Thursday, October 3, 2013

Stubs – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) Starring: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Johnny Depp, John Saxon, Amanda Wyss, Ronee Blakley. Directed by Wes Craven. Screenplay by Wes Craven. Produced by Robert Shaye. Run Time: 91 minutes. U.S.  Color, Horror

While I am not a big horror fan, with the quasi-holiday Halloween approaching, we, at Trophy Unlocked, thought it would be a good idea to review some of the modern day horror classics that were so popular that they inspired franchises. (Note how I didn’t say they were so good, but that they were so popular.) In the coming weeks we’re going to take a look at Saw (2004), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Friday the 13th (1980) and conclude with Halloween (1978).

To start off our origin story journey, we’ll begin with Wes Craven’s slasher film, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). My initial reluctance to watch the film (and I waited nearly 30 years after its release) has nothing to do with the quality of the film itself, but its genre. I’m not a big fan of horror/slasher films. Blood doesn’t do it for me. But some things you do because you’re asked and watching and reviewing A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the things you do when you write for a review blog.

The film opens with, what else, a nightmare. An unknown person in a boiler room creates a glove with razor-sharp knives embedded in the fingers. High school student Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss) dreams she is being stalked through the boiler room by a severely burned figure (Robert Englund) with the bladed glove on his hand.

She wakes herself up when the burned figure finally catches her. However, she notices that her nightgown has been slashed, identical to what she experienced in the nightmare, convincing Tina that it wasn't just a bad dream.

The next day, she discusses her dream with Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), Nancy's boyfriend, Glen Lantz (Johnny Depp), and her own boyfriend, Rod Lane (Nick Corri). Nancy admits that she also had a bad dream and all of them dismiss the topic of the nightmare, though Tina is still visibly disturbed.

That night, Nancy and Glen go to Tina's house to keep her company since her mother is out of town and she is still troubled by her nightmare. Tina describes the killer in her dream, which Nancy admits matches the description of the killer in hers. Rod crashes the party and he and Tina have sex while Glen and Nancy sleep in adjoining rooms. Rod also tells Tina he's been having nightmares, too, but neither of them think much more about it and go to sleep. Once asleep, Tina is again stalked by the hideous burned figure. He taunts her repeatedly before attacking.

But this time, the man catches her. Her struggles awaken Rod who watches helplessly as Tina gets slashed by the glove and her body is dragged up the wall and across the ceiling, all the time screaming his name. Nancy and Glen are alerted before she falls dead onto the bed. Because Rod was the only one in the same room as Tina, he is arrested the next day for her murder.

Tina (Amanda Wyss) under attack by Freddy as Rod helplessly watches.
The next day at school, Nancy falls asleep in class and has a terrifying nightmare. She is attacked by the same figure that killed Tina. Nancy leaves the school early and goes to visit Rod in jail. When they talk, Rod describes what he saw the night Tina was killed, which reminds him of his own nightmares, in which he too is stalked by the figure wearing the glove. Nancy realizes that Rod did not kill Tina and leaves.

Rod Lane (Nick Corri) is put behind bars for Tina's murder.
Later, she begs Glen and Nancy to watch as she sleeps so she can investigate her dreams further. Asleep, Nancy sees the killer enter Rod's jail cell and she suspects that Rod is in danger. When she wakes up, she and Glen rush to the police station only to find Rod, hung by his own bed sheets, dead in his cell. Everybody, except Nancy and Glen, believes Rod committed suicide. Only the two of them know someone else was in the cell with him.

In her nightmare, Nancy sees that Rod is in danger.
At Rod's funeral, Nancy's mother, Marge (Ronee Blakley) insists on getting Nancy psychiatric help. However, while at the clinic, Nancy has a violent encounter in her dreams with the burned figure and awakens with a streak of white in her hair and a slash on her arm. Much to Marge's horror, Nancy brings back from her dream the killer's battered hat, which Marge recognizes.

Marge begins to drink heavily and installs security bars on all the windows and the door of her house. She reveals to Nancy that the owner of the hat and the burned figure from her nightmares is a man named Freddy Krueger. Years ago, he was arrested for the murder of 20 children, but due to a legal technicality, he was released. Enraged, the parents of the victims took the law into their own hands and burned Freddy alive. Now, from beyond the grave, Krueger is exacting his revenge on the parents who killed him by killing their children from within their dreams.

