What will I be doing this Halloween? It won’t be trick or treating, in fact I have never been trick or treating in my life. Growing up Halloween was never really on my radar. I was aware of it but it wasn’t anything important. As I remember we grew pumpkins and made lanterns out of them one year (I think I was about eight). When I was a student there was usually something going on around Halloween, often involving lots of heavy metal music and dressing like a character from a horror movie. The most notable of these was when a couple of girls in the bar where I worked made me up to look like Eric Draven, it wasn’t difficult, I already had the hair. Fast forward a decade or so, and I have my own hallowed tradition, for the best part of a decade I have visited my local cinema at Halloween to watch a classic horror movie. Last year was Stanley Kubrick’s classic The Shining (1980) (on a side note, if as reported Stephen King doesn’t like the movie he is an idiot. I don’t care that it is different from his book, it is still a fantastic movie. Other opinions are available, they just happen to be wrong!). The other highlight was the first Hammer Dracula (released as Horror of Dracula in America to avoid confusion with the Universal Dracula) (1958 film) directed by Terence Fisher and starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.
So, what am I going to see this year? Wes Craven’s seminal and influential horror A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). An ingenious and original riff on the American horror slasher film originated by Alfred Hitchcock with Psycho (1960) and perfected by John Carpenter in Halloween (1978). The notable thing I have to say I have never seen A Nightmare on Elm Street in a cinema and it has been about twenty years since I have seen it in any format.
To give it my relationship to the movie a little context: I started watching Hammer Horror movies when I was bout eleven years old and then started watching other horror movies soon after. I first saw A Nightmare on Elm Street in the late 80’s when I was twelve or thirteen years old (thanks Mom for renting it for me). I then watched most of the rest of the movies as they came out but have never got around to seeing Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994). To the best of my memory I have seen it a handful of times, the last in the early 90’s when it was shown uncut on TV (I think it was Channel 4). I remember talking about it at school the next day (a biology lesson as I remember it, with Matt, Matt and John). Having all seen the movie before, we all had the same initial reaction, “fucking hell was that Johnny Depp?” beyond that, as cynical teenagers we all thought the it was fun horror movie but not scary in the way we remembered it when we were kids.
Looking back at the movie now my thoughts are mixed with memories of watching the Nightmare on Elm Street films as a kid, and looking at their influence now. Horror has changed a lot in recent years, many of Craven’s seminal movie have been remade, rebooted or ripped off. He was at the forefront of the so called Meta-Horror that became prevalent in the 90’s with the Scream movies. It has been suggested that on a primal level there are only two fears that we are born with, the dark and loud noises, all other fears are developed along the way. Horror movies have always played on these fears, but with A Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven took it a stage further, he took the fear from the real world into the dreams, the nightmares of the characters. And that’s the genius of the movie, Leatherface, Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees all stalk the real world but Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) appears in your dreams, how can you outrun your own mind? Although groundbreaking and shocking in their day they suddenly looked quite mild in comparison to the nasty torture porn movies of the 00’s. There has been a trend more recently for more mainstream horror movies that rely on cheap jump-scares rather than tension and a sense of jeopardy. This makes me yearn more for the horror of the 70’s and 80’s like A Nightmare on Elm Street.
I look forward to seeing the movie on Thursday and hope it doesn’t disappoint me.