It turns out that I completely missed the 80s slasher-movie craze. I wasn’t even 10 years old when it started, and too busy watching Purple Rain to pay much attention to anything more grown-up (apparently).
Eventually, I did see Halloween, but the other two of the holy trinity – Friday 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street – had completely passed me by. Until Halloween 2016. Freddy was all over AMC, so it seemed like as good a time as ever to catch up with the first installment.
Which requires me to acknowledge one obvious truth about horror movies and TV: they do not mix. Advertising breaks dissolve tension faster than a shot of gin and a tickling stick. Taking us from dark corridors to bright gardens so we can be sold medicines and dog food pulls us out of the world of Freddy’s nightmare in a way that’s incredibly jarring. Despite this, everyone watching managed to have a good time.
There was a lot of pleasure there. But, where, exactly? My son, now turned 18 and looking to broaden his horror-movie horizons, loved the music; the practical, home-made quality of the special effects; he even thought it was scary.
I agreed with him on exactly zero percent of this. But that’s how life works when you’re living with an 18-year-old, trying to become his own person in the world. They are wrong so often on so many things. It must be terribly hard for them.
I liked three specific things about the movie.
First, the mythology feels classic. A group of parents team up to execute a child killer after the law fails to punish him; the killer returns in dreams to take revenge on his killers’ children. It feels like an age-old story. It works.
Second: hell, it’s the 80s! Look at Johnny Depp lifting his “portable” TV from one side of the room to the other like it’s a set of dumb bells! My widescreen TV today probably weighs less than that thing. And the hair…and the posters on the walls (The Police!)…the decor, the cars… It’s pure 80s nostalgia for an Englishman raised on American TV of exactly that era (The A-Team, The Dukes of Hazard, Knight Rider, Wonder Woman…).
Last, and hardest to quantify, is the overall feel of the movie. I wouldn’t call it scary – and it’s not like I’ve built up a tolerance to movie scares. Quite the reverse. But Nightmare on Elm Street is not scary. What it is, though, is genuine. It’s not pretending to be anything except what it is – a clever story told in such a way that teenagers will identify with the kids being threatened and killed. Life isn’t fair, they’re being told, and it’s your parents’ fault. And they will never understand.
And if there’s one thing that teenagers, regardless of the era, will understand, it’s exactly that.