A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)


Whatever You Do, Don’t Fall Asleep

Today’s contribution to the last days of the October Horror-thon is a super overrated movie that a friend of mine told me I needed to buy because of how amazing it was.  Also, Loni can pay attention ’cause Johnny Depp is in this movie as well.  This movie is the original A Nightmare on Elm Street.  Go ahead, tell me I’m wrong.  I don’t see what everybody’s all on about with this movie, but let’s get to my review and you can see where I went wrong.  A Nightmare on Elm Street stars Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, John Saxon, Ronee Blakely, Amanda Wyss, and (for the second day in a row) Lin Shaye, and directed by Wes Craven.

This is probably a fairly familiar story to most people.  Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) did some bad things to children, but he’s dead now.  But Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss) is having dreams where a severely burned man is chasing her through a boiler room in his red and green striped shirt, fedora hat, and razor glove.  The next day at school, Tina’s friend, Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) confesses that she had a similar dream.  Nancy and her boyfriend Glen Lantz (Johnny Depp) decide to spend the night with Tina because she’s afraid.  Tina’s boyfriend, Rod Lane (Nick Corri), shows up to bang the bejesus out of her.  While she sleeps afterwards, Freddy reappears in her dream and proceeds to mutilate her as Rod watches, unable to do anything.  Rod runs as Nancy and Glen find Tina’s dead body, but shortly after, Nancy’s father, police lieutenant Donald Thompson (John Saxon) catches Rod and puts him in jail, suspecting he killed Tina.  Freddy starts going after Nancy in her dreams and also kills Rod in jail.  Nancy tries to stay awake as long as she can.  Her mother, Marge (Ronee Blakley), confesses that Freddy Krueger had gotten away with the bad things he did to children a while back and so she and the other parents burned him alive in a boiler room, and now he’s come back in their dreams for revenge.

Alright, let’s break this thing down piece by piece.  The premise of this movie is actually pretty solid.  The whole set up to Freddy as being a child killer and/or pedophile that was killed by the parents is a good thing, though I do wonder if pedophiles took that as a sign that this may happen to them.  “Sure, I’d get burned alive, but I would come back with super powers!”  The premise of being able to kill someone in their dreams is probably universally scary.  As I watched this movie, I kept thinking about what you would do in this situation, and there’s really nothing that can be done.  You can only stay awake for so long before you would either die or pass out without you being able to stop it, and then Freddy’s got you.  And the land of dreams is his territory, so I assume I wouldn’t be able to fight him very well or escape him.  And I know for a fact I’m not good at waking up, so I’d be a dead man.  Many horror movies since this have taken this path.  Basically you just look for something that people do and make it a way you could die in an awful way.  The Ring took watching a video and made it fatal, there were a couple movies about being able to die via cell phone, all sorts of movies use this method for scares.  Conversely, the dialog is nothing special and some of the writing is bad or cliche.  For instance, Tina’s boyfriend is the classic over the top douche that, of course, gets the girl.  And at least one of the cops is a complete moron because it prolongs the suspense.  Nancy is screaming out of windows that she’s breaking to get the cop from across the street to get her dad and he just watches her saying “I wonder if I should get the lieutenant…”

The visuals are kind of hit and miss in this movie.  There are some that are really cool and some that are just awful.  The classic scene of Freddy’s face and hands trying to push through the wall that warps out like rubber (probably because it was) and the light hits the top of it just looks awesome.  Shortly after that, Freddy’s walking awkwardly in a dream with pointlessly long arms, and that looks awful.  When he starts attacking Tina and cuts appear out of nowhere on her chest, the chest is horribly fake looking.  It’s not the same skin color – in fact it’s closer to gray – and you can see the little wrinkles in the rubber.  A similarly bad fake body comes up later when Freddy cuts into his chest, exposing green blood and maggots.  I realize this was 1984, but if you could see how good something looks to put it in the movie, you can see how bad something is and have them do it right.  Also, what the hell is it with Wes Craven and his deadly Home Alone pranks obsession?  He does that shit in here just like he did in Last House on the Left.  All sorts of things like gun powder on a light bulb, wire to trip over, hanging sledgehammer, etc.  It’s goofy, not scary.

The acting here is either nothing special or bad.  John Saxon probably tops it off with “nothing special”, Johnny Depp comes up slightly below that, and everyone else is pretty uninspiring.  The worst of them will be mentioned in the next paragraph.  The worst of these people was probably the guy that played Rod.  He was mediocre and annoying throughout the movie, playing the douche nozzle that shows up while his girlfriend is having a bad day to bang the sorrow out of her.  The worst part of him was when Tina was getting killed as he watched.  She was being dragged up to the ceiling by an invisible force while bleeding profusely from the stomach and chest, and the big hero here sat in the corner furthest away from her with his arm outstretched yelling “Tina!”  I feel like you could have burnt a few calories and got up and at least stood on the bed and swatted at her.  Lin Shaye was also in this movie, which I only noticed because she was in the movie I reviewed yesterday, Insidious, and it was interesting to see her.

Alright, here it comes … Freddy Krueger was the worst part of this movie.  Yeah, I said it.  I have talked about it a little already when I reviewed Freddy vs. Jason, but I do not get the appeal of this character.  He’s not scary.  He’s either goofy or annoying, and I imagine that’s not what you want out of your horror villain.  If he’s not spitting out stupid, vaguely threatening jokes, he’s randomly inflicting damage to himself, and that’s supposed to scare his victims.  One of the first things he does is say to Tina “Watch this” and proceeds to cut his own fingers off and laugh about it.  Later, for Nancy, he slices into his own chest for some reason.  Why don’t you shut up and get to killing, Krueger?  Now, to be fair, I don’t blame Robert Englund for this.  He didn’t write it, and I don’t imagine he was improvising.  It’s the fault of the writers.  And the fault of the 95% of people on Rotten Tomatoes that like this.

I’m happy to join the lower 5% on this movie.  Not a good movie.  Everyone ragged so hard on the remake with the dude from Watchmen, but that one was way better.  Jackie Earle Haley made a few jokey comments as Freddy, but mostly just got to the business of killing.  Not great, but better.  I say you can skip this movie, but statistically you have probably seen it and liked it.  Even so, I give this movie “I take back every bit of energy I gave you” out of “I’ll kill you slow!”

And, as always, please rate, comment, and/or like this post and others.  It may help me get better.

2 responses to “A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

  1. I have actually never watched this all the way through, and that’s bc I can’t sit through horror movies. I only know it as a trivia question answer to “what was Johnny’s first big screen movie?”….”that he regrets….”

    • Yeah, you can skip it. Plus, you don’t wanna watch your man get brutally killed. And I don’t know if he’d regret it, per se. If I did a shitty movie to get into my career, I’d be okay with it. Plus, almost everyone but me likes this movie apparently, so there’s that.

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