Ever since eight I’ve heard about Freddy Krueger. He’s pretty much engrained in the slasher lexicon, alongside Jason Voorhies and Michael Myers, as one of horror’s greatest villains.
What starts off as a not-so-sweet nursery rhyme, “1, 2, Freddy’s coming for you,” turns into a murder ballad as children scream and knives graze along rusted pipes. That’s basically how the film opens: classic Freddy dream sequence. The teenager is trapped inside some surreal-looking maze/boiler room, running around trying to escape. Then the knives start tapping and an unearthly cackling ensues as a disfigured man in a fedora and Christmas sweater comes charging out of the shadows. The clueless teen only sees the razors rising to strike once it’s too damn late, like always.
Then he “GET’S YA!” Until you wake up and realize it was all a dream.
You have to admit, the premise is very clever: monster attacks you in your dreams, preying on your fears and worst nightmares. We can clearly see the inspiration for IT here. Yet in still the 1984 execution, complete with bland acting (give the boyfriend a chance, after all he is Johnny Depp in his first role), cheesy synthesizer music, jumping, jumping jump scares, 80s teenage angst, dated special effects, and hammy horror writing make for a “classic” movie that doesn’t stand up well over time.
Make no mistake: A Nightmare on Elm Street (the first) is a classic. I really enjoyed watching it, not in spite of but probably because of all its cheesiness. Undoubtedly, like many slasher/horror films of the time, it’s a movie that rides solely on premise, rather than plot or character development. I will be making a post soon about how character-driven horror/monster films are the best (ie, Alien, Jaws, The Exorcist, The Shining).
But there’s nonetheless something charming about classic Freddy Krueger. It’s always fascinating to find a horror icon and watch the original movie that started it all. It gives Nightmare on Elm Street a sort of vintage quality, like having retro-80s night where you remember all the movies, good or bad, that set the tone for the era.
80s horror WAS Nightmare on Elm Street. You’ve got the dead killer coming back to claim his victims. You’ve got the angsty teenager, aka Nancy, who has to solve the riddle and beat the bad guy at his own game. And the over/under-acting that comes with her saccharine dialogue. You’ve got the morbid, yet sweet on-the-surface kiddie jingle that lures all the unsuspecting children into a bloodbath. And, of course, you’ve got the blood: buckets and whirlpools of gushing blood (Johnny Depp getting sucked into his bed).
I did LOVE the scene with Tina (aka the “Scream slut who deserved it because she got laid”) slithering down the hallway in a bodybag. It was a nice touch, and probably one of the parts that I would say actually held up by today’s standards.
One part I hated, though, was the mother. Her parts were almost laughable in every scene. Nancy’s mom had some of the worst acting AND the worst dialogue. The part where she takes her in the basement and tells her the story of Krueger seemed to come out of nowhere. It reeks of the all-too-common “there’s something you need to know that I’ve been hiding from you all these years” scene. And there’s her constant drinking habits, which get beyond the point of being serious, and instead downright funny. She always has the same bottle with her in every other scene: I would imagine a parody featuring her snorting lines of coke and taking hits off a meth pipe, just to cope with the trauma of burning a child killer alive. And keeping his razor glove in your basement. I’d probably be drinking too.
And, of course, the cops are clueless. And somewhat incompetent, just like in Terminator. Any qualified adult authority figure has secondary knowledge/insight to a teenage girl/boy in these types of films.
The funniest part, though, was when Nancy woke up in the hospital (euphemism: psychiatry ward for sleeping disorders) and pulled Freddy’ hat out from under the covers. Everything from the bland look of shock on Nancy’s face to the fact that she’s holding some random guy’s fedora (where’s the rest of this asshole?) takes a chilling moment and reduces it to humor. If you ask me, she should have sold it on eBay. Or at least some 80s-equivalent Halloween store. People would pay a lot of money for Krueger merchandise.
In the end, Nancy outwits Krueger with the once-brilliant, but now tired “You’re not real; disappear!” trope. And she pulls a total Kevin McCallister: by rigging her locked-down house with booby traps. It’s a good thing bad guys can’t think or strategize in horror films. At least, only during convenient times. Freddy bumbles and stumbles through each trap, getting his otherworldly ass kicked by a 16-year-old girl (not sure what age they say she actually is).
And, in the end, it finishes out with another used-up, but once golden trope: it was all a dream, but not really. Tina comes back, with her douchie boyfriend Rod, who didn’t really get strangled in the prison cell. Glen (Nancy’s boyfriend) returns, who didn’t really get sucked under the bed. And, of course, the mom is back, who randomly decides to quit the bottle now that things have gone back to normal.
But the car locks as it drives away, trapping the teens inside. And Nancy’s mom, after waving “good-bye” gets pulled inside the house (or rather a plastic doll of her) by a…no…really….could it be…a giant RAZOR GLOVE!
Look out, kids. Freddy’s still comin’. And he’s got some shitty sequels to make. It helps to pay the rent for that big-ass boiler maze he lives in. Brace yourselves, slasher fans: this one’s a keeper.
Time has obviously played its part in Nightmare on Elm Street. Despite its very apparent flaws, it’s still a horror gem. I’m sure there are certain parts that would have creeped me out more if I had watched it back in the 80s, when new slasher concepts had more of an authentic flair. I still love the concept of monsters in dreams.
There’s something sentimental about Freddy Krueger that solidifies him as a definitive American horror-icon. He’s a demonic trickster who, unlike Michael Myers or Jason Voorhies, actually talks. And giggles. And screws with your mind in every way possible. It’s just as delightful to watch as it is corny. The corniness makes it even more entertaining.
I had an enjoyable time watching A Nightmare on Elm Street, though I wouldn’t compare it with other horror films like The Exorcist, or the Shining. Nightmare on Elm Street is more of a premise movie, with a clever gimmick. Yes, it rides the gimmick in every way possible, to the point of exhaustion. But it still stands as a genre-defining slasher film.
Kudos to Craven.