A Nightmare On Elm Street
Release Year: 1984
Everyone knows the Bastard Son of 100 Maniacs. Freddy Krueger became one of the biggest pop culture icons of all-time. Only in the 1980s could a dream stalking child molesting murderer become one of the biggest icons on the planet. But it all had to begin somewhere.
Back in 1984 the horror genre was a different place altogether. The biggest movie maniac had emerged as Jason Voorhees from the Friday The 13th series. Michael Myers had been laid to rest, still several years from resurrection. Chucky and Pinhead were still just thoughts in their creators minds. While we all know Wes Craven now as one of the tried and true “Masters of Horror” at this point his only real claim to fame was 1972’s Last House On The Left, ironically produced by the creator of Friday The 13th Sean S. Cunningham.
So when he created Fred Krueger (as he is credited as in the original film) he created an entirely new sort of boogeyman. Krueger wasn’t covered by a mask, but by a series of burns. Unlike his slasher counterparts, he wasn’t silent, but used his voice to taunt his victims. It is really no surprise that Freddy became such an icon.
The film begins pre-credits with a dirty hand shown creating the razor blade glove that would go onto haunt the nightmares of kids for decades. We then see a shadowy figure chasing Tina (Wyss) through what appears to be an old factory. Just as she is about to be caught she wakes up in her bed.
The next day she discusses her nightmare with her best friend Nancy (Langenkamp), Nancy’s boyfriend Glen (Depp, in his first role) and her on-again, off-again boyfriend Rod (Corri). Later that night during a sleepover Tina has another nightmare, but this time we get our first glimpse of Fred Krueger (Englund). She ends up getting slaughtered and dragged across the walls and ceiling of the bedroom while Rod helplessly watches. Rod escapes, but is captured the next day by the town sheriff, Nancy’s father (Saxon).
As the film progresses all of the main teenage characters encounter Krueger in their dreams, as he methodically picks them off one by one, leading Nancy on a quest to find out who he really is. As it turns out, Krueger was a child murderer who was let go due to a search warrant signed incorrectly. Taking justice into their own hands, the parents of Elm St. decide to go vigilante and burn him to death in his boiler room. But Freddy wasn’t done and vows to get revenge by killing their children in their dreams, which ends their lives in the real world.
It all comes down to a final showdown between Freddy and Nancy, where Nancy emerges victorious…or does she?
The true highlight of the film is of course Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger, as well as the creative death scenes. In all honesty, the first time watching the film as a boy, I was permanently scarred by Tina’s death scene and didn’t make it past the early death. I went without sleep for several nights and didn’t revisit the film for over a year. But it was truly instrumental in helping turn me into the horror fan that I am today, and for that I am forever grateful.
The acting in most of the film is below average but still rises above the slasher film genre type. Compared to many films in not only the series but the slasher genre as a whole, we are given a relatively small troupe of actors, with most of the screen time going solely to Langenkamp. She works well for her character but one gets the idea that she won’t be winning any Oscars in the future neither. Englund is an absolute revelation as the iconic boogeyman, which becomes all the more interesting knowing the role was not originally his. In fact, David Warner (The Omen) was originally cast as Krueger, but he dropped out leaving Englund to take the role. One has to wonder what would have happened with not only the series, but the horror genre as a whole had it not been Englund behind the prosthetics. While it is undeniable that A Nightmare On Elm Street didn’t create the slasher genre, by the time it came along the subgenre was on its last legs. Nightmare revitalized the genre while adding in the supernatural elements that would help other horror franchises get off the ground.
The rest of the cast is decent for what it is, with Depp and Saxon being the obvious highlights. Saxon, being a longtime staple of both the horror and exploitation genres, gives the film an air of credibility, while Depp shows hints of the greatness he would go onto achieve, then squander by repeated team ups with Tim Burton.
The effects are fantastic for a film with a low budget and no reliance on CGI. Tina’s brutal death was achieved by creating a rotating room, allowing her to make the scene seem even more realistic. (It is interesting to compare this scene with the equivalent scene from the 2010 remake, where CGI was used and it appeared like 2010 Tina was doing a gymnastics routine, taking a horrifyingly brutal scene and making it laughable). The other famous death scene happens to the most famous member of the cast, the aforementioned Mr. Depp. Not to overtly spoil it, but it involves perhaps several hundred gallons of blood, and is utterly fantastic.
Perhaps the biggest gripe with this entry in the series is the ending. Wes Craven and Producer Robert Shaye famously fought over the ending, and would only eventually come to a compromise. Craven wanted to have a definitive ending, while Shaye (who was the head of New Line) wanted an open ending that could lead to sequels. Obviously, Shaye would be the correct one in this situation, and New Line Cinema was famously known as “The House That Freddy Built” for its entire existence. Imagine a world where the Ninja Turtles or Lord Of The Rings movies wouldn’t exist as we know them. Without Freddy and A Nightmare On Elm Street they wouldn’t.
Is A Nightmare On Elm Street the best film in the series? It is arguable, and depending on your perspective it may be, or you may prefer one of the sequels. That’s the whole idea of this new feature, to go through the series one by one ranking them upon their merits.
Body Count: 4
Best Kill: Tina being dragged across the room and ceiling while being sliced open.
Stay Tuned for more Freddy as next up is A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.