A slain child murderer returns to haunt the dreams of the children whose parents killed him.
Freddy is, in my humble opinion, the coolest of the 70s and 80s slasher villains. He might not be as hysterical as Chucky (“Child’s Play”), he might not be as legitimately terrifying as Michael Myers (“Halloween”), and he might not be as brutal as Jason Voorhees (“Friday the 13th”), but Freddy knows how to put on a heck of a show, and no matter what outing of the franchise you pick, Freddy at least has a couple cool moments that are wholly original and creepy. To clarify just a bit further: I’ve watched quite a few entries into quite a few of the staple slasher franchises, and the character of Freddy is consistently the most entertaining; as far as quality goes, the original “Halloween” takes the cake for being the best of the American slashers (though it still has nothing on the films of Argento!- “Deep Red”, “Suspiria”). With that out of the way, lets dive in to figure out what makes Freddy so great.
“One, Two, Freddy’s Coming For You…”
After Tina (Amanda Wyss, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”) is mysteriously murdered and Tina’s boyfriend Rod (Jsu Garcia, “Predator II”) is blamed for it, Tina’s friend Nancy (Heather Langenkamp, “New Nightmare”) starts to investigate the crime with her boyfriend Glen (Johnny Depp, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”), believing for certain that Rod is innocent. Meanwhile, Nancy starts to experience strange nightmares that always revolve around a badly burned man in an ugly striped sweater, a dirty hat, and wearing a glove with knives for fingers (Robert Englund, “A Nightmare on Elm Street II: Freddy’s Revenge”).
So, Freddy’s character, we learn about halfway through the film (I suppose minor spoilers if you’ve never seen this before), was a child murderer whom escaped conviction based on a technicality, and who was then chased down and murdered by a few parents. I actually really like the darkness of Freddy’s origin story, because it implies that not only is he evil, but the darkness spreads even where there was ostensibly light. When true justice fails, the parents take matters into their own hands, and in doing so, they commit their own crime, which comes back to haunt them in the worst way possible: by taking vengeance out on their children. There’s a lot of implied darkness behind the surface level story, and it helps to flush out Freddy’s world a bit more.
I actually really enjoy the irreverent approach to Freddy’s dreams too. Most of the dream sequences are slightly cartoonish in nature, but that cartoonish nature doesn’t detract from the creepiness of it, if anything, it amplifies it, and I believe the reason for that is because of Freddy’s draw to children. Remember that Freddy’s chosen victims are usually younger people or teenagers, so it makes sense that the stuff that scares them might be a little bit more fantastical, plus, in putting most of the actual horror sequences in the dream world, we never really know what is going to happen next. There are moments where we’re wandering with Nancy through the halls of her school, and then she takes a turn and suddenly she’s in Freddy’s boiler room; it’s creepy and it keeps you on your toes. Freddy is also able to contort himself into weird shapes and do weird things to his body without any apparent repercussions, which, in turn, makes him more terrifying. How do you kill someone that cuts off his own fingers as a joke? How get around someone who can stretch his arms out across an entire alleyway?
Another great thing about this movie is it isn’t afraid to spew gallons of blood all over the place, and do it in some pretty intense ways. Tina’s murder, which sort of kicks off the events, is freaking brutal. She’s tossed up on the ceiling and thrown about, and then suddenly claw marks rip through her pajamas. We also witness most of this murder from Tina’s boyfriend Rod’s perspective, so all we see is Tina being flung helplessly around on the ceiling before she’s murdered. Towards the end of the film there’s a moment when one of the characters is sucked into his bed and the room is filled with a geyser of blood; as far as memorable images go in horror flicks, that one has certainly stuck with me.
The world building surrounding Freddy’s character is what keeps me coming back to the “Elm Street” series, and its in this initial entry that we establish all of the most important rules of the dream world. I’ve always been drawn to more fantastical horror- I prefer the Lovecraftian beast in “The Thing” to Michael Myers in “Halloween”; I prefer the ghost of Mr. Grady in “The Shining” to the hockey-masked killer Jason in “Friday the 13th”- so to me it makes sense that I like this weird dream world that Freddy drags his victims into.
My biggest problem with the film actually comes at the end, when Nancy’s mom (Ronee Blakey, “Nashville”) is killed and for some reason the bed starts glowing and she gets sucked into it. I get that Freddy is just supposed to have taken her, but where is the body? The rest of the victims were left in the real world (except for Johnny, but he explodes), why does she disappear? There are a few other oversights like that, where the rules don’t quite make sense with the rest of the film, but for the most part I enjoy this movie from start to finish.
While I’m sure modern audiences wont find this 80s slasher flick to be as terrifying as films like “Hereditary” or “The Witch”, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is a classic horror flick that I believe is essential horror viewing for any cinephile worth their salt. Freddy is the most inventive slasher of the 80s, and he’s one of the most entreating as well. Though I wouldn’t say all of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies are worth watching, many of the sequels do have their merits; I’ve reviewed all the films in the franchise this year too, so if you’re interested, check out my thoughts on all of them!
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