Poster Picks: A Nightmare on Elm Street

Time for a change-up here at the lair. Seems that I’m finding it a bit difficult at the moment to come up with suitable fodder for Flashback Friday. It’s not that I have no ideas…it’s just that they’re all of a rather morose variety. I don’t want to do that to you. I certainly don’t want to do that to me.

Therefore, for the month of January, I’m replacing Flashback Fridays with Poster Picks! Woot? Indeed. I did, after all, mention in my last Poster Pick that I had intended on writing up several horror movie posters during the month of October…er, Doctober. But that plan went a bit out the window.

Until now.

Time, then, for one of my all-time favorite movie posters from one of my all-time favorite movies: Wes Craven’s 1984 horror classic, A Nightmare on Elm Street. If there was ever a more perfect slasher…it was done by John Carpenter 😉

This movie has withstood the test of time so well that it continues to fall solidly in my top 10 favorite horror movies and, while I’ve never done an “official” ranking, I’m thinking that this is really close to the top of that top 10. Nancy Thompson equally holds pride of place in my list of horror movie heroines, coming very close to the top of that list as well. Simply put, this is definitely one of those “must-see” movies that I recommend for anyone who wants to learn more about one of the greatest influences of the modern horror genre.

And, no, there was no remake.

As for the poster, it’s another impressive example of how a little bit of information presented in a tantalizing way can go a long way. First, as I also mentioned in my review of the poster for Gremlins, I love that this poster is art rather than photography. I don’t know why, but I have a warm, fuzzy spot in my heart for drawn/painted poster art.

This poster starts out with the tagline at the top, written in all capital letters, in a simple, white sans serif font: “If Nancy Doesn’t Wake Up Screaming She Won’t Wake Up At All.”

Never mind the lack of punctuation in the tagline; I love the connotations of sleep having the power to kill you. I’m sure that everyone has heard the urban legend that if you start to fall in your dream, you’ll actually die if you don’t wake up before you hit the ground. I think this tagline, even before you know anything about the movie itself (or, for that matter, the news articles that inspired Craven to write the script), feeds right into this level of primal fear.

The primary graphic of the poster is a POV rendering of us looking down at a teenage girl, presumably Nancy of the movie’s tagline, lying in bed. The layers of vulnerability in this image are magnificent. Sleep is a highly vulnerable state by itself. Just ask anyone who’s gone to a slumber party and had the misfortune of being the first to fall asleep. This vulnerability is ratcheted up even more by the fact that Nancy appears to be naked—or at least topless—beneath the sheets that she is clutching tightly to her chest. Next layer of vulnerability? That look on her face…so feral, so frightened. She’s looking directly out at us with eyes so wide that we can see the white all the way around both her irises.

[Minor artistic gripe here: Maybe this is just me, but I cannot open my eyes that wide without my eyebrows hitching halfway up my forehead. It’s always bothered me that Nancy’s eyebrows are so low in this painting. I know, I’m ridiculous sometimes.]

What has frightened Nancy so deeply that she would have such a panicked expression? Could it be those blade-tipped fingers hovering right above her head? Or perhaps the skeletal sketch of a face, with eyes the same color as Nancy’s…and that same wide-eyed feral stare? Made even creepier, by the way, by the lack of eyelids. I love how the face is partially transparent, how you can still see the slats of Nancy’s headboard through the skull. Same with how the blade-tipped fingers seem to be clawing their way out of her pillow. Also, there’s a symmetry at work here that delights me: I love how the second blade from the left lines up almost perfectly with the bridge of Nancy’s nose.

I don’t know about you, denizens, but if I woke up and saw either of these images floating over my head, whether real or not, I think I’d have that same panicked look on my face as well. My eyebrows would still be higher though.

I’ve also always loved how Nancy’s hair fans out over the pillow. It’s a great visual element and even adds another layer of vulnerability. Just ask anyone who’s ever had long hair get tangled in anything…like blade-tipped fingers. There’s also another layer of meaning only understood once you’ve seen the movie. Looks like there’s a gray streak through the hair on the left side of Nancy’s head (LEFT side, Dream Warriors. LEFT.) Wonder what caused that…

We then move down to the movie title, written in an appropriately bloody shade of red. I love the scratchy font used for “A Nightmare” and how it juxtaposes so nicely against the generic sans serif used for “On Elm Street.” Elm Street is such a generic street name anyway. As it will be pointed out to us in a later sequel, “Every town has an Elm Street.”

Indeed, it’s that ubiquity that I think makes the premise of this movie all the more frightening. Every town has an Elm Street. Everyone has to sleep. Everyone has to dream. Add all these elements together and no one is safe. Especially not poor, naked Nancy and her weird streak of gray hair.