Welcome to Elm Street: Part One

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In honor(?) of the new A Nightmare on Elm Street, we're recapping all of the Elms so far. Find more on the Pixel Vision blog.

It’s with a certain sense of outrage, but not surprise, that horror fans greet the remake of 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. Truly, nothing is sacred anymore. (I mean, Michael Bay’s do-over-ator already had its way with that holiest of holys, 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, in 2003.) I can only guess that Freddy Krueger is frikkin’ pissed off right now. (Jackie Earle Haley may be an Oscar nominee, and, OK, a pretty cool actor -- but Robert Englund’s the only rightful Krueger in my book.) Pretty much the only thing you can do right now is pull that A Nightmare on Elm Street box set off the shelf and start watching ‘em all. (There are seven, plus 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason, which of course you purchased separately.) Get to it!

Alternatively, you can simply follow Guardian movie geek Louis Peitzman and myself as we recap each film in the week leading up to the new A Nightmare on Elm Street’s release Fri/30. Since I have a little bit of a Freddy obsession (just part of my collection pictured here), I’ll be getting the ball rolling, with a post by Louis on A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) to follow later today. Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep! (Or be surprised by spoilers, because these movies are like two decades old, people.)

The sporadically inaccurate but nonetheless helpful (and gloriously illustrated) volume The Nightmare Never Ends: The Official History of Freddy Krueger and the Nightmare on Elm Street Films, by William Schoell and James Spencer, is dedicated to “Jason and Michael -- because they’ll always be second best.” And indeed, when Freddy Krueger was introduced to the world, audiences were already familiar with Misters Voorhees and Myers. (Hell, Friday the 13th was already up to part four, the hilariously misnomered The Final Chapter, by 1984.) But Freddy had something neither of those dudes had: a voice. He actually spoke to his victims! With a sense of humor to boot! (Though by mid-series he was communicating mostly in bad rhymes and even worse puns. But I digress.)

Legend states that Nightmare writer-director Wes Craven named his most famous character after a junior high rival (no word if the real Freddy ever realized his influence on movie-monster history). The last name came from Krug, the evil prison escapee from Craven’s first film, 1972’s Last House on the Left. Nightmare’s opening credits, which depict Krueger fashioning his trademark glove, feature the immortal words “introducing Johnny Depp;” they also present Englund as “Fred” Krueger. In later films, Englund would get above-title billing. But in 1984, nobody knew who Freddy was, or that they and everyone they knew would probably dress up as him for Halloween at least once. Certainly young Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), who lives in the white house with the red door on Elm Street in Springwood, Ohio, has never heard of him. But her bitterly divorced parents (Ronee Blakley, loopy star of 1975’s Nashville, plays her drunk mom; cult actor John Saxon plays her cop dad) know a little something about a child killer named Krueger. Seems they executed mob justice on his sweater-clad ass some years before. So why are Nancy and her friends (including Depp as her boyfriend, cut-off sweatshirt-clad Glen) meeting the allegedly dead Freddy in their dreams?

Freddy seeks revenge, of course, and little did those murderin' parents know their quarry had supernatural powers: when the kids die in their dreams, they die in real life. Even though the parents know all about Krueger, they act like they don’t believe their bratty, rebellious teenagers. (With that rakish fedora, how could they even pretend to forget such a character?) This is a recurring theme in the Nightmare films: parents just don’t understand. Sometimes, they'll even put bars on your bedroom window to "protect" you after they tuck you into bed, not realizing that growing up is hard, man. Especially when there’s a creepy creep chasing you with fingerknives through your dreams.

Nancy’s the wisest character here (evidenced in part by the gray streak that suddenly appears in her voluminous ‘80s coif after a harrowing Freddy encounter). Not only does she start mainlining caffeine to stay awake, she obtains a militia handbook ("I'm into survival!") and begins plotting her naps with battlefield-worthy precision (with plenty of booby traps in place). Meanwhile, since Nancy actually doesn't save anyone except herself, Craven’s behind-the-scenes team does wonders with special effects. Glen being sucked into, and bloodily vomited out of, his own bed is particularly memorable.

The film’s ending is the worst thing here. According to The Nightmare Never Ends, Craven and producer Robert Shaye disagreed on how to wrap up the story, with Craven believing it should end after Nancy defeats Freddy by taking back the power she’s unknowingly given him. Bam! End of Freddy. Shaye wanted more of a “Gotcha!”, which every other slasher movie in the history of the world has, and will always have. Guess who won? Eight -- no, now nine movies later -- we’re still expecting Freddy to come back.

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