A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
WRITER: Wes Craven
DIRECTOR: Wes Craven
STARRING: John Saxon as Lt. Thompson
Ronee Blakely as Marge Thompson
Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson
Amanda Wyss as Tina Gray
Nick Corri as Rod Lane
Johnny Depp as Glenn Lantz
Robert Englund as Fred Krueger
QUICK CUT: When the nightmares affecting the sleep of high school students start to become all too real, it falls upon Nancy to get to the bottom of things.
Nancy - Our lead heroine, and let's hear it for more awesome take charge females. She's smart, clever, and stuck in high school in a town where nothing ever happens. Well, aside from deadly nightmares. She can be a bit shrill, but she has every right to be when no one listens.
Glenn - Nancy's boyfriend, and he's pretty much in the same boat. He's smart, but comes off as being easily distracted, not following instructions very well.
Lt. Thompson - One of the cops trying to figure out what's happening in town. Oh, and Nancy's dad. He just might listen to her too, if her theories weren't so crazy.
Marge Thompson - Nancy's mom, and she spends most of the movie in a daze, and drinking, but it turns out she has good reason to drink. When she's not got a bottle in her hands, she does show genuine concern for her daughter's well-being.
Freddy Krueger - Some weirdo in a ratty sweater and dingy hat. I don't see this character going very far at all.
THE GUTS: We open up on Freddy (Interestingly credited as Fred!) creating the now iconic glove. You gotta wonder what sorta guy it takes to go down into his workshop and decide to create such a thing. Which I guess is the point, right? It's a good way to give a taste of things to come, draw the audience in with a mystery, and stops the credits from just being a list of names. A solid opening, all told.
Finally, we see Tina running through a boiler room trying to avoid a lamb, and Fred, who is stalking his prey and testing out his new glove. Just as Tina thinks she's safe, Fred pops up behind her, and she wakes up, but discovers her nightgown was slashed like in the dream.
This is easily one of the best opening scenes in my head. The setting is creepy, yet conventional, which is what makes the best nightmares. It's someplace you could find yourself in, but still unfamiliar to most, and the music is super creepy, matched by the slow, methodical, and almost completely hidden from view killer. The added detail of the very out of place lamb just makes it all the stranger, and also one of the best depictions of a dream. It's reality, but just a diagonal step from the familiar.
The next day, Tina is trying to convince her friends about how bad the dream was, but they all just shrug it off, since everyone has bad dreams, which is again the brilliance of the conceit of this series. Anyone could be a victim, any time, anywhere. When I was younger, and had seen a particularly terrifying movie that would keep me from going to sleep, I would chant to myself that it was just a movie, just a movie, it can't get me in my dreams, I am in control there, I am safe there...and then THIS series comes along and fucks that all up!!
So that night, Nancy spends the night with Tina to help keep her mind off things, but all Tina can think about is her nightmare and her pursuer. Which leads to them comparing notes from their own nightmares, which are all eerily similar.
They're also joined by Ensign Jack Sparrow, who gets assaulted by a jump scare that turns out to be Tina's boyfriend Rod. On the one hand, it's a cheap jump as the characters get tense before he pounces on top of Glenn from the shadows, but on the other hand, it's an effective way to introduce the character as a dickish prankster.
Everyone eventually falls asleep, but they keep hearing noises, and being plagued by strange occurances, including something trying to press out of the walls trying to get Nancy.
Tina slips outside to investigate the noises, but encounters her attacker from her nightmares, and he seems to have grown his arms to several times their normal size. Worst Mister Fantastic ever.
You would think that some guy in a hat wearing a red and green sweater wouldn't be scary, but the key is in how Robert Englund plays it. He channels something so purely animalistic and primaly terrifying, and even with super long arms, its all in the way he moves and acts that heightens the performance of what could be very silly. Keeping him mostly in shadows with only brief glimpses of his mangled face also helps sell the fear.
In all fairness, this should NOT be terrifying, but all the pieces add up to something more, if you're willing to go along for the ride. And the moment when it falls apart is the moment when Freddy was played by a double and NOT Englund. Go figure!
Tina thrashes about in her nightmare as Freddy and her fight it out, waking up Rod. He tosses back the sheets and sees Tina lying there, and getting gutted by unseen hands right in front of his eyes. That's not the weirdest part though, as she lifts into the air and kicks him with her flailing nightmare attack.
Rod stumbles about trying to regain his sense of balance, and what he sees next does not help things any. He watches as Tina is dragged up the walls to the ceiling where she proceeds to flail around in her sleep, fighting to wake up.
