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Freddy Krueger and the Stuff of Nightmares: A Watching Hour Preview

You know, there was a while there where I thought I had The Watching Hour beat. There was a month or so where I seemed to have seen everything the Starz gang threw at me. Lately, however, the Watching Hour schedule makes me feel like a novice. I’m forced to confront all sorts of movie watching shortcomings on a weekly basis.

Case in point, this week’s selection, Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors. I’ve never seen it.
Full disclosure. I was a pretty big ’frady-cat when I was a kid. I remember my friends terrifying the shit out of me with Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark. That’s right, I was that kid. Totally lame, I know. There are still horror movies that really get under my skin. I had night terrors for years after seeing The Decent. I refuse to watch Paranormal Activity, because I know it just wouldn’t be good for my nocturnal sanity. As you can see, the quality of the movie in question is not always the indicator of whether or not it will irrationally freak me the fuck out. For instance, Signs, which everyone recognizes is not a particularly great movie, absolutely terrified me when I first saw it. On the other hand, I watch the Excorcist fairly regularly; I love that movie, but it’s never really had that “can’t sleep for weeks” effect on me.

Back to my childhood, though. I think my parents made a direct and specific effort to keep my gaze from landing on slasher fare like Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Candyman, and others of that ilk. I can’t blame them; I would have been sleeping in mom and dad’s bed for months if they had let me watch stuff like that. Hey, I already said I was a lame kid, alright? When I finally came around to horror movies I was in my early teens, and it was with movies like Evil Dead and Aliens. Thus I managed to go my entire youth without a single Freddy or Jason cameo in my nightmares.

The first and only slasher flick I saw for years was when my college roommate made me watch Jason X – the one where Jason goes into space. I managed to skip over the entire ‘scary’ period in the genre’s history and went straight for the schlock. I enjoyed it, but not as much as when said roommate showed me Zombi 2. How could Jason ever stack up against ‘zombie vs. shark?’ My slasher education was delayed once more.

Finally, two or three years ago, “Couchman Cometh” writer Justin Couch (who is now also writing for the awesome music blog Tome to the Weather Machine) sat me down for the original Nightmare on Elm Street, assuring me that it not only terrified him as a kid, but still gave him the heebee-jeebies as an adult. Truth be told, I was a little nervous to watch it. I think Freddy Krueger loomed large in the imagination of any child who wasn’t allowed to watch the Nightmare movies. His omnipresence as an icon – almost a mascot of teen horror – assured his status in my mind as something impossibly scary.
I set out to face my fears…and two hours later all I could think was, “That's it?” I signed up for some unfathomable evil, and I got a guy in silly pizzaface makeup jumping out at kids and going, “Oggie boogie!” I had built Freddy up so much in my head that the actual movie didn’t stand a change of living up to my fears.

Horror and visceral fear are strange things to toy with in movies. So much depends on the personality of the viewer, the circumstances surrounding the screening, the time of day, who you’re with, what you had for dinner, and a million other variables. So luckily there are other indicators as to what makes a horror movie worth watching. I love the “of the Dead” movies, The Thing, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and a million others movies that are not frightening (to me, at least), but are worthwhile for things like plot, style, and badass gore and creature effects. I am totally in the bag for classic horror, like the James Whale movies at Universal, but more for beautiful, spectacular vision and subversive subtext that for actual terror. A movie that attempts to elicit actual fear from viewers might succeed, but runs a high risk of laughability if it doesn’t strike the right chord. You can’t control that. Maybe that’s why these 80s slasher franchises have descended into schlock over the years. At a certain point it’s just too much work to fight it.

I hope to go into Friday’s screening of Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors with realistic expectations. Give me a jump here and there. Give me some totally sweet, creative dream kills. I can live with that. I have a lot of catching up to do on you cool kids who watched this stuff at sleepovers 20 years ago. I can’t go back in time and tell kid-me to grow a pair, so The Watching Hour will have to suffice.

-Ben

The Watching Hour is a weekly film series at the Starz Film Center in Denver, CO, highlighting new and old cult, genre, or otherwise bizarro movies. Quite simply, The Watching Hour is usually the best thing to do in Denver on a Friday or Saturday night. From Giallo to schlock, Blaxploitation to Aussiesploitation, zombies to martial arts to who-knows-what, and everywhere in between. This is good ol’ rock and roll cinema spectacle. Not to be missed. (See the schedule, buy tickets, get directions, etc. here.)

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