the heroine. In A Nightmare on Elm Street, the death of Tina Gray (which enforces this feminist ideology by having Tina call repeated for help from her boyfriend, who is unable to do anything) prompts Nancy to begin her quest for knowledge about dreams, as well as her repeated attempts at insomnia. This switch from a completely reactive character to a proactive yet defensive character is where the feminism begins to exhibit itself. Very rarely does the heroine hunt the serial killer down unless this exists as a character necessity (as with Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs), but her stance becomes that of a definitive threat to the killer’s continued dominance in his selected realm. Clarice Starling learns about serial killers firsthand through Hannibal Lecter, Sidney Prescott repeatedly hits and kicks the killer, and Nancy begins to learn about dream shamanism in order to exit the ether at will, as well as affect its substance.
With such a paradigm, one would take the position that horror films have the tendency to be completely feminist, but only if one poses ignorance to several basic tenants in the standard horror movie narrative. The invariable next step in the slasher genre is the killing or turning of the boyfriend. In instances where a boyfriend exists, this character tends to either be murdered, be revealed to be the killer, be threatened, or, in the oddball case of The Silence of the Lambs, escape from custody. Only after the completion of this is the heroine “free” to dispatch the villain, and the reason for this tends to be exhibited that the fury induced by such actions prompts this newborn feminist to switch her stance once again from proactive defensive to downright offensive. The chased will chase the killer, will trap the killer, and will begin to plan to subvert the killer’s actions.
This enforces what is a basically misogynist view: that prototypically male behaviors need to be adapted once the male figure has departed. If the boyfriend is killed, despite the fact that he is most often done in by his own maleness, the female must adapt a masculine stance in order to win the day. Not only does she have to beat the killer at his own game more often than not, she has to beat the killer at his own masculinity. Her actions, postures, and gestures tend not to eliminate gender role stereotypes but instead enforce that a change of androgyny is vital if and only if no source of masculinity exists.
This applies directly to the flaws in A Nightmare on Elm Street when you consider that A Nightmare on Elm Streets’ logical tenants are faulty. Krueger is demonstrated to be a dream shaman, yet he is also demonstrated to be a less-than-intelligent oafish figure. Nancy is shown to be an aspiring dream shaman, yet Nancy goes against the tenants of dream shamanism many times, treating the situations as if they are real until the last possible second, when all is negated.
Theories pop out of nowhere, plot lines go nowhere, and second rate acting doesn’t help matters much either. Most disappointing is that Craven eventually loops his narrative back with a final suggestion that not only was all of the situation a dream but that Krueger is indeed invincible, thus destroying any feminist message (misogynist at heart or not) that he may have originally had and at the same time negating the rules of both reality and unreality. The result is a totally flawed film that can only be appreciated for its meager entertainment value.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of those countless films that has plenty there… just there leads nowhere, so people tend to look at it superficially. Looking at it in both respects, I can only see it as a lackluster film with more cultural significance as a box office record breaker than anything else. It lacks inherent humor, so the viewer must supply their own. It lacks sexually charged situations, so the viewer has to invent their own (no, I’m not advocating roofies here), and all-in-all proves to be a film not worth looking at: deeper or on a less cerebral level.
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Wes Craven
Producer: Robert Shaye
Writer: Wes Craven
Starring: Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, Nick Corri, Amanda Wyss, Ronee Blakey, John Saxon, and Robert Englund
James Brundage has been a freelance writer and film critic since 1995. He has lost count of how many movies he has seen. One of the only writers to only receive payment for online work, James has been working for online publications since 1997. He is now something of an Internet guru, running the electronica band "Godard is Dead" off of MP3.com, managing the electronic syndication group Hypocritical Syndication, being one of the most popular film reviewers on Epinions, and running the fledgling Flash 4 website design company Unfinished Productions. He is also editor-in-chief of Short Stuff, a short film reviews site. He attends Kent State University.
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