One two Freddy’s coming for you, three four better lock your door, five six grab your crucifix, seven eight better stay up late, nine ten never sleep again.
If that nursery rhyme doesn’t give you the chills, I invite you to either revisit or discover A Nightmare on Elm Street this Halloween. Why you may assume that this 80’s low budget slasher movie would feel dated now, I’m here to tell you you’re in for a frightfully good surprise. There is a reason that this franchise and the knife fingered Freddy continue to endure across a number of mediums, and it all comes down to this original movie.
With what is quite possibly the greatest horror movie concept of all time, Wes Craven’s 1984 film sees a group of teenagers contending with the burned figure of Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), who has the power to hurt, and even kill them, in their dreams. That central idea: a slasher movie in which the killer only exists in the uncontrollably landscape of your dreams, remains irresistible, and what is still ever so striking in Craven’s iconic masterpiece is how well he blurs the lines of fantasy and reality, creating many moments of terror and dread, dripping in blood and anxiety.
The use of physical effects throughout the film may seem a little rough around the edges in places by today’s standards, but that DIY touch brings with it an extra layer of eeriness and inhuman quality to Freddy’s tricks and manipulations. Some effects are also just brilliant full stop, with the image of a mysterious figure pushing through and stretching the wall above Nancy Thompson’s bed standing as a chilling piece of horror imagery. The many moments of horror and surrealism are still so potent, be it Freddy going for a cheekily sinister gag or a gore spouting bed, all set to Charles Bernstein’s striking score. The fact that film cost just over a million dollars to produce and that these are the results they managed to produce is staggering.
Its visuals may help maintain A Nightmare on Elm Street’s iconic status, but it is Heather Lagenkamp and Robert Englund who cement it. Lagenkamp as Nancy remains one of the best final girls in horror history. She’s a determined teenager who is into survival, faced with an extraordinary situation, who is constantly one step ahead of the stubborn and clueless adults around her. Englund’s first performance here is very different to the rest of the franchise. Away from the reliance of one liners that the character rested upon in other installments, this original Freddy is as frightening and as sinister as any horror icon before or after him.
That nothing else in the franchise quite matches up to the original is more a testament to its impact than it is a comment on the varying degrees of quality across other installments. It remains an incredibly imaginative and impressively executed slasher flick, making sure it doesn’t waste a second of its efficient 91 minute runtime, powered by the most ingenious of concepts. As iconic as horror movies come.
Dir: Wes Craven
Scr: Wes Craven
Cast: John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund
Prd: Robert Shaye
DOP: Jacques Haitkin
Music: Charles Bernstein
Runtime: 91 minutes
A Nightmare on Elm Street is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and on demand now.