A Nightmare on Elm Street

USA 1984, 91 mins
Director: Wes Craven

When a group of teenagers discover they are all having nightmares about the same creepy guy, they realise they must stay awake if they want to stay alive. Often grouped in with the slasher sub-genre that dominated US horror cinema of the 1980s, Craven’s most infamous creation was in fact rooted firmly in the supernatural, making Freddy Krueger a different kind of vengeful ghost, whose haunting ground was not a house, but the collective subconscious minds of a generation of vulnerable adolescents.
Michael Blyth,

A Contemporary review
Although A Nightmare on Elm Street is a screen original, it has all the symptoms of a Stephen King adaptation: a director whose reputation rests on harrowing, personal horror films relaxing with a bogey-man-will-get-you movie; an archetypal small-town setting, populated by fresh-faced teenagers whose milieu is observed with sociological exactitude; an invented monster myth, complete with folkloric trimmings like a skipping rhyme with significant lyrics whose meaning has been forgotten; and the impression that about two hundred pages worth of characterisation has been compressed into cliché details like boozy Ronee Blakley demonstrating her renewed self-respect by throwing away a half-full bottle. The epilogue even features a specific reference to King’s world, as Krueger possesses the teenager’s red classic custom car and drives them off to an uncertain, doubtless horrible, fate.

Not that Craven has entirely abandoned his own territory. Indeed, he proves that he is capable of a spot of self-plagiarism as he lifts the thing-in-the-bath scene from Deadly Blessing and the booby-trapped hallway from Last House on the Left. In those films, he used brief, surreally horrifying bad dreams to undercut the normality of the few nonviolent establishing scenes. Here, the nightmares have literally become the whole film, and not entirely to its benefit. A Nightmare on Elm Street falls somewhere between the two truly dreamlike modes achieved by Videodrome and Halloween, but the two strains of nightmare work against each other. While the kissing telephone and the bottomless bathtub are disorienting in the Cronenberg spirit, they get in the way of the relentless, pursuing-monster aspect that Carpenter manages so well. The only original idea in the film – that a dream monster ceases to exist if the dreamer doesn’t look at it – turns up too late, and contradicts earlier scenes in which Krueger menaces dozing, unaware victims (it also calls attention to the fact that, since a dream reality can only be subjective, all film dream sequences should be shot with a first-person camera).

Nevertheless, A Nightmare on Elm Street does find Craven emerging from his recent career slump (Swamp Thing, The Hills Have Eyes Part 2, Invitation to Hell) with a fine, perhaps definitive, bogey man to back him up. The video censors will doubtless look askance at the do-it-yourself sequence in which Fred Krueger fashions a glove with razor-sharp talons, but the killer’s trademark claw provides the film’s scariest images as Krueger slices himself open, slashes his way into the real world, and looms through a distended wall above a sleeping innocent.

Considered as a straightforward co-ed killer film, Nightmare is a superior example of an over-worked genre, thanks to Craven’s skill at organising individual shock scenes and getting neat performances out of his mostly young cast. Robert Englund, of course, steals all his scenes with porkpie hat, disgustingly striped jersey, and maniacal laugh, but heroine Heather Langenkamp also makes a strong first impression, summing up in one line the fears of an imperilled generation of movie teenagers. ‘God’, she gasps after several sleepless days and a close call with Fred Krueger, ‘I look twenty years old’.
Kim Newman, Monthly Film Bulletin, September 1985

Director: Wes Craven
©: The Elm Street Venture
Presented by: New Line Cinema, Media Home Entertainment Inc., Smart Egg Pictures
Executive Producers: Stanley Dudelson, Joseph Wolf
Producer: Robert Shaye
Co-producer: Sara Risher
Associate Producer: John Burrows
Production Executive: Stephen Abramson
Production Manager: John Burrows
Production Supervisor: Amy Rabins
Production Co-ordinator: Lisa C. Cook
Location Manager: Craig Pointes
1st Assistant Director: Nick Batchelor
2nd Assistant Director: Peter Graupner
Casting by: Annette Benson
Screenplay: Wes Craven
Director of Photography: Jacques Haitkin
2nd Unit Photographer: Henning Schellerup
1st Assistant Camera: Anne Coffey
2nd Assistant Camera: Tom Vanghele
Mechanical Special Effects: Jim Doyle, Theatrical Engines
Editor: Rick Shaine
Co-editor: Pat McMahon
Production Designer: Gregg Fonseca
Art Department Assistant: BarbaraMetzenbaum, Don Diers
Set Decorator: Anne Huntley
Set Dresser: Dorree Cooper
Storyboard Artist: Bill Kroyer
Costume Designer: Dana Lyman
Costume Supervisor: Lisa Jensen
Make-up: Katy Logan
Special Make-up Effects: David B. Miller
Title Design: Dan Perri
Opticals: Cinema Research Corporation, Cinopticals, The Optical House
Colour by: DeLuxe
Music: Charles Bernstein
Sound Re-recording Mixer: Jack Cooley
Supervising Sound Editor: Jess Soraci
Supervising Sound Editing: Magnofex
Sound Editor: Al Nahmias
Looping/ADR: Gomillion Sound
Stunt Co-ordinator: Tony Cecere
Animal Wrangler: Jim Picciolo

John Saxon (Lieutenant Thompson)
Ronee Blakley (Marge Thompson)
Heather Langenkamp (Nancy Thompson)
Amanda Wyss (Tina Gray)
Nick Corri (Rod Lane)
Johnny Depp (Glen Lantz)
Charles Fleischer (Dr King)
Joseph Whipp (Sergeant Parker)
Lin Shaye (teacher)
Robert Englund (Fred Krueger)
Joe Unger (Sergeant Garcia)
Mimi Meyer-Craven (nurse)
Jack Shea (minister)
Ed Call (Mr Lantz)
Sandy Lipton (Mrs Lantz)
David Andrews (foreman)
Jeff Levine (coroner)
Donna Woodrum (Tina’s mother)
Shashawnee Hall (cop)
Carol Pritkin (cop)
Brian Reise (cop)
Jason Adams (surfer)
Don Hannah (surfer)
Leslie Hoffman (hall guard)
Paul Grenier (Tina’s mother’s boyfriend)

USA 1984
91 mins

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