[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B0058N2T3K][/pullquote] There are many visually recognisable icons in horror film history. Whether it’s Jason from Friday the 13th in his hockey mask, or Michael Myers sporting a lovely whitened William Shatner mask (yes that’s really what it is, check it out), these characters have almost transcended the films that made them famous. Created by legendary horror film director Wes Craven, the final, and possibly most iconic of this trio of horror characters from the late 1970s and early 1980s has featured in nine films to date and brandishes his knife-fingered claw whilst invading teenagers dreams in a sleepy suburban neighbourhood called Elm Street.
In A Nightmare on Elm Street, Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss) is stalked by a mysterious figure with a claw for a hand in her dreams. She wakes up from this nightmare to discover that her nightdress has distinctive claw slashes through it. When she speaks to her friends (including a very young Johnny Depp), she realises that they all shared the dream too. As days go past each of them is brutally attacked while they sleep and it becomes a matter of life or death to stay awake and avoid the torments of the dream stalker, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund).
As dated as Halloween and Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, released in 1984 still holds a lot of its tension to this day. While later films and television shows successfully use the idea of a creature that only attacks as you sleep, it was the enduring legacy of A Nightmare on Elm Street that engrains itself in the collective cultural psyche. The premise is ingenious, and what better way to train your audiences to fear your characters and amp up the tension than by targeting the one place that most people feel safest, the bedroom.
Krueger himself is suitably manic and terrifying, with his scared face, bizarre but sadistic behaviour and his use of the claw as a weapon. Don’t be fooled into thinking that he is all terror all the time though, and there are plenty of quirky little one-liners and funny slapstick moments littered throughout to break the tension in A Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s a testament to the quality of film-making and Englund’s performance that this aspect is often overlooked and the film is remembered for the frights.
By today’s standards A Nightmare on Elm Street is good, but not great, but in 1984 it caused a storm as the latest horror franchise to make serious money and spawn a long-running series of sequels, spin-offs and reboots that continue into the modern era.