Flashback Friday: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

I thought about doing this on the original 1984 movie, but I wanted to shake things up a bit and go instead with the movie that continued to show Wes Craven as an innovator of the horror genre as well as helped lay the groundwork for the franchise that would once again place his name at the top of the horror movie game. And so it goes with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.

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Released in October 1994, New Nightmare marked Craven’s return to the franchise that he unwittingly launched 10 years earlier. Craven’s original intention was to make a one-off film. He never intended that first movie to receive sequels. In fact, the movie’s original ending was far less ambiguous than the one that producer Bob Shaye insisted be tacked on at the last minute. Just like any money-hungry producer, Shaye saw the potential of this film to spawn the one thing that producers crave: a franchise (isn’t that right, Spielberg? Could have had a great horror ending to Paranormal Activity, but, no, you had to ruin it with a franchise-friendly ending…just like you ruin most movies you have anything to do with).

Fast-forward through the first sequel, with which Craven had nothing to do and which kind of hangs in this weird homoerotic netherworld among the rest of the franchise as not quite belonging but still being kind of awesome in its own weird right, and Shaye and New Line invite Craven back to pen the third movie (they had actually wanted him back to direct as well but he was still working on Deadly Friend). However, again, Craven doesn’t want Freddy to become a series. His original script for Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors was far more disturbing, dark, and demented than what Shaye finally greenlit. Craven returned as a way to try to take back control of his creation, to take Freddy to those darker places that he always thought Freddy should inhabit. Craven’s original Fred Krueger wasn’t just a child killer; he was a molester. He was so horrific in death because he was horrific in life. Craven’s original Fred Krueger was not in any way meant to be a hero of any kind. Shaye, however, wanted the camp, the lovable child murderer who smacks you down with zingers before gutting you in a haha gotcha kind of way that makes fans love him so. Guess who finally got their way? Craven’s Freddy was shelved…until he returned once more to the franchise to reclaim his monster and ultimately save him from what he had never wanted Freddy to become.

All that being said, was it such a terrible thing that Craven’s original creation became the franchise he became? I’m sure no one whose bank accounts grew from the series ever complained. And as I mentioned in my post yesterday, I discovered Freddy Krueger through one of those haha sequels. I had no idea how gruesome Krueger originally was. Also, because I first discovered him through the campier side of the character, I do hold a special place in my heart for that iteration. But from a more pure horror perspective, I think that Craven’s original monster is, by far, superior. But what about the new Krueger that Craven unleashed in 1994? Not only was this Krueger more in line with that original depraved character, but he also looked more in line with Craven’s original visual concept. Nothing but sinews and organic claws and hideous deformity.

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I know that Craven would later state that he regretted changing Freddy Krueger’s look for New Nightmare. I actually think that it was necessary to make this change for this particular story. Remember, we see the “original” Freddy—the version portrayed oh so many times by Robert Englund and the version that die-hard fans had come to have such a gloriously Pavlovian response to—early in the film. This was “Freddy.” This was the fantasy that fans made real through their devotion to the character and the actor portraying him. It was integral to the story, therefore, to somehow differentiate this Freddy from the darker, more elemental Freddy. This Freddy did not deal in witty bon mots and scenery chewing. This Freddy sprang from the most primal, most basic, most genetically programmed vein of fear within us all.

He had to look different. He was not who any of us had known before this movie. I always felt as though this was one of the concepts that Craven was trying to convey through this film—that Freddy Krueger had become far more than even his creator ever dreamed he would become. He lurked in the shadows of his fictional self, feeding upon the fear released by those films, biding his time until the lines between worlds could blur and recede and he could finally step forward at the franchise’s end to claim his rightful place and begin anew as king of infinite space and unceasing nightmares.

For this reason, it was imperative for Craven to convince Heather Langenkamp to return. Her Nancy was the character who both gave that original Krueger life and then snatched it back (one of the main reasons I chose Nancy as a bad-ass Lady of May-hem). Without Nancy, there would have been no Krueger. His focus on her, I believe, stemmed from his understanding that she was ultimately the only one who could take away his power and his life. Not even Craven could do that, because Craven granted this gift to Nancy in the first film. It’s why Craven tells Langenkamp in the film that stopping this nightmarish Krueger pretty much depended upon her willingness to be Nancy one more time.

Sounds deliciously meta, doesn’t it? While I’m sure that this metafictional approach to what had become a watered-down slash-o-rama was neither what franchise fans were hoping for nor what the horror genre at the time was looking to embrace, it planted the seed that, 2 years later would be ripe for the picking, in part by the man who planted it in the first place.

