Blog Directory CineVerse: Happy birthday, Freddy

Happy birthday, Freddy

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The boom of slasher horror films in the 1980s, originally fueled by the catastrophic impact of John Carpenter's "Halloween" in 1978, was anchored by the runaway success of the "Nightmare on Elm Street" films featuring Freddy Krueger, which kicked off its franchise in 1984 with the first installment--directed by Wes Craven. Thirty-five years later, CineVerse celebrated this seminal fright flick with a viewing and discussion. Here's our "dream analysis":

What is unique, distinctive, memorable, or unexpected about this film?

  • It re-introduced (nearly 30 years after “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” first explored it) the frightening concept in mainstream cinema of being mortally afraid to sleep and dream—that you were most vulnerable in your unconscious state of slumber. This notion was as terrifying then as it is now, and it gives the film and character of Freddy Krueger a formidable power and uniquely terrifying characteristic compared to previous horror pictures and monsters. Writer/director Wes Craven’s inspiration here was a newspaper article about kids in Taiwan who actually died in their sleep following horrible nightmares.
  • It blurs the line between reality and fantasy, making you unsure which realm you’re seeing and what you can trust. There are scenes where we may believe that a character is awake but is actually dreaming, for example. The ending, in particular, questions everything you’ve watched for the previous 90 minutes—was it all a dream?
    • DVD Savant reviewer Glenn Erickson wrote: “Craven's refreshing Nightmare concept is new territory for the slasher genre. It also does a clever end-run around the issues of credibility and logic. Dreams can be as irrational and inconsistent as they wish, so there is no limit to what Freddy Krueger can and cannot do. Actions, effects, apparent demonic powers can be totally random -- in fact, the more erratic the better. Once asleep, Freddy's victims are at the mercy of a crazy non-logic. Time and place can switch about at will; cause and effect no longer applies…the lack of logic in Freddy's actions only makes him scarier. Freddy gleefully mutilates himself, slicing off his own fingers and gashing his chest to reveal a mass of worms inside. He makes his arms grow twenty feet long for one stalking scene. He can walk through walls and change reality at whim.”
  • Unlike previous slasher films in the horror genre, like “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th,” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” this presented a different kind of iconic horror character: one that could talk, change shape, and wasn’t as physically imposing as Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees.
  • Krueger also doesn’t chew the scenery here and command most of the attention, as he does in the Elm Street sequels; instead, he has less screen time than you may expect and remains more of a background character to the teenage leads. By showing him less and keeping his lines minimal, Freddy is arguably a more effectively frightening boogeyman in this film.
  • For all these reasons, according to Moria Reviews critic Richard Scheib, “A Nightmare on Elm Street may well have been the single most influential horror film of the 1980s. The film spun off a series of sequels – seven at current count (see below) and created a unique new boogie man in the character of Freddy Krueger, who appeared on T-shirts, lunchboxes, model kits, even became a poster pin-up figure. Furthermore, A Nightmare on Elm Street inspired a new genre of horror films that rested in a blurred dividing line between dream and reality and/or featured a boogie man returned from the grave to slice people up. The spawning of the A Nightmare on Elm Street films into a franchise gave New Line Cinema the financial clout to move from a minor studio into a major frontline player throughout the next decade.” Without the box-office receipts from the Freddy franchise in the 1980s and 1990s, New Line would not have made the “Lord of the Rings” films in the 2000s.

Themes at play in “A Nightmare on Elm Street”

  • The line between reality and imagination, between fact and fiction, is thin and mysterious.
  • Taboo behavior has dangerous consequences. This movie continues the slasher film tradition of punishing sexually active teenagers and preserving the “final girl” who outlives her peers by refraining from sex, drugs, and bad choices and demonstrating agency and resourcefulness.
  • The importance of staying awake, literally and figuratively. In this film, the parents appear to be asleep—meaning oblivious to the sins of their past and the dangers their children face—and prefer that blissfully ignorant state; by contrast, the children want to wake up and stay alert. They’re trying to break free from the sins of their parents and be aware of and open to the truth.
  • Overcoming your fears involves facing them head-on. Instead of waiting to become another victim like her friends, Nancy chooses to fight back and try to pull Freddy into her world to properly vanquish him.

Other movies that “A Nightmare on Elm Street” reminds us of

  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers
  • Home Alone
  • Dreamscape
  • Phantasm
  • Carrie (another horror classic with a shocking twist ending)
  • Slasher films like Halloween and Friday the 13th
  • It

Other films directed by Wes Craven

  • Last House on the Left
  • The Hills Have Eyes
  • The Serpent and the Rainbow
  • Scream, Scream 2, and Scream 3

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