Home > Reviews > Review: “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984)

Review: “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984)

Directed by: Wes Craven
Produced by: Robert Shaye
Written by: Wes Craven
Starring: John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund
Music by: Charles Bernstein
Year: 1984

 

Take a look at those credits. Notice anyone familiar? Well, aside from horror master Wes Craven, who we’ve already met through his directorial debut, the infamous The Last House on the Left! No, it’s the second to last cast member. … Yup. There he is! Johnny Depp was young enough to play a teenager at the time this movie, his film debut, was made, playing the lead character’s boyfriend.

Seems like a strange way for such a prolific, well respected modern actor to make his debut, but, then again, Kevin Bacon showed up in a similar role in the earlier Friday the 13th, so, maybe not. It’s possibly a shame, then, that they never stuck Depp and Bacon together to fight the two monsters in their inevitable but long delayed Freddy vs. Jason crossover.

Instead, fans of the two rival series were treated to one of the members of Destiny’s Child trying to act and late comedian John Ritter’s son, Jason. What a waste.

Oh no! Now who will Tim Burton cast in his movies!?

Onto the movie, though! Like Friday the 13th, the premise is a sound one, and I liked the way the film explains the laws of what govern its villain immediately. The film starts off in medias res, as a teenage girl,  Tina (Amanda Wyss), flees a severely scarred man with a claw for a hand, who stalks her through a boiler room, laughing and scratching his knives intimidatingly as she hopelessly looks for a way out. This villain, of course, is named Fred. Fred Krueger, and he has the ability to pop up out of nowhere and do all sorts of grotesque tricks and self-mutilations in order to intimidate his victims. If the premise sounds like a schlocky horror film, it totally is — the interesting twist is that Krueger can only attack his victims when they are dreaming, but his actions have terrifyingly real repercussions in the real world. Tina finds this out as she barely escapes from her nightmare and awakes with four slices in her pajamas.

At school, she finds out she isn’t the only one who’s been having these nightmares. Her best friend, Nancy, has also seen Krueger in her dreams, and this greatly disturbs the group of friends. When one of the friends is killed at a sleepover, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) begins to lose her mind. Having had enough of fearing “the Boogie Man” and taking way more pills and coffee than a healthy person should in order to keep herself awake, Nancy determines that it’s her job to rid the world of the evil that torments them once and for all.

Like Friday the 13th, Nightmare follows the general guidelines of your typical slasher film, primarily the rule about having sex. Sorry if that spoils anything for you… but you should know these things by now! The film is also a little more gleeful in its gore, thanks to Krueger’s supernatural nature, as opposed to the villain in at least the first Friday the 13th. There are literal spouts of blood that erupt from strange places in this film, not to mention the weird nightmares that the characters have, and the bizarre effects of the dreams influencing the material world.

In the world of horror movies, sex is never safe and often very scary!

The main problem with the film, and I know I’ll become a villain myself in the eyes of fans of this series, is that Freddy’s just not that scary when he’s on screen. His gleeful laughter schtick is just not intimidating. The claws? Yes. The general look? Iconic. But even the history of the character, as presented in the film, is pretty dull. *SPOILERS* That Nancy’s mother enacted her own justice on Krueger for being a threat towards her daughter and other children isn’t sufficient enough to give her bizarre character any development, either. *END SPOILERS*

The presentation of the scene, where Nancy is shown evidence of the explanation behind Krueger’s motives, is just so horribly acted by Ronee Blakely that it just sucks out whatever drama the backstory may have had for Freddy and turns it into a Grimm’s fairy tale. I’m sure that was the intention, since Krueger is essentially the Boogie Man, and he preys solely on adolescents facing adolescent issues in their lives, but the execution is just not scary. It’s not even creepy. It just is.

Maybe I’m cynical about these films now that I’m seeing most of the more popular ones (including Halloween, which I’ve recently seen but have yet to review) and have seen what truly terrifying movies can be like and how horribly un-scary the last two popular slasher films I’ve already reviewed actually are. They simply do not live up to their reputations, unfortunately. I really think you had to have grown up sneaking viewings at sleepovers or post-midnight viewings when your parents were in bed to have any fond memories of these films. For me, 28 Days Later remains one of the most unsettling horror films I’ve seen, and even the TV adaptation of The Walking Dead is miles above this in terms of scare factor. So, yeah, A Nightmare on Elm St. is incredibly tame all around.

See? Freddy just needs a BIG hug!

The lack of scares would be forgivable if everything else clicked. Nightmare could have been this entertaining ride, at the very least. But it isn’t. Some of the things just seem to happen out of necessity to get from point A to point B. Nancy’s psychosis happens with little development. The characters’ reactions to the admittedly limited number of killings, though they span a few days, are simply accepted by the characters without having any serious ramifications on their personalities. Sleep deprivation has a more profound effect on Nancy than her friends’ deaths! The first slaying motivates the characters’ actions throughout the rest of the film, but the rest just seem like another check mark on the short list of events the characters have to deal with to get to the resolution of their story, and they’re just glad to be moving on to the next thing and clock out by the end of the day.

