Back in 1984, when it was still acceptable to present an original horror idea, Wes Craven unleashed what is arguably his most famous film. And with that, he brought about a new genre icon, Freddy Kreuger, who would forever be copied, parodied, satirized and exploited in a series of increasingly poor sequels.
Everyone knows the story by now: A group of post-nuclear teens in acid-washed jeans and and over-sized sweaters is having nightmares, all involving a horrifically burned man with razors for fingers. This is Freddy Kreuger (née Fred, in this first installment’s credits), a child molester who was lit up like a Roman candle by the town’s parents after a technicality got him acquitted at trial. Kreuger is back, and the children are paying for the sins of the elders, who have, themselves, kept the secret buried all those years.
Heather Langenkamp is Nancy, the morose heroine who uncovers the secret and does her damndest to vanquish the boogeyman. Johnny Depp, in his first film role, plays Nancy’s jock boyfriend, who, not unreasonably, doesn’t believe they’re in any real danger. John Saxon has a nice turn as Nancy’s hard-edged cop father, who almost (almost) believes his daughter’s tale. Ronee Blakley, however, nearly brings the film to a halt with every scene she’s in. I’m not sure if Craven insisted she play Nancy’s mother as completely bland and colorless, but that’s what she does, and I suspect a wooden post could have given a better performance.
Looking back on A Nightmare on Elm Street after many years, I was struck by how dated it really is, if only for the atrocious mid-80’s fashion etiquette and low-budget synth score. But Craven keeps the pace brisk, and the film is oddly compelling, as the teens move fluidly from reality to dreams, and Kreuger stalks them with the whip-sharp comic quips that would become a trademark of the character. And if the one-liners are legendary, so is Robert Englund, who, despite his innumerable film credits, would be inextricably linked to Kreuger for life. He brings a sense of delicious fun to his villain, sneering and laughing as he terrorizes his quarry.
Despite whether or not you think A Nightmare on Elm Street is a good film, its status as a seminal cult classic is undeniable.
1984; starring Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp; directed by Wes Craven; 91 min; R; in English.