The 101 Horror Movies list has brought yet another one of my favourites to me for a revisit. 1984’s classic, A Nightmare On Elm Street, and it may sound like a sell out, but this is my favorite Wes Craven film, It seems to perfectly balance the horror films of the 1980s – the supernatural and the slasher film.
Craven creates a fantastic film that still holds to this day (and has recently suffered from remake syndrome – which wasn’t able to capture any of the feel of the original. I was content with the casting of Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy, but was upset that he was given nothing to work with, and the film was, in my opinion, poorly constructed).
Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) and her friends (including Johnny Depp in his first big screen role) have been suffering from nightmares of late, all of them featuring a burned figure in a hat, a striped sweater, and a glove with knives for fingers – a murdered child-killer Freddy Krueger (played with manic glee by the brilliant Robert Englund).
The deeper Nancy goes, the more we learn why she and her friends are targeted. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of dark secrets in small towns, perhaps the appeal of a lot of Stephen King novels for me as well, that there is something going on beneath the seemingly peaceful surface.
And in these stories there’s always a reckoning.
Craven has crafted a near-perfect genre film, it has scares, defusing laughs, awesome effects, a story, and characters you care about.
I love the musical score by Charles Bernstein, that recognizable motif that still can give me chills, accompanied by the jump rope rhyme that constantly resurfaces, throughout this film, and the entire series.
The concept of a serial killer stalking you in your dreams, someone who can get you when you are at your most vulnerable – asleep – is very frightening. Craven also tends to keep Freddy in the shadows a lot, letting our imagination fill in the burns, and the horror of his appearance until the final act of the movie when Freddy stalks Nancy in the real world.
The kills are over the top in their blood spill, and are just awesome in their execution. The use of a gimbal to put Tina (Amanda Wyss) on the ceiling, being slaughtered by Freddy while Rod (Nick Corri) watches helplessly.
Glenn (Depp) being pulled into his bed, and then a literal fountain of blood sprays up out of it.
The assault on Nancy while she’s in the tub, with the almost Jaws like feeling as the gloved hand seems to break the surface like a multi-finned shark.
It’s a wonderfully scary film that makes you think about the substance and content of your dreams, and how they can affect you’re reality.
It’s a slick piece of filmmaking that rockets along, taking you with it, and restored the idea of the boogeyman to the rather jaded 80s.
It also makes fantastic use of practical effects and shows you how to do it right. One of my favorite moments in the film features Nancy asleep in Tina’s bed, and Freddy appears to be pressing through the slanted ceiling of the room to reach down and grab her. It was done live, on set, by replacing the ceiling with latex and having the actor press into it to make it appear as if he was coming out of the wall.
While I have never been a fan of the slasher genre, I’ve never seen the appeal, I do quite enjoy the Nightmare series because it does go beyond the kills, there is that supernatural element, the idea of crossing between dreams and reality with ease, not being able to tell one from the other.
And if you have seen it, have you also seen the brilliant documentary, Never Sleep Again? It’s an incredible 4 hour documentary that covers the entire film series and is well worth the watch. Everytime I watch it though, you want to go back and work your way through the entire series – which is a downer, because all I have on blu-ray right now is the first film. Hopefully that’s something I can fix!
What’s your favourite Wes Craven film?