It’s hard to review this movie simply on itself and to ignore the sequels and the impact it had on horror in general. The antagonist of the story became a horror icon and one Johnny Depp became one of the best actors around. With all that in mind, it sure changes the perspective when watching.
16-year old something Nancy Thompson is having bad dreams about a disfigured guy with a knife-glove in a boiler room. She doesn’t think much of them at first but when she finds out her friends dream about the same guy she begins to suspect there’s something more to them. When her best friend Tina dies during a dream all fingers are immediately pointed at her knife carrying boyfriend Todd, but Nancy slowly starts to realize that the guy in their dreams might be responsible.
A Nightmare on Elm Street gives us an intriguing concept. With sleeping being basically unavoidable how do you avoid a killer that haunts you in your dreams? It takes some time for our heroine Nancy to figure this out, so while she starts putting the pieces of this puzzle together her friends die one after one. This movie is basically a slasher movie with a supernatural element. For once, the monster isn’t some silent killer come back for revenge in some backwoods or a dorm, it’s a quite chatty killer come back for revenge in people’s dreams.
Though chatty as he is, Freddy isn’t the stand-up comedian he would later become. He talks, but his words are meant to instill fear in his victims, not to wink at the audience. Englund plays it straight here as Fred Krueger, the guy who killed over 20 children before a group of enraged parents killed him by setting him on fire. Though deadly serious I couldn’t help but find Freddy’s portrayal somewhat goofy. The famous elongated arms look silly and not threatening at all, when Freddy chases Tina in the alley he runs like a clown and when fighting Nancy he’s constantly getting kicked down and tripping over everything. Wes Craven did this again with the killer in Scream, but that wasn’t a supernatural entity behind the mask.
The dream sequences in this movie are restrained, grounded in reality. They mostly revolve around a boiler room and Nancy’s house and neighborhood. There are quite a few now iconic scenes and elements in these dreams; the jump-roping girls, the bathtub, the tongue-phone and the revolving room. The scenes are genuinely creepy and atmospheric, especially the scene where Tina’s body is dragged through a hallway.
The problem do have with this movie is the character of Nancy. In the final act of the movie, she tries to bring Freddy into the real world so she can defeat him. To achieve this she sets up all kinds of boobytraps. A 16 year old girl going all MacGuyver on a maniacal supernatural killer, it just didn’t sound logical to me.
What does surprise me about this movie is one tiny thing. Though played by a 23-year-old the character of Tina is mentioned to be 15 years old when Freddy slashers her after having some steamy sex with bad boy Rod. While no nudity is shown (something which they actually could do if they wanted to) it’s funny how nobody ever fell over the fact that this movie shows a supposedly 15-year-old having sex. All these moral watch groups were probably asleep.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is a decent horror movie, with some minor flaws. It’s always interesting to return to the original and see how restrained the character of Freddy once was.