Hello horror fans, it’s me, Slick Dungeon! It’s been a long year but we’ve finally made it to the month made for everything terrifying. I thought I would ring in the new October with a review of a little film called A Nightmare on Elm Street. The film was directed by Wes Craven, starred Robert Englund as the stalker on screen, Heather Langenkamp as the girl with the plan to escape and introduced us to Johnny Depp for the first time. Do be warned before you read this review there will be spoilers. So if you have not seen the film, take a watch, try to get some shuteye and come on back here to read the review.
It’s no secret Freddy Krueger is an absolute icon of horror. His disfigured face, dirty hat and sweater and glove with knives can be seen as a costume every halloween. He’s instantly recognizable. But to be fair to the image, all of that would not have worked if his first film had not been so completely, utterly, terrifying.
This film worked so well, if you were of a certain age when it first came out, and years later someone in a group starts to softly sing, “One, two, Freddy’s comin’ for you…” at least one person in the group is going to tell that person to stop it because it still creeps them out.
The plot revolves around a group of four teenagers who all live in a fairly well off community and all have a terrifying nightmare on the same night. That’s not that strange except for the fact the nightmares all had the same guy in it. A man in a dirty red and green sweater who has, “knives for fingers.”
The movie starts in an almost surreal way where the neighborhood looks too perfect to be reality. Tina, one of the group of four friends has an awful dream and she sees a glimpse of Freddy. When she wakes, her shirt is slashed right where Freddy tried to strike her.
The next day, Tina asks her friend Nancy, her boyfriend Rod, and Nancy’s boyfriend, Glen to all stay over at her house. Tina’s mother is not at home and Tina is afraid to sleep alone. Turns out Tina was right.
Tina falls asleep with Rod right next to her and once again encounters Freddy but this time she doesn’t survive the encounter. Rod is actually in the room with Tina when it happens and he sees cuts tear into Tina as he watches. Rod doesn’t do anything because he thinks he’s just having another nightmare himself. And since it looks like Tina is being attacked by no one physical, it makes sense that Rod thinks that. With Tina dead and no one other than Rod in the room at the time, it looks to almost everyone like Rod killed his girlfriend.
Nancy knows better. She knows it’s the man from her dreams who has been terrifying her.
I don’t want to give everything away in this review but from this point in the movie on, it’s pretty much Nancy vs. Freddy. No matter how hard Nancy tries to convince everyone of what is really happening, it’s awfully difficult for anyone to believe a dream is causing murders to happen.
Nancy goes from looking like a fairly put together person to someone who is frazzled, sleep deprived, and fighting for her life, all of which are true.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is so good at tricking the audience, even we can’t always tell where a dream begins and reality ends.
This is an older movie so not every effect holds up but most of them do. There’s a scene with a face in a ceiling that is still scary as can be, the ways the characters die are unimaginable, and if you are old enough to have experienced speaking on a phone with a cord, seeing a phone with its cord cut ring is really frightening.
The movie is not perfect but it’s a total landmark in horror. I’ve always been just a little bit more of a Friday the 13th fan than a Freddy fan but total respect for anyone who thinks of this film as their favorite horror film.
The most brilliant thing about the movie is the impossibility of fighting Freddy. After all, at some point you are going to fall asleep. And how can you fight someone who literally invades your dreams? There’s also a bit of backstory as to why Freddy is doing all this and while it doesn’t give all the answers, it’s enough to makes sense as to why these kids in particular are targets.
This movie also takes a lot the usual tropes and assumptions audiences have and makes sense out of them. In nearly every slasher film ever made, you have to wonder why the police are not more involved early on. In Friday the 13th it’s because it’s in a remote location. In Halloween they do try to get involved but they quickly die at the killer’s hands. In A Nightmare on Elm Street there are multiple issues happening. First, they think the real killer is Rod and they have him so it seems like their work is done. Second, everything Nancy says, sounds impossible, even when she confronts the sheriff, who happens to be her own father, with evidence of the impossible. The only one who even sort of believes her is Glen but he has to fall asleep at some point too. And on top of all of that, the adults in the town are covering something up so it’s not in their interest to believe Nancy. For a movie based on the impossible, a ton of what happens in the real world is completely plausible and that really makes it work.
Almost all slasher movies end with a jump scare at the end to leave you just a bit worried that the whole story is not quite finished. That can be fun. But with Freddy, you see that jump scare and you realize, no matter how hard you try not to, you’re going to have a dream with Freddy in it. It’s genuinely brilliant horror. And Freddy’s comin’ for you…