I am Nancy: In Praise of the Final Girl

I am NancyThe folks at www.Iamnancy.net were kind enough to send me a gratis copy of the new documentary I Am Nancy, a short little jewel that follows Heather Langenkamp, star along with Robert Englund, in the original (and the best) Nightmare on Elm Street.

I was expecting to like this and I did. Nancy plays an important role in Monsters in America, particularly in my examination of “The Final Girl” in the slasher genre. I’ve tried really hard in the book to situate the slasher in the midst of both the sexual revolution and conservative counter-revolution. Actors like Jamie Lee Curtis and Heather Langenkamp are central to understanding the cultural politics of these films and the history of the American 80s.

Ok, so, gotta say, Nancy has always been important to me. The ultimate girl-next-door in her iconic pajamas with rose petals, she is the only one of her friends willing to face the death that comes in dreams. She fights Freddy Krueger with weapons that range from a sledgehammer to a coffee pot to a series of booby-traps she learns to rig up from a freakin’ Special Forces manual.

She’s the only one who faces the truth. Not only does Nancy refuse to hide from the Dream Demon. She goes to sleep to purposefully yank him out of his realm and into ours. Back in the day when I first saw Nightmare, she seemed a wonderful combo of many of my female friends, a composite of all the awesome women I knew in high school (here’s looking at you Heidi Parker, Stacey Clark and Shannon Moreland!), as if Wes Craven had blended all of them into a horror-superhero named Nancy.

You’ll enjoy the easy pace of a film that knows it needs to get its message across and wrap things up. Along with meeting assorted Freddy tattoos and walking the floor of a Horror-Con, Langenkamp spends some time with Robert Englund and Wes Craven. We even hear her chat with Jessica Craven, daughter of the great director, who apparently served as inspiration for at least parts of Nancy’s personality.

Not surprisingly, these conversations are real, and revealing treats for fans. Englund is his utterly charming self and has some interesting things to say about what he calls “the real feminist spine” of the Nightmare series. Craven is equally charming and thoughtful, and gives a bit more insight into some of the influences that informed the creation of Freddy and the meaning of Nancy. Hint: go read your Gurdjieff.

Other than these sterling interviews, the film follows Langenkamp as she goes on a quest to learn about how Nancy is remembered. She discovers that, when it comes to the mountain of Freddy merchandise that’s been produced over the years, her character has mostly been forgotten. But she also meets the fans, an international, motley crew of fans, for whom Nancy is as important as she has been to me. Indeed, for some of them, she has been life changing.

Scott as FreddyOk, so I actually like an inspirational stories and sentimental empowerment dramas about as much as I like an unexplained rash. But they really got me in this film. The horror fans Langenkamp meets are obviously not sentimental people and, frankly some of them have been through serious shit. We meet one fan that is paralyzed from the waist down. She describes how she found in Nancy’s character, and the darkness of the series itself, a way to face her very real personal tragedy.

These are not naïve people talking about their troubles. And by giving them a voice, I Am Nancy really goes beyond its own stated theme to suggest ways that horror is therapeutic, that it can provide a healing mirror for people willing to face, rather than hide, from the darkness at the edge of town and the things that haunt our dreams and waking.

There is something of an elephant, or rather a dream demon, in the room. There’s no real discussion of the utterly atrocious decision to kill Nancy in Nightmare 3. Craven, of course, shares no blame in this as he more or less lost control of the series between the original Nightmare and 94’s excellent (I don’t care what you say) New Nightmare.

Still, making the final girl not so final really screwed the Nancy mythos and it still makes me angry every time I see it (even though I find Dream Warriors the most watchable of the non-Craven entries into the franchise).

This doc has my full endorsement for fans of Nightmare, monsters fans everywhere, my feminist friends, my not so feminist friends and even for those non-horror fans who want to understand what horror is all about and why some of us love it so.

Back in a few days with some scribbling about how I’m doing on Xbox 360’s Dead Island. Wow, do I love swinging that shovel. I’ll also be blogging next week about the premier of American Horror Story. Can’t wait as some are saying its premise shows some similarity to the dark currents in Monsters in America.

What I’m reading: There’s a new “Best of” collection from Roctober magazine called Flying Saucers Rock and Roll. Jake Austen edited it and so far its a fun romp through that strange rock culture mag’s history. PopMatters.com sent it to me for review so we’ll post that on the Facebook page when it’s published.

Recently had a chance to read some great short horror pieces out of Christopher Golden’s new collection The Monster’s Corner. Some great contemporary horror writers like Jonathan Maberry Kevin J. Anderson and others all writing narratives through the eyes of some of your favorite monsters (and a few new ones). Great stuff.

I still haven’t had the chance to read the Junot Diaz novel The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao. Going to make time for that this week, if it means cutting into sleep.

What I’m Watching: Recently caught the Tom Sizemore flick The Last Lullaby. Decent film, pulls you effortlessly into the story of a retired assassin who falls in love with the woman he’s been hired to kill. Nothing extraordinary, but worth your time. I also saw Nicole Kidman’s extraordinary performance in Rabbit Hole. She is consistently amazing.

What I’m listening to: I really like the new Dum Dum Girls and even if you haven’t been a fan in the past, give them a try.  Bit of a departure for them. My soundtrack for today has been Mississippi Fred McDowell, some cuts off the Biograph “When I Lay My Burden Down” platter that he shares with Furry Lewis.

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