Genre: Horror, Slasher, Supernatural.
Starring: Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Jonny Depp, Ronee Barkley, Leslie Hoffman, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri.
Year Of Release: 1984
Certificate: 18 (UK)
Runtime: 91 Minutes
Director: Wes Craven
Synopsis: “Several people are hunted by a cruel serial killer who kills his victims in their dreams. While the survivors are trying to find the reason for being chosen, the murderer won’t lose any chance to kill them as soon as they fall asleep.” IMDB
When I am asked about my favourite films I find it extremely hard to choose definitively. Top ten lists and such like are almost impossible for me to commit to. Firstly, it depends on what mood I’m in. I find myself with a list then immediately think of another favourite then the list falls to pieces and back to the drawing board I go. Secondly, and I know this may sound slightly odd, but It makes me feel guilty. Watching movies means so much to me that I try to find the good in all I watch. Sometimes unsuccessfully, but non the less I try. I think of all the hard work that goes into bringing a writer’s vision to screen. Or how the germ of an idea has gestated into the finished product. I think of those involved in the production and how much hope and effort goes into ensuring the end product is a quality one. Also, there is such a huge amount of originality in film that sometimes you may be a little unprepared when watching something new. I am not ashamed to say that the first time I ever watched Fight Club I didn’t like it. It just didn’t sit well with me. It felt cold and emotionally out of reach. But how absolutely wrong I was. I knew even though I wasn’t fond that something special had just happened. Something new and beautiful had just been viewed but I hadn’t understood it and hadn’t allowed it to work its magic on me. I slept on it and the next day tried again. I fell in love completely, I became lost in the narrative, determined to learn more I trawled through DVD commentaries, books, theories, soundtracks and more. Since its release in 1999 Fight Club has been as close as it comes to a favourite movie. But I would still avoid giving it the number one accolade only possibly doing so with a gun in my mouth. One movie for me sits so high in its particular genre it is an absolute number one in its category. A nightmare on Elm Street (1985). I am a massive horror fan. I also must explain I’m a complete coward. I spend a majority of the running time behind a pillow and jump through the ceiling at almost every horror trope used. But I just love the way a horror movie grabs you and pulls you in on a very basic emotional level. I find if a horror movie has you declaring ‘it’s only a film’ to overcome its scares then it is a success. Acclaimed horror director (and one of my time favourites) Wes Craven wonderfully and knowingly used this to great effect when advertising 1972’s extremely frightening The Last House on the Left with the tag line, ‘To avoid fainting keep telling yourself. It’s only a movie…. It’s only a movie.’ Wes Craven based the idea behind the story of A Nightmare on Elm Street (ANOES) on an LA times article he read about a family of Cambodian refugees who fled the Killing Fields for America. Once the family were safe in the US, one of the sons started to have terrible nightmares and after time refused to sleep for days on end. Eventually falling asleep his family thought all was well. His parents were then woke by screams in the middle of the night, rushing to check on the boy they discovered he was dead. So the plot of the movie adapts this non fictional report into a wider scale. The plot centres around a group of teens as they are stalked and murdered (quite horrifically) by Freddy Krueger, a black and red jumper wearing, razor finger gloved, horrendously scarred child murderer. Haunting the teens posthumously. The twist is it all takes place in their subconscious sleeping minds. This renders Freddy’s onslaughts unavoidable as the children try with varied levels of success to stay awake.
The main basis of the plot focuses on Nancy (acted beautifully by Heather Lagenkamp) and her friends slowly uncovering Krueger’s history. Nancy’s character played as a slightly tougher version of Laurie Strode from Halloween (1978). She evolves from gentle innocent to hunter throughout the course of the film. The level of detail that has gone into this movie is wonderful. The unstoppable stalking killer of the likes of Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers are pushed aside with a new ethos. A killer that not only cannot (seemingly?) be killed but also one that pursues you unescapably in your subconscious. Freddy himself is a fantastic character, acted with nine parts pure evil and one-part tongue in cheek humour (this humour increased throughout the sequels until the character unfortunately became somewhat of a self-parody). Despite its age and it’s bulldozing of subtext regarding the American dream it still manages to be genuinely scary. A scene featuring Nancy falling asleep in class only to be haunted by her recently deceased friend (whilst still in a body bag!) is particularly frightening, the hollowness of the sound design and stillness of the cinematography feel to the viewer like a dream. The film uses its atmospheric score effectively, clever pounding heart beat percussion and a theme that sits for me, alongside John Carpenter’s Halloween as one of the most memorable horror soundtracks.Elm Street, in my opinion should be spoken of in the company of Jaws, Godfather, Alien and Bladerunner (amongst others). All movies that changed and expanded genre and became must see. Whether a horror fan or not there is something to appreciate in ANOES. I could not recommend it highly enough. A horror classic and genuinely inventive film, full of well executed scares and 80’s performances that still work for audiences today. The tone and ‘feel’ of the movie get under your skin. Wes Craven helped shape horror movies as we know them today and moved the genre on leaps and bounds throughout his career. He will be missed.
RIP Wes Craven 1939-2015