A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, dir. Wes Craven)
Starring Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Johnny Depp, Ronee Blakely
I remember the first time I ever heard about Freddy Krueger. I was 8 or 9 year old and sitting in my backyard in Smyrna where a neighbor kid was describing the R-rated horror films his parents had let him watch. Nothing stood out about Freddy that was too frightening to me, I do remember the description of the glove sounding creepy. Now it is twenty years later and I am finally seeing the film that was described to me all those years ago. So how does Wes Craven’s 1980s horror classic stack up?
It takes barely any time for us to jump right into the thick of the plot. Nancy and her friends, Tina, Glen, and Rod are all suffering from nightmares about the same evil figure. He’s a man with a burnt face, in a fedora and striped sweater who wears a glove with blades on each finger. All four spend the night at Tina’s house and their slumber is interrupted by Tina’s brutal disemboweling by an invisible force. Tina’s thug boyfriend Rod is the only suspect and ends up in jail. But Nancy thinks otherwise and has her own face to face encounter with the man who calls himself Freddy. Nancy chooses to forgo sleep as she searches for answers about why this man has targeted her and her friends. But how long can she go without giving in to her exhaustion?
One of the things I noticed right away was how muted Freddy was. I was so used to the personality later films had developed of him as a wisecracking murderer that it was off putting to see him only have a few pieces of dialogue in the picture. Craven also chooses to keep Krueger’s face in the shadows most of the time and the make up effects are fairly simply, just a face damaged by fire and turned to scar tissue. I could also see the novelty of how Freddy kills. Figures like Jason and Michael Meyers are fairly one note. They stalk you and stab you. The added twist that you are in danger in your dreams does come across as a greater threat. There’s no authorities to go to that can save you in this instance.
Overall, the film doesn’t feel very frightening. I think having so many of its scenes used in specials detailing iconic horror and the Freddy Krueger character having been milked for all of its worth harms the ability of the film to still be affecting. I really liked Heather Langenkamp as Nancy, she felt like a real teenage girl who wasn’t a huge breasted pin up. The normality of Nancy definitely made her a much more sympathetic character than your typical horror scream queen. The acting was weak for the most part but the film is based on the premise that you will see gruesome kills, not great performances.
I was left with the desire to go back in time and see this film in the theater with an audience who was unaware of what they were getting. I have a feeling it would have been extremely fun. Now horror has become so clichéd and trite that its hard to have that jump in your seat experience anymore. Hoping the remake of Nightmare can find some way to reintroduce Freddy and give us surprises rather than a retread.