FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Jan 18, 2016

The Nightmare-ening Day 1: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)

When I was but a wee bonny lass, the internet was more than six months away from being born. Therefore, movie fans such as I had to glean information from a variety of sources–dusty old books at the library or, say, the ramblings of Dana Hersey on WSBK TV 38 Boston's The Movie Loft. Much of my knowledge and know-how about horror movies came, of course, courtesy of the pages of Fangoria and Famous Monsters of Filmland. But not A Nightmare on Elm Street, no sir or ma'am or both or neither! I did not know of Nightmare until I read about it in the pages of...16 Magazine. When it was mentioned in an article about the Cosby kids. Two of them–Theo and maybe Vanessa?–called A Nightmare on Elm Street their favorite movie, and I thought to myself, "Hmm, that sounds like a horror movie!" (I was a very bright child, you see.) I loved horror movies and hey, if it was a Cosby kid fave it had to be good. Eventually Nightmare made its way to my town and Freddy Krueger made his way to all the magazines and that was that. None of this has any bearing on anything beyond being a bizarre personal anecdote, but I felt like sharing. Don't you feel much closer now?

Anyway, my relationship with Nightmare has been a bit...tempestuous. Let's put it this way: if all the slasher movies were my children, Nightmare would be the middle child I constantly forget about (people with kids forget about their kids, right?). Halloween would be the eldest one, the one I paid the most attention to because I wasn't so tired all the time. Friday the 13th would be the young brat acting up on the regular with stupid sequel after stupid sequel, crying out for notice. While I'd get irritated with it, I'd also be won over by its antics. Meanwhile, there'd sit Nightmare, all but ignored, wondering what it did that was so wrong and why its siblings got all the love. It's not like the film isn't full of some of horror's most indelible images:

That last one is so Messiah of Evil, isn't it? I mean:

Anyway. It's got some solid scares, terrific set pieces, a plucky, smart, brave Final does so much right that I should love this film. Somehow, however, the parts never quite gel into something I'm ever flipping my wig over. Despite the Cosby kid endorsement, despite my seeing it for the first time when I was an easily-impressed and impressionable yoot, A Nightmare on Elm Street ultimately leaves me feeling a bit cold. It's good, I like it, but I don't love it. (A big reason for this in my most recent viewings is that score. I hate it. It's overbearing and hokey and not scary and it doesn't establish the right mood and it's super irritating to my earholes.)

And yet! There is so much about this movie I do love with all of my heart:

  • Tina's death scene! The dream that leads up to it is truly a nightmare, and when Tina is finally killed it's unexpected, brutal, bloody, and just plain fucked up. Kind of the high point for me–likely of the whole series...and it's about 18 minutes in.
  • Though none of the actors come across so young, they're supposed to be 15-16. The series is much darker than it seems on the surface.
  • It's a very lean film. There is nothing extraneous–no group traveling to the cabin in the woods, etc–within five minutes or so everyone is talking about the killer and there's only the pattern of dream-death-dream-try to kill Freddy. 
  • Despite her cute boyfriend with his adorable Nike sweater vests and her group of pals, there's something decidedly Dawn Wiener about Nancy Thompson. 
  • MARGE: Marge's bedhead. Marge-as-functioning-alcoholic. Marge lighting up a cigarette at the Sleep Institute. That time Marge combined all three of these things.

  • MORE MARGE: The way she "hides" vodka bottles in places like...behind her back and under a towel. Then she pulls the bottles out and swigs from them openly anyway. I really wanted her to pull a bottle from a hollowed-out Bible at Rod's funeral.

