Saturday, October 19, 2013

Horror Fest VIII (Day Two): All the Boys Love Mandy Lane and A Nightmare on Elm Street

 As some of you have already noticed, I re-posted a review of All the Boys Love Mandy Lane earlier this month, with more contemporaneous thoughts about the film (as much as two years’ worth of reflection allows, at any rate), so I don’t have much more to add. It’s strange how the intervening years (Jonathan Levine made the film before the smartphone was a regular presence in the life of teenagers) make Mandy Lane more “quaint” than it would be otherwise: the choice in music and many choices in editing resemble any of the CW-style “modern” slasher film, but the lack of always connected, social networking makes for strange bedfellows.

 It’s a modern horror movie that isn’t quite modern enough, and not enough of a “throwback” (as loathe as I am to use that term) to feel different. I understand why people aren’t responding to it now, but I’m curious how it would fare in the height of remake-mania seven years ago. I apologize again for not spoiling the end of the movie – this is the third time I’ve brought up All the Boys Love Mandy Lane without directly addressing the ending of the film. To be honest, it’s why I like the movie, and why I think people interested in Final Girls as a horror trope would find it worthwhile. If this gives you any hint to how it ends, Mandy Lane would have beaten Scream 4’s “twist” to the punch by five years, and only been behind High Tension by a year. It’s a newer, if under-examined, development in Final Girl theory.
Along similar lines, I feel like I’ve written about A Nightmare on Elm Street so many times that I’m not sure what to say about it. I appreciate how grimy Freddy Krueger is in the film, how disgusting and creepy without relying on puns or horror showmanship. Robert Englund is clearly relishing the opportunity to make Freddy (really, it’s more “Fred” in the first film) as sadistic as possible. The more I watch A Nightmare on Elm Street, the more I notice that, frankly, surprise me that I didn’t remember from the last time. To wit:

The “dream logic” of the first film is much more, let’s say “practical” than in the subsequent films. It’s more like actual dreams are than what people might associate with the series (although Dream Warriors did push it in a direction that was almost impossible to come back from). The craziest “nightmare” moment early in the film is a goat in Tina (Amanda Wyss)’s dream that opens the film, and after that it’s largely limited to things Freddy can do: the (terrible) extended arm effect, cutting off his fingers, pulling off his face, etc. When Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) starts experimenting with her dreams, we see simple things, like the door into her basement leading to the boiler room at the high school. It’s more of an Inception level of “dream logic” than what people assume when they think of the series. They resemble dreams we’ve had, where one place becomes another but it seems to make sense in the dream.
 This is not to say there isn’t some nightmarish imagery in Nancy’s dreams – while it’s hard to forget Tina in the body bag while Nancy sleeps at school, I’d totally forgotten about the second time she appears later in the film. Nancy is dreaming and Glen (Johnny Depp) is supposed to be watching her (more on this in a moment), and in the dream Tina appears again, her feet covered with worms writhing around on the pavement. It’s an effectively unsettling image, as much so as the trail of blood Nancy follows in the hallways of school.
 Now, speaking of Glen, it’s worth pointing out that Wes Craven does something in A Nightmare on Elm Street that would subsequently be picked apart and reconfigured for the sequels (and, apropos to this discussion, a Simpsons Treehouse of Horror segment) that I completely forgot was in the film. Nancy is at home, watching The Evil Dead, and nodding off when Glen climbs in through the window. She asks him to sit next to her while she’s dreaming and wake her up if she starts struggling, which he agrees to do.
 Nancy then enters the “dream world” and is walking down Elm Street, when she turns and asks Glen if he’s still watching her. Inside the dream, Glen appears from behind a tree with to let her know that he is, and then disappears again. With the other films, and also The Simpsons in mind, this is an odd moment, because Nancy is dreaming, not talking out loud, and if Glen is in her dream, there’s a good chance he’s not awake. Now it turns out he isn’t, but they aren’t sharing the dream, so either Nancy imagined Glen reassuring her in the dream or he really was responding to her from the “real” world. I bring up The Simpsons because when Lisa appears in Bart’s dream, that’s how Bart knows she isn’t awake to save him. It’s not something that harms the film – as I mentioned before, I forgot it even happened – but upon reflection, it’s an odd moment.
I also picked up some dumb details that I’d never seen before, like the poster of a cat wearing a Hawaiian t-shirt and riding a trolley in San Francisco in Dr. King (Charles Fleischer)’s office. While he’s monitoring Nancy, you can’t miss it behind him on the wall.
It’s not difficult to spot the palm trees in the background of A Nightmare on Elm Street (like in John Carpenter’s Halloween, Craven is doubling California for the Midwest – Springwood is supposed to be in Ohio and Haddonfield in Illinois), but for some reason I’d never focused on how prominently a palm tree appears in one scene. When Nancy and Glen are on the bridge having a conversation about homemade weapons and giving dreams power, there’s a rather large palm tree right in the middle of the frame. I guess I’d been focused enough on the story that I willingly blocked it out, but it’s really hard to miss.
The last one is just an odd tidbit I picked up, one that only has any relevance if you’ve listened to the Wes Craven / Heather Langenkamp commentary before: during the bathtub scene, Langenkamp and Craven point out that the girl pulled into the tub and trying to escape is a body double. No, fanboys, that’s not a nude Heather Langenkamp you’re seeing. On the other hand, when Nancy is pretending to sleep so her mother will leave her alone, she does get up and change shirts, exposing her bare back to the camera in a shot that is Langenkamp. I suppose it’s a “neither here nor there” addition to the conversation, but I did know because of the commentary that she avoided any nudity in the film, so it was a scene I didn’t remember being in the film (technically it’s not nudity, but it’s a shot that implies it and doesn’t necessarily add anything to the plot).
 Up Next: John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, the middle chapter of his “Apocalypse Trilogy.”

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