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Tuesday, 21 January 2014

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET ( Wes Craven 1984): A Collective Nightmare

4 Stars

A classic, of course. Despite the crude subject matter of violence against children, the film manages to produce an amusing display of ‘horrality’. This is a term I adore, coined by Philip Brophy to define the intersections of horror, textuality, morality, and hilarity. Yes, this Craven product really is the whole package.

The story in a nutshell is as follows: After being burned alive (the result of an act of vigilante justice against him) Freddy Kruger, “a filthy child murderer” as he is referred to, returns to haunt the the children of Elm street while they sleep. If you die in your sleep, you die for real. His wrath is two-fold, for vengeance against their parents (his killers), and for the satisfaction he gains from torturing, sexualizing, and finally killing the teens. So, typical slasher stuff. The twist is its supernatural element. A malevolent spirit of some sort, Freddy is a living nightmare. The only escape is to stay awake, but no one can do that forever. 

Like all good villains, Krueger represents a threat to the social order. In compounding issues of morality, justice, sexuality, and violence, this film manages to raise considerable questions about contemporary middle-class suburbia and the perceived circumvent threat of rape in the 1980s (admittedly, this second point exists largely in subtext). Krueger really is, as theorist Carol Clover put it, "a collective nightmare" for his time.

By this point in Craven's career, he had already created quite a splash in horror circles with Last House on the Left (1972), and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). But his knack for crass humor could only be brought forward so masterfully by Robert Englund. What a creepy man! His performance is sure to incite a shiver or two. Of course, this means when I see Englund, I see Freddy, not unlike how Jack Nicholson will always be Jack Torrence to me. And it also means there can only be one Freddy, sorry Jackie Earle Haley - but kudos on the effort. 

I must admit, although I was extremely hesitant to give Samuel Bayer’s Nightmare remake a shot, I’m glad I did. It’s not the same film, but that’s okay. Why should it be? As a separate entity, it holds up quite well with its own brand of creepiness. And if you can’t get enough of Englund, that’s fine too, because there are seven films in the original Nightmare series. Although not all are graced by Craven’s involvement, they usually tend to be pretty fun.

All in all, Nightmare employs an original storyline, and a twist ending. Unpredictability is the key to creating a successful slasher film, and that it is. That being said, I would not classify the film as frightening, or even gory. While it maintains a sense of nostalgia for those of us who saw it as children, this also means it is a little dated. Still, revisiting it these days never fails to offer a good time.