By Michael Dellapi
Looking back at all of the other movies I’ve written about for this column, it’s become apparent that almost every one falls under the “feel good movie” category. Sure, these films were undoubtedly popular and had undeniable lastability, but there are so many other genres to explore. The best way to explore the complete opposite end of the “feel good” spectrum would be to look at the two biggest horror movies of the decade: “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Friday the 13th.”
“Nightmare on Elm Street” is certainly my favorite out of the two aforementioned movie, and it’s largely thanks to the film’s iconic villain. Freddy Kreuger’s role in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” is roughly the same as any other villain for a 1980s horror movie: terrorizing a random assortment of teenagers and gradually picking them off one by one. However, what separates Freddy Kreuger apart from practically any other villain is his execution. Freddy Kreuger’s identity is defined by his ability to haunt his victims’ dreams, whereupon all damage done in a dream is reflected in reality. In other words, if you die in the dream you die in real life. The scenes that unfold as a result of this interaction are some of the most unique of its time.
The film constantly blurs the line between fantasy and reality, immersing the viewer into adopting a similar position as the protagonist. Both the protagonist and the viewer are unable to differentiate where the horror starts and ends, creating a constant state of tension. The conflict itself is nothing short of surreal, with Kreuger manipulating the very laws of time and space to torment other characters. The entire experience is absolutely haunting but strangely engrossing. Even while curling further and further into your seat, you can’t help but watch because you want to find out how Kreuger’s going to break the laws of nature next.
“Friday the 13th” occupies roughly the same space as Nightmare on Elm Street in terms of narrative. Once again, hapless teenagers become murder fodder for a seemingly unstoppable force. This time, however, the catastrophe takes place at an outdoor summer camp. I shouldn’t really complain, no one watches these slasher films for the plot. What separates “Friday the 13th” from “Nightmare on Elm Street” however, is the sense of realism. It seems strange to draw any sense of realism from either movie, but “Friday the 13″ feels infinitely more grounded than the other film, and preys on applicable fears of the viewer. Maybe it’s because of my innate fear of the outdoors, but being in the middle of the woods after dark seems undoubtedly terrifying. Every snapping twig or rustling bush sends a wave of fear right through the audience. “Friday the 13th”, like the other film discussed, essentially set a standard for slasher movies to follow regarding ambience and tension.
Looking at the two aforementioned horror films, an immediate trend can be identified regarding horror films of the 1980s. What made these two films pop culture symbols for decades after was their ability to capture a sense of helplessness almost immediately. The key to any successful horror movie is establishing this tone, but these supernatural slasher films did so in a unique fashion.
Both Jason Vorhees and Freddy Kreuger appear in a number of additional films after their first debut (Jason’s debut was a lot shorter than Freddy’s, but I’ll allow you to figure that one out on your own). These villains were completely relentless, they only ever seemed to be stopped for a short period only to immediately show up later to raise the stakes. There is nothing quite as scary as something that is beyond your control, and each film captures this notion perfectly.
Michael Dellapi is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org