Sense of Wonder: Favorite Nightmares from Elm Street

Welcome to Cinefantastique’s first mini-blog-a-thon. With the remake of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET currently in theatres, now is a good time to take a retrospective look back at  some of our favorite Freddy moments from the old films. Although the 1984 original was born during the slasher era, the franchise had much more going for it than yet another iconic killer of teens: the dreamscape of its premise opened up the gates for some wildly imaginative imagery that touched a primal, shuddery chord in the spine of trembling viewers. You could never completely trust what you were seeing – literally anything could happen – and frequently it did, usually with terrifying results for the on-screen victims. To assist in this little nostalgic exercise, I’ve asked several of our Cinefantastique staff to contribute their own favorite Freddy moments of various shapes and sizes, which you can find linked at the bottom. I’ll kick things off with my list of personal favorites in the various films.


The original film remains the most satisfying overall, filled with so many good moments that it is hard to pick just one. I like the classroom scene wherein the quotation from Shakespeare, which references bad dreams, precipitates a nightmare. The vision of a previous victim in a body bag is not merely startling but deeply unnerving. The Freddy tongue in the phone is simple but shocking. The gloved hand rising from beneath the bath water is a stand-out. Freddy Krueger’s silhouette pressing through a wall above a sleeping victim is a wonderfully literal visualization of the “rubber reality” of the dream world (a scene horribly botched by CGI execution in the remake). But by far the most spectacular scene is the death of Johnny Depp’s character, dragged down into a bed, from which erupts a geyser of blood. The scene is way, way over the top, not just gory but delirious – one of the great scenes in any horror film. (Check out the video at top.)


My favorite scene here is rather low-key, involving neither special effects nor Freddy himself. It comes when Nancy (Heather Langenkamp, returning after sitting out Part 2) talks her superior at a psychiatric hospital into prescribing a controversial new dream-suppressing drug to her troubled teen-age patients. As important as Krueger is to the ELM STREET movies, equally important is the generation gap between his victims and their parents, who are reluctant or unwilling to accept the danger faced by the teens. Nancy, somewhere in between the two age groups, goes to bat for her patients, putting her own professional reputation on the line: for once, an authority figure takes the danger seriously, instead of dismissing it. The scene also raises an interesting question about psychiatry: does having suffered from a particular problem disqualify you from trying to cure it in others, or does it give you a special insight and sympathy for your patients that makes you more qualified than other doctors?


As the supposed finale to Freddy’s inglorious career of murder and mayhem, this cannot live up to what it promises, but I do enjoy Johnny Depp’s cameo spoof of the “This is your brain on drugs” public service announcements, in which an egg is identified as “your brain,” which is then cracked and fried as a way of illustrating the negative effects of recreational drug use. After Depp concludes the illustration by asking, “Any questions,” Freddy (showing more good sense than usual, whacks him over the head with the frying pan and replies, “Yeah, what are you on? It looks like some eggs in a pan to me.” I also enjoy the moment that deliberately seeks to break the fourth wall between audience and on-screen characters, when Lisa Zane dons her glasses in the dream world and tells viewers in the theatre to do the same. This is to set up the final-reel 3D-enhanced smack-down of Freddy; although the 3D itself was mediocre at best, the brief sense of following the protagonist’s lead lent an air of active participation in the film.


Freddy was supposedly dead, and Jason was supposed to be, too, at the end of this film, but the final shot lets us know that the rumors of their deaths have been greatly exaggerated: Freddy’s familiar knife-gloved fingers reach up from beneath the earth to grasp Jason’s hockey mask, pulling it out of sight. This final fade-out promised an on-screen match-up that would not materialize until a decade later, with 2003’s JASON VS. FREDDY.


new nightmareThis self-reflexive re-imagining of the ELM STREET mythos, with various reel-life cast and crew (including Wes Craven) playing themselves, is perhaps more intellectually interesting than viscerally horrifying, but it is filled with great moments, many of them deliberate echoes of the first film. What I like best about it is the new vision of Freddy Krueger. I had never particularly liked his back story as a child-murderer. When we first see him in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, he seems an inexplicable mystery, a dream demon; the revelation of his past turns him into a relatively garden variety ghost seeking revenge. NEW NIGHTMARE recreates Krueger, suggesting that the familiar movie character is merely the current version of an archetypal evil stretching back throughout the ages; the film visualizes this with actor Robert Englund looking familiar in the makeup and costume, yet bigger, stronger, and more menacing than ever before. It’s as if Kruger has finally become fully what he seemed to be in those early scenes of the first film – an evil too big to have been ever merely human.
So, those are my favorite Nightmares from Elm Street. What are yours?

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