Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Matinee: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

One, two, Freddy's coming for you.
Three, four, better lock your door.
Five, six, grab your crucifix.
Seven, eight, gonna stay up late.
Nine, ten, never sleep again.
One, two Freddy's coming for you
three, four better lock your door
five, six grab your crucifix
seven, eight gonna stay up late
nine, ten he's back again.

There are two films that actually scared the bejezus out of me growing up. 1984's A Nightmare on Elm Street was one of them. The 1980's were the era of "dead teenager films", where anyone over the age of 14 who dared to get intimate with anyone else was just daring some deranged killer with a machete to off them. But Wes Craven came up with something truly original in the genre, and together he and Robert Englund created a character that was iconic from the instant he hit the screen.

The plot is pretty simple. Students at the local high school are being killed in their sleep. The M.O. is that of Freddy Krueger, who molested and killed kids in the town years before. But it couldn't possibly be him, because he's dead...

Several gruesome killings later, we learn that it was the outraged parents of the town who took matters into their own hands and, after Krueger had been let off on a technicality, burned him to death. Now, he has returned from the grave to wreak his vengeance. He is finally thwarted by the heroine simply turning her back on him, ignoring him and thus depriving him of energy. Everyone is then brought back to normal (or, more, a sort of idealized normal). The film ends with the heroine and her friends, seemingly now awake from the nightmare, driving off. But suddenly the top begins to close on the car, and the colors are those of Freddy's characteristic sweater...

This is such a wonderful film in so many ways. The dream sequences are alternately surreal and realistic, just like real dreams. One of the things that really got me was when the heroine was trying to run up the stairs, and her feet sink into the staircase, slowing her to a crawl. I'd actually had that dream, and it really added to the immersion value of the film. They masterfully confuse you as to what is dream and what is reality, and the film ends ambiguously; was the whole thing a dream? Was it a dream within a dream?

The film also explores some pretty weighty issues, if only as subtext. How horrible does someone need to be before vigilantism is justifiable? It's implied, but never outright stated, that Freddy molested the kids he killed. Remember, this was at the height of the "Satanic Panic" of the mid-1980's, when daycare centers were being investigated for allegations of systematic child molestation. At one point, the heroine's parents put bars on the windows to prevent her from sneaking out (which, of course, end up preventing her from escaping Freddy's clutches).

The cast has some unexpected surprises; Johnny Depp was here as a pretty forgettable boyfriend who ends up getting his guts strewn across a bedroom, and John Saxon plays the police chief. And of course under that burn-victim makeup is John Englund, who had just played Willie in the television mini-series V and V: The Final Battle.

All in all, an instant classic addition to the horror genre, driven by wonderful characters and smart writing that blurs the line between dream and reality. There were innumerable sequels, including a television series, and of course the original was recently remade, but the 1984 film is just one of those must-see horror flicks.


N. Wright said...

You know, I never even realized that Johnny Depp was in that movie until you mentioned it.

How's that for forgettable?

Great movie, though. I had the pleasure of watching it for the first time last year. I'm not usually a big fan of slasher flicks, but my girlfriend insisted, so we watched it. :)

Riley said...

I've always been a fan of movies about dreams, so I liked this movie despite having no interest in slasher flicks generally. Did *not* remember Johnny Depp, that's for sure.

scottsz said...

Never have girls jumping rope been so creepy.

The school hallway dream sequence also gave me the willies...

TheGrumpyCelt said...

I was never a slasher fan, but I did like the NoES movies more than the Ft13 movies. I've not seen the remakes. It is good at getting under your skin.

Doug Wall said...

The first Nightmare was awesome, the second was decent, but 3rd on just got formulaic.