October 30, 2012

Classic Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

A Nightmare on Elm Street
Director: Wes Craven
Writer: Wes Craven
Cast: Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund, John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia, Charles Fleischer

An effective examination of the lines separating reality from dreams and dreams from nightmares, A Nightmare on Elm Street remains one of the best of the 1980's era slasher flicks. Overall this is well made flick with plenty of memorable and gruesome imagery designed to cause nightmares whether or not one is awake or asleep.

When teenager Tina (Amanda Wyss) is brutally murdered, the police finger her boyfriend Rod (Jsu Garcia) as the main suspect. But Tina's friend, Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) suspects that Rod is innocent for both she and Tina had been sharing similar dreams of a man with knives for fingers who has been haunting their sleep. When Nancy investigates, she begins to realize that this man is Freddy Kruger, a child murderer who suffered a horrific fate after he was acquitted of his crimes in a court of law.

The Queering
The 1980's was the era of the slasher films (started in 1978 by Halloween) and like it's sibling series, A Nightmare on Elm Street started out on a high note before quickly descending into dreck. Well, actually, I have not seen that many of the sequels of either series, but between what I have heard from others and having viewed A Nightmare on Elm Stree 2: Freddy's Revenge, I am not going to be running out to view the subsequent films of either series. Ultimately, both series would be dragged out unnecessarily, thereby undermining the reputation of the originals.

As for A Nightmare on Elm Street itself, Wes Craven effectively toes the line between harsh reality and waking nightmare. The murders are presented in such a way, that the refrain of "don't fall asleep" will not be difficult for many of the more sensitive members of the audience. The first kill is particularly brutal with the victim being dragged up a wall and across the ceiling by invisible forces. Later, another character meets an equally gruesome fate that a responding paramedic talks about "needing a mop, not a body bag". Obviously, this is not a film for the faint of heart or the overly sensitive.

One of the cardinal rules of slasher films is that those who have sex are the first to die. A Nightmare on Elm Street follows this rule, but not strictly. Virginity it turns out is no guarantee of survival here, the characters who have sex simply get offed sooner rather than later.

However, the theme of burgeoning teenage sexuality begetting monsters that this pattern eludes to, is hammered home in a shot of Freddy's hand coming up from between Nancy's legs when she is taking a bath. In a way almost, while aimed at teenagers, slasher flicks appear to be mostly a reflection of parental anxieties about the dangers of adolescence. One wonders how much of the AIDS epidemic in the 80's helped propel the popularity of the slasher films or it was mere coincidence that this genre simply ended up paralleling the reality of sex that could literally kill people by coincidence. Granted, the idea of killing the sexually promiscuous started in 1978 by Halloween well before AIDS was pushed to the forefront of the national consciousness. What I want to know, is if there had been no AIDS crises, would the cheesiness of the genre have caused slasher films to die out earlier?

A Nightmare on Elm Street is worth seeking out for anyone, whether they live on Elm Street or not.

The Rating
***1/2 out of ****


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