Let me take you back to 1985…Six year old Josh is sitting on the top bunk of his bedroom. The bottom bunk is taken up by my younger brother. My parents have rented a scary movie, but who cares- it’s way past our bedtimes. My older brother, who would have been 12 at the time, is watching the movie with them. I can hear the TV clearly from the living room down the hall. For some reason, my parents never used the much bigger room at the far end of the house for movies- in fact, as far as I recall, it was mostly a room filled with plants and furniture that was never used, but who am I to say where they should watch their flicks on VHS- and there was that big bay window next to the recliner for a nice view. The sound was intense from what I recall, and the scratching on metal sound of claws for fingers, the high pitch shriek coming from each and every claw hit, it was all pretty terrifying. Mix that with that ominous music theme, the blood-curdling screams, and the rest of it- these are the things that create horrifying memories. The night my parents decided to sit down to Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street is, as far as I can recall, my first true memory of horror…unless you count my encounter with Sammy Terry as I awoke on the couch alone late one night.
When I think of the Nightmare on Elm Street series today, I laugh. Freddy is, by far, the lamest of all the horror villains. He’s not even remotely scary, and part of that, especially in the sequels, was the point. He became a caricature of a horror villain soon after part 1, and he stayed that way pretty much throughout. I haven’t yet seen the remake, and I’m not all that wild about taking the time, but as far as the series goes, Freddy is a pretty comical character. That being said- Nightmare on Elm Street, the original film, is scary as shit. Craven, in points, makes Freddy sort of mischievous, but he’s never over the top, he’s never really comical, and even when things get extreme, Freddy is still a monster to be terrified of. That’s where the sequels fail (in being scary, they weren’t terrible movies in a broader sense), and Craven’s vision of a child murderer who haunts your dreams holds up pretty well. And the scenery here is deviously fantastic. The scene where Freddy protrudes through the wall above Nancy’s bed…the scene where a recently murdered Tina is being dragged around the halls of the school in a body bag, dripping a trail of blood, the Johnny Depp death scene with a literal geyser of blood- the kills here are original, they’re visually stunning, and they’re haunting. Even the halfway funny scenes with a massively long-armed Freddy scraping the sides of the buildings as he walks down the dark alleyway are wonderful. Never do we see the over the top Freddy of the sequels, and for that, I am thankful. The sequels represent, in my view, an important part of the horror movie canon, in a broad sense, but there’s little doubt the differences in the two structures.
On a final note- it seems to me that Nancy represents the final girl in the truest sense of the word. Well, minus the fact that she is quite feminine and doesn’t have any male-like qualities. She’s tough, she is the one person throughout the whole film who realizes what’s going on, and more than that, she’s the one person who decides, immediately, to go out and do something about the bad stuff that’s taking place. She wastes little time in deciding to go after Freddy, and in the end, she is the one who puts an end to the terror (maybe?) That last scene is ambiguous, surely, as are many of the scenes in this movie, but there’s no doubt that Nancy was the one who fought what she saw instantly as an evil that had to be dealt with.
Nightmare isn’t my favorite horror movie…in fact, I prefer both the Halloween series and Friday the 13th and its 47000 sequels to this franchise, mostly because Freddy is, due to the sequels, a joke. He’s not scary, and he’s been made into a mostly comical figure. That is, perhaps, unfair, as the original film had nothing to do with this, but subsequent portrayals have ruined the guy completely for me. They’re fun movies, they have some interesting things to say, but he’s low on the list of favorite horror movie icons.