A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

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"One, two, Freddy's coming for you "

March 5th, 2010

This october a complete Blu ray box set of Freddys adventures is going to be released. Its time to revisit one of the best horror franchises of all time.

This is classic horror at its best and is one of the reasons that I love the genre more than any other. With the remake bound I thought it was time to add this bad boy to the reviews vault before my opinion gets tainted (although it does seem the new vision is returning Freddy to scary). Writing this also gave me an excuse to watch it again, not that I needed one.

Although Freddy is now known as the slasher king I do not consider this first film a slasher flick. While it does contain similar elements following teenagers (who are actually in their 20's) who die in gruesome ways this is more in line with a psychological thriller that contains supernatural elements.

The kids of Elm Street are haunted by nightmares of a man wearing a glove with razors attached. After the death of their friend they realize that if you die in the dream world you die for real and so they try to find a way to defeat this terrible foe. Despite denials from their parents who seem to know a lot more about the goings on than they are letting on time runs short as there's only so long you can go without sleep.

Unlike most horror A Nightmare On Elm Street is genuinely scary. The film is nicely set up by its plot and the treatment of its characters. The storyline strikes a chord with every human being as dreams and sleeping are the only things you can assert no control over, it's the only time you are completely vulnerable.

The situation insights fear but it's no good if the characters are unbelievable. This first 'Nightmare' is a character piece that allows us to spend a lot of the run time with Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) and her boyfriend Glen (Johnny Depp). It also doesn't hurt that both are likable as a recent film trend is to make characters complete arseholes so that we relish in their death scenes. The only way for a viewer to experience fear is to witness someone we like or can relate to in danger but are powerless to help. 'Nightmare' achieves this perfectly.

The entire film has a dreamlike quality that leaves the viewer in two minds about what is real and what isn't. This is an unnerving viewing experience as it leaves you never feeling completely safe. In most films the reveal of a dream leaves you at ease but this time you're never really sure and are kept on your toes throughout. Well done to Wes Craven who truly earned his Master of Horror status here.

The film also has a lot of mystery surrounding it which unfortunately may be ruined for newer viewers. Freddy Krueger has become such an icon that many people know his back-story whether they have seen the film or not. In the film when it's finally revealed how he is connected to the parents it presents a moral dilemma over if their actions were justified… look how they are being punished themselves. Even with prior knowledge it's still a pleasure to watch the characters figure this out for themselves.

On to the man himself, Freddy (credited as Fred Krueger, which doesn't role off the tongue quite as well) is not the character that has inhabited the following sequels. This is an evil character that only briefly appears in the film, 10 minutes at most. It is very clear this guy is a child molester (although never stated on screen) and is not someone you can sympathize with. Within the dream sequences Krueger is more sadistic than the wise ass he becomes as the films progress. His idea of humour comes from torturing his victims. He could clearly kill these kids in an instant but prefers the chase, this is a sick individual. One that I actually prefer as I think most villains should be unsympathetic as it allows you to root for the heroes.

The music is fantastic and creates an eerie setting supporting the strange visuals. Now the 'Nightmare' or Freddy theme is so well known it is just as iconic as the character itself. Every great horror icon has one but unlike the Halloween theme or Friday SFX (kill kill kill) this actually adds more to the film.

The kills here are very unique but don't go in expecting wall to wall violence as this is more about atmosphere. In fact there are only actually three deaths in the entire feature whereas the 'Friday' series took pleasure in upping the body count 'Nightmare' can proudly say "my film's better".

Heather Langenkamp and Robert Englund are perfect as Nancy and Freddy, it's as if they were born to play these roles. John Saxon plays Nancy's father and remains likable despite the fact he's putting so many obstacles in Nancy's way, in fact even though we know she's telling the truth if your child told you the bogeyman was going to kill them in their dreams you'd ignore it too. One person who really stands out in my mind though was Ronee Blakley as Nancy's mother, I absolutely hated her. This is not to say that she gave a bad performance but her character is so cold hearted to Nancy's plight. On top of this she seems to be suffering from depression, solving her problems with alcohol even though we are given no reason why she would be in this state.

Recently I found out that a new DVD release (why do I rush out to by films on DVD? I should wait) had a few deleted scenes. One of the scenes which has been posted on You tube Here has revealed a vital bit of information which has completely changed my opinion on Nancy's mother and hopefully one day will be reinstated in a director's cut. This is an extended scene where Nancy finds out about who Fred Krueger is from her mother, only this time we find out that she at one time had a brother who was murdered by Krueger. How amazing is that? Her mother's depression finally makes sense and her erratic behaviour is justified.

So despite my absolute love of this movie there are some very minor flaws but every film has a few. So first up, the movie appears very dated and may put off younger viewers but I personally don't have a problem with it. The film took place in the 80's so why can't we just take it as a period piece. When people watch Oliver Twist they don't really complain that it looks old fashioned do they?

Secondly is my own personal gripe which can easily be solved with your suspension of disbelief but I always have this in the back of my mind. Early in the film Nancy finds herself terrorized by Freddy – to escape his wrath she burns her arm to wake up. If pain causes you to wake up why when Freddy begins to cut people why do they not just wake up, as I said before minor problem. The special effects are all practical so there is no CGI, I personally am not a huge fan of computer graphics in films anyway.

This is a near perfect horror film which amazingly has not been seen by many younger viewers. Many avoid the film as the character is common knowledge or have been subjected to one of the terrible sequels. Most people once convinced to watch this are pleasantly surprised at how great it is after all these years (26 to be precise).

This is a film that must be seen and I urge everyone who hasn't watched it (that includes those of you who have only seen parts) to go find this film now before the remake ruins your enjoyment of the original (despite whether it's good or bad). 9.5/10

Additional: I would normally place this in the trivia but it's a bit longer and quite a cool little extra. Within this film Nancy can be seen watching the Evil Dead and in one scene you can see a torn poster for the movie as well. In return Sam Rami had a torn poster for Nightmare on Elm Street which appears in the basement in Evil Dead 2. Along with this when Ash sees the creature in the woods in the second film his hair greys just as Nancy's hair did in the later scenes in 'Nightmare'. Now that's cool.

Wes Craven wrote the script in 1981 but no one wanted it until New Line Cinema picked it up (Making the studio famous just as Saw made Lionsgate famous).
Over 500 gallons of fake blood were used during the making of the film (most probably used in Glen's death scene).
Freddy Krueger's first victim dies at exactly 18 minutes into the film.

Other reviews in the series

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare
Wes Craven's New Nightmare
Freddy vs. Jason
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

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Movie Details

Movie Poster Here
Director:Wes Craven
Screenplay: Wes Craven
Rating: 18
Starring:Robert Englund
John Saxon
Heather Langenkamp