After 30 plus years, Wes Craven’s seminal horror film, ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’, is still as effective as it was when released in 1984.
Welcome fellow Residents of Elm Street to the first edition of Franchise Friday. What is Franchise Friday you ask? Weekly, I’ll be bringing you a new review in succession from one of our beloved horror franchises. I’ll begin with the original classic and round this sucker out with any remakes associated with the given franchise. So sit back, say Candyman five times, and let’s all make Friday a little more than just a prequel to the weekend. Welcome to Franchise Friday.
Nancy Thompson had everything. A protective cop father, an eccentric but loving mother, and a boyfriend she could count on. Only, nothing lasts forever. After her best friend is murdered in her sleep, with all evidence falsely pointing to the recently deceased’s boyfriend, Nancy is thrown head first into a situation she never dreamed of. The closer she gets to the truth, the deeper down the rabbit hole she goes, and she’s about to uncover an unholy entity; something out for vengeful blood. You see, there’s a different kind of killer on the loose. A nocturnal nemesis the likes of Springwood has never seen: A dream-jumping mad man with a dirty red and green sweater, a worn fedora, and knives for fingers. Sure, Nancy is happy with her boyfriend, but she may have just found the man of her dreams. Welcome to A Nightmare On Elm Street.
Wes Craven’s ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ – Courtesy of New Line Cinema
I remember being a young kid when I stumbled onto a tale unlike anything I’d ever seen. At the time, I had little experience in the ways of both life and cinema but the tone and concept drew me in. I just knew there was something special about it. The story, featuring a horribly burned villain with the ability to invade the dreams of his victims, was insane. The rules were easy enough. If a character dies in their dream, they die for real. The film eventually ended and I didn’t sleep at all that night. Not much has changed since then.
So let’s all grab that coffee maker, jump rope withsome creepy girls in white dresses, and ask our closest friends to keep us from falling asleep as I review the Wes Craven eternal shocker, 1980’s A Nightmare on Elm Street.
I’m your boyfriend now, Nancy- Fred Kruger
Wes Craven directs A Nightmare on Elm Street with unflinching passion and immovable drive. Most known for his tale of the nocturnal nightmare man, Craven made that synonymy possible with an intense eye for composition.
While the filmmaker doesn’t move his camera much in the film, the picture’s framing is crisp. Scenes involving disciplined framing include: Nancy’s bathtub plunge, Tina’s final moments, and Freddy’s epic mattress rise. These’re just a few examples of masterful craftsmanship Craven brings to his eternal epic.
But this isn’t to say the film-making horror host never moves his camera. While not the dolly-track user his creep colleague John Carpenter is, Craven knows a little about camera movement and is well versed in cinematic language.
Examples include: two realization slow-zoom shots after Rod’s funeral, a far away shot on the bridge between Nancy and Glenn that slowly zooms in from afar with dialog being delivered throughout, and a beautiful crane shot immediately following Glen doing the dirty with his mattress showcasing the aftermath of the deed. This last shot is so freaking epic, I’m going to explain it in all its glorious detail. Just when I thought Craven didn’t really move his camera, the man gives us this cinematic beauty.
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So the shot begins high up, showing Glen’s family driveway. Almost instantly, the ambulance coming to haul off the boy’s body comes into frame. The camera then goes low, as the medics enter frame and open the medical van’s backdoor, revealing the bed that will be Glen’s destiny. Then we go high, then turning left. The camera then pulls way back to show the workings of cops, medics, and Lieutenant Thompson’s car entering frame.
As Nancy’s father, the always amazing John Saxon, exits his vehicle, the camera then follows the law enforcing father over cars and into the front lawn of the recently deceased. The camera continues to follow Lieutenant Thompson, who is discussing the situation with a lower ranking officer, until he stops and turns to look at his own home across the street. Nancy is watching, and he knows it. This shot was more than just a parlor trick: it’s a trick of the trade.