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A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)



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A Nightmare On Elm Street does the improbable: it's good.

It's no easy feat to make a good slasher flick, especially by 1984, when the Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre series had already worn the genre out with a myriad turkeys. Even the very name of the genre seems to mandate that its members be bad. "Slasher" flick? You mean a flick in which the primary purpose is not horror but to watch people die? Joyous.

But A Nightmare On Elm Street is scary, atmospheric, and compelling. The horror of its mystical premise is loosed little by little, until its deadly ramifications become frighteningly clear. The plot builds soundly and, for the most part, realistically. I didn't think the parents of the main character would have reacted so lightly to her trauma -- however fantastic her story, her terror should have been real enough for them to take her more seriously. But on the whole, the plot development was sound.

Other flaws include spotty acting and a too conspicuous adherence to the slasher movie formula. And there were times when the gore was a little too obviously gratuitous. (Ironically, my problem wasn't so much with the blood, which was understated save for one scene where it made sense, but the goo.) But these complaints don't amount to much in light of the film's original vision and the accomplishment of what it sets out to do. Director Wes Craven, unlike all too many, realizes that horror comes not from blood but from the unknown and the upsetting of basic human needs. What if you couldn't go to sleep, because you'd die? The premise alone is enough to incite a visceral reaction. The now-famous killer, Freddy Krueger, is handled with near perfection. He's shot in shadow, leaving most of his hideous appearance to the imagination, and he's given very few lines. Later in the series, Freddy would be treated as more of an icon and given "snappy" one-liners that would compromise his effectiveness.

What I did have a problem with was the ending. Just when things seem to be resolving satisfactory, the movie pulls a switcheroo. "See!" it says, "I lulled you into a false sense of security, but actually it turns out that I don't make any sense! And you were hoping for a satisfying conclusion! Sucker!"

I liked the movie enough to pretend it ended right and recommend it to horror film fans, even if they're a little dubious of so-called slasher flicks.

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