Director: Wes Craven Starring: Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp & Robert Englund Synopsis: “In the dreams of his victims, a spectral child murderer stalks the children of the members of the lynch mob that killed him.” Runtime: 91 minutes
“I probably could have saved her if I’d have moved sooner. But I thought it was just another nightmare, like the one I had the night before. There was… there was this guy; he had knives for fingers.”
A Nightmare On Elm Street is another film that helped to define the slasher/horror genre, like Halloween and Friday The 13th before it. It created a horror icon in Freddy Krueger, gave Johnny Depp his first major role and established director Wes Craven as one of the great genre directors. As with any film as old as this, it looks a little dated now, but the overall quality shines through even to this day, and marks it down as not just a great horror movie but a great film that remains timeless.
The film starts off in a boiler room in an abandoned factory, as teenager Tina (Amanda Wyss) is being stalked by a ghoulish figure donning an old fedora hat, a green and red striped jumper and who has knives for fingers. Fred Krueger is a sight to behold, and even now, 29 years later, the practical effects to make Krueger real are simply outstanding. Krueger stalks Tina until he corners her and gets ready for the kill, then all of a sudden she wakes up. Tina tells her friends of the vivid dreams she has been having lately, but unluckily for her, no one seems to believe it is anymore than a bad dream. Of course, we, the audience, know this isn’t the case, and soon these dreams will become a stark reality for the teenage cast.
The acting is mostly strong throughout the film, as teenagers Nancy (Langenkamp), Rod (Nick Corri) & Glen (Depp) are pursued throughout the film, both in their dreams and in the real world. Unfortunately the actress who has the most screen time and who becomes the hero of the piece, is also the least talented of the cast. Langenkamp’s Nancy clearly grows throughout the film, from disbelieving friend to the all action heroine, but Langenkamp seems to struggle with the more serious nature of the role, and at times delivers a performance that wouldn’t be out-of-place on an early evening ITV drama. Whether this continues throughout the series, as she returns in two sequels, remains to be seen.
The adult cast members are fortunately a lot more bearable, and despite being given some clunky lines to deal with, they add a poise and respectability to the material, which otherwise could have dragged things down to just another teen slasher. John Saxon and Ronee Blakley play Nancy’s separated parents, and while moving the story along, they also bring an added weight to their scenes.
Robert Englund deserves special mention too, as his portrayal of Fred Krueger is as terrifying as it ever was. He plays the character perfectly, never hams it up or playing things for laughs, his performance is truly iconic and the fact that it is still so terrifying today is a testament to the actor and the work he did in this movie. Krueger takes a delight in toying with his victims, and takes his time with them before going in for the kill. Englund would reprise the role for 6 sequels and one crossover movie in Freddy Vs Jason, but his iconic status was already confirmed by the end of the first movie.
The film is also arguably director Craven’s finest film. His direction is superb, and he builds the tension throughout the film impeccably. People will debate about their favourite Craven directed movie, but for me, and this is no insult, A Nightmare On Elm Street is his best work to date, even his excellent reboot of the slasher genre with Scream, good as it is, never quite hits the high mark we see here.
In summary: Wes Craven’s original Nightmare is a classic movie, showcasing a director on top of his game. Despite some elements not aging well, and some of the acting being a little awkward, A Nightmare On Elm Street is a historic movie that is still relevant and entirely watchable today as it was back in 1984.