Movie Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Posted: June 12, 2015 in Reviews
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Razor Glove, Bed Sheet, Coffee Pot, Sledgehammer Booby-Trap, Light-Bulb Explosive, Jar of Gasoline, Fire

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Reviewed by: Pontifex Aureus

A boogeyman that haunts your dreams, the sound of blades scraping stone, flickering shadow, fire, smoke—this is the stuff of childhood nightmares. This is why this film hit me so close, too close, as a child, because it deals with something that I (and all people) know something about: nightmares. As adults, our boogeymen tend to be real-world characters like home-invaders and psychopaths, but as children, our first boogeymen hid in the shadows of our bedroom closet, or under the bed, and made creaks and bumps in the night. You imagined something was there, watching, and you hid under the covers waiting for sleep to save you, but the terrors would follow you into your dreams and become more real than ever. This is the sense of primal fear that A Nightmare on Elm Street captures so well, the fear that comes from within your own mind.

In an archetypal American suburb, the kids of Elm Street dream of violent death at the hands of a razor-fingered man with burnt flesh named Fred Krueger. When people start dying in real life, teenager Nancy Thompson becomes determined to uncover the truth behind Krueger’s past in order to find some way to combat this deadly menace that exists only in her mind.

Freddy's Boiler Room This is God

Much has been said about A Nightmare on Elm Street’s ability to toy with the audience’s perception of reality; with its mind-bending dream-within-a-dream sequences, you’re never quite sure of what’s real and what isn’t. But this is only part of what the film accomplishes as a whole: it captures the look, sound, and feel of a nightmare and, in so doing, creates one of the best representations of nightmares committed to film.

Freddy in the Tub Johnny Depp Hero in a Half Shirt

The ambiguity and strangeness of the narrative makes you feel disoriented and wary, as it should, since this is just the feeling we would expect of a nightmare. But this alone wouldn’t be enough, not without the chaotic, disturbing imagery brought to us by the boogeyman himself, Fred Krueger. He shape-shifts, his arms become impossibly long, he gleefully mutilates himself just to see the look on your face—this is a villain that is not bound by the laws of physical possibility and that makes him truly unpredictable in a way that other movie-monsters seldom achieve. And perhaps the most overlooked aspect of director Wes Craven’s nightmare-world is the sound. The soundtrack ranges from ominous to campy in an interestingly disjointed fashion, but when I talk about the sound of A Nightmare on Elm Street, I refer specifically to the subtle sound effects and strange inflections of speech. One of my favorite parts is a classroom scene where Nancy slips into sleep while listening to a recitation of Hamlet: “…were it not that I have bad dreams…” that voice—a hoary, unreal whisper hits especially close to the truth of dream-experience. Perfection.

I'm Your Boyfriend Now Nancy and John Saxon

By its very abstract nature, A Nightmare on Elm Street is greatly open to interpretation. Legions of horror fans have put forth dozens of theories, dealing variously with the sexual subtext of the film or the coming of age of Nancy into the bleak adult world inhabited by her mother and father. While arguably true, I feel these theories are subservient to a greater theme; I believe this film is above all, an examination of the enemy within ourselves. We are the victims of our own fears—fear of death, fear of sex, fear of growing up and though we wish salvation were as easy as wishing those fears away, they lurk within us always, ready to sneak up from behind and grab us by the throat. Watching the movie as a child, I felt this fear without understanding it. As an adult, lying in bed, watching the shadows on the ceiling, hearing the house creak, I know that something is watching. It watches from within. If you’ve never seen this movie, get to it. If you have, see it again; you’ll find new treasure every time you do.

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