In the dreams of his victims, a child murderer stalks the children of the members of the lynch mob that killed him.
Everyone knows who Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is. It’s hard not to know the star of an 8 series (including Freddy vs. Jason) franchise. Most people know him as a somewhat clumsy, wisecracking horror invention of the 80’s, which is really too bad, as he started out being one of the greatest villains of all time. In A Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy Krueger is a scary dude, in a really good movie. It’s a shame that the series diminished that, which is why I chose to visit the movie that started it all.
Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) has been having bad dreams about a man with burns all over his body, in a red and green sweater and raggedy hat, and knives on his fingers. She dismisses it as nothing more than a dream until she finds out her friend Tina (Amanda Wyss) has been having dreams of the very same person.
One night, Nancy, her boyfriend Glen (Johnny Depp in his first film role), Tina, and her boyfriend Rod (Jsu Garcia) spend the night at Tina’s, and Tina is viciously murdered. She is tossed and dragged around the room and across the ceiling by an unseen assailant as Rod can do nothing but look on in horror and confusion. Rod is wanted for the murder and is apprehended by Nancy’s policeman father (John Saxon). Nancy insists that Rod is innocent and tries unsuccessfully to convince those around her that it was actually Freddy Krueger.
Freddy continues to haunt and torment Nancy in her dreams. In one of the many suspense sequences in this film, Nancy falls asleep in class a day or two after Tina’s death. Her head dips only momentarily before springing back to life, but that’s all the time Freddy needs to drag you into your nightmare. She looks out into the hall to see Tina in a body bag, calling for her. Nancy leaves the class to follow the bag which is being invisibly dragged down the hall, leaving a path of blood behind it. She follows the bag into the boiler room, where Freddy stalks her. Before Freddy can take her life, she throws her arm onto a burning pipe and sears her arm. Nancy wakes up screaming in class, but notices the burn on her arm from the dream is there in reality. If Freddy kills you in your dream, you die in real life.
Her mother (Ronee Blakley) and father are both concerned for her sanity. She insists that it’s Freddy Krueger that is killing people, and finally her mother relents, and tells her the back story of Freddy and why he can’t be the murderer.
Freddy lived in the neighborhood, and was killing the little children of Elm Street. The parents of the children decided to take justice in their own hands and burned Freddy alive. Nancy’s mom then pulls the glove with the knives on the fingers out of their furnace and shows Nancy, hoping this will convince her, but her encounters with Freddy continue. In one instance, at a sleep clinic, she manages to pull Freddy’s hat out of her dream, and theorizes that if she can pull his hat out, maybe she can pull him out and he’ll be vulnerable.
So Nancy plans her trap, and relies on Glen to help her out. Now for those of you that enjoy horror movies and original death scenes, the death of Johnny Depp will leave you salivating. It’s one of the most original, awe inspiring death scenes in horror movie history. In fact, I saw this movie when it first came out 20+ years ago, and I’ve always remembered this scene. If you haven’t seen this movie, and you’re a horror fan, this scene alone is worth the price of the rental.
What Wes Craven did with this movie was bring the mythos of the Boogeyman to life. There are many reasons why this movie is scary, but just the concept of it is the number one factor. With other slasher films, you can always say “well, I wouldn’t run up the stairs,” or “I could get away from him.” With the concept in A Nightmare on Elm Street, you can’t get away. You will always fall asleep, and thus, you will always find yourself in Freddy’s world. Instead of hiding in the closet, the Boogeyman hides in your dreams, and you can’t make him go away by shutting the door and turning on a night-light.
In the original entry in the series, Freddy (then known as Fred) barely spoke; contradicting the Freddy in later sequels that used Nintendo references during his kills. Sure, he still plays with his prey, but Craven uses this to create some very suspenseful sequences, added immensely by the photography of Jacques Haitkin. The photography has deep shadows and plenty of smoke. Freddy can, and does, lurk in those deep shadows. The dream sequences differ enough from the reality sequences to subliminally give you an uneasy feeling and question if you’re in a dream or not.
This movie is not perfect. The acting isn’t top notch, and some of the dialogue is typical of low budget horror movies. The effects are sometimes dated but these things do not make the movie laughable as they do with other installments.
My biggest problem with this film, and this lies true for every film in the series, save A Nightmare on Elm Street 7: New Nightmare, is the ending. It just seems like they never know how to end these films.
Spoiler Alert.The movie ends with Nancy triumphing over Freddy. She quickly runs upstairs to check up on her mom, to see Freddy on her on a bed. They disappear into the bed in some cheesy special effects, Nancy then turns, Freddy reappears, and she says she’s not going to give him power anymore by acknowledging him, and he disappears as he lunges at her.
I realize you give the Boogeyman power by believing in him, and this is foreshadowed through a conversation Nancy has earlier with Glen in the film, but shouldn’t that only apply when she’s in a dream? She brought him back into reality, the motive being that he would become mortal again, and killed him.
A smaller gripe I have with this film (that turns into a much larger gripe with the other films in the series), is the breaking of the rules. In a film like this, with such a unique idea, rules are required and laid out to better help the audience follow along. The basic rule is that you are vulnerable to Freddy when you’re asleep. At one point in the film, when Nancy is plotting her plan with Glen, she is on the phone. Nancy is not asleep at this point, but Freddy still manages to turn the receiver into a tongue that tries to lick her. According to the rules laid out by the film, this shouldn’t be possible. And again, the ending shouldn’t be possible according to these rules.
Even with my small complaints, this is a really good, scary film that every horror fan should see. Originality is few and far between in horror films, but this film succeeds in reinvigorating the genre. The originality of the story and the villain himself keep you glued to your seat. The photography, score, chilling theme (1, 2, Freddy’s coming for you…), and superb direction far surpasses any of the films shortcomings.
If you’re looking for a smart version of a slasher film, then this film is for you.
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