Greetings Loved Ones! Liu is the name, and views are my game.
It’s practically a cliché to make fun of the horror genre, and we all know why. From their feeble writing to their abysmal acting, to their gratuitous amounts of bloodshed and degrading portrayal of women and minorities, scary movies have never been at the top of anyone’s Oscar pick lists. Like hardcore pornography, they have long appealed to our least sophisticated, most base sensibilities. As such, they have been made all the more easy for us to poke fun at. And, oh boy, do we! From The Cabin In The Woods, to Dale And Tucker Vs Evil, to the Scary Movie Franchise, the horror genre has been satirized, trivialized and demonized over and over again. And yet, they are not entirely without hope. Hold on! Hear me out.
See, just because a certain genre is bad overall, doesn’t mean that individual films within that genre don’t have the potential to be profound or well crafted. Just look at The Silence of The Lambs. Here was a film that told the story of a cannibal serial killer, and yet it was well made, well acted, and well written enough to win best picture at the 64th Annual Academy Awards. Similarly, many scholars of cinema consider Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining–a movie that tells the story of one family trapped in an isolated hotel’s plunge into insanity–to be a sophisticated commentary on the genocide of Native Americans. How they came to this conclusion I’ll never know, but that’s beside the point.
And what, you might be wondering, is the point? That horror movies are no better or worse than any other type of movie out there. They, like all films, are just works of art made by people trying to entertain us. Some are more successful, or else seen as better, than others, owing in large part to the manner in which they are executed. And that, dear friends, is why I have decided to write a series of essays examining how certain horror films could have been done better. Now when I say “better,” I mean more interesting from a narrative or character standpoint, or else more profound. These essays are entirely opinion based, and I don’t expect anyone to agree with me. In fact, I would rather like it if fans of the horror genre didn’t. I’m always on the lookout for a good debate, and I’m curious to learn why certain people are so drawn to this type of movie.
But, I’ve kept you all waiting long enough. Here is the first installment in my What A Bloody Mess series; Could Freddy Kruger Have Been Kind: A Critique Of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street.
Most people who’ve never seen a scary movie before have still managed to hear about A Nightmare On Elm Street, and I can understand why. This harrowing tale of a group of teenagers being stalked through their dreams by a burned, blade-glove-wearing serial killer named Freddy Kruger is both highly creative and highly original. I mean, we’ve all had bad dreams before, so the idea of one actually being able to kill you is both terrifying and relatable. Since its release back in 1984, Nightmare has been showered with praise, with many critics interpreting it as a commentary on adolescent struggles with sexuality, and white flight to suburbs. It’s been so successful that it’s spawned countless sequels and even a 2010 remake starring Watchmen’s Jackie Earle Haley. As far as horror movies are concerned, it’s considered by everyone to be a classic. Everyone, that is, except me.
While I certainly find the film to be visually stunning, and the general concept quite original, I’m not all that thrilled with the way it was executed. The dialogue is clunky, the characters are two dimensional, and like most horror films, it fell prey to numerous overused clichés. The blonde “whore” gets axed, the bad guy who lacks any redeeming qualities dies, but doesn’t really die, and of course, there’s a gratuitous amount of idiotic, lowbrow humor. Also, when I first saw the movie, I was left with several unanswered questions. First of all, why dreams? Freddy could just as easily have come back to haunt the kids of elm street as a ghost or zombie, but the screenwriter decided to have him infiltrate their nightmares, and most good writers will tell you, if you choose something that specific, have a reason for it. So, by that rationale, dreams should hold some significance to either the kids or to Kruger. The movie, however, gives no indication that dreams were important to either party. Second, why does Freddy look so weird? I understand why he’s all charred and grey–the parents of the children he killed burned him to death after he got released from prison–but that still doesn’t explain the fedora, the striped shirt, and the ridiculous bladed glove. The director probably wanted him to look original, menacing, but honestly, when you put all those components together, he just looks silly. I swear, the first time I saw a picture of him, I thought he was a rejected Spider Man villain. Thirdly, why does Freddy only attack the kids? I mean, yes, in life he was a child killer, but if the whole point of this nightmare stalking business was to get back at the parents who barbecued him, why the hell doesn’t he go after them? Seriously dude, you’re not thinking very logically.
But what I really had the biggest problem with was the character of Kruger himself. There’s just nothing likable about him, and since the general rule of slasher movies is that the villain is the only link between the sequels, I felt like this was a very bad choice. To me, what’s more important than having a story with a good hero is having a story with a good villain. We remember the various films in The Dark Knight Trilogy, not because of what Batman did in them, but rather, by the colorful characters he had to defeat. It was Heath Ledger as The Joker, and not Christian Bale, that stole the show and won the Oscar. Javier Bardem’s portrayal of the ruthless, unstoppable, but oddly moralistic hit man Chiguhr was what gave No Country For Old Men its brooding tone and deliciously dark color. Even Amon Goeth, the sadistic Nazi antagonist of Schindler’s List, was given some depth and humanity, which in turn made the film much more interesting. Kruger is unarguably the star of all the Nightmare films, so he should be the most interesting person on screen. But the sad fact is, he’s not. He kills children, not because he was abused as a child or because he feels justified in some way, but rather, because he’s a bad man. Plain and simple.
All I could think about after I saw Nightmare was how I wish Wes Craven had told the story differently. And then, one day, without warning, the idea hit me. I knew how the film should have been made. The key to it all was making Freddy Kruger a good guy. Perhaps I should explain. The existing film’s set up goes something like this. Years ago, there was a serial killer named Freddy Kruger who was released from prison due to a technicality. The enraged parents of the children he murdered decided to take justice into their own hands by burning him alive. Years later, Freddy comes back to exact revenge on the parents who slaughtered him by murdering their children in their sleep. However, I did some research and found out a few interesting facts, namely that in the original screenplay, Kruger was supposed to be a child molester, and not a child killer. What this knowledge did was allow me to imagine a new scenario in which Kruger, a kind-hearted if simple-minded homeless man, is accused of raping a young girl. In reality, the young girl was sexually frustrated and tried to seduce him, but then got caught and accused him in order to save herself. Then, when he is released due to insufficient evidence, the girl gets her friends together, and they burn him to death so that he might never get even with her for what she did. Years later, she and the others start to have dreams about the man they killed in cold blood. He doesn’t actually hurt them, but their own guilt and fear causes them to avoid sleep. As time passes, they develop insomnia and become unable to distinguish between dreams and reality. Eventually, they all commit suicide, usually while fantasizing that Kruger is there with them. This scenario includes all the key elements of the original film–including Kruger’s being burned to death, the bizarre dream sequences and strong sexual undertones–while also allowing for greater character development and discussion of morals. Why would the other kids go along with the girl and do something that they know is fundamentally wrong? Did they know that they were just killing him to cover up the first girl’s lie, or did she tell them that they needed to protect themselves? How would each of them cope with the guilt of murder in the years that follow? How would their individual personalities be reflected in the visions they have before killing themselves? All these questions, and more, could be explored in this scenario and not in the existing one. Had Craven decided to tell a story like this, he might not be remembered merely as the maker of violent, b-grade pornography, but rather, as the director of a highly imaginative, highly astute discussion of adolescent sexuality, making poor choices and living with the consequences. But hey, that’s just my opinion. If any of you gore geeks out there would like to disagree, please, by all means, do so.
And that, dear friends, concludes the first installment in the What A Bloody Mess series. Hope you enjoyed it. Be on the lookout for my next review.