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Again, while Craven didn’t write the script to Scream, the power of his directorial influence cannot be denied. Neither can the influence of his metafictional approach to his heretofore most famous contribution to the genre. Kevin Williamson’s own metafictional script this time blurs the lines of fantasy and reality on the viewer’s level rather than the creators’ level. He demolishes the protection granted by the fourth wall and subsequently drops us all into the path of a monster we can understand because “we” are creating him. After all, “movies don’t make psychos. Movies make psychos more creative!”

That level of self-referential awareness is part of what makes Scream work so well. We are lulled in by the familiarity of what we think we understand, only to have the floor summarily drop out from beneath us. Nothing is as how it should be in the town of Woodsboro, just as nothing was as it should have been in the Hollywood horror machine of Craven’s New Nightmare. Craven thrived upon facing the ugliest fears within ourselves and by facing them, defeating them. His was the Litany Against Fear, embraced myriad times in myriad ways by characters who helped sculpt and ultimately save us from our worst nightmares:

I will not fear.
Fear is the mind killer.
Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

The Man of My Dreams

It would have to take something big to finally pull me out of the morass of work in which I’ve been trapped all summer. Something bigger than book reviews or navel gazing or even the insanity of the current political landscape (a landscape I’m already tired of looking at, and we’ve still got more than a year to go).

No, it had to be larger than that. It had to be something personally moving…something so important to me that, no matter how many evenings and stolen moments throughout the days that I have stockpile to write this, it will be done. It’s the least I can do for the man who played such an integral role in my conversion to the tried-and-true horror apostle I am today.

True, I credit Poltergeist as being the first modern horror film I ever saw all the way through. That was my gateway film, so to speak. But if I were credit one genre director as being most responsible for completely converting me to the Church of Horror, it would have to be Wes Craven.

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I give John Carpenter full dues for the brilliance that is Halloween. And I attribute the state of the horror genre as I knew and loved it growing up to a particular set of directors/writers who ruled the horror landscape throughout the 80s: Craven, Carpenter, Sam Raimi, Tobe Hooper, and Sean Cunningham (with honorable mention to Clive Barker for the glory that is Pinhead).

These men understood the visceral nature of fear and they harnessed that to full unadulterated effect through some of the genre’s most unsettling movies. They were the fathers of evisceration and unrest, pushing the boundaries of, at the time, a mostly staid genre into territories that even they found too disturbing to explore…which is what pushed them to explore them in the first place. Craven himself stated that The Last House on the Left was one of his movies that he could never go back and re-watch because of how horrific it was to him.

And then came Freddy Krueger. As much as I love Michael Myers and Pinhead and Jason, Freddy was my first horror villain. I actually first met him through the fourth Elm Street movie The Dream Master, which was not one of Craven’s films. However, I loved Freddy from the very first flick of his silver-knived hand right down to his inimitably painful puns. He was horror kitsch of the killer variety, compelling and charismatic and amusingly unique even among the high-caliber villainous company he was keeping at the time. I needed to know everything about him.

I was not anticipating the Freddy Krueger I met in the first film. Craven’s original 1984 movie was disturbing in the ugliest of realistic ways (strange to say of a killer who is himself dead and offs his victims in their nightmares). This character came from the mind of someone who understood that true fear resided in the deepest, darkest, most depraved corners of ourselves. We create the worst fears, whether through our own thoughts or our own deeds. No matter how much I love the campy, “lovable” Freddy of later films, my allegiance will always rest in the gloved hand of that original Krueger. He was only on screen for 7 minutes that first movie…less time than even the Wicked Witch of the West got in The Wizard of Oz…but oh, those 7 minutes.

Thankfully, Craven did return for The New Nightmare, one of my other favorite Freddy films. Additionally, New Nightmare was one of the earliest examples, that I can remember, of that meta take on film-making that blurs reality and fiction into a tasty melange of horror savoriness that I clearly find addictive.

And then there’s Scream. True, Craven didn’t write it and he almost didn’t direct it. But thank the horror deities that he did. Talk about meta savoriness. I have written about this film and franchise many times here at the lair. Two of my Ladies of Horror May-hem come from this film (two other Ladies come from Elm Street). The original film works so well in part because of its clear respect for and indebtedness to the time during which Craven and that previously mentioned collection of amazingly demented directors ruled the horror genre. And while the series holistically was never as solid as the first film, Craven did his best to make it as solidly scary as he could with what Williamson gave him.

