Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Don't sleep on this oneThe Geets:
Wes Craven's cinematic creations are so uniquely distinctive and mesmerising that they stick with Horror fans for decades. This movie alone has introduced a new phobia in our lives; the fear of falling asleep. In the state of dreaming one is at their most vulnerable, completely stationery within the confines of their bed, with absolutely no control over the plot of their dream. This is where Freddy Krueger injects himself making the dreamer believe it is just any other nightmare, until the nightmares become frighteningly realistic.
Robert Englund's performance as Freddy Kruger is one for the books. He articulates the evil, yet comical presence of Fred so exquisitely that we, as the viewer, are in a constant state of shock over his terrifying theatrics as well as get a kick out of his dark humour. The reason this antagonistic character has become so entrenched in Horror filmography is because of his unique mannerisms which exude both terror and humour. We rarely see Horror movie villains display a perfected theatricality to their methodical torture while utilising humour to drive their motive. The very absurd essence of this being is captured disturbingly well. His death has ever since inherited his sadistic qualities, which he can display in the dream world.
Additionally, Englund not only benefits from his outstanding performance as the menacing dream assailant but also his attire, which harks back to sentiments of his past. The red-and-green striped sweater, the shady hat, and the knifed-gloves all allude to the sickly vile nature of this evil presence which was once an evil man in the flesh. As such, his mannerisms, psychological tendency to manipulate the victims dreams, and sadistically playful mechanics are a conglomeration of his child offending nature which once represented him.
The antagonist himself may be threatening, but the environment within which he enacts his terrible acts of vengeance are equally disturbing. With an already claustrophobic boiler facility environment within which he enacts his evil acts, could literally represent the unconventional world he lives in. Several notable features also allude to the evillish attributes of his reincarnation, such as several references of upside-down scenes, the lamb and, of course, his invincibility in the dream world he takes his victims to.
Craven perfectly crafts Krueger as the ultimate face of terror. We see him self inflict pain for his own pleasure, making us terrified about this crazed maniac. The practical effects depicted solely on Krueger is so flawlessly executed that I cant help but speculate 4 decades later how they even had the resources to get it done. From extensions of his arms to blood reverse-flowing from the bed, these practical effects stick with us for years to come. They are a testament to the creative mastery of the 1980s, a time during which Horror movies were progressing so eloquently and intelligently.
Craven deserves the much needed appraise for this work alone. At that time this movie was the first of its kind, having a killer murder his victims in their dreams. Its so simple yet psychologically intriguing that it spawned a huge franchise and an extended world of horror. Not only does this movie stand out among other well-known slasher movies in terms of the mode of murder of the killer, but also the more polished personality of this killer. Freddy employs a sinister sense of humour which make his calculated mechanisms enjoyable, no matter how terrifying they are. In essence, it is both a popcorn Horror flick and nightmarish experience packaged into one, with positive results.
This movie very much stays attuned to the climate of stereotypical 80s Horror movie clichés, such as the stereotyped cast ensemble. Nancy, played by Heather, exudes 'final girl' qualities throughout the film. We see her nurture through a seemingly growing phase of her teenage life, as she desperately tries to stay one step ahead of her assailant. Her maturity throughout this film alone is so amazing to watch that we are deeply invested in her self growth. We see her constantly equip herself with knowledge, exposition and tools that she can uses against the larger-than-life antagonist. Her character development and her believability makes her the ultimate 'final girl' to root for.
Alternatively, the narrative introduces us to another major character, Tina, whose opening scene could easily depict her as the 'final girl'. However, not shortly after, she suffers a gruesome death at the hands of her dream manifestation, showing just how easily Craven can compound effect by killing of a beloved, major character. Craven, and the camera doesn't shy away from illustrating the pure terror of the death scene, something that induces a deep urge of guilt and hopelessness in audience members alike. The depiction of brutality earlier in the film sets the mood for the rest of the movie. It is quite clear how easily the victims can fall asleep and descend into a dangerous world of potential death.
It is also interesting to see the devolving relationship between Nancy and a mother. The secrets that lie within her mother slowly come to the surface as Nancy exposes more about her nightmares. Accusations and affirmations of unpredictable events from one end are met with overprotectiveness and resentment from the other end, something that harks to the mother's disbelief of reality, which she continues to mask through drinking alcohol. This interesting dialogue and exposition of Fred's origin definitely hits the high note, depicting just how immensely this evil figure has affected the psyches of its victims and bystanders alike.
This movie benefits from not only utilising a unique villain but a perfectly making use of the environment. The sudden shift from reality into the dream state, where everything is a manifestation manipulated completely by Krueger is something delightful to see visually. With a limited budget, Craven and his team found resourceful ways to constantly jump to and from these 2 vividly different realities. Additionally, the dreamy musical score only serves to further animate this dream state, making it a grandeur and accessible world completely devoid of humanity. The continuum of time and space are halted as this other world serves to depict the inner psychological horrors of our minds.
Lastly, Craven's growing fascinations about accounts of people dying in their sleeps represents his creative flair, often gaining inspiration from real-world issues rather than leaving it to the vast reaches of his imagination. However, the final product is a culmination of both, which is why is works so well. It demonstrates the fragility of one's mind and just how insecure one's own mental state can be. The disturbing attributes of the once human Fred could indicate how easily he got into children's heads as a mode of manipulation. Therefore, in death, the same is possible in a more hypno-psychological manner. He discovers the victim's vulnerability (their dreams) and completely controls its manifestations through his supernatural powers. This alone demonstrates just how horrific this movie can be, as it pushes its characters to the edge of reality, teasing them to fall asleep and enter his domineering world.
Heather's depiction of Nancy might be noteworthy but does come with some flaws. The refined script and plot may be undermined by a supposedly frustrating performance of Nancy. She seems, oftentimes, to assume an annoying twitch, something that makes her overbearing at times. Her performance in general was well acted but it is these very nuanced qualities of her acting that may not sit so well with some critics in terms of believability and authenticity.
Alternatively, this movie could have reduced its propensity to humour from external characters and, instead amped up the dark humour from its antagonist. The humorous tendencies of various characters may, at times, distract us from the very disturbing presence of this comical maniac. It is only when the comedy is infused with elements of torture that we feel compelled by Fred's sinister presence, a rarity in Horror movies. As a future note to Horror movie creators, humour should be driven by either the protagonist(s) or the antagonist, as a fine balance between each can distract us from what initially made the villain so eerily terrifying.