A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) Director: Wes Craven
“Whatever you do… don’t fall asleep.”
Having previously directed various exploitative slasher films like The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Wes Craven hit it big with this iconic and campy 1980s horror film, A Nightmare on Elm Street. This is the movie revived Craven’s career and essentially built the studio New Line Cinema. If the true goal of the horror genre is to unsettle its audience, particularly in spaces that appear safe, relaxed, and comfortable, then A Nightmare on Elm Street succeeds to a remarkable degree. In a blurring of dreams and reality, a former child killer named Freddy Kreuger (Robert Englund) has been haunting the nightmares of four teenagers. They each grow fearful of sleep, and sometimes they are not even aware when they have drifted off, while no one in town seems to believe their story until it becomes clear this is the same Freddy Kreuger several parents burned alive years ago as requital for his vicious attacks.
I was struck by the narrative structure of this film –at first, it introduces us to Tina Grey (Amanda Wyss) whom we believe to be our protagonist, however our sense of security is disrupted when she is abruptly slaughtered in a disturbing midnight attack –her limp body is wildly tossed about the room as a pool of blood spatters every where– and the scene is witnessed only by her dumbfounded boyfriend Rod (Nick Corri). He is soon arrested and blamed for her death, and then found hanged in his own cell (the audience knows the truth, that his death was the result of Freddy Kreuger). Now, our narrative shifts to the perspective of Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) who tries to solve the dilemma after her own boyfriend Glen (Johnny Depp’s cinematic debut) is sucked into his bed and killed in an exploding waterfall of blood. The ending is left somewhat ambiguous. When Nancy realizes that Freddy simply thrives on the fear of his victims, she turns and walks away while uttering “you’re nothing” and Freddy disappears in campy ’80s fashion. However, in an epilogue (which was apparently not the initial epilogue intended by Craven), Nancy walks outside to a sunny day and hops into a car with her friends but it is quickly revealed to be a car powered by Freddy Kreuger as it speeds crazily down the road. Moments later, is amusingly yanked into her own house by Freddy’s arm. Is this Nancy’s nightmare or her mother’s? The tone of the conclusion is ominous.
There are many iconic scenes in this movie –such as the otherworldly death of Tina, Nancy’s disturbing dream at school wherein she follows the lifeless corpse of her friend Tina down to the school’s boiler room, the infamous bath tub scene wherein Freddy attempts to drown Nancy after she falls asleep, the scene of Freddy bending through the walls above her bed, and even the shadowy moments of Freddy Kreuger and his long arms lurking through various dreams. In these cases we never quite fully catch a glimpse of him, though we can spot quick shots of his burned skin. Naturally, this film has spawned numerous sequels and even a remake.
Freddy Krueger is a most unique example of a horror film villain who, like most forms of evil variably, feeds on fear. The means to conquer our fears can therefore make great dramas for such horror films. Thanks for this review. 🎃
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