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A 'Nightmare' For a New Generation

The truth is, every generation gets the terror they merit. In 2010, this Freddy Krueger is the one you warrant.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Director: Samuel Bayer
Cast: Jackie Earle Haley, Kyle Gallner, Rooney Mara, Katie Cassidy, Thomas Dekker, Kellan Lutz, Clancy Brown, Connie Britton
Rated: R
Studio: New Line Cinema
Year: 2010
US date: 2010-10-05 (General release)
UK date: 2010-10-05 (General release)

Here he is, teenagers and twenty-somethings. To paraphrase - or perhaps, bastardize - a familiar saying, every generation gets the villain they deserve, and thanks to Michael Bay and the boys, this is YOUR Freddy Krueger. Gone are the days when Wes Craven and Robert Englund turned a child murdering pedophile into a combination killer and stand-up comic. In its place (via the sensational Nightmare on Elm Street remake, now available on DVD and Blu-ray) we have a reflection of the last 30 years in shock scandal society, a molester as monster presence that infuses every sensationalized news story of the McMartin era with a whole new level of adult dread.

In many ways, the new Nightmare on Elm Street is really not made for adolescent audiences. It doesn't have the ditzy drive of the current horror crop. It doesn't languish over gore with churlish glee or give into a desire to pour gallons of grue on everything. The kills - some mimicking the original in place and purpose - are handled in a matter of fear fact manner, the minor arterial spray less important than what is suggested by each slaying. In essence, the update is a metaphor for what the entire day care as Devil's lair meant to an entire community of parents who saw the safety of outside guardianship stripped of its simplest elements. In a world where lifestyle dictated a kind of indirect orphanage, guys like Fred Krueger were the unfortunate tabloid side effect.

This is not Wes Craven's fiend. This is not the boogeyman ghoul sneaking under a sheet, using his dream world deception to get revenge. No, this version of Freddy Krueger is all about repressed memories, secret caves, and one special girl who made all of his sick and twisted urges come clear. Many fans reacted in shock over how literal director Samuel Bayer took this tone, allowing his villain to do everything short of stripping down and salivating. In the original, Krueger was a criminal, accused of kidnapping and killing children (notice the gap in between the two hideous acts). As a result of a miscarriage of justice, he was set free, allowing the disgruntled parents of the children he targeted to take the law into their own hands.

While the payback premise is more or less the same in the remake, the execution is far more telling. Here, the kids involved are the actual kids Freddy targeted, not the later in life seed of same. Similarly, the parents don't tell the police about the crimes (under the guise of protecting their sons and daughters, saving face, and recognizing the limits of the law). Krueger leaves town, is eventually tracked, and in an act of brutal punishment, is burned to death by a gasoline can Molotov cocktail. There's no real feeling of being jilted by the system. Instead, the Elm Street parents are viewed as wild-eyed and maniacal, unwilling to believe the stories their children tell, sickened by the possibility of them being true, and well aware that only the sadistic satisfaction of their bloodlust will cure what ails them.

Of course, the teens themselves are horribly underserved by all of this, becoming one of the new Nightmare's biggest sticking points. Critics have lambasted everything about these kids - from the casting to the "lack of characterization" - in there dismissal of the movie. Sadly, they are missing the point. Quentin is a perfect example of why this zombie drone victimology works wonderfully. As children raised by preschools and prescriptions, whose latchkey laments usually fall on the ears of a poorly paid therapist, not an actual biological link, the disaffected Emo glare is so contemporary it stings. Nancy was a heroine beforehand because her character followed standard horror film convention. Now, 30 years later, she's a lost and lonely outsider who can't quite figure out why she doesn't fit in. Then she finds Freddy's Polaroids...

It's incredible, when you think about it, a horror movie that doesn't shy away from the issues its terror suggests. When Michael Myers kills his slutty sister, we don't get any of the FBI profiler proof of his later butchering proclivities (John Carpenter just made him evil and crazy -it was Rob Zombie that reinvented him as a nu-traditional Dateline headline). Similarly, Jason Voorhees sees his mother beheaded and just goes nuts. Deformed and slightly backward, his desire to murder is merely an offshoot of such overwhelming trauma. But Fred Krueger is a disease. He's the punchline pervert in the windowless van scanning the schoolyard for likely cuddle candidates. He's vileness vamped up with an even more frightening prospect - otherworldly invincibility. No matter how hard these guardians try to protect their progeny, Krueger always has a way in - sleep.

That's why the new Nightmare on Elm Street is a worthy companion piece to the previous incarnations. Whereas Freddy was initially viewed as an easily marketable commodity, sold to grade schoolers as toy, Halloween costume, or any number of "gotta have it" consumer goods, this version is nothing but shock - very real, very recognizable, and very repugnant. If he is indeed a defiler of the young, he has no business being on the side of lunch boxes or hawking sugary candy (ironic). In the past, filmmakers pushed the character into a realm of ridiculousness, turning him into a cruel carnival barker who had a lame one-liner for almost everything he did. By returning to his roots, by reinvesting him with the nastiness that comes with his noxious desires, he's not only reinvented, he's reinvigorated.

Still, for anyone who grew up in the '80s and '90s, who heard the rumors of day care workers channeling choice children to local Satanists for blood cult death orgies (and even worse...), the 2010 take on A Nightmare on Elm Street is like a fetid primer. It's the end game of unprecedented hype, a visualization of every psychobabble warning about taking treats from strangers. In the re-stylized Freddy Krueger, we've got every parent's worst concern, every kids most terrifying temptation, and every society's sordid little secret. Inside every vial of Ritalin, every diagnosis of ADHD and juvenile depression lies the possibility of a seemingly friendly gardener with a penchant to violating the trust of the tots. Argue all you want over how unfaithful it was to Wes Craven's original. Screed over how lackluster Jackie Earle Haley is in comparison to Robert Englund. The truth is, every generation gets the terror they merit. In 2010, this Freddy Krueger is the one you warrant.


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

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Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

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1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)

In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

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