The world lost a true visionary of horror when Wes Craven passed away earlier this year. However, I have a confession to make: until it came time to review this movie, I had never seen a Wes Craven movie. Now, before you start asking why, it’s the reason a lot of people probably have: I didn’t like scary movies when I was little. Plus, the movie in question is rated R, so my parents wouldn’t have been keen on showing me a film that would have likely given me nightmares as a child. Or rather, this movie might have scared me so much that I’d have trouble sleeping, because decades before Christopher Nolan made a movie about how complex dreams can be, Wes Craven made a movie about how terrifying dreams can be. The movie I’m talking about, of course, is the 1984 slasher flick that defined a genre, A Nightmare on Elm Street. And what did I think? Well, even though I knew a bit about the plot going in, there were some moments that were genuinely frightening; when the movie wasn’t scaring me, it was making me feel for the characters and their hopeless situation, and when it wasn’t doing that, it was showing me some very over-the-top ways of killing off its main characters with some rather impressive special effects. Bottom line, I’m glad I didn’t see this movie as a kid, but I’m glad that I’ve seen it now.
The film centers around four teenagers, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), Glen (Johnny Depp, in his film debut), Rod (Nick Corri), and Tina (Amanda Wyss), and the nightmares they all experience involving a burned man (Robert Englund) with blades on his right fingers and whose injuries and wounds appear on their bodies in the real world when they wake up. One by one, they are either murdered or almost murdered, prompting the survivors to try and figure out the mystery behind this Freddy Krueger character and his connection to the neighborhood before he kills them in their dreams, thus killing them for real.
The actors all do a great job, especially the teenaged actors who have to deal with Freddy. Heather Langenkamp was particularly notable for her performance as Nancy, and has to carry much of the film’s runtime on her shoulders, something that she does phenomenally. You can see Nancy’s slow descent into near-madness as she questions whether or not she’s really being haunted by Freddy or if she’s simply going crazy. Ronee Blakley, who plays Nancy’s mother Marge, while a little annoying at times, really had some great scenes with Nancy, especially the scene in which she revealed the truth about Freddy Krueger to her daughter. They emphasized Marge’s alcoholism to almost a cartoonish degree, but it was understandable, given the situation she was in. Freddy is terrifying, as he should be; he almost seems like a force of nature himself, unyielding in his pursuit of these four teenagers. It really feels like a nightmare that you cannot escape, and that, quite honestly, made a little tougher for me to get to sleep the other night.
The special and practical effects are all great, with a lot of said effects going into Freddy and his murders. Things like a phone that sprouts a mouth and tries to make out with one of the main characters is creepy and well-timed to get a quick scare out of the audience. Other effects make Freddy really look and feel otherworldly, which adds to the creepiness you feel when he’s onscreen.
This being a slasher film, there is blood galore in this movie, though not as much as I personally expected going in. Sure, the first murder is creepy as hell as the victim is slashed and dragged along the ceiling, but other than that and a few other scenes, the amount of blood and gore is actually not as much as one would expect from a horror film. Maybe that’s just an indication of what you could get away with back in the 80s being fairly tame by today’s standards.
One of the things that I really liked about this film was that I was sometimes unsure whether or not the characters were awake or dreaming; this is nothing new nowadays, but I haven’t seen too many films that play around with the idea of dreams in such depth. Little hints and big reveals show the audience and the characters whether or not it’s just a dream, and you know that if they’ve gone off to dream land, Freddy is right around the corner.
I don’t know what else I can say about this horror classic. If you haven’t seen A Nightmare on Elm Street yet, this Halloween is the perfect opportunity to do so; don’t lose sleep over it anymore.
Written by Joey Sack