A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) begins to have night terrors involving a severely burned man baring a glove lined with makeshift knives (Robert Englund). She then discovers that her friends--Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss), Rod Lane (Jsu Garcia), and Glen Lantz (Johnny Depp in his first role)--are having the same nightmare. When Tina is brutally murdered in her sleep and Rod is blamed, Nancy appeals to her father, Donald (John Saxon), a police lieutenant, who dismisses her concerns as childish, provoked by an overactive imagination spurred on by sleep deprivation. After Rod is subsequently killed while alseep in his prison cell, Nancy’s mother, Marge (Ronee Blakley), reveals that the man in her daughter’s dreams is Freddy Kruger, a child killer who was acquitted years ago on a minor technicality. The parents within the area then formed a vigilante lynch mob and burned the murderer in his own workshop. Unable to convince anyone of her theory that Freddy is slaying people in their dreams, Nancy begins preparations to confront the killer herself.

    Tagline: If Nancy Doesn't Wake Up Screaming, She Won't Wake Up At All!

    Directing:
    • Wes Craven

    Writing:
    • Wes Craven

Release Date: 1984-11-15
  • Country: USA
  • Language: english
  • Runtime: 91
  • Budget: $1.800.000
  • Revenue: $25.504.513

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Wes Craven

Director/Writer

Sara Risher

Co-producer

Stanley Dudelson

Executive producer

Joseph Wolf

Executive producer

John H. Burrows

Associate producer

Jacques Haitkin

Cinematography

Rick Shaine

Film Editing

Mark Shostrom

Makeup Department

Louis Lazzara

Makeup Department

Mark Bryan Wilson

Makeup Department

David B. Miller

Makeup Department

RaMona Fleetwood

Makeup Department

Kathryn Fenton

Makeup Department

Jim Doyle

Special Effects

Lou Carlucci

Special Effects

Peter Kelly

Special Effects

Charles Belardinelli

Special Effects

Tassilo Baur

Special Effects

Jamie Upham

Special Effects

Jim Rynning

Special Effects

Christina Rideout

Special Effects

Larry Lapointe

Special Effects

William Guest

Special Effects (uncredited)

