• Sat
  • Nov 29, 2014
  • Updated: 1:05pm

FILM (1984)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 June, 2012, 12:00am

A Nightmare on Elm Street
John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Johnny Depp
Director: Wes Craven

Wes Craven's introduction to the world of cinema came on the sets of porn movies in the 1960s. Then, in 1972, the man who would become known as 'the master of shock' made his directorial debut with The Last House on the Left.

It was an uncomfortable, violent slice of American culture. The nation was still reeling from the gruesome Manson murders of 1969 and the war in Vietnam, and Craven tuned in to the zeitgeist to show Richard Nixon's America what its young men were capable of when angry, doped-up and bored.

This brutal combination of sex and death was to be a recurring theme for Craven - albeit within the stricter confines of the horror genre. It reached its zenith in 1984's A Nightmare on Elm Street.

However dated it may seem to today's audiences, the film remains a cult horror classic. This is despite its kitsch art direction and clunky script. Today it seems more akin to Poltergeist than The Shining.

But what it lacks in aesthetics it makes up for with a terrifying message: 'Whatever you do, don't fall asleep.' If you're a young, sexually aroused high school student in a white picket-fenced American suburb, you're in deep trouble if you do.

The film begins with a heavily disfigured man with knives for fingers chasing a pretty blonde through a dank, dripping power plant. He catches her, but before he manages to kill her she wakes up to find that her nightdress has been slashed in her sleep. The two worlds of dreams and reality have collided, and the results aren't pretty.

Eventually Tina succumbs to the mysterious night-stalker (after sleeping with her boyfriend, thus breaking one of the rules Craven parodied in 1996's Scream), and, one by one, Tina's small group falls victim to Freddie Krueger.

Like any good horror film there has to be a survivor we can all root for. On Elm Street this is the brave and virginal Nancy, played subtly by Heather Langenkamp. Her mission, aside from staying awake as long as possible (later changing tack entirely and attempting to find Freddie in her dreams and coax him into the 'real world'), is to find out who he is and what he wants. The crux of the story lies in the fact that the adults, supposedly the responsible and virtuous ones, have a bigger part to play in Freddie's existence than they're letting on.

Ultimately the film is pure schlock-horror. If you're looking for a more nuanced and surreal look at the violent underbelly of 'perfect' American suburbia then look no further than the two Davids: Cronenberg and Lynch.

But Craven has no pretensions or delusions of grandeur, and the misty, slow-motion shots of children skipping and singing nursery rhymes over whirling synthesisers is still unsettling today.


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