Nightmare on Elm Street Still Scares The Sleep Out of You
By Kristin Battestella
Yes, sure we all know of Freddy Krueger and the dozen of Nightmare on Elm Street sequels. Wes Craven’s 1984 slasher classic has spawned countless spoofs and imitation cut ‘em ups, but when was the last time you saw the original that started it all? Younger folks may not appreciate A Nightmare on Elm Street but there’s no time like the present for a horror introduction.
Robert Englund stars as Fred Krueger, a child killer who has returned from the grave by stalking teen’s dreams. Tina (Amanda Wyss) dreams she will die, and soon her friend Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) also dreams of death from Freddy. Their boyfriends Rod (Nick Corri) and Glen (Johnny Depp) are also on sleepless vigils, fearful of Freddy Krueger killing them in their sleep.
It’s a simple enough plot, but it is unusual and tough to explain without spoiling everything. At the time, Craven’s idea hadn’t been played to death. The thought of sleep, rest, dreams-the exact necessities for fighting evil- would be where our horrors come from gives the original Nightmare its edge. Even if you aren’t scared out of bed like you may have been twenty five years ago, the idea of sleep being the enemy is enough food for thought to keep you from dozing.
Writer and director Craven also confuses the viewer by blurring the line between dreams and reality in A Nightmare on Elm Street. A few transitions are obvious with time and repeated viewings, but you’re on the edge of your seat if you don’t know when Freddy may appear. Some of the boiler room sequences can still offer a jump or two. Again Craven uses smart sets like a dirty, dark, hot boiler room where numerous pains and dangers can come into play-contrasted with our teens’ upscale houses and cozy bedrooms. Where Freddy is concerned, all can be used to his advantage. Several eerie scenes will stay with you long after viewing, ad that creepy rhyming song still echoes in my mind decades after first hearing it. Whenever you want to be funny, spooky, morbid-just sing the first phrase: One, Two. Freddy’s coming for you….
Some of the effects for A Nightmare on Elm Street have not stood the test of time. On the other hand, some are still being copied today; the blood flow on the ceiling, that quicksand bed. The sequels had much to top, some areas they did, and others they didn’t. Technically Kruger isn’t the star of the film, Heather Langenkamp is. Craven smartly delays the introduction of Krueger and instead scares the teens with his creepy dream voice and nails on a chalkboard claw. The excellent early dream sequences twist and turn around the girls. ‘Tis better to show a person in fear than a monster of which we may or may not be afraid. Psychological impact far outweighs effects. Nancy’s parents take her to a doctor for tests. Is she crazy? All she wants is for someone to believe that Freddy is real. Langenkamp fits the role of the smart fighter teen perfectly. Not a bombshell, but not a nerd. Former fifties teen idol John Saxon has made a second career in slasher flicks like Hellmaster and From Dusk Till Dawn. The cast may seem unstellar or unimportant, but they help sell the idea that this clique could be yours. These could be your friends or honeys that Freddy’s after.
Two stand outs are of course Johnny Depp and Robert Englund. I still think of Englund as good lizard Willie in V before Elm, but look in stores now that it’s nearing Halloween. You still find Freddy masks, knives gloves, and even that ugly striped shirt. The tongue in cheek nature of his performance helps Englund keep Freddy scary. He enjoys what he’s doing-especially with girls who make the mistake of having sex in a horror movie. Englund actually has little onscreen time, but the seed is planted here for further developed throughout the film series. Likewise Johnny Depp shows his talent in his first movie. Sardonic lines, aloof yet precise looks, and a still cool final scene ensured Depp’s cult status before his recent macabre and Pirate work.
Subsequent films in the Nightmare on Elm Street series-namely Freddy’s Revenge, Dream Warriors, Freddy’s Dead, and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare have moments that touch the original, but none is as complete. Series fans and horror buffs will eat up every minute of course, but casual fans might not want to invest in the pricey collector’s set. A Nightmare on Elm Street and all its sequels are also available individually for an affordable price. I picked up the original for my honey, but thought he would find it dated and hokey. Not so! I wouldn’t say A Nightmare on Elm Street will be around as long as people have dreams, just nightmares.