A Nightmare on Elm Street ★★★★★

Tina (Amanda Wyss) is in a factory like setting full of steam and burning pipes. She’s overwhelmed by fear as she traverses this damp and unhygienic environment. As our eyes traverse this hostile landscape we see the skulking figure of Fred Kruger (Robert Englund) just out of Tina’s range of view. He’s under her. Then he’s behind her. The camera makes sure to give us an extreme close-up of Freddy’s eyes as he’s peering from behind some obstruction at Tina. His eye’s aren’t just simply enjoying this cat and mouse game. There’s innate hate in those eyes. No pleasure. Perhaps there’s a tinge of lust in them. And yet it’s not bigger than the unmitigated need to kill. These are the eyes of a killer. Pure and simple. I’m sure that Amanda Wyss had no idea that she was about to be Freddy Kruger’s christening into the pantheon of horror icons. This is Freddy Kruger’s first onscreen victim. According to the lore he had many other victims which is why he’s a dead vengeful spirit. The parents of Elm Street cornered Freddy in the abandoned facility where he committed his horrible crimes and burned him to death. Little did they know that he would come back in spirit form and torment their teenage children in their dreams! You see he was child murderer. The most despicable of crimes. And yet again I keep coming back to those eyes. Whatever is motivating him to murder is not a human motivation. He’s not lusting or suffering some kind of human compulsion. He’s pure evil. He was born to kill. 
     Director Wes Craven probably had no clue what he was about to unleash on the cinematic landscape when he first released A Nightmare on Elm Street. Freddy would go on to become a pop culture Icon and end up in music videos and even get his own series for television. And not just that! In a strange pre-MCU move Freddy would crossover with Friday the 13th’s antagonist Jason Voorhees and have a horror icon brawl! It’s safe to say that whatever teeth (or sharp claws) Freddy had were filed down to little harmless nubs by the time his pop culture status turned him into a horror mascot. Yet when I find myself really reminiscing on the character I feel compelled to hold him alongside the greats such as Legosi’s Dracula, Korloff’s Frankenstein monster, and the Gill-Man from Creature From the Black Lagoon. None of that could’ve been possible if it wasn’t for Wes Craven’s first feature film in the seven film saga (that’s not counting the remake). Would I be wrong to consider this movie an American classic?! I think it is. I would love to see it inducted into the Criterion Collection and join the ranks of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs. This movie is legitimately that good. Seeing it on the big screen last night really helped to solidify the film for me as a true classic of not just horror cinema, but cinema in general. 
     Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) is the lead protagonist of the film. You can call her the final girl if you want. She seems to live up to that designation and yet Nancy is the perfect foil for Freddy. She’s so vulnerable and innocent. Of all of horrors final girls I feel that Nancy is the one that when you look at her you instantly don’t want her to die. You almost don’t want her in the movie! You don’t want to see such a purely good person in peril. To me this is masterful casting on the casting departments part. Langenkamp’s acting could be viewed in a very underrated fashion because she has to convince us that she’s capable of girding her loins and actually standing up to Freddy unlike her other cast mates who are such easy prey. Nancy seems so innocent, and that is in part due to Langenkamp’s aura, so her work as an actor is cut out for her. She has to be assertive and capable of besting a killer who was born to kill. Not even the grave could hold him!
     Craven’s visual aesthetic is some of the best I’ve ever seen in a horror movie. The alley-way that Tina runs through when Freddy is pursuing her is a dark blue with shadows just out of the frame. The positioning and blocking of her character along with the lighting is beyond good. When it’s Nancy’s turn Craven also creates a masterful dreamscape for her character to run in. Again these are real environments that we see day to day. Craven is making a statement here. He’s not turning their environments into fantasy environments. He’s trusting cinema. The fact that they are in front of the camera being filmed is already creating this dreamlike state. So instead Craven leans on the tricks of the trade. He lights the hell out of the scenes. He lets the camera capture all of the gravelly details of the streets and fences. Cinema is a dream. Give us pure cinema and your are in fact putting us into a dream! It’s Craven’s confidence that makes this movie great! So when you are watching this movie it’s not just the typical scares that are pulling you in. You get over those after several rewatches. It’s the details of shots, the composition, and the editing that pulls you in. In other words, the craft of filmmaking is the movies secret weapon. And the imagination!
    When Freddy’s glove comes out of the bathtub water right from between Nancy’s legs, can you think of any other iconic sequences in horror that surpass that one?! Okay if you watch a lot of movies then perhaps you can. But you know that shot is one of the most ubiquitous horror images ever created. Anytime you see a horror montage that shot is in it! That’s one iconic image out of many! Craven’s macabre imagination is the other secret weapon of this movie. A lot of the sequels have surreal imagery like this movie does, but a lot of what they do is more because of special effects. Craven uses special effects in this movie and yet it’s more minimal by comparison to the sequels. What fuels the surreal quality of this movie is Craven’s imagination. Nobody else working with this kind of budget could’ve come up with the stuff Craven delivers here. Craven single handily did the heavy lifting for the entirety of this franchise. Hell he couldn’t even live up to himself by the time he got around to directing the seventh entry. We see the movie now and know how a lot of this stuff is done. We’ve seen enough documentaries about the special effects. But I don’t chalk up this movies success to special effects. This is movie magic! This is a production that knows its way around a set and knows how to use its prop department well. They know how to fool the human eye. They know the secrets of manipulating what’s in front of the lenses to convince us for a short period of time that the world we are experiencing is being bended by maniacal killer. This is one of the classic movie magic movies. 
    My wife laughed a lot watching this movie. I told her a lot of the movie isn’t meant to be funny. I think that most movies grow dated over time. The parts that worked years ago seem comical (like Nancy hiding a coffeemaker under her bed). However, that’s how you see the unmitigated classic underneath. I look passed what is supposed to keep me distracted and see the very lifeblood of cinema flowing through every scene, every shot, and every manipulated scare. This is a crew of people devoted to the religion of the image. The frame. Splicing and putting it together to transport us for almost two hours. I love this movie. I love it because it’s a movies movie. It’s a horror movie yes, and yet it succeeds in transporting you whether you’re scared of it or not. You’re temporarily part of a different world and you are at the hands of a master. Wes Craven. Great filmmaker! Great movie! Can’t recommend it enough!

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