Updated: Nov 12, 2019
Nominee #9 - A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The spirit of a murdered child haunts the teenage children of the parents who were responsible for his death.
Director: Wes Craven
Writer: Wes Craven
Stars: Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) took audiences by storm when it released. Written and directed by Wes Craven, it made horror film history; not just by being a disturbing and truly memorable film but by being clearly ahead of its time in its fundamental plot and meta-artistic innuendos.
Who would have imagined that the great Johnny Depp featured in this early movie as a young boy! And John Saxon as well (of Enter the Dragon (1973) fame) plays a lead role. Yet with no legendary actors, and a very simple plot, the film manages to make a huge impact on audiences and film critics alike.
Wes Craven almost created a new genre, and many Hollywood blockbusters took a cue from this film in the decades that followed. With a 7.5 score on IMDB the film holds its ground against many masterpieces in its genre.
The story centers around a group of teenagers who are hunted and killed by a serial killer. Sounds plain enough. But here’s the twist; all the killings happen as they sleep and in their dreams. What happens in their dreams manifests partially in their reality.
The story unfolds to reveal that the gruesome killer, who is quite a frightful spectre burnt all over; wearing strange shabby clothes and having a gloved hand with slender claws, was a child killer who was arrested and then released because they couldn’t find the perfect evidence needed. When the law didn’t work, the angry mob burnt him alive. Now his spirit seeks revenge on their children.
They fear sleeping because he comes to them in their dreams. The others only gradually begin to realize as the killings happen that the murderer is not someone they can chase or arrest or kill; he is a wraith operating on a plane they cannot even comprehend. He murders by strangling, by smothering, by slashing, and he gets away each time; in one scene even disappearing with his victim “into the bed”. An attempt to lure the killer into the real world partially succeeds and some headway is made (setting him on fire again), but he eludes them again and, as the movie closes, seems to have the final word.
The movie plays heavily on the idea of mixing the dream world and the real world
The movie plays heavily on the idea of mixing the dream world and the real world; making everything confusing for the characters and viewers alike. It had almost no precedent in terms of blending horror, serial killer, fantasy, psychology and science-fiction of sorts. Many far more complex and sophisticated movies followed in its footsteps but in many ways it’s A Nightmare on Elm Street that laid the foundation for an entirely new treatment of the horror genre and opened doors to wider worlds of imagination and artistry.