotable moment: “And to think, if it weren’t for you… I never would’ve danced at all.”

Summary: A woman and her family face come face to face with their homicidal doppelgängers, and are forced to fight them to survive.

Terror trivia: The number 11:11 repeatedly makes an appearance after a homeless man is seen holding a sign with “Jeremiah 11:11,” a bible verse that’s significant to the plot.

My reaction: When I wrote about Black Swan in week two I mentioned my penchant for stories about doubles/doppelgängers, so it should come as no surprise that I’m excessively fond of this movie. What makes Us stand out amongst other such stories is the fact that there’s more than one double involved. Usually an individual character is battling his/her potentially evil other self, but in this case evidently everyone has one. This completely changes how the characters experience the event—it’s not just one person who might be having a mental breakdown anymore. Everyone is involved. Everyone is forced to participate and go through the horror of facing his/her double. It also prevents the audience from taking the easy way out; you can’t say, “Oh, it’s all in his/her head.” Not this time. This is real (in the context of the movie, that is). And I have to say that all of the actors involved did a stellar job portraying both versions of their characters, especially Lupita Nyong’o, whose performance was exquisite. However, this movie isn’t without flaws…in the end there are a lot of unanswered questions and some things don’t make much sense. But the rest of the story is captivating enough that I’m able to overlook all that. This is an excellent choice for all horror fans; there’s some violence, but it’s not particularly bloody. It messes with your head more than anything else.

Do you have a movie you’d like to recommend? Do you have any thoughts on the movies I’ve already written about? If so, add your comments below…

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