Thursday, October 05, 2006

31 Days of Horror - A Nightmare on Elm Street

This movie came out when I was 9 years old, and all the kids my age were somehow getting to see it. I was, of course, too fraidy and too young and too, um, "minister's child" to see it, so I had to wait until we got cable to see what all the fuss was about. This was the first actual film made by New Line Pictures (which, incidentally, made the Oscar-winning trilogy of Lord of the Rings movies), and in some corners of the film industry New Line is still known as "the house that Freddy built."

Director Wes Craven had read about a group of young people in Cambodia who had had some really horrible nightmares and refused to go to sleep. When they finally did, out of sheer exhaustion, they woke up screaming and died of a heart attack. This was the inspiration for his story about the Elm Street kids, terrorized in their dreams by a badly-burned, red/green-sweater-wearing, knives-for-fingers boogeyman named Fred Krueger.

One of the cardinal rules of a successful horror movie - okay, I haven't exactly consulted with anyone on this, but it seems fairly obvious to me - is that you have to show an audience something they've never seen before. Something new. And Nightmare was definitely a new concept. Not just the threat of bad dreams, but bad dreams that could actually kill you. Because how do you keep from sleeping?

Freddy is also one of the better boogeymen, mainly because he stands out from most of the slasher murderers of his time. Michael Meyers, Jason Voorhees, and Leatherface are all silent (well, Leatherface grunts, but it's not exactly speech). Freddy's sarcastic one-liners make him an entertaining and (yeah, I'll say it) fun movie villain. He taps into the fact that, for most horror fans, the kills are a huge part of the entertainment, and by preceding the kill with a laugh, he's kind of telling us it's okay to get a sick kind of enjoyment out of horror movie deaths.

This is definitely a horror classic. I saw on the big screen for the first time a couple of weeks ago. The biggest audience reaction was a huge laugh when Nancy says "God, I look twenty years old." (Get that kid a walker and a can of Ensure!)

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