Nicholas Batchelor

First assistant director

Peter C. Graupner

Second assistant director

Robert Englund

Freddy Krueger

Heather Langenkamp

Nancy Thompson

Johnny Depp

Glen Lantz

Ronee Blakley

Marge Thompson

John Saxon

Lt. Thompson

Amanda Wyss

Tina Gray

Jsu Garcia

Rod Lane

Joseph Whipp

Sgt. Parker

Lin Shaye

Teacher

Joe Unger

Sgt. Garcia

Jack Shea

Minister

Sandy Lipton

Mrs. Lantz

Ed Call

Mr. Lantz

Donna Woodrum

Tina's Mom

Don Hannah

Surfer #2

Ash Adams

Surfer #1

Leslie Hoffman

Hall Guard
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  • Not only did the character of Freddy Kruger save New Line Cinema from bankruptcy, prompting the studio to be jokingly referred to as “The House That Freddy Built,” but the iconographic figure added much-needed fuel to the waning slasher film--Paramount having hired Joseph Zito to kill off Jason Voorhees earlier in the year with Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter and Universal all but abandoning their beloved Mike Myers two years prior by permitting Tommy Lee Wallace to merely use the franchise’s title to garner ticket sales with Halloween III: Season of the Witch, in which the famed character fails to appear. By taking a story from the L.A. Times about a group of Taiwanese children who supposedly died in their sleep as a result of violent dreams, Wes Craven created one of the earliest examples of postmodern horror with his masterpiece, A Nightmare on Elm Street. The masterstroke of Craven’s film is that he takes a literal nightmare and expands it into a feature length film, permitting all of the illogic of the subconscious to plague those--as well as the viewer--caught within its malicious realm. As such, the veil separating reality from dream states is translucent at best, leading to a metaphysical conundrum in which we have no dependable referent. This ambiguity is best represented when, three-quarters through the film, we believe we’ve trapped the director in a non sequitur when Nancy fails to fall asleep before Kruger calls her. However, by the climax of the film, we are reminded that what we thought was a thematic faux pas was merely the metaphysics of the dream world manifesting themselves once again as we reassured the film itself has merely been a dream before Craven poignantly turns the epistemological thumbscrews once more. Ingeniously, the viewer is given to realize that what appeared to be a production with staunch lines that separated the viewer from the narrative never existed. After the final credits begin to roll, we are left with the ambiguity of whether what we just witnessed was a dream in its entirety, literal events, or perhaps a strange, indistinguishable conglomeration of both as we are reminded by a notice given during the film that sleep deprivation--which all of the central characters are suffering as a defense against the nocturnal ghost (which Kruger technically is)--may prompt confusion, hallucinations, and, ultimately, insanity, all symptoms similar to the viewer’s narrative bewilderment. Craven parallels this ambiguity by cleverly presenting instability throughout the feature under the guise of social commentary. Nancy is the product of divorce as her alcoholic mother dismisses her claims almost as readily as her tyrannical father. Other segments of society which signify authority and direction are also deprived of their power as science, represented by the Katja Institute for the Study of Sleep Disorders, is of no assistance in solving Nancy’s problems any more than the inept police force, the latter perpetually resorting to standard procedures and practices, which lead to the arrest (and death) of an innocent victim. Ironically, as Nancy attempts to remain awake to restrict Freddy’s access to her, the chasm between the teens within the film and parental figures proportionally expands as the latter diligently refuses to heed the children’s warnings as they metaphorically keep their eyes closed to the situation at hand. In a more traditional manner, not only does the figure of Kruger represent a breaking down of epistemological and social structure, but also of cultural norms and values. As he haunts the middle America Thompson house--replete with white siding, a blue door, and red roses mounting the trellis leading to Nancy’s bedroom--we discover Kruger’s history resides in the subverted guilt of the parents who formed their own lynch mob in order to seek vigilante justice upon the child killer. It can be argued that the demonic presence is their guilt made manifest as the creature comes up from the dark, Hawthornian forest-cum-basement (boiler room) of the subconscious, the area in which guilt commonly resides. Interestingly, as a symbol of sin, Kruger kills those whom are unwilling to conform to the precepts of the given circumstance as Tina and Rod are subsequently murdered after engaging in premarital intercourse before he pursues Glen who, like the skeptics in Robert Wise’s The Haunting, is an object of detestation for the villain in the teen’s inability to abandon latter-day logic and rationality in order to entertain the notion of the absurd. Understandably, the character of Nancy survives because she recognizes and obeys the conventions set before her, however fleeting they may be. This becomes ironic in that Glen foreshadows Freddy’s character flaw in his report of Balinese dream skills: If a monster appears in the subconscious realm, the dreamer can deprive the creature of its power by merely refusing to acknowledge its ability to haunt. Thus, guilt--its symptoms becoming crippling once it transforms into fear--can be super ceded if one--as Nancy does--confronts the subverted issues at hand, thereby dispelling fear’s control over its host. The figure of Freddy himself is a masterful creation in that his mere outline merits a laugh at best as his lanky stature and mismatched wardrobe evokes images of a homeless derelict. But, by giving him a haunting back story and compounding it with daunting determination propelled by an insatiable bloodlust atop seeming omnipotence, the non sequitur nature of the subconscious is made manifest in Craven’s cunningly logically contradictory antagonist. Furthermore, narrative suspense is created and maintained in Freddy’s framing of Rod before strangulating the character, making Rod’s death appear to the authorities as a confession of guilt. Thus, Kruger artfully murderers without bringing undue suspicion upon himself, leaving the burden of guilt upon unreliable teenagers who, outwardly, are suffering from mass hysteria prompted by sleep deprivation. The director further implements his use of color theory by housing the figure in a red and green sweater, complimentary hues which are visually difficult to process as he alternates them as signal colors for the villain. Lastly, ambiguity shrouds the character of Freddy until the film’s climax in that we are only permitted to catch fleeting glances of Kruger as he diligently remains in the shadows. Amusingly, Craven pauses to highlight and mock some of the more trite aspects of the subgenre, one of which is its propensity to present obvious twenty-something actors as clueless teens. He satirizes this clichéd habit by having 15 year-old Nancy state, “Oh, God, I look twenty years old!” Also, unlike his unseen or veiled predecessors--Jason Voorhees, Mike Myers, or Billy in Bob Clark’s Black Christmas--Freddy does not hide behind a mask and is brought into clear view by the finale. Further countering genre norms, the “Final Female,” who stereotypically only survives due to luck and perseverance, is recast as Nancy, a steadfast, resourceful young woman who not only has the critical acumen to burn herself during a dream in order to jolt herself into consciousness, but has the critical mindset to engineer two booby traps in which to slow the attack of her assailant. The only quibble I had with the film might not even be valid. Between 12:10 and 12:20, Nancy concocts two booby traps and has a heartfelt chat with her mother, all the while allotting herself ten minutes in which to lull into sleep. The reason I state this critical citation may not be sound is, if the film is a dream (or at least this segment of it), the compression of time is easy justifiable. Wes Craven not only prompted the continuation of the slasher genre well into the early 1990’s with his surreal nightmare, but his contribution to the field is a staple of early postmodern horror as it readily stands alongside John Carpenter’s The Thing, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London, and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films in this regard. Interestingly, A Nightmare on Elm Street is an abridgement of the director’s later masterpieces as the separation between fantasy and reality is breeched long before New Nightmare, while postmodernism is addressed over a decade before Craven would invigorate the subgenre once more with Scream.

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