1984: The Greatest Year Part II – A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET

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Welcome to 1984: The Greatest Year Part II – Electric Boogaloo, the Geek League of America’s 30th anniversary tribute to the iconic geek culture films of 1984. This series of in-depth, analytical, fun, and nostalgic essays on the year that brought us instant classics like Ghostbusters, The Terminator, Gremlins, and others serves as a sequel to our 1982: The Greatest Year articles. Like 1982, 1984 was a game-changing year for genre cinema, loaded with popcorn blockbusters, cult hits, and genre-defining masterpieces. Join Jeff and other members of the Geek League of America for a fond, and sometimes funny, look back at this monumental year in nerd culture history.

By 1984, audiences had already seen some of what would be the biggest names in the horror genre: Jason Vorhees from Friday the 13th, Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Michael Myers from Halloween. But that year, fans would be introduced to a new character, one that would arguably become the most well-known of them all. I’m talking about none other than Freddy Krueger, and the movie that brought him to life: A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Also by 1984, the slasher movie (and horror in general) was starting to see a decline in quality, originality and box office return. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter was set to be the last in that franchise, and the Halloween series was in question after the disappointing performance of Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Audiences had grown tired of the same general concept: a bunch of nubile teens at a party/summer camp/etc, were picked off one by one by a masked killer with a set of garden tools.

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Then came A Nightmare on Elm Street, which not only rejuvenated the horror genre, it saved the fledgling company which produced the film, New Line Cinema. New Line was on the verge of bankruptcy after financing the $1.8 million needed to make Nightmare, and the film made that back in its opening weekend, eventually grossing over $25 million.

Freddy Krueger stood out from the typical pack of horror slashers. Whereas Jason, Leatherface and Michael Myers were hulking, silent and liked to use garden tools to kill their prey, Freddy was skinny, talkative and had a metal glove with knives for fingers. Previous slasher film victims were typically pot smoking/amorous teenagers, irresponsible babysitters, or stupid kids poking their noses where they don’t belong.  But the victims of Elm Street were innocent high school kids just trying to get some sleep.

We all know the story, but for those five or six of you who don’t, let me give you a brief recap: A psychopath named Freddy Krueger—known as the Springwood Slasher—murdered several children with a glove outfitted with straight razor blades attached to the fingers. When he is released on a technicality, an angry mob of parents whose children he terrorized and murdered band together and burn Krueger alive in the boiler room. Years after his death, the children whose parents were responsible for Krueger’s death—ncluding Nancy Thompson, daughter of the police officer who arrested Krueger—are experiencing terrifying nightmares involving a burned man wearing a glove with razor blades on the fingers. Freddy Krueger is haunting their dreams, and when Nancy’s best friend Tina dies in her sleep violently during a dream confrontation with Krueger, Nancy realizes she must find a way to stop the evil psychopath’s reign of terror – or never sleep again…

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Much of the success of A Nightmare on Elm Street relies on the performances of its lead actors. Unlike the typical Friday the 13th troop of acting school dropouts, A Nightmare On Elm Street boasts an impressive cast of veteran actors, including John Saxon as Nancy’s father, Ronee Blakely as her mother, and Robert Englund, who previously was best known as the friendly alien visitor Willie in the hit sci-fi show V. Englund especially provides a subtle-yet-sinister turn as the demonic killer. Relative newcomer Heather Langenkamp, who played heroine Nancy, also shines in her defining role, adding a vulnerability and intelligence that makes the character’s development from victim to violator an interesting transition. There was also some guy named Depp, but I don’t think anything ever happened with his career and I think he’s selling used cars in Boise, Idaho.

The atmosphere of the film was dark and moody, which lent it that extra scary vibe. Whereas future installments gradually became lighter and more comical in tone (Freddy and his one liners basically were akin to a game show host), this first foray onto Elm Street was downright creepy, and fans happily ate it up. (On a personal note, A Nightmare On Elm Street solidified my love of horror films and to this very day I rank it up there as one of the best the genre has to offer.)

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Eventually, as with most successful (hell, even unsuccessful) movies, the market saw an endless string of declining sequels (save for part 3: Dream Warriors which is actually just as good as, if not better than, the original), a television series (Freddy’s Nightmares anyone?), a “spinoff” (Jason vs. Freddy) and an unnecessary, horrible remake starring Jackie Earle Haley (who oddly enough auditioned for a role in the original, accompanied by his friend, that Depp guy). But it was that first “nightmare” that left a lasting impression on the general lexicon and permanently ensconced Freddy Krueger into pop culture history (Sing along with me here: One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…). The Freddy glove is a consistent best seller around Halloween, as is the costume. There’s Freddy action figures, bobbleheads, coffee mugs, shirts, and bubble gum. Not bad for a guy who only had a total of about 7 minutes of screen time.

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About Author

Dave Zagorski

Dave Zagorski is a filmmaker who has yet to achieve his potential. He has written and directed two movies under his MAD Z Productions banner: “Killing Brooke” and a remake of the euro-horror exploitation movie “The Devil’s Nightmare.” He enjoys long walks on the beach, lesbians and putting his friends through hell on set. He hopes to one day win an Oscar, but until then he’ll make due with his son Oscar.