Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween Movie Month: A Nightmare on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

I do not know if there is anyone out there who does not know the basic plot of A Nightmare on Elm Street.  But, just in case...A Nightmare on Elm Street is about a serial killer, Freddy Krueger, who tortures and murders teens through their dreams.

A Nightmare on Elm Street is a horror classic from horror icon Wes Craven.  Good horror movies have always had the lasting impact of the viewers being too scared to sleep after seeing them.  Craven took this to the extreme by having a killer who actually killed his victims through their dreams.  It had a tremendous impact on the horror genre and has spawned numerous sequels, spin-offs, and homages.  The horrifying Freddy Krueger helped to launch Nightmare into its iconic status.  Even those who have never seen Nightmare know who Freddy is and why they should be scared of him (despite the fact that Freddy was only on screen for about 7 minutes total throughout the entire movie)!

All of that being said, I am about to say something that I realize might cause my horror credibility to be decreased in the eyes of some horror fans....I do not find A Nightmare on Elm Street to be as amazing as everyone says it is.  I think that it is a good movie.  I enjoy it.  And I get why it is so important and the impact that it had on the genre.  But, when I hear most people talk about how absolutely amazing it is, I see things in a slightly different light.

Wes Craven has definitely had an impact on the horror genre and Nightmare helped to establish, and put twists on, some of the tropes of horror.  But, part of the reason for my differing view is that I did not see Nightmare when I was young.  The first time that I saw it was about 5 years ago.  By that time, I had seen so many other horror movies and had been analyzing movies for a while.  So, rather than being terrified by the thought of something killing me in my sleep, I viewed it too analytically.  Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy the movie.  There were definitely some scenes that were creepy.  The underlying horror aspect of not being able to escape or defeat the monster chasing you is definitely terrifying.  And, again, I get why it was so important.  But, when it comes to the overall experience of the movie, it does not quite measure up to the decades of hype.

The musical score definitely had a lot of the characteristics that play on creepiness and uneasiness, setting the stage for haunting and terrifying scenes.  However, the music is a bit too pervasive.  Rather than setting the tone and then leaving you at the height of tension, it is almost like you get used to the music and forget that it is supposed to be creeping you out.  I know that a lot of horror movies in the 80s relied very heavily on the music (especially one musical theme) to set the stage.  But, having seen several movies recently where the horror of the music is more subtle, the score for Nightmare felt a little too constant.

There are the standard horror tropes:  the first girl who dies is the one who just had sex, hearing a strange noise and going outside to investigate it, going "here, kitty kitty" when investigating the noise, and so on.  However, what sets Nightmare aside is definitely the fact that Freddy is the embodiment of an inescapable fear.  The idea of something being able to kill you in your dreams is definitely horrifying.  How do you escape it?  How do you defeat it?  Just trying to avoid it is part of what makes your life hell.  If you go to sleep, you die.  But, if you don't go to sleep, you are in a constant state of exhausted fear.  Most people feel safe at home and safe when they sleep.  So, taking one of the times that you feel the most relaxed (and the most vulnerable) and turning it into where you die...that can definitely have some psychological impacts.  This is especially true for the scene in the bathtub.  That is one of the most terrifying scenes for me because the the character is the most vulnerable in the entire movie during that scene.  She is naked with nowhere to go.

While the idea behind Freddy is absolutely terrifying, sometimes the execution is lacking for me.  Part of the fun and the horror of Freddy is the cat and mouse game that he plays with his victims.  But, for most of the movie, I feel like there is too much mouse with not enough cat.  When you first see Freddy, the elongated arms are pretty creepy because it is subtle enough that you are not sure if it is just your mind playing tricks on you or if it is an unnatural ability.  But for the most part, it feels like there isn't enough of the terrifying cat, and then a sudden kill.  Rather than like most movies that have too much buildup with no real payoff, I feel like Nightmare doesn't have enough buildup.

Rating and Recommendation:  After watching it again, I still only would give A Nightmare on Elm Street 3.5/5.  I like it.  I understand why it is so important.  There are some things that are done very well.  But, it just does not blow me away.  I want to like it more than I do, I really do.  I want to think that it is more amazing than it is.  But, I just do not find it as amazing as other people do.  There are things about it that are definitely creepy.  The overall theme of not being safe in your own home or when asleep, and not being able to escape something chasing you, that is absolutely terrifying.  But, overall, I feel as though the conceptualization is much better than the execution.  Nightmare is a classic and an icon in the horror genre, so it is certainly a must see.  But, the legacy of the movie is better than the actual movie itself.

There is a lot more that I could say about Nightmare, and in greater depth, but I will either save that for other posts about specific aspects, or I will address it on The Monster Pod.

Be sure to check back soon for more reviews in Halloween Movie Month!  In the meantime, leave comments on this (or any other) review, follow me here and on twitter (@GargyleReviews), and let me know what movies you'd like for me to review for Halloween Movie Month!

- The Gargyle

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