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Nightmare on Park Street

My Thoughts on the 1984 Cult Horror Classic

I like Nancy from Nightmare On Elm Street (1984). She’s sweet and yet strong; she’s characterized by bravery. Her character arc resonates with mine, I think. Freddy Kruger haunting the dreams of her and her friends makes me think of how I’ve been struggling with sleep recently, mostly just because of the day-to-day anxieties of being a college student and the typical wandering thoughts of a young woman who spends too much time alone.

I like how emotional the film is. Nancy is attacked by Freddy when she falls asleep in class, and she burns her own arm on a hot pipe in the dream in order to wake herself up. I’ve accidentally burned myself on a hot pipe too, drunk and high in a former frat house. My burn wasn’t on purpose, though. Nancy’s kind of self-inflicted pain is clear and intentional, meant to help her escape her nightmare and save herself from Freddy’s grasp, practically speaking. People only do what they want. She wakes up, screaming, rushes out of class, and stands outside the school. She weeps outside in the sunshine and the colors look so bright; the nightmare sequences are so blue and so dark and make the waking hours look so bright by comparison. I love the use of color in the film. Why did Nancy wear a bright blue, polka-dot dress to Rod’s funeral? It just doesn’t make sense, but it’s so noticeable. I dream a lot, and the clarity of sunny autumn mornings makes me forget most nightmares; I’m too focused on the changing colors of the leaves in the Berkshires.

The film is largely about motherhood, and the potential inadequacies of a maternal figure: Nancy’s mother tries to offer her warm milk early on in the movie, to which, Nancy says, “Gross.” I guess she just doesn’t like milk. Her mother’s a much bigger fan of alcohol as her drink of choice, anyway. Her mother also wakes up in the middle of the night to Nancy’s screaming (due to Freddy’s attacks in her dream) and insists that she could always call for her if she’s needed. And yet, instead of turning to her mother for help, Nancy asks her boyfriend, Glen (who is played by a young Johnny Depp), to watch her as she sleeps and to wake her up if she appears to be having a nightmare; he fails to do so, falling asleep himself. The first victim of Freddy’s during the duration of the film is Tina, Nancy’s best friend, who comes from a broken home. Her mother’s away on a trip to Las Vegas with a boyfriend when Tina is murdered.

Maybe this is supposed to be about the strife of womanhood in general, considering the focus on women in the movie, and a motif of man’s helplessness. Of course, like any 80s horror film, the 15-year-old girl who partakes in pre-marital sex is murdered at the very beginning of the movie. I’m referring to Tina here. The bad boy with whom she had sex, Rod, dies as well, murdered by Freddy in prison, but made to look like a suicide. Nancy is also attacked by Freddy when she’s in the bath, reaching up from the water, in between her legs. He drags her into the apparent depths of the bathtub, and she struggles to fight him off and return to the surface. The emotion is poignant and resonates with me for some reason. Later, the camera spends one too many seconds panning over Nancy’s back as she undresses to change into her pajamas. The phone scene is notable as well, when Freddy calls Nancy on a phone that’s disconnected, claims that he’s her boyfriend now, and the phone receiver turns into a mouth that licks her lips. She drops the phone and stomps all over it.

Mother’s still untrustworthy, though. After Rod’s death, Nancy’s mother sends her to a dream clinic, telling her to “Trust us.” And so, Nancy does, to no avail. She sleeps, but this time, she brings back Freddy’s hat from her dream, and still, her mother asks her to “Trust [her] for once” and to forget about it. Eventually, Nancy’s told by her mother that Nancy’s destiny is to face things, but reminds her that it’s important to turn away sometimes. I still think that people mostly just do what they want.

Due to the stress of Freddy’s hauntings, Nancy ages over the course of the movie. Her skin dries out, and her hair starts to grey. Her own mom smokes and drinks to cope with her own stresses, clearly; her eye bags are deep and her makeup is caked on. Her hair is bottle bleach blonde, and it turns out that she herself was part of a murderous gang of parents that had killed Freddy Kruger years ago when they discovered that he was a child murderer that escaped the police due to a mishap in paperwork. Nancy’s father is a policeman, ironically enough. Nancy prepares to deal with her enemy: she sets up Home Alone-style traps and decides to bring Freddy with her into the real world. She warns her father repeatedly of Freddy and tells him that he’s the one that has been murdering all her friends. I can’t help but wonder why her friends are roped into the situation; regardless, her father doesn’t believe her. They all, including Glen (her boyfriend before his tragic passing at the hands of Freddy), think that she’s “nutty as a fruitcake”.

Her plan works; Freddy’s in the real world. A dramatic, action-packed sequence ensues, and Nancy bashes out the windows of her house and cries out to the policemen across the street investigating Glen’s murder, demanding help. Nobody believes her claims for help, but she keeps trying. You’d think that she could just run out of the house, but her mother had locked all the doors and put grates over all the windows; the reason why is uncertain, but we can just label it as “a mother’s love”. She breaks three windows before anybody believes her, and then her father arrives at the scene.

During the dramatic chase, Nancy had set Freddy on fire in the basement. It appeared that that was the end of Freddy, but that assumption is wrong. He had survived and climbed the stairs to the bedroom of Nancy’s mother, and Nancy and her father walk in just in time to see Freddy smothering the mother to death, and then dragging her into a deep, dark hole that Freddy had manifested. He tries to come back, but Nancy doesn’t give him that power. She declares that he’s just a dream; powerless, truly. And he disintegrates.

Turns out, she’s right; it’s just a dream. One of the last lines of the film is, “It’s so bright.” from Nancy, as she steps outside with her mother, who isn’t dead, apparently. Neither are her friends, as they pull up to Nancy’s house in Glen’s red convertible. Her mother tells her that she’s decided to quit drinking, just because she doesn’t seem to enjoy it as much anymore. And yet, the fog comes in, and it appears that this may just be another dream sequence.

I wonder why the mother was never given a name. It’s a movie about her, really, and not necessarily Nancy. She’s the catalyst for all this; and I’m left wondering why Nancy’s father never really dealt with the consequences of having made a mistake in paperwork, letting Freddy go all those years ago. Maybe that’s what the movie is supposed to be: the cataloging of the aftermath of misdirected rage as a result of a lack of justice. Poor Nancy.