[Editor’s Note: Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Sadly our attempt of posting 12 straight days for this holiday fell short, but it did bring us a few guests, a few new gems, a podcast episode, and some classics. Thanks for joining us, stay tuned for out Best of 2023 series in January and hopefully next year we’ll actually hit 12 straight days of holiday horror. For now, check out Joe’s awesome ]
The first time I ever heard about OCD I thought that I for sure had it. Then like most other people i started to realize that I just liked certain things certain ways and that I did not, in fact, suffer from a crippling and life-hindering disorder. I had heard of people who couldn’t complete college assignments on time because they felt the need to rewrite an entire paper because a single letter wasn’t handwritten perfectly. It made me wonder where the line between acceptable and unacceptable was for people suffering from the condition. I found myself asking the same question about James Crow after watching his latest offering, the horror anthology A Nightmare on 34th Street.
From what I have managed to learn about this film in preparation of writing this, it seems it has been some version of “finished” for a few years, but Mr. Crow has continually gone back to further tweak his project. As the writer, director, editor, and producer he has more than earned that right, but I feel like the end product ultimately suffers as a result. There are several reasons for this, from the low budget being strung too thin, to the uneven consistency of the entries, and really just having no one to kind of reel things in and act as a voice of reason. It’s a shame because if you can look past its faults, A Nightmare on 34th Street has some pretty cool ideas, some interesting imagery, solid acting, and potential all around.
The terms “low budget” and “horror movie” have always gone hand-in-hand, but some of the best and most lasting classics of the genre have not only succeeded in spite of their low budgets, but almost BECAUSE of them in some cases. Whether through circumstantially-forced-intuition or happy accident, horror is one of the few genres of film where a lack of funding isn’t the red flag it can be otherwise. With all that being said, 34th Street is hampered by trying to do too many things, and stretching the budget to what amounts to uneven levels of quality amongst its entries. Almost every kill in the entire film happens just off-camera, and often in obvious dollar-saving ways. Some of the prosthetics are laughably poor. There is some REALLY strong acting on display, but there is also some very amateur, community-theatre level acting as well. All of these issues could have been easily remedied if there were just fewer entries compiling the movie.
I also cannot help but feel like if there were only three stories rather than five (and their absolutely obscene total runtime of 2:10) that the movie would be better off. Not only are the inconsistent in terms of production quality but they’re also tonally all over the place as well. There is a time and a place for everything in horror and horror-comedy, but it just seems bizarre that a story about a ventriloquist’s snowman dummy killing hookers is in the same collection as a story about young men taking revenge on the priest who molested them as children. Clearly, all of the segments are linked through themes of Christmas, but it can just be a bit much to ask the viewer to go from absurdist comedy to borderline art-house trauma therapy all in one sitting.
It really seems like Mr. Crow would have benefited from someone to help keep things under control or at least in perspective in knowing when enough was enough. Nightmare on 34th Street shows flashes of potential that could have made this an instant-classic horror anthology. But like any artist or someone actually suffering from OCD, it is a work destined to never be deemed good enough, or as good as it could have been. I don’t doubt for a second that even today, with its several cuts being made available over the years, James Crow still wishes he could fix this or tweak that. He is clearly a talent worth watching in the future but he has still got plenty to learn. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes dead is better.