Of course, these are only the movies that often rise to the top of any discussion of Craven’s contributions to the horror genre. Let’s not forget, he also gave us The Hills Have Eyes; Deadly Friend, which includes one of my all-time favorite character deaths ever; Shocker (I still refer to Mitch Pileggi as “Horace Pinker”); The People Under the Stairs, which gave me a whole new outlook on Twin Peaks and turned so many traditional horror tropes upside down and inside out in ways that I don’t think many appreciated at the time; Red Eye (sure, I’d like to find flying even more traumatizing!); and The Serpent and the Rainbow, which ranks still as one of my favorite “zombie” movies.

Craven was sharp, well-read, curious, creative, kind, and witty, and he made my horror-loving adolescence ironically brighter from all the darkness he brought to the genre. I have mourned his death every day since I learned he was with us no more. He left behind a brilliant legacy, but his time with us was still far too short.

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BookBin2015: Locke & Key: Alpha & Omega

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Okay, this one is going to be very brief, as Alpha & Omega is the last in a series of graphic novels that I already have professed multiple times to love. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez created a tantalizing, terrifying world in this series of novels that I definitely cannot wait to revisit in its entirety, thanks to the box set I bought earlier this month.

I have to say that this final novel did let me down a bit, but I believe that this was due more to the setting in of the depressing truth that this was the last Locke & Key visit I would get to make to Lovecraft, Massachusetts (yes, that still cracks me up every time I think about it). I think a sliver of responsibility for this disappointment also rests with the fact that so much time passed in between all my forays into this realm. Again, looking forward to re-reading them all at once, rediscovering what made me love this series in the first place, and hopefully discovering some more of the many enthralling ways that Hill and Rodriguez blew me away with their artwork and storytelling.

Huzzah and hooray.

Flashback Friday: Watcher in the Woods

Some people can say that their first exposure to Bette Davis was through one of her classics like All About Eve or Dark Victory or Jezebel—or even that camp classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? And while I do love me some Baby Jane Hudson, I must confess that my first exposure to La Grande Dame Davis was through what might be one of the more terrifying Disney live-action movies I’ve ever seen: the 1980 “family” horror film The Watcher in the Woods.

First, check out the poster art for this one:

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Actually, this was the poster artwork that Disney did for the film’s DVD release. Still, it does quite a satisfying job of visually summarizing the creepy factor of this movie. Here, watch the trailer:

Lovely, no? So what’s it all about, Alfie? Well, it’s about a family who moves into a manor owned by Mrs. Aylwood, played by Ms. Davis. The family’s older daughter Jan looks remarkably like Mrs. Aylwood’s daughter Karen, who disappeared 30 years ago under still-unexplained but supremely creepy circumstances. Others notice the similarity as well, including a watcher. In the woods.

All together…hilarity thus ensues.

Just as Clue played a memorable role in that portion of my adolescence filed under the “Slumber Party” tab, so, too, did this movie. And while I haven’t seen the film in many a moon, it was memorable enough that it has remained embedded deep in my brain (and might still make me want to have a dog named Nerak) and made me terrified of Bette Davis for years.

[Okay, to be honest, I’m still kind of terrified of Bette Davis. That was a woman you did not want to cross.]

For being a family-oriented company, I have to say that Disney can pull out the stops when it comes to the creepy factor. Plus, there was that stretch of time when the company seemed quite obsessed with the occult. Witchery popery popery witchery. Or something like that. Whatever, the point is, Disney has always liked a bit of occult in their films and this one was no exception.

Does this movie stand up to the passage of time? Well…no, not really. It came out more than 30 years ago. Give it a break. It was top-notch at the time, though, and part of what made it so spectacular was Davis. True, she took some…questionable roles in her later years, but she was Bette Davis. Bette Davis on a bad day puts most actors on their A-game to utter shame.

If you’ve never seen The Watcher in the Woods, give it a try. It might be fun…or at least good for a laugh, depending on how jaded you are. And if you have seen it, then enjoy this clip of the alternate “alien” ending, which I’m quite glad they didn’t use for the film. It’s a bit…no.

BookBin2015: Detective Ellie Hatcher Series

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I think I finally did it, denizens. I found a detective series that I like—with caveats, of course. Come on now, it is me who’s writing this. I come with caveats.

And before anyone points out that I have had mostly glowing things to say about J.K. Rowling’s go at sleuthing through her Robert Galbraith nom de plume, I kind of expect a great deal from Rowling as a writer because of my years of exposure to her storytelling style. The fact that I like her mystery novels, I suppose, didn’t really surprise me all that much.

