The puritanical admonitory regarding teenage sexuality that drove these notable predecessors still heavily factors in to film's subtext but director/writer Wes Craven shows more interest in exploring the boundaries between dreams and reality, as well the protective walls of denial parents construct to make themselves feel like they're keeping their children safe.
Rather than a physical location like the old Meyers home, or Camp Crystal Lake, being the source of danger, the kids on Elm Street can't exactly flee from their own unconscious minds. Marauder of dreamscapes, Freddie Krugar (Robert Englund) isn't concerned with territorial pissing; he wants revenge: plain, but not so simple.
Freddie is the first of the slasher flick antagonists to display a distinct personality, feeding on the fear he inspires not only through sheer menace but also through a vile and demoralizing sense of humour. Likewise, the teenagers being dream-stalked by the cackling claw-handed burn victim are more realistically drawn than the majority of those that came before or shortly thereafter.
Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) is depicted as a strong, self-reliant young woman who comes from a broken home – furthering the film's theme of revealing the rotten interior hiding behind suburban façades of normalcy – and even the resident horny asshole jock, Rod (Nick Corri), struts his alpha-male front to cover up the frightened child inside. In his first on screen appearance, Johnny Depp's Glen lacks similar layering, but the flat characterization is almost made up for by one of the most memorable death scenes in horror movie history.
Craven paints the whole experience in surreal, reality distending dream logic that uses a permeable sense of perception to taunt the audience's expectations, creating a horrific realm of possibility only tethered by the limitations of imagination that wouldn't be improved upon until Clive Barker's Hellraiser hit the scene three years later.
A Nightmare on Elm Street screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the Birth of a Villain series on November 10th, 2012 at 10pm. (New Line)