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Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Quarter-Century of Krueger: Can We Talk About Ronee Blakley?

I created the QCK feature here on the Vault to celebrate the 25th anniversary of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Make no mistake about that. And that's usually what I do on here. But after a recent re-viewing of the original classic, there's a matter that I feel I have to address. I've always felt this way, but this last viewing was really the straw that broke the camel's back:

Ronee Blakley, the actress who plays Nancy's mother Marge, is terrible. Absolutely dreadful. So bad that she almost distracts from how great the rest of the movie is.

As Wes Craven himself says in a very telling moment during the DVD commentary track, she seems as if she's in a completely different movie from everyone else. That's right, even Wes himself cannot help but poke fun at Ronee's performance, which he does throughout the movie, along with Heather Langenkamp, who joins him on the commentary. That really speaks volumes.

Not to say that Langenkamp is going to win any Oscars anytime soon, but her performance fits nicely within the context of the movie--as does that of the young Johnny Depp, or the terrific Robert Englund and the always-badass John Saxon. Clearly we don't expect Shakespearean level acting in a film like this, but at least no one else in the cast can be accused of stopping the proceedings dead like Ms. Blakley does.

I swear, there are times that I believe she really was drinking vodka throughout her scenes. Or maybe popping ambiens or something. That vacant stare. Her almost surreally melodramatic delivery of most of her lines. Even her movements are exaggerated and hackneyed. Check out that moment when she steps into frame and lights a cigarette, as she informs Nancy that she's locked her in the house. It's like she imagines she's Bette Davis or something. Only this isn't Mr. Sceffington; it's a 1980s slasher flick.

Even her look is wrong, and listening to the commentary, I finally understood why. Wes and Heather have a laugh at one point about how Ronee was never satisfied with the makeup and hair people on set, and would always disappear before shooting to fiddle with everything herself. This might explain why she often looks like something out of Madame Tussaud. I really believe she's trying to channel some kind of old-school Hollywood thing, but I have no idea as to why.

One wonders how she wound up being cast for the part. Everyone else seems at least adequate for the role they've been given--oftentimes far better than adequate. Yet Blakley sticks out like a sore thumb, almost ruining each scene she's in, taking away from the tension with her performance--which somehow manages to be simultaneously overdone and trance-like. I don't even know how she pulled that off. And worst of all, one even gets the sense listening to the commentary that Craven himself regrets casting her. Of course, he never comes out and says that, but take a listen like I did, and you might come away with the same impression.

And yet, unlike Heather Langenkamp, Ronee Blakley actually was nominated for an Oscar--Best Supporting Actor 1975 for her role as country singer Barbara Jean in Robert Altman's Nashville. She didn't win, but it's still baffling to think that the same person who turned in such a painfully bad performance in NOES could have garnered such acclaim less than a decade earlier. Amazing. Maybe it speaks to Altman's better way with actors than Craven. Who knows. All I do know is Ronee Blakley is really bad in A Nightmare on Elm Street.

And that's really all I need to say. It's something that's bugged me for years, since I really like the movie and respect it's importance amongst '80s horror movies. I also know I can't be alone in this opinion.

See, just because NOES is a classic of the "horror canon", doesn't mean it doesn't have its flaws, or that we shouldn't point them out and discuss. And Ronee Blakley is definitely one of them.

17 comments:

Al Bruno III said...

I always assumed Nancy's Mom was whacked out on goofballs... of course I was in high school when I saw it.

Now I have to watch the film again with an eye towards her performance.

Aleata Illusion(GoreGoreDancer) said...

I agree that lady did look like she was on some drugs,haha.

Al Bruno III said...

I was a child of the 70's and most of the Moms were on Valium

B-Sol said...

Definitely, Aleata! I'm thinkin life was imitating art...

And Al, I'm right there with ya!

Wednesday's Child said...

I think Ronee Blakely must have been playing herself in Nashville and that's how she won the Oscar, cause remember that Barbara Jean lady was about batshit crazy!

Pax Romano said...

I always thought that Blakley was one of those "method" actor types and she felt her dazed performance was how Marge Thompson was supposed to be realized; a woman so consumed with guilt over the fact that she and the others killed Fred, she is now a functioning alcoholic, and once her daughter starts having nightmares about the man she killed, it just makes her more of a nut case.

Of course that does not make her performance any good, you are right, she's awful; but if you can embrace that awfulness, it's unintentionally hilarious acting; campy to the nth degree!

Wings said...

She was awful, but I too have to wonder if the actress thought she was pulling off "drunk, depressed mom" well.

Katiebabs a.k.a KB said...

I thought her mom was high and drunk, that's why she was so out of it. But her bad performance is what makes Elm Street the movie it is just as Depp's horrible Flock of Seagulls hair.

Andre said...

You guysss... Nancy's mom was drugged out and depressed because she's still dealing with her demons. Let's not forget she played a major role in the murder of Freddy Krueger AND keeps his knife fingers in her basement. Who knows...maybe Fred still visits her every night in her dreams too.

But in all seriousness she is awful. Stop being so over dramatic you killed a child molester, God loves you. OH wait she's also married to a cop-in a small town....booze for everyone!

James said...

Poor Ronee - I think you guys are being a touch too harsh. Her performance, while certainly not great, isn't really THAT bad - she kinda does what she's supposed to, what with her playing a doped up, alcoholic mother of a troubled teen in what amounts to a relatively low-budget slasher film from the 80s and all. Albeit an INCREDIBLY influencial one.

Surely the worst performance of this film goes to the klutz portraying Glen's Dad!?

joe DOE said...

I won't say that it was a great performance, but personally I don't think it takes that much away from the film. Because of what she's been through, Nancy's mom is over-protective but too drunk to actually protect her only daughter; I think Blakley's over-dramatic acting basically reflects this. Moms like that often are drama queens.

B-Sol said...

I see what some of you are saying, that it was a dramatic choice on her part to play it that way. I just happen to find that it was a very poor dramatic choice. But yeah, there is much camp to be appreciated in it.

Scoob said...

i always assumed she was on valium or something due to keeping the secret and trying to cope with the secret of being part of killing fred krueger. i thought it was written into the script. haha that's funny that it was something she just did on her own. maybe that was her interpretation, too.

brokeMC said...

Thank you for writing this. it needed to be said.

B-Sol said...

Yeah, the truth hurts sometimes...

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I thought only I thought like that!

I totally agree - Blakley's performance really stank in an otherwise great movie. When I think back to 1984, it was the creepiest horror flick I had ever seen. Thoroughly enjoyed it!

Jamie, Adelaide SOUTH AUSTRALIA

B-Sol said...

I just knew I couldn't be the only one!

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