Film Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
In 1984, Wes Craven released A Nightmare on Elm Street, which starred Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, John Saxon, Johnny Depp, Ronee Blakely, Leslie Hoffman, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri, Joe Unger, Charles Fleischer, Joseph Whipp, Lin Shaye, and Mimi Craven. The film grossed $25.5 million at the box office and was nominated for the Saturn Awards for Best Horror Film and Best Performance by a Younger Actor. It won the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival Critics Award and a Special Mention to Langenkamp for her acting.
A teenager named Christina Gray is plagued by nightmares where a burned man with knives on his fingers stalks her through a boiler room. Soon after the dreams start, she dies during one of the nightmares and it becomes up to her friend, Nancy, to figure out what’s going on. However, Nancy’s started having the nightmares and must learn how to confront it before she dies as well.
An incredibly bizarre film, A Nightmare on Elm Street is a great film that brings out the weirdness as well as the scariness of the genre while employing decent plot. Here, a child murderer is able to come back from the dead and haunt teenagers in their dreams, which is how he kills them. It’s another film where the main characters know they’re dealing with something, mainly because the killer stalks them in their dreams, but don’t know what it is or how to deal with it and at the same time, none of their parents believe them, thinking that they’re just mentally breaking down due to the deaths of their friends. The way Nancy ends up taking out Freddy is good as well, attempting to take the power of fear away from him and practically neutering him. However, while it’s initially a perfect ending, the film continues for a little bit after that and just devolves into a terrible ending. The day is saved, Freddy’s gone and everyone’s alive again, but the teens quickly get locked in a car that speeds away towards impending doom and Nancy’s mother is killed. It’s an ending that feels hurriedly tacked on and while it doesn’t completely ruin the film, it certainly doesn’t do it any favors.
One of the elements the film really has going for it is the visuals and its ability to make seamless transitions from the real world into Freddy’s dream world nightmares that constantly make the viewer guessing as to whether or not a character is in danger at any given moment. Further, the visuals that the film brings when the teens are dreaming are fantastic. There’s a scene where Nancy goes to run up her stairs, but she keeps stepping through the steps and finds herself mired in goo that weighs her down and it all looks extremely realistic. The boiler room Freddy takes all of his victims to in their nightmares is also great, with all the shots and visuals making it look absolutely terrifying. Freddy himself has notable visuals about himself as well, from how he seems to be filled with nothing but green good and maggots when he cuts himself open to how the film’s lighting always makes him shrouded in darkness, as if to show that he’s the king of the nightmares so much that he can even control how much light is on him. Interestingly, the only time the visuals ever look like they’re subpar is during the final scene when Freddy drags Nancy’s mother through a window and it looks very obviously like he’s just grabbed a mannequin.
Then there’s the cinematography, which is great as well. The film has a lot of iconic shots, one of which is the scene where Freddy is about to grab Nancy while she’s in her bathtub. His hand comes up between her legs and its shot from right behind the hand and it does well in showing the audience how vulnerable Nancy is at that given moment. There’s also Glen’s death, which has a bit of a bird’s eye view of him being pulled into his bed followed by a geyser of blood. It’s a great shot of one of the most iconic horror film deaths.
Freddy Krueger’s a great villain too. Instead of being content to merely walk up to the kids in their dreams and kill them, he goes all out and terrifies them with imagery that toys with their mind before he finishes them off. He even mocks Tina’s asking God for help by outright stating that his god in the nightmare worlds that he creates. The way he announces himself is good too, with him sharpening his knives either in the distance or over the phone, letting his victims know that not only are they not alone, but they’re being hunted.