All the screaming drags the other two teens into the room, and they find Tina's body all slashed up and bloody, and Dave nowhere to be seen. Boy, he really should not have been flashing his switchblade earlier, huh?
Which brings us to introducing the town's lead cop, who just so happens to be Nancy's dad! She does her best to try and defend Rod, but the case seems open and shut, and that the kid did it.
Nancy heads to school the next day, and Crouching Suspect Hidden Rod jumps out of the bushes and grabs her. Dude, you gotta stop being a living jump scare, it is not helping your case.
He tries to explain to Nancy that it wasn't him, there was someone else. She might actually believe him, but even his strongest ally has issues with him constantly appearing from the bushes.
Nancy's dad arrives with his gun drawn, and the kid runs, right into a pile of cops. Nancy realises her dad used her to capture Rod, and angrily continues to school.
She's been struggling to stay awake since Tina was killed, but English class and Shakespeare finally do Nancy in, so she passes out at her desk. Only to watch as Tina in a see-through bodybag entices Nancy to follow her.
Which leads to the question, where do you get see through body bags?? But I digress.
Nancy follows the blood trail from her friend down into the boiler room, and you would think a janitor would be more interested in making less of a mess, but whatever.
Freddy pops up amidst all the pipes chasing Nancy around, and she can't find the exit as the landscape keeps changing on her. She eventually gets cornered, but before the killer can get her too, she slams her arm onto a hot pipe, burning herself awake back in English class.
After burning her arm in her dreams, Nancy leaves school and ends up visiting Rod in jail, where he tries and tells her what he saw, and it sounds just as crazy as you'd expect, getting crazier with every word. How could anyone possibly be taken seriously when they not only describe someone being cut in their sleep, but with several blades all at once, and then pinned to the ceiling? Sure sounds plausible to me!
Rod then describes the nightmare he had the night before, which is why he didn't do anything to try and save Tina, thinking this was just another bad dream. And of course, he describes exactly the same person the girls have been seeing in their dreams.
Nancy rushes home to relax and take a bath, but it's not long before Freddy comes looking for her again, and his glove comes up out of her bubbly water. Her mom warns her of falling asleep and drowning, and sure enough, she gets dragged down into the deepest bathtub ever.
She barely saves herself and calms her mom down, as well as finds some pills to help keep herself awake. Can you imagine trying to do this today? Pills, coffee, Mountain Dew, energy drinks, those 'five hour caffeine jolt' things, etc. Freddy would never get anything done.
While fighting to stay awake, Nancy watches, of all things, the original Evil Dead. Well sure, if you don't want to have nightmares, that's the last thing I'd watch, but okay.
Glenn climbs in through her bedroom window, and Nancy asks him to stand guard while she goes into her dreams to look for Freddy. There's things he'd much rather be doing in the dark with his girlfriend, but oh well.
Nancy wanders through the foggy, nightmare version of her town, and watches as Freddy creeps over Rod's unconscious body. I love how much they've captured the feeling of nightmares and dreamscapes in these scenes, and the whole movie. There's a weirdness to it all, and while it's all out of place, it doesn't feel nonsensical, even when Nancy sees a dead Glenn in a body bag spitting out centipedes and slimy worms.
Freddy chases after her, and Nancy quickly rushes home and tries to get upstairs, but her feet plunge through each step into a thick, quicksand like mess that only serves to slow her down. See, stuff like that, it's so very perfect dream imagery.
She rushes into her bedroom, calling out for Glenn the entire time, and sure enough, he's the worst guard ever and has taken a nap. I guess don't fall asleep was merely a guideline. Freddy continues to be a relentless pursuer and bursts through the mirror on the door, making this the worst sleepover ever.
Fortunately, Nancy had a backup plan and wisely set an alarm clock to go off in case Glenn had too much rum and passed out. The pair rush to the police station to make sure Rod's okay, and they discover Nancy's dad is there, not happy his daughter is out so late.
I love how they all try to calm the kids down, say everything is fine, he's asleep, as we slowly see invisible hands slowly wrapping bedsheets around Rod's neck. Stephen King often likes to play the 'adults don't see what's really going on' card, and it often comes off as the parents either seeming complicet in the acts going on, or just plain morons. But here, I think Craven pulls it off, due to the parents showing genuine concern, and the threat being one that is literally made of nightmares and unfathomable by most people.
But there's no harm in checking, so they head down to peek in on the sleeping suspect, only to find him dangling from the ceiling and choking to death. Well, so much for no harm.
At Rod's funeral, Nancy tries convincing her dad that there's still a killer out there, and describes Freddy to her parents. If she'd stopped before describing Edward Scissorhands, she might not have been sent to a center for sleep problems to figure out what's wrong with her.
