ICONS FIRSTS: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
Welcome to ICONS FIRSTS, a new bi-weekly column where your devoted ICONS contributors fess up and share their first experiences discovering a horror classic! We wanted to not only make things a bit more personal here on ICONS OF FRIGHT, but we wanted to open up the floor (so to speak) and encourage you to share your firsts as well in the comments section below. Our first entry? The original 1984 classic A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. So how did each member of the FRIGHT staff first come face to face with Freddy Krueger? Read on to find out!
Rob G.: The original NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is what single-handedly converted me into a horror fanatic, and in turn is responsible for the existence of this very website! Back when I was around 10 years old, I had two older cousins Marchello and Silvi that my parents would always leave me with so that they could go out with their parents. Despite being a few years older than me, they were the only relatives I had even remotely close to my age range, so naturally I loved hanging with my cool, older cousins. But I’ll never forget, no matter what we were doing, eventually the night would slowly turn to stories of this “Freddy Krueger” character and how he was going to get me when I fell asleep. Naturally, the mere thought of this evil entity they described to me terrified me to no end. Now, I was no stranger to horror; I grew up on a steady diet of the Universal Monster Movies on regular network TV, but none of those actually scared me. Instead I found myself intrigued by the Creature and The Wolfman and Frankenstein’s monster and would always sit around and try to draw them. A burned dream demon with razors for fingers however? Scared the shit out of me.
And finally one fateful evening, they managed to sit me down and force me to watch the original NIGHTMARE. Needless to say, the experience pretty much scarred me for life. I would never be able to get some of those images out of my head. Tina in the body bag. Freddy gleefully cutting his fingers off. Johnny Depp being pulled into his own bed only to be spewed out as buckets of blood a few moments later. I was absolutely shocked! Yet… titillated. This was my first look into the darker side of things and I was completely intrigued. However, none of this dawned on me until much later. In fact, I recall being so upset by the movie, that my cousins immediately put on the 80’s comedy BETTER OFF DEAD to prove to me that Tina (Amanda Wyss) was still alive and well & breaking John Cusaak’s heart. (So my cousin’s pretty much started my obsession with both horror and 80’s comedies all within the span of a single night!) I know at some point not too long after that we had watched the 2nd NIGHTMARE. The 3rd I recall had just played in theaters and was about to start airing on cable. It wasn’t until NIGHTMARE 4 that I finally got to see Freddy on the big screen, but by that point, my fascination and obsession with horror movies was full blown and I was well on my path to dissecting both the horror genre and filmmaking in general. So much so, that when I met Mike C back in 2003; a kindred spirit with the same view point on horror films, we created ICONS OF FRIGHT just so we could keep talking about them. And thankfully we haven’t stopped since…
Adam Barnick: I remember the commercials on TV when I was too young to be thinking about films like this; something to do with nightmares… a figure in a fedora… a young woman floating up to the ceiling…another terrified young woman trapped in her barred-up house. What was this spooky movie? With one of the most distinctive titles I’d ever heard of at the time. Funny enough, I remember daydreaming (!) about the commercials during class in Catholic School.
My official full-on horror obsession didn’t begin until 1987, and it was actually Nightmare on Elm Street 3 that kicked it off. But all I knew before that was that the nice alien in “V” was in it. I didn’t even know he was the villain! Other than that commercial I never forgot, this pre-internet kid came to that movie as a blank slate.
January 1987, I’m watching a special about upcoming movies on Showtime, and they announce Dream Warriors will hit theaters in March. “They’re on 3, now?” was my mental response. And since we had just gotten cable, I decided to see if the first one would be on TV soon.
Sure enough, inside of a week I got my first shot at A Nightmare on Elm Street. Uncut. 10pm on a weeknight(gasp)! Everyone else had, funny enough, already gone to sleep. I brought my chair close to the TV and kept the volume at a manageable level.
What struck me then was what strikes me now; its originality. A killer who gets you when you’re dreaming!? Who could come up with something like that?? Scary, sure..but so unique!! The story and images and ideas knocked me flat. And had there ever been a more visually memorable villain? Everyone in the world knows that hat..the striped sweater…and that glove!! While I did find the film to be frightening, I went to sleep that night excited. The kind of excited you get when you see a great film and it reignites your passion for them. Even kids know a good story well told when it hits them. And it’s hard to beat unfiltered Freddy. A perfect boogeyman; just a horrible grin and a maggoty chest and the patience to wait until you couldn’t keep your eyes open a second longer.
