Movie-Hype (#744) - A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET
Johnny Depp's very first movie. We should have known where it would lead. Easily the best of the ELM STREET series, the original NIGHTMARE is quite atmospheric and spooky. The idea of begin killed in your dreams (or in modern parlance, the "virtual" world) now seems commonplace, but at the time of NIGHTMARE it was wildly original and groundbreaking. And baddie Freddie Krueger was an instant star. The film was initially criticized for gore, which should cause any modern horror fan to chuckle, as we see almost as much on a show like CSI or Fringe.
The plot is more complicated than most horror films, but I have essentially told you the premise, and besides: that's not why you watch horror films. What's more interesting is that director Wes Craven got the idea from real life, sort of. Apparently Craven read in the L.A. Times about several immigrant families fleeing the despotic regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia. Some of the children were refusing to sleep after having horrific nightmares. Pushed by their parents, the children died in their sleep the second time.
If I could just say on a serious note for a moment: I have no problem with films being in a fantasy world, and being all kinds of messed up evil, in the hope of entertainment. (I do draw the line, but we'll talk about that another time.) That said, my heart goes out to people who have endured actual horror so awful, that the palpable fear of their nightmares is enough to kill them. I have suffered horribly (I thought) from nightmares, but never like that, and my nightmares never came from the kind of hell on earth these people were fleeing. Stay strong, refugees!
Okay, back to the movie. I am not a horror fan by genre, but I think any movie fan would be well served to watch the classics. In the late '70s/early '80s there were three: FRIDAY THE 13TH, HALLOWEEN, and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. They're worth seeing, for cultural significance alone.
I'm writing this review up in the first place because of Johnny Depp, and I have to say: he doesn't suck or anything, but I don't think one would have ever predicted great things, at least from his debut.
One other note: Depp also returned for the "last" installment of the series: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET VI or FREDDIE'S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE. By this point the entire focus of the series had shifted, from the psychological horror of part 1 to Freddie as the hilarious bad-ass who whooped up on idiots. Ten times more funny than scary, the sixth installment is a blast to watch, more fun than any of the others, if not as good. Depp's appearance amounts to no more than a cameo, but the great thing is that the last ten minutes are in 3-D. Freddie Krueger never looked so good. Or bad.
Suspension of Disbelief Scale: 9.5 (I'd give it a pure 10, but no one completely understands the dream world, and we have all awoken from a dream that shook us to our core, so who knows?)
Genre Grade: In the Horror genre, the original NIGHTMARE gets an A. Part VI would get a C. (B- if you have 3-D glasses.)
Objectionible Material? - Some horror films are so over-the-top that I would bend my normall strict ideas about letting kids watch them, but not this one. Scary images give kids nightmares. A movie about dying in your nightmares? Forgettaboutit. Then again, kids are so enured these days....high school and up.
Pantheon Percentile - Wes Craven is actually a gifted filmmaker. His horror movies are done consistently on miniscile budgets but look more believable than their counterparts. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET might seem tame and dated by today's standards, but it's place in Pantheon history is secure. 80.