A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

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“Several people are hunted by a cruel serial killer who kills his victims in their dreams. While the survivors are trying to find the reason for being chosen, the murderer won’t lose any chance to kill them as soon as they fall asleep.” — IMDb

Are y’all ready for an awesome breakdown of why A Nightmare on Elm Street is head and shoulders above the other two in the horror trifecta (Halloween and Friday the 13th)? Because you’re about to get it.

First, the entire concept is way more terrifying than your everyday slasher. He still has the severely damaged past — he was a child murderer who was killed by the neighborhood parents’ vigilante justice in the form of being burned alive — but the fact that he’s attacking teenagers in their dreams, in their subconscious, makes him impossible to run away from. You can only resist the pull for so long before you’re forced to close your eyes, and then there he is.

“One, two, Freddy’s coming for you. / Three, four, better lock your door. / Five, six, grab your crucifix. / Seven, eight, gonna stay up late. / Nine, ten, never sleep again.”

Second, Wes Craven specifically wanted Freddy to rock the no-mask look. He still has a “mask” of sorts with his burnt face, but the fact that his face isn’t actually covered means he can show way more emotion and intent with his expressions. The dude is straight up COCKY. He taunts and laughs and flaunts himself and really enjoys torturing kids, which is horrifying. Robert Englund is just perfect.

Third, there are some of the most legitimately scary scenes I’ve seen in ANY movie. The scene with Nancy sleeping and the hands and face sort of pressing their way through the wall? The first time you see Freddy and he’s got these freakishly long arms so his “fingers” scrape against the walls as he passes by? When Rod wakes up to see Tina being attacked in her dream, as she is cut up and tossed along the walls and the ceiling as he stands back and watches in horror? Nancy’s daydream while she’s at school with Tina in a bloodied bodybag leading her through the hallways? Just thinking about the moment when her legs lift up and she’s dragged around a corner gives me chills. The classic scene where Glen gets sucked into his bed and the reverse waterfall of blood comes shooting out?

Fourth, it does an amazing job at making you unsure of what’s reality and what’s a dream. It blurs the lines in many of the scenes and it really gives this surreal quality to it. You think you have yourself convinced and then you’re surprised. But the fact that Freddy is existing in a dream world means he is less limited than your standard killer. He can do things that not just any human can. And the dream state means that bizarre things can happen and add even more confusion to an already  chaotic scenario, like when Nancy is running from Freddy and the stairs are suddenly the consistency of marshmallow fluff. BRILLIANT.

Fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth: it has a young Johnny Depp in a cropped shirt. I REPEAT: A YOUNG JOHNNY DEPP IN A CROPPED SHIRT. This was actually his film debut and, while he’s frustrating as hell in it, it’s also fun to see him as a lil’ baby (he was only 21 at the time).

Tenth: the ending. It may not have been the ending that Wes Craven intended, but it really adds to that blurred reality that I mentioned.

Ultimately, if you haven’t seen this movie yet, GO NOW. Like, RUN to the television and watch it. Whatever you do… don’t fall asleep.

Rating: 10/10 | Director: Wes Craven | Writer: Wes Craven | Music: Charles Bernstein | Starring: Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund, Ronee Blakley, John Saxon

 

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