Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Film Appreciation - Sweet Dreams Are Made of This

This week in Film Appreciation, Jay Burleson has a hell of a nightmare with Wes Craven's original A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.

 Directed by Wes Craven
Starring Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, 
Johnny Depp,
Ronee Blakley, and John Saxon

One of the glorious "big three" from the '80s slasher heyday, A Nightmare on Elm Street is probably the only one out of the three that actually scared me. The thought of a terrifying force attacking you in your dreams and leaving you powerless to die in your sleep was enough to put me on edge. The actual appearance of Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger took that initial fear and sent chills down my spine.

The story is simple and enjoyable. Set in the "Halloween"-like environment of a small, everyday neighborhood, Nightmare focuses on a group of teenagers who are having nightmares-- all about the same disfigured man. This man wears a set of razor sharp finger knives on his glove and is always keen on showing up in his trusty green and red sweater as well as his stylish fedora. The nightmares take a terrible turn when the kids who dream about him start dying in their sleep.

Heather Langenkamp plays Nancy Thompson, my favorite heroine out of any of the slasher films, Laurie Strode included. She's very pretty, which never hurts, but is extremely likeable and easy to root for as well. She has a more genuine good side to her than Jame Lee Curtis did as Laurie Strode and I always found her character to be more engaging. It also doesn't hurt that she actually has a mystery to unravel as she begins to put together the connection between the nightmares and the reality that led to them. Her addition to A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3 and Wes Craven's New Nightmare are also main reasons that both of those films score so well with me as far as the overall series goes, but that's another story.

Robert Englund truly IS Freddy Krueger, and does a great job here with a more serious portrayal of the bad guy than some of the more ridiculous stuff that gets incorporated into some of the later sequels. Wes Craven deserves all the credit in the world for coming up with Freddy and the nightmare story. It's a very haunting idea to begin with and he handles it with extreme care. As far as comparing the plots of Nightmare and the other big slasher franchises like Halloween and Friday the 13th, I'd have to say that Nightmare has the most interesting plot out of all of them.

A young Johnny Depp plays Nancy's next door neighbor and the always awesome John Saxon plays her dad. The acting is pretty good, it has that loveable '80s feel to it in a lot of places. The whole picture is an example of the height of the '80s horror movement but thanks to Craven's great story and direction it ends up a cut above most of its competition. Charles Bernstein's score is also probably the most overlooked horror score that I can think of. It gets played a lot but doesn't seem nearly as talked about or praised. It's eerie as hell and I can never hear it without getting in the mood for the film.

The film excels with some great set pieces as well. The bathtub scene where Nancy falls asleep while bathing and almost drowns in her underwater nightmare is iconic, and when Johnny Depp's Glen is sucked into his bed and a world of blood blasts out, it's pretty damn gruesome. There's also the first badass moment of the film when Tina is lifted out of bed in her sleep and thrown around the ceiling like a rag doll as bloody cuts emerge all over her stomach. The film feels dirtier and more sadistic than a lot of its more popular counterparts from the '80s as well. When Glen's father notices the blood of his son dripping through the ceiling it's pretty in-your-face and is rather hard to take.

All in all, Nightmare isn't my favorite slasher film, but it's definitely up there and delivers a lot of memorable material. As a filmmaker I'd say it'd be in the top 3 of horror series I'd like to work on. If I ever got the chance to work on a Nightmare film then it'd simply be a dream come true.

1 comment:

  1. i am also a huge nancy thompson/heather langenkamp fan...