A Nightmare on Elm Street

Well, Michael Bay is going down the list of everything he can do to ruin the quality of my life. Destroy the language of action cinema – check. Produce a horrible remake of one of my all time favorite movies – check. Make one of the most moronic event movies ever imagined and convince most of America that’s the best you can expect from a “summer popcorn movie” – check. He also personally re-elected Bush, in my opinion, and invited all the yelling party kids to hang out outside my apartment every night after the bars close. So he’s pretty much set everything on fire already but just to add insult to injury he’s circling back to pee on my rose garden by having his rat fucking, no-account production company Platinum Dunes “relaunch” both Jason AND Freddy. And maybe I’m in a small faction here but I was patiently awaiting the JASON VS. FREDDY 2 they’ve been trying to get off the ground for a while and was not aware that those two troublemakers had been sent back to the docks yet.

So as much as I believe in forgiveness and second chances, I’m pretty sure I will hate this soul-less cokehead asswipe for all his days, even if he prevents world war 3 (unlikely) or gives all his Lamborghinis to charity (way more unlikely). But on the positive side he has so far failed to erase the existence of the movies he is working hard to destroy the legacy of. So to celebrate the silver lining on this toxic cloud I think I’m gonna go back and watch and review all the original NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movies. Take that, Michael Bay. Game, set and match, motherfucker.

A Nightmare on Elm StreetWhen people think of ELM STREET they usually think of wisecracking Freddy, making puns and calling women bitches. (Not only is he a child killer, he’s disrespectful to women.) You think of all those teens who have one hobby or fear and then they fall asleep and have an elaborate dream where that hobby or fear turns into their ironic death. So if they’re into comic books they will be killed by Super Freddy, if they’re afraid of bugs they’ll be turned into a roach and stuck in a roach motel. If Freddy haunted Michael Bay I guess he’d dream about driving around in his Lamborghini getting a blowjob but all the sudden the hooker turns into Freddy. Freddy sucks Michael Bay (played by Peter Horton) in through his mouth and shits out an animated film loop with Michael Bay’s head on it. The film screams “Noooo!” in a high–pitched voice as Freddy puts it into an old fashioned movieola with red and green stripes painted on it. Then he starts chopping the shit out of the film with his finger-knives and makes some quip about quick cuts making a scene more exciting.

Well that’s how corny it got in the sequels but people tend to forget that the original was a different animal. Freddy actually doesn’t talk much in this one and in fact doesn’t have a huge amount of screen time. The kids are scared of him and hear his fingers scraping against metal, but he doesn’t actually show up that many times, so when he does it’s a big deal.

And the dreams don’t get too elaborate or gimmicky. Maybe they could’ve spent more time to add realistic dream-weirdness like you go through the door of your bedroom and all the sudden you’re at school or something like that. But I’m glad they didn’t go too far. I’m sure in the remake all the dreams will be fancy computerized wonderlands where the walls melt and stretch and faces grow off of things and all kinds of “dreamlike” show offy shit that never happened in a dream you or I ever had. Here there is some pretty true-to-life dream imagery like for no reason there’s a sheep in a boiler room, or the stairs turn to goo as you try to run up them (I’ve definitely had that one). But other than the boiler room where Freddy was killed the location of the dreams is always the place where the people are having the dream, like their house or their school. Not some fancy abandoned gothic church or some shit. Just real dream shit.

As a horror fan I’ve seen this movie about a billion times since the ’80s. I don’t think it’s a masterpiece like TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, but it’s a clever and well done movie and I do think it holds up. If you want to really understand why it caught on so big you sort of have to compare it to the slasher movies that came before it. When A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET came out there had already been four FRIDAY THE 13THs (three with Jason), three HALLOWEENS (two with Michael Meyers), there had been THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, BLACK CHRISTMAS, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE, THE BURNING, SLEEPAWAY CAMP, THE PROWLER. So we were used to slasher movies and especially the faceless, voiceless killers coming after people with knives and power tools. Even in Craven’s own movies like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and the more outlandish THE HILLS HAVE EYES it was brutal reality that we were fearing – having to deal with a sudden, savage attack from some crazy fucker or fuckers.

So Craven’s concept was devious. Here is another killer coming after young people but this time he’s only in dreams. With the other slashers your goal is to escape, to get out of the house or the desert or find help. Those options aren’t available on Elm Street. The place you have to get away from is dreams, and the body needs sleep. And nobody’s gonna help Nancy because the adults don’t believe her and her boyfriend’s parents take his phone off the hook and her mom put bars on her windows so she can’t climb out.

