On February 27, 1987, New Line releases what will prove to become, aside from the first Nightmare, the favorite of fans worldwide. It’s a far better film than the second, even without Clu Gulager. But I’m gonna go on record here and say that it just isn’t my favorite, or my second or even my third favorite. I find it somewhat annoying. But then, maybe I’m wrong about this one. I’m checking it out to see if perhaps on review, I’ll find something to like about it.
Okay, already one thing’s going for it – Heather Langenkamp returns, and this, I think, lends credibility to the episode. In fact, I’d even go as far as to say that if it weren’t for Miss Langenkamp, I’d have already written this one off. She’s not much better at acting, but she’s got presence. And she’s got that cool lock of hair. So if “Nancy’s” back, we must be on the right track.
It’s also the beginning of what becomes a regular feature of the Nightmare films. We begin to see so many names in the credit crawl that have gone on to do much bigger and better things. Director Chuck Russell was already ensconced in a career that had already delved into the world of sleep, namely Dreamscape. He went on to tackle The Mask, Eraser and The Scorpion King. The script is credited to Wes Craven & Bruce Wagner (first pass) and Chuck Russell & Frank Darabont (second pass.) Darabont went on to become a serious writer/director in his own right (Shawshank, anyone?) Larry Fishburne makes an appearance, back before he became “Laurence.” And long before she became the “Medium,” Patricia Arquette squares off here against Freddy, who, thanks to the jacked up budget (doubling again to about $5 million – that’s $3 billion in 2006 dollars) is given some better nightmares within which to frolic.
This time around, we’ve left Elm Street and find ourselves in lock-up. Seems several of the neighborhood kids are having dreams so bad that they’ve ended up in the nut house. And once again, there’s a little of everything. We’ve got the brains, the beauty, the brawn and the girl next door. And to top it off, Craig Wasson, who makes a living doing fringe horror (Body Double, Ghost Story) is here to watch over them.
He has his hands full. Now that Craven’s back and Darabont is on the case, Freddy’s not only more clever, he’s given some of the better lines of his career.
Exhibit Numero Uno: minute 39 brings us one of the most memorable lines of the series, when Freddy Krueger introduces Jennifer, the aspiring television actress, to the screen of a television set. “Welcome to prime time, bitch!” Good line, even if the mechanoid boob-tube Freddy doesn’t quite work for me.
Minute 56 brings us the other fantastic line. Craig Wasson pursues an apparition of a nun into the old, shuttered wing of the mental hospital. She tells him a story. Turns out that many years ago a nun was accidentally locked in the wing with the worst of the criminally insane. She emerged days later, barely alive, raped hundreds of times. Freddy Krueger is the fruit of that unconscionable union. This makes him, as the ghosty nun says … wait for it … wait for it …
“The bastard son of a hundred maniacs!”
Oh man, that’s sweet.
I suppose there’s something else I like about this one. The kids pull together and fight back in a way that we haven’t seen yet and never (well, not quite) see again. The effects are stylish and well-executed. The tone is consistent, and, while never actually getting creepy, at least makes a decent attempt at it. And there are some images that, upon closer viewing, strike me as rather ingenious.
Like this one, where Freddy menaces the recovering addict (played by Jennifer Rubin, by the way–yet another rising starlet):
And this one, which actually made me rewind and rewind a few times. Maybe it’s because I just read The Drawing Of The Three, by Stephen King, but the door image works. It’s a powerful image, and if the two works hadn’t both been released in 1987, I’d have guessed this was an homage to the King book.
So yeah, you know, the kids pull it together, suffer a few losses, rescue one of their own and then off they go to the sequel. I like it, I give it credit for being better than I remember. Though it had none of the raw terror of the first (I’m despairing that any of them will come close at this point,) there’s some good, clever stuff in here. I dig it.
The budget of this one was $5 million. They did a lot with that money. It raked in more than $40 million during its theatrical run, pretty much guaranteeing at this point that a franchise has been born. Nowhere to go but up, right?