Countdown to Halloween Part 5 – Well Hello There Freddy
A Nightmare on Elm Street | Directed by Wes Craven | 1984 | Horror | 18A | 1 H 31 M
By Jocelyn Illing
The thing about dreams is that, unlike reality, there really are no rules. You close your eyes and are transported to a world that might be similar to real life, except something is off. Maybe your skin is purple, maybe you’re floating above the clouds or maybe your friends have transformed into elephants. Dreams can be all good and fun, but it is the nightmares that really get you. They take your fears, buried deep down in your subconscious, and create terrifying scenarios which they then plop you down right in the middle. You don’t know how you got there, and you don’t know how to get out.
A Nightmare on Elm Street, master of horror Wes Craven’s 6th feature film, focuses on the connected spooky dreams of four teens: Tina (Amanda Wyss), Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), Glen (a very young Johnny Depp in a football jersey crop-top) and Rod (Jsu Garcia). The subject of their nightmares? A man with a cut-up face (which frankly, looks like it was covered in jam) and knives for fingers, Mr. Fred Krueger. After Tina awakens from a particularly frightening dream to find her night-gown torn to shreds, she and her friends vow to stay awake in order to block the merging of dream and reality. All of this is set to a haunting children’s rhyme, warning the teens that “Freddy’s coming for you.”
Craven’s film flourishes on the endless possibilities of the dream-world. The central setting for the nightmares is a sort of deserted boiler room. Dimly lit and grossly humid, we watch as Tina scrambles through the maze of pipes, trying to find a place to hide from Freddy. As we watch her, we feel an immediate sense of fear and isolation, for Craven has created a scenario that is so specifically sensuous. We can see the condensation dripping from the pipes and sweat off Tina’s brow. We can hear the piercing screeching of Freddy’s knives against the pipes.
In a similar way to Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street utilizes the horror movie formula in a way that sets the standard. However, Craven chooses to take a more visual approach, allowing the audience to witness the horrors instead of alluding to them. The films scariness comes from its shocking and bloody imagery. As I previously mentioned, because of the nightmare setting, Craven can let his imagination run wild. This means we get people eating beds, blood volcanoes and a Freddie with expanding arms causally stalking our heroes down the street. You might want to look away but then you will miss out on some pretty fun practical effects (oh how I miss them).
At the end of the day, these are the main reasons why you should watch this film: Freddy Krueger’s visage and fingernails protruding through a wall, second-hand embarrassment from hearing Tina and Rod getting it on in the room next to Nancy, and Johnny Depp in a crop-top. What I am trying to say is that Craven understands that not everyone wants to watch a creepy man chasing teenagers for 90 minutes. The humanizing and entertaining comic relief provides a great contrast to the bloody visuals, a formula that is characteristic of many of the great slasher flicks of the 1980s.