Nancy tells this to Glen, who advises her to turn her back on her fear and thus take away the killer’s power. But she plans to pull Freddy from the dreamworld, where she and Glen can take Freddy to the authorities.

However, both Glen and Nancy's parents lock them inside their respective houses, keeping them from meeting before going to sleep. Glen tries to stay away, but he eventually succumbs to sleep and is killed when Freddy pulls him into his bed. Later, a pureed Glen is regurgitated as a geyser of blood. Still unable to get her father, Lt. Don Thompson (John Saxon), to believe her, she tells him to break down the door of her house in 20 minutes and then goes to sleep to hunt down Freddy.

Glen (Johnny Depp) goes in...
... but he doesn't come back out.
Nancy finds Krueger in her last few minutes of sleep and grabs him just as her alarm goes off. When she doesn't see him at first, she thinks she's gone crazy, but Freddy eventually appears, and the two face off. Nancy proves to be a match for him, setting up several booby traps and making him fall into every one, then lighting him on fire and trapping him in the basement while she goes to call her father.

Don and his department arrive to put out the fires. He and Nancy then follow a trail of footsteps up to Marge's room and discover Freddy smothering her with his flaming body. They knock him out but he disappears, leaving Marge's body vanishing slowly into the bed. Nancy sends her father from the room and turns her back as Freddy rises from the bed. She proclaims she is no longer afraid of him, causing him to lose his powers. Freddy lunges forward but vanishes as she walks out of the room.

Freddy doesn't let a little thing like being set ablaze stop him.
Exiting the bedroom, Nancy steps out into daylight from her front door and her mother appears well and sober, promising to stop drinking as her friends pull up in Glen's car. Suddenly, the roof clamps shut—the material an exact match to Freddy's sweater—and the car starts moving of its own accord.

Nancy in Glen's car, just after Freddy's taken over.
The film ends with Nancy screaming as she is driven off with her friends and then Freddy drags Marge through the front door's small window.

Marge (Ronee Blakley) is about enter her own house in a new and painful way.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is an over the top blood fest, but surprisingly not all that scary when you get right down to it. Perhaps having seen other gore films has immunized me, but in reality there is a difference between blood and gore. While there is a lot of blood in Nightmare, there is so much, especially when Glen gets liquefied, that it becomes surreal and thus loses a lot of its power to scare. Some of the power of horror is the idea that it could happen to you. When that’s taken away, some of the scariness goes with it.

I would not say this is great filmmaking. The special effects are fine especially for the time it was made, but there is nothing that seems revolutionary, unless it’s the sheer volume of red liquid that can be produced at one time.

Like the other films we’ll review; this one launched a series of sequels, all built around the villain, Freddy Krueger: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985); A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987); A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988); A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989); Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991); and Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994); not to mention the inevitable crossover film with Friday the 13th: Freddy vs. Jason (2003) and the really inevitable reboot: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010). Full disclosure, I have seen Freddy vs. Jason, but the others are not on my bucket list.

One of the joys of watching low budget films is when you see someone who has gone on to bigger and better parts just starting out in the business. In A Nightmare on Elm Street that person happens to be currently one of the biggest stars in the world, Johnny Depp. In the nearly thirty years since the release of this film, Depp has moved on to star in one popular TV Series, 21 Jump Street (1987-1990) and 50 feature films, including the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and just about every film Tim Burton has directed since 1990. Like him or not, Depp has become a major star in nearly every meaning of the word. His acting is somewhat wooden here, but there probably was not a whole lot he could have done with the character of Glen.

Johnny Depp as Glen Lantz is one of his earliest film roles.
Working with Tim Burton was still a few years away.
For me the film has just about zero percent re-watch potential. But I’m sure there are many out there who make it a holiday habit to view these kinds of films and if you’re one of those, A Nightmare on Elm Street will most likely not disappoint you. You might even find it quaint in an odd way, as slasher films have only gotten more explicit with time.

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