Understanding modern horror: revisiting Wes Craven’s masterpiece “A Nightmare On Elm Street”

The movie that re-defined slashers and horror vilains

Understanding modern horror: revisiting Wes Craven’s masterpiece “A Nightmare On Elm Street”

During the 1980’s, endless Pop culture icons and symbols were produced, through music, TV and movies. The Horror movie industry saw a quick rise of the genre, with several independent movies being produced but also, big Hollywood productions. Wes Craven, already a successful director of the horror slasher movie genre, released what can be considered his “masterpiece” in 1984. “A Nightmare On Elm Street” remains one of Horror’s most influential and popular movies, and Freddy Krueger, an immortal character that still haunts many of our dreams. Literally. The plot could be at first considered the typical horror slasher formula, featuring a group of teenagers and a sadistic killer, but Freddy Krueger was never a typical sadistic killer. The haunting character lived only in dream realm, brought into the real world fueled by the fear of teenagers. Usually, the teenagers would be damaged or alienated, filled with teenage angst, however, this is not the case on “Nightmare On Elm Street”. Craven inverts the roles, and gives adults all the “damages” instead: alcoholism, pills, and never around their children, on the verge of becoming vilains (as actor Robert Englund stated once). It’s symbolic as Krueger, thinks of himself as the parent of all these teenagers, he wants to own them, and in Krueger’s, we see reflected some of the real world adults traits. In fact, the movie is filled with hidden symbolism, carefully put there by Craven, such as the teenage sexuality presented in Freudian images and almost exclusively displayed in a threatening and mysterious context, as for example Tina’s death visually evokes a rape and Freddy’s glove between Nancy’s legs in the bath. When it was first released on November 9, 1984 by New Line Cinema, nobody could guess that it was a movie destined to become a classic. It went on to gross over $25 million at the United States box office alone and it’s success quickly spread worldwide, specially when it had a home video release in 1985. The influential movie spawned a franchise consisting of a line of sequels, a television series, a crossover with “Friday the 13th”, beyond various other works of imitation and also merchandise; a remake of the same name was released in 2010.

Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger

It can be said that Wes Craven was lucky to come across Robert Englund to play Freddy Krueger, this was a role that it was meant to be played by him, perfect in every sense, it fits him like a glove, no pun intended. But Englund, who already had worked with Craven in the 1970’s, and still a relatively unknown actor, wasn’t the director’s first choice. Actor David Warner was originally slated to play Freddy but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts. After, Craven had a hard time finding the right actor to play Krueger, as he stated “Everyone was too quiet, too compassionate towards children. Then Robert Englund auditioned. [He] wasn’t as tall I’d hoped, and he had baby fat on his face, but he impressed me with his willingness to go to the dark places in his mind. Robert understood Freddy.” To get that understanding, Englund had darkened his lower eyelids with cigarette ash on his way to the audition and slicked his hair back. “I looked strange. I sat there and listened to Wes talk. He was tall and preppy and erudite. I posed a bit, like Klaus Kinski, and that was the audition”.

The Johnny Depp movie debut

“Nightmare On Elm Street” it’s also today notorious for being the movie debut of Johnny Depp as an actor. Back then, he played the role of Glenn, one of Freddy’s teenage victims. 20 year old Depp didn’t initially thought on auditioning for the movie, went to accompany a friend (Jackie Earle Haley, who went on to play Freddy in the 2010 remake) so he could audition, but his looks caught the eye of Craven and his daughter who picked Depp’s headshot from the set he showed them. Later, Depp gets his own nod in a cameo role in “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare” as a guy on TV. Another notorious actor that played one of Freddy’s teenage victims was Brad Pitt, in the TV series.

“A Nightmare On Elm Street”, remains the most successful of all the movies in the series, it’s also the best, and essential to watch, in order to understand the influence it had on modern horror.

Origin: U.S.A
Released: 1984
Directed by: Wes Craven
Starring:Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Robert Englund,Johnny Depp, Ronee Blakley, Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia

Watch the original 1984 movie trailer of “A Nightmare On Elm Street”

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