The uninitiated may view Nightmare on Elm Street as shlocky eighties cheese. However, they couldn’t be more wrong in my opinion. In fact, I would say it is one of the most innovative horror franchises ever; a pillar of the genre, that does not get the credit it deserves.
If you die in the dream, you die for real. Christopher Nolan took that idea and ran with it when he wrote and directed Inception. Before the mind heist thriller though, Wes Craven was bringing nightmares to life in Springwood.
Nightmare on Elm Street was the last bastion of originality. After Stephen King’s slew of instant classics, Wes Craven became the hero of unique horror content. When the Elm Street series ran it’s course, the influx of unoriginal paint-by-numbers jump scares began.
The idea of an evil spirit that invades your dreams and can kill you through them was ground-breaking. Though it is of course influenced by older tales such as The Sandman.
Not only that, the franchise reinvented itself with every instalment. Each movie in the series had a new premise to avoid rehashing the same plot.
The first three movies function as a trilogy because they are closely linked. However, they still have a different concept each time. The first movie is our introduction to Freddy and his link to Elm Street.
The second film is Freddy’ s return but this time he wants to possess the body of the protagonist as a method of resurrecting. He is back with a vengeance after being semi defeated by Nancy in the first film. The second movie was more like a John Hughes horror movie in tone.
The third movie, potentially the most successful in terms of concept, was set in a children’s mental health institute. Nancy Thomas makes a return. As an adult, she is a therapist specialising in the control of one’s dreams.
It’s revealed that a group of children in the home who are being terrorised by Freddy, are descendants of the people who originally killed Freddy. Together they must combat him in the dream world.
The fourth movie, which was a bit of a dud, introduced a new set of characters. ‘The Dream Master’ was an interesting blend of Lynchian surrealism and straight up action sequences.
The fifth film explored the idea of children dreaming in the womb and how that could play into the world of Elm Street. In the sixth movie we get a dystopian ghost town story.
It is ten years into the future and only the adults are left in Springwood. Those that are left are in a semi lucid waking dream. They are stuck, repeating a pattern of behaviour in a part of the town like a haunted house automaton.
The final film does something totally unique. Heather Lagenkamp, Nancy from films 1 and 3, plays herself. The movie is set in the real world where Freddy is just a fictional character in a series of films.
Krueger breaking down the walls between art and life, invading the real world. Movies and other art forms have often been described as dreams. It makes sense then that Freddy could also move from fiction into the real world.
Elm Street was way ahead of its time in a number of ways. The use of practical effects is amazing, there are some great creations. Some of the characters are really well written, especially in the second and third films. The relationships are often compelling and many of the female characters, although not all, are strong.
The franchise actually tackled issues of mental health and combating anxiety with mindfulness, back in the eighties.
The movies create a rich self-referential world that rewards attentive fans. It feels like it is your own thing because it is made for nerds. If you give them a try, like me you’ll love delving into that world.