Back in the early 80s, a young Wes Craven (then known for 'Last House on the Left' and 'The Hills Have Eyes') figured he had a cool idea, and just wanted to get it out there. He faced rejection upon rejection until producer Bob Shaye finally gave him a chance at the then small and independent New Line Cinemas. Little did Craven (or anyone else) know just how much of an impact he would have on the film industry. Craven’s name has since become almost as synonymous with horror as Stephen King.
To break it down, the release of 'Elm Street' revolutionized slasher horror, by showing sometimes a big lug in a mask doesn't quite cut it. The film brought Wes Craven into the spotlight, put a small, independent New Line Cinemas on the map, and reached out to a mass audience based on the idea that everyone has to sleep and therefore has to dream. Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) has since become an icon in the pages of horror so big that even as a little kid in the 80s, I can remember my peers talking about him. I was too scared to watch this stuff at that age, but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise later on. By that, I mean to say that when I finally did get around to watching these, I was watching them with fresh eyes, setting focus on what genuinely frightened me as a kid. With this came a very bizarre nostalgia where I was able to appreciate how effective the horror aspect once was to me
I had my first real dose of Freddy around the age of 9 with 'Freddy's Dead' and, well, the film was effective to the point that I had a genuine problem trying to get to sleep that night. I have to thank my lucky stars my first dose wasn't any of the other films because, let's face it, 'Freddy's Dead' is easily the least scary of the series (more on that with the 'Freddy's Dead' review). As time passed, I pretty much just avoided horror altogether, but there are still a few funny and embarrassing stories along the way. My curiosity got the better of me in my late teens, triggered by, of all things, the ‘Simpsons Treehouse of Horror VI' segment, 'A Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace', which I found was instantly one of my favorites, because it was something I was at least familiar with, and I was close to Bart’s age when I first experienced an ‘Elm Street’ movie. I finally found myself wondering what Freddy's origin story was, so I went on a rental spree.
Back in the days of Blockbuster Video, they had this deal where you could rent six classics at a time for a decent amount of money and have them for a whole week. Not including 'New Nightmare' at the time, I found myself in the perfect position to rent all six of the original series and I told myself I'd do one a night and play catch-up. I had a lot of fun that week, but there has always been something truly fascinating about the first film to me, even to this day. On its surface, it was a corny, yet mildly frightening horror movie from the 80s. To most, it’s a film that has its place in the cinematic horror history books, and it gets decent respect. However, a lot of other Fred-Heads and I are further intrigued by what went on behind the scenes. Stairs made of Bisquick and carpet samples, a rotating room, and a wall of spandex among other things were what finally made my brain click and say "If they're done right, practical effects are way better than any CG" (especially when it comes to horror). Sure, it’s a fun, classic horror movie, but when you get in-depth about the making of it, things get pretty interesting – almost a “How To” for making a horror movie on a limited budget.
Plot-wise, I think most people (even if they aren’t fans) probably know the basics of what it’s about. For those potentially out of the loop, however, a group of teens; Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), her boyfriend, Glen (Johnny Depp – in his very first film role), Tina (Amanda Wyss) and Rod (Jsu Garcia – then credited as Nick Corri) are all experiencing nightmares. They all dream of the same mysterious, fedora-rockin’, Christmas sweater-wearing dark figure with claws on his right hand. After one of them is brutally murdered while sleeping, Nancy decides to take it upon herself to figure out how it happened. Her efforts lead her to unravelling a dark past that includes her parents hunting down and torching the same figure she and the others have been seeing in their nightmares. Soon Nancy realizes that their collective dreams really are trying to kill her and her friends, based on vengeance. What’s even scarier, however, is that she may need to take matters into her own hands upon finding that her parents (John Saxon and Ronee Blakley) and other authority figures simply won’t take her seriously.
We take this one for granted, I think, and a lot of people I show this to pass it off as a cheesy, albeit entertaining 80s horror flick. However, the idea that so much of it is based on the idea that some parents don’t listen to their kids speaks to some very real-world issues, such as mental health. It’s about when children talk to parents about something that’s really bothering them, but they are brushed aside and told they’re “just being silly”. The idea here is to make the situation a very odd extreme. Nancy’s parents just want her to get some sleep, insisting she’ll feel better about things after some rest. However, they seemingly refuse to listen to her reasons for not being able to sleep, probably passing it off as mental stress due to one of her friends randomly being killed. The bottom line is that the film illustrates the idea that we really need to listen if something is bothering someone we love and care about – even if it does involve a mysterious shadowy figure trying to kill us in our dreams.
Nowadays, it’s interesting to think that the concept of sleep paralysis is out in the open and very real. So apparently we have progressed on this matter fairly well. Of course, such things don’t end with what happens when we go to bed though. In reality, this film could be used to simply put emphasis on the idea that we need to listen to troubled people, no matter what the case may be. The world is full of very real victims with very real problems, not to be ignored and swept under the rug. In a way, Freddy, himself, could represent any number of troublesome things invading someone’s mind. I think that’s what really speaks to me about the story here. Sure, you have your odd scenes of “WTF” and things often come across as cheesetastic. But that’s all just surface area to the film. I implore potential fans to look upon this film with a new set of eyes after reading all of this and ask yourself, what does Freddy represent to you on a personal level?
Body Count: 4
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