Heather Langenkamp - Nancy Thompson
Robert Englund - Fred Krueger
Ronee Blakely - Marge Thompson
Johnny Depp - Glenn
John Saxon - Lieutenant Thompson
Amanda Wyss - Tina
Jsu Garcia - Rod (as Nick Corri)
Year - 1984
Score - 4 Howls Outta 4
We all need to sleep. Sleep is our body's way to reenergize ourselves. If we don't sleep, we feel tired and lazy, unable to continue our day. When we sleep, we dream. Nobody understands where dreams come from or what most of them mean [there are interpretations but who knows?]. We have no control over these dreams. Some of us don't even remember what we dream about. It's a mystery many of us are still trying to understand.
But what if someone was able to control our dreams against our will? What if this entity takes our power to dream and twists it into his own vision to scare you? What if this entity was able to physically hurt us in our dream state to the point where it actually affects us the same way in reality?
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET shows us a world where a dead child molester has found the ability in the afterlife to take over the dreams of normal sleeping people to create not only Hell in our sleep, but Hell in our real lives as well. Inspired by childhood nightmares and articles he read about Cambodian refugees and their children [who had fled to the United States] having horrific nightmares that actually killed them, director/writer Wes Craven creates his masterpiece film that introduced us to Freddy Krueger and showed filmmakers that the slasher film at the time still had a lot of originality and creativity left in it.
In the town of Elm Street, Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) and her friends (Johnny Depp, Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia) are having identical nightmares about a burnt man wearing a hat, a red and green sweater, and wielding a razor-sharp glove. For some strange reason, when this enigma injures one in their dream, the injury is visible in reality as well. This is proven with Nancy's best friend Tina is brutally murdered in her sleep, which was caused by Tina's dream where she was being murdered by this madman. Tina's boyfriend, Rod, gets blamed for the murder as he was the only one in the room with Tina at the time, but Nancy knows something else is going on. After witnessing her friends dying one by one and dealing with this fiend herself, Nancy learns that the man of her dreams is Fred Krueger (Robert Englund). It strikes a chord with Nancy's parents (Ronee Blakely and John Saxon) as Fred Krueger was a child molester that was burnt alive by them and other parents on Elm Street for being acquitted of his crimes due to a technicality. Apparently, Krueger has returned in the children's dreams to extract revenge on those who burnt him. Nancy, feeling she may be the only hope in stopping Krueger, decides to stay awake as long as she can to find a way to end Krueger's terror once and for all.
What is there to say about A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET? It's probably one of the most classic and well-known horror films of all time. And for good reason, as it was a slasher film that took the idea of how divided the line between reality and the dream world really is and turned it into a successful franchise. Obviously inspired by John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN and Sean Cunningham's FRIDAY THE 13TH, Wes Craven took the idea of a serial killer/boogeyman and gave him a more supernatural element where the victims were never safe, awake or asleep. We all have that fear, creating a film that every one of us could somehow relate to.
I think the thing most people remember from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET are some of the dream sequences/murder scenes. The first one, with Tina getting sliced apart as she levitates and is dragged all over the walls and ceiling of her room, pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the film. I'm sure nothing like that was really done in horror cinema at the time, as it is a striking moment in the film making you think that this isn't your ordinary slasher. Definitely one of the more creepier scenes in the film. And who can forget that Johnny Depp scene where he's sucked into his bed and blood pours out? Such a classic horror moment that never gets old. The SFX team really outdid themselves with a $1.2 million budget, shooting these scenes upside down [the bed was glued to the ceiling and etc.] and almost ruining footage because of the massive "blood" that splattered all over the room. Nothing like this was done and even current CGI horror still doesn't come close to look this impressive. My personal favorite is actually the ending, where Nancy's mom gets sucked through the front door window. Never fails to make me laugh. It's so abrupt that it's too funny for words. One of the best endings to a movie ever.
