I note with some irony that the movie everyone was talking about 34 years ago was a truly awful slasher film called Silent Night, Deadly Night: a greasy little piece of exploitation trash that used the gimmick of a killer in a Santa suit to cover up for its lack of anything worthwhile. But while the cinematic world was up in arms about it all (the late Gene Siskel was particularly apoplectic), another horror movie opened on the same day that no one noticed much at the time. It was called A Nightmare on Elm Street and… well, I’m guessing you know which of the two is still being watched. Credit director Wes Craven for tapping into something primal and powerful with Freddy Krueger — a force of pants-wetting terror, with no sign of the pop-culture mascot he eventually devolved into — and for reminding us that quality still matters sometimes, even in exploitation films. Mr. Krueger began haunting all our dreams on this day in 1984.
The James Bond franchise got a shot in the arm with 2006’s Casino Royale, but the follow-up left a lot to be desired, and while everyone agreed that Daniel Craig made a fantastic 007, his third adventure, Skyfall arrived amid a lot of anxiety over whether the franchise could measure up to his sterling debut. Turns out, we needn’t have worried. Not only did it surpass the already beloved Royale, but Sam Mendes’ unique blend of nostalgia and modernism resulted in one of the best Bond movies of all time. It opened today in 2013.
We’ll close with No Country for Old Men, the film that finally scored a Best Picture Oscar for the Coen Brothers and cemented their status as two of the premiere filmmakers of their era. Adapted from a Cormac McCarthy novel, it successfully transfers that author’s bleak, despairing tone to the big screen, positing a tale of double-crosses and stolen money in which nothing arrives quite the way anyone expects. (It also shares something with Skyfall besides the date: a spectacular performance from Javier Bardem.) It opened today in 2007.