By Philip Newton (England)
The original Nightmare on Elm Street released back in 1984 was widely considered a landmark in the genre. After a slew of predictable slasher films initiated by the success of John Carpenters Halloween where a deranged lunatic picks off a series of sexually charged, often stupid teenagers along comes this fresh innovative perspective giving hope to the future of Horror cinema. Wes Craven was able to take the same idea of a slasher killer however layer it with interesting themes, and a ground-breaking use of surrealism and special effects.
The basic premise is well known to most, however, for those not acquainted with the film I’ll set up the story. Teenagers within a small town are having nightmares about being stalked by a terrifying man with claws who wears a dirty old sweater, a hat and a face with the flesh burned away. When the kids start being brutally murdered people in the town become suspicious as to the cause of these horrific events; however one girl Nancy played by Heather Langenkamp also has these dreams and traces the source as dead child molester Fred Krueger (Robert Englund). Years before Fred was arrested for molesting and murdering children and when his case is thrown out due to a technicality and released the parents of the town take the law in their own hands and burn Fred alive in an old boiler room. Now the children are paying for the sins of their parents as Freddy wants revenge with the kids of the parents involved.
I always liked the idea that this film had of being stalked in your dreams which to me taps into the fears that we all have about being asleep and our nightmares and when in a nightmare what happens is real to us and we cannot escape unless we wake, there is a sense of fear and isolation we are the only ones who can stop this terror there are no rules or logic. Wes Craven was able to bring this idea to greatest effect by constantly keeping us as an audience guessing when the characters were in reality or in the midst of a nightmare which is basically what happens when we sleep that transition is seamless we cannot tell when we are awake or in a dream. It’s like we were experiencing those same fears with the characters not knowing when danger was about to strike.
The special effects also added to this which were also pioneering at that time and would also be employed by directors such as David Cronenberg and helped create an utterly believable visual sense of surrealism, the scene with the tongue coming out of the phone, or where Johnny Depp’s character gets swallowed into the bed and the huge cascade of blood fills the room is authentic I totally believed the experience I was having. In a world where today CGI is the way special effects are employed re watching this film made me realise that this use of model work in eighties cinema allowed for greater creativity which could leave a greater sense of wonder for its audience.
Also understanding the meaning of the story that Craven was trying to address made me appreciate it more, the idea that the Freddy is a manifestation of the sins of the parents and how the kids are paying for their act which would be extracted in this manner gave the film a higher level of intelligence not seen with other films of the genre.