80s horror

All posts tagged 80s horror

DAY 25 OF 31: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)

Published October 25, 2019 by Philip Ivory

“One two, Freddy’s coming for you…

Three, Four, better lock your door…

Five, Six, grab a crucifix…

Seven, Eight, gonna stay up late…

Nine, Ten, never sleep again!”

 

What if the world of dreams provided no refuge from our troubles, but was actually the most dangerous place of all? That’s the brilliant conceit behind Wes Craven’s 1984 horror film, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.

Meet Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), child killer, burnt to death by a bunch of vigilante parents after he got off on a technicality. Now he returns in the dreams of those parent’s offspring, pursuing and slaughtering innocent teens as they sleep.

One of the targeted teens, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), gets pretty fed up at seeing her friends mysteriously murdered, and strikes back, trying to stop this dreamland demon from taking more lives.

Freddy’s coming for you.

On the film’s release, Krueger quickly emerged as a distinctive rival to such slasher film boogeymen as HALLOWEEN’s Michael Myers and FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH’s Jason Voorhees.

While the more familiar name “Freddy” would begin to stick in the sequels, here the killer is mostly referred to as Fred, and he’s a leaner, meaner incarnation, a ghoul of few words not given to the playful witticisms that would later define him and help elevate him to the pantheon of beloved horror characters.

How is Krueger different from those unstoppable killing machines, Michael and Jason? Those two remain eternal adolescents, but Krueger represents the adult world, a dark, twisted version of it, full of sins and dark secrets as seen from a teen’s perspective.

Fred Krueger (Robert Englund) terrorizes Nancy (Heather Langenkamp).

Krueger has his own weird sense of style including the filthy red and green striped sweater, the black hat worn at a jaunty angle, and most ominously, his glove adorned with fingertip knives.

Mostly, Fred has personality, and unlike strong silent types like Jason and Freddy, he’ll talk to you. (“I’m your boyfriend now, Nancy,” he quips, his tongue coming through the phone as Nancy tries to call her boyfriend Glen, played by young unknown Johnny Depp.) And while his wisecracks are kept to a minimum this first time around, artist that he is, he still likes to take a moment to strike terror before serving up the killing blow.

“I’m your boyfriend now, Nancy.”

In one instance, he pauses while chasing Nancy’s friend, Tina (Amanda Wyss), so that she can see him slice off a couple of his own fingers. He seems to be saying, if I’m willing to do this to myself, imagine what I’ll do to you.

The surrealistic imagery made possible by the dream sequences provides for some startling visuals and makes the film distinctive from other slasher films of the era.

It must be said, though, that the rules about how you can die in a dream and what you can physically take back with you when you wake up seem loosely defined and arbitrary. This lends the story an “anything goes” vibe which actually works against the sense of peril for the teen characters.

Johnny Depp as Nancy’s boyfriend, Glen.

It was a terrific concept nonetheless, and Freddy would return in many sequels and a 2010 remake.

One sequel, WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE (1994) imposes a kind of “meta” take on the material, offering Craven, Englund and Langenkamp as real-life film professional versions of themselves, as Freddy tries to leave the prison of being a movie character and bust out into reality. 

And, in grand FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN style, FREDDY VS. JASON (2003) brings the two titans of terror together as allies and later as battling demons. (Who will win?)

It’s been a while since we had a new NIGHTMARE film, but it’s probably a good idea to keep the coffee brewing. Dreamland awaits, and so does that unforgettable character, Fred Krueger.

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DAY 24 OF 31: THE SHINING (1980)

Published October 24, 2019 by Philip Ivory

Stephen King was not happy with the changes that were made in the 1980 adaptation of his 1977 novel. But for many horror fans, Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING, despite its differences from the book, is an unforgettable experience, full of iconic horror imagery, nerve-shattering sequences directed with Kubrick’s trademark glacial elan, and vivid, full throttle performances.

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) takes a job as caretaker for a magnificent but secluded mountaintop hotel, the Overlook, while it closes for the winter, hoping the peace and quiet will give him a chance to finish the book he’s writing.

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) surveys the hotel’s model of its gigantic hedge maze.

With him are Jack’s wife Wendy (Shelly Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd).

One of the departing staff, Overlook cook Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), meets Danny and senses the boy has a psychic gift similar to his own, which Hallorann calls “the shining.” Hallorann warns Danny that, like burnt toast, bad things can leave traces behind, which Danny might experience due to his “shining” ability.

“I think a lot of things happened right here in this particular hotel over the years,” Halloran tells Danny. “And not all of ’em was good.”

Boy, is that an understatement.

Danny Lloyd as Danny Torrance.

As the family does its best to shore up the hotel against the winter elements, we sense Jack’s mental health slowly unraveling. Is it just the seclusion, or are the malign forces Hallorann hinted at preying upon Jack’s vulnerable mind?

Things go from bad to worse. Although the hotel’s meant to be empty, Danny claims he was attacked by a woman in Room 237. Jack investigates the room, has his own encounter with a beautiful naked woman who transforms into a decayed and cackling corpse, sending Jack running in terror. And yet Jack tells Wendy he saw nothing in the room.

In the visions the hotel presents to Danny, Kubrick provides startling displays of horror imagery, including an elevator overflowing with blood, and two little girls in dainty blue dresses with British accents that greet Danny in a hallway. “Come and play with us, Danny,” they call.

Danny encounter the Grady girls, who were chopped into bits by their father, the previous caretaker.

Problem being, these girls were murdered decades ago by their father, who like Jack was caretaker for the hotel. Danny, understandably, reacts in utter terror.

Jack, a recovering alcoholic, soon is drinking again, with the help of a ghostly ballroom complete with bar, and a bartender who helpfully tells him: “Your money’s no good here, Mr. Torrance.”

Jack decides that drinking with dead people is better than not drinking at all.

It seems the hotel covets Danny and his “shining” ability, and apparently the best way to bring Danny into the hotel’s decadent embrace is to drive Jack to kill him and Wendy.

More unforgettable sequences:

  • Wendy makes a horrifying discovery that speaks to Jack’s state of mind when she takes a peek to find out how well his novel’s progressing.
  • Wendy uses a baseball bat to defend herself against her increasingly abusive and unhinged husband.
  • An axe-wielding Jack pursues Danny through the hotel’s snow-blanketed hedge maze, in an eerily beautiful night sequence.

 

Sheer terror as Wendy Torrance (Shelly Duvall) tries to save herself and Danny from Jack’s rampage.

Detractors of the film will point to Nicholson’s over-the-top performance, which seems to bring Jack to the edge of lunacy too quickly and easily. And like King, many complain that the film lacks true fidelity to the novel.

It’s not a perfect film, but it’s undoubtedly a brilliant one. It’s one I can’t pry myself away from if I catch it playing on TV, no matter how many times I’ve seen it.

Like burnt toast, THE SHINING lingers.

INTERESTING FACTS

  • THE SHINING received mixed reviews on release, with various critics calling it “ponderous,” “overbearing” and “a crushing disappointment.”  The film’s reputation improved gradually over the decades.
  • ROOM 237 is a 2012 documentary that explores radical interpretations of the meaning of Kubrick’s film and purports to reveal its hidden messages.
  • DOCTOR SLEEP, the film adaptation of King’s sequel to THE SHINING will be released in November 2019.

 

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