A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) Review
“If Nancy doesn’t wake up screaming, she won’t wake up at all.”
Synopsis: The monstrous spirit of a slain janitor seeks revenge by invading the dreams of teenagers whose parents were responsible for his untimely death.
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Wes Craven‘s A Nightmare on Elm Street has the distinction of both beginning one of the big slasher franchises, and of being one of the few slasher franchises with a creative premise. Slashers have their own particular genre of fright; the Nightmare on Elm Street movies bring fear to a whole other level by firmly establishing the danger of a core human function: sleep. Every battle in the Nightmare on Elm Street movies is a battle that is already lost – therein lies the true horror.
I deeply enjoy the premise of this franchise, especially the setup in the first movie. Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) attacks his victims in their dreams; naturally, a great deal of the movie takes place in alternate realities. The filmmakers put a lot of care into these dreamscapes, focusing on portraying common themes and elements that appear in actual dreams for a lot of people. When Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) runs up her stairs and sinks into each riser, the peril seems all the more real to every audience member who’s ever dreamed something similar.
Unfortunately, Krueger and his antics don’t always exhibit the same care. Because he is primarily a malevolent force in the first installment, his dreamscape tricks and wisecracks feel at odds with his role as a predator. He’s at his best and most menacing when he stalks his victims, scratching his nails against the wall – not when he’s turning phones into tongue jobs.
One of the other horror elements that the Nightmare on Elm Street movies tend to do well is “the well-meaning guardian.” Frequently, Krueger’s victims are endangered by those who most desperately want to protect them. This adds another psychological layer to an slasher franchise already one step ahead of the rest.
I can’t say I love A Nightmare on Elm Street – Krueger’s antics are a little too much for me – but I solidly enjoy a great deal of it. For those who tend to shun the big franchises, this is a decent movie in its own right, and should be given a fair chance.
Calamity Brains’ Rating: B
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