Starring: Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, John Saxon
“One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…” (freaky as fuck children, A Nightmare On Elm Street)
It’s unfair for me to give a fair and objective review of this film because it was such a big part of my childhood. The majority of my years as a wee boy were spent shitting myself at the very sight of Freddy Krueger (unlike my fearless younger brother who idolised him). The Nightmare films affected me so much that they remain the basis for my love of horror to this day. Quite simply: no Nightmare On Elm Street, no That Was A Bit Mental. So it’s to blame if you think this site is pish. Therefore, anyone expecting this film to get any less than a full 5 out of 5 can stop dreaming (as it were) and just accept it. I fucking love this film, and I always will until the day I die. Now let’s dissect it.
Nancy and a couple of her other high school friends have started sharing the same bad dream about an impolite chap named Fred Krueger. Mr Krueger has a glove with long razors for fingernails, which must be an inconvenience when he has to use toilet paper. Naturally, he’s not a happy man (not necessarily because of the toilet paper though) and terrorises Nancy and her friends every time they dream about him. Once Nancy’s friends start dying in their sleep, however, it soon becomes clear that whatever Freddy does to you in your dream affects you in real life, and if he kills you in your dream you’re fucked in real life too. It’s up to Nancy and her boyfriend Glen to figure out how to stop Freddy before all the Elm Street children die in their sleep.
Everyone talks about how the original Friday the 13th isn’t scary anymore because (with the exception of Kevin Bacon’s death and the ending) you’re pretty much warned about all the deaths in advance (the shadow of the axe against the curtain before it’s slapped into someone’s head, for example). A Nightmare On Elm Street, on the other hand, still provides the odd chill to those who have yet to watch it; be it Freddy bursting out of a mirror, Tina’s death or Glen’s unfortunate bedroom experience. It’s safe to say that 27 years after its release, despite showing its age a little in terms of special effects, A Nightmare On Elm Street can still hold its own fright-wise against much of the emotionless bullshit that’s being released in cinemas these days.
Part of this is also down to the film’s concept in general. It’s often hard to care much about slasher films because not many of us have been chased down a street by someone wielding a knife (unless you’ve spend a Friday night in Glasgow of course). Everybody has nightmares though, and everybody knows how powerless they feel when they’re having them, so building a film around that idea was a genius move by Wes Craven.
Of course, this film would be nothing without Freddy Krueger, one of the greatest horror characters in history. The idea of a dodgy chap burnt alive by the parents of the children he killed who now seeks revenge is great, and the innuendo and suggestions that he may have been more than simply a child murderer adds an underlying sense of nastiness without ever actually confirming anything.
Gore fans will be reasonably happy with A Nightmare On Elm Street because there’s a good deal of the red stuff spattered throughout the film, most notably during the famous first kill where Freddy drags the helpless Tina onto the ceiling. Plus Freddy seems intent on causing himself harm in every scene he appears in, be it by slicing his fingers off or cutting his stomach open. Quite gory then. The deaths are also extremely inventive, given the film’s low budget. It’s a credit to the special effects crew that the aforementioned ceiling death is very surprising when it happens, because you don’t expect to see something as cool as that happening in a film that seems fairly cheaply made. Here’s the scene if you haven’t seen it before:
The acting is possibly the one area where the film could theoretically lose some points. As much as I love this film I have to admit that it’s undeniably ’80s and most of the actors (with the exception of Johnny Depp, Robert Englund and John Saxon) either play their roles in an over-the-top manner or simply are’t convincing enough. As a lead actress, Heather Langenkamp is simply not good enough in this film and her shonky delivery of her lines tends to take the viewer out of Craven’s world and throw them back into reality. This is more due to her inexperience as an actress when she starred in this, however: indeed, her later roles in the third and seventh Nightmare films were much more believable as she gained maturity as an actress.
Maybe I’m being biased, maybe I’m being nostalgic, but I am of the honest opinion that anyone who hasn’t seen A Nightmare On Elm Street before they died better have a good reason like being Amish or something. Not many horror films can be considered classics but in my opinion among the true classics you have your Dawn Of The Dead, you have your Halloween, you have your Friday The 13th and you have your Nightmare On Elm Street. Yes, the acting is poor and the fashion is sometimes scarier than Freddy himself (witness the camp might of Johnny Depp’s crop-top and bouffant hairdo), but these are merely documents of the film’s history.
Does anyone question Nosferatu‘s lack of sound? No, because all films at that time were silent. Therefore, should anyone question A Nightmare On Elm Street‘s dodgy acting and dodgier clothes? No, because all ’80s slasher films had Oxfam wardrobes and stars who couldn’t act their way out of a nutsack. It comes with the territory. What doesn’t however, and makes A Nightmare On Elm Street better than its countless competitors is that it’s a clever, well-directed horror with great special effects for its budget and inventive deaths that involve more than just someone else getting their throat slit every five minutes. If you haven’t seen it, take it from me and remedy that situation. Here’s the trailer to help drive the point home: