A Nightmare on Elm Street
A Nightmare on Elm Street
1984. Directed by Wes Craven
The film that put New Line Cinema on the map and elevated the slasher flick to a new surreal level, Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street is a quintessential example of the rare American horror film that has brains and panache.
A teenage quintet is being stalked in their dreams by a burn faced killer with a razor clawed glove. They soon realize that they are paying for the sins of their parents and Nancy, the final girl decides to take the fight to the monster by bringing him to the real world....or is it all just in her head the whole time?
Robert Englund was chosen for the legendary Freddy Krueger because, according to Craven he was mean and vicious towards the teenagers during rehearsal. Englund vanishes into his role, bolstered by David Miller's realistic make up effects which were inspired by real life burn victims. Englund delivers each of his lines from Craven's tight script with a sense of sadistic gusto that catapults him to the heights of villainy. The amount of elements that were tied together to make Krueger instantly memorable is apparent in every horrific sequence involving the boogeyman. Even Krueger's sweater is deliberate as Craven's research showed that the combination of red and green is unsettling to the human eye.
Heather Langenkamp gives a unique take on the "final girl". Her Nancy is genuine and scared, but unlike other horror films, her desperation leads her not to transform into an unkillable siren, but rather her situation forces a natural transition into a victim who turns the table on her abuser. This is made plausible by Langenkamp's commitment to the role. Nancy knows she will most likely die, but rather than simply submit, she faces the challenge on her feet, using her wits and craftsmanship to even the odds.
The most important quality of this film is the world of Elm Street, both reality and the surreal. Jacques Haitkin's cinematography is surprisingly sharp where it needs to be and vividly restrained when it doesn't. One of my favorite aspects of Elm Street is how Craven built on the ideas of Bunuel and Polanski to present a picturesque world hiding a rotting, festering basement of addiction, murder, and secrecy. The dream world mirrors this underworld, filled with grimy boiler rooms and blood slicked classrooms, everything the adults try to hide. This is Craven's cruel mirror. It's the children who always find the truth of things and more often than not suffer the consequences of these realities in magnitudes far beyond the parents who obfuscated their existence.
The final specter that haunts Elm Street is rhythm. Charles Bernstein's creepy score is the black stagnant water that pools above the nightmare, it's appearance not necessarily signaling Krueger's arrival, but always reminding the viewer that the reality on display can never be fully trusted. The nursery rhyme sung throughout by the jump roping girls is another auditory harbinger that works its way into the subconscious, and has remained there for decades.
Jim Doyle's amazing special effects feature some of the most inventive kill scenes ever imagined and only get better on repeat views. Part of the fun is figuring out how he was able to pull off the magic of the ceiling scene and the iconic bed of blood. Al Nahmias's sound editing also merits attention, using mundane audio effects with horrific efficiency. Part of Kruger's menace is not seeing him, but hearing him.
Available now for digital rental, A Nightmare on Elm Street is Craven's finest film and a classic in American horror. It's a smart, uncomfortable film that uses the concepts of reality and dreams in order to show just how imaginative a slasher flick can truly be. If you're looking for a film that makes sleeping with the lights on an attractive alternative, then this is a film for you.