The Movie: 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' (1984)
The Scene: Shellshocked by the death of her best friend, Nancy Thompson decides to take a hot bath one night to clear her head. She's young and vulnerable and caught up in a mystery she still doesn't quite understand. There's a man named Freddy Krueger who's coming after her in her dreams, but those dreams may just be spilling over into real life. In any event, a nice, warm bath should relieve some of the tension. Only problem is Freddy's there too.
As Nancy starts to dose off, Freddy's gloved hand with knives over the fingers slowly rises from the soapy water between Nancy's legs. Just as the hand is heading towards Nancy's face, her mom knocks on the door waking her and causing the hand to slip down below the surface of the water. Despite her mother's admonishes not to fall asleep in the tub, Nancy starts to nod off again and the glove is back, like a shark in the water, and this time it pulls her under. Nancy fights for her life in what seems like an ocean under her bathtub. Kicking and flailing, she's finally able to pull herself up and out of the tub just as her mother bursts into the room, alerted to the danger by Nancy's screams. It's easily one of the most memorable scenes in a film that has become a genre classic.
Why It's Iconic: This is one of those scenes that's classic as much for the framing of the shot as the scene itself. The image of Nancy in the tub, completely unaware that danger is so close represented so well by the gloved hand of Krueger waiting to drag her down into his nightmare, is instantly recognizable and speaks volumes. Nancy is the good kid, probably a virgin, but definitely a virginal character who's innocence is corrupted by the placement of the gloved hand between her legs. It's subtle, but definitely sexual and represents a certain kind of desecration. That the scene takes place in the bathtub is no coincidence. A private and typically safe place, the bathroom is a place no one else should be and yet Krueger usurps the boundaries, slithering in like a snake to terrorize Nancy. It's also in this scene where Krueger demonstrates an ability to grab someone from the brink of sleep and pull them down into his world. The fighting underwater is both a fight to stay alive as well as a fight to wake up, where the light of the bathroom above is the light at the end of the tunnel, representing freedom and escape.
Imitators/Flatterers: Whatever your opinion of the recent remake of 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' happens to be, at the very least they tried to strike out a bit and do a few things differently. This isn't a shot for shot remake. That said, they were smart enough to know that they needed to include the bathtub scene. In fact, early promo stills from the remake showed that very shot, with Freddy's glove coming up out of the water unbeknownst to Rooney Mara.
It's such an iconic scene in it's original form that it was again recognized as a great scene in a different film. James Gunn's throwback creature feature 'Slither' includes a nice nod to the famous bathtub scene. In Gunn's film, a young girl is relaxing in the tub, completely unaware that alien slugs have squirmed there way into her bathroom. She ends up fighting them off, flinging them against walls and even frying one with her curling iron. The bathtub scene worked so well in 'Slither' that they even used it for the promotional and poster art when advertising the film.