As we mentioned yesterday, the death of iconic film maker, Wes Craven has hurt the hearts of the lady nerds. We’ve been having some serious feels as we think back on all the moments of joy that Craven’s extensive catalogue of gore-fest horror films has bought us over the years and thus, as a tribute to Craven (a big thanks and we love you), we’ve decided to revisit some of our favourites. We’ll begin with arguably the most well-known and certainly, most enduring. After all, where would be without Freddy Kruger?
It’s not uncommon for horror films to age poorly. Things that seem so horrific when they are released, are often viewed as nearly comical a few years later (some are just awful to begin with of course). Looking at the modern trend towards horror films, which deal almost exclusively with possession and/or demons, as opposed to the slasher killer films which built the genre in the late 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, it is plain to see how generational trends and ideas about what is actually scary have changed. I’d also go as far as to say that the quality of the special effects plays a huge role in how a horror film endures. Too much fake blood and second rate prosthetics age a film quicker than you can say Prom Night, which is why movies like Halloween (1978) remain fan favourites. Their pared back simplicity makes them chilling, regardless of the high waisted bell-bottoms and blow waves that all the girls are sporting and which are all but foreign to the teen girl of today. At their most basic level, classic horror films make the mundane seem terrifying, and that never goes out of style.
A Nightmare on Elm Street, like Halloween, is one of the rare films that gets this formula right. It’s a horror film that, despite being about to turn 31, still holds its ground among more recent films (including the 2010 re-imagining of itself). The sequels are not as strong as the original, but we’ll get to them at a later date. For the moment, we’re just focusing on the first one. And here’s the trailer:
One of the main reasons that I think that this film is so good is that it wasn’t carrying the weight of a well-known cast when it was released and this added in no small part to the audience response to the characters. In the modern world of the reboot or the remake, too often fans will dutifully go to the cinema and see a film just because it has one of their celebrity crushes in the main role. Due to this, there is always a sense of distance. In the back of your mind you’re engaged with the celebrity, not the character. It doesn’t matter if the film is shit. It seems we’ve become much more invested in the concept of celebrity than the art of film (Twilight, anyone? Don’t even try and tell me people went to that shit-fest for the acting rather than the pre-pubescent obsession wit ‘R-Patz’). Which is sad, but not the point of this post I suppose, so on we go…
Before we get into the guts of things, let’s get one thing out of the way – this was the film that introduced Johnny Depp (but he wasn’t an uber sex symbol yet) to the world and as such, we’ll all be forever indebted to Wes Craven for that. Depp appeared in this just prior to his break out role in 21 Jump Street (in which he played Tom Hanson, the least J-Depp like character ever). As Glen, the dutiful boyfriend, we were all rooting for J-Depp to make it to the end credits (or at least to finally get lucky with Nancy) but it just wasn’t to be. Still, he is the focal point in one of the most memorable scenes in the film. It’s glorious.
(look at him… so young and cute)
What I also really love about the cast is the fact that the stars actually look like teenagers. This was way back in the 1980’s before the whole body image/ sex symbol thing went into unrealistic overdrive, so people actually look like people and it’s refreshing and nice. There’s no way you’d get this awesome foursome leading a movie today, you’d be much more likely to get Kellan Lutz (and I don’t know about you, but I never saw a 16 year old that looked like that).
And Nancy is probably the most realistic of them all, despite the fact that she was nearly 20 at the time she was playing the role.
(I look 20 years old… yeah, Nancy, I feel for you. It’s lucky you’re so damn cool or I’d be rooting for Freddy simply because of that comment – maybe I’m just old and bitter)
Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) is the heroine of the film and the best thing about her is that she isn’t one of those precious, delicate young flowers. Despite the carnage going on all around her and the serial killer haunting her dreams, Nancy never gives up or breaks down, she just keeps on fighting until she the wins the day. In this regard I like her more (in the sphere of horror film heroines) than Laurie Strode, because where Laurie spends so often crying and hiding, Nancy is on her feet, trying to confront her terror. I’d almost say she was worse off too, cause Michael Myers only had the one knife, Freddy Krueger has a handful (literally).
Nancy’s friends are systematically killed off by a mysterious dream man, with an awfully burned face and, as Nancy’s life begins to spiral out of control she notices that her alcoholic mother and police chief father might actually know more about what is going on than they are letting on. Slowly, Nancy begins to doubt her own sanity and, as she’s dragged through sleep clinics and ignored by her parents, her friends just keep on dying in ever more gruesome ways. I’m hesitant to talk about this film in contrast to the remake, but I do want to point out that the death scenes in this version are more violent and full on than in the 2010 version. Sure Kellan Lutz slashing his own throat was an interesting choice, but the death of Tina trumps anything in the remake… that scene with her in the body bag… awesome… And, let’s be honest, Glen and the water bed of exploding blood is a thing for the ages (not to mention in the follow up scene, where his parents realise that their sons blood is dripping through the dry wall and all over the living room carpet – which makes you feel all the more sad for poor old Glen and a bit curious as to how much blood can come out of a 16 year old boy). I also feel like we need to mention the death of Rod, which revealed a side to Kruger, a cruel and taunting side of his personality, which seemed oddly absent in the 2010 rendition, which focused more on his child molesting urges.
(sidebar: In the retrospective documentary about the franchise, cast and crew recount the filming of this scene, which used a rotating set. No one considered the dangers of having all that fake blood interacting with so much electrical wire. When the room turned the 180 degrees, there were numerous electrical outages, which nearly electrocuted anyone lucky enough to be on set that day. That retrospective is awesome by the way…)
Realising that not only her friends, but her boyfriend, have all been murdered and that her drunk mother has effectively imprisoned her in her own home, Nancy takes charge of her terror and decides to confront Kruger on his own turf, using some pretty inventive methods. How a 16 year old would think to set a booby trap in a light bulb is beyond me, but Nancy manages to get her whole house done up in a way that makes Kevin McCallister look like an amateur. And that’s when shit gets real – literally, as Freddy comes out of dream time and into the really real world.
I know that horror films really speak to underlying issues associated with being a teen: drinking, drugs, coming of age, pre-marital sex and its consequences, but, putting all those deeper messages aside, this is still a damn good film. Re-watching it in 2015, there are still moments that I am genuinely scarred by the ominous figure of Freddy Kruger, for instance, when he walks down the back alley, stalking Tina with his long arms and then cuts off his own fingers. It really is gruesome and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the stuff nightmares are made of. As a concept too, the idea of a killer that exists in the dreams of his victims and as such is not subject to any of the laws of the natural world, is genius and something that is often lacking from the horror movie tripe of today.
Oh, plus this iconic moment:
(every girl in the world winces and thinks ‘wake up Nancy, wake up now’…)
I’ll love this movie until I’m massacred to death in my sleep. Not only is it a still scary as hell, but it’s essential to the history of horror films and a showcase of Wes Craven and his talent as a horror film writer. Thank you, Wes, for making this movie. Even if you’d never made another, this would still have been a master piece worthy of lifetime adoration, but you didn’t stop here, you went on… and soon we’ll consider some more of your master works. In the mean time, let’s all dust our VHS copies of this gem off and watch it before bed tonight.