  • "He's dead, honey, because mommy killed him."
  • Oh, also: Marge's lipliner.
  • As a child does to underwear when he goes away to summer camp, Fred Krueger writes his name inside his hats.
  • "I'm into survival."
  • Everyone calling Nancy "crazy" or a "lunatic" whilst ignoring the fact that she walked into a bedroom covered in blood and found her best friend sliced to ribbons...and also the cops lay the dead body of Rod in her lap and she's only like 15, can't she handle it, why is Nancy acting so nutso?
See? There's so much about this movie I love. The nightmares are great–heck, for Glen and Rod we don't even experience the dreams, only the aftermath. Freddy is kept largely in the dark and he's treated nothing like a joke. It's a solid horror film, and absolutely a slasher classic. When I think about it, I adore it. When I watch it, I feel only okay about it. So what's holding me back? Why can't I be more like Theo Huxtable or maybe Vanessa? 

Also, if I'm like "Yeah, it's good but I don't love it" about the first movie, what does that portend for the rest of The Nightmare-ening? I'd better make some coffee.


Nicholas Kaufmann said...

My favorite Nightmare on Elm Street moment is when Nancy looks at her reflection, sees a white streak in her hair, and exclaims with horror, "Oh God, I look twenty years old!"

Least favorite Nightmare on Elm Street moment: that coda at the end. It's so stupid and it undoes everything that makes the story work, in my opinion. So many horror movies don't know how to end properly, and unfortunately Nightmare is one of them.

Stacie Ponder said...

IT MAKES NO SENSE. I mean, so many horror movie endings don't make sense (hello PIECES), but NIGHTMARE is really bad. I hate that there (almost) always has to be the stupid coda, usually with a jump scare.

Nicholas Kaufmann said...

There's this sense that horror movies have to end with a cheap "the evil continues" jump-scare just in case they get to make a sequel, but it's always so narratively unsatisfying that it often ends up coloring your entire perception of the film. It's the number one reason why so many people leave an otherwise enjoyable horror movie saying they hated it. They didn't hate the story itself, usually, just the jump-scare tacked onto the end.

Anonymous said...

I vividly remember first heating about A Nightmare on Elm Street. Everyone at my high school was talking about it right after it came out. I was walking down the corridor between classes and overheard some girl saying to her friends "...and he had these razor blades on his hands and he was scraping them along the furnace making this 'screeeeeech' sound! It was so freaky!"

Stacie Ponder said...

It's totally obvious in retrospect, but it suddenly strikes me how this is one of the only horror movies aimed at teens without being...kiddie and stupid. The characters are young and have no real concept of adulthood (see "I look twenty..."), the parents are all assholes no matter what, etc. Contrasting with something like, say, HALLOWEEN–the characters are teens and speak like teens, but the film is aimed at adults.

J. Skel LaTour said...

Off topic, but I agree with the new domain. :D

Stacie Ponder said...

Ha, thanks! Yeah, .com has long since been taken, but I thought this would be even better :) I should post about it and draw attention to it or something!

lostphrack said...

YAY for the Movie Loft shout out! :D

I really, really enjoyed this Nightmare flick. It seems like the perfect party slasher flick. Like you said, it's lean and moves fast and keeps the scares and kills coming so it rarely gets dull. It makes a better group watch than some of the horror movies I like more.

And yay! Final Girl does rock!

Marc said...

I heart this movie so much I just HAD to request a scene sketch on the back cover of my copy of Slashers 101, which you dutifully NAILED! Still one of my favourite things ever.

I have to say though I LOVE the score for this movie. The deep, bassy synth notes that dive into a low rumble, the high string notes that are held so long it just makes you feel SOMETHING weird is gonna happen but you'll never be able to guess what because of the way this movie messes with reality - love it. It's giving me goosepumpernickels just thinking about it.

Stacie Ponder said...

I do like the main theme–it's as iconic as HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13th without a doubt.

Dawn said...

Love your blog. I co-run a blog on horror (Horror Homeroom) and just tweeted your posts on Nightmare in Elm Street. We're running a series on Final Girls for Women in Horror Month and today was Nancy! Are you on Twitter?

Stacie Ponder said...

Oh thanks very much, I appreciate it! Terrific site, gonna add y'all to the blogroll. And I am a twitter-less lass, I am afraid.