This fact is perfectly dramatized when one contrasts the “High School English Class” scenes featured in the Carpenter and Craven films. The former is about fate, and the way that fate determines action and destiny.
The latter is about a hero (Hamlet) digging for and excavating the truth against great odds and entrenched power.
One scene is about surviving by circumstance dictated by destiny, the other is about actively participating and re-shaping your own future. Nancy is a hero, then, who takes responsibility for her survival in an affirming, powerful fashion.
Too many people laud A Nightmare on Elm Street because it introduced a great villain, Mr. Krueger. They forget the other side of the equation, that the film also introduced a great nemesis for Freddy in Langenkamp's Nancy.
Many of the film's most terrifying scenes are set in dark labyrinth, or maze-like basements, a connective tissue between the surface above and the truth below.
For example, Lieutenant Thompson uses his own daughter, Nancy, as a pawn so as to achieve his goal of apprehending Rod Lane.
Similarly, Marge Thompson sees the murder of Freddy as the parents' "right" because the legal system failed to arrive at the conclusion they preferred.
A national debt of the egregious size we racked up in the 1980s was, similarly, a visitation of the sins of the fathers upon the children. It was the kids who would be faced with paying the piper. We put it on our national credit card, but the bill wasn't due in the 1980s.
As a protagonist, Nancy Thompson fits perfectly into this discussion of reality vs. symbolism, or surface vs. reality, if you prefer. Like the Prince of Denmark, she digs and digs, uncovering lies and murder, until she gets to the truth behind all the death and corruption.
She discovers that her parents are murderers, and worse, that they are okay with the fact that they took the law into their own hands. Their protestations of righteousness are hollow-sounding lies. And it is here, in reckoning with those lies, that Nancy realizes no one can help her.
The police are powerless to stop Freddy, because he operates in his own reality.
Her parents are similarly helpless, because they are either alcoholic, are unwilling to listen to their child’s fears.
And at a dream clinic, scientists also prove unable to help Nancy survive against the looming threat to her very survival.
The Establishment, as it stands, is unwilling and unable to confront the truth, and solve the problem in an effective fashion. In a sense, her parents have already sold her and her friends out. Their illegal behavior -- their solution to the problem of Freddy -- has given Krueger license to hunt and murder their children. The future, if she is to have one at all, rests with Nancy and her choices.
Again, the parents who brought the world to the brink of war might be viewed as culpable for creating that “demon,” while the younger generation, represented by Nancy, had to carry the burden of knowing that death -- apocalypse -- could come at any moment. Freddy -- Craven's "bad father" -- is the avatar for all these generational fears; but particularly the fear that the world is fucked up, that it isn't your fault, and that, without doubt, the world is going to come and kill you.
Does turning away mean medicating yourself to a state of numbness? Some amount of denial may be desirable, healthy even, but first you must know what you are denying. Nancy must learn when to dig for truth and when to turn away from the lies and corruption she finds.
So, in some weird and very eighties way, A Nightmare on Elm Street is about growing up, and finding your own way to navigate a messed-up world.
The death of Tina is one of the most horrifying and remarkable death scenes ever put to film (with Glen’s a close second, perhaps). Tina’s death is violent, irrational, and based on the idea that a reality ignored is a reality that is dangerous, or deadly.
An unseen assailant rips the beautiful teen apart, and razor cuts “happen” to her, because her parents have not been able to help her, or acknowledge the truth about the danger she faces. How can you save someone from a monster you refuse to acknowledge or believe in?
Future Elm Street films boast far more elaborate death sequences, but for my money, Tina’s remains the most effective in the entire franchise. Her murder galvanizes the senses. It terrifies. It goes so far beyond the pale -- and beyond rationality or Physics -- that viewers realize they have crossed over into a whole new world of terror.
We've all had that terrible dream in which we are being chased, and our feet sink into the ground, delaying and jeopardizing our escape. Craven harnesses that universal image for a chase scene here, in which a staircase turns to goo under Nancy's feet, and Freddy looms nearer.
There's something very basic or primeval about this vision, of arms growing longer and longer to entrap their prey. And because Freddy is silhouetted, we can pour all of our various fears into him. He can be a bad father, a child murderer, a supernatural entity, or all of the above.
Long story short: almost four decades later A Nightmare on Elm Street is still bloody good.