Friday, April 23, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

In some ways Wes Craven has alienated any audience he could have hoped to have as a filmmaker. Non-horror fans think he is just another 80’s horror hack. Those who like horror complain that his films are not scary. The facts seem to show that he is more of a thinker than the genre is used to seeing. In his movies “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare,” we see the evidence of this.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) is a creative concept trapped in a cheap 80s horror film. The dialogue is corny and the acting is pretty bad. To make matters worse, the studio took Craven’s idea and adapted it to the trends being set by Friday the 13th and Halloween. If you take all that away, you would be left with a rather brainy story. (Any hopes that Platinum Dunes will do that very thing next week are razor thin. They are all about flash not ideas.)

At the core of Craven’s idea in Nightmare is the fear of fear itself. Most monsters and dangers faced in scary stories are the sort that we can dismiss as either non-existent or things we can protect ourselves against. In real life, on the other hand, we all struggle with fears. In some ways our whole culture is set up to help us deal with or better yet avoid these fears. What if our fears were more than simple paranoia? What if our nightmares were not the sort we could wake up from?

Ultimately, A Nightmare on Elm Street is just that, a nightmare—a scary story. It was something to have fun with. As the years went on, its sequels lost the scary aspect and concentrated on gross, crass “humor.” Today, a similar trend has emerged, where scares are lost in favor of gore. People have forgotten what it is to truly be chilled by an idea.

It all goes along with the idea presented above. Our culture today is all about denying fear, and along with it any traces of shame and guilt are ignored as well. It is not that these feelings are not to be found, simply that we do not know how to truly deal with them so they are hidden. People entertain themselves with images designed to shock but not scare. They flaunt decency to immunize themselves against shame. They tell themselves over and over again that there are no absolutes so they can convince themselves to ignore the guilt they feel.

That is something we see in A Nightmare on Elm Street as well. Every adult in the story is in denial. They ignore the warnings of their children. They deny any possibility of a real danger. In fact, their denial endangers the children even more. Perhaps the message of the film could be that fear is a serious thing. It is a danger because, unaddressed, it controls us. There is more on that theme to be found in Wes Craven’s next entry into the Nightmare series, ten years later…

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