In author Wayne Byrne’s 2022 book “Welcome to Elm Street: Inside the Film and Television Nightmares,” Englund notes that “Elm Street” has “many” connotations. It is, for example, the setting of William S. Gray’s wholesome Dick and Jane books for kids, which represent “the ideal family existence, much like what the people of Springwood aspire to,” Englund muses. It’s also, he adds, the place in Dallas, Texas where U.S. President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in 1963, which represents the darkness symbolized by Freddy.

For members of Englund and Craven’s generation, JFK’s assassination marked the beginning of the end of the optimism that characterized the counter-cultural movements and revolution of the mid-20th century. To them it was “the last moment of American optimism, it was the loss of American innocence, it was our loss of trust and the beginning of our incredible cynicism,” as Englund puts it. Between the subsequent murders of influential activists like Martin Luther King Jr. and Harvey Milk, the drawn-out bloody conclusion of the Vietnam War, the resurgence of the domestic terrorists that are the Ku Klux Klan, and the rise of modern conservatism with the election of Ronald Reagan, Craven had plenty of real-world inspiration to mine for the horror film that revived his then-flailing career. “And so the Nightmare on Elm Street is really the Nightmare of America,” Englund reasons.

40 years later, the message of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” applies just as much to our current hellscape as the one that Craven lived through. It’s a horror film about the importance of resisting evil as personified by Freddy Krueger. The movie’s teens might not be able to truly win that battle — as the film’s surreal final moments suggest — but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong to fight back anyway.

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