No idiotic gags, no quoting TV ads in scenes, no dancing with The Fat Boys. And in the age before Blu-Ray, I remember squinting and getting closer to the TV to try to get a better look at his constantly-shadowed face. I was hooked.
The same beats that hooked me as a lad still do so. Seeing it 3 years ago on the big screen in 35mm, It’s quite striking how much of the film holds up and doesn’t feel too dated. Despite how many lackluster sequels have shown up in this series, it remains my favorite of the 80’s slasher cycles.
Two months later I began my planning and scheming in order to be taken to the theater to see part 3…the viewing of which would kick off my obsession with practical makeup effects, which would eventually lead to filmmaking.
Aaron Pruner: I first saw A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET on our local Fox affiliate back when the television I owned had only 13 channels. I was 11 years old and something about the commercial that advertised the film had caught my attention. All I remember from the clip was Freddy’s burnt face, the blades on his glove and Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” playing over the montage of clips in the advertisement. I had to see more.
Earlier that week, I recall kids in the cafeteria talking about Freddy Krueger and how only cool kids can handle the horror of the film. Sure, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET had a theatrical release in 1984 and I was 11 in 1987, but most of the kids at that lunch table had only recently discovered the classic film. And I would be damned if I wasn’t going to be one of those cool kids!
So, I ignored my mother’s warnings about how scared I’d be and stayed up on that school night to watch the edited for Network TV version of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. For those 2 hours I watched the film, jaw open and wide eyed, as I witnessed Freddy Krueger in all his glory for the very first time.
Needless to say, my mother was right. I needed her to walk me to bed and leave the hall light on for the next week. I couldn’t get the song out of my head and might have had dreams here and there of Krueger stalking me in his boiler room. But I survived it!
Over the next few years, my obsession with horror films grew. I acquired my own Freddy glove and hat. My bedroom door was covered by a life sized standee of the child murderer and images of gore from the films covered my walls.
And soon, inevitably, Freddy led me to the likes Pinhead and Leatherface, ultimately leading me and my love for horror films down this crazy path which has led me to writing this here on Icons Of Fright.
Now, all these years later, I can look back on the original A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET film with a weird bit of nostalgia. I think it’s safe to say, if it weren’t for Wes Craven and Robert Englund’s collaboration in the film franchise that took over the 80s, I wouldn’t be the guy I am today and I definitely wouldn’t be writing any of this right now! So, thanks. And, you’re welcome.
Justin Edwards: Believe it or not, once upon a time I was absolutely terrified of horror movies. Growing up, I was definitely not the film fan I fancy myself, let alone the morbidly obsessed horror hound I am today. To give some insight into my wimpiness, the cover art that adorned the VHS in the horror section at my local video store would send me into a frightened frenzy. Same for the insanely oversized movie posters and cardboard standees in theaters. Basically, anything and everything horror related made me run for the hills. It wasn’t until my parents’ divorce, some relocating, and other adolescent happenings that led me back to cinema and my hidden, voracious love of it. With that said, my first viewing of Wes Craven’s A NIGHTMARE OF ELM STREET came during the summer of ’02. I was 10 years old, I had just moved to Arizona, and it was hot as fucking hell.
I’m no stranger to heat being a native of Georgia, but the difference between humidity and 120 degree weather made me never want to step foot outside ever again. So like any chubby kid, I sought refuge from the fireball in the sky in either my arctic-esque air conditioned room, or nearby at a friend’s. One sweltering day in particular, I was hanging out at my newfound friend’s house, when he excitedly exclaimed, “I have Freddy Krueger on DVD, wanna watch it?’ Even at 10 I knew he meant A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, though I had never seen it (I had avoided it on purpose due to the gruesome visage of the titular villain, hell even the title scared me!) it was sort of common knowledge who Krueger was. This was kind of the moment of truth for little 10 year old Justin, and I knew I had only two choices in this situation. 1. Wuss out in front of my friend and forever be ridiculed. 2. Man up, watch the film, and try not to shit myself too badly.
