The Johnny Depp Archive

A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)

Starring: Robert Englund, Johnny Depp, Heather Langenkamp

Directed by: Wes Craven

Rating: 1 2 3 4

1,2 Freddy's coming for you...

When looking back to horror films of the 1980s, one figure towers over all others like a colossus: Freddy Krueger. With his dirty striped jumper, battered hat cocked at a slightly jaunty angle over a hideously scarred and pitted face, his snide one-liners and terrifying razor blade gloves, he has become a cult anti-hero, the ultimate bogey man. Since his birth in A Nightmare On Elm Street in 1984, Wes Craven's villain has continued to stalk popular imagination, making his most recent appearance in 2003's slasher stinker Freddy vs Jason.

I haven't watched A Nightmare On Elm Street in years, and it has to be said that revisiting it was a pleasure. As horror turns post modern and self-referential (again thanks to Craven and Scream) it's nice to settle down for ninety minutes of straightforward slasher action, all washed down with bucket loads of blood.

Taking its cue from John Carpenter's seminal horror flick Hallowe'en (1977), Nightmare features a group of everyday American teens who, one by one, are picked off by a serial killer, until only one resourceful girl, Nancy, is left to bring him down. But unlike Hallowe'en's Michael Myers, who although he may seem supernaturally creepy, is at least a living predator, this time the adversary comes from beyond the grave.

Hmm, who could this young chap be? Gads...

And his gateway to their world? Through sleep, that murky, uncharted area between life and death in which the rational mind is invaded by repressed, unconscious, fantastic images in the form of dreams. Gothic artists, from Henry Fuseli to Bram Stoker, have always known that sleep is a dangerous occupation, and it comes as no surprise that three of the greatest horror novels ever written, Frankenstein, Dracula and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, were all inspired by nightmares.

All these novels - and all the best works of horror, in fact - deal with the blurring of boundaries, between fantasy and reality, good and evil, life and death, and A Nightmare On Elm Street is no exception. From the very first scene, in which nubile blonde teenager Tina awakes from a dream of Freddy to find her nightdress clawed to shreds, it is clear that something evil has crossed a line that should be insurpassable, the line that separates dreams from reality.

Everyday American teens

And so ensues a genuine waking nightmare, governed by the kind of dream logic that forces us to turn a corner even when we know something horrible is lurking just around it, a nightmare in which we're never quite sure whether the protagonists are sleeping or awake as, one by one, they are dragged down through their dreams into Freddy's hell.

Like Hallowe'en and a host of other teen horror flicks that followed it, the film does adhere to a slightly unpalatable moral code: teenagers who have sex are destined to die, and thus Tina and boyfriend Rod are quickly despatched, whilst the virtuous Nancy and Glen are spared. at first.

But it's not just goodness that's required, you have to believe: clutching her crucifix and muttering prayers, Nancy clearly does, but the minute we discover that Glen doesn't, we know he's in for it, poor sod. Nice hair by the way, Johnny - you've definitely improved with age.

Dreaming of the day he gets a better haircut...

Spiritually myopic adults quickly prove ineffectual against the supernatural threat of Freddy. In fact poor Nancy is beleaguered by useless adults who fail her at every turn: an English teacher who witnesses her throwing a screaming fit in class then lets her walk out of school alone, a mother who hides her fear at the bottom of a bottle and a workaholic father who refuses to listen to anything she says. Not to mention the terminally dense policeman who, having seen Nancy not once but twice smash a window and lean out screaming 'Help me, the killer's in here' says at last, 'Hmmm. maybe I'd better go tell the lieutenant.' Well, duh!

All the Nightmare gang together

Nancy's mother tries her inadequate best, however. Baffled by her daughter's self-imposed insomnia, she takes her to a sleep disorder clinic, but this attempt to get to the bottom of her problem through science nearly kills her, and is actually one of the scariest moments of the film. By the end of the film, a complete role reversal has occurred between Nancy and her mother, so it is the daughter who tucks the mother up in bed, telling her she loves her and everything will be all right.

Whilst her mother drinks to escape her problems, Nancy has learned that in order to get the better of Freddy, she must face up to him. And so it would appear that the power of positive thought, in true Wizard of Oz stylee, is the way to triumph. until the closing sequence of the film, when we realise that the inhabitants of Elm Street are never going to escape Freddy. Or not for another eight or so sequels anyway.

7,8, better stay out late...

So, as a classic horror movie, A Nightmare On Elm Street ticks all the right boxes. But is it actually scary? Well, even twenty years on, I'd say yes. The blood and guts gross out has been surpassed in many later movies, but the key images of the film still haunt the imagination: the shadowy silhouette of Freddy in his hat, the razor sharp finger knives scraping on metal - in fact the general creepy wrongness of Freddy altogether. For let's not forget, he is the late 20th and early 21st century's biggest bugaboo: a 'filthy child murderer'.

Simple scenarios like the hand in the bath and the tongue in the phone still retain their power to shock and curdle the stomach, whilst moments such as the stairs turned to porridge or the endless descent into a never-ending basement are familiar to us all from our own nightmares.

The film that spawned a thousand sequels (well, almost) and countless imitators still holds up well as a classic of the horror genre. So watch out, kids, grab your crucifix: you never know when Freddy might be coming for you.

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