Halloween Month: “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984)
“A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984) began a successful horror franchises; spurning one of the most iconic serial killers on screen; Freddy Kruger (Played by Robert Englund). For “Last House on the Left” (1972) and “The Hills Have Eyes” (1977) director Wes Craven; “Nightmare” became his signature film. The film managed to hybrid several elements of the horror genre including Gothic literature, the emphasis on the terrible place, a monster prototype, a strong female heroine, typical slasher movie conventions and of course some black humour. “Nightmare” also incorporated a subtle social commentary on the state of the American family and falls into the sub-genre of the “paranoid” horror film as well as the typical “teen slasher”.
“Nightmare” terrified its audiences as it blurred the line between reality and the supernatural. The backstory and inspiration of the film makes the concept all the more frightening. Wes Craven based the idea on a case highlighted in the LA Times surrounding a group of Taiwanese children dying in their sleep after suffering from severe nightmares.
In the original film Freddy Kruger is pretty scary as at this point the audience is unfamiliar with the character. He is not featured heavily; returning to the notion of what we can’t see frightens us the most and the unknown. Past horror movies such as “Frankenstein” (1931) gave the audience a safe haven of the family environment and the home which was separate from the dark supernatural world of the monster. “Nightmare” went against this idea as familiar settings such as the bedroom became murder scenes supporting my earlier statement of normality and the unknown merging into each other creating a heightened sense of uncertainty. The protagonist Nancy (played by Heather Langenkamp) and the audience are left in a state of antitrust.
Freddy has always been a favourite villain. Even though the film does incorporate conventions from previous films of the genre such as “Halloween” (1978) and “Friday 13th”(1980) Freddy differentiates himself from Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees who gave us the “silent killer”. Freddy is outrageous and appears to take great pleasure in tormenting his victims prior to murdering them; often it is depicted as humours. Already he displays more emotion than the other killers mentioned. His actual kills are very creative; a favourite would have to be Glen (played by a young Johnny Depp) being sucked into bed only for a sea of blood and guts to emerge from it. “Nightmare” is very gory but it doesn’t feel overdone or forced; the amount is perfect for the tone of the movie. An interesting question does rear itself as whether Freddy is the true villain of the piece. Returning to my comment on the parental figures being a subtle metaphor and a social message highlighting the decline of the family. If it wasn’t for their characters Freddy Kruger would not be terrorising their children in their dreams. The dysfunctionality is displayed as Nancy’s mother resorts to alcoholism, her father on the whole is mostly absent. Glen’s parents are stereotypes of the controlling patriarch figure and the complying housewife mother. These factors suggest that these characters are a hopeless defence against the horror and cause Freddy to thrive even further.
Nancy is representative of the strong female heroine prototype that is featured in horror movies, mainly slashers. She is resourceful and determined against our knife-fingered antagonist. With her useless mother, other adults ignorant to her pleas and her close friends being killed off one by one; she is forced to be self-reliant and forms a plan in order to thwart the monster leading to her eventual expected survival.
“Nightmare on Elm Street” should be watched this halloween because its contemporary horror at its best; using both stereotypical conventions but also going against them and incorporating so many expected and unexpected elements. The narrative is gripping and the characters are interesting with the concept being truly terrifying. For laughs try the sequels which see Freddy become more and more comedic as well as iconic.
Hayley Alice Roberts.