Home > Horror, Mystery > A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…

When Wes Craven was growing up, a classmate of his with whom he shared a paper route frequently bullied him. His name was Fred Krueger.

Three, four, better lock your door…

Several newspaper articles printed in the L.A. Times told of a group of Cambodian refugees from the Hmong tribe who had died in their sleep.

Five, six, grab your crucifix…

In each case, the men would suffer terrifying nightmares, and then refuse to sleep for as long as possible. When they would finall succumb due to exhaustion, they would wake up screaming, and then fall dead.

Seven, eight, gonna stay up late…

It is still widely debated whether dying in a dream will kill you in real life.

Nine, ten, never sleep again…

A Nightmare on Elm Street is an American slasher film written and directed by Wes Craven and produced by Robert Shaye. It stars John Saxon, Heather Langenkamp, Ronee Blakley, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri, Johnny Depp, and Robert Englund. It was distributed by New Line Cinema.

Tina Gray (Wyss) has a nightmare of being stalked through a shadowy boiler room by a mutilated man with razor-sharp blades for fingers. As he catches up to her, she wakes screaming, only to find four slashes in her nightgown, identical to those in her dream. The next day, she learns that her friend Nancy (Langenkamp) is dreaming about the same menacing figure, but Nancy is convinced that it’s nothing more than that – a dream. Tina is uneasy sleeping alone in the house after her nightmare, so she invites Nancy and her boyfriend Glen (Depp, in his first major role) to sleep over and keep her company. Tina’s boyfriend Rod (Corri) crashes the party, and they shag like horny teenagers in an 80’s horror movie. However, that night Tina’s nightmare finally catches her, and Rod is awakened to find her being attacked by something unseen in the real world. He is helpless to intervene as he watches her slashed again and again by invisible knives, dragged up the wall and across the ceiling by her spectral attacker. When she finally drops, dead, onto the bed, Rod flees, certain he will be blamed for her murder. And, you know, he is.

Nancy starts having recurring nightmares of the razor-gloved figure, and she decides to talk to Rod about what he saw in the bedroom on the night Tina was killed. While he didn’t see her attacker directly, he did notice that it was like she was being slashed with four knives at once, and he recalls that he has also been having nightmares of the razor-fingered man. After Nancy has another dream of the nightmare figure attacking Rod in his cell, Rod is found dead, hanged with his own bedsheets. The police think he committed suicide, but Nancy isn’t so sure. However, her mother is concerned that Nancy isn’t getting any sleep, and takes her to a sleep clinic. During a nightmare there, Nancy returns to reality with a souvenir: a battered fedora with the name Fred Krueger written in it. She learns that Krueger was a child murderer who avoided conviction on a technicality but was killed when a vigilante group of parents burned down his hideout with him in it. But now it appears he has returned to stalk the teenagers of Springfield through their dreams – but how can Nancy fight a nightmare?

A Nightmare on Elm Street is widely regarded as a classic slasher, with the sinister Freddy becoming one of the iconic figures of the genre. In his initial appearance here, he is genuinely sinister and threatening, rather than the master of black-humored one-liners he became later in the series. The dream world is his realm, to do with as he pleases, and if you don’t know how to fight him there (and even if you do), you’re pretty much screwed. The nightmares here are surreal and frightening, with typical being-chased-by-an-unknown-menace imagery interspered with weird shit like a sheep coming out of nowhere for the early cat scares. The special effects were well-done, considering the era and the budget, with the only obvious fake coming in the form of an obvious mannequin getting pulled through the window at the very end.

The acting was pretty good, considering what I’ve come to expect in slasher films, and to my surprise the 80s doesn’t burn quite as bad as it does in films from the second half of the decade. The performances are solid, and they don’t act quite like the brainless victims one might find in lesser imitators. And the adults, while useless, are at least logically so – they would prefer that this chapter of their lives stay behind them, and to be honest, if your teenager told you that somebody in a nightmare was trying to kill them, would you believe them? On the other hand, if they started talking about someone they had no logical reason to even know about, I might sit up and listen, but it appears that Nancy’s parents were divorced and her mom had turned to alcoholism to cope with the horrors of the past. Depp as Glen doesn’t play a huge role in the plot aside from emotional support for Nancy, but his death is pretty damn spectacular.

Nightmare is a nice look back into Wes Craven’s early work and the first incarnations of Freddy Krueger, before the executives warped him into a simple marketing tool for New Line Cinema. It pours on the paranoia fuel of a completely inescapable killer (after all, everyone has to sleep sometime) and pokes at our primal fears to tweak up in ways only a nightmare can. Slasher fans will enjoy this one.

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