After a lengthy ultimatum battle in my brain, I chose the latter. I had to call my Mom to ask for permission (I was a Momma’s boy through and through), to which she replied, “oooo scary, and Rated-R, go for it!” My Mom was, and still is, the sweetest woman on Earth. Seriously, god bless Mom’s & Dad’s everywhere if you let, or have let, your kids watch horror films! It was on, future good night sleeps be damned. I was going to watch A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. And watched I did. And jump, squirm, shriek, and gasp in equal parts terror and fascination. I thought to myself, “this is what I’ve been missing out on?!” I had never seen anything like it. Which is no surprise considering my schedule of what I watched consisted of nothing but a rigorous diet of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Batman: The Animated Series. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET showed me you could suck someone into a bed, and spew out a geyser of blood in their place. It blew my mind, and I loved it.
Sure I was scared as hell, but it was nothing like my preconceived notions led me to believe. Never had I seen something so imaginatively visceral, horrifying, and mesmerizing at the same time. I was way too young to pick up on the major themes and underlying commentary, I just knew that I liked what I was seeing, and I wanted more. Upon my discovery that there were multiple sequels, I immediately sought out whichever one I could get my hands on (luckily Dream Warriors, screw continuity!), thus beginning my descent into discovering other gems of the genre. I revisited A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET for the first time since I watched it that summer this past October, and in 10 years I’ve traded being once frightened by it, to completely admiring it. And to think, I almost hesitated.
Jerry Smith: The first time I ran into Freddy was ALMOST 1984, when the film came out. My parents weren’t the greatest when it came to filtering what I should or shouldn’t watch, and usually gave into young me, whenever I asked them to go see a movie. This all led to a childhood FILLED with trips to the theater to see whatever Friday the 13th, Halloween or any other horror franchise entries came out at the time. For Freddy though, I was always a bit more cautious.
Whenever I was at the babysitter’s house, I was usually just put in front of a tv the whole time, and would ingest whatever it threw up at me. During one of those times, a tv spot came on for A Nightmare on Elm Street. As a 4 year old at the time, it did nothing short of SCARING THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF ME. I didn’t sleep for days after seeing that and like most things that scare us, it developed into an obsession for me. I didn’t have a problem with Jason, having seen the first four films of that series already, but Freddy had me scared and obsessed, just from a tv spot.
Well, as obsessed as I was, I was too scared to watch the first Nightmare movie until I was in Fourth grade, about 6 years after. By this time, I had oddly already watched the Dream Warriors and Dream Master entries because of my friends telling me they were more on the funny side, but I had no intention on watching the first, I even stayed away from Freddy’s Revenge just to have a safe buffer between the more serious approach of the first and the beginning of the comical era of Freddy in Dream Warriors.
It finally happened (I’m talking about it like it’s losing my virginity, wtf?..actually, now that I think about it, it was a lot better than losing my virginity, thanks Freddy!) one night, when my dad who had managed a motel at the time (we lived in a house built into the motel..explains my love for the Psycho films) gave me $5.00 to walk to the local video store (RIP Major Video) and rent whatever movie I wanted. I walked into the horror section, complete with a coffin in there, and saw A Nightmare on Elm Street sitting comfortably on the shelf, just calling out to me. I thought to myself “yikes, can I hack this movie?” and then it came to me. A phrase I’ve lived by ever since and have used countless times when it comes to making life’s difficult decisions: fuck it. I went for it. Grabbed that baby right off of the shelf, took it to the counter, and what happened? They wouldn’t rent it to me. Here I was a little kid, finally grabbing my phobia by the horns and some older lady wouldn’t let me do it. Instead of accepting defeat, I wouldn’t budge. I made her call my dad and after she did, she informed me: “fine, your dad says it’s ok. I don’t know why parents let their kids watch this garbage”. I rented it, ran home with a smile the size of Halloween 6’s plotholes, and popped it in.
Suffice to say, it changed my life. That might sound cliché, but it’s 100% true. Watching A Nightmare on Elm Street for the first time, to me, is on par with my first child being born (No offense Ariel). It made me an INSTANT fanatic and has led me to so many great memories involving the series, Wes Craven’s other films, and being a horror fan even more than I was before watching it. It’s definitely in my top ten of all time.
– Well there you have it fiends! Thanks for strolling down memory lane with us. But now… we want to hear from YOU! What was your first experience like seeing A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET? Sign off and let us know in the comments below. Next entry? We tackle FRIDAY THE 13TH!