#168 A Nightmare On Elm St

(1984, Wes Craven)

“One, two, Freddy’s coming for you”

We’ve talked about slasher flicks before here on Sven vs. The Movies, from the films that kicked it off (Halloween) to the films that tried to play with the formula when it started to become tired (Scream), and now we find ourselves somewhere in the middle with A Nightmare On Elm Street, Wes Craven’s famous horror franchise about a man in a stripey jumper who kills people in their dreams.

When teenager Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss) wakes up after a terrible nightmare about a man with knives for hands and a face covered in burn scars (Freddy Kreuger – played by Robert Englund), she arranges a sleepover the next night with her boyfriend Rod (Nick Corri), her friend Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) and Nancy’s boyfriend Glen (Johnny Depp). Her friends reveal that they had the same nightmare too. During the night, Tina encounters the same man in her nightmare and is then killed by a mysterious force in the real world, causing Rod to be framed for the death. Nancy then investigates to find out who this mysterious dream murderer is.

A Nightmare On Elm St has some very good elements and some incredibly silly elements. The concept is horribly diluted now thanks to numerous increasingly silly sequels and a bizarre crossover with the Friday The 13th franchise, but it is unique and interesting, and has an awful lot of potential.

In terms of its atmosphere, Nightmare On Elm St does very well. The concept of dreams vs. reality is played with quite a lot, and at times it’s hard to know what’s real and what isn’t, especially when Freddy’s powers begin to bleed into the real world. The definite dream sequences also have a very tense, claustrophobic atmosphere that make you wonder what will happen next. It also gets right into the spooky stuff from the get-go, so there aren’t any issues with pacing here.

However, the movie is also incredibly silly. Tina’s death loses some of its impact when Freddy’s appearance in her dream has him appear with freakishly long arms that make him look like some kind of bizarre clown. The silliness doesn’t stop as we progress through the film either. We have a doctor call dreams mysteries and then proceed to explain in great detail how the process of dreaming works. We have buckets of blood spraying about the place for two deaths, seemingly in greater quantities than the human body typically contains. Nancy’s phone grows a tongue at one point when Freddy talks to her through it. And the line “he’s dead now because Mommy killed him” is used in complete seriousness.

But this is Wes Craven, the man who would go on to make the post-modern, ironic slasher flick Scream, so part of me wants to believe that all of this silliness is deliberate, almost as if Craven is trying to make us laugh and scream all at the same time. I can only hope so, because there were too many moments where I found the movie hilarious instead of scary.

The acting certainly didn’t help. Far too often Heather Langenkamp’s acting made Nancy seem moody and angry at the world instead of scared, while some of her lines felt way too forced. Points for bad acting really need to go to her mother though. When she tells Nancy’s father that she’s getting her daughter some help, the line delivery is so stilted and over-the-top that it becomes impossible not to laugh. During her attempts to play being drunk or hiding an emotional secret about her past, she feels wooden. Plus she’s the one who delivers the awful “Mommy killed him” line.

But in a way, this helps the movie’s charm. The movie is rightfully dark when it needs to be, but maintains a cheesy b-movie aesthetic that is enjoyable to watch. The plot, when it exists, has a few good elements to it, such as the build-up to the mother’s revelation or the delightfully reality-breaking ending (a certain haunted car notwithstanding), and this also works to the film’s advantage.

A Nightmare On Elm St is a good watch if you’re not really looking for a movie to take seriously, since it’s a lot of fun to watch, and is competently made for the most part. And it’s certainly more interesting than the likes of Halloween.

And that’s that. The review’s over because Daddy finished it.

Starring John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri, Johnny Depp & Robert Englund
Written by Wes Craven
Produced by Robert Shaye
Music by Charles Bernstein
Cinematography by Jacques Haitkin
Edited by Patrick McMahon & Rick Shaine

Favourite Scene: The dream sequence where Nancy imagines she’s following Tina’s corpse down to the school basement has a very tense atmosphere, and I approve.
Scene That Bugged Me: “He’s dead now because Mommy killed him” You couldn’t have worded that any better? No? OK

Watch it if: You like your horror movies to be a nice balance between tense and silly
Avoid it if: You want to be genuinely scared

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Posted on March 21, 2013, in 1980s, Comedy, Horror and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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