In 1984, a true “Nightmare” became reality.
Director Wes Craven – best known at the time for his low-budget 70s horror classics “Last House on the Left” and “The Hills Have Eyes” - released another low-budget shocker that unleashed one of the iconic horror villains of all time.
The movie was “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and the diabolical baddie's name was “Fred Krueger.” Not “Freddy,” the watered-down, hardly scary, wise-crackin' killer comedian found in later sequels … No, this was Fred the child molester, and he wasn't funny at all in the original film. In fact, he was downright evil.
Even after the glut of horror movies that hit theaters during the Golden Age of Horror, nobody was prepared for what “Nightmare” was going to do to our psyches and dreams. This would turn out to become one of the most daring, original and frightening movies ever released.
I cannot do justice to how much this movie scarred me when I first saw it in a theater, during the film's opening weekend, with little to no idea as to what I was in for. From the opening scene, where we're helplessly caught inside a girl's hellish, surreal and nonsensical nightmare and we see for the very first time Krueger's famous finger knives, brown hat, Christmas green and red tattered sweater and hideously burned face, and we hear his hollow, echo-y but very sinister laugh, we learned very quickly that sh*t was about to get real.
And the nightmare didn't let up. The more we became trapped in the nightmares of Fred's world and feared for our likable teenager protagonists, the more we got sucked into hell's vortex. In our dreams (and especially our nightmares), nothing was safe. Laws of gravity and physics no longer made sense. Inanimate objects came to life, and the safety and comfort from our beds and blankets, from our homes and even our parents, were non-existent.
When we sleep, we become pawns in Freddy's deadly game. And there's nothing we can do about it.
You can drink coffee, you can take adrenaline pills, you can put bars on your windows. But it doesn't matter. Because eventually, we all have to fall asleep. Until, that is, when you're dead.
It's startling to me that in the history of movies, no mainstream film ever capitalized on our common fear of nightmares, of the inevitability of our monsters preying on us when we close our eyes as this one did. (At least, not as successfully.)
Very much like “Halloween,” what makes “Nightmare” so damn effective and iconic is that it efficiently taps into a simple phobia that we have all shared at one point or another. While “Halloween” attacks our primal fear that evil can strike anywhere, any time, with no rhyme or reason, “Nightmare” attacks the central dread we have all shared – that no matter who we are, we all have bad dreams, we cannot control them, and we cannot escape them.
The film's ending, which has admittedly received a great deal of discontent and sometimes even outright hatred from even the film's biggest fans, is perfect. Because it doesn't make a damn bit of sense, because it doesn't have a happy ending and because it clearly shows that the nightmare isn't over.
Just like the worst nightmares we all have ever had.
For its sheer originality, for its ferocious tenacity in exposing our worst nightmares and fears, for giving us an incredibly brave and likeable heroine that we can all relate to, for the relentless feelings of helplessness and dread, for absolutely scaring the crap out of its unsuspecting audience and most importantly, for presenting a perfect manifestation of our worst nightmare in the diabolical Krueger, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” deserves to be considered one of the greatest horror movies ever made.
And a big round of applause goes to Wes Craven, who made a name for himself in the 70s with one-two punch of “Last House” and “Hills,” who revolutionized horror in the 80s with “Nightmare,” and who single-handedly resuscitated the dying horror genre in the 90s with “Scream.” He had one hell of a career, and if there would ever be a Mount Rushmore of Horror erected, his bust would and should surely be included.
Rest in peace, sir. You will be missed and never forgotten.
(Craven died in 2015 from a brain tumor.)
So, from my proud beginnings in horror movie fandom in the mid- to late-70s and continuing up to 1984, there was no doubt that I was blessed to be growing up in such a wonderful era. And as the years moved on, I found myself more and more in Horror Heaven, because not only were new fright flicks popping up in the theaters for me to enjoy, but the rise of popularity in videocassettes and later DVD's would enable me to travel back in time, to view films from the 50s, 60s and 70s that would forever change me and my life as a horror fan.
And throughout the coming months, I will talk about them, and share my opinions about them, here on this site. Because there are far too many great and classic horror movies that perhaps you've never heard of that deserve to have spotlights shone on them. And yes, there are many truly awful horror movies that deserve attention, so that maybe I can help you avoid them at all cost.
And yes, there are many “WTF” horror movies, that are either so bad they're good, or they simply defy all logic and need to be talked about.
But no matter what is talked about here, the simple fact is that any and all talk about horror movies must start with the “Unholy Trilogy” of “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” If you haven't seen them, then go ahead and check 'em out, and come back. And if you say you don't want to see them or if you say that you've seen them and you think they suck, then, well, you might as well NOT come back, because, like the many victims of Michael Myers, Mrs. Voorhees and Fred Krueger in those all-time great films, you're dead to me.
I'll be seeing you soon, in your nightmares...