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Dissecting the Classics – A Nightmare on Elm Street

October 27, 2017 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard
Freddy Krueger - A Nightmare on Elm Street

First off, a big thank you to the readers for your enthusiasm (and a few corrections) during last week’s Halloween column. I may not always have time to answer each comment but I love the discussion it generates. Now let’s shift focus to another classic slasher film.

Welcome to Dissecting the Classics , the column previously known as Taken For Granted. In this column, I analyze films that are almost universally loved and considered to be great. Why? Because great movies don’t just happen by accident. They connect with initial audiences and they endure for a reason. This column is designed to keep meaningful conversation about these films alive.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Wide Release Date: November 9, 1984
Written and Directed By: Wes Craven
Produced By: Robert Shaye
Cinematography By: Jacques Haitkin
Edited By: Patrick McMahon & Rick Shaine
Music By: Charles Bernstein
Production Company: New Line Cinema, Media Home Entertainment and Smart Egg Productions
Distributed By: New Line Cinema
Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson
Johnny Depp as Glen Lantz
Jsu Garcia as Rod Lane
John Saxon as Donald Thompson
Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger

What Do We All Know?

After The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween became smash hits on small budgets, the 1980’s was the peak of popularity for the slasher genre. Not only did those films receive several sequels, but Friday the 13th introduced Jason Voorhes into pop culture. In 1984, a full decade after Leatherface debuted, the world was introduced to a terrifying new killer; Freddy Krueger, the supernatural antagonist of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street.

For reasons I’ll explain shortly, A Nightmare On Elm Street was well received by horror fans and launched another franchise. Freddy Krueger is arguably the most popular of the slashers, with design and his iconic knife glove helping him stand out from the pack. The first film also has a respectable amount of critical acclaim, especially for its genre.

What Went Right?

As I alluded to last week, it’s impossible to dissect A Nightmare on Elm Street fully without looking at the earlier slasher films, particularly Halloween. Both movies have certain things in common; the suburban setting, the local legends about a killer, the final girl, the above average acting for the genre. But what is more important is that Wes Craven’s film is also a subversive film, doing new things in the slasher genre. Ten years after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it’s important to freshen things up a bit.

Freddy is not a silent monster; he taunts his victims mercilessly before killing them. And while Michael Myers and Jason have an element of the supernatural to them, Freddy draws as much from movie ghosts and demons as he does slashers. He lives in a dream world, haunts nightmares, shape shifts, and is able to affect the natural world in terrifyingly gory ways. This gives Nightmare its own distinct flavor, which is why it’s my second favorite in the genre.

The supernatural element also drastically changes how final girl Nancy Thompson has to approach defeating him. While you can run from Myers or Voorhes, the only way to avoid Freddy is to stay awake. Obviously, this becomes more difficult the longer she tries not to sleep. It’s impossible for Nancy to fight Freddy in his world, but she’s smart and resourceful enough to make him fight on her terms. It’s a battle of wills more than physical strength, and it makes Nancy a really strong protagonist worth rooting for.

What Went Wrong?

While the film stays largely consistent in tone, it takes a sharp turn at the end of the film. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it, but the last scene always makes me laugh. I don’t know if that was the intent, or if it was a failure as a scare, but it’s not a very good note to end the movie on.

And In Summary…

A Nightmare on Elm Street is something of a turning point for the slasher genre. It keeps elements that are familiar, but drastically tweaks its monster to make a fresh story. Nancy is a great lead character, while Freddy Krueger is an outstanding villain who has earned a permanent place in pop culture. And while the movie is a few films away from self parody, it definitely had a sense of fun to it. If Halloween is the peak of the genre as a thriller, then Nightmare is the best “popcorn flick”.

Happy Halloween, readers. I’ll be back next with something a lot less gory but just as much fun.

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Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, Chinatown, Taxi Driver, The Matrix, Batman (1989), Casablanca, Goldfinger, X2, King Kong (1933), Beauty and the Beast (1991), The Dark Crystal, The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Godfather, The Godfather, Part II, The Silence of the Lambs, Alien, Aliens, Casino Royale, Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Batman (1966), The Maltese Falcon, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, 12 Angry Men, Aladdin, The Wizard of Oz, Dial M For Murder, Godzilla (1954), The Hurt Locker, The Breakfast Club, Iron Man, The Shining, Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut, Blade Runner, Rosemary’s Baby, Halloween

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