Nov 3, 2011

A Nightmare on Elm Street

If I were to only choose one film that has remained as potent as it was when I first saw at it during my preschool years, it would undoubtedly be Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984); a surrealist slasher flick with a charismatic killer who – in terms of depth of personality and bloodlust – shreds all of his mass-murdering human-monster buddies to celluloid pieces. Unlike retarded-mute slasher killers like Mikey Myers, Jay Vorhees, and Pleatherface, Freddy Krueger is a mass-murderer who takes prides in his ability to execute a variety of quasi-illusionary psychodramas and phantasmagorical killings. Like in the much anticipated but dreadfully disappointing movie Freddy vs. Jason (2003), Herr Krueger would indubitably manipulate and ultimately enslave his rival slasher killers. But enough with the redundant and totally irrelevant philistine fanboy gibberish, A Nightmare on Elm Street is much more than a great horror/slasher flick; it is a film that holds its own outside the hopelessly formulaic and schlock-based genre. Not since the delightful daydream delirium days of German expressionism has a film given so much mystique to a malevolent monster-man who finds solace amongst the shadows. Whereas German expressionist films turned reality into nightmare, A Nightmare on Elm Street sliced the seams of daytime and dreams in a manner that has brought psychological unrest to generations of moviegoers.  To this day, I have fond memories from my childhood of my little sister waking up in the middle of the night and screaming in fear that Freddy K. would swallow her soul. The wonderful thing about dreams is that no matter how horrible they may be, one ultimately rests with the comfort of knowing that they will eventually awake and the subconscious constructed pseudo-reality is no more. What makes A Nightmare on Elm Street so particularly unsettling to the human mind is that self-assured insurance policy of mind-made REM is severed, thus opening a deluge of unimaginable possibilities during the most incapacitated of moments. Of course, as portrayed in A Nightmare on Elm Street (and its various uneven sequels), cunning Krueger creates a variety of scenarios for his physically and psychologically petrified victims, hence the all-around originality of the franchise in general. What makes the original A Nightmare on Elm Street the greatest film in the series is that, unlike the less serious sequels, the horror is less tongue-in-cheek and more finger-knife-in-gut.

Although contrary to mainstream-media-formed public opinion, the baby boomers are easily the most pathetic and hopelessly degenerate generation in all of American history. Of course, subsequent generations of Americans have proven to be even less morally-inclined and spiritually-sound but it was the baby boomer generation that originally deracinated itself from what was considered sacred among the generations before it. The teens featured in A Nightmare on Elm Street are the first lost generation of children from the aimless, morally irresponsible and careless baby boomer crowd. In fact, before being tortured and murdered by his parent comrades, Freddy Krueger was also a baby boomer. Epitomizing the worst qualities of baby boomers to the most pathetic extreme, Mr. Krueger – a man-child in a state of infinite-infantilism and clearly bound only to self-gratification at whatever cost – treated children as his own person playthings that he used and abused before disposing them like a child does to broken toys. The virginal grade school children in white that jump rope to the infamous Freddy nursery rhyme (One, two, Freddy's coming for you...) in A Nightmare on Elm Street and its sequels are ghostly reminders of Freddy's one-entity campaign to destroy the pure and innocent. As explained by Marge, the alcoholic mother of female protagonist Nancy Thompson in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy Krueger was murdered by (rightfully) vengeful parents after he was freed on a technicality after killing over 20 children during the late 1960s. The children of this suburban mob would go on to pay for the sins of the father (and mother), so to speak. What I find most interesting and telling about the parents in A Nightmare on Elm Street and its sequels is that no matter how many of their children are sadistically slaughtered, they stay committed to total ignorance and denial as if they all suffer from a permanent blindness of the mind. Nancy’s mother is an alcoholic, Tina’s mother is a shameless whore, and Rod’s parents are nowhere to be found.  Wes Craven, a baby boomer with a strict Baptist upbringing who would go on to be a director of hardcore pornography (before his horror filmmaking days), certainly personifies the "loss of innocence" his generation is well known for to a quite notable degree, thus no other person could have been more suitable for the direction of A Nightmare on Elm Street than he. 

On top of telling a unique story, A Nightmare on Elm Street features some of the most iconic and marvelous murders ever featured in a horror film. From the first anti-gravity killing of Tina Gray by a seemingly invisible killer to Freddy’s bodily dismemberment of Nancy’s boyfriend Glen Lantz in his own bed, A Nightmare on Elm Street thankfully ignores all of the clichés of the slasher genre. Of course, A Nightmare on Elm Street writer and director Wes Craven was no comic-book-addicted philistine like his mostly incompetent compatriots as he was an English professor before he ever sat in a director's chair. Craven has acknowledged that the lone sheep featured in the opening dream-sequence of A Nightmare on Elm Street was his tribute to Spanish surrealist auteur Luis Buñuel. I found the killing of Tina to be somewhat reminiscent of the absurdist wall-crawling featured in French poet auteur Jean Cocteau’s early work The Blood of a Poet (1930). Before directing A Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven directed an extremely loose remake, Last House on the Left (1972), of Swedish master filmmaker Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960). If future horror filmmakers can learn anything from the early films of Wes Craven, it is that a deep knowledge of film history can go a long way in the concocting of a truly distinct macabre movie. I certainly cannot think of another film aside from Philip Ridley’s extremely underrated cinematic gem The Reflecting Skin (1990) that has been created within the past 25+ years that deserves to be compared to A Nightmare on Elm Street (although some could argue that the Candyman of the 1992 film Candyman is the "Negro Freddy Krueger"). 

Although created nearly three decades ago, A Nightmare on Elm Street still proves to be one of the greatest landmarks in American horror cinema history. The legacy of Freddy Krueger may have been beaten to death by a number of A Nightmare on Elm Street sequels, a tedious TV-series (Freddy's Nightmares) and an endless bombardment of consumer memorabilia (a phenomenon Craven responded to with the reflective 1994 film Wes Craven’s New Nightmare) yet the burned phantasm in the red and green sweater still remains one of the greatest and most memorable villains of cinema history. A Nightmare on Elm Street is also probably the only film featuring Johnny Depp where the much celebrated character-actor’s performance is one of the less interesting attributes of the film. The distinct cinematic quality of A Nightmare on Elm Street only becomes all the more clear after watching the blatantly blasphemous 2010 remake; a cinematic abomination that makes the remake of Friday the 13th seem like the holy grail of slasher sinema.  I just hope the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise is not bastardized and beaten-to-death to the point where Freddy finds himself fingering Madonna or Lindsay Lohan (with unrestrained and overly "ambitious" fanboy horror hack directors like Rob Zombie, anything is possible).  Whatever the future holds for the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, nothing can extinguish the uncanny yet strangely comforting hallucinatory horror of the original 1984 movie.

-Ty E


Unknown said...

Agree 100%...

I can't even watch the sequels or Freddy Vs Jason or whatever... I absolutely despise the comedic turn the studio took with this franchise. So I always like to pretend the original is a stand alone film and there aren't any more films.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Heather Langenkamp (as the bird was in 1982 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I wanted you to review the third one so you could`ve made the comparison between Penelope Sudrow and Heather O`Rourke that i`m always talking about.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Its odd that they released this in mid-November of `84, post Halloween, as it were. You`d have thought that they would`ve realised that if they`d released it a month earlier in mid-October it would have made twice as much in the run up to Halloween.