The fact that I so swiftly and thoroughly fell in love with Alafair Burke’s storytelling was a completely delightful surprise to me. I’d never heard of Burke, so when I happened upon All Day and a Night in the local library’s Recently Released section, I tossed it into my stack of books as sort of a “luck of the draw” pick that sounded potentially interesting.

It wasn’t until I was well into this book that I realized it was part of a series based on the lead character, New York City Detective Ellie Hatcher. Burke does a fantastic job of telling a satisfying stand-alone story, with benign-enough mentions to the previous books in the series that I didn’t feel as though I was unable to “get” any part of the story or the characters. However, the hints and the holistically pleasing denouement of this book were enough that I immediately went to the library’s site and tracked down the rest of the series: Dead Connection, Angel’s Tip, 212, and Never Tell.

I roared through all four of the rest of the Ellie Hatcher series in less than a month. I really, really like Ellie Hatcher. I found her to be an interesting filter through which readers approach the various crimes of Burke’s series. I suppose the only major complaint I had was how brutal all the stories are to women. Sort of similar to my ultimate complaint about the primary crimes of The Fall, the recent British detective series that starred Gillian Anderson, it seems almost as if Hatcher’s cases must almost always start with female victims or inevitably include female victims, more often than not of female-specific crimes, be it stalking, sexual assault, abduction, or some really gruesome torture. She lives and works in New York City, FFS. There has got to be some violence going down against some dudes somewhere in her district.

Okay, that’s not completely fair. There are crimes that involve male victims—but they almost seem tangential to the main ring brutality against women. I understand the very real implications that it’s mostly women who become victims of the types of crimes that detective stories want to focus on. If it bleeds, it leads. Or, apparently, entertains.

I know, I’m starting to sound like I didn’t enjoy these books. I honestly did. And I’m definitely on board for reading Burke’s next case for Detective Hatcher. I’m just going to hold out hope that the next one might bear in mind that crime happens to guys, too.

Final Verdict: I actually could see myself going back and re-reading these books and looking for clues that I might have missed along the way (although I’m quite pleased with myself that I was able to suss out the perps before the big reveals…and that I’m now using words like “perps” in my regular writing). I’d also actually like to go back to All Day and a Night and see what things might make more sense to me now that I’ve read all the preceding novels. I could make room in my library for Detective Ellie Hatcher. I also might read some of Burke’s other novels.

BookBin2015: Born with Teeth

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Kate Mulgrew will cut you.

Okay, that’s not true. Maybe. Possibly. She’s played characters who would cut you, though. Or place a used tampon in your English muffin if you insult her cooking (and, yes, I see what she did there). Or fire you out of the torpedo tube if you get in the way of her first (or any) cup of coffee. She’s made a career of playing tough women who know that the show goes on with or without you, so you best be ready to keep playing your role. After reading Mulgrew’s memoir Born with Teeth, I definitely believe that she takes on roles like these because she’s made of the same mettle (and metal) as every single one of her most memorable characters. You think Captain Janeway was tough? You don’t want to get on Red’s bad side?

Wait ’til you meet Kate.

Seriously, though, Mulgrew possesses an enviable dedication to enduring, both professionally and personally. She has experienced a full range of successes and failures that have chiseled her into a person of many gorgeous facets. She also delivers a memoir stripped to its essence. Mulgrew is not flowery or discursive. She remains on point and sharply honest. I got the impression that there were gaps in her timeline, not because she had forgotten those things or even that she wanted to paint over them. Rather, she isn’t ready to speak of them with the level of honesty she wanted for this book. And it does come across as honest. And I honestly love that.

Final Verdict: Since I’ve already mentioned this book in my review of the recent Sally Ride biography I read, it’s a safe bet that I’m keeping this book. I did pre-order it the day it released on Amazon. I adore Kate Mulgrew, even more now that I have read her memoir. If you are a fan, then I can happily recommend this book to you. I believe you will be pleased.

BookBin2015: Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space

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I’m doing things a bit backward. I had hoped to finish posting the rest of my reads from the end of last year. That’s just not happening right now. Too much “other” going on at the moment. And, of course, I’ve got several books from this year that I should be posting first…but this seemed like the right place to start, on the right day.

See, yesterday would have been Dr. Sally Ride’s 64th birthday, had cancer not had different plans for her. It seemed only right, then, to make a special effort to finish Lynn Sherr’s recently released biography on Dr. Ride, very aptly and originally named Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space.

Of course, as I commented elsewhere, when you have the distinction of having been the first American woman in space, there really isn’t a more appropriate or better title than that for your biography.

