“Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep.”
I was so impressed with Scream that I decided to follow it up with Wes Craven’s most acclaimed movie. Nightmare on Elm Street has always been clumped with a handful of other movies as one of the classics, one of the horror movies that “defined a genre” or “really gets it right.” While I think those things are true, I think it also helped me gain some perspective on slasher or nightmare horror and appreciate how far we’ve come, while also acknowledging the really cool movies that helped us get there. Even if they’re a little cheesy.
Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is a serial killer (and burn victim) that can enter the dreams of his victims, causing them pain that bleeds through to the real world. His latest target is Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), a pure-hearted final girl who must uncover and exploit Freddy’s weaknesses to put an end to his ruthless pursuit of her dreams.
The villain is the clear centerpiece of a movie like this one, and Freddy Krueger serves as a fittingly twisted antagonist for this first film of the franchise. As I hinted, I think he doesn’t hold up so well today, and his appearance and catchphrases sometimes paint him as a bland sort of nightmare instead of a complex foe. Regardless, though, Craven sprinkles him throughout the film masterfully, jumping into the nightmare from the get-go with a satisfying series of kills rising to a fitting climax, although it’s rather familiar in 2018.
While I think Craven has made smarter movies, I think Nightmare works best when it gets actual nightmares just right. There’s a familiarity to Krueger’s attacks, as if we’ve seen this villain in our own nightmares. Details like Nancy’s feet being stuck in goop as she runs up the stairs or being disoriented as Krueger appears from different directions ring really true to how our own dreams play out, demonstrating that Craven has gone beyond the standard scare sequences. The “what happens in dreams happens in real life” gimmick actually grew on me as the movie went on, and it’s a fun phenomenon that makes you curious as to how this Freddy nightmare stuff actually works and how he got his powers to begin with.
Nightmare on Elm Street is a really fun addition to Wes Craven’s canon, although it’s far from his best movie. Regardless, Craven proves once again his mastery of horrific creativity with this beautifully paced work of nightmares.
Films Left to Watch: 851