Friday, May 7, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

A Nightmare on Elm Street

The final in our week of horror is the classic A Nightmare on Elm Street. This is one of those seminal horror franchises. Similar to the Exorcist and The Shining, this movie sparked a large array of techniques and styles that have come to be horror film clichés. As with the other two, this is an extremely effective horror film. Not only does it feature a very young Johnny Depp, and an absolutely stupendous villain, but it also is very effective at playing mind games with the viewer, tricking you into feeling ease, and then unleashing a fright designed to get you to jump.
The story of this film is something most people are familiar with. It opens in a boiler room, where a hot blondie is running from a disfigured man with knives for hands. Just as the killer closes in, the girl is woken up. The film then cuts to the girl recounting her adventure to her friends. She tells them she’s frightened, and asks them to stay with her. In the middle of the night, the girl’s goofball boyfriend shows up, and they have sex, leaving her friends to their own devices. Later everyone falls asleep, and the girl wakes up and goes outside, where she meets the villain again. She makes a run for it, but the villain catches up and just as she’s about to get gored, the scene cuts back to the room, where it turns out that she’s been dreaming again. But she doesn’t wake up, and out of nowhere, the girl’s gut gets ripped open, and she is torn to shreds by nothing. The next day, blondie’s best friend, Nancy Thompson, begins to have similar dreams. For the rest of the film, Nancy has to fight sleep deprivation and insanity while she tries to find a way to fight the villain.
Personally I didn’t think the film was particularly well acted, with the sole exception of Robert Englund, who played Freddy Krueger, the villain. The rest of it just feels like cheesy 80s acting. However the director of the film, Wes Craven, who also did the Scream films and The Hills Have Eyes, does a great job. The film features many clichés, and it was hard for me to tell if they were his own design and made them into clichés, or if he was just copying them. Either way, he does a good job with them. The shots, were artfully done, and created a lot of suspense. A favorite of mine was the use of shaky cam in the first kill of the movie.
The movie also does a very good job with sound direction. It’s interesting, because throughout the film, you actually don’t see very much of Freddy. Most of his presence is done through sound, and I love it. Scenes where Nancy is looking for Freddy, and all you hear is the scraping sound of his knives, or his distinctive chuckle. It works extremely well, and every time you hear it, you feel the hairs on the back of your neck standing up.
The film also does a really good job blurring the lines between dreams and reality. The film doesn’t really show the character go to sleep. Often times the film will show a character for several minutes before you realize it’s a dream, and really adds to the feeling of paranoia in the film, as you start to fall into the idea that awake=safe and sleep=danger. It also plays with dreams within dreams which is a big part of the ending. The ending is also very strange. I won’t give the ending away, but all I’ll say is it is very confusing, and I’m still trying to figure out what happened. I guess it’s just another thing that makes this film so good.
All in all, this film is just an effective horror film. What does that mean? Well, if the last week has shown us anything, it’s that an effective horror film makes a good use of suspense. Horror isn’t about gore or violence, or big scary monsters. Horror needs two things to be truly scary. Those are a sense of the unknown, and some connection to reality. Every film this week has done this. The films are well aware of this, and use the sense of the unknown to build suspense to a thrilling climax. I used to shrug off horror, even avoid it, but I’m really coming to appreciate it as a genre, and am really looking forward to the next horror week, which should be coming soon!

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