A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
Confession time, I have never seen any of the A Nightmare On Elm Street films. In my defense, I have made it very clear in the past that I am a die hard Halloween fan and for me growing up I couldn't see past that being the only franchise worthy of my time. But now, better late than never I am rectifying my ignorance and giving these much loved classics the time the deserve. I have seen many scenes from later entries in this franchise and if I'm being completely honest I found the comedic side to Freddy Krueger not to be to my taste. I wish that someone had told me sooner how grounded in horror this first entry is. The subtext of Freddy is an interesting one, a child murderer/molesterer who was burnt alive by all of the parents as an act of revenge for the crimes he committed. Only for him to then become trapped in a dream like reality where he begins to seek his own revenge by taking out the children of Elm Street one at a time in their nightmares. Even if you have never seen a single A Nightmare On Elm Street film you know the lore, it is so cemented in horror culture that it is impossible to have not encountered this premise. Having the ability to kill or harm someone in their nightmares and it take effect in the real world is a concept that is terrifying, there is no escape and there is no out-running time. Eventually everyone has to sleep and when you do its play time for Freddy, this alone makes Freddy one of the most haunting of the slasher icons. One thing that really stood out to me is how iconic and underrated this films score is amongst over greats such as Halloween and Friday the 13th. As someone who has very little knowledge or experience with this franchise the score to me was instantly recognisable, yet is one that isn't talked about as often as it should be. Adding to that the chilling '1,2 Freddy's coming for you' that is so closely associated with this character, this alone is something that most people know having never even seen a Nightmare film or even know who Freddy Krueger is. That is how powerful and important that score and soundtrack is to this film. No denying this film holds the top spot for the most terrifying visuals for a film from the late 80's era. Some of the practical effects work used in this film where groundbreaking at the time of release and still hold up incredibly well today. The scene when Freddy pushes his face and hands through the ceiling above Nancy's bed whilst she sleeps looked remarkable, this is a simple effect yet was incredibly effective. Another one of the more noteworthy practical effects was when Tina pulls Freddy's face off to reveal his skull underneath, I was so taken aback by this as I was not prepared for the standard of effect work that this film produces. As well as inventive practical effects this film uses the set as a companion piece to help create some of the more visually challenging death scenes. For instance, Tina's death scene was done using a revolving set room to provide the illustration that she was being dragged up the walls and onto the ceiling. The same set was then used later on for Glen's death, just redecorated and turned completely upside down. 300 litres of fake blood was then released from a hole in the bed to give the illusion that the blood was spraying up onto the ceiling once the film was rotated. The character of Freddy Krueger comes from the mind of Director Wes Craven and is portrayed to perfection by the legendary Robert Englund. He would later go on to portrayal this character for 6 sequels and a spin of TV series. From what I have seen to date, this is the best I think he looks in terms of his makeup work, looking more like skin and scar tissue as opposed to some of the later installments where it is clearly prosthetics. I believe that is due to his character being used perfectly, maybe only featuring in 10 minutes total screen time. When on screen he is very menacing, intimidating, lurking in the shadows and only using him in key moments for maximum effect. Something the later sequels seem to lose along the way. The glove, disheveled fedora and striped jumper combination are so closely associated with Freddy Krueger, culminating in one of the greatest slasher icon designs to ever grace the screens of horror cinema. As key as Freddy is to these films, it's in this first installment that our final girl Nancy, played perfectly by Heather Langenkamp, that steals the show. The way she grows as a character thought this film is something Wes Craven is synonymous for doing with his female horror leads. This film is a fine example of that, having Nancy start out as a standard run-of-the-mill helpless character to then go on to grow and evolve into one of the most under appreciated horror final girls put to screen. The way she pushes herself to the limits to stay awake, only to come to the realisation that you can't escape this and the only thing she can do is stand and fight, then taking on Freddy head on in his own territory. She does this with the intention of bringing him back to the real world, armed with pre-laid traps to catch him in reality. This was an incredibly enjoyable character arc to watch unfold. The rest of the cast feel very much by-the-numbers for a film of the time. Obviously a very young Jonny Depp does great with his first on screen performance as Glenn and it's not difficult to see how he later went on to become the megastar he is today. I found John Saxon to be just as good as he always is on screen, although I would have liked to have seen more from his character as the story unfolded but that is a minor issue I had. My biggest issue with the casting was Nancy's mum played by Ronee Blakley. She was awful and possibly one of the most unconvincing performances I have seen in a film of this stature. I think my biggest disappointment came in the closing act of this film. I know there was a lot of studio interference resulting in Craven not getting his originally intended ending, so I'm going to place all blame on the studio for this one. I really felt unfulfilled by what we were left with in terms of closing narrative, providing very little in the way of conclusion and leaving everything open to debate regarding what is or isn't going on when Nancy walks out onto the front porch. This for me causes more harm than good to everything that has come before it and really damages the the impact that Freddy Krueger had up until this point. I personally felt his overall defeat to be a little unfulfilling as well. As much as I enjoyed this film, the last 10 minutes are really weak and left me with an overall disappointing outlook. After finally taking the time to get round to watching this I can certainly say I'm glad to add it to the top end of my list of horrors. I can now certainly appreciate the level of hate the remake receives from fans, this is much better in every way than the remake. I don't believe it to be as great as many of the other first installments in horror franchises but an iconic one nonetheless. This film paved the way for slasher films to break the norm and become something other than straight forward and dared to be more original with its concept and for that it certainly deserves its place among the greats in the genre.