We resurrect an old column dedicated to our imaginary film sequels with a trip to Elm Street. Dylan thinks he knows how to reboot the screen exploits of dream demon Freddy Krueger.
Slasher movies are so out of fashion at the moment and close to being parodied into oblivion, so it can be easy to forget they are one of the most horrific forms of cinema out there. With huge body counts, psychotic killers, and graphic violence, it is strange how characters like Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers have slipped into the mainstream. Not since pirates being accepted as a suitable theme for children’s birthday parties have murderers been so regularly accepted in our society.
The best example is Wes Craven’s Freddy Krueger, who even by the standards of the genre, is quite terrifying. Many slasher characters are normal people turned evil, such as Myers going from a little boy to a killing machine, or Jason being drowned in Camp Crystal Lake. But Freddy was already a child molester before he became an actual monster. You could make a movie out of him before he started infecting people’s dreams (and they even tried that once). Yet after largely silly sequels, a music video, a NES game, and the ravages of time, he became little more than a Halloween costume. But there is clearly scope to bring Freddy back in a terrifying role, and I think I might have a way to do it. Below is my pitch for Nightmare, a new Freddy movie that tries to discover the purest horror in his concept.
If we take an Elm Street movie at its most basic level, it is the idea that a dream can kill you in real-life. All the dream warriors, characters and Springwood settings are fun, but not intrinsic to its molecular fear level. We are all unified by our nightmares, and the concept of something stalking the darkest levels of your subconscious is one that you can explain to all ages and cultures. So what I suggest is that studios make a Freddy movie that is a nightmare from start to finish. We have our main protagonist wake up in bed, only to discover that she is still dreaming. From there, it becomes a struggle to survive against Freddy (Robert Englund) in an increasingly-surreal would. This would flip the normal dynamic of A Nightmare on Elm Street movie into something more pure. There would be absolutely no doubt the film was a dream, and rather it would explore how to survive a Freddy nightmare. Almost in the style of something like Gravity, this would be one simple idea spun over a relatively short running time of about ninety minutes. Could this high concept sustain itself over an hour and a half? And what would stop it from just being an extended version of the dream scenes from earlier movies?
To combat this, Nightmare would take influence from other movies that have successfully explored dreaming. One film that comes to mind is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Although Michel Gondry’s flick dealt more with the human subconscious rather than dreaming exactly, there is plenty of overlap in terms of visual style. As long as everything was pumped into it feeling like a dream, then it could remain gripping. And I do mean dreamlike. A problem several of the Freddy films have had is that, no matter how stylish and interesting the death scenes are, they are sticking to the conventions of the slasher genre in everything from pacing to shot selection. My Nightmare would break this down completely, going for atmospheric scares found in movies like Eraserhead, Carnival of Souls and maybe even as far back as Un Chien Andalou. There is so much potential in lighting, sound and effects in the Nightmare series, and this is the place for them.
Most ambitiously, you could hide the fact that it is a Freddy movie at all. Obviously there have been many films that deal with dreamlike subject matter, and you could easily have a teenage girl wondering around a surrealist landscape without the character instantly coming to mind. Only when the hat, glove and jumper comes into play would he reveal himself. Please do not think that I am trying to shy away from the history of the Elm Street series (which is now over thirty). Why it has survived over other slasher franchises is that the make-believe setting allows for a series of inventive kills, and potentially an infinite amount of set-pieces to pick from in the future. Nightmare would allow this for the whole movie, but in the realm of the protagonist’s dreamscape, so there is never a moment of relief. It would even allow for multiple murders. Although a dream only has one lead, there are plenty of people who could appear in these nocturnal visions. If Freddy is really trying to kill her, it makes sense that he would take down those who pop-up in her memories as well. There are plenty ways to weave in the customary Elm Street style, whilst introducing a new level of psychological drama.
Also, it would be worth exploring what dreaming means in terms of the human subconscious, and the conventions thereof. Time could expand and contract, settings and characters could change instantly, and Freddy’s attempts to kill her could not only be inventive, but reveal more of her personality. We would find out what her phobias are, what her concerns for the future are, who she loves, and what she hates etc. By the end, our heroine would not be fodder for Freddy’s blades, but a rounded character who has to face both her real and psychological fears.
What Nightmare could do is break new ground in the slasher genre by going for a more atmospheric tone, rather than just inventive kills wrapped around a teen drama plot. It would be a new exploration of what makes Krueger scary, putting the character back into the shadows, and making him less human and less cartoonish. For a franchise that is still so novel and exciting, this would both bring it up-to-date and get to the core of what makes the Fedora-wearing “dream demon” so great…