Nancy and her friends are being stalked through their dreams, murdered by a man who can’t possibly exist. When Nancy discovers a link between this killer and her parents’ past, she begins to wonder who she can really trust. More importantly, she begins to wonder if there’s a way to get out of Elm Street alive.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is a horror classic, the centerpiece of 1980s’ generation of such films. One of those movies that uses all the clichés before they were cliché (some of them, anyway) and uses them well, Craven establishes early on the sex versus survival rule and uses the disbelief formula best seen in Jaws: unleash a killer that authority figures refuse to acknowledge on a group of unsuspecting people. In the days when Frankenstein, not Jason, was the greatest of the zombies and Michael Myers was a force of pure evil instead of a pawn of the Man in Black, these ingredients are expertly stirred, heated to a low boil, and simmered for an hour and a half.
Beyond that, A Nightmare on Elm Street is the home of the most classic scenes and lines in the Nightmare series. The first appearance of Freddy – both the sight and his opening line- is a classic in itself. Had it not spawned a multi-generational franchise, Wes Craven’s Nightmare would still be memorable for giving us Freddy Krueger and the conflict between Nancy Thompson and her father (a role for which John Saxon received top billing in this film). Craven expertly combines the elements of disgust with terror to make a character you really want to get away from, drawing out all of the elements in the viewer needed to make what would become classic kills truly effective.
This movie is home to two of the best kills in any slasher movie. The first and last dream kills of the film (not counting the epilogue dream, which was also ignored by the sequels) are classic horror cinema. One of these would be imitated in at least two Nightmare spin-offs, while the other had a role in cementing Johnny Depp’s place in film for years to come.
As part of a series, the original is without question the best Nightmare. As this was Freddy’s first (and at this point, only) appearance on-screen, there were no established rules as to what he could not do. This gave him leeway to truly shock in ways that the sequels would never have considered, such as peeling his face off and leaving nothing but a bloody skull behind.
A Nightmare on Elm Street also displays the first of five different theories on Freddy and dreams, each of which later seems to be false as a matter of continuing the series, and the first of three “let’s pull him out of the dream” scenarios. Each of these ideas – that of having Freddy be the latest in a tradition of dream killers across the world and of pulling him into the real world for the world’s deadliest Home Alone sequel – were new and original here. Over time, the imitations would become more and more paltry. It really was done best the first time. Falling asleep and encountering the killer in the middle of class was also an original idea. Then, it started happening in every. Single. Movie. Good job, writers for the rest of the series.
The acting of this film, while not particularly Oscar-worthy, is something I have no complaints about. If the character is unrelatable or unlikable, it’s because that’s how they were written and intended, not because of the acting. If I had to pick out something I didn’t like about the acting in this film, it would be some of John Saxon’s delivery.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of my favorite films of all time, and has been since the moment I first watched it. The effects fly in the face of a budget 5% of that of its remake, resulting in one of the goriest and best looking slasher films of all time. Over time, Freddy would become more and more comical and less sinister, but this is the real deal. If you haven’t seen this film and consider yourself to be a fan of slasher films or horror in general, you need to watch this.