The doctor of course figures it's just the stress of her friends dropping off left and right, and all her readings start off normal. It's not long before Nancy is having another nightmare, and one that has her readings make her chart show much upness.
As she thrashes about in bed, they try and wake her up, and discover a chunk of her hair has gone grey, but her arm has also come out clawed. But most importantly, Nancy is clutching Freddy's signature hat in her hands, pulled from the dream world when she woke up.
Nancy confronts her mother about the hat, especially now that she has a name that was written inside it. Note to self: If I become a dream demon, do not write name on clothes. Names have power.
Mom leads Nancy down to the basement after they argue, to explain who the Fred she knows was; a child murderer who killed nearly two dozen kids while working as a janitor at the school. She tells how he was caught, but got off on a technicality, so the mob justice of the town took matters into their own hands and set him on fire.
So she thinks that means the kids are completely safe! Despite all the kids dying, and coming out of dreams with giant cuts!
Nancy calls Glenn and tells him she has a plan to drag Freddy out of her dream so they can stop him in the real world, and orders Glenn to not fall asleep. Yeah, how'd that work out the last time, kids?
Sure enough, in the very next scene, he's passed out. He gets woken back up briefly, but when Nancy tries to get in touch with him, his parents block her at every turn, what with it being midnight and all.
Nancy's phone rings and she hears Freddy's nails scraping along metal through the line, and she rips the phone right out of the wall. Which doesn't exactly stop the dreamwalker from calling, since normal coverage areas do not apply. He threatens Glenn over the call, and Nancy tries to rush across the street, but her mom has locked the house up tight and won't give her the key.
Which leads to one of the great cinema moments as a dozing Glenn is grabbed from underneath by Freddy's arms and sucked through the matress down to Davy Jones' Locker, which then spews forth a geyser of blood. This movie does a lot with very little gore...but then someone turns on the firehose.
I am also pretty sure no human body holds that much blood.
Y'know, Freddy has remained *pretty* subtle up to this point, and most of the deaths could be explained as suicide or murders by others like Rod, but um, this one? Yeah, good luck trying to brush away GEYSER OF BLOOD bathing the entire room.
Lt. Thompson, his friend Lt. Parker, and other cops wander around the house scratching their heads and collecting the blood that is so prevalent that it is soaking through the floor into the living room downstairs, as Nancy calls and tries to get her dad to come wake her up in 20 minutes when she hopefully brings Freddy out of her dreams.
While the cops stare in bewilderment at Glenn's room being painted red, Nancy starts rigging up her house like she's Kevin from Home Alone. I could argue either that there's no guarantee of such traps traveling over into the dream world, or even being necessary since you could make lightbulbs explode with your mind, or if Freddy's in control its all pointless anyways, but it's a fun idea anyways, right? And it makes more sense later.
So Nancy ventures forth into the dreamworld for final battle with Freddy, and she finds a secret doorway in her basement that leads into his boiler room lair. See? Logic and similarities to reality need not apply. But more great dream logic and imagery.
Which is made all the more evident by Freddy chasing her into a pit of the boiler room below her cellar, and she falls from the sky into the roses outside her house.
Freddy pounces on top of her just as her alarm goes off, and she grabs tight, dragging the rose trellis into the real world, which raises interesting questions of duplication I probably shouldn't get into, huh?
Just as Nancy is thinking she's crazy because there is no sign of Freddy, he jumps up from his hiding spot on the other side of her bed, and gets clocked with the carafe of coffee.
It was probably just a sensible weapon they set up having there, and shattering glass over people's heads is always fun in movies, but using coffee to fight off sleep and Krueger's nightmares, then going to actually fighting him off with a pot of coffee is great symbolism, whether its deliberate or not.
And NOW the booby traps make sense, because we're in the real world, and so's Freddy, where such tactics might actually prove effective. Fortunately, her dad didn't come rushing in like she asked, or who knows what he might have set off?
Poor girl keeps crying out the window to the cops across the street at Glenn's, trying to get her dad's attention, and they just keep shrugging it off. Great, thanks guys.
She leads Freddy back down to the basement, and I'm getting dizzy as we're going in circles. Nancy throws gasoline on him, and then lights a box of matches. Worst case of deja vu ever. But that is a great way of using HIS fear against him. Nice symmetry.
As the murderer burns, Nancy locks him in the basement, and the fire and smoke finally make the authorities pay attention. Oh yeah, too bad the front door is all locked up.
By the time they get there, Freddy's escaped the basement, and climbed up the stairs. Fortunately, he's left a pretty obvious trail of flaming footprints, so he's not hard to track.
