Doctor Gash's Top 10 Greatest Horror Movies... EVER! #8 - A Nightmare on Elm Street
Assuming I haven't been run out of town on a rail by you Dreadies after the first two films on this list, I'll carry on with the next entry. It's completely coincidental that two of the first three films on this list are directed by Wes Craven; the dude just made some badass films.
And perhaps none more badass than A Nightmare on Elm Street.
#8-A Nightmare on Elm Street
"Whatever you do, don't fall asleep."
Before he introduced the world to the horrors of Elm Street, Wes Craven had already established himself as a masterful horror writer/director with the releases of such films as The Last House on the Left in 1972, The Hills Have Eyes in ’77 and Swamp Thing in ’82, but it wasn’t until November 9, 1984, when Craven unleashed a horribly burned, supernatural child-killer named Freddy Krueger on the world in A Nightmare on Elm Street, that he became iconic. Krueger was an instant hit, and Craven became a horror legend.
On an original budget of $1.8 million, A Nightmare on Elm Street would go on to create a horror empire. After the original there were several sequels, "Freddy’s Nightmares" television series, an eventual crossover with Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees, tons of merchandise and a 2010 remake. But it all paled in comparison to the strength of the original, which single-handedly fueled all that was to come later.
The feel of A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of absolutely helplessness. Nancy and the teens of Springwood can avoid Krueger simply by not sleeping. But how long can you stay awake? And eventually they are unable to fight sleep any longer and succumb to Freddy, falling into nightmares horrifically constructed by Krueger himself. Once again, you have a great horror film based around the fact that the victims are absolutely trapped by the antagonist. Trapped victims are certainly part of the equation that totals up to great horror.
The premise for the story came to Craven upon reading a series of articles in the Los Angeles Times about three Southeast Asian men who died in their sleep. They were refugees who fled to American from Vietnam and had been experiencing horrific nightmares. Each of the men died in his sleep during one of these episodes. Craven saw the three separate stories of the men on three separate occasions and crafted the idea of a killer who attacked while the victims were asleep. As for Freddy Krueger, that was an easy one. As a young man, Craven had been bullied at school by a child named, guess what, Fred Krueger. (Incidentally, the leader of the gang of rapists/murderers from The Last House on the Left played by the late David Hess was named Krug. Think this bully got to Craven a little bit?)
And although Wes Craven created A Nightmare on Elm Street, Robert Englund was the man who actually stepped into the Freddy Krueger character and brought it to life. In fact, Englund is one of only two men to play a horror character eight consecutive times. (Doug Bradley as Pinhead in the Hellraiser series is the other.) Englund became Krueger; even when not in makeup, one could not help but think of the charred, malevolent Freddy Krueger when looking at the always jovial Robert Englund.
But Englund would not be the only film icon to emerge from A Nightmare on Elm Street. Jackie Earle Haley (who would later go on to play Krueger in the 2010 remake) came to the auditions for the original film. A friend accompanied him. That friend was Johnny Depp, who landed the role of Glen Lantz in Nightmare and would go on to be one of the most successful screen actors of our time. Not a bad recovery from being sucked through your bed to a particularly splattery death.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is often lumped in with its counterpart, Friday the 13th, but Nightmare is on a different level. Sure, Jason Voorhees is an iconic character in his own right, but Friday the 13th had a tendency to get repetitive. Nightmare, even the sequels, was nothing if not creative. Maybe you didn’t agree with some of the antics of the later films, like Freddy being the giant puppeteer for instance, or the roach motel death, but they were always unique. And come on, they were pretty cool. But regardless of your opinion of the later films, there was nothing hokey about the original.
Simply put, what writer/director Wes Craven created with A Nightmare on Elm Street was nothing short of genius. Moviegoers could feel the incredible tension... and the original film was damn scary. Remember the scene in the alley with the giant long arms or the creepy Freddy girl in the school hallway? Everyone is familiar with how difficult it is to struggle to stay awake, and knowing Freddy Krueger was waiting for each victim to nod off made for great entertainment.
Yes, it must be said that the series made some unfortunate choices with Krueger’s personality and quality control of the films, but this does not take away from the fact that the original was so impressive that moviegoers would continue to attend A Nightmare on Elm Street sequels (and a horrid remake) even after a string of disappointments, hoping the filmmakers would be able to recapture the essence of the original. They never did manage to equal the initial offering, but it was a tough act to follow. In fact, it was almost impossible to top, which is why A Nightmare on Elm Street earned its spot among the Top 10 Greatest Horror Movies... Ever!
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