A NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST. by the shit slingers at Platinum Dunes Entertainment is causing a storm of internet bad mouthing among horror fans. Which is really weird because these same fans didn't really speak up much when those same cinematic rapists destroyed the credibility of the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or even the remake of FRIDAY THE 13TH which was an abortion at best. But now, finally these guys get one right, and the horror fans and internet in general are up in arms as if you just shot their baby.
In some ways it is easy to see why. This new ELM ST. does what a lot of horror films don't really do anymore. It dares to be truly uncomfortable, confrontational horror film-making. Granted it is painted into a corner far too often by the very nature of being a remake, so there are moments that feel recycled or redundant because they are just repeats of scenes we know and love. Where this movie succeeds is in the new material. Both the new script and the performances of this new A NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST. push into darker, uglier, much more upsetting territory that most movies reserve for weeping lifetime dramas, not something that dares to confront you as horror films often do.
But It think to fully get a grip on just how brave and how big of a gamble this movie is taking it is important to look back at some social history of the American landscape. Some nasty and unfortunate stuff. By the early to mid 80's there was a full scale panic going on in American dealing with sexual abuse primarily brought on by the McMartin pre-school scandal. A scandal that began in 1983 when children in a Manhatten Beach California pre-school began to make some startling accusations against one of the people who worked the school. soon the allegations had spread to pretty much the whole staff, then other well standing members of the community. Before long over 48 children in the community were claiming to have been raped and abused to the tune of 321 felonious counts. Accusations had become increasingly bizarre to include such things as flying people, satanic rituals, exotic animals and a supposed labyrinthine set of tunnels under the school that led to occult ritual chambers for sacrifices of babies. The trial became the most costly in American history (usurped later by our pal O.J. Simpson). But the media storm behind it swept the nation and the allegations of sexual abuse in schools, nurseries, churches, and homes sky-rocketed. Suddenly it was believed that a satanic network of Devil worshipers were hiding under every rock snatching kids to make pornography and snuff films. Psychiatrists embedded their entire careers on a new sickness called "Multiple Personality Disorder" and "Repressed Memory Syndrome" both of which were caused by sexual and ritual abuse. But the catch being that if you had either of these conditions, you probably didn't remember your abuse and needed therapy to remember it and get well. Tons of vicious circles appeared and tore families apart.
A circus free for all of abuse allegations appeared over night as people who went to therapists for various problems, were suddenly told they were abused and didn't remember it. They were told their families held secret histories of sexual abuse, Satanic rituals, and possibly murder. These people basically were weened from their families and into the safety nets of these psychiatrists who then fed them stories, and took their money, for the rest of their lives.
The other side of the coin is that thanks to all of this the true life horrors of sexual abuse finally was being talked about. The generation before the 80's kept it locked away and never spoken. Incest, pedophilia, familial rape all went on but went un-reported or worse the victims were blamed. But thanks to a media surge in the 80's many people were able to come forward and out their demons (and in a lot of cases their abusers) and get free of those shackles. Sexual abuse came out of the closet so to speak, the topic just had to wrestle free of the panic and bullshit involved to be seen realistically and with a study eye towards helping people. The generation I have grown up with is the first real generation that grow up semi-openly talking about the topic. The generation now, has grown up with it being bandied about on talk shows an self help groups enough that it can be the subject of ridicule and black humor jokes. But it still is extremely taboo and an uncomfortable subject because so many people still do suffer because of it. Sexual abuse is a REAL life horror that far too many people have to face in their daily lives. While it CAN be talked about more openly now, it is still more often than not America's dirty little secret. A secret that still eats and tears at the youth.
So for a mainstream horror film, a remake of a classic on at that, to tackle the subject so boldly, so in your face takes balls. The new A NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST is in many ways this generations first post McMartin horror film.
In the original Elm St. it is stated that Freddy was a "horrible dirty child killer" and there is quite a bit of sexual imagery scattered through out the original film. But they never quite come out and say he is a child molester. Wes Craven has in interviews said in, but never makes it a huge deal. It is implied, and the audience is left to sort of fill in that blank for themselves. In subsequent sequels that detail is all but abandoned as the drive to make Freddy an Anti-hero is pursued. With only one shot in Part 2 really recalling this at all as we see a brief moment of Freddy putting what looks to be a severed child's arm into a furnace. The Kids of Elm St. are not directly connected to Freddy in the original films, just the parents for having killed him an this is his revenge.
This time out the gate the detail of Freddy being a pedophile is brought right to the front lines. While it is never actually shown, there is enough nasty, uncomfortable images of kids being locked in his boiler room, children with torn, slashed and bloodied clothes, and tons of drawings the kids made for him while alive that have very subtle sexual images in them. It is outright said by the middle of the movie that Freddy was a child molester, but then is later recanted, with actual details of the McMartin trial given as parallel to Freddy's case. But of course it is false and he IS a pedophile and molester and guilty of the sins we think he is.
But what makes this even more complex is the kids of Elm St are ALREADY his victims. He had molested them as children at the pre-school he worked at. Now he is preying on them in their dreams to avenge his death.
the allegory there is truly disturbing though. The idea that the evil bogyman that molested you as a child, has tracked you down as an adult, after you have repressed and "dealt" with the memories is actually pretty terrifying. The idea that the horror of those memories manifest themselves and haunt these kids into their dreams as they approach adulthood is a potent one. The children of Elm St. are haunted, tormented by the sexual abuse of their pasts. Abuse their parents have tried to hide and sweep under the rug. These kids literally are staying awake, as their lives collapse around them like a dream. They take drugs to stay awake and cope. Freddy becomes the symbol of all the hardship a sexual abuse survivor has to go through in dealing with those memories of the trauma.
Elm St. always represented mainstream American USA, apple pie and the ideal suburban neighborhood. Here it goes further into the emotional decay than the films had before. This Elm St. shows us the very real abusive corruption that goes on in America all the time and puts an ugly, burned, demonic face on it. But it also shows that these kids can be resourceful enough to get past it, to fight those demons too. Like a good horror film, it presents us with the horror, pulls the rug out from under us, but then shows us that the protagonists can pull it together enough to fight back.
Fans, don't like this. They want the old Robert Englund Freddy where it is Vaudeville a joke and a song. I love the old Freddy as much as anyone. The original A NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST. is a classic for a reason and still works. But this new one is its own movie. Though it repeats whole scenes, the movie still builds its own story and background around them and manages to be intelligent and thoughtful too. The movie just pushes the discussion of Sexual Abuse into the open that much more. But damn if it hasn't made even the hardest of fans uncomfortable and angry.
Reviews/ Articles © Andrew Copp