A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Sleep kills.
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A Nightmare on Elm Street - Sleep Kills

Definitely the most influential slasher movie in my humble career as a horror obsessive and a contender for "horror movie that started my mania", Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street summons my first memory of the excitement and trepidation that a newbie to the horror genre experiences when faced with the movie that all your school friends have been pretending to have seen. A Nightmare on Elm Street definitely caused playground talk among the X Generation (or is "Baby Busters" more in the context of a movie about a child killer) and, although it followed in the footsteps of other slashers hitting the mainstream, Wes Craven managed to tap into the common widespread dread proliferated by nightmares and created an anti-hero, by the name of Freddy Krueger, bringing some really innovative concepts to the genre while maintaining the established slasher template concepts.

Freddy Krueger is an inspired villain amalgamated from a number of inspirations from Craven's life experiences, a bully with a similar name (the same bully that also inspired the name of Krug from The Last House on the Left), a number of creepy hobo experiences, plastic man and Brugada syndrome. Krueger's marketing potential was increased by making him a serial killer of children as a bit of controversy and touchy subjects (no pun there... he was a murderer not a molester) never fails to get the tongues of moralistically hysterical over-protective parents wagging at the local gun club. Freddy's power to kill people via their dreams is another innovative head fuck, a head fuck that is masterfully used to blur the lines between reality and the supernatural allowing the fantasy aspect of the movie to become more plausible and to allow this burnt-faced Domino's advert to do whatever he finds stimulating at the time. Then there's the claw, Freddy's weapon of choice is a glove of knives allowing him to nimbly hack up his victims and also to prepare a stir-fry in seconds with the vegetable cutting prowess of William MacDonald locked in a coma ward with no boardgames for entertainment. Combine Mr. Krueger with some hauntingly crooned skip-rope songs sung by equally creepy kids, a few stereotypically promiscuous school goers being creatively eradicated in nice splattery ways, a nice back-story revealed in informative chucks and, of course, John Saxon, and you have the ingredients of one of the most awesome slasher cakes in the decade ingeniously known as the eighties.

Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) is being plagued by nightmares starring a horribly burnt character wearing a dirty green and red striped jumper (a colour combination voted as "most clashing" by arty types that have an eye for that kind of thing), a rather striking fedora and a glove with knives for fingers. It turns out that she is not the only one dreaming of Richard Pryor's freebase inspired role model and this burnt baddie is haunting the dreams of other kiddies on Elm Street too. Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss), also haunted by the nightmares, invites her fellow dreamers (including a youthful Johnny Depp) for a licentious sleepover due to her parents being away and her fear of her dream guy and this is where the dream team discover that Freddy can kill them in spectacularly showboating styles. Tina experiences what has to be the best death in this first episode of the franchise as she has her belly slit and is wiped all around the room... awesome!

It turns out that the parents of Elm Street have a deep dark secret and took the law, torches and probably pitchforks into their own hands and burnt the neighbourhood child killer to death when the "care in the community" failed again! This seems to have pissed off Mr. Krueger and he's back in town via dreamsville to get his revenge on the children of his murderers but Nancy discovers that she can bring things out of her dreams and hatches a cunning plan to bring Freddy into the real world and stop his kiddie killing antics forever.

A Nightmare on Elm Street is an iconic addition to the world of slashers and a remarkably influential addition to the horror genre as a whole, the fact that the action takes place in dreams has allowed Wes Craven to be very imaginative in his nightmareesque landscape and skilfully flips the viewer back and forth between these worlds to create a level of uncertainty as to when the next smattering of brutal death will occur. Freddy (played by Robert Englund) makes a perfect antagonist and the terrorised teens have enough character about them to make you care when they die. The story is well thought through and is executed masterfully as to create a decent air of suspense and shocks at the right times plus it is accompanied by a memetically catchy tune that will stick in your head in a way that only Reno Miller's drill can compete with. The ending is classic slasher twistiness with a final abundance of quickfire shocks leaving it open for a sequel... and more sequels... and a TV show... and guest appearances from Freddy... and Robot Chicken parodies...
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Categories: Slasher Movies
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