A Nightmare On Elm Street – A Horror Classic.
A Nightmare On Elm Street is easily one of the most important horror film of the 1980s. It totally redefined the slasher genre and introduced us to Freddy Krueger, probably the most iconic horror movie character ever created.
The Elm Street series lost some of its lustre after the first few films and fell into a tried and tested formula of its own as other horror movies took over its creative mantle but the first film still remains a must see for all horror aficionados.
As Seen In The 1980s.
I was just a kid when A Nightmare On Elm Street was first released in the UK during the summer of 1985, so I never got to see it at the pictures. Yet, I still vividly remember being fascinated by the posters for it, which I’d see hanging outside the entrance to our local three screen cinema every time I walked past while it was showing there.
My first viewing of the film eventually came a few years later during the weekly movie night with my brother. We rented the video from our local video store*, sat down in the living room with a bag of pick ‘n’ mix in front of our new TV, turned the lights off for that cinema experience and had our minds blown!
I don’t remember being particularly scared, I’d heard all about Freddy from school mates that had already seen the film(s), so I partly knew what I was in for, which looking back, probably spoilt it a bit for me – I would’ve loved to have watched it not knowing where it was taking me.
I have said the film didn’t frighten me, and it didn’t at the time, but I’m pretty sure in the following weeks I had nights where I lay awake in bed worried about falling asleep thanks to Freddy Krueger!
Production notes from the original theatrical press kit for A Nightmare On Elm Street.
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS.
“Nancy Thompson is a typical American kid growing up in a clean, middle-class California suburb. She’s a good student, outgoing and well liked.
Her idyllic existence is abruptly shattered by a series of horrible nightmares – the monstrous stalking by a fierce cold-blooded killer.
That night one of her friends is brutally murdered in her sleep. The police suspect the girl’s boyfriend. Nancy, however, begins to suspect something far more sinister; she fears that the walls separating fantasy from reality are crumbling and the nocturnal monsters of their unconscious minds are hunting them down.
When describing her haunted, sleepless nights to her closest friends, they suddenly realized that they too have been jolted awake by screams and cold sweats; they too have been plagued by the same hallucination – the same awful madman.
Their only defence, she claims, is to stay awake. Her family fears that her sanity is slipping away, even as her friends are systematically slaughtered in their sleep.
After many sleepless nights of fighting off well-meaning adults armed with pills, warm baths, hot milk and calming lies, Nancy resigns herself to the fact that she must give in to her exhaustion and face the terror of her nightmares in a life-and-death battle for control. In an exciting and startling climax, Nancy confronts her tormentor and discovers the dark, decade-old secret of Elm Street and the heinous events that triggered the creation of the nightmare.
A Nightmare On Elm Street is the story of the courage and resourcefulness of one extraordinary girl – a psychological fantasy / thriller that rips apart the barrier between dreams and reality. It will make us all think twice before settling onto our pillows for a night of sweet dreams.”
Is it a horror classic?
I’ve re-watched The Nightmare On Elm Streets many times over the years and to be honest they haven’t aged that well! The gory effects that amazed me as a kid, well I have to say they do look pretty pathetic these days. They’re not going to cut the mustard with today’s generation used to ultra realistic CGI effects. Things that had the audience squirming in revulsion back in the ’80s are more likely to have them in fits of giggles now.
The first film was produced in 1984 and cost $1.2 million so it wasn’t a big budget film to start with and is now over 30 years old so for the money and technology available when it was made you’d have to say that what they achieved is actually very impressive. Especially considering the film was heavily reliant on prosthetic make-up, puppets and animatronics to create its nightmarish world.
As well as the in your face goriness and freakishly gruesome death scenes that put A Nightmare On Elm Street firmly in the horror genre, Wes Craven also delivered a psychological drama. The teenagers being terrorised are attacked through their unconscious minds, the only escape is to stay awake but they know that sleep is inevitable. The constant fear, anxiety and helplessness combined with the sleep deprivation makes for an extremely disturbed psychological state. Meanwhile the adults become concerned for their kids’ sanity amid their paranoid behaviour and talk of being stalked by a hideous monster in their dreams.
The Man Of Your Nightmares
Freddy could have been another in a line of psychopathic killers intent on slaughtering a bunch of teenagers in gruesome ways if it wasn’t for Wes Craven’s unique spin on the slasher flick. An evil being who exists only in your dreams doesn’t sound that scary at first. But when he can attack you in your sleep when you’re at your most vulnerable, that’s a bit frightening. When you discover that he can physically hurt you through your dreams and if he kills you in your dream, you’ll die in real life, now that’s enough to give you nightmares!
Heroes And Victims.
The unlikely hero of the film is Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), your typical suburban teen girl who you’ve seen in countless movies before becoming another victim or being saved by a brave male. There’s nothing about her that strikes you as hero material at the beginning of the film and she gradually looks more and more like the helpless victim as the film goes on. However, she turns out to be an incredibly powerful female character. Not by being a kick-ass martial arts expert or gun toting assassin, no, just by sticking up for herself when no one else will. She says “enough is enough. I’m not going to be a victim” and subsequently gives Freddy a taste of her own medicine and ends her nightmare – for now.
The film also gave us our first glimpse on the big screen of a certain Johnny Depp in a very memorable role (you won’t quickly forget his last scene), although not one of his most lauded ones!
Towards the end when we finally find out who Freddy really is and why he’s intent on killing the local teenage population, suddenly the psychological trauma is turned on to the adults. They come to the devastating realisation that it was their actions in the past that have created this man monster and have now sentenced their children to die by his glove.
Should I watch A Nightmare On Elm Street?
Yes, yes and yes!
If you’ve never seen the film before or haven’t watched it in years, then you do need to go into it without your expectations too high or it might not be the classic you were hoping for.
For anyone watching A Nightmare On Elm Street for the first time, it probably won’t knock your socks off. The fact is, like anything that was once remotely original, it’s been ripped off so many times since. All the clever or shocking bits that got us talking about the films in the ‘80s, you’ll no doubt have seen copied, tweaked or parodied in countless films and TV shows so the impact they had at the time is now sadly lost.
Even Freddy Krueger, played so well by Robert Englund, has become somewhat of a pantomime villain rather than the stuff of your nightmares.
Don’t let this put you off though, you NEED to see A Nightmare On Elm Street and possibly the next two or three films in the series. Many of the horror films we love simply wouldn’t have been made if it wasn’t for Wes Craven and his vision with A Nightmare On Elm Street.
It paved the way for films such as Child’s Play and SAW by adding a theatrical, often humorous element to the genre that was often missing from traditional horror films and merged the real world with the surreal where anything is possible.
Finally, the reason you should watch it, above all else, is it’s just a very enjoyable film. And if you want to laugh at the excruciatingly bad silicone monsters and severed body parts, that’s fine too!
The Grave †
IMDb.com rating: 7.5 / 10
* Video stores.
If you’re too young to remember video rental stores I’ll give you a brief idea of what they were like. Back in the day if we wanted to watch a film that wasn’t on TV or out at the cinema we had to pop down to our local video rental and pay to borrow a tape for the night then take it back the next day, rewound of course.
You’d go in, browse the shelves looking at the cases to decide what video to rent (which was still quite limited in the mid ’80s) and go up to the desk with your membership card to get your tape. New and popular films cost more to rent but the cheap ones were usually pretty awful from my experience! Often the film we wanted would’ve already been taken out by someone else so we’d have to reserve it for next time or later if there was a queue for it.
With films now available at your fingertips it all seems like a chore these days, but in a way this weekly routine added to the excitement of our movie nights!