“Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep,” says Nancy Thompson.
I grew up watching Freddy Krueger on TV, but only catching bits and pieces of various Nightmare On Elm Street films (particularly the sequels) as well as the anthology TV series Freddy’s Nightmares. I was aware of him as a campy serial killer who grew more creative with his kills, which is why it came as a complete shock to me when I found out that he actually started out as a child murderer who had been burned to death by an angry mob and later came back as a spirit to haunt their kids’ dreams and kill them in their sleep. Seeing the first film is quite a refreshing surprise for those who’ve only seen the sequels or the TV series (where Freddy grew more and more cartoonish). I managed to catch a midnight screening of Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare On Elm Street at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema two years ago, and it wouldn’t be a spoiler alert to state that I enjoyed it very much. It’s hard to believe that the film is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
1984’s A Nightmare On Elm Street follows a group of teenagers who are being stalked by a serial killer named Fred Krueger in their dreams and discover that he’s much more real than they thought. Craven gathered together a good cast (John Saxon as Lt. Don Thompson, Ronee Blakley as Marge Thompson, Heather Langenkamp as Nancy, Amanda Wyss as Tina, Nick Corri as Rod, Johnny Depp as Glen, Charles Fleischer as Dr. King, and, of course, Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger). Craven’s direction is solid and his screenplay is terrific. He uses Krueger’s attacks on the teenagers to symbolize the traumatic experiences that adolescence can bring, and the film’s setting subverts the notion about the safety and innocence of the American suburbs. His creative blurring of the lines between dreams and reality is also quite effective. Krueger is a devilish creation; he is menacing throughout the film and makes you genuinely fear for the lives of the teenagers (something that became lost with most of the sequels; the character made a return to form in 1994’s Wes Craven’s New Nightmare).
Jacques Haitkin’s cinematography is dark and eerie, and Gregg Fonseca’s production design was superb. Rick Shaine’s editing keeps the film moving at an excellent pace. David Miller’s makeup design was top-notch (Krueger’s disfigured face is the main highlight). The practical special effects still hold up after all these years (FUN FACT: the image of Freddy stretching out of the bedroom wall was actually achieved using latex). The special effects sequence that still impresses me to this day is the death of one of the characters (I’m not saying who) up on the bedroom ceiling while another friend helplessly looks on. Charles Bernstein crafted a memorable score with a lingering theme for Krueger and the danger he represents. The film’s legacy has been undeniable: it launched a film franchise, helped establish New Line Cinema as a production company in addition to being a distributor (which is why it’s been referred to as “The House That Freddy Built”), and solidified Wes Craven as a horror filmmaker (despite his venturing into other genres). The only other Nightmare film worth seeing is the previously mentioned New Nightmare; you can skip all of the other sequels as well as the 2010 reboot (the 2nd Nightmare film, despite being awful, is at least interesting due to how, unintentional or not, homoerotic it turned out to be). Happy 30th Freddy; may you continue to scare the crap out of people for another 30 years.