Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

(In anticipation for the Platinum Dunes hundred maniac raping of the Nightmare franchise due out April 30th and just because its been awhile, I've decided to revisit the series over the next week or two. We'll see how far I actually get.)

Four teenage friends discover that they are all dreaming of the same razor-clawed, disfigured man leading to one of them, Tina, being savagely murdered in her sleep. Her boyfriend, Rod, is charged with her death as he was the only one in the room at the time and his explanation of the events leaves quite a bit to be desired for the local authorities. Meanwhile, Nancy is continuing to be stalked by this man in her dreams and comes to the realizations that she can be physically hurt in these dreams and she can bring things out with her. Somebody pass the coffee.

As I view it today, there are an awful lot of goofy choices throughout A Nightmare on Elm Street that routinely pull me out of the experience. Granted, it will forever hold the distinction of being the one horror film I can remember having to turn off as a child because I got too spooked for comfort. If memory serves, Tina's body getting dragged through the school corridor is what ultimately did it. Nevertheless, as I watch it now, there are a number of effects that are either unnecessarily humorous (not because of budgetary constraints) or just flat out perplexing: Freddy's extendo-arms in the alleyway, Tina pulling his face off to reveal a laughing skull, the unplugged phone that licks Nancy, the marshmallow fluff stairs, Nancy's drunk mannequin getting pulled through the peephole, etc. I understand that much of this was done to show the power that Freddy has within his world that these kids were thrown into. I just wish it were simpler because at its base, the premise is about as good as can be.

At the same time, this does not wholly get the treatment it deserves either. The idea is that Freddy is getting his revenge by attacking his killer's children where they cannot be protected yet never once do any of the parents take his existence seriously, a theme that will run throughout the course of films (not counting Freddy vs. Jason). Without recognition from those that wronged him, Freddy's actions lack any real significance. And what kind of self-respecting monster lets a guy named Rod take credit for his murders anyway?

That being said, there are clear reasons as to why the film is highly regarded in most circles. As noted above, the premise is unmatched in the uneasiness that it creates for the viewer. You just can't not sleep. If Freddy wants to get you, you will have to deal with him eventually. The kills are all effectively brutal and gruesome and unlike any of the rest of the series, the majority of the second half of the film maintains a dream-like quality where the viewer can never be certain if anything they are seeing is really happening. Heather Langenkamp also gives one hell of a knock-down, drag out performance that holds the whole thing together and sets her apart from the typical one note, run screaming final girls that tend to dominate the genre.

A few remaining questions:

Is it me or is Nancy's mother's skin almost as bad as Freddy's? If that's the ravages of excessive drinking, I think I've just been scared straight.

Is Glen narcoleptic? He couldn't stay awake 20 minutes if his life depended on it. And yes, Glen, your life clearly depended on it.

And who keeps a souvenir from the serial murderer they played a part in hunting down and burning alive? Seriously, Nancy's mom was a weirdo.


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