A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) | 31 Days of Horror: Oct 22

by Jovial Jay

One, two Freddy’s coming for you!

One of the quintessential villains, from an iconic horror film in the 80s, Freddie Kreuger quickly captured the imagination of filmgoers everywhere.

Before Viewing

Based on the trailer, there’s certainly a lot of nightmarish things occurring on Elm Street. People being levitated and dragged across the ceiling, getting sucked into a hole in the bed, strange apparitions coming through the wall. What is coming to get them and why? Most horror enthusiasts know already, but if not check out the film and then meet back here. Just don’t doze off in the meantime!

Presented below is the trailer for the film.

Spoiler Warning - Halloween

A Nightmare on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street title card.

After Viewing

Tina (Amanda Wyss), a young girl, is wandering around a boiler room in her nightgown stalked by a mysterious man with a grubby sweater and with knives on his fingers. She awakens to find four slashes in her nightgown. She tells her best friend Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) about it and she agrees to spend the night with her while Tina’s mom is out of town. Nancy brings her boyfriend Glen (Johnny Depp) to keep Tina company. They get startled when Tina’s boyfriend Rod (Jsu Garcia acting as Nick Corri) shows up. That night Tina is attacked in her dream by the same figure. Rod awakens to her being thrown around the room by an unseen force, slashes appearing on her body, and blood going everywhere.

Rod is picked up by Lt. Thompson (John Saxon), Nancy’s father, the next morning under the assumption that he killed Tina and taken to jail. Nancy falls asleep in class, dreaming of the same boiler room, only awakening when she burns herself in her dream on a steam pipe. The burn manifests itself in reality. She asks Glen to watch her that evening as she sleeps and dreams her way to the jail where she witnesses the same disheveled and disfigured man kill Rod with a sheet, making it look like a hanging. Nancy tells her mom, Marge (Ronee Blakley), about the dreams. Her parents are concerned, so Marge takes her to a dream clinic.

At the clinic Dr. King (Charles Fleischer) remarks he’s never seen any activity like what Nancy exhