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  Nightmare on Elm Street, A If I Should Die Before I Wake
Year: 1984
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia, Johnny Depp, Charles Fleischer, Joseph Whipp, Robert Englund, Lin Shaye, Joe Unger, Mimi Craven, Jack Shea, Ed Call, Sandy Lipton
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 3 votes)
Review: Tina (Amanda Wyss) has been suffering from nightmares lately, and they all have the same strange figure in them who has knives for fingers and terrorises her in these dreams until she wakes up. She admits as much to her best friend Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) on the way to school, but is surprised to learn that she has been seeing this man in her sleep as well, and she is disturbed by him too. Even Nancy's boyfriend Glen (Johnny Depp) is afflicted, although he won't state it outright, but what Tina doesn't say is that last night when she was shocked awake, her nightdress bore the tears of the mystery man's glove...

If there's any one film that summed up horror in the eighties, it was writer and director Wes Craven's most famous work, at least until the Scream series came along, a Nightmare on Elm Street. Here the fictional serial killer as anti-hero really sprung to life, or undeath would perhaps be more appropriate, as while Michael Myers had kickstarted the slasher genre in the late seventies, and Jason Vorhees had proven lucrative a couple of years later and for decades afterwards, Freddy Krueger was the man of the moment as far as poster boys for bloody mayhem in the movies were concerned and Robert Englund became a star in the part. Certainly classic horror characters like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Wolf Man had enjoyed their own merchandise for quite some time, but here the power of a franchise was truly unleashed.

It wasn't quite that way with the first instalment in the Elm Street series, as in spite of New Line head honcho Robert Shaye seeing the potential for a sequel before filming had ended, it was supposed to essentially be a one-off in Craven's view, which is pretty much why the film had two endings, one after the other, the second basically saying, don't go away now, if you enjoyed this we'll be right back for more. But if there was a weakness to Craven's script it was that there was no satisfying way to close the story, and the solution he came up with - wishing the villain away - was Disney movie corny. A pity, because the whole premise, that if you die in your dreams then you'll die in real life, was ideal material for a first class shocker.

After all, everyone has dreamt of dying at some point in their lives, so there was a universality to the notion that tapped into a fear, that lack of control in your nightmares that renders them so unpleasant. Here it is, as is now famous, the dead child killer Krueger who is the agent of this death (he was going to be a child molester but even Craven thought that was a step to far), and he is insinuating himself into the slumbers of Nancy and her friends as revenge. Revenge for what, well that's something she discovers during the course of her battles, both to stay awake and to understand what is happening and why, for example, Tina was brutally murdered when she was supposed to be spending the night with her now a suspect boyfriend Rod (Jsu Garcia when he was known as Nick Corri).

Craven wasn't simply canny about the whole nightmare aspect, but he knew that when it came to modern horror movies in the eighties, parents were not to be trusted as after all, it was they who told you that these types of entertainment were bad for you. Therefore he touched a few million nerves in the young people of the day when he had the parents in the film be repsonsible for the terror that has begun to wreak havoc on the teenagers, an older generation who aver that they shouldn't take such things seriously when that's precisely what their offspring should be doing. Ironically, it was the success of this movie, and all the imitators it spawned, that resulted in the whole genre being dismissed from much level-headed debate ever since, unless you're hoping to whip up a scare story in which case efforts like these are discussed as if they were the modern devil incarnate. Otherwise, aside from the fans most people roll their eyes when horror is mentioned, but if you go back and watch Cravens' 1984 favourite, you'll see there was a valid intelligence in at least some of these productions, although in truth this wasn't the best of them. Music by Charles Bernstein.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Wes Craven  (1939 - )

Intelligent American director, producer and writer, at his most effective when, perhaps paradoxically, he was at his most thoughtful. Controversial shocker Last House on the Left set him on a path of horror movies, the best of which are The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Serpent and the Rainbow, The People Under the Stairs, New Nightmare and Scream (which revitalised the slasher genre).

Less impressive are Deadly Blessing, Swamp Thing, the ridiculous Hills Have Eyes Part II, Deadly Friend, Shocker, Vampire in Brooklyn, Cursed and the successful Scream sequels (the last of which was his final movie). Music of the Heart was a change of pace for Craven, but not a hit, though aeroplane thriller Red Eye was a successful attempt at something different; My Soul To Take, an attempt at more of the same, flopped. One of the pioneers of the American new wave of horror of the 1970s and 80s, he brought a true edge, wit and imagination to the genre.

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