A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) Movie Review – 31 Days of Halloween

198491 MinR

Teenagers in a small town are dropping like flies, apparently in the grip of mass hysteria causing their suicides. A cop's daughter, Nancy Thompson, traces the cause to child molester Fred Krueger, who was burned alive by angry parents many years before. Krueger has now come back in the dreams of his killers' children, claiming their lives as his revenge. Nancy and her boyfriend, Glen, must devise a plan to lure the monster out of the realm of nightmares and into the real world...

Movie Review

Welcome to Knockout Horror and to day 25 of our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween feature. Today we are checking out a horror classic in the form of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street from 1984. This was a movie that felt quite a lot different from the typical slasher movies that were doing the rounds during the late 70s and early 80s. 

A Nightmare on Elm Street’s antagonist felt far more developed and fleshed out than your standard slasher movie bogeyman. Freddy Krueger had a well defined history and a sardonic personality to go along with it. Freddy was a front and centre character as opposed to the typical shadow style villains hidden in the background.

A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) Horror Review

When combined with the strange, dream based, almost supernatural plot. A Nightmare on Elm Street felt completely different and extremely refreshing in a genre that was beginning to feel rather stale. The movie would go on to spark myriad sequels and even a failed reboot. But it is the original move that stands as the best; even to this day.

An 80’s Horror Hit

I remember catching this movie when I was way too young to be watching it and I really enjoyed it. I had a much older brother and sister and Freddy Krueger was the type of villain that my brother would frequently torment me with. A Nightmare on Elm Street was the most noteworthy horror in my household when I was young and my siblings would often reflect on just how scary it was. Kids would run around wearing Krueger knife gloves and hats at Halloween and his face was everywhere.

A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) Horror Review

It’s probably no surprise that when I did finally get around to watching it. It had no real chance of living up to its legend. By that point I had already watched Alien so my mind was fairly set on which movie was the scariest. And I mostly saw Freddy Krueger as a slightly amusing and almost cartoon like horror villain that provoked laughs rather than fear. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the movie. A Nightmare on Elm Street feels so much deeper and so much more unique than a lot of the slasher movies from the 80s.

Don’t Fall Asleep

Following the story of a group of kids attempting to avoid falling victim to a notorious, dream stalking, serial killer. A Nightmare on Elm Street predominantly focuses on high school student Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) and her efforts to defeat the notorious Freddy Krueger. A hideously scarred child murderer who was burned alive by a group of people and has now come back to claim their children while they sleep.

A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) Horror Review

A Nightmare on Elm Street was inspired by the case of a group of Asian refugees who, after escaping attempted genocide in Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Succumbed to sudden adult death syndrome while sleeping. The men all experienced horrific nightmares in the lead up to their deaths and some were even refusing to sleep. Leading Wes Craven to develop a story based on the mysterious deaths.

An Unsettling Theme

It’s an inspired idea, as well. A Nightmare on Elm Street attacks the one place you should feel completely safe and the one time you should be perfectly at peace. What could be worse than not being able to sleep due to the threat of death? We all know what it is like to be sleep deprived and we have all experienced nightmares. The only comfort is waking up and realising that it is not actually real and you are, in reality, completely fine. 

But that isn’t the case for the kids in A Nightmare on Elm Street. The threat is entirely real and something is really killing them in their sleep. The result is a group of characters suffering from extreme sleep deprivation, increased paranoia and an inability to stay awake despite the horrifying threat that looms inside their dreams.

A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) Horror Review

It’s fantastic stuff and it is quite special in that we can all relate to it in just a small way. It’s easy to place yourself into the shoes of the characters here and imagine their plight. A Nightmare on Elm Street taps into something very visceral which makes it extremely effective. Sure, it’s nearly 40 years old and some of its scare factor has waned a little. But it is easy to appreciate what Craven was trying to do and how unique it was at the time.

One, Two, Freddy’s Coming for You

Naturally it is impossible to talk about A Nightmare on Elm Street without talking about Freddy Krueger himself. The horribly burned, wise cracking, serial killer has gone on to become a horror icon. Perhaps the most recognisable of all time. There hasn’t been a sequel in a long time and the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street was poorly received. But Freddy Krueger is just as recognisable today as he has always been. 

That stands as a testament to Craven’s creativity and to the performance of the brilliant Robert Englund. Craven based the character on an old man he remembers seeing as a child. A man, seemingly, noteworthy enough to stay with Craven the entire time. He then combined this with the name of a childhood bully and a sweatshirt that wears the, apparently, two most clashing colours to the human iris – red and green.

A Unique Antagonist

Craven initially wanted Krueger to be even more sinister than simply a child murderer. But a couple of prolific child abuse cases in the area at the time prompted him to change things up out of a desire to not seem like he was exploiting harrowing topics. In a world of masked killers like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees. Freddy stands out and that is in no small part due to Craven wanting his antagonist to still able to talk and use facial expressions. A mask would impact this so Craven decided to make Freddy hideously scarred instead.

A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) Horror Review

The result is one of the most unique looking characters in all of horror history. Every appearance of Freddy in A Nightmare on Elm Street is a delight. Englund manages to mix the perfect amount of sarcastic verbal bite with some genuinely unnerving mannerisms to create a villain that is straight up twisted. Whereas Myers and Voorhees seem like mindless drones killing for no reason. Krueger seems to relish in it and enjoy every second of it. He has a purpose to his killing and he loves doing it. Something which makes him all the scarier. 

A Strong Cast

Freddy Krueger wouldn’t be anything without his victims, of course. And this movie features one of the first performances by a young Johnny Depp. There wasn’t much hint as to the worldwide mega star he would go on to become and he is a bit wooden. But he does his job and features in one of a few iconic death scenes that are as creative as they are fun. Interesting fact, Depp barely had any experience when auditioning for the role of Glenn. He was accompanying his friend Jackie Haley to his audition and stole it right out from under him. Haley would later go on to play Freddy Krueger himself in the Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 remake. Pretty neat.

A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) Horror Review

Black Christmas’s John Saxon stars as another cop and does a fine job as always. But this is really the Heather Langenkamp show, however, and she is fantastic as Nancy. She is both likable and believably tough. Feeling every part the perfect foil to Freddy himself. Langenkamp would go on to feature in a few more Nightmare on Elm Street movies but her starring role here is her most significant. As far as horror main characters go, I don’t think Nancy gets mentioned in the same breath as some of the others. Despite how good she is and how good of a job Langenkamp does.

Final Thoughts and Score

It’s about to hit 40 years old and it does look its age. Having lost a fair bit of its sting over the years. But A Nightmare on Elm Street is still a massively important movie in horror history and deserves its roses. Freddy Krueger is an iconic horror villain and this is him at his best. Nancy is a great protagonist and A Nightmare on Elm Street felt different to every other similar movie around at the time. This is a movie that is both a horror classic and an important milestone in slasher history.

Trailer: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

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A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) Horror Review

Movie Information

Release Date:9th November 1984
Movie Type:Horror, Slasher
Movie Length:91 Min
Starring: John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund
Directed By: Wes Craven
Written By: Wes Craven
Produced By: Robert Shaye
Country: United States
Language: English
Parental Guidance: Violence, Gore, Violence To Children, Nudity, Sexual Content, Language, Upsetting Themes