Tribute Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

This was originally intended as a Remake Rumble review (alongside the 2010 remake I have yet to see) but after watching it again I have decided this is far more fitting as a Tribute Review for the late brilliant Wes Craven, who died in August this year (2015) who brought about, almost single-handedly, the teen horror genre.

To his name are such classics as The Hills Have Eyes (and its sequel) The Last House on the Left, Scream (and all three sequels) and of course A Nightmare on Elm Street. While his work is centrally around Elm Street and Scream, there is no denying their impact on film and the culture at the time. Freddy Kruger is perhaps the most recognised movie monster alongside the Alien.

So this Halloween, being a rather lacking one for me personally, I will at least watch this classic again. It was even released on my birthday year! That really was a good year for cinema.

Here’s to you, Wes Craven.

A Nightmare On Elm Street
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

The fact that they dared to remake this is disgusting; the film still stands the test of time and is a landmark film in the horror genre. Possibly director Wes Craven’s best work.

American teens find themselves sharing the same dream where a mysterious knife-fingered killer stalks them. But when they start to be horrifically murdered one by one and with no evidence as to who killed them, one girl Nancy intends to fight back.

Watching A Nightmare on Elm Street today, thirty-one years on, is still a great time. While it did birth a lot of modern horror tropes (alongside Halloween and Friday the 13th) I would argue that Elm Street has perhaps aged fairer than its peers. It isn’t long, sitting at a reasonable ninety minutes runtime, and is paced well as it keeps things simple. There’s no over-analysing of who our killer is, no flashbacks, no sympathy. All you need to know is: if you fall asleep, Freddy will get you.

What a delightfully simple and utterly resonating idea. Who cannot relate and be drawn to empathise with a character afraid to go to sleep? Coupled with the adults in the film and their passive aggressive disbelief in what their kids are saying. In terms of original movie horrors, Freddy Kruger has to be one of the last best creative ideas out there.
The film too has a great style that magnifies this dream-world horror. While Kruger’s “lair” is industrial, wet, rusted and full of orange shadows, it’s when our reality meets his twisted ways the film really shines. Someone fleeing up stairs, only for their feet to sink into them like mud. A face and hands protruding through the wall, stretching it like fabric. Or someone being dragged by an invisible force up and around the walls and ceiling.
This film, in 1984, does things that horror films today try to do! The creativity is off the scale.

The film is acted as well as it needs to be. Nancy is played well by Heather Langenkamp (who would return in part 3 and New Nightmare) who gives us a teenage girl who grows increasingly paranoid with sleep deprivation but also as a girl slowly seeking revenge.
All of Freddy’s backstory is played out through Nancy’s parents, but while today this might have been a sticking point for the film’s pacing, it is explained concisely and shortly and we move on.

I guess the only small problems I can have with it is the ending, which feels a little cheap and cheesy (echoing perhaps the film’s legacy to follow) but if you can ignore what would come of the series, it is just the director making fun. Another long standing trope of the genre.

If you haven’t seen A Nightmare on Elm Street please give it a shot. I think you will be pleasantly impressed by how it has aged well and remains one of cinema’s most scary creations.


Additional Marshmallows: I may have given this a 4.5 rating, but it gets 5 for withstanding the test of time as well as it does. And of course, it is a fresh-faced Johnny Depp’s film debut!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *