Today I watched Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
There is little doubt in my mind that Freddy Krueger is Craven’s most endearing creation. Freddy is a killer who hunts his prey in their dreams and like most American slashers his targets are kids in their mid to late teens. As such this film follows a group of said teens as they are picked off one by one until the final girl makes her last stand. There is obviously much about this plot which evokes the cliches of the slasher genre which had already been established but had yet to be overdone. Krueger stands out in the early crowd of killers because of how his supernatural essence informs the film making in some very interesting ways.
This is obviously a great demonstration of We Craven’s propensity to bend reality in his films. There is no clear distinction between dream and waking and that leads to plenty of tension and horror because you just can’t be sure of when Freddy is going to pop up next. And the disturbing visual that accompany him when he does appear have rightfully become legendary, from the glove in the bath to the membranous wall above the bed. These surreal visuals are both frightening and fun in equal measure, I admire both the ingenuity required to pull them off and the effect they render as despite this films overexposed nature among horror fans it is still quite effective at delivering scares.
Heather Langenkamp plays Nancy, our main character who prompted me to think about the place of women in horror movies. While there is no shortage of violence directed towards women in the genre and while it often exploits societal perceptions of women to enhance violence, the genre has a vast breadth of strong female survivors who outlast everyone and inevitably get the better of the killers. Nancy is (spoilers) one of these characters and Langenkamp presents her as a delightfully spunky kid before the horror happens and once it does her growing bravery and inventiveness are portrayed quite believably.
This film also has a strong coming of age theme and, as a horror film, its view of puberty is appropriately disturbing. Though the adulthood one has to look forward to is perhaps portrayed in an even more dark context as the parents are all terrible people. Pretty much all of the major adult figures have serious flaws that the movie focuses on whenever they are present, or in the case of Nancy’s father his flaw is a lack of presence. This would seem to suggest a message of youth power, decrying the jaded and damaged nature of the old.
A Nightmare on Elm Street still feels very contemporary, with the exception of the effects which are an incredible example of the practical style of the time. The scares are still very much so effective and the creativity on display is undeniable. While Freddy would become much more of a wise cracker as the films went on, his one liners here are much creepier than they are amusing. It really is deserving of it’s classic status what with a well directed cast and inspired visual. 5/5