Familiarity, they say, breeds contempt, as with the legend that is A Nightmare on Elm Street. There have been nine entries in the iconic series to date, becoming increasingly weaker as time’s progressed, to the extent that it is easy to forget how groundbreaking the original film actually was.
The early 1980’s saw the golden age of the teenager in peril sub-genre, which has since become a staple of the wider slasher field. Films like Prom Night (1980), Terror Train (1980) and The Burning (1981) thrilled audiences with their mixture of teenage sex and shock murders, which took the graphic depiction of onscreen gore to new heights. However, even within this grouping, two films stood a cut above the rest.
Halloween (1978), and to a greater extent A Nightmare on Elm Street, still capture the public’s imagination, because they took place in environments and involved everyday scenarios that their target teenage audience could relate to. The banality of school life, fears and excitement of first love and the ever constant spectre of over-protective parents looming in the background, feature strongly in the story of Nancy Thompson and her friends who live in a deliberately nondescript American suburb – revealed during later instalments to be in Springwood, Ohio.
The film is perhaps best known however for introducing two of cinema’s most famous characters – both fictional and real – to an unsuspecting public. Forget that this is the film for which its director Wes Craven will most likely be remembered – even though he was behind such horror hits as The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). Or that it marked the highpoint of its female star Heather Langenkamp’s career, despite being only her fourth film. No. What makes A Nightmare on Elm Street most memorable is its introduction of razor fingered, child molester Freddy Krueger (played with demonic relish by onetime bit part actor Robert Englund). In the pantheon of celluloid baddies old pizza features is up there with Jason and Michael as one of the few characters instantly recognisable by their first name. As well as this the film has the unique claim to fame of introducing the world to Johnny Depp. His character Glen may be despatched in a blaze of bloody glory (his death – as Freddy candidly points out – giving a new meaning to the term ‘wet dream’), but Depp has, in the proceeding years, gone on to personify the wider cult of modern cinema just as A Nightmare on Elm Street has done for horror.
Though the eventual film was criticised by many (often highlighted amongst the offending titles of the infamous ‘video nasty’ witch-hunt) its success proved the naysayers wrong. It may have taken Craven three years to find a studio to back his pet project, but the result went on to save its eventual production company New Line Cinema from bankruptcy. A Nightmare on Elm Street made back its approximate $1.8 million budget in its opening weekend, laying foundations for what became one of the most successful and enduringly influential franchises in horror cinema.