Though Wes Craven has created one of the more memorable horror villains in Freddy Krueger, it’s more about the enduring, iconic look than anything in the actual story. Craven had his struggles with the studio to be sure. Krueger has since gone on to star in eight more films, often without Craven’s involvement, and of which five were direct sequels, one a very meta reboot about the filmmakers being terrorized by their own creation, one crossover with Friday the 13th, and, so far, one remake (complete with recasting and a restoration of Craven’s original, rejected origin story of Krueger being a child molester). Needless to say, though, he’s a pretty popular character. The only thing is, I don’t really know why.

Since watching this film, I’ve actually struggled to figure out whether Nightmare or Friday was the better film. Ultimately, I’ve wavered between the two so much, I’ve decided that they’re both about as good and about as bad as each other, but for different reasons. While Friday is a lot more realistic and intense, Nightmare gives its characters a lot more motivation, and the film’s killings a lot more imagination. So I guess I’ll give this one the same score as I did Friday. Why not? I’m feeling charitable right now…

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 2 /5

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  1. Alan Stanwyck
    October 18, 2011 at 10:24 am

    Regarding Bacon and Depp reuniting to fight their respective tormentors in FREDDY VS JASON. Um…if you paid attention to the two films you’d know that this supposition/proposition is beyond pointless and incorrect for several reasons…

    1. Kevin Bacon met his death at the hands of Mrs. Pamela Voorhees, not Jason
    2. Both Depp’s and Bacon’s characters DIED in their respective films…making a return virtually impossible without angering the core/canon fan base that a film like FREDDY VS JASON is aimed at pleasing

    ‘Nuff said.

    • CJ Stewart
      October 18, 2011 at 12:17 pm

      I know they died, dude, but it’s still a shame that the filmmakers couldn’t figure out a way that it could happen. Bring in Ash from Evil Dead and somehow have them get revived or something. It could’ve been fun. As I understand it, Craven wanted Depp to come back for New Nightmare, but was afraid he’d be too busy. Depp actually said he would have been glad to do it though. I haven’t seen the crossover movie, though, so I can’t say much on the subject. Just speculation on my part.

      As for Mrs. Voorhees, I was trying to keep that a non-spoiler for those, like me until recently, who have somehow managed to avoid the film. Oh well.

      Thanks for visiting the site!

  2. Matthew Fittes
    October 18, 2011 at 10:26 am

    Clearly you don’t know what you are talking about. Including the remake, there are NINE films in the Nightmare series. And as for the review, did you just shit that one out of your ass

    • CJ Stewart
      October 18, 2011 at 12:13 pm

      Not sure how I screwed up on the count other than accidentally counting the TV show and this movie itself. See my reply below. to Rob.

      As for whether I shat the review out? No. I just didn’t really care for the movie. I admit, I’m tired of the horror films now, and this was probably not the best time for me to watch the movie, but, as semi-enjoyable the experience was watching it the first time, it didn’t make much of an impression on me, so I didn’t feel like I had much else to say about it. Glad you visited my site, though. I’d like to hear YOUR opinion on the film, as you already know mine.

  3. October 18, 2011 at 10:42 am

    Do you know how to count? How can you say that “Krueger has since gone on to star in ten more films”? That would mean that there are 11 films featuring Freddy Krueger. I’ll go through this slowly for you, since you obviously have comprehension problems…

    A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
    A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
    A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
    A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
    A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)
    Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
    Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
    Freddy vs Jason (2003)
    A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010)

    Now, if you count them up on your fingers, there are 9 films. What other 2 films are you mistakenly placing in YOUR tally?

    I would suggest that you actually LEARN ABOUT and PAY ATTENTION TO what you are talking about before you go reviewing it under the assumption that your critiquing actually holds any legitimacy

    • CJ Stewart
      October 18, 2011 at 12:11 pm

      Simple mistake on my part. I believe I actually accidentally counted the TV series he starred in for that number, and then included the first. I admit, it’s a dumb mistake, and I’ll amend the counting.

      That said, my opinion still stands. I just didn’t care for the film. You might like it, and that’s cool. I’m not saying you’re an idiot for liking it or anything, but this was my attempt to get into the series, and I can’t really say that it was anything I felt like pursuing. The point of doing this review was that I wasn’t ever exposed to these films growing up, and I had hoped to gain familiarity with the series throughout this time.

      I actually did do a lot of research into the series, and I don’t think a simple mistake on my part in numbers negates anything else I said. I appreciate you coming to the site, though, and keeping me in check. It’s what the comments system is here for.

      What are your thoughts on this film’s quality in general? You already know mine, and I’d be happy to discuss it with you!

  1. October 18, 2011 at 11:31 pm
  2. October 21, 2011 at 10:35 pm
  3. October 28, 2011 at 7:16 am
  4. December 1, 2011 at 10:31 pm
  5. September 30, 2012 at 11:35 pm
  6. October 1, 2012 at 12:02 am
  7. October 31, 2012 at 7:46 am
  8. October 1, 2013 at 11:53 pm
  9. September 5, 2015 at 2:37 am
  10. September 30, 2015 at 1:31 pm

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