A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Nightmare on Elm Street is a slasher flick with a lot of over-the-top gore and violence, with the qualifier that it's often "nightmare," surreal violence. Nightmare visions include a face being torn off to reveal a staring skull, a geyser of blood pouring out of a victim's bed and pooling in defiance of gravity on the ceiling, and so forth. It's dream-like, but fatalities still result. The young people at the center of the film, though very highly evolved for horror-movie teens circa 1984, are still sexually active and at odds with their parents.
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What's the story?
In A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, high school football player Glen (Johnny Depp, in his movie debut), his girlfriend Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) and two schoolmates have been having disturbing dreams about a badly scarred man in a hat and garish striped sweater who's stalking, taunting, and trying to kill them with a custom-made glove that has knives in the fingers. After a ghastly murder, Nancy manages to pry the truth from her mother (Ronee Blakely). Years ago a child-killer named Freddy Krueger prowled their neighborhood and was released from jail on a legal technicality. The grown ups set his dwelling on fire, burning Krueger alive, and concealed their act of vigilantism. Of course, those same grown ups now have no clue that the renewed "nightmare" on Elm Street is the vengeful ghost of Freddy (Robert Englund) hunting and tormenting their sleeping offspring.
Is it any good?
Part of this film's success was that writer-director Wes Craven made it at a time when banal, bloody copies of Friday the 13th (starring hockey-masked Jason) commonly filled theaters. Any teen-themed horror film that was even halfway original and imaginative would have stood out refreshingly, and this one did. A Nightmare on Elm Street's cast of teenage characters was a shade more sympathetic and well-drawn than Jason's victims.
The dream-attack gimmick (which is never really explained as clearly as it should be) makes for lots of shock scenes and visual surprises, teasing viewers about what is or isn't really happening, and filmmaker Craven also plants more sophisticated seeds of unease. Parenting and family life -- touchstones of reassurance and protection in horror movies like Poltergeist -- aren't sources of comfort here. Mothers and fathers killed Krueger and covered it up, and now the villain is punishing their children for it rather than them -- the old sins-of-the-fathers biblical warning (in slasher-movie clothing).
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the secret guilt that the parents share in A Nightmare on Elm Street: that they killed Krueger and covered it up, and now the evil child-murderer is attacking their children rather than them. Considering the old sins-of-the-fathers biblical warning (in slasher-movie clothing), does that change what you think of Freddy and what punishment he deserves?
Parents may also be able to make English class seem more interesting to horror-minded kids by mentioning that writer-director Wes Craven was once an English teacher.
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