31 Screams in October, Vol. 2, #15: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Posted: October 16, 2015 in Movie Review
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A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Director: Wes Craven

Starring: John Saxon, Ronee Blakely, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund

I still have fond memories of the first time I ever watched “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” A senior in high school at the time, it had me hooked from the opening title sequence when the series’ infamous theme is heard for the first time. As I have seen the film many times since the fall of 1999, I’ve noticed more and more a few standout flaws here and there within the overall plot, which I’m not surprised to learn came up as a result of creative differences between the heads at New Line Cinema and director Wes Craven. This knowledge, however, has not diminished my enjoyment of “A Nightmare On Elm Street,” nor my appreciation for its iconic status in the genre.

A blonde teenage girl named Tina (Amanda Wyss) is becoming increasingly disturbed by nightmares of a horribly burned man in a brown hat and red & green striped sweater, who wears a glove on his right hand with blades attached to all of the fingers except the thumb. The recurring nightmare seems to always take place in some kind of boiler room. She’s so frightened that she asks friend Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) and Nancy’s boyfriend Glen (Johnny Depp, in his first movie role) to stay the night so she can feel safe. From the way they react to Tina’s story of the man in her nightmares, Nancy and Glen are both clearly having dreams about the same mysterious person. Tina’s boyfriend, Rod (Nick Corri) crashes the party, and takes Tina up to her parents’ bedroom. Sometime after they both drift off to sleep, Rod is awakened in horror as he watches Tina being slashed by an invisible presence and dragged out of the bed, up the wall and onto the ceiling where she is finally killed, her lifeless and bloody corpse falling back down to the bed in a sea of red. Certain he’ll be accused of Tina’s murder, Rod further incriminates himself by opening the bedroom window and escaping out into the night, leaving Nancy and Glen to discover what’s left of their friend. The next morning, Rod is captured by the police which include Nancy’s father, Lt. Donald Thompson (John Saxon), after Rod has confronted Nancy on her way to school and tried to convince her that he had nothing to do with Tina’s murder.

In her English class, Nancy drifts off to sleep, sees Tina in a body bag just outside the classroom, and walks out into the hallway following a trail of blood down to the school basement. This quickly transforms into the same boiler room seen in earlier nightmares. Nancy escapes by burning her arm on a nearby pipe, awaking with such violent screams as to disturb the entire classroom. Deciding to leave for home straight away, Nancy notices that the burn she suffered in the dream has appeared on her arm in the waking world. She later goes to visit Rod at the jail. Unsure at first whether to believe him, Nancy is convinced once Rod describes the way he saw Tina die and most especially after revealing that he has been dreaming about the same creep that she, Tina and Glen all had been. Later that night, Nancy falls asleep while in the bathtub and is almost drowned by the dream demon.

Close to falling asleep again in her room, Nancy is startled by Glen who has made the unusually brazen move of sneaking through her bedroom window. She asks him to stand by as a guard while she goes looking for the monster in her dreams. While in dreamland, Nancy discovers the man appearing to be going after Rod next. Glen of course has fallen asleep too, and is scolded by Nancy once she’s able to regain consciousness. Together, they rush down to the police station in the middle of the night, but arrive too late to save Rod, who appears to all but Nancy to have hung himself with his own bed sheets. At Rod’s funeral, Nancy tells her parents about the dream monster, and it’s as clear as when Nancy and Glen listened to Tina’s story that Nancy’s mother and father know exactly who she’s talking about. But, instead of coming right out and saying so, Nancy’s mother (Ronee Blakely) takes her to a dream therapy clinic, where she experiences yet another nightmare. This time, Nancy develops a grey streak in her hair, has a very bad cut on her arm, and has also managed to pull the hat off the man’s head and bring it forth into the waking world.

After an argument about the hat and the discovery of the name “Fred Krueger” written on the inside, Nancy’s mother is forced to reveal the truth: Yes, she’s known about him all this time. Freddy Krueger had been a child murderer who was brought to trial but got off on a technicality. The parents of Elm Street had gotten together and tracked him down to the boiler room where he took the kids he abducted and killed, where they burned the whole place down with Krueger inside it. Nancy’s mother then produces the familiar bladed glove which she personally took and has kept hidden in the basement ever since.

Nancy and Glen come up with a plan whereby she would go into the dreamworld, extract Freddy and have Glen stand by with something with which to bludgeon him to death. Sadly, Glen falls asleep before the two can set their plan in motion. Glen is dragged down into his bed, and all that exits the gaping hole is a seemingly endless geyser of blood. The scene was to have been even gorier than it appears in the final product, but they only had the one shot of making it work because the fake blood caused a short circuit which could have been a health hazard to all involved. Booby trapping the house, Nancy goes into the dreamworld alone, pulling Freddy out as planned and forcing him into all her traps. Eventually, Nancy sets Freddy on fire and persuades her father and the cops to break down the front door and help her out. But in the time it takes for them to get there, Freddy makes his way upstairs and burns Nancy’s mother to death. Nancy sends her father out of the room and deals with Freddy one last time by herself. Her final solution is simply to turn her back on him and reclaim all the power she’d given him through her fear.

The inspirations for “A Nightmare on Elm Street” are far more creepy than anything you’ll see in the actual movie. Freddy Krueger comes from Craven’s memories, named for a kid who used to bully Wes, and his appearance from a fedora-wearing hobo who once frightened Wes as a child. The story itself is inspired by newspaper headlines. Three men who were refugees from Cambodia, having escaped the Pol Pot regime, were nonetheless still traumatized. Within the space of twelve months, each man was dead. They had all done everything they could to keep from dreaming. When they finally did fall asleep, each man woke up screaming, and then expired.

I’ve personally watched “A Nightmare on Elm Street” enough times to know it frontwards and backwards. The movie is nearly flawless. It’s the ending that keeps perfection just out of reach. This comes as the result of the conflicting ideas of two men: writer/director Wes Craven, and producer Robert Shaye. Craven was more interested in telling one complete story with a closed loop. Shaye, who was looking to bring New Line Cinema (the company which he had founded) out of financial dire straits, didn’t want Freddy Krueger as a mere one-off villain and so, upon his insistence, a new ending was tacked on to tease the possibility of a sequel. As an ending, it doesn’t work because there’s zero build-up to it. Meanwhile, Craven’s intended conclusion (wherein Nancy turns her back on Freddy) is foreshadowed on three separate occasions. But don’t even think about letting this discourage you! There’s so much that’s iconic about “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” from the music, to the elaborate dream sequences to Robert Englund’s memorably creepy performance as Freddy Krueger, that make it one of the top must-sees in all of horror.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Okay. That does it. I will have to see this movie. I enjoyed learning about the background inspiration , and I am impressed by the perseverance of the heroine, Nancy, who seems to be a lot smarter than all of the “adults.”

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