'A Nightmare on Elm Street' Review: 1...2...Freddy's Coming For You...
Freddy Krueger was a badass, emphasize on was. A Nightmare on Elm Street is the first in the Elm Street series, and our first look at the horror icon Freddy. I don't really have a problem with the evolution of Freddy's character from horrifying child molester to jokey wiseass, but I prefer this Krueger. Nightmare is a true horror movie and one of my favorites as I have a lot good memories surrounding this film.
Nightmare is one of the first horror films I can remember watching, and it was also one that I was supremely scared of the first time I saw the trailer. I saw the trailer when I was five or six, and Freddy Krueger scared the ever-loving shit out of me. It was primarily his claws. Freddy's claws are such a visceral, personal killing implement that they overshadow Jason Voorhees' machete for scariest horror icon weapon. Even though he does have his claws, Freddy's true power lies in his ability to kill you in your dreams. It makes him inescapable and omnipotent since he can do anything in your dreams that he wants, mostly taunting you before striking his death blow. While Freddy hasn't become a comedian in this film as he is in the later films, there is a underlying tone of black humor that he exhibits when he taunts his victims. He pulls his face off and poses as dead characters to scare his victims even more than he needs to. It's gruesome but funny at the same time.
The ways that Freddy taunts his victims end up being the most memorable parts of the film. He goes out of his way to make his victims terrified before he kills them. The first kill of the movie involves Heather's friend Tina who is pursued by Freddy through her dreams. He corners her in the backyard of her house and proceeds to cut his own fingers off to shock her. You can see the glee in his eyes as he chases her down as if its all a game to him. As she struggles against him, he also manages to rip his face off revealing a skeletal toothy grin beneath his skin. It just shows his insanity even more. The best gags in the film are when Freddy is messing with his victims such as when he makes his mouth appear on the end of Nancy's phone. He tells her that he's her boyfriend and he kisses her through the phone, it's hilarious and messed up at the same time. These were the seeds of Freddy's humor coming through, but a blacker humor than would be present in the later films.
Heather Langkenkamp is hands down my favorite horror movie heroine of all time as well, she's vulnerable but strong simultaneously. As Nancy, you can tell that she deeply cares for her everyone around her and worries about them. However, near the end of the film she goes head to head with Freddy, even so much as creating a precursor to Home Alone. She booby traps with lethal devices to try and kill Freddy, including a crazy light bulb covered in black powder that acts as a makeshift bomb. She is a truly memorable character and it shows as she reprises her character twice more in the series. Along with Langenkamp, Robert Englund plays Krueger pitch perfectly: cruel and sadistic with no remorse. I don't think any other actor could have been as successful as Englund, as seen by Jackie Earle Haley's take in the disappointing remake. Englund becomes Krueger, he becomes fully immersed in the role which makes it difficult for any actor to take up his helm. Along with Englund, Johnny Depp is in his first starring role as Glenn. It's a supporting role that isn't quite memorable but he does die in an epic way: getting sucked into his bed then vomited back out as a torrent of blood. He's memorable in death only.
The only issue I have with the film is the ending sequence which is confusing in its ambiguity and execution. Nancy seems to kill Freddy using only her mind but it isn't determined whether she's in a dream or in reality. As soon as the she kills Freddy, the film ends with her in Glenn's car with her friends who were killed earlier in the film driving off to school. The top comes up on the convertible with the same color as Freddy's signature sweater and it drives off on its own. Then, in the cheesiest effect in the film, Nancy's mother get dragged through the front window of the house by Freddy. It's poorly done and is retconned out of the series in the third film thankfully.
A Nightmare on Elm Street helped create New Line Cinema and revitalize a lackluster horror genre. It has aged well, and still holds up today even with primarily physical effects. Aside from the disappointing ending, it's a great film and one of Wes Craven's best aside from Scream. It opened the door to horror films for me, why not see if it will for you.
Final Say: Watch It
Who Said What?
Nancy Thompson: "Whatever you do... don't fall asleep."