Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Johnny Depp, Amanda Wyss, Ronee Blakley, Nick Corri and Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger
Plot: A group of teenagers are haunted by strange dreams about a disfigured killer wearing a sweater and home-made knuckledusters. Later, they realise they are all having the same dream!
Freddy Krueger is one of those characters that comes along once every ten years. A true icon of the horror genre, he could be one of Wes Craven’s greatest creations. A child murderer burnt to death by vengeful parents, but who returns from the dead to haunt the children in their dreams. At first, he stalks them, but as they start being butchered one by one, it becomes apparent that he has the power to kill his victims from the realm of dreams. It is a horror idea so imaginative and simple, that it is perfect. Craven preys on that inability to fall asleep after watching a scary movie by putting the terrifying thought into his audience’s mind that those fears are rational. Sleeping could end up with you being killed in a gruesome fashion. The parents in the movie are made more interesting than their stock figures by being cursed with the inability to help their children. The one thing you cannot protect your loved ones from is their dreams. However, the dream aspect is only the start of the genius of Krueger. Even before the original set-up, the very idea and image of him is great. It is the long knife hands that announce his presence long before we see him. The burns covering his body, making each appearance from the character as grotesque and eerie as the first. The mundane sweater paired with the dirty hat somehow becoming that ribbon on the perfect package. Finally, throw in Robert Englund who relishes every moment of portraying the character, and you have your ultimate horror movie nemesis.
Atmosphere is the other key element that makes Nightmare on Elm Street so great a scary movie. You probably already know the summarised plot above. Kids begin getting killed off in their dreams is one that has been spread among gossip like a good old-fashioned ghost story. However, the moment the movie starts, you are engrossed. You have heard so much about the idea of Krueger but you have no idea how it is actually going to play out. Like most iconic horrors, those first twenty minutes are terrific, as we are glued to the screen, slowly being introduced to the characters and trying to work out the angle the movie is going to go down. That first death is excellent, both shocking and bloody. It is the nastiness of how it all plays out. That single death is one for Craven’s show-reel, a good example of why he is such a name in the horror business. While some of the other deaths are a little try-hard, the core reason they are so effective remains; we only see half of the picture. We see a glimpse of the horror, yet Craven steps back and lets our imaginations fill in on exactly what happened to these poor kids. Right up until the end, Krueger remains a mystery that we are still struggling to figure out.
Sadly, the horror element has been diluted by age. Its cult status is a double-edged sword. On one point, it inspired several horror movie trends for years to come. On another, the middle act of the film feels like a greatest hits of horror montage. Craven is guilty of throwing every trick in the book at this movie. At first, the dream sequences let you drop this small flaw, as it feels logical, but eventually Craven goes too far. The maggots crawling from Krueger, the phone turning into a tongue. At times, it felt like a homage from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or worse, a lesser episode of Goosebumps. It is a slave to the legacy it has created. Other problems come with the era. Certain scary moments are ruined by the 80s soundtrack. The synch high pitches that attack the viewer whenever Krueger jumps out can sometimes kill a moment. The ending also is a little baffling and unnecessary. It feels obligatory of the genre and kind of ended the whole thing on a sour note. Sure, we could argue that this is a downside to older movies, but I feel obliged to warn you of the drop in scares for any newcomer to the franchise, looking for some horror. It is still a gripping watch with a villain you are unsure how they are going to kill and a good handful of jump-scares to make this a pulse-pounding thriller.
Final Verdict: Even if it has aged, the very concept of Freddy Krueger is enough to praise. Come here to see where it all started, before the sequels set in and dilute the franchise.