A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

a nightmare on elm street

“Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep.”

The Scoop: 1984 R, directed by Wes Craven and starring John Saxon, Heather Langenkamp and Johnny Depp

Tagline: If Nancy Doesn’t Wake Up Screaming She Won’t Wake Up At All…

Summary Capsule: A dream monster begins to prey on the children of Elm Street

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Justin’s rating: Zzz….zzzzzzzz…..

Justin’s review: The ’80s became extremely well-known for its embrace of a new genre of horror: slasher films. In these, jumps and scares would almost become secondary to excessive gore as the token bad guy offed the token teenagers in various inventive ways. Starting in the ’70s with Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween, the slasher genre exploded into dozens of unlikely films and countless sequels (the Friday the 13th, Child’s Play, and Hellraiser series head among them).

But no slasher film of this era began with such an original premise nor got such a dedicated following as Freddy Krueger did. Hated by parents and loved by teens, A Nightmare on Elm Street still holds up as one of the best and scariest of the slashers.

Four teens on Elm St. begin to have the same terrifying nightmares: A burnt figure in a red and green sweater, and featuring a glove with knives is chasing them endlessly. After Tina (Amanda Wyss) commits the mortal sin of having sex, she is sliced up while sleeping to the mild annoyance of boyfriend Rod (Nick Corri). Only smart, sassy, virgin teen Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), who barely escapes nightmare after nightmare, starts to track down the killer and learn of his mysterious past.

There are a few things that make Nightmare work to come out as king of the slashers. First off is the villain. Freddy Krueger is not your standard psychopath who pretty much murders without reason (like, oh, Jason); he has a specific revenge agenda. His scarred visage looks pretty darn terrifying, but also offers this villain the opportunity to emote facially (unlike Jason and Mike Myers, who had to wear masks). In this first Nightmare, Freddy is also a lot more sinister (unlike the game show host quipper of most of the sequels).

And you’ve got to admit, aside from the “Never Quite Dead” standard feature of most horror bad guys, Freddy had one other incredible power: He could get you anywhere, anytime, as long as you’re asleep. Once one of our characters drops off, they’re in Freddy’s world, a bizarre mix of reality and nightmare. Like our dreams, you and the characters are never quite sure in the movie when it’s real or not. There aren’t many parts in this film where you see the character falling asleep so that you can go “Oh, we’re in the dream world now”; the transition is often done without our foreknowledge. Using the theme of nightmares, we are treated to several spooky and horrific scenes that just feel like it could be one of those dreams we have right before we wake up, a little freaked out.

Many of the greatest moments in this film aren’t the “jump out and scare you” bits, or even the “show me the blood!” parts — it’s always subtle and dreamlike, a Wes Craven specialty. I’m always somewhat unnerved when Nancy’s in her classroom and she turns to see her dead friend standing in the hallway in a clear body bag. Plus, what’s up with those sheep, anyway?

It’s a shame that the slasher genre was severely overdone, as well as its bastard offspring, the slasher parody. It is always refreshing to go back to the film where Wes Craven really came in on his own, to go on to scare and surprise us with other films like New Nightmare, The People Under The Stairs, and Scream. If it’s been a while (or even never!), rent this film and remind yourself that slashers could be both innovative and scary.

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Kyle’s rating: Really dated, but it’s an undeniable classic

Kyle’s review: Can people be fans of both the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street series? I’m sure they can be. After finally watching all the Elm Street movies, I have to admit I remain first and foremost a Friday Fan. I have admiration for some of what they got down with on Elm Street (Part 3 and New Nightmare merit definite rewatching) and anything that culminated in the excellent Freddy vs. Jason gets love from me. Have you seen that movie? It’s awesome!

A Nightmare on Elm Street is actually pretty good. Not quite as polished as subsequent (crappy) sequels, but Wes Craven had a vision and the directorial strength of his execution (at this point in his career) transcends any budgetary limitations. So as cheesy as this first Nightmare can be, it’s too powerfully realized to not get a thumbs-up from even the most negative viewer.

Which isn’t to say it’s a great movie. At this point, Heather Langenkamp is not yet capable of the more accomplished performance she’ll give a decade later in New Nightmare, so she grates quite a bit as the lead heroine. Other actors involved, ranging from John Saxon to Johnny Depp, do what they have to do, but don’t stand out as much as you might think. Freddy Krueger is realized rather menacingly by Robert Englund right from the start, even though some of his horrific antics are fairly amateurishly portrayed by modern standards.

That’s just ridiculous nitpicking, though. The most important question here is “Does Freddy jump around a whole lot and slash people up like no other?” The answer here is an enthusiastic “Yes!” So if you dig that, you’ll dig this. Absolutely!

There’s crazy ideas bouncing around, and a legitimate sense here that these are youths crusading on their own against pure evil. Nothing can sink your enjoyment of a horror film faster than going “These ‘high school kids’ are about 30-years-old. *checking IMDb.com* Yep. This heroine was born 7 years before I was!” Plus, Freddy is one psycho s.o.b. in this first film, and that’s all you could hope for! I don’t think the jokey stuff that comes in later films for the character ever gets that off-putting, but Freddy being all about the kills here is a very nice touch.

Nightmare on Elm Street is going to suffer some from the praise it gets in a lot of circles, at least with first-time viewers. You might go into it expecting something on par with Halloween or Friday the 13th, and might get disappointed when it doesn’t live up. That’s just how it is, unfortunately. They tried for something very innovative and genuinely unnerving, and Nightmare succeeds on those terms. But doing so made it influential, so that its twists and tricks have reverberated throughout the genre ever since. There isn’t much here that you may not have seen in crappy B-movie rip-offs, but just enjoy it for what it is and think of it as one of the first of its kind. And you will enjoy it!

Intermission!

  • If you were mad at Beth for dumping Lane in Better Off Dead, check out Amanda Wyss getting chased by Freddy here!
  • In the scene where Freddy is shown pressing through the wall above Nancy’s bed, the effect was made using a large sheet of spandex.
  • Krueger bleeds green.
  • Just before Glen is pulled into the bed, the television station announces its name: “KRGR”.
  • Nancy watches to stay awake is The Evil Dead. She isn’t watching a random clip, but rather the theatrical trailer.
  • Freddy Krueger’s colors of red and green are contrasted throughout the movie.
  • Although the special effects were wonderfully cheesy throughout, I noticed sometime particularly cheesy that deserves mention. Near the end of the movie when Freddy falls down the stairwell in Nancy’s house you can see the mattress that was used to break the actor’s fall on the stairs.
  • Director Wes Craven claims to have named Freddy Krueger after a kid who bullied him in school and to have based his appearance on a disfigured hobo who scared him as a youth.
  • Wes Craven cast Joseph Whipp, who plays the inept sidekick of John Saxon’s Lt. Thompson in this film, as the sheriff who endures David Arquette’s inept Deputy Dewey in Scream.
  • Nancy’s bathtub was constructed over a tank built into the floor of the set with a cutout bathtub sealed down to it. Actress Heather Langenkamp spent 12 hours in it during filming, accompanied at least some of the time by special effects man Jim Doyle who was wearing the Freddy glove.
  • This was the first real movie by New Line Cinema. Before that, they were just a distribution company for college campuses.
  • The original glove was also used in A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge but then the glove went missing. The original glove was used in 1986 for Evil Dead II.
  • Over 500 gallons of fake blood were used during the making of the film. For the famous blood geyser sequence, the film makers used the same revolving room set that was used for Tina’s death. They put the set so that it was upside down and attached the camera so that it looked like the room was right side up, then they poured gallons of red water into the room. (The normal movie blood wasn’t able to create the right effect for the geyser.)
  • This is Johnny Depp’s first film.
  • Wes Craven says he was told that this was the first film to use a breakaway mirror.
  • Wes Craven choose the colors red and green for Freddy’s sweater because he read that those two colors are the hardest for the eye to process together.

Groovy Quotes

Nancy: Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep.

Children: One, two, Freddy’s coming for you. / Three, four, better lock your door. / Five, six, grab your crucifix. / Seven, eight, gonna stay up late. / Nine, ten, never sleep again.

Rod Lane: Hey, up yours with a twirling lawnmower!

Freddy Krueger: I’m your boyfriend now, Nancy.

Nancy: Oh, God. I look 20 years old!

Ambulance crew member: We don’t need a stretcher in there. We need a mop!

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
  • New Nightmare
  • Scream

12 comments

  1. […] Shalen’s Review: Here’s another film where another person has already reviewed it, so I can basically just skip the synopsis and tell you what I thought. Unfortunately, if I did that Justin would not put up my review, because there’s always the possibility some impressionable youth will wander onto this page and be scarred for life.1 So basically it’s about a brother and sister who discover some psychotic hiding bodies, decide to investigate, and stumble onto a really ridiculous attempt to set up another supernatural, invincible bad guy a la Freddie Krueger. […]

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