Reviewing the Scary Movies That Traumatised My Childhood (Pt. 2)
Last Halloween we rolled out this feature, and what better time to revisit it? These are the movies that I encountered in my childhood and haunted my nightmares, revisited as a somewhat adjusted adult.
We covered An American Werewolf in London and Return to Oz last time, and now…
The Movie: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The Trauma: Through my mother’s efforts I had minimal exposure to horror movies as a child, but it was the 80s. Freddy Krueger was everywhere. I would have been 8 or 9 years old when I got my first sighting of the character, and by this point he was a pop culture phenomenon. He had tie-ins with the dozens of products, including the Nintendo Power Glove, and his movie soundtracks featured such acts as Guns ‘n’ Roses performing original songs. I don’t know what I saw first, but I have clear memories of seeing the snake monster, the TV monster and the syringe glove, which all came from the 3rd movie. He also popped up as a print ad in ‘2000AD’ comics and was often speculated about in the playground. I’m not sure why Ben thought he had a spacesuit though.
The Review: While I’d seen clips and parodies of Nightmare movies throughout my life I only saw the full movie when I was about 17. I loved it. I was already a huge fan of horror movies, slashers in particular, and this is among the best. Even with some the effects looking dated the movie holds up today.
Craven took the inspiration for the character from a creepy homeless man he encountered as a child and a study of sleep disorders. The result was a child murderer who was lynched by the local parents and burnt to death only to return to haunt the dreams of their children. When Freddy attacks you in your sleep you suffer the effects in the real world, and he gets plenty creative with how he kills. The movie is build around some decent teenage characters (including a debut performance from Johnny Depp) but it’s Freddy Krueger who steals the show. His distinctive design and terrifying dream world/boiler room is still scary, with the sound of his knives being dragged across the railings being an excellent motif.
As the characters learn more about their stalker and how the rules of the world operate it begins to looks hopeless, ratcheting up the tension. Wes Craven struck a balance between the human characters and the supernatural horror and although he opened the floodgates to an entire sub-genre of imitators nobody else matched at his own game.
A Nightmare on Elm Street remains scary today, and the strongest in a long running series. Earlier this year I did confront Freddy himself and held him to account for the night terrors he caused.
Score: NINE out of TEN
Side note – years later we did get the chance to confront Robert ‘Freddy’ Englund about giving us nightmares. It went as well as expected.
The Movie: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mister Toad (1949)
The Trauma: Disney takes on the story of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the classic short by Washington Irving, about a gentle teacher being ridden down by the local superstition. Although it’s an animated Disney film the Headless Horseman is terrifying…especially ending where nothing is happily ever after.
The Review: There’s something disarming about this movie. It retains the style of Disney animation up until that point with character features being exaggerated for comedic value. There’s comic relief, musical numbers and nerd vs jock rivalry over a girl. Everything is as expected, and one could even assume that after the jock tells the story of the Headless Horseman it’s only to frighten poor Ichabod Crane.
The sequence leading up to the Horseman’s appearance builds suspense and drips with atmosphere in a way few modern horror films can manage. The dark colour palette, the haunting strings and the red herrings can put any viewer on the edge of their seat. When Crane finds the source of the galloping sounds and laughs in relief at his own mistake the audience shares his relief…and then…
Everything about the Horseman works. He’s insane laughter, the demonic horse, and the iconic flaming pumpkin. This stands as one of Disney’s scariest moments and I love it.
Mr. Toad? No idea. I only saw the Ichabod portion of the film after the two parts were separated for television broadcast.
Rating: NINE out of TEN