They find him with Nancy's mom, still on fire, and her dad puts the pair of them out. When he pulls the blanket away though, Freddy is gone and her mom's crispy corpse is being sucked into the bed into whatever Freddy calls home. Say hi to Glenn!
As everyone leaves Nancy alone, surprise! Freddy climbs back out of the bed. It looks bad for Nancy, but she...uh, talks her way out of it. Yeah. She pretty much says he has no power over her, and walks away, making her dreams her own.
In fairness, they did set this up earlier with talk of how other cultures deal with nightmares and monsters, but it's more than a bit anticlimactic that the solution to the problem is just telling Freddy to leave and walking away.
If they hadn't at least given us SOME sort of fight at the end, it would be even worse, but still, that's a bit of a fizzle to the plot. Not terribly so, but yeah.
So Nancy walks out into the sun, things seem okay, and all her dead friends and mom are alive, in this happy dream world Nancy has created. And sure, it's a dream, but at least everyone's back together again...right? Happy ending, yes?
What could possibly go wrong?
Howabout everything? Freddy shows who is still really in control as Nancy gets into a car with her dead friends and the top slams shut with Freddy's sweater colours, the doors lock tight, and Freddy's arm grabs mom through the door of Nancy's house.
Which has the movie be somehow BOTH anticlimactic AND no real conclusion, since no one won, Freddy's still out there, and what a downer of an ending.
Video: Lookin' good! It's clearly from the 80s, but a good enough transfer with everything easy to see, and the shadows are nicely creepy!
Audio: Originally in stereo, the DVD has a 5.1 audio track, which works so well with Freddy's claws.
Special Features: GASP this section hasn't been seen in forever! Because it seemed of little interest, but I wanted to give a shout out to the "Jump to a nightmare" feature on the Nightmare boxed set I have. Brilliance.
Sound Bite: "He's dead, honey, because Mommy killed him." Such a simple, gentle line that looks obvious, and is utterly wrong.
1 - Tina's the first to go, 18 minutes in, when Freddy guts her in her sleep and leaves her for Rod to take the blame.
2 - Rod gets hung from the ceiling of his jail cell by Freddy.
3 - While trying to sleep, Glenn gets sucked into his bed and killed.
4 - Nancy's mom is burnt from the flames around Freddy, and pulled through the bed.
Best Corpse: I'm surprised there's so few to choose from, and almost feel like I missed someone! But anyways, the best death has to go to Glenn, if only because of the geyser of blood, and the cinematography of it.
Blood Type - B: The creature effects are good in this, especially for the time, and the movie doesn't have a LOT of blood, but yeah, again, the geyser. And a few other moments. But what's there is great!
Sex Appeal: Just a few moments of nudity, mostly from behind, and enjoy Johnny Depp's young tummy!
Movie Review: As you probably noticed, this review was slightly less funny than the norm, and I delved more into critical thought about just how and why this movie works, and some points on why it's a classic. I suspect going forward, that's gonna be a bit of a thing with the classics, but as always, I tend to do a little of both in all my reviews. That being said, yeah. There's a reason why this launched a franchise. Just like Friday, this movie keeps it simple, sets a great tone, and is pretty inventive for the time. It's fascinating that Freddy is almost silent through much of the movie. He really only has a few lines, and we never see him before he's a dreamwalker. Much like Jason, he's almost just a force, but more of a hunting animal than the hockey dude's unstoppable creature. Freddy is way more animalistic, and not the quipper with the dopey puns he would become in later movies. Which I also like, but here, he's just...yeah, super creepy. The acting is solid, especially from Englund, and you can see that Depp had a future here. Some of the rest don't come off so well, but as far as horror goes? Could be worse. And again, you don't hate the cast and are just waiting for them to be picked off! So many movies failed to learn that simple lesson. Yes, we want to see HOW they die, we want to see the creativeness and cool factor, but if you make us hate the cast, then that's a failure to engage your audience from the start. ...And I am getting sorely distracted. As you can tell, this movie has earned its rep as one of the greats, and really only drops the ball at the ten yard line with no real conclusion with bonus anticlimax. But that still earns it four out of five shiny finger blades.
Entertainment Value: While Freddy has less of a campy presence here, the movie is still tons of fun, and the deaths are great. At the time, some of this stuff was truly revolutionary to see on screen. Heather Langenkamp's performance drifts into melodrama a bit too much, but that's fun in its own way. I almost wish Freddy was his future silly self, since that would add some added layers to this movie and it maybe needs them, but maybe not. It's still solid and entertaining, so four out of five lost lambs.
Drinking Time! Every time you realise you're watching a nightmare, take a drink!