What comes to mind when you’re trying to find a horror film to watch? Do you seek the one that you know will scare you, or do you hold back, wanting something easy with just a hint of terror? As fall rolls around and the air outside becomes crisp, I look for something I call “Horror Comfort Food.” It’s a movie that can be as easily enjoyed with friends or alone. By this metric, I find Wes Craven’s original “A Nightmare on Elm Street” film as satisfying as any films this time of year.
Everyone already knows the plot, but I’ll summarize briefly: a group of teenagers find themselves having the same terrifying dream in which they are stalked by a ghastly, mysterious figure named Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund). They chalk it up to coincidence, at least until Tina (Amanda Wyss) is killed in her sleep by an invisible demon. From that point forward, each of the teens must fight the urge to sleep lest they be killed as well, until Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) realizes she must face Freddy once and for all.
I find it a testament to this film’s power that before I had ever heard of this movie, I saw kids around the playground pretending to be Freddy Krueger, despite the film coming out sixteen years before I was born. Of course, that was in no small part helped by the fact that this movie spawned a major horror franchise, which has seen several good entries despite becoming more comedic as it went on. But I think most agree that the original film stands strong on its own. I will also say that this is one of the only horror films from the 80s slasher boom that I still find genuinely scary.
The setting of dreams is crucial. Everyone knows the experience of having a bad dream that seems impossible to escape from, and this film absolutely demonstrates that essence. The characters walk around places that they know, but everything is just slightly wrong, even before the killing begins. That setting, coupled with the truly frightening character of Freddy Krueger, makes it a film that always scares me more than I think it will, no matter how many times I’ve seen it.
The late Wes Craven, one of the true mavericks of the horror genre, fills the film with enough amazing imagery to make your eyes pop. Teens in body bags sit in high school classrooms, snakes writhe below the characters’ feet, and beds and bathtubs become bottomless pits. It’s an immersive horror experience that even jaded viewers will be impressed by.
Whether someone has seen this film before, is overly familiar with the Krueger character or doesn’t even consider themselves a horror fan, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is a rich, deeply rewarding experience that perfectly fills the desire to watch something eerie in October.