At the Movies with Alan Gekko: A Nightmare on Elm Street “84”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Robert Englund, Johnny Depp, Ronee Blakley, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri, Leslie Hoffman, Joe Unger, Charles Fleischer, Joseph Whipp, Lin Shaye/ Runtime: 91 minutes

When it comes to the history of Horror in the 1980’s, there are a trio of individuals who always manage to come up first and foremost: Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and Freddy Krueger. Indeed to kids of the 80’s and to the next generation, they are the modern-day embodiments of Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy and to say that there is no small amount of healthy debate amongst the multitude of horror fans out there as to who really is the top dog is not an understatement. Now to be fair, there is little doubt in my mind that the Horror genre has managed to contribute some serious competitors to the 3 titans as we have seen such noteworthy examples as Jigsaw, Chucky, Ghostface, Angela Baker, Candyman, Leatherface, and Pinhead all becoming part of the discussion. Yet nevertheless there is still no denying the impact that the narrative arcs that this unholy trinity have given audiences which really helped them become poster boys of this particular genre. Indeed their popularity may have been through the roof in the 80’s followed by a slight cool-down in the 90’s, but today they are just as popular as ever due to a outpouring of remakes featuring these characters the past few years which has led to a revisiting of their past exploits which has resulted in these icons ensuring that their legends will truly never die thus resulting in the Go-Go 80’s becoming one of the most iconic in the history of cinema.

However out of the unholy trinity of 80’s horror icons and their individual series’ of movies, I definitely feel that Freddy Krueger and the Nightmare on Elm Street series is easily the most unique out of all of them. This is because even though the movies all have those elemental ingredients known as horny teens in peril, bloody violence, and quite a few sequences of hide and go seek between killer and victim, it’s the hook of reality vs the frightening vividness of the dream world that manages to really help this series differentiate itself from both Jason and Michael’s sets of stories, and plus at least Freddy never went to space or was the result of a Druid curse (just saying). Speaking of Freddy I feel that another thing that really helps differentiate this franchise from the other 2 is that, unlike the silent behemoths that are Jason and Michael, Freddy Krueger is quite the vocal character in his series and, as the series went on, his almost looney tunes-style antics and puns really helped to provide another layer to this story. To be fair, while you can rightfully argue that a mute giant who mercilessly hunts his potential victims before slaughtering them with a knife or whatever tools they have at their disposal is absolutely terrifying, I also feel that the one-on-one as well as the customization that Freddie provides his victims with really leads toward the creation of a distinct yet equally as terrifying atmosphere. Suffice it to say then that A Nightmare on Elm Street  was actually able to do a brilliant job at standing out amongst the pack yet at the same time also making sure to not stray too far from the familiar path thus giving horror fans something new to cherish whilst also being able to appreciate such familiar and comforting tropes as sexually-active teens being horrifically butchered, the blood managing to flow like a river, a lone heroine being left to go up against the killer in a one on one battle of survival, and of course a tease is put in so that way there’s an angle to played out for a sequel which there was going to be at least 5-7 of. Indeed nowadays it has become rote and routine, but back then? Well I guess you could say that it truly was the stuff nightmares are made of…

The plot is as follows: A Nightmare on Elm Street revolves around a quartet of teenage friends all attempting to live their best lives in the town of Springwood, Ohio by the names of Nancy Thompson, Tina Gray, Rod Lane and Glen Lantz. Yet here lately things have been quite on the weird side for this group of friends. That is because they all have been having some absolutely terrifying dreams involving a horrifically roasted boogeyman wearing a sweater that is red and green, a tan fedora atop his head, and equipped with a glove that has razor sharp knife blades where the fingers are, but ultimately, the teens figure, they are just dreams so nothing bad can happen….right? Wrong. Soon enough this figure starts attempting to viciously murder our intrepid group of young heroes in their dreams themselves. Thus it’s up to Nancy, the most psychologically stable and most level-headed of the group, to draw out and end a terror that has no limits, and which is tied to a dark secret that the town of Springwood has long since tried to bury and keep hidden….

Now I think you should all know that A Nightmare on Elm Street really truly is one of the more brutal in terms of its violent content films made at that particular time. Indeed while this film is definitely nowhere close to Saw-levels in regards to how potent the gore is, there is still quite a fair bit of flowing blood from injuries that were on the fly from the prosthetics department, but still prove to be quite potent all the same. Also the movie manages to provide audiences with quite a few moments that are fully immersed in the blood as well as a wide variety of creepy crawlies thus adding immensely to the otherworldly and morbid setting that this movie tries so hard to create for our enjoyment. Indeed, Wes Craven in this movie manages to conjure up a vivid world where the border between what is real and what is a dream become horrifically blurred if not completely annihilated. Indeed there really is in the world of this film absolutely nowhere the characters can go to get away from the terror since sleep is truly inevitable. Indeed the film manages to stumble upon the brilliant idea of narrative ingenuity to put these characters in peril while doing something so simple as going to sleep. Indeed sleep is a thing that the body absolutely needs due to being a prerequisite for the body to function to the best of its ability, and even though we can try to thwart it, sleep will eventually overcome each and every one of us. In the case of this movie, it is this thing that we all do naturally that is the unique yet also fatal ingredient that the movie provides to its audience.

