A Nightmare on Elm Street ★★★★★

The Nightmare on Elm Street series is without a doubt my favorite film series of all time. ALL TIME. And you might think that’s pretty strange because I don’t consider any of it’s 9 films to be among my favorites in general, and not really even among my top 10 horror films either. That’s because I see them as one gigantic film. Their true strength lies in how they unfolded. 8 pieces of a puzzle, assembled as one (plus one shitty remake that we’ll get to later.) I’m aware that there are plenty of continuity flaws between them all and the tone and style of each changes wildly, but I don’t care. I love them. I love the psychology of dreams and the correlation they have to a person’s psyche. I love the cruel clown style that Robert Englund plays Freddy Krueger as. I love kids who adults don’t believe banding together to fight supernatural evil entities. I love the music, the set pieces, the complex plans that must be put together to kill an unstoppable evil. I love pretty much everything about them. Deal with it.

So now Letterboxd exists. And I have this little indexing of films and it all feels so incomplete without my favorite series. And since I have never actually seen the series in the right contextual order (I originally saw them 3, 2, 1, 4, 6, 5, 7, 8, 9) it seems like a good time to revisit them. Keep in mind I’m unbelievably biased with these films, so you’re going to see many questionable 5 star reviews from here on out. Let’s do it. It’s a GUIDEMARE ON ELM STREET!

And of course, we must start with part one. I came a bit late to the party when I first saw this at age 8, as I ended up seeing this film for the first time in 1992 when Freddy Kreuger was already an established character and had essentially jumped the shark. At that point I had already seen him rap in a video by the group The Fat Boys, owned a set of Freddy Kreuger trading cards, and had already been yelled at by my mother for masking taping butter knives to my fingers and hiding behind the couch, waiting for people to sit down so I could do an “AH GOTCHYA!” arm drape over grab. As you can tell, I had a great childhood.

Watching it then was a little underwhelming for me because based on what I had seen in parts 3 and 4 this film is a lot less Freddy centric (he actually has less than 7 minutes of screen time throughout) and the jokes and elaborate dream sequences are a lot tamer compared to later chapters in the series. It’s obvious that this film was conceived as a one off idea and that we were never meant to root for a child murdering sociopath just because he’s a funny guy.

This is essentially an origin story for the character as it’s explained who he is and why he does what he does, but you’re not really given much insight into HOW things all came about and what can be done to stop him. The entire film takes place over a 3 day period and the timeframe gives you and the characters no time to figure out motives or a plan of escape. Everyone here runs on instinct and adrenaline and the main kids Nancy and Glen are left almost entirely to their own devices with all the adults in town clueless or helpless or both. The full on creepiness vibe is in full effect throughout the picture as the dream sequences are seamless and you never really know when characters are asleep or awake until it’s too late. The film is also full of nicely timed jump scares and disturbing imagery, turning nails on a blackboard, little girls jumping rope, and sheep into loaded foreboding. In particular, the music here deserves a lot of credit. Charles Bernstein’s mixture of classical piano to create Nightmare’s signature theme along with his use of sharp, echoing and pounding techno during tense scenes and fights sets the mood perfectly and it definitely makes every scene much more ominous.

Director Wes Craven deserves tons of credit too for his creative use of ingenuity to combat his lack of a big budget, as the 2 huge signature death scenes here still hold up extremely well. With the use of rotating set pieces, geysers of fake blood and the idea to shoot backwards rather than forwards, Craven showed he was quite capable of handling intense psychological horrors of the mind to go along with the raw brutality he was previously known for in his films The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. (Of course he should be trusted to do such things, as he has degrees in both psychology and philosophy and has stated time and time again that his films always have a deeper meaning and reflect on bigger issues he’s concerned with.)

Although not my favorite film of the series, enough cannot be said about the importance of the original film and it’s groundbreaking idea to merge the dream world and the real world with real life consequences. The sequels really got away from the aspect of Freddy’s power coming from the fear he caused instead of the kills he made and that’s really the heart of the story here, which is something I’m glad that later films got back into.

Sure enough, watching it again pulled me in instantly and I was surprised by a few scenes I guess I had forgotten about. But watching it just start to finish as a film is impossible for me now, because I kept happening upon big scene after big scene that I remembered and I’d watch it like I was that 8 year old boy all over again. Just wide eyed and cheering inside after it happened. It’s kind of the horror movie equivalent of watching Andrew Dice Clay do standup comedy in 1989. At the time, he had become so popular that people in his audience would come and yell out his punch lines as he was saying them, and instead of laughing, they’d cheer afterwards. Their reactions weren’t involuntary anymore. And neither are mine. I can’t physically be scared of Freddy Krueger in any capacity, I guess because of my upbringing with him, but I can always root for him to get a big jar of gasoline thrown on him by a chick with oatmeal on her ankles.

Does Nancy survive? Will Freddy Krueger return again? Are you still reading this? Then tune in for A Guidemare on Elm Street: Part 2 Freddy’s Revenge! Coming soon! Mwahahahaha!

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