Straight to the point, then: This week's Escape to the Movies is the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, the release of which is going to have a lot of you going back to revisit the original series. Well, if it helps, I already did! Let's take a look:
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
It's probably unnecessary, but just so we're all on the same page: The teenaged residents of a peaceful suburb in fictional Springwood, Ohio are plagued by nightmares, which they soon discover all share a similar trait - a ghoulish figure with horribly burned skin and a glove with long razored fingers. Investigating the sleep-related death of a friend leads Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) to the shocking truth that the man in their dreams is Freddy Krueger, a child murderer who had been burned alive in an act of vigilante justice by the parents of the Elm Street Children a decade earlier.
Today, with the series having gone on so long and fallen so far, it's still hard to believe just how well this original film works. The central premise of haunted dreams is fascinating, the story is well executed, and in its best moments it all plays out in the manner of a really good Stephen King yarn, capturing the very real alienation of 1980s teens who suspected their parents were keeping secrets and/or dismissing their concerns. Writer/director Wes Craven had made some interesting, memorable films in the past, but this is the one that really brought it all together. And, of course, there's Freddy himself, probably the greatest iconic horror villain of the 1980s, played by Robert Englund with all the sadistic cruelty one would expect from a creature with his backstory.
Watching it again, it's striking how much is done with so little. The effects are used sparingly, there are no flashbacks and Freddy's penchant for tormenting his victims manifests more as lethal bullying than the gleeful wisecracks that came later. If you can just overlook the tacked-on "gotcha" ending that not even the folks involved were all that fond of, it's a near-perfect teen horror flick.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)
The first Nightmare was a monster-sized box office hit, turning Freddy into a pop culture sensation and raking in profits for fledgling New Line Cinema ... and then this sequel nearly brought it all to an end.
Craven refused to involve himself, never wanting the film to become a franchise, and the hurriedly-made result is a complete mess. We're informed that original heroine Nancy went mad and killed herself, and that our new (male) hero has moved into her house five years later. The fact that the series hadn't really figured out what Freddy Krueger actually was yet is glaringly apparent right away: He's now a ghost haunting Nancy's house, and he possesses our hero in order to have him commit murders while sleepwalking.