Cult Column: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

As the sinister synth theme music, and the image of Johnny Depp in a crop top (in his first film role), play out during A Nightmare on Elm Street, it seems easy to understand the success of recent nostalgic ’80s outputs such as Stranger Things (2016-present), It (2017), and Ready Player One (2018). Perhaps we now find something innocent about a time when friends communicated through the house telephone, or, by climbing through each other’s bedroom windows late at night. Similarly, the aforementioned fashion choices are a regular source of amusement (though, terrifyingly, some seem to have returned from the dead).

The original 1984 A Nightmare on Elm Street (not to be confused with the torpid 2010 remake), contains all these innocent elements, alongside its dark slasher storyline about a deceased child-murderer now hunting teenagers within their dreams. It is rightly being shown in Edinburgh as part of the Cameo Cinema’s Ready Player One Season in acknowledgement of its heavy influence on later films, both horror and beyond. The film remains a fantastic blend of disturbing (and sometimes comical) surrealism, along with the gore and suspense that is expected from the slasher genre.

The Freddy Kruger of this film had not yet become the farcical clown-like figure of the later sequels. His first full appearance on screen, scraping his razor fingers against the wall and chuckling menacingly to himself with absurdly elongated outstretched arms (“this … is God!”), remains one of the most unnerving scenes in horror movie history. Freddy’s often laid-back and teasing manner gives him the aura of a bogeyman, a real character of legend and scare stories, which is not as easily said of other slasher villains, such as Jason or Michael Myers.

In addition to creating this icon of horror cinema, the film’s ingenuity comes from the dream element. Within a nightmare, Freddy can defy all laws of nature and logic, and this entirely subverts the audience’s expectations since just about anything can happen on screen. Naturally, the standard horror tropes are still present – nonchalantly walking into dark places alone and shouting ‘hello?’, or the abundance of negligent parents. But the real joy of the film comes from these completely unexpected moments (Freddy’s tongue poking out of the telephone is a memorable example).

It is a slasher horror classic, and so, as you’d expect, it’s not lacking in gore (over five hundred gallons of fake blood were allegedly used during filming), and the physical effects give these scenes a visceral and raw feel, which is perhaps not so common in later horror films that rely more on computer-generated effects. So, if you seek out the film, looking for the nostalgic innocence and thrills of something like Stranger Things, there’s no danger that you’ll fall asleep.

Image: Double Feature via Flickr

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