Classic Film Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Horrortober:

A Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984

Directed by: Wes Craven

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

 

What would a celebration of horror be without one (or two) Wes Craven films, and the first to make its way here is A Nightmare on Elm Street, the first and original in the franchise (before five sequels, one remake, one re-adaptation and a crossover). After Tina (Amanda Wyss) complains to her friends, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), Glen (Johnny Depp) and Rod (Nick Corri), about a nightmare she’s been having where she’s being chased by a man with knife-like fingers, they all have a sleepover. There, after sleeping with Rod (I don’t know if it’s explicitly stated if they’re dating) and falling asleep, Freddie Krueger (Robert Englund) kills Tina in her dreams, freaking out Rod (who flees after the killer despite seeing Tina writhing around and being murdered with nobody else being there) and leaving Nancy next in Freddie’s sights.

The premise for this film is brilliant: a child-murderer was murdered by all the parents and now, somehow, he haunts the dreams of teenagers killing them one by one, and it’s the dream part of that premise which is truly scary: we need to sleep. Secluded areas in horror films are scary because they’re claustrophobic, populated areas can be scary if nobody believes your fears, but dreams are something we all do, and we all must sleep. And the film is pretty fun (it’s not at all scary, though), a slasher film with a difference in that the murdered are sleeping therefore cannot work together necessarily to stop the killer (and the killer is largely untraceable). However there is one part of this film which is really, really, really bad: acting.

For a film directed by Wes Craven, often called the ‘Master of Horror’, and briefly starring Lin Shaye, often regarded as a ‘Scream Queen’, and starring a young Johnny Depp, it’s baffling how this film is so terribly acted. Heather Langenkamp is diabolical in her leading role, and how she got a further three jobs with Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and Freddie vs. Jason) is beyond me. If you look closely enough, she smiles when she sees Tina’s dead body at the start (and if it’s not smiling it’s certainly not the fear or sadness she should be expressing), and she repeats this expression with another dead body found later on. But it’s not all Heather’s fault (everyone else is poor in this film) as the writing is poor, too. Her mother, Marge (Ronee Blakley) spends the whole film disregarding Nancy’s fears and just telling her to go back to sleep. I get Wes Craven is trying to scare us with her not being able to sleep, but having Marge repeatedly saying go to sleep lessens the effect and just makes her mother look terrible. As is her father, Lt. Don (John Saxon), who, after being told by Nancy to come to her room at a set time, ignores her and informs a police officer to keep an eye out, instead. Then there’s that police officer, who sees Nancy screaming at the top of her lungs (there’s bars all around the house so Nancy can’t get out) and he spends ages (by this point Nancy is smashing windows to try and get out) deciding on whether or not to tell Lt. Don her daughter is acting strange (as per Lt. Don’s request). And Nancy’s boyfriend, Glen, must have the greatest urge to fall asleep ever. Twice Nancy asks him to stay awake for her and twice he falls asleep (the second time he’s even awoken at 11.43pm before falling back to sleep when he was supposed to meet Nancy at midnight). She has a terrible mother, a terrible father, a terrible boyfriend and a terrible actress portraying her: Nancy doesn’t stand a chance.

Freddie Krueger is given a nice back-story in this film, which is further explored with later films (and strangely copied for Halloween costumes despite Freddie Krueger being a child murderer), and they follow the killing order of a slasher film as you’d expect, even with a few surprises along the way. And one thing I did enjoy was seeing a character close their eyes as it instantly confused the situation as we don’t know there and then if they’re asleep or not and that helped. The character work on Freddie saved this film in the writing category, and the murders are presented well, often with switching worlds from the dream world to reality, especially when Tina was being murdered at the start as we see Freddie on top of her before we see Rod looking down at her writhing. It helped establish that Freddie only exists in the dream world but the results of him are apparent in the awoken world (not entirely sure what to call this world).

A fun film with a brilliant villain and a brilliant villain story (from his murder to his ability to murder in your nightmares) but this film is hampered by some terrible acting from everyone, some terrible writing and too short a time spent on character development. Tina dies straight away before we could see the group as a foursome, instead they’re divided by Tina’s death and after that they show no emotion about the other killings and we, as a result, aren’t moved by their killings.

 

Plot: * * *

Acting: *

Writing: * *

Presentation: * * *

Overall Rating: * * ¼

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