Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Very Craven Christmas I: A Nightmare on Elm Street

So, Christmas time is fast approaching, and, yet again refusing to cover holiday-themed horror movies, I decided to show some love for yet another horror legend whose name fits nicely into my absurd alliteration addiction. I briefly considered doing A Very Carpenter Christmas 2: The Revenge of Return, but as a rule, I try to avoid, or at least snark at sequels, and that'd seem inconsistent on my part, so Wes Craven it was. Keeping with the spirit of A Very X Christmas, I will endeavor to only write about the best movies, mostly so I have an excuse to not even think about "Cursed" or "Vampire in Brooklyn" again. Also, I'll be steering clear of "Last House on The Left." But enough about what I won't do, let's get to the horrors, shall we? The first movie in this Holiday Special is A Nightmare On Elm Street, a movie that did to sleeping what Psycho did to showering and Jaws to swimming. Spoilers will follow.

Something's fishy in Springwood, a bunch of high schoolers find themselves plagued by absurd and threatening dreams featuring a maze-like boiler room and a strange burnt man with a clawed hand. Creepy enough in itself, but this being a slasher, people start dying, and it's up to Nancy, played by Heather Langenkamp, to figure out what the hell is going on and, possibly put some sort of stop to it before she too succumbs to the dream killer. Also, it features Johnny Depp in his first big role and probably the strangest shirt he's ever wore.
Seriously, is midriff-baring shirts for men a thing that was a thing in the 80's?

The movie's villain, Freddy Krueger, named after a bully who tormented ole' Wes back in school, is probably the most memorable part of the movie. His burnt visage and hand-claw weapon is visually very different from the typical "built like a brick shithouse and wearing a mask"-killer that we see in many other slashers. Not that this movie revels in the visual aspects of the villain much, and  I dare say that really works. Freddy is mostly in shadow, and the few times you actually get a good look at his face, it's fairly effective. Another thing the movie does well is that it does not over-explain, although if you look at the whole Nightmare-franchise as a whole, that praise quickly fades, but more on that some other time.

Freddy's backstory is also quite nebulous, we know he was suspected of killing and torturing children but got off on a technicality, we know that the parents of Elm Street burned down the factory he worked at with him still inside, and we know he now haunt the dreams of his killers' children. How we got from the penultimate step to the last one is unknown, and I honestly think it's better that way. Is he a revenant creeping his way from beyond the grave by pure vengeful anger alone? Is he magical in some way? deal with Satan? Aliens? Who knows.

The way the movie handled dreams was also quite clever, favoring a smooth transition between being awake and sleeping, reflecting how it's hard to point out the exact time you fall asleep. Of course, once things starts getting really strange, you usually manage to separate dream from reality, but up until a certain point, it could be chalked up to things just being kinda weird.  Also, there's some symbolism going on somewhere in there, it some times feel a bit half-assed, but the horror effect of it is quite nice, and for a movie like Nightmare, that's probably the most important thing.
Hell-o symbolism.. also, disturbing scenes

All in all, I consider A Nightmare On Elm Street a solid film, it's an interesting idea with a lot of things going for it, and while I personally think that the series went the way of many horror franchises and cocked up what made the original good when making sequels, and let's not start on the whole Remake thing again, that doesn't really change the fact that the first movie's pretty good.

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