Classic Movie Review: A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)

Posted: March 27, 2021 in horror, Movies
Tags: , ,

Teenage high-schooler Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss) is having nightmares about a guy named Fred Kruger (Robert Englund) coming after her to kill her.  At a sleepover, Tina invites her boyfriend, Rod Lane (Nick Corri) and her best friend Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) and her boyfriend, Glen Lantz (Johnny Depp) to stay the night, because her nightmares are getting to her.  Nancy falls asleep and wakes up to hear Tina screaming, Glen and Nancy break Tina’s door down, and find Tina in a bloody heap, and Rod gone.  The police immediately suspect Rod, and Nancy’s father, Lieutenant Don Thompson (John Saxon) sets a trap for Rod, using his daughter as bait, and the police arrest Rod shortly thereafter.   

Everything should end after Rod gets arrested, right, but now Nancy starts having nightmares.  Nancy’s concerned mother, Marge, (Ronee Blakely) takes Nancy to a sleep clinic.  After some unexplained events occur at the clinic, Nancy presses her mother about the identity of Fred Kruger.  She adamantly denies knowing anything about Fred Kruger, but seems nervous about the whole subject.  Is Marge hiding something from her past? 

What distinguishes Freddy Kruger from other horror villains is that Freddy exists in the nether regions of a person’s subconscious.  It’s the psychological aspect of this film that adds suspense.  At its heart, Nightmare on Elm Street is a suspense film, that raises intriguing questions. Is this Freddy Kruger a manifestation of the stresses of teenage life, is he a manifestation of the teens lack of sleep, or is he real, and if he is real, how do the protagonists kill someone who attacks them in their dreams?  At its worst in’s a slasher film with buckets of blood, but unlike other horror films this one has a very interesting character at its center, and learning about Freddy is what makes this movie so entertaining to watch.  Nancy’s parents are typically oblivious, but there’s even a twist on that usual horror movie staple.  And Nancy realizes that she has to fight Freddy, real or imagined herself, and that leads her to be more independent than the other “scream queens” of the 1980’s.  It’s far from perfect, most of the characters are not developed, sometimes Nancy behaves older than her years, sometimes younger, but all in all it’s much better than the horror movie dreck that Hollywood turned out in that era. 

The acting varies greatly in this film.  Heather Langenkamp, who no one had heard of at the time is perfect as Nancy Thompson.  She plays Nancy with the perfect mix of innocence, and both mental and physical toughness.  She literally built a career playing Nancy Thompson.  This was Johnny Depp’s first movie role and he plays it straight, no accents no pirate costumes, he’s just Nancy’s jock boyfriend.  He does a pretty good job of holding the audience’s attention, with nothing really distinctive about the role. Robert Englund doesn’t have lots to saw in this movie, but his backstory is firmly established, and he has 6 more films to build the iconic Freddy Kruger character.  Ronnee Blakely doesn’t bring much to the role of Marge despite being nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the movie Nashville in 1975.  She reads the lines with no emotion, and that bland reading detracts from the importance of the character, and she is a pivotal character in this film.  John Saxon, plays the strong silent police officer, as he had in many 1970’s movies, he’s silent until he finds his daughter might get hurt then he erupts in a volcanic temper tantrum. 

Director Wes Craven doesn’t really make this an 80’s style slasher film.  He is more interested in blurring the line between reality and the dream world, so the viewer doesn’t know were reality ends and the dream begins.  Even Freddy emerges in one sequence with elongated cartoonish arms, an exaggerated reality, like Tim Burton would effectively do in his movies. The effect is to not really scare the viewer, but to make him or her afraid to fall asleep, which is almost Hitchcockian in its motivation.  The real genius of this film is that Craven created a horror movie icon on a shoestring budget of a million dollars. When he made 50 million dollars on a million-dollar budget, Hollywood was bound to come calling again.  And it did. 

A Nightmare on Elm Street: Glove to Glove Ya Freddy!

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