Saturday, 1 November 2008

Movie Review: A Nightmare On Elm Street



Slasher-horror movies were an essential part of growing up when I was a kid. They were as integral a part of puberty for boys in the mid-nineties as Louise Rennison books were for girls – Jason, Hockey Masks and Full-Frontal Stabbing, if you will. Why? Well, I have a degree in Film Studies, and did my dissertation on Zombie movies, so I can bang on for days about how the blood represents menstruation, how the supernatural elements represent the confusion of being a child thrust into an adult’s world and how the refusal of any authority figures to recognise the problems of the protagonists is representative of the older generation’s unwillingness to listen to its children. The thing is, though, I won’t. This is because I think three-quarters of what they taught me at University is pretentious bull-shit.

The fact is that slasher-horror movies are (or certainly were, and should be) an integral part of puberty because a) parents and the BBFC tell you that you shouldn’t be watching them, b) they have lots of blood in them, c) they sometimes have lots of tits in them and d) they sometimes have heavy metal in them. If blood, tits and metal were required elements for a film to be released, maybe the movie industry wouldn’t be in such a sorry state now. Also, even Michael Bay films would rock.

A Nightmare On Elm Street isn’t the first of the modern slasher-horror movies, that belongs to Halloween – but at the time it came out, it was the best. Whilst Halloween, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Friday The 13th were all sold as straight forward serial-killer-nut-with-a-knife stories, A Nightmare On Elm Street mixed that up with those crazy half-remembered urban legends that circulate every high school in the world. What’s great is that the supernatural element works because it isn’t laughed off. It’s fucking terrifying.

Anyway, in case you haven’t seen it:

Schoolgirl Tina has a nightmare in which she is stalked through a boiler room by a guy with knives for fingers. Just as he catches her she wakes up screaming, only to discover razor cuts in her nightdress. The next day, she finds out that her friend Nancy had the same dream. That night, Tina, Nancy and her boyfriend Glen have a sleep-over to make Tina feel better. This is because nightmares can be warded off by friendship and mullets. Tina's boyfriend, Rod, comes over and fucks Tina.

When you consider this, Tina comes across as a bit of a bitch. She has a nightmare that is disturbingly real, and so asks her friends to come and hang out with her. When her boyfriend comes over, she dashes upstairs to do him leaving her friends sat downstairs to twiddle their thumbs and listen to them shag. Frankly I’m glad she’s dead.

Oh, yeah. She dies shortly after. Tina has another nightmare, and this time the killer catches her and fucks her shit up. Royally. Up the walls royally. Rod wakes up to find Tina being cut open by invisible knives and dragged up the wall and across the ceiling. This sequence is awesome, and ones of the many reasons why we still remember A Nightmare On Elm Street, whilst most people have forgotten The Burning, and all the other shitty slasher movies ever made. Not one of them featured a girl in her underwear thrashing across the ceiling whilst bleeding from a grievous chest wound.


Rod, the only other person in the room, is suspected of the killing and arrested the next day. Which sucks for him, but...he’s the sort of guy who’d choke on his own bedsheets.

Nancy then has three nightmares in which she is stalked then attacked by the same figure who attacked Tina. These nightmares lead her to talk to Rod in prison, who tells her what he saw in Tina's bedroom. Much to the dismay of her mother, Nancy becomes convinced that the figure appearing in her dreams is the person who killed Tina. Nancy and Glen rush to the police station late at night to talk to Rod, only to find that he's been strangled by his own bedsheets (the only stupid death in the film). To everyone except Nancy, it appears to be a suicide.

Nancy's mother takes her to a Dream Therapy Clinic (yes, they exist, and no, they don’t have a waiting list apparently) to ensure she gets some sleep. Once again, she has a nightmare. This time, her arm is cut, but she finds that she has brought something out from her dream: the killer's hat. It arouses concern (For about twelve seconds, but the doctors treat it as nothing unusual. One is simply left to assume that they see cases of spontaneous headgear materilising three days out of five). Eventually, her mother reveals to Nancy that the owner of the hat was a man named Freddy Krueger, a child murderer from over a decade earlier.

Furious, vengeful parents burned him alive in his hideout when he was released from prison on a technicality. Now, it appears he is manipulating the dreams of their children to exact his revenge from beyond the grave. Nancy's mother, however, reassures Nancy that Krueger can't hurt anyone, pulling Krueger's knife glove from a hiding place in the furnace as a visual aid.

Nancy devises a plan to catch Krueger, but before it can be pulled off, Glen falls asleep and is killed by being sucked into his bed and shot back up in a fountain of blood. Again, this is one of those moments of creative and cinematic genius. Whilst I watched the movie for this review, my girlfriend was in the room with me. She doesn’t like horror films, and wasn’t particularly paying attention. She did, however, look up at that moment and say “That is awesome.”


Nancy pulls Kruger into the real world, but is alone. She runs around her house and forces him to run into traps she had set earlier. This actually pre-dates Home Alone by several years.

After setting Freddy on fire Nancy locks him in the basement, and finally gets her father and the rest of the police to help. After discovering that Krueger has escaped and that fiery footsteps lead upstairs, Nancy and her father, a police lieutenant, witness Krueger smothering Marge with his flaming body, disappearing to leave her corpse to sink into the bed. After sending her father away, Nancy faces Krueger on her own and succeeds in destroying him by turning her back on him and draining him of all energy.

The scene shifts to the next morning, where it is revealed that everything was a dream as Nancy gets in a car with Glen and the rest of her friends, on their way to school. Nancy realizes that she is still trapped in the dream, as Freddy possesses the car just as she gets in. The car drives away with Nancy screaming for her mother, and Marge being pulled through the door window by a clawed hand. Okay, I lied. There’s two stupid deaths in the movie.

A Nightmare On Elm Street is great. The effects have dated, but that’s to be expected for a movie that’s nearly twenty-five years old. What hasn’t dated is the concept, Robert Englund’s performance as Freddy Kruger, and the genuine feeling of fear from a character that no matter what you do, you cannot escape. Sure, Freddy only has power in dreams, but you have to sleep sometime, and when you do, you’ll be at the mercy of a knife-wielding, goblin-faced paedophile with god like powers.


The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: Protracted, gory and extreme. Several sequences last minutes and have buckets of blood.
Sex/Nudity: Some indistinct side-boob and mild spoken references. Oh, yeah, we get to hear Tina and Rod shagging, but it’s audio only. Frankly, this is the one area where the film is flagging.
Swearing: IMDB lists thirty-five uses of “fuck” (and variations). That’s a fuck every 2.6 minutes, less than this article.
Other points in favour:
Freddy Kruger is a dark, evil mother-fucker, and you will love him for it. When the films effects are dated, you will either not care, or have a great time laughing.
It’s all too easy to forget just what an imaginative concept this film is, because it has become such a part of popular culture. It’s very easy to get blase about it. A “dream-killer” is unique, and the paedophile revenge angle is genius.
As above, but for the gauntlet alone. You know you want one.
Robert Englund.
Summary: I’m awarding a 7/10, because there’s just an X factor to this movie. In summary, a great film...but the quest for The Ultimate Movie For The Emotionally Fourteen continues.

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