A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) Review (4.5 of 5)

One of the best low budget horror movies ever made, Nightmare On Elm Street was original and for at least one kid (me), was genuinely scary.

The basic premise is well known. A killer that stalks and kills you when you fall asleep.

The film focuses on a group of friends that begin to experience the same nightmares about the same boogey man like character.

He’s looks like a burn victim, wears a striped sweater, a fedora an has fashioned a glove with blades that extend from the fingertips.

The first to experience these nightmares is Tina (played by Amanda Wyss). She is soon murdered by an invisible killer in front of her boyfriend. He gets blamed for it.

Nancy, the film’s protagonist played by Heather Langenkamp begins to believe there was more to the murder when she too begins having the nightmare.

She soon realizes that every time she falls asleep that she faces an attack from the demonic man in her dreams. As this is a horror film, noone believes her, not even her boyfriend (played by Johnny Depp) or her parents.

The mother specially is portrayed as especially impassive to Nancy’s plight. While doing her own investigation and questions, she soon finds out that her parents may have something to do with the situation.

Langekamp may not be the most expressive actress, but she does a good job with the part. She has all the requirements of your classic female horror film protagonist. She is very pretty with her All-American teen mag cover girl looks.

She’s reasonably intelligent in the film. She’s easily sympathetic as the victim/protagonist. She can’t convince ANYONE that she and her friends are under assault by a supernatural killer.

And (the most important quality): She can scream REALLY well.

And screams she does…

Many…

MANY times in the film.

Johnny Depp is the boyfriend. Obviously he went on to the biggest acclaim after this. Much of his big success coming in the last decade. He actually seemed to be playing a ‘normal’ character here, rather than the goofballs hat his success has allowed him to play.

Robert Englund is decent as the villain, but I think the dream FX, the voice modulation, the shadows and the horrific makeup and wardrobe played a big part in the villain’s success. Unlike the sequels, he is more like a boogey man here. You never really get to know a whole lot about him.

I think the fact that the FX were made on a very tiny budget, even for the time, actually helped to create onscreen visuals that appeared as if they were from someone’s weird nightmare.

One of the things that make certain movies classics are to have scenes that will be remembered for one reason or another.

In Nightmare On Elm Street there are MANY very memorable sequences. Much of the imagery truly is nightmarish. Weird and dreamlike at times and brutal in others, there are a lot of ideas that went into the film.  There are several underlying themes. Giving that what you fear power.

The sins of the parents coming back to destroy the offspring. Teen fears involving the detachment and apathy of parents to their problems. Craven gets a lot into this.

It was an easy sell to a horror audience. That contingent was very large in the 1980s, when pulp horror writers like Stephen King, Clive Barker and others were beginning to hit a crescendo.

It also had one of the better trailers and marketing campaigns ever for a small budgeted indie film. I can’t think of too many taglines that are any better or more iconic than the clip that is used for the trailer.

First an announcer sets up the story of the Elm street kids being stalked by a strange boogey man. Then Nancy earnestly warns: “Whatever you do… Don’t… fall… asleep…” That’s all I really needed to know. It delivered on it’s promise of scares, too. At least for me.

Great horror films, the best horror films, always have fears of the real world buried beneath the surface. Wes Craven really tapped a gold mine when he created this. Interesting that another great movie involving the realm of dreams came out around the same time (Dreamscape).

The creepiness of Freddy Krueger has been somewhat diminished over the years by the numerous sequels (most of them being very poorly written), and TV shows and toys and etc…

He was written much more hammy and braindead in the sequels… This movie is also a lot grittier, having more mood than the later slicker and cheaper looking installments, but this remains one of those watershed horror films that holds up pretty well.

It’s definitely worth watching if youre a horror fan. This is a seriously made genre film that entertains as well as scares. I would say its not for the squeamish, but I think the squeamish are who horror movies are made for.

4.5  of 5 whatevers… It’ also I’m my ‘Best Lists’. To see where it falls on the lists, click for the Best of the 1980s and the Best 10 of 1984.


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