The direction by Wes Craven is absolutely wonderful, as he really took the time to make sure the audience would be somewhat effected by this movie long after it's over. Lots of low-key lighting, lots of fades to black, and great pacing that creates a ton of tension and suspense. Craven does all in his ability to get the audience scared and it works. Plus he adds a psychological aspect in his visuals. Is there really a line between reality and dreams? Are they one and the same? If you're not safe in your dreams, where are you safe? It's a very chilling thought that shows that we may not understand our dreams as well as we think we do. I also appreciate that he doesn't show a lot of Freddy Krueger in this film, as his limited appearance [until the very end that is] makes the guy extremely effective. Plus the death scenes are extremely built-up and well shot - this film is directed perfectly. While Craven would have more financial success as a director with 1996's SCREAM, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is his finest achievement in my opinion. This is how horror films SHOULD be directed. A lot of modern filmmakers need to take note of Craven's work on this film.
I think the most effective part of this film is how the characters are portrayed. Usually in these type of films, our victims are usually one-dimensional boneheads that annoy you to the point where you actually want them dead. Plus, it's the killer who we relate to more, as we root for him to succeed at his job. Not in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. The characters here are very likeable, smart, and sympathetic. Who doesn't have that fear that when you dream and something bad happens to you in it, that it could possibly effect you in your real life?
Obviously the character we can mostly relate to is Nancy Thompson, our "final girl" of the film. Heather Langenkamp protrays Nancy in a very sassy, smart manner. While she's afraid of Freddy Krueger, she still attempts to save her friends from being his victims anyway. Also, she figures it all out fairly quickly, even convincing the people around her that she may be telling the truth. Just the fact that Nancy fights gives us reason enough to want her to win. Langenkamp gives a very good performance, even though I think she grows more as an actress in the sequels she participates in [DREAM WARRORS and NEW NIGHTMARE]. But she definitely deserves to be in the same Scream Queen category with Jamie Lee Curtis.
The other actors are good. Amanda Wyss doesn't really get much to do as Tina, even though her exit is extremely memorable. She's pretty and seems like a nice girl who's scared of her dreams. It's a shame because she seems like the most credible actor in the film. But she creeped me out in that plastic body bag. ::shivers:: Jsu Garcia is cool as Rod, the bad boy of the film. His emotional scene inside the jail cell works for me every time I see this film. Not a bad actor at all. Ronee Blakley as Marge Thompson never fails to creep me out with her whispering and her droopy eyes. It works for her character alot. John Saxon is awesome as Lt. Thompson. I love this guy and I love him here. He's one of those actors you love to watch on screen for some reason. I can't explain it. Johnny Depp, in his first major motion picture, is fine as Nancy's boyfriend Glen. He's actually the comic relief of the film and shows that he definitely had the potential to be a big star. Plus his death scene is probably the most memorable one in the entire film. I do NOT want to go out like that. It's cool that Depp still mentions this film in some of his interviews. Shows how appreciative he is about where he got his start. Kudos to you! And who can forget Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger? He's not the one-liner clown he would be in the later sequels, which is for the best here. He's actually quite frightening and enjoys tormenting his victims. I think the fact that he actually has a goal and will do anything to make sure he gets it done is creepy as hell. And don't talk to him on the phone. He likes to tongue during his conversations. Englund seems totally into the character, showing off a menace and evil that all horror villains SHOULD have in these kind of films. No one can play Krueger but Englund. I hope Michael Bay remembers that when he thinks about remaking this film.
THE FINAL HOWL
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is a classic horror film that's right up there with PSYCHO, THE EXORCIST, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, HALLOWEEN, and FRIDAY THE 13TH. It might not be scary enough for modern audiences but when you're 7 years old watching it for the first time, it sticks with you [I speak from personal experience]. Hell, I still think it's a very effective film that does away with 95% of horror films that have been released for the past 8 years. While this ELM STREET isn't my personal favorite, it's definitely one of the best and deserves the respect it has gotten from everyone who has seen it. Just remember - don't fall asleep!