Familiarity, they say, breeds contempt, as has clearly become the case with the Nightmare on Elm Street cycle. There have been nine entries in the iconic series to date (each increasingly weaker as time has progressed), to the extent that it’s remarkably easy to forget how groundbreaking the original film – screening at this year’s Film4 FrightFest – actually was. The early 1980s saw the golden age of the teenager in peril sub-genre, which has since become a staple of the wider slasher field. Genre offerings such as Prom Night (1980), Terror Train (1980) and The Burning (1981) have long thrilled audiences with their mixture of teenage promiscuity and grizzly series of murders.
John Carpenter’s seminal Halloween (1978) (out now on Blu-ray) and to an even greater extent Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) still manage to capture the public’s imagination as 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 (Heather Langenkamp) and her friends who live in a deliberately nondescript American suburb. Forget that this is the film for which its director 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).
What makes A Nightmare on Elm Street most memorable is its introduction of razor fingered, child molester Freddy Krueger (played with demonic relish 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 giving a new meaning to the term ‘wet dream’). Depp has, in the proceeding years, gone on to personify the wider cult of modern cinema just as A Nightmare on Elm Street has the niche market of 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 the foundations for what would become one of the most successful and enduringly influential series in horror cinema.
Film4 FrightFest 2014 takes place from 21-25 August. For more of our FrightFest coverage, simply follow this link.