Father Gore's 2nd Make a Case looks at the squandered potential in Wes Craven's 1989 SHOCKER.
A Nightmare on Elm Street. 1984. Directed & Written by Wes Craven.
Starring John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia, Johnny Depp, Charles Fleischer, Joseph Whipp, Robert Englund, Joe Unger, & Lin Shaye. New Line Cinema/Media Home Entertainment/Smart Egg Pictures/The Elm Street Venture.
Rated R. 91 minutes.
All those who love horror, truly, are bound to miss Wes Craven. He’s firmly planted amongst the masters of the modern horror genre. His film The Last House on the Left completely rocked and shocked viewers, though, even behind that brutal picture are bigger things than merely a rape-revenge horror. Some people pass over a later effort of his, The People Under the Stairs, yet that attacks everything from racism to Regan.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is a different story. Craven completely hit the mark in every way imaginable, both on a subtle level and the more obvious ones. Freddy Krueger became synonymous with nightmares, the bad dreams which shake you from your sleep. Little kids weren’t afraid of a faceless boogeyman anymore after 1984 – from then on, it was Freddy. Because he was different than the other popular slashers, being a totally mind-based killer; he comes for you through dreams, and that means rules change. The unconscious is our most vulnerable place. He gets there, invading the private spaces of our inner mind. It’s a delicate subject when you boil this slasher-horror down to its basic parts. Craven does his best job crafting a masterpiece of horrific dreams on the back of Freddy, along with the appropriately impressive and inventive effects to boot. This is a classic of horror if there ever were one.
We all know the plot. Let’s skip that part this time around.
Part of my love for this movie is the innovation of Craven and his team. Everything from the blood bed to the simplest practical effects. Such care goes into the movie to make it look so excellent.
Love the effect of Freddy pushing through the wall, then Nancy wakes up with the cross knocked off on her, and the wall’s back to normal. Always thought it was creepy, subtle. Then not long afterwards Freddy comes down the alley with those long arms, so surreal and dreamlike. Everything is warped and weird. And it is terrifying. Plus, once we finally get the few looks at his face, all scarred and burned up, it’s hideous.
Freddy’s the pure mercury liquid of nightmares. At first he doesn’t even respond to Nancy when she asks “who are you?”, but simply cuts his chest open to reveal ooze and maggots.
And that’s the most terrifying part about Freddy. He’s a dream, a nightmare figure. He gets you if you fall asleep, which time and time again tests the characters of the film. There’s an unfathomable aspect to Krueger and his entrance through the unconscious mind. Almost as if your fears will literally eat you alive when he’s around. Plus, there’s also the angle of the buried secrets in a tight-knit community. Once the truth of Krueger, who he was and what happened to him comes out, then we start to see what the past does to the present. It invades and infects the next generation. You could make a case that Craven is talking about generational trauma, in a sense. Either way, the fact Freddy worms his way into the minds of the young people on Elm Street is a creepy sort folktale, a modern era Pied Piper leading the kids to their deaths. Sort of the death of youth, bringing adolescence to an end in horrific ways. Freddy is ultra creepy, as he’s already a child murderer, but the injustice portion of things comes into play; questions of morality, and what exactly is justice, so on. You can dive deep into Craven, I’ve been saying that for ages.
Apart from being the big screen debut of Johnny Depp, there are a couple good performances. Heather Langenkamp as Nancy is a perfect choice. She’s likeable, as well as sweet. Yet she’s strong and independent, she wants to track Freddy down, no matter how she has to go about it; whether by force, or by dream. As opposed to the typical “Final Girl”, Nancy is much more than just that. She’s an antagonistic protagonist, if I can mix and match. I say that because she’s able to turn the tables on Freddy and get the upperhand by going at him on his own turf. So, Nancy comes off as a decently strong, resilient female character in a genre with a dearth of those types of characters.
Of course we can’t talk about this Craven masterpiece without mentioning the talent of Robert Englund. Nobody else can ever fill his shoes. Sure, you can remake it. And Jackie Earle Haley is actually a great actor. But certain roles are not meant to be played over and over like in the theatre. In stage acting, nobody is recording you (or at least they never were before these days), and so the performances are not cemented; many people can grace the role. Someone like Freddy Krueger can never be anyone else but Englund. He put the stamp on that role, giving it the performance of a lifetime. His character remains ever creepy, both slightly perverted and terrifyingly mad. The makeup effects involved with him, just his appearance alone, are insane. They remain with you, after years and years. You could be on a desert island for a decade and still remember who Freddy was if they showed you a picture. It’s an iconic piece of horror, of cinematic history itself.
Craven’s Nightmare is a 5-star horror. It defined what a supernatural horror could be without the need for the same old ghosts and spooky things in the dark. Freddy branded himself onto the brain of genre fans forever. Not only that, he marked the world. He’s a phenomenon, still is really. Even kids knew who he was back in the ’80s when they couldn’t see the movies. They just knew. I knew who Freddy was before I’d actually seen the movie myself. So Craven not only gave people a good scare, he contributed to pop culture in a hugely significant way during the ’80s, and then later in the ’90s with Scream. This one always creeps me out, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. Never a boring watch, always good for that solid, enjoyable scare I crave.