Now another thing that I really have a lot of respect for in regards to this seminal classic is the cast that was brought together for it starting with Heather Langenkamp who, as film lead Nancy Thompson, is absolutely wonderful. Indeed Nancy is one of the most renowned girls in the horror genre in that not only does she take the fight directly to the monster himself, but she manages to do so with a style and wit all her own and Langenkamp manages to take a character that could have been extremely one-dimensional and instead turns her into one of the most memorable characters in an 80’s horror film ever. We also get, albeit in a smaller amount of screen time, a winning performance by Amanda Wyss in the role of Nancy’s friend Tina. Indeed make no mistake: this is a character who is most definitely set up to be the Chrissy Wakins from Jaws of this particular film (and if you get the reference then bravo; if not then don’t see Jaws before this). Yet, unlike Wakins, Tina actually is less a symbol for how dangerous a menace is, and more of a fully-realized character. Indeed she may not have a lot of screen time, but Wyss still makes every minute of the time she is given truly count. As for the other 2 teens I will say that Nick Corri does do good in his role as Tina’s boyfriend Rod, and that other guy by the name of Johnny Depp also does decent work in his role as Nancy’s boyfriend Glen, but I don’t know if he had much of a presence in movies after this film was released….. (joking, joking). We also get wonderful work courtesy of John Saxon and Ronee Blakely in the crucial roles of Nancy’s Mom and Dad. Indeed the reason these roles are so pivotal is because Nancy’s parents it seems know a little bit more than they are telling when it comes to the character that their daughter and her friends keep seeing though I think that might not be such a good idea since this boogeyman won’t stop until they are all dead. Finally, and I know it has been said by many a reviewer already, but I really truly cannot see anyone else in the role of Freddy Krueger except for Robert Englund. Indeed not only is Englund absolutely spot-on in the role that turned him into an icon, but this film is where Englund also proved to be the most horrific during his tenure as the clawed boogeyman. I say this is because in the films that followed this one, Freddy becomes a funny killer with wisecracks a’plenty and don’t get me wrong I still love every moment of what Englund brings to the table. Yet I honestly feel that the aspect that makes Freddy so darn scary in the first “Nightmare on Elm Street” film is not only just how his pitch-black sense of humor manages to come across as genuinely terrifying, but also because when you stop and think about it, there really is no limit to the hell he can put you through when you’re asleep since there are no limits in the land of dreams, and Freddy manages to take full advantage of this.

Now even though this film does get quite a bit right, it is still worth mentioning that A Nightmare on Elm Street is very much a film made in the 80s and it shows in quite a few ways. For starters, the copious amounts of blood that get thrown out all across the silver screen aren’t exactly the realistic sense of horror film-level violence that “modern-day” horror fans may be used to. Nevertheless however I feel that when one watches a film of this nature, one should treat this with a degree of respect in regards to its historical presence as one of the forerunners of the modern horror film while also being able to get immense enjoyment due to it also operating as a plain and simply fun slasher film. Also while the film’s special effects work is quite potent, they could feasibly be seen by some as not up-to-date for the modern era. Plus I also feel that this film’s reliance on a extremely synthesizer-laden musical score also does provide the film with undeniable proof that it was made in the 1980s. Thankfully neither of these aspects manage to be something that seriously derails the film entirely; rather I feel that these concepts actually help enhance and increase the movie’s appeal and way back 80’s vibe though if we’re being fully honest I definitely think that both the special effects and the music were utilized infinitely better in 1984 than in the atrocity of a remake that was released in 2010.

All in all no matter how many times I watch it, A Nightmare on Elm Street “84” still manages to lovingly creep me out to no end on the same level that it did the very first time I watched it when I was 8 years old (yeah I was that kid surprise surprise). Indeed this film is just plain and simply a bonafide classic in the horror genre. Indeed the narrative was fresh, the characters were likable to a degree that you actually pity them when the horrors began, and the vibe of the film is just plain unnerving and disturbing in equal measure. Indeed I can’t explain it, but even when you watch the movie you feel as if you are in a dream yourself. Indeed not only is it due to how seemingly indistinguishable the town is from any other small town, but there is a truly disconcerting sense of unease that you feel right from the word go. Sure, the sequel hook of an ending is cheesy as all get out, but when the rest of the film is as taut and engaging as this one is I find it a lot easier to forgive the film for it. On a scale of 1-5 I give A Nightmare on Elm Street “84” a solid 4 out of 5.