A teenager, Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp, Shocker), and her high school friends are having nightmares about a disfigured psychopath named Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon). When one of the teenagers dies in her sleep, Nancy realizes that Krueger has the ability to enter people’s dreams. She sets out to find a way to stop the vicious killer.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep.”
It’s hard to believe that it has been thirty years since A Nightmare on Elm Street was released into theaters. Super-villain Freddy Krueger has become such a pop culture icon that I often forget that the first film was such a sober, restrained affair. It was a hit, but most of us fell in love with the movie via Home Video. The movie has flaws, but it’s still Wes Craven’s best film to date. It is both scary and highly imaginative — one of the best supernatural slashers of the 1980s.
Craven does for bedtime what Hitchcock did for showers (Psycho), Spielberg did for the beach (Jaws), and De Palma did for elevators (Dressed to Kill). He took something familiar and turned it into a setting of blood-curdling terror. Part of what makes A Nightmare on Elm Street so effective is that Craven holds back as much as possible and allows the audience’s imagination to fill in the holes. That’s why when he finally goes over the top it is quite shocking to say the least.
The actors in the film are surprisingly great. I love Heather Langenkamp’s performance. Langenkamp looks and acts like a real young person. She is not one of those superficial Barbie Doll-like heroines who often appear in these types of movies. Ronee Blakley’s (Nashville) performance — she plays Langenkamp’s mom — is deliciously campy. I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, but Blakley’s character comes across as a parody of Blanche DuBois and I mean it as a compliment.
Robert Englund’s Krueger is an ominous agent of cruelty. The actor is clearly enjoying himself. The role of Krueger turned Englund into a horror superstar — Karloff and Lugosi must be smiling in monster heaven. The cast also includes John Saxon (Enter the Dragon) as Langenkamp’s cop dad and Amanda Wyss (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) as one of Krueger’s first victims. Johnny Depp’s (Edward Scissorhands) film debut.
Charles Bernstein’s (Cujo and The Entity) haunting music score is one of my favorite elements in the film. It’s simple yet it gets under your skin. Some of the visual effects are really inventive and creepy. The practical effects are more effective than the CGI stuff you see nowadays. The atmospheric cinematography is by Jacques Haitkin.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
A Nightmare on Elm Street has held up quite well over the years. The film spawned a slew of sequels and clones. The movie even inspired a short-lived TV series, but the first is still the best! A Nightmare on Elm Street is still one of the most imaginative horror films of the 1980s — a bona fide horror classic. Color, 91 minutes, Rated R.
Followed by A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)