Friday, October 17, 2014

Film Review: A Nightmare On Elm Street

"A Nightmare On Elm Street"  ** 1\2 (out of ****)

Your dreams will be the death of you in Wes Craven's popular horror movie, "A Nightmare On Elm Street" (1984).

A group of teenagers discover they are all being haunted by the same man in their nightmares; a man with a burnt face and knives for fingers named Fred Krueger (Robert Englund).

Celebrating its 30th anniversary "A Nightmare On Elm Street" spawned several sequels, seven by my count, and a remake in 2010.

"A Nightmare On Elm Street" is a movie centered on an interesting premise, the power of our dreams. The scariest things in life are probably the things we imagine to be true. The often repeated tidbit by the sheep (movie critics) is Craven was inspired to make this movie after reading an article in the LA Times about a group of Cambodian refugees who died in their sleep after experiencing nightmares.

Unfortunately for however interesting the idea maybe the biggest problem I had with the movie lies with the villain. Looking back on "A Nightmare On Elm Street" I'm struck by how terrible a movie villain Fred Krueger is. The ultimate failure of the picture is the make-up used to create the character. Fred Krueger simply doesn't look scary. There is nothing to fear looking at this individual. All we can do when we see him is sit and wonder to ourselves, why didn't anyone notice this character doesn't look scary. This person haunting their dreams isn't much of a threat visually.

Now, this wasn't always the case. When I was a child and first saw this character, I was four years old, I did find the image of Fred Krueger's face scary but watching this movie again and being confronted by this character again, the effect and suspense was gone. The simple image of the white mask worn by Michael Myers in "Halloween" (1978) is much more frightening and intimidating, even after repeated viewings. "A Nightmare On Elm Street" now looks like a low budget, cheesy slasher movie.

And that leads to my second problem with "A Nightmare On Elm Street", there is too much screen time for Fred Krueger. Within the first 40 minutes of this picture we constantly see his face, chasing after these teenagers. I would have preferred the approach Steven Spielberg used in "Jaws" (1975). Use the villain sparingly. We see a hand now and then, a foot, the glove with knives, maybe even the sound of his voice, instead Craven shows us Fred Krueger face to face with his victims even when he doesn't kill them. For me this lessened the effect of the movie and the character. Now Fred Krueger didn't seem like some supernatural figure or some ominous being, instead he now seemed no different than your run of the mill mad man. Just a guy with an ugly face. And that's not scary.

The best scenes in "A Nightmare On Elm Street" are when we don't see Krueger or when characters aren't dying. The most intriguing element of the movie for me was when our hero, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) slowly discovers who Krueger is, how he is able to attack her and what she must do to fight him. Everything else in the picture is your standard, by the numbers, horror routine.

Some. who enjoy this movie, will say, I am completely off. Don't I understand "A Nightmare On Elm Street" revolutionized the horror genre? Don't I understand the inventiveness of this movie? All I can say is, don't you understand it does nothing new and you're wrong? "Halloween" existed before this movie. "Rosemary's Baby" (1968) existed before this movie. "Dracula" (1931), "Frankenstein" (1931), "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974) all existed before this movie. The formula had been established long before and done much better. The interesting thing about "A Nightmare On Elm Street" is everything happens in dreams, that sets it apart, but, everything else it does, had been done already.

The final thing which bothers me about "A Nightmare On Elm Street" is its ending. It doesn't answer any questions. In fact all it does is raise some. Is what we watched a dream? Was the entire movie a dream? Was it real? Were parts of it real? Supposedly four alternate ending were filmed due to clash between the director and the producer. The ending we see now was suppose to be the compromise. It may be a compromise but it is also a disappointment. It almost makes the viewer they just watched this movie for absolutely no reason at all. What was resolved? How could anyone say this is a satisfactory ending?

Filmmaker Wes Craven was a humanities professor before turning to movies, by the time this movie has been made Craven was not a box-office name. He made made his directorial debut with "The Last House On the Left" (1972), which is extremely disappointing with it amateurish qualities and poor acting and dialogue. He also directed "The Hills Have Eyes" (1977). He would re-introduce himself to audiences with "Scream" (1996) which started off as a low budget horror movie and turned into a box-office smash and three sequels. It changed the direction of horror films adding in more pop culture references and featured characters that knew the horror cliches and had actually watched movies.

The movie has it defenders and at its time of release grossed more than $25 million, making it a commercial success. Some believe it is the best of the series.

"A Nightmare On Elm Street" plays around with an interesting concept unfortunately the execution is off. The villain is not scary, he has too much screen time and a confusing ending hurts the movie.