In 1978, HALLOWEEN changed the face of Horror forever by introducing the formula for the modern Slasher, but by 1984, the genre had grown cold thanks the countless cheap imitations that were left in its wake. Wes Craven, who had struck previous success with the exploitative shockers LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and THE HILLS HAVE EYES, looked to change all of that with a little film called A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET that breathed exciting new life into the dying breed.
The teens of Elm Street are having trouble sleeping... They are waking up with cuts and bruises as a murderous madman with knives for fingers stalks them in their dreams. After two of her friends are brutally killed in their sleep, Nancy must devise a plan to pull the unseen assassin out of her dreams and into reality, where she has a better chance at defeating him.
Although it is often taken for granted now, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET was extremely shocking and terrifying at the time of its release. Robert Englund, who was no stranger to the genre, creates one of Horror's most iconic screen villains. Freddy Kruger truly is the stuff that nightmares are made of, and his persistence in pop culture over the past three decades lends evidence to the fact. Unlike so many of his Slasher brethren, Freddy's motives are clear and decisive, and he takes real pleasure in exacting his revenge upon the teens and their parents. Craven also imbues his villain with a sadistic sense of humor and a distinct look that set him apart from Horror's many monsters.
The teens in NIGHTMARE are not of the disposable variety that audiences had grown accustomed to by 1984. These are good kids that we actually care about, and leading the pack is the young Heather Langenkamp in the role of Nancy, who would prove to be one of the strongest female protagonists in the genre. Nancy is the cute girl next door; a bit modest, but never naive. She is a girl that the audience can relate to. When she and her friends are attacked, she immediately goes to her parents and goes to the police, but they do not want to believe her. Left to defend herself, she prepares a trap of her own, and is forced to face her fears by taking Freddy head on by herself.
Contrasted with the teens are the parents of Elm Street, who share none of their qualities. They fall into one of two dichotomies: they are either overprotective (as is the case with Glen's parents) or extremely neglectful (both Tina and Nancy's parents). They are cowards that live in fear for what they have done, and they allow their children to pay for their own sins while turning a blind eye to their suffering. This creates a unique dynamic and adds strength to the characterizations of both groups.
One would think that the early special effects work used in the film would have aged severely over the last twenty-five years, when in fact the practical effects now appear better than ever in light of the far less convincing digital effects used in more recent entries. The difference is that they are real. They are tangible. And they are terrifying. No one is likely to forget Freddy's unseen attack on Tina, as he drags her up the wall and onto the ceiling before gutting her. This was no cheap computer gimmick; the effect required true ingenuity, using a rotating room and static camera to create a masterful illusion and allow the audience to completely suspend disbelief. Other inventive techniques have Freddy bend reality by springing forward out of a bedroom wall, while later, Glen falls asleep and is sucked into his bed before a geyser of blood drenches the room in red.
Many sequels would follow, but none would recapture what Craven had produced in the original. This is 80's Horror at its best, and as the 2010 remake showed, it took more than just a flashy special effects show to make it so successful. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is not only a great Horror film, but great storytelling overall led by strong characters that ground the fantasy world of dreams into reality.
Movies like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET:
A CAT IN THE BRAIN, BAD DREAMS, THE SENDER,