And of course Freddy can do things that even Jason can’t do, because he’s not confined by the rules of reality. He can appear where he wants to, he can stretch his arms out ten feet, he can stick his tongue out of the receiver of your phone. He lives in nightmares so pretty much by definition his job is the same as what I think Wes Craven would say is the horror movie’s job: to tap into your deepest subconscious fears. He’s the fuckin boogey man.

People throw the same “bad acting” criticism at this movie that they do all these types of movies, but I don’t think it’s that bad. Admittedly Ronee Blakeley as Nancy’s mom has a pretty bad line-reading in the last scene. But otherwise the cast is pretty solid. You got John ENTER THE DRAGON Saxon as Nancy’s dad, also the police chief who’s on the case. You couldn’t do much better. He’s a dad you want in your corner and also one you don’t want pissed off at you. The co-lead is Johnny Depp in his first movie role, and he’s not very good but as luck would have it he turned out to be easily one of the best actors of his generation, so to watch him when he was just starting out is a novelty now and any bad acting is no longer a problem. And then the lead, Heather Langenkamp as Nancy does a great job. She’s pretty but not a babe, she seems like a real girl. I think she’s more relatable than a good percentage of the slasher movie protagonists because she’s a little troubled – her mom sends her for medical testing, she’s on prescription drugs, her boyfriend’s parents think she’s trouble, and she can’t sleep so she starts to get legitimately a little crazy. But it’s not her fault.

ELM STREET is not as much of a college professor’s essay as LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and THE HILLS HAVE EYES were. It follows the same pattern of suburban people getting attacked, then deciding to fight back and setting up some boobie traps. But this time it abandons the subtext that fighting back destroys your humanity. Because who can say what the ethics are of killing a supernatural murderer who haunts your dreams? Sure, she pulled him out of her dream into reality, but does it still count as taking a life? The guy is already dead.

But the movie does have a little bit of a theme to it, this “sins of the fathers” sort of deal. Freddy in a way is a monster created by the Elm Street parents. He was a killer who was let go because of some legal loophole, so they turned vigilante and burned him alive. I mean you can’t get too mad at them, but anytime a mob burns a human being alive and then tries to go on with life as if nothing ever happened, that’s a pretty big skeleton in the closet. And now the children are suffering from their dirty little secret. Nancy’s mom is the one who seems to admit that maybe they made some mistakes and the kids are paying for it. Even though the story is from the kids’ point of view there is part of it that’s about a parent’s fear of not being able to protect their kids. The system couldn’t stop Freddy, so they tried to, and now reality can’t even stop Freddy, and they can’t go into their kids’ dreams to protect them.

So that’s what’s smart about this movie. It combines slasher movie conceits (horny teenagers, killer with mythic backstory and iconic look, one-by-one gimmicky deaths) with psychological horror. You still get the instinct for survival you get from other slasher movies, but combined with some more abstract primal fears. And when it comes down to it some of those deaths are just brutal. In sequels the gimmicks and special effects they came up with were clever, but jokey. They were cute. This movie is not cute, especially in that fucked up scene where Tina is stabbed by her invisible stalker, slammed against the wall and dragged around on the ceiling, trailing blood. I mean, shit.

I never thought of it like this before, but in a way Freddy is just like Rambo. Two sicko icons from serious-minded ’80s classics that somehow turned into children’s toys through a series of increasingly cartoonish sequels that were stupid fun in their own way but missed the point of where they came from. So maybe it’s hard in your mind to separate the roots from the tree that grew out of it, but give it a shot. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is a good one.

This entry was posted on Sunday, February 10th, 2008 at 11:35 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

22 Responses to “A Nightmare on Elm Street”

  1. The rights went back to the Craven estate. Let’s hope they use their power for good.

    [Exclusive] U.S. Rights to 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' Have Reverted Back to Wes Craven's Estate - Bloody Disgusting

    One of the biggest conversations in the horror community right now is the current state of the Friday the 13th franchise, which is trapped in a legal battl

  2. Hot take: If we could only consider the first entry of a horror movie franchise, I think Nancy Thompson may be the greatest Final Girl of all time. Granted, horror’s not my favorite genre – I couldn’t tell you the name of the Final Girl of Texas Chainsaw or Friday the 13th if I had a gun to my head. And don’t get me wrong- Ellen Ripley, Laurie Strode, and Sarah Connor all grow into better characters via their sequels, but none of them make as big an impact as Nancy does in their first movie. She’s smart, tough, likable, and most importantly, proactive as shit. She doesn’t need the help of a man, she doesn’t just run away or fight only out of necessity- instead she devises a plan and goes full Rambo 5 on Freddy’s ass at the end. It’s amazing. And also too bad she’s let down by a truly terrible finale that doesn’t make sense on any level and undoes all the goodwill the rest of the movie. I’ve never liked the ending of NOES 1 and have just kinda grown to accept it, I guess.

