Why You Should Watch: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

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How none of these movies ever incorporated a character attempting to use a dream catcher is beyond me.

This movie is essential viewing for anyone interested in horror. I would encourage you to watch this alone with the volume turned up as loud as you can stomach. This movie is nauseatingly frightening in many portions, and that sensation is often lost because people go into this film not taking it seriously. There are so many little things to love about this film. The way it captures the dreamlike sensation of being exhausted. The touches of humor. The iconic soundtrack and eerie sound effects – nails screeching on steel; goats bleating; startling stinger noises. The creative backstory. But there are three particular aspects I want potential viewers to know about:

Inspired by a true story (!)

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A lot of careful thought went into maximizing the fright this film induces. Writer and Director Wes Craven was raised in a strict Baptist household, and drew inspiration for some of his films from true stories he read in newspapers. Usually the phrase “inspired by a true story” means a horror film was sort of inspired by Ed Gein or someone being spooked by something one time. In this case, the true story is actually pretty creepy. Craven had read stories about young, otherwise physically healthy refugees who would claim something was trying to kill them in their sleep. The young men would then refuse to sleep, and eventually die once they finally did fall back asleep. Read this to learn more.

The Villain

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Obviously Freddy is frightening in this film because we all ultimately need to sleep so you can’t outrun him. If you just know Freddy as a wisecracking joker, you will probably be surprised at how unnerving he is in this first film. Every little detail about him is meant to be disturbing. Freddy Krueger’s glove is meant to inspire a prehistoric fear of being clawed to death by an animal. His sweater colors were chosen to purposely to bother our eyes – something Wes Craven read in Scientific American. Most of all he went after children before being burned to death – something Michael Myers didn’t even do till 1988.

Our Hero

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When you watch this, pay careful attention to our protagonist Nancy Thompson. She is my absolute favorite final girl of all time, and it’s easy to lose sight of how special she is between the shocking scares and intrigue of the storyline. Nancy is the icon I use on this blog and my Twitter because I absolutely adore her. I gush more about her in this spoiler heavy post about underappreciated final girls. In this movie you get to watch her yell at Johnny Depp in his first feature film, and pull off a Home Alone boobytrapping montage 6 years before it was a thing. Her final confrontation with Freddy is one of the most inspiring and ingenious endings to a slasher film.

IF NOTHING ELSE WATCH: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

OKAY BUT SERIOUSLY YOU SHOULD ALSO AT LEAST WATCH: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

IF YOU CAN WATCH: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare,  A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master; A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (unpopular opinion: I prefer this to 4 and think its handling of teen pregnancy and discussing abortion are handled extremely well); Wes Craven’s A New Nightmare (meta before Wes Craven’s later masterpiece Scream made it cool!)

IF YOU WANT TO LAUGH/GO FOR BROKE WATCH:  A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (Just watch this and try to keep reminding yourself the creators insist they didn’t realize how queer this movie is. Also there’s an exploding parrot. This film nearly derailed the whole series); Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare; A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) (Even more unpopular opinion: I know most would just expect a snarky comment about how bad this is and an insistence no one watch it. Don’t get me wrong – this film does a lot of stuff terribly wrong and makes a slick, cash grab mockery of the original. But there are visuals and moments that I really like in it (the opening scene with the alternating green and red lights in the diner, Quentin’s dream, the final disturbing twist). So just think about it. But 1 and 3 are pretty much universally revered and deserve your attention first.

BONUS! Treat yourself by watching the only Freddy vs. Jason that matters in my book.

Just kidding you should probably watch Freddy vs. Jason if you also want to laugh (and cringe!) and go for broke. That movie took over a decade to make, and all the different potential scripts are detailed in the excellent Slash of the Titans: The Road to Freddy vs. Jason by Dustin McNeill. Here is my review of the book including my favorite tidbits:

This book details 10 (!) different scripts written over the course a decade to bring together Freddy and Jason. It is well organized and provides interesting insights into how people approached the material. Many found the tonal differences in each series to be hard to overcome when trying to combine them into a shared universe. Here are some of my favorite tidbits:

  • Almost all the rejected scripts involved tying together the backstories of the 2 characters (usually by making Freddy a camp counselor at Camp Crystal Lake and typically the abuser/murderer of a 10-year-old Jason). 
  • Many of them involve a Freddy cult 
  • One script involved Jason being a real life serial killer on trial. This was written during the O.J. trial and the writers were trying to create a fictional “trial of the century.” 
  • One writer begrudgingly wrote a rejected version of the script as a favor and said “When you get to the point you are making something like Batman vs. Superman that’s a pretty clear sign both franchises have run out of steam.” – he went on to write Batman vs. Superman 
  • In almost all of them Jason is set up to varying degrees of sympathy as the “hero” and one to root for in the showdown. Jason is a murderer but he is also a victim – the most sympathetic read is he kills people who behave in the same way that caused his neglectful death. If he talked he would probably grumble “get off my lawn” while swinging his machete around. Freddy on the other hand clearly takes pleasure in killing people which makes it easier to make Jason the antihero. 
  • Jason won in most of the scripts (5 vs. 3) and I will argue to this day he won in the 2003 movie

One thought on “Why You Should Watch: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

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