Dissecting the Macabre: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984) is a twisted tale of the pied piper where the children are being taken away, but the parents refuse to admit anything is happening. This story is something that is always topical, making Craven’s classic a bona fide masterpiece.
The absence of any adult presence is a common thing in the slasher genre and Craven makes it even worse that even when the parents and adults are involved, they don’t believe that their kids are in any danger. Towards the beginning of the film, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), her boyfriend, Glen (Johnny Depp) and their friends Tina (Amanda Wyss) and Rodd (Jsu Garcia) are staying the night at Tina’s house while her mother isn’t there. And even when Tina and Nancy discover they have dreamed of the same man with razor fingers, Glen brushes them off. Once Rod shows up to the party, Nancy wants to discuss the dreams more, but Tina gives in to Rodd and goes upstairs with him.
Throughout the movie, Nancy is basically flying solo as her friend’s and boyfriend barely believe her theories about Krueger (Robert Englund) and they end up dead. There is a sense throughout the film that Nancy is seen as childish because she still believes in this boogeyman and is allowing these “simple nightmares” to cause her to lose sleep. All the adults, after hearing the kids tell them that Freddy Krueger is after them, cease to listen to anything they have to say: “Finally, she accepts the fact that the battle is one she must fight alone; only she believes in the boogeyman, so only she can fight him” (Maddrey 166).
Sadly, the only adult that even comes close to giving Nancy the time of day is her father, but he, again, refuses to believe Nancy’s stories about a man coming to kill her in her dreams. The story of Freddy Krueger’s death isn’t discovered by Nancy until most of her friends are already dead: “Nancy’s mother confesses that Krueger was a child murderer who was killed years earlier by a local lynch mob, but she continues to deny the real danger of Nancy’s dreams” (Maddrey 166). Nancy’s mother’s timing in finally telling Nancy about Krueger just comes a little too late and even then, her mother refuses to believe Nancy, anyway.
Nancy’s mother revealing that this whole thing is their fault is a story that every generation has known during their teenage years. Every generation there is debate and analysis over the things the previous generations have done that the younger generations will pay for. This is something that makes A Nightmare on Elm Street endlessly scary because there will always be things that your parents and grandparents generations have done (whether it’s regarding politics, the environment, etc.) that negatively affects you and there is very little you can do about it. Furthermore, like Nancy’s parents, those older generations will just blame you and your cohorts for being lazy and self-centered – sound familiar, fellow Millennials?
Ultimately, it’s up to Nancy to defeat Freddy and she does so by what would be considered by the adults as “growing up” when, really, Nancy was aware of her situation pretty much the whole time, she just didn’t know how to defeat her demon.
Maddrey, Joseph. Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film. McFarland & Company, 2004.