Friday, September 14, 2012

A Return From The Past/A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)


This is gonna be a kind of longish post, so I'm going to keep this intro short. Back in the day (2002) I made a site on Geocities called Abattoir Alley. I had almost forgotten about it, but then I was on the Internet Wayback Machine, and to my delight, those beautiful geniuses archived some of my old site! I had some half decent reviews up, and some pretty cool photos as well, and I had planned on sharing some of it here and on my Fright Skool Facebook page. Sadly, it would seem that only the following review I wrote is all that's left besides some index pages. 
This review is of what is arguably my favorite horror movie, The original Nightmare On Elm Street. The Elm Street photo gallery that I had created was not archived, which saddens me greatly, as I knew I had gotten some pretty rare screencaps and made some cool photoshop madness with them, but alas, no such luck. Without further ado, here is my review from 2002 of the original Nightmare.

A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
Being that this is one of the first “real” horror films I’ve ever seen, it had an impact on me that not many films like it have had on me since. I could, and probably should, blame my unhealthy obsession with horror films on this piece of low budget genius.  What I mean by “real” horror is this: Up until I saw “Nightmare On Elm Street”, I had only been witness to PG-13 horror. Stuff like “The Gate” and “Troll.” “Elm Street” was the first slasher flick I’d seen, and it scared the hell out of me. I had always suffered from nightmares as a child, so this film struck a chord in me like no other film had before or since. I know it’s been said time and again by many a person, but the sequels in this series were disappointing to me. “Dream Warriors” and “New Nightmare” are the only others in the series that I don’t watch for the cheese factor. The other films didn’t have that same fear that you can taste to them. Freddy became less of a mystery and more of a comedian; he wasn’t so much of a threat anymore. The death scenes became more and more absurd (though they were creative, I will give them that.) Some people will argue that because of the budget of the first film, it wasn’t as good as the others, which had flashy SFX and more high profile actors. Yes, NOES has some atrocious acting. Yes, some of the effects are cheesy as hell. But it works. When the film is over, you are shaken by it. NOES is a classic piece of horror film, and it was destined to be from the start.
NOES starts immediately on a scary note. The opening scene is merely a block on the screen that shows the feet of a man wearing dirty, ragged clothes and shoes. He is walking through a dimly lit, damp, and musty place; despite the fact that you can see very little of the man’s surroundings, you just know that it is not someplace you would ever want to be alone. The camera comes in close on his hands as he dumps out a ragged brown paper bag filled with metal pieces and other miscellaneous things. He begins constructing his weapon: a leather glove cut up and melded with a metal cage, fit to his hand, that has long, sharp metal talons on the fingertips. His project completed, he wastes no time in finding and hunting down his first victim. A young woman, obviously frightened, is running through a dimly lit and vast boiler room. She hears strange and frightening noises around her. She is trapped in a vivid and bone chilling nightmare. She’s being hunted and is helpless, unable to defend herself; her assailant is unknown and could be around any corner. The chase begins, and the villain is mostly a mystery. Quick glances of him in shadow are offered, but all you know about him at this point is that he is disfigured in some way and has an extremely dangerous and frightening-looking weapon attached to his hand. The victim is running from him, trying desperately to get away from this person who wants to kill her. She screams, and just when she thinks the coast is clear, the killer appears behind her, and she is jarred awake from the shock. It was just a dream…. Or was it?
Few films start out in such a way that they intend to scare you from the very beginning. That is one of the wonderful things about this film. The scares are constant, and they give more of a feeling of dread than anything else. There are some jump scares, but they are used effectively. Another added bonus: it has a plot. And it’s not just a run of the mill, standard slasher film plot. It’s original in that the killer is not flesh and blood, which makes him hard to kill and it makes sense that he is so tough. He also is rooted in his victims’ pasts; he stalks the children of the people who had him killed. The killer is one Fred Krueger, a child molester and murderer who had killed at least a dozen children before he was caught. A glitch in the system caused him to go free, and the parents in the small community decided to take the law into their own hands. Years later, his spirit, now supercharged with evil and ready to take revenge, comes back from the dead. But he haunts his victims’ dreams instead of stalking them in the flesh. If they die in the dream, they die for real. And because of the surreality of the dream world, the deaths appear unusual and extremely frightening in the real world. The victims in the film are all friends, and they discover fairly early that something fishy is happening. They’re all having a shared recurring nightmare, and when the deaths  begin, the reality of the situation becomes more clear. But because the victims are all teenagers, no adult believes their stories, and they have to fight the evil force alone.
NOES truly has an interesting view on mixing reality with dreams. Wes Craven wrote it in such a way that you feel as though if it were actually possible for a being like Freddy to exist, this is what would really happen. Unusual murders that no one can explain, the kids start acting crazy, the adults sink further into their own personal hells, drowning the pain with booze and denial.
I hesitate to call this film a social commentary, because it really isn’t. It is, however, a study in humanity in that it shows just how intensely painful life can be when the wrong person enters the fold. By killing a dozen or so of a community’s children, Fred Krueger singlehandedly makes the entire town waste away into a pit of abuse, neglect, and apathy. By returning, he makes what is bad much, much worse.
My biggest disappointment about this film is that the background story isn’t touched upon more. Of course, it is detailed more as the series continues, but this film could have stood on its own without all of the sequels if we could have just had more of a peek into Freddy’s past than merely a three minute long monologue by the main character’s mother. One of the mistakes Craven made about that particular scene is that he cut out the dialogue of the mother telling her daughter just how personally involved she was with the dream killer. She tells her daughter that she and all of her friends were not only children; that they all had had brothers and sisters but they had been killed by Freddy. This one sentence alone explains a lot about the adult characters in the film: Nancy’s parents are divorced and blatantly bitter to one another. Glen’s parents, while still together, seem as though they are in a loveless marriage. Tina’s mother is obviously a hedonistic kinda lady (and her daughter is obviously following in her footsteps!)  There is no mention of Rod’s parents, but he’s the delinquent character in the film; who is parents are, what they do, and what their relationship is like doesn’t need to be outlined – the fact that no one except Nancy questions for even a moment whether or not he murdered his girlfriend says it all.
At the root of it all, this film is, conceptually, very original and interesting. Wes Craven came up with the idea when he read a series of newspaper articles about teenagers dying in their sleep after complaining about having nightmares that someone was trying to kill them. The fact that he based this story on something that actually happened makes it all the more frightening – it makes me damn glad that I don’t remember my dreams most of the time.

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