Friday, 6 May 2011

The Nightmare before Elm Street

You want to know who Freddy Krueger was ? He was a filthy child murderer who killed at least 20 kids in the neighborhood, kids we all knew...but somebody forgot to sign the search warrant in the right place and Krueger was free, just like that... A bunch of us parents tracked him down after they let him out. We found him in an old abandoned boiler room where he used to take his kids. We took gasoline, we poured it all around the place and made a trail out the door. Then lit the whole thing up and watched it burn, but he can't get you now, he's dead honey because mommy killed him... from A Nightmare on Elm Street
It's 1988 and New Line Cinema have an enormous cash cow on their hands with the Nightmare on Elm Street series. The fourth film, The Dream Master is the highest grossing horror film of the year, and a tidal wave of Freddy Krueger mania and merchandise 1 is sweeping the nation. In October of that year, Wes Craven's iconic creation was granted his own syndicated TV series, Freddy's Nightmares: A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series. The format of the show was essentially like that of Tales from the Crypt, an anthology show with Freddy appearing only in wraparound segments at the beginning and the end of each episode throwing out the kind of quips that ultimately ruined what was in it's original incarnation, a fabulously sinister character.

By and large Freddy's Nightmares was an exercise in barrel-scraping. Even New Line grew indifferent to the show after the first 5 or 6 episodes with budgets became increasingly threadbare. However, the pilot episode No More Mr. Nice Guy remains an interesting addition to the Elm Street legend as it takes place before the events of the original 1984 film, beginning with the botched trial of child murderer Fred Krueger, his subsequent torching by the residents of Elm Street's mythical town Springwood, and his rebirth as the killer dream demon...


Watching No More Mr. Nice Guy, you can't help but wonder how much Robert Englund actually participated in the episode. He's present for sure in his Krueger make-up but for much of the show, his human face is never shown - perhaps New Line were worried audiences would confuse him with the benevolent alien he played on the sci-fi series V. If it indeed was a stand-in who was prowling around in the red and green sweater, it's somewhat appropriate given the quality of the episode, which suffers from a poverty of decent performances from the cast. Worse still, calling the shots was none other than Tobe Hooper but even a Hooper groupie like me can't get excited about the lacklustre direction.


But for all its faults No More Mr. Nice Guy has some positives - there's some terrific production design - Krueger's boiler room hideout is wonderfully macabre, full of various sharp objects and rather ghoulishly the discarded toys of his young victims. Plus there's a spirited ending when Freddy performs some dental work on an anesthetized patient, the razor fingers of his glove appearing as scalpels and drills. It's all nonsense of course but enjoyably so.

Robert Englund had hoped Freddy's Nightmares would be a "dark violent Twilight Zone" (it wasn't) and ran for 2 seasons until its demise in March 1990, marking something of a closing chapter on this type of TV series - the far more sophisticated Twin Peaks would follow a month later and The X Files was launched in September 1993.

Freddy's Nightmares was released in the UK in 2003 courtesy of Warners. The single R2 DVD collecting the pilot and 2 other episodes was labeled as Volume 1, but since this initial collection no further DVDs of the series have surfaced. The video quality is typical of fellow anthology shows like Tales from the Crypt and Friday the 13th The Series, the cinematography is murky with colors tending to smear and details rubbed out on long shots. And this is perhaps the best it may ever look. Extras consist of a text essay called The Legacy of Freddy Krueger and 2 throwaway stills galleries. If you're a Nightmare on Elm Street completist you might want this disc, otherwise I'd recommend casually sampling the series should it come your way.

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Notes
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1. Easily my most favourite piece of Elm Street ephemera is the 1988 single "Are You ready for Freddy?" by The Fat Boys with additional raps by Robert Englund himself. In the video one of the Boys has inherited a haunted house previously owned by his Under Fredrick. The one stipulation is that the Boys have to stay in the house for one night to get full ownership. Soon after Krueger turns up to chase the Boys around the house. The track also features some dialogue samples from the original film (Fred Krueger mom, Fred Krueger!)


5 comments:

  1. I remember seeing a few of these episodes and being completely underwhelmed, looking back now I'm not really sure what I was expecting from it. I enjoyed a few episodes of the Friday series more than this.

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  2. Hey Martin.. Yep I agree with you, the Friday series had more continuity with its recurring characters, whereas Freddy's Nightmares seems far more slapdash. Plus, David Cronenberg directed one of the Friday shows ("Faith Healer")...

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  3. Yes, I remember that one, it was an exceptional episode.

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  4. I think the less related to the movies Friday series was the better of the two - and Freddy's Nightmares isn't great - but there are some okay episodes and cool guest stars - if they released this thing as a complete series box set I would own it.

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  5. One of my big problems with these shows is that they look quite murky when I see them these days - they have that dark, heavy murky look about them. The remastered Star Trek The Next Generation looks fantastic, but I couldn't see the same treatment being lavished on Freddy's Nightmares, Tales From The Darkside, or the Friday the 13th TV series... But who knows ?

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