Night #21: A Nightmare On Elm Street

Being hungover today and slipping in and out of sleep was probably not the best way to watch this. But these are the sacrifices I make in the name of the blog.

Wes Craven’s seminal A Nightmare On Elm Street came at a time in 80’s horror when slasher movies were just coming to fruition. Friday The 13th came out four years previously and was already onto its fourth film by the time this one was released. But it didn’t take long for Freddy Krueger to usurp Jason Vorhees as king of the slashers. Based in part on an incident in which Craven read about immigrants from the same village who all died in their sleep, ANOES, as the cool kids call it tapped into that moment when we’re both safe and utterly vulnerable: Sleep.

I’m sure the story is well known by now but here’s a recap. A local child killer, Freddy Krueger, is let off on a technicality but murdered by the town’s parents in a retribution killing. He’s burned alive and somehow, years later, he’s able to come back and exact his revenge on the kids of those parents.

There’s that word again. Revenge. It was something that Craven already tapped into years earlier with The Last House On The Left, and plays a major theme here. This time is the idea that the sins of the father is visited on the children and yet again the cyclical violence resumes. It’s all wrapped up in a nicely done package, but the themes are prevalent.

Craven had moved away from the Cinema-verite look of Last House and The Hills Have Eyes and instead created a very languid, precise film whose visuals are clearly thought out (The film is pretty rife with symbolism – very early on in the film during the first ‘stalking’ scene is a lamb) and are low budget enough to give it a sort of disconnected feeling, which works to the strengths of the film.

The numerous scares are handled well by Craven, and what’s more they’re genuinely imaginative. There’s the famous scene of Johnny Depp, in his film debut, being sucked into the bed and a unnatural amount of blood spurting from it like a volcano but there’s a ton of other little flourishes that work just as well. I was always partial to the scene where Nancy escapes up the stairs but starts sinking into each one, mainly because it was in a nightmare I had myself once. Though of course it could be a nightmare I had because of the film. Damn you Craven.

It’s not perfect of course. Sadly the symbolism that Craven employs early on (There’s a lot of catholicism there) is pretty much left by the wayside soon after, and some of the performances are…less than good. Still, it’s interesting to see Depp play a normal person instead of a oddly voiced caricature, and it’s probably telling that he looks ill at ease the whole time.

There are bright spots though. Acting stalwart John Saxon is always reliable, hairpiece and all, and of course there’s Robert Englund as Kruger. Separated from the jokey Freddy of later years, England still manages to deliver in the role. He’s a positively nasty character and, in another new at the time, he’s a killer who is very much present on screen a lot of the time. He has some one-liners, but they’re often delivered in a more derisory tone in what’s more of a dour performance. It’s perhaps telling of his skills as an actor that he was able to tap into this well again, after playing Freddy as a joke for so long, for Wes Craven’s A New Nightmare (That’s the full title).

Sadly it’s all downhill from here on out for the Krugster. Part 2 in the series is genuinely interesting as a piece of gay cinema (Seriously) and wisely keeps Kruger in the background for a lot of the film. Part 3, widely considered by some to be the best, straddles that line between the seriousness of the previous entries and the silliness of the later ones. Once you get to Part 4 and Freddy’s magical resurrection by urinating dog then all bets are off. The fact that they made kids toys of the character says all you need to know about where the franchise ended up.

Speaking of which here’s a little teaser for something I got coming up soon…




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