Friday, May 14, 2010

From the Boiler Room to the Asylum: Freddy's Dreamworld

I’ve always been amused at the scenery and the set design of the Nightmare on Elm Street films as far back as I can remember. Specifically the way the dreams play out and how they fool you into think it’s reality. It’s a great way to mind-fuck the audience and keep them on their toes, as shown by the scene where Nancy runs up the stairs and the rug turns into goop. Well, that’s a story for another day but tonight I want to talk about how the Elm Street series moved from the boiler room setting to the asylum setting. Although I do not like the movie, I find that it is necessary to keep the franchise building. I will provide my thoughts on each Freddy lair and why they worked or didn’t work for me.

The Boiler Room

To us Nightmare on Elm Street fans the boiler room is a trademark of the films as well as Fred Krueger. It’s where he lived, it’s where he slept and it’s where he brought his victims to kill. The scenery is a twisted framework of pipes, metal, heating units and large clunky machinery and hardly any light and I think that’s why it was scary to me. It was so easy to get lost and Fred could be lurking around any corner, and given the camera work you felt disoriented much like the victim. Boiler rooms are a naturally scary place because of how dark it is… not to mention the sounds of steam. The boiler room just seemed so surreal and never-ending, a maze in which you can never get out of and you know a madman is chasing you; I would almost go as far to say that it’s very reminiscent of Kubrick’s The Shining in that sense.

The Dollhouse

About midway into the series we were introduced to the dollhouse and in the films Freddy would take us into the realm of the dollhouse. Here, the downstairs is blue, dead, cold and rotting whereas the upstairs is more vibrant and alive. What I liked about the dollhouse wasn’t just the giant Freddy Worm or the fact that a lot of it took place during Dream Warriors but rather because all the scenes inside played out like a haunted house. Each film that brought us back to that house felt like a ghost story where a demented killer ghost was roaming around. Even the scene in which the pig on the plat came alive (in Dream Warriors) freaked me out. I guess, next to zombies, I was a born haunted house lover. They were bringing us back to where it all started… and that’s what I love.

The Chapel

Now we jump forward to the chapel. I felt like this was one of the better dream sets only because of the way it looks. Visually it’s beautiful, it’s dark, it’s haunting and it’s very ominous but that’s the only thing that it has going for it. The way the light shined through the windows and the way the entire interior of the chapel was decaying was beautifully shot. However, for me it wasn’t nearly as haunting as the house or the boiler room and I guess it makes sense because it does go hand in hand with Freddy’s back-story but I just don’t think it fits with the previous films. Still, it’s very nice to look at and I find that even though it’s a little ridiculous they did a great job with the design.

The Asylum

I do not have a visual image for the asylum but what I can sort of describe it to you. The asylum had three main sections to it: you had the atrium area with two large sets of stairs and giant pillars scattered around, than you had the tub area where there was a long waterfall area that would lead into a giant tub of water, and than there was the actual the asylum area where hundreds of mental patients gathered and a small staircase that climbed up the wall to a door. I did not like this because there wasn’t anything unique about this edition to the Dreamworld and I know it makes sense that they would come to the asylum but there wasn’t anything creepy or haunting about it. It wasn’t even nice to look at. I guess that the Dreamworld declined as the films declined… I mean, where else can you go in the Dreamworld if Freddy takes the form of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Of course I understand that the Dreamworld has several different areas but these are the more prominent ones. The Dreamworld went a long ways since the boiler room as did the series and I guess, as the series got more and more ridiculous so did the dream settings. On a personal note, I will always love the boiler room and I always love taking a trip back down Memory Lane and revisit the boiler room and the doll house because I will never forget the impact those two settings had on me.


Ninetwelve said...

It might be a bit much to say (or its my BPA) but I think, after reading this blog, that my love of these films can be summed up in the sets. I have a tradition- I only watch freddy movies with a bottle of wine in hand. I let the imagery take me away and a big part of it is the sets. After so many years "The house" is imprinted on my memory- I could walk it in my own dreams!

A part of my youth is housed in freddy's nightmare home. There's a safe nostalgia hidden in those walls and in a way its a home to all of us horror junkies.

Pax Romano said...

My fave would be "The Temple" (for lack of a better term) in Wes Craven's New Nightmare. Loved that setting, with the Seven Deadly Sins on the walls, the ovens (from Hansel and Gretel), the grotto pools...

Anonymous said...

Oh the original boiler room by far is the scariest. I hated how it changed to a huge power plant in part 2.

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