Tuesday, April 29, 2014
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Well, here it comes. I'm finally talking about A Nightmare on Elm Street. I've talked about its first sequel, and the two Bollywood ripoffs, Khooni Murdaa, and Mahakaal*, but I still haven't had the good sense to review the original until now.
Neither of which had subtitles, so my posts on them were more recaps with jokes than they were reviews for the most part.
Bad dreams are starting to invade the nights of the teens of Elm Street, but teens Tina and Nancy are simply just scared...until they find out they've all been dreaming about the same thing-A mysterious and violent man, with a burnt face, filthy red-and-black sweater, and a set of clawed gloves. Things get worse when Tina is viciously murdered in her dream. The police think her boyfriend Rod did it, but Nancy realizes that not only did the figure in their dreams somehow kill Tina, but that she and her friends are next. Soon finding out that any injuries she sustains from the man in her dreams are inflicted upon her in real life, Nancy makes sure she and her remaining friends stay awake, and avoid a grisly fate courtesy of Freddy Krueger, The Springwood Slasher...
A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the big three in slasher film lore, right next to Halloween, and Friday the 13th, and thanks in part to its iconic killer, ingenious concept, great direction, and many other aspects, it's a well deserved position!
Let's start with the characters. Nancy is one of the great horror movie protagonists! She's smart, resourceful, and not just a pretty face. She's also badass when she's setting up various traps in her house to get Freddy. Her skills in the finale are what Rob should have displayed in Friday the 13th Part IV, rather than getting caught and knifed instantly (all the while literally yelling "He's killing me!"-C'mon, 1980's American screenwriters, I thought you were better than Claudio Fragasso!).
One weird thing about her is how she constantly calls her mother just that-"I'm fine, Mother.". Weird for someone in the 80's to say it like that. She doesn't even abbreviate it to 'Mom' when she's calling out for her for dear life.
Tina's pretty eh. The problem I have with her character is that she dies only 10 minutes in. It would have been better if she'd had more screen time before her death, so we could have gotten to know her better enough for her death to scare us more. And Rod's a bit more developed, and is a pretty well-written character, although he doesn't appear a whole lot. His death scene, while bloodless, is still effective and creepy.
Onto a negative, we have Glen! This goddamn idiot! One job, Glen, you had ONE JOB! Stay. Awake! And what do you do the first time, when Nancy asks you to keep watch over her as she sleeps? You nod off! And what happens later, when you've had the nightmares too, and now know the reality of the situation? You fucking fall asleep again! And not due to circumstances beyond your control, but because you're lying down in bed, against your comfy pillow, wearing a headset and watchin' TV. Idiot! But the really annoying thing is that he actually wakes up from that, and clearly not learning a damn thing, promptly falls right back to sleep, not bothering to do anything to stay awake! Dude, you could have gotten some nice sex with your girlfriend, but thanks to your own idiocy, you're the new wallpaper.
Minus Glen, the plot here is flawless!...Aside from one major problem-The ending! The original ending (which is the one we get, minus the 'shocker' twist at the end) was bad enough, as it has Nancy simply turning her back on Freddy and denying his existence, and he strikes at her...and fades from existence! This is the exact same strategy that Judy in Friday the 13th Part VII: A New Blood tried with Jason and her sleeping bag, except there it didn't turn out so hot! And after that, Nancy walks out the door, and suddenly it's daytime, she's going to school, and look! All her friends and family are suddenly alive again, now never having died, and her mother has even kicked her alcoholism! What kind of fairy dust did Wes Craven snort to deliver an ending this ridiculously happy?! But of course, thanks to studio interference, there had to be a sequel hook, even though Craven had ended the story, and had no intention of there ever being a sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street (HAHAHAHAHAHHA!).
The sequel hook isn't quite as super-fairy-love-rainbow-magic-happy as what precedes it, but instead goes for a shock 'But all of that was a dream' route, which makes no goddamn sense! So either way, the ending doesn't work at all.
Onto the positive aspects of the plot. While most viewers nowadays probably already know the story off by heart based on Freddy's backstory, which is the mystery of this first entry in the franchise, it's still an effective plot, and Fred Kruger (only Freddy himself and sometimes Nancy say 'Freddy' at this point in the series) is a great villain! Wes Craven follows the Rule of Jaws, and the dreamscape-maniac only has a scant few minutes of screentime overall, but thankfully we see plenty of him althroughout, rather than see only his feet for the first 80 minutes...or four movies (I'm looking at you, Friday the 13th II, III, and IV!). Freddy isn't the one-liner machine he would later become, but is instead a leering perverted psychopath, interested more in murder than cracking a million jokes when doing so. Thanks to his personality, Freddy will always be better than Jason, who has never been anything else other than a mindless killer in all 11 movies he's appeared in.
By the way, haters on the sequel like to bash it on the grounds that Freddy is barely in it, but he appears more in Freddy's Revenge than he does here in the original! Plus, Freddy's Revenge ups the ante, offers something new, and has a very different plot, which is everything a good sequel should do.
The effects are mostly great! Sure, the mannequin at the end is just embarrassing, and Tina's body is clearly plaster or something when she gets sliced the first time by Freddy, but the rest of her death scene is fantastic stuff, just as Johnny Depp's is! And for practical effects naysayers who say 'The use of CGI is unavoidable when it comes to people people set on fire, you unhappy whiners!', they need to watch the finale of Nightmare on Elm Street!...And then find the tallest skyscraper they can, jump off, and then go fuck themselves!*
*Awesomely terrible insult courtesy of Claudio Fragasso and Bruno Mattei's Jaws 5.
The gore on display here is great! While there are sorta only three death scenes (four if you count a 'certain character's' two sorta not deaths), the movie makes them count, giving elaborate deaths and plenty of the red stuff! And there are numerous scenes which are now iconic in the horror genre! They were even recreated deliberately terrible with shitty CGI for that hilarious 2010 April Fool's practical joke. You really had us fooled, guys, but those recreations made me realize the whole thing was just a joke, and it's not real. Not real. Not real...
Oh, and why did the **************************************** at the MPAA not censor this film, when they were having their sensibilities completely shattered by a simple spearing through a bed in Friday the 13th Part II? Because they figured that since the death scenes in Elm Street were overly fantastical and not realistic, they couldn't...do whatever it is the paranoid Stalinist scumbags were afraid would happpen. My guess is that they were afraid all horror fans would instantly snap and pick up a chainsaw once a certain gore quotient was filled in their heads. God, what a bunch of fucking babies!
The dream sequences are surreal and extremely creepy, with only Freddy's super-long arms in that one scene coming across as tacky. The one in the school is my favourite-"Were it not for that I have bad dreams..."
The film is rarely dated, and only feels that way with the 80's laZer effects in Nancy's nightmare at the school, and scenes with characters smoking in places like medical clinics.
The soundtrack is suitably creepy, and while the main theme, with all its rescorings, can get a bit repetitive, it's never enough to be annoying.
The acting's all good. Heather Langenkamp makes for one of, if not the best, final girls in horror, and while her acting does falter a bit in a couple of scenes, she's great! Tina's Amanda Wyss is decent in the few minutes she has, as is Jsu Garcia (credited as Nick Corri) as Rod. John Saxon turns in a fine as usual performance, and the unrecognizably young Johnny Depp is decent as Glen. The standout is the creepy Robert Englund, who makes the most of his screentime-"I'm your boyfriend now, Nancy!".
All in all, of course I recommend A Nightmare on Elm Street! It's one of the all-time horror greats, and you should watch it immediately if you haven't seen it! Meanwhile, you better stay awake...