As I already stated, I finished reading this book last night. I couldn’t stop thinking about it—or aching from it—for about an hour afterward. The final few chapters are quite difficult to get through, not just because they touch upon Dr. Ride’s decline and death from pancreatic cancer, but also because they go into (slightly) more detail about the relationship she kept private for nearly 30 years.

I know many people within the LGBTQ community were angry with Dr. Ride for hiding the fact that she was gay, only allowing the news to be released in her obituary. Some have even gone so far as to label her a traitor to the fight for gay rights. IMHO, anger is deserved but misplaced. If you want to be angry, be angry with the culture that prevailed at the time Dr. Ride decided to enter NASA and become an astronaut. Be angry at the militaristic conservatism of a former boys’ club that in no way would have tolerated or even accepted an openly gay person among their astronaut corp. This was the agency that, as late as the early 1990s, tried to convince on-staff medical providers to add homosexuality to a list of disorders that would disqualify astronaut candidates.

But anger at Dr. Ride?

We hear people talk all the time about sacrifice to get what they want. We hear it from athletes. We hear it from politicians. We hear it from celebrities. Sally Ride sacrificed (and was lucky to have a partner willing to bear the sacrifice with her). She sacrificed herself to what she saw as a greater purpose—representing and supporting NASA, serving the myriad students she taught and inspired (many of whom ended up working for the space agency she so clearly felt devoted to), encouraging and educating young girls in the pursuit of STEM goals. She sacrificed by compartmentalizing her life so thoroughly that not even close lifelong friends knew of her relationship with Tam O’Shaughnessy. Suspected. But never knew. Dr. Ride was a woman tightly protective of her privacy and fiercely focused on her goals.

Toward the end, was this because she still believed that such information would be damning? Did she believe that corporate sponsors and conservative parents would refuse the help of an organization run by two lesbians (something not that difficult to imagine as a legitimate fear back then when even today we have businesses refusing to serve gay patrons)? Or was it simply that she didn’t know how to let go of the control that she had kept over everything her entire life? It’s all speculation at this point, now, as author Lynn Sherr duly notes. Sherr, by the way, was friends with Dr. Ride, having spent a large portion of her career covering NASA, and Dr. Ride’s family and partner asked her to write this book.

Whatever her reasons, Dr. Ride did what she felt was necessary, and she made our world that much better because of it. She was the first American woman into space because she was the best choice for the job, period. She continued to support NASA throughout the rest of her life, even when it meant serving on the investigative commissions of both shuttle accidents, Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003. She established Sally Ride Science as a way of encouraging young girls to pursue their dreams all the way to the stars, just as she had. She saw the danger that loomed ahead for this country as we fell further and further behind in the global STEM rankings. She also saw the danger of ignoring the fragility of our ecosystem and she constantly and consistently delivered the message that we needed to be more aware of our impact on this world because it’s the only home we have.

She was a remarkable human being who just happened to be a woman, who just happened to be gay. Hers was a life that deserves celebration, if not also a soupçon of sadness at the possibility that she lived a life incomplete because she felt it had to be so.

Final Verdict: I actually first started reading this as a library checkout, but stopped when I realized that I was going to buy it for myself. It will be going on my autobiography/biography shelf, right next to another book I recently read all about another woman who was first on her own trek to the stars.

Photo Fun Friday: Richard Simmons

I don’t know what I want to do with Flashback Friday. In some ways, I feel as though that particular part of the lair has run its course. Not sure. Still hashing it out.

Photo Fun Friday, though, is something I still enjoy doing. And I’ve been having these weird ideas for photo mash-ups that combine celebrities with similar names. Kind of like what I did with Dylan McDermot Mulroney or Steven Tyler Moore. Oh, or Tawny Kattan. I still get a kick out of that one.

Then there’s Richard Simmons. This bolt of lightning hit me during my commute this morning.

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Fabulous Photo Friday: Zoonami!

This is the post that started the downfall of the lair last September. I wanted to find a nice photo gallery plug-in, which I thought I had. Turns out, though, that because my CMS was already crashing, the plug-in just served to bring it down even more. Strangely, that same plug-in still won’t play nicely with my blog. Oh well, just had to find a new one.

These are photos from a trip I took to San Diego in January 2014. For a couple of exquisite reasons, my time at the San Diego Zoo quickly became the pinnacle of my time there. I spent practically from the moment the zoo opened until right when it closed, roaming the paths, snapping tons of photos, and just standing, mesmerized, while watching all the marvelous beasties at play.

Here, then, are my favorite photos from that day.