One of the best horror films for being intelligent, scary and fun too. ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ is a scream from start to end and with endless crazy yet clever imagery throwing together the nightmarish behaviour of Freddy you can’t help but appreciate this film for the story it puts across.
Four high school students, friends and partners all have the dreadful connection of dreaming about the same thing. As they sleep they see a striped jumper wearing man with a burnt face and sharp gloved hands stalking them in a steamy boiler room. After Tina (Amanda Wyss) dies Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) realises this ‘Freddy’ persona can kill you in real life by killing you in your dreams, so hopefully with the help of her boyfriend Glen (Johnny Depp) she can find Freddy (Robert Englund) and bring him to the real world to get him caught or killed and leave her and other teenagers alone.
Wes Craven who both directs and writes this film; his eighth feature strikes gold with such a great idea that you wonder how it hadn’t been done before. The script is believable considering how make-believe it can be and the dialogue is at multiple points funny and realistic. The direction Craven waves over his film is steady and sweeping for a lot of the time which helps tremendously in constructing the sense of a dreamlike world. In fact this movie is brilliant for blurring the gap between reality and subconscious platforms, it reads like some blood soaked ‘Inception’ as you wonder whether Nancy is sleeping or not.
The design of Freddy Krueger is so effective, a torn and ratty jumper, a hat and some knifed gloves do more than enough to make him one of the most iconic and scary movie villains of all time. It’s a brilliant character and works with the 80’s slasher boom going on. The theme of killer hunting down promiscuous youths is of course prominent but Freddy goes further as you find out why he’s stuck in nightmares and why he looks the way he does, a back story for the killer is a neat touch and the youths in question aren’t just sex obsessed but they’re smart too making them more likable to root for. Nancy especially becomes more than a typically horror movie idolized object when she proves herself with wit and know-how setting up booby traps for Mr. Krueger.
Imaginative and bold, this movie has so many stand out moments of ‘Holy cow’ ideas, even today they still work and feel fresher compared to the stale things we see a lot of the time. The hand pressing down through the roof or the sinking stairs are clever film making tools and help build up that supernatural quality of Freddy’s world. There is plenty of gory fun to be had in the way he messes about with not only the teens but himself to freak them and us out. Freddy and Nancy become a dueling pair and you can’t help but like both. It’s good vs evil and this film works as it keeps you enjoying both sides.
Robert Englund is Freddy Krueger, the maniacal way he plays this dream tormentor is fantastic. You truly believe the giddy delight he’s having tearing down chasing these four teens. He plays the rotten murdering scamp with such ferocity and charm that you fear Freddy is real and even watching it at my age it still puts some chills into you making you think about the dreams you might have. Langenkamp is a great lead, there’s only a few slips where her acting makes it look like she’s smiling instead of crying but she improves and becomes a brave horror female character with brains and beauty to tempt the killer into a place less sure for him. Depp too makes his film debut here in a role pitting him as the helpful yet dumb jock, he doesn’t have much to do but he makes Nancy look better.
It’s a great premise and Wes Craven joyfully puts together the ideas into a film with shocks, sequences of nightmares – something we can all be afraid of, and an awesome and haunting horror killer. Full of invention, primal fears and fun, it’s superb to see this film still feel as modern now as it was probably back then.