    I think I rolled my eyes a little bit a few years ago at Heather Langenkamp making that “I Am Nancy” documentary that explored why Freddy Krueger hit the public consciousness and Nancy didn’t, but after this rewatch I might have to search it out now.

  3. I agree, and I AM NANCY will make you like her even more, via Heather Langenkamp. Don’t worry, she has a sense of humor about it. She mostly seems to like to make people uncomfortable by pretending she expects them to be as into Nancy as they are Freddy.

  4. I AM NANCY is great and it really did make me rethink how I watch slashers particularly. Whether by design or not, it made me watch slashers from the ‘heroes’ pov instead of the killer’s. I really loved it and am very thankful for it.

  5. Heather and JLC are the standard for final girls. But the NIGHTMARE movies in general have had some kick ass final girls. I’d argue Kristen and Alice are just as popular with the fanbase. Not so much Billy Zane’s sister as Freddy’s estranged daughter.

    I don’t know how many here watch it. I think Vern has mentioned that he has. But American Horror Story’s theme this season is a summer camp slasher set in 1984. Emma Roberts who I always felt had potential to be a great final girl but never felt the potential was ever tapped into is the headliner. We’ll see if her character reaches the upper echelon of a Nancy.

  6. That’s weird. What makes you say that? Final Girls are all about empathy. The other victims are just cannon fodder, but the Final Girl is expected to be the audience surrogate. When she’s in danger, WE are in danger. That’s what makes Final Girl Hall of Famers like Heather Langenkamp, Neve Campbell, and Jamie Lee Curtis work. Because of their particular combination of strength and vulnerability, you can’t help but put yourself in their shoes. I’ve never been able to muster a single drop of empathy for Emma Roberts in any role. There’s nothing relatable about her at all. She comes off like a lizard in a woman’s skin. Which works perfectly fine for the mean girl roles I’ve seen her in but I can’t imagine it translating to the simple act of making the audience care whether she lives or dies. A movie where Emma Roberts is the Final Girl is a movie where I’m rooting for the killer.

  7. I really like this season of AHS with Emma Roberts. The only one I have seen because I was interested in the 80s slasher thing.

  8. Majestyk – funny you mention Emma Roberts’ lack of empathy since there’s ALREADY been a movie with Emma Roberts as “The Final Girl”, also directed by Wes Craven, no less! Except with Scream 4 (SPOILERS FOR AN 8 YEAR OLD MOVIE), it of course turns out she’s the killer, which I have to admit did take me by surprise, not so much because of any effort on Roberts’ part, but because the movie surrounds her with about 9000 new characters and red herrings that when she’s revealed to be the killer it’s like “oh yeah! I forgot about her!”. In the hands of a better script and actress, it could have been an all-timer twist or an emotional gut punch, but as is, it’s like “yeah that was neat I guess”. And to be fair, I don’t think Roberts is a “bad actress” per se, but she has about 1/100th of the star power or screen presence of either her aunt or her father.

  9. I say this because she has shown on that show even when playing some bitch characters she is capable of bringing likeability to a role. Like her character in the Freak Show season. This is why her big scene with Doogie Howser felt so fucked up.

    SCREAM 4 doesn’t count cause that was Neve’s movie. I went into it thinking it would be hers but they just decided to creatively revert her to playing another spoiled and priviliged scumbag.

    Outside of this season on that show she has remained typecasted. So far she’s been doing good on the other side of things. Especially after this last episode. Like her dad she is capable of empathetic expression through her acting and not just always sleazing it up as they’re usually cast to do. I do not think she has a BEST OF THE BEST in her though.

  10. I say this because she has shown on that show even when playing some bitch characters she is capable of bringing likeability to a role. Like her character in the Freak Show season. Who despite redifining the word cunt at times actually ended up with some redeemable points. This is why her big scene with Doogie Howser felt so fucked up.

    SCREAM 4 doesn’t count cause that was Neve’s movie. I went into it thinking it would be hers but they just decided to creatively revert her to playing another spoiled and priviliged scumbag.

    Outside of this season on that show she has remained typecasted. So far she’s been doing good on the other side of things. Especially after this last episode. Like her dad she is capable of empathetic expression through her acting and not just always sleazing it up as they’re usually cast to do. I do not think she has a BEST OF THE BEST in her though.

  11. Broddie you magnificent bastard. “Best of the Best Awakens”, featuring Eric Roberts passing the Taekwondo torch onto Emma is now the movie we all need and deserve. Throw in Philip Rhee’s kids if he has any, and Dylan Penn for good measure. She can avenge her late uncle’s death by taking on Brakus’ kids. I’d watch the hell out of this movie.

  12. See, if she did that, I’d consider her in a whole new light.

  13. Just rewatched this one the other night for the first time in a few years and I’d forgotten how much I love the dream sequences in this one. Especially Nancy’s first nightmare in the school- the way the one student delivers the line about dreams in this creepy slow voice, the way all the students keep facing forward as Nancy gets up and wanders out of the class, the hall monitor/Freddy girl, the way the boiler room is way bigger and more labyrinthine than it should be…it’s just fantastic stuff. I always think of the titular NIGHTMAREs as kind of goofy and on-the-nose, but these ones are much more unsettling and strange.

  14. I also think the movie doesn’t get enough credit for its fast pace. It runs less than 90 minutes and not one scene is wasted or feels skippable on repeated viewing.

  15. I don’t think enough movies get credit for being 90 minutes. I remember reading once that you can tell if the quality of a movie is bad if it’s less than 90 minutes. If that’s true then I think the inverse is also true that just because you’re two hours or longer doesn’t mean your a masterpiece.

  16. CJ Holden – Useless boyfriend Johnny Depp doesn’t bother you?

  17. I agree w/ CJ that even though there’s scenes that technically don’t “add” to the plot, like the comedy bit with Johnny Depp and the sound effects audio tape, those scenes are entertaining and fun and add a little character (establishing that yes, Glen is a doofus who isn’t going to save Nancy which is why she’ll save herself). I like that all of the Nightmares are right around 90 minutes (except New Nightmare), and this one definitely doesn’t drag. Every dream sequence in Part 1 serves a purpose and actually adds new information so it doesn’t get tedious or repetitive (*cough* IT remake *cough*).

    Speaking of time – one nitpick I have to add is the passage of time at the end. Like why does Nancy tell her dad to come get her in 20 minutes, which she then spends elaborately booby-trapping her entire house in montage, saying goodbye to her mom and tucking her into bed, going to sleep, fighting Freddy in the dream world, and then bringing him out. It’s like those movies that show a bomb timer with 2 minutes left and then go on for 10 minutes. Just ADR her saying “One hour” to her dad or something!

  18. Watching this one this past year i was struck by how depressing Nancy’s mom is. Sheesh, what a drag.

  19. Felix: No, not at all. He may be useless, but he isn’t an annoying asshole like so many other horror movie characters and even gets one of the most iconic kills of the whole series.

  20. I just watched this movie called Little Monsters that’s on Hulu and it’s the best zombie comedy thing since Shaun of the Dead. Just a sweet natured movie that also happens to have a lot of really good zombie gags. I don’t even like kids and I liked the kids in this movie which says a lot about this movie. Plus Lupita Nyong’o is so adorable. I can’t imagine finishing up this movie and any of you hating it unless you really are dead inside.

  21. Sternshein – I’ll go even further and say Little Monsters is the best Lupita Nyong’o horror movie of 2019.

    She’s eye-poppingly gorgeous here, the most distractingly beautiful, “wait I can’t concentrate on this movie” horror heroine since Alexandra Daddario in Texas Chainsaw 3D. And she learned to play ukulele for a wacky horror comedy! You enter the movie thinking “Why would she be in something like this?” and leave the movie charmed and smiling and thinking “ok she can do whatever she wants”.

  22. Depp’s character is indeed pretty useless in this one (to be fair, I would be too if I was being stalked by a dream-murder demon), but that sfx tape bit cracks me up. What exactly is the market for a cassette tape that just plays a shitload of loud, unrelated sounds one after another??

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