Movie review: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Horror icon Wes Craven dove into the slasher flick realm with his 1984 classic A Nightmare on Elm Street. The film stars Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Robert Englund and making his film debut, Johnny Depp.

The movie revolves around four teens being stalked in their dreams by Freddy Krueger, a child murderer who ended up being burned alive by a lynch mob after being freed of jail time on a technicality. Now a vengeful ghost, he looks to seek revenge on the children of those people who killed him.

This is an incredibly enjoyable film and I understand why it’s as legendary as people say. It’s credit to Craven’s direction, Englund’s immaculate portrayal of Krueger, and one of the best scores ever put to film.

Before I get into my positives, the one glaring negative of this film is the acting, aside from Englund and Saxon. Langenkamp is one-dimensional as our lead lady Nancy Thompson. She’s incredibly monotone in her dialogue, she tries way too hard to get out tears when she’s crying but she’s surprisingly calm in moments that should be horrifying to her.

There’s also really nothing else to our teenage characters aside from the fact that they are sex-crazed teenagers. Rod Lane, while his fate wasn’t warranted, is very unlikable for the short amount of time he’s in the film. Depp’s character, while with the novelty of it being Depp, doesn’t do much of nothing and is useless for Nancy. While the movie is Krueger-based, we need to have a reason to care about our protagonists, and we just don’t.

However, the pros outweigh the cons here.

Like I said before, Charles Bernstein’s score is phenomenal. 1980s synth-wave works perfect for the anxiety our characters experience as they cannot sleep due to Krueger invading their sleep to kill them every night. To me, I think The Weeknd drew inspiration from this score for his After Hours record. If you think about the color red all over that album and you look at Krueger, there seem to be subtle nods from Abel toward this film.

There’s also iconic scenes splattered throughout the film. From Krueger’s silhouette stretching out his arms to Depp’s character being ate by his own bed and the blood shooting out from the bed onto the ceiling, there’s never a point where you aren’t in complete shock and amazement of what you are looking at. For me, the coolest scene in this film is when Nancy is about to fall asleep and Krueger pushes in the wall and you see the outline of his face and hands pressed up like it’s a bed sheet. It’s brilliantly crafted and would be refreshing to see these original scares being used in horror today but we just don’t get it enough.

I like the subverting of expectations in this film. The audience is always challenged as to whether we are experiencing their reality or their dreams. It makes you wonder whether or not there are boundaries between our dreams and reality and if there is a connection. It reminds me of the science of astral projection in Insidious and the exploration of another world within reality.

Speaking of Insidious, shoutout to Lin Shaye who plays a teacher in this film.

Of course, there is the real talking point of this film and that is the ending. It makes no sense. Craven and the producers clashed over how the film should end, and they compromised. Compromising is never a good thing and we get what you see at the end. I’m not a fan of it and I don’t think anyone is.

Regardless, A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the more fun watches I’ve had this October thanks to an iconic villain, fantastic imagery and a rousing score.

Rating: 8/10

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