A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET
Director: Wes Craven
Year of release: 1984
Country of origin: USA
Running time: 91 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: Both
Tagline: "If Nancy doesn't wake up screaming she won't wake up at all".
Estimated budget: $1.8 million
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: Teenagers living on and around the Elm Street neighbourhood begin suffering terrible dreams in which they are stalked by a disfigured lunatic in a red and green striped sweater and a black hat. Rather than just being harmless nightmares, sinister supernatural forces seem to be at work with the kids quickly realising that if they’re injured in the dream they’ll carry the same wounds back with them into the real world upon waking. The stakes are raised when one of those effected is actually killed whilst asleep and thus murdered in the real world as well. In the wake of this it’s left to fellow dreamer Nancy and her boyfriend Glen to try and get to the bottom of the situation. This is easier said than done with Nancy seemingly marked as the next target and thus in grave danger every time she falls asleep. Desperately trying to stay awake she struggles to convince those around her of the gravity of the situation. This is made even harder when she learns the identity of the nightmare villain as he appears to be someone who died of horrible burns years before.
Good points: *The core idea which writer/director Wes Craven came up with of people being at risk when they fall asleep is a terrific concept. It’s as scary as it is original seeing that try as you might to remain awake you’re inevitably going to succumb to sleep at some stage and thus put yourself in the firing line. As well as being a frightening thought it’s a clever idea as well that put a fresh spin on what by 1984 was fast becoming a very familiar slasher genre which was beginning to be met with increasing viewer apathy. Injecting new life into the somewhat flagging horse, Elm Street’s unique story captured peoples imagination and gave rise to a very successful and long running franchise which is to this day one of the most iconic in horror.
*Mild spoilers: The concept alone isn’t the only thing which sets Elm Street apart as it’s also packed with several neat visual effects which tap into the supernatural flavour. As one of the first high profile films to incorporate these more ghost like occurrences in a slasher, Craven has a deeper pool of ideas to draw upon than other genre entries and he does a great job coming up with what seems like fresh material. He really hits a home run in this area with things like Freddy emerging out of the wall above Nancy’s bed as well as the mattress later, his arms extending like Mr Tickle and the great use of the body bag in the school dream sequence. Being able to draw upon the supernatural as it does, the film does have a somewhat unfair advantage over most of its kin but it most definitely pulls all this stuff off with stylish aplomb.
*I’d be remiss of course not to mention the legendary Freddy Kruger himself among the positives as he’s truly a fantastic monster expertly played by Robert Englund. The unique outfit, horrible burned appearance, disconcerting tendency towards self-mutilation as well as the ability to speak and thus taunt his victims all contribute to something very memorable. Along with the aforementioned story idea of people being at risk when asleep it was definitely Englund’s charisma as Freddy that led to the film (and later the franchise) being as successful as it was. As the series progressed it’s well documented that Freddy became a bit too comedic and outrageous for his own good but certainly here he’s handled just right.
*The nursery rhyme redesigned to relate to Freddy is a creepy touch which really helps create a surreal and unsettling atmosphere being sung as it is by young girls. It’s an example of how something which only seems a small thing on paper can really take off and greatly contribute to the overall mood of the project.
*Continuing in the inventive vein of the movie Freddy’s weapon is unique as well and probably deserves to be mentioned as a positive all by itself. The dirty brown glove with switchblade style knives attached to the fingers is almost as famous as Freddy himself. It’s a great way of taking the traditional slasher weapon of a blade or multiple blades in this case and repackaging it in a creative way. It can also be used to produce an unpleasant nails on the chalkboard screeching noise when the blades are dragged against different surfaces. Lastly the glove weapon also contributes to an effective opening credit sequence where we see it being put together in a boiler room type location.
Bad Points: *Spoilers: There are a few small parts to the film which I feel are either overcooked or too far-fetched. It seemed odd that Nancy could see Rod inside his cell from the street while still outside the police building itself. Surely prisoners wouldn’t be visible to the public like that? In fairness it is supposed to be a dream sequence so perhaps the building layout/window position only appeared this way in the dream. Nancy did pass through a broken door to get to the building as well so it could have been on private property anyway and not on a public street. Still seemed weird though.
Later on I felt it was too over the top when it’s revealed that Kruger had killed around twenty kids in the past prior to his demise. If he’d have killed that many people, especially children, then he’d be one of the most notorious serial killers in history in the vein of a Ted Bundy but as things stood Nancy hadn’t even heard of him. It would have been much more believable if he’d have just molested a handful of kids and been suspected of maybe killing just one or two of them with some kids having disappeared and him being a suspect.
Lastly towards the end it’s very unrealistic that Nancy manages to achieve so much in what’s just a ten minute window. I’m referring to the point where she calls her father at 12:10pm telling him to come to the house at 12:30pm at which time if her plan works out she’ll have dragged Freddy into the real world. After getting off the phone she then sets up several booby traps as well as having a chat with her mother before climbing into bed at 12:20pm. In reality it would probably have taken her around an hour or so at least just to set the traps up.
*Spoiler: I’m not the biggest fan of the ending as it leaves things on a somewhat uncertain note. As I’ve stated on this site before I’m not one for ambiguous endings instead preferring things to be wrapped up neatly with no doubt as to how the story concludes. Here though I wasn’t sure if after Nancy took away Freddy’s power by turning her back on him if everything got reset with none of the deaths or events up to that point actually happening. Freddy’s Revenge ended in a similar way and again there I was left wondering if after Freddy is seemingly defeated does everything that occurred before count for nothing? It’s all a matter of taste and opinion but for myself I don’t want to be left with any uncertainty when finishing a film.
Verdict: A Nightmare on Elm Street has a terrific scary concept and a truly memorable villain which combine to create one of the most fondly thought of slashers of the eighties and indeed probably of all time. Introducing the supernatural surreal elements while not everyone’s cup of tea gave things a shot in the arm bringing freshness as well as contributing to some creepy haunting scenes. There’s a great weapon and nursery rhyme thrown into the pot as well. I didn’t mention the characters much outside of Freddy in the positives but the cast is mostly on point including a young Johnny Depp. Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy is a very strong addition as the girl next door heroine.
There’s an unrealistic little segment in the latter stages where too much activity on Nancy’s part is crammed into too short a period of time and I’m personally not too keen on the ending. All in all though it’s a film deserving of its well loved status among horror fans.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1)Tina: Murdered in her sleep. Slashed in the torso and dragged around the room, across the ceiling etc.
2)Rod: Falls asleep in cell and is strangled with noose made out of a bedsheet.
3)Glen: Sucked down into his mattress and then spat out in a shower of blood like liquid.
4)Nancy’s Mother: Pulled down into the mattress after being strangled by Freddy.
Review added on the 15th of July 2020.