Viking Night: A Nightmare on Elm Street
By Bruce Hall
September 8, 2015
Since I can only write about one Wes Craven movie today, I feel like this one is kind of a no-brainer. Purists might recommend I start at the beginning, with The Last House on the Left. You (or by now, your kids) might identify more with Scream, or one of its infinite number of sequels. Although if you do, please accept my sincere hope that your transition from coma patient to normal life is a smooth one. For my money, the obvious candidate is A Nightmare on Elm Street. With a name like “Wes Craven," your career options are either “Batman’s nemesis” or “horror movie icon."
Batman should be grateful the latter was chosen.
Freddy Krueger is either the McDonald’s or the Burger King of the horror universe, depending on where you come down on the whole “Freddy vs Jason” argument. Obviously, Michael Myers is part of this conversation, so I suppose one of them has to be Wendy’s. Then again, you’ve got to consider Leatherface, whom I would encourage you to compare with whatever regional burger chain is popular where you live. But my point is that A Nightmare on Elm Street is a genre-defining event of the first order, and Wes Craven is the brains behind it. So, Wes Craven is kind of a big deal.
So with his passing, I decided to take a look at his best known piece of work, and I wondered how well it would still hold up. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I call the slasher genre “outdated,” so I was prepared for this to be a potentially childhood ruining experience. But then as I’ve just implied, I’m not exactly a casual observer here. A Nightmare on Elm Street took a badly shopworn genre and breathed new life into it, and I wasn’t too young to appreciate that when I first saw it. So, I was equally prepared for the possibility there might be a Freddy fanboy inside of me, all too forgiving where bitter mockery would be more appropriate.
The shocking fact is, I managed to watch the whole thing from an almost completely subjective point of view. Almost. A Nightmare on Elm Street is absorbing in the same way as a John Hughes film. It's implausible almost to the point of self awareness, but as an exercise in symbolism, it's almost impossible to look away from. What's great about Elm Street is that this involves a supernatural place somewhere between the realm of dreams and the waking world. And, also, teenagers getting butchered like cattle. And it all starts with a notorious child killer named Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund).
I'm going to go ahead and lead with that. The story is that Krueger killed about 20 neighborhood kids but beat the rap because "someone signed the search warrant in the wrong place." While you might be surprised to hear there's a "wrong" place to sign a search warrant (thanks for nothing, Law & Order reruns), you won't be to hear that concerned parents took it upon themselves to right that wrong. I won’t spoil all the film’s secrets, but let’s just say it involves a fair amount of rage and some gasoline.
Problem solved, everyone lived happily ever after.