A little dose of history for you today, folks–the crew out at Warner Brothers sent me a copy of the original A Nightmare On Elm Street, rereleased on blu-ray just in time for the release of the remake later this month. And today, we’re going to take a look at it.
The classic tale of revenge, child murder and cartoony supervillains begins right here, but it’s much more moderate than future iterations would be. Fred Krueger was a janitor in the scenic little town of Springwood, but it was his side hobby that dismayed a town–Fred Krueger was a child murderer. And he was arrested for his many crimes, but a technicality got him out of a prison sentence. So the parents of Springwood, part out of fear for the children left unmurdered and part out of a longing for a blood-soaked revenge on the filthy child murdering scum, caught him alone and set him and his surroundings on fire.
Imagine everyone’s surprise when he came back, horribly burned, with his trademark weapon of a finger-bladed glove and attacking the children in the one place the overzealous parents and their Molotov cocktails couldn’t reach–their dreams.
I’ve said a lot of things about the work of Wes Craven, like its lack of subtlety and its refusal to deviate from the conventions of the slasher film subgenre…but one thing you have to bear in mind about A Nightmare on Elm Street is that it ESTABLISHED many of those conventions, and where it didn’t establish conventions, it was merely an early example of them. It even manages to introduce plot points that will be useful much later in the series, like the ability to go to sleep, dream, grab something just before you wake up and “bring it out with you”.
This one is played a lot more “straight” than later versions would be–later versions would make Krueger almost a cartoonish figure, but this early one played him much more as a straight killing machine with slightly bizarre powers. Early elements like the “extending arms” scene are there, but possibly due to budget and technological restraints, we don’t see much of Krueger really running amok. It’s not really that scary, and it lacks the downright comedic elements of the later titles. Nor has it aged well–it’s definitely showing its distinct lack of budget, as I mentioned earlier.
This is a good start to the series though, and, if you’re a horror buff, you’ll definitely want to see this one before you see the remake version. It’s the beginning of something big, and for that reason, it’s worth seeing.
The Screenhead Ten Scale hands A Nightmare On Elm Street, which is much bigger in retrospect than it ever was in its era, a seven out of ten for being the all too necessary start to a major portion of film history and launching one of horror’s biggest icons.