A Nightmare On Elm Street Movie Review

A Nightmare on Elm Street, and more notably Freddy Kruger, has a special place in the hearts of many Americans in their late 20s and early 30s. When the movie was released in 1984, these now older viewers were in elementary and middle school. The dark was a formidable threat, and a villain like Kruger was a concern that tapped at the corners of the mind.

Viewed through older eyes, Nightmare isn't remotely scary. I can see the nostalgic value of Freddy Kruger (played by Robert Englund, who has a built career on this role) the same way that I sometimes hum Debbie Gibson songs to myself. But as a first-time viewer, I found my attention caught by the lousy acting, hideously dated wardrobe, and actress Ronee Blakley's apparent bronzer addiction. She makes Jessica Simpson in The Dukes of Hazzard look like an albino.

The movie centers on a group of teens (including a pre-stardom Johnny Depp) in a suburban town, who suffer horrible nightmares, starring Kruger, a child murderer. Time has not been kind to Kruger, who sports a gnarled, burned face, a glove with fingertip blades, and the ability to kill children when they sleep. That's what happens when you're burned to death by angry parents; you get numerous chances to extract revenge. Somehow student Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) keeps staving off sleep so she can keep confronting Kruger.

What really prevents Nightmare from evergreen status is that for all of the plot's creativity, blood splattering, and dream terrors, writer/director Wes Craven has little time to define his teen characters, a key reason why his Scream was so good--or to delve into Freddy's child-killing craziness. He chases the kids around like it's some demented game of tag, but we never feel the sense of bone-chilling terror the kids supposedly feel. And, man, it would have been great if Craven had examined Nancy's struggle to fight off sleep or explored her quickening demented pace. It never happens.

Oddly enough, the movie has value. I can see Nightmare being ideal for kids at a sleepover -- pending parental supervision, of course -- because it's a grisly ghost story. And kids, unless there's a burgeoning Anthony Lane in the bunch, will be too busy covering their eyes to be concerned with narrative flaws. For adults who once shuddered at Freddy's presence, re-watching Nightmare should be like looking through an old yearbook: "Look at the hair! Look at those clothes! Can you imagine how scared we were?" For adults who are watching with virgin eyes, pleasant dreams. You might be asleep sooner than you think.

Who knew that the sheep were homages to Buñuel? Or that this was Johnny Depp's first movie? The DVD has a commentary track with Craven and the then-idolized Langenkamp, among others, to clear this all up for you.

A new Special Edition DVD piles on the extras: A branching feature lets you jump away to outtakes and extra clips, plus you get making-of featurettes, commentary tracks, and three alternate endings, all spanning two DVDs.


Comments

A Nightmare On Elm Street Rating

" Grim "

Rating: R, 1984

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