johnlink ranks A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)

I saw the original NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET back in college (so we are talking 21st century here). I didn’t find it particularly scary or unnerving then. But Amazon had all 7 of these movies for under 20 bucks. So who am I to argue that kind of value. I’ve only ever seen the first. We will see how far into this series I get…


I watched A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) on 10.15.14. It was my second viewing of the film and first in over a decade.

When discussing the horror movie series canon from the 70s and 80s most people will put TEXAS CHAINSAW and HELLRAISER. All would put on FRIDAY THE 13TH, HALLOWEEN, and, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Of all of those original films, NIGHTMARE might be the least successful as a horror film. It still entertains in a cheesy sort of way, but it lacks the scares. It is also not a particularly humorous film, something the latter films in the series were known to lean on.

Fred Krueger (Robert Englund) is not yet Freddy. He is, in this film, just a monstrous man who murdered children and haunts teenagers dreams. While Englund is known almost exclusively for this iconic role, he has not yet hit his stride in the first film. Here he is mostly just a villain with scars who jumps out occasionally. We don’t get a lot of witty banter or faux humor. The movie wants him to be truly scary, but the 30 years that have gone by since this film has been made dull the senses to the few jump scares this movie tries to provide. Put another way, if a teenager saw NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET for the first time now, they wouldn’t be particularly impressed.

Not that there is not effort here. Wes Craven wrote and directed this movie with a real feel for tone. He gets what he wants out of this movie, it is just entirely dated. It is amazing to think that only 12 years passed between this film and SCREAM. It did not take long for the cliches of the genre to become  such. Those two movies are linked quite a bit. The boyfriend of SCREAM (Skeet Ulrich) is a carbon copy of the boyfriend in NIGHTMARE (a young Johnny Depp).Both climb through the windows of their girlfriends, sneaking in late at night. And even those girlfriends have similarities. Neve Campbell has a similar appearance to the heroine of NIGHTMARE, Heather Lagenkamp. Unfortunately for NIGHTMARE, Neve Campbell is both much more attractive and a far, far superior actress. The acting, across the board, is pretty bad in this movie. But it starts with a really uninspired turn by its star actress. The scenes where she tries to cry or show heightened emotion are truly painful.

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET tries to earn points for having the dream within a dream within a dream thing going on in its climax. Only, the problem is, it never really does anything other than make us feel like we will always be in the dream. It tries to fool us with at least three different endings. Perhaps this was new at the time (though HALLOWEEN had done so much more successfully several years earlier), but it feels trite now.  The music in NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET also never really finds its footing. Usually scariness is implied by hitting a couple of dissonant notes on the piano. Not to keep comparing it to the same contemporary, but it has nowhere near the power of a score like HALLOWEEN.

I wish I liked this movie more than I do. It’s value is almost entirely in nostalgia. This doesn’t discredit people who were scared or influenced by it at the time, but it is hard to consider this movie as anything but a relic. It is no more scary to a modern audience than the old Hammer films. I would submit that it is even less impactful than a Japanese movie I just watched from 1959, THE GHOST OF YOTSUYA.




FINAL SCORE: 4.25 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on October 15, 2014.

2 Responses to “johnlink ranks A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)”

  1. Can’t really agree with you much on this one. Second favorite movie of mine, and I am biased, of course. Freddy actually was meant to be like this, not the jokey hokey version he became later on. Though I do enjoy Freddy in some of the later movies (5 and 6 – eh!), but I do find this one and seven to be the truest forms of Freddy.

    • I totally understand. I get that Freddy should be scary. It just doesn’t have that impact with me. But there are PLENTY of movies that others don’t like that I have a love for. So I don’t judge haha

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