2021年8月21日 星期六

On Freddy Krueger and our current nightmare

There's a surprisingly relevant theme in the "Nightmare on Elm Street" series

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Jamelle Bouie

August 21, 2021

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By Jamelle Bouie

Opinion Columnist

This week, for no reason at all, I decided to watch the films in the "Nightmare on Elm Street" franchise, a slasher series about the mostly spectral killer Freddy Krueger and his victims, an assortment of teens and children in the fictitious town of Springwood, Ohio. The first movie, 1984's "A Nightmare on Elm Street," was written and directed by Wes Craven, whose previous films "The Last House on the Left" and "The Hills Have Eyes" are American horror classics. Craven left the franchise after the first movie and did not return until the final film in the series, "Wes Craven's New Nightmare," was released in 1994. There was a remake of the original film released in 2010, but I think I'll save that for a another day.

The useful thing about watching a film series in quick succession like this is that you can easily compare and contrast the different entries and see how themes, characters and styles develop. The "Nightmare" series is especially good for this because after Craven leaves the director's chair, it goes in a baroque and cartoonish direction until it is pulled back to basics in the final film, "Wes Craven's New Nightmare."

Having said that, this newsletter won't be a detailed examination of the franchise as much as a quick comment on some themes. But before I get to those themes, I need to spend a little time on the basics.

The plot of the first film is as follows: Years ago, the parents of Elm Street came together to kill Krueger, a local child murderer who had been released from prison on a "technicality." Seeking revenge, those parents burned him alive. Years later, the ghost of Krueger returns to terrorize the teenage children of those parents, attacking them in their dreams. When they die in the dream, they die in real life. One teenager, Nancy Thompson (played by Heather Langenkamp), realizes what is happening and works with her friends to stop Krueger, eventually succeeding but not before he kills almost everyone she knows.

"A Nightmare on Elm Street" is a tense thriller with gruesome violence. Krueger, played by Robert Englund, is genuinely terrifying, a demonic figure who strikes without remorse. The deaths are as disturbing as they are scary, and there's an underlying theme of teen impotence — of seeing the danger in the world, but lacking the power to do anything about it, especially in the face of adults who do not trust or believe you. You can also, in the second film, find a good deal of queer subtext as well as an allegory (of sorts) for the experience of the closet.

Few of these themes carry through to the rest of the series. Instead, Krueger becomes the main attraction, a horror Looney Tune with his own catchphrases. In the third film, he emerges through a television to attack one character, punctuating the kill with "Welcome to prime time!" (followed by an expletive). In the fifth film, he turns one character's dream into a comic book and kills him by tearing him — now a two-dimensional drawing — to pieces. And in the sixth film, he plays one victim as a video game, controlling him with something that looks like a Nintendo Power Glove controller and killing him once he gets a high score. It's all very silly.

But if there was anything that stood out to me after watching all seven movies, it is how within the universe of the films, the adult characters went from concern and terror over the brutal and mysterious deaths of their children to virtual indifference. When a young woman is killed at the start of the first film, it becomes a town crisis, reason to mobilize every available resource to find the killer. By the sixth film — "Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare" — adult authorities literally forget the names of kids killed by Krueger. In the second movie of the series, Krueger comes into the real world, attacking a pool party and laying waste to a whole group of teens. No one seems to notice. In the fourth movie, he kills four or five teenagers before we get an on-screen funeral, much less any acknowledgment from adult characters that a single school has lost this many pupils to who knows what.

It feels cynical to say, but if there is anything about these movies that isn't dated — if there's anything that's relevant — it is this indifference. The adults of the "Nightmare on Elm Street" franchise just don't seem to care that much that kids are dying; and in the same way, we live in a society that can't seem to muster the energy to protect kids from needless death and suffering, whether from gun violence or a deadly pandemic.

I should say that within the world of the franchise, this changes with the return of Craven to writing and directing duties. "Wes Craven's New Nightmare" is all about the harm done to children and what some adults will do to protect them. Krueger is the villain in that movie too. But he's no longer a cartoon. He's something scarier, something darker and more sinister. He is, in a sense, something real.

Now Reading

Bret Devereaux on Roman identity at A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry, his history blog. This is part one of a five-part series, and I recommend that you read the whole thing.

Zach Vasquez on the 1981 neo-noir drama "Cutter's Way" for CrimeReads.

Tommy Orange on the actor Wes Studi in GQ.

Tressie McMillan Cottom on Sean Combs for Vanity Fair.

Laura Wagner on Kaitlyn Greenidge's "Libertie" for Public Books.

As for books, I'm still reading "The Age of Federalism" — it's a 900-page tome; I'll be reading it for awhile — and I just started Pauline Maier's "Ratification" on the debate over the ratification of the Constitution. There's one book I want to start — "White Freedom: The Racial History of an Idea" by the historian Tyler Stovall — but I am probably going to save that for when I finish one I've already started.

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Photo of the Week

Jamelle Bouie

From the archive! I took this photo a few years ago at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. There was a couple taking engagement photos, and I wanted to see if I could isolate them by blurring the passers-by with a slow shutter speed. And it worked!

Now Eating: Two Bean and Tuna Salad

We're big bean and tinned fish eaters here in the Bouie household and this recipe — taken from NYT Cooking — is in the intersection of those two tastes. My only recommendation is to use the best tinned tuna you can find. For something affordable, I am very partial to Matiz's Bonito del Norte in Spanish olive oil. There is also the same fish from Ortiz, also wild caught and packed with olive oil. As for beans, you can't go wrong with anything from Rancho Gordo.

Ingredients

  • ¾ pound green beans, trimmed
  • 1 small red onion, cut in half and sliced in half-moons (optional)
  • 2 5-ounce cans tuna (packed in water or olive oil), drained
  • 1 ½ cups cooked Good Mother Stallard, borlotti, pinto or white beans (if using canned beans, rinse)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram or sage
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or puréed
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons bean broth
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Bring a medium-size pot of water to a boil and add salt to taste. Blanch green beans for 4 minutes (5 minutes if beans are thick), until just tender. Transfer to a bowl of cold water and drain. (Alternatively, steam beans for 4 to 5 minutes.) Cut or break beans in half if very long.

Meanwhile, place sliced onion, if using, in a bowl and cover with cold water. Soak 5 minutes. Drain, rinse and drain again on paper towels. Drain tuna and place in a salad bowl. Break up with a fork. Add cooked dried beans, green beans, onion and herbs. Toss together.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together vinegar, salt, garlic, mustard and bean broth. Whisk in olive oil. Toss with tuna and bean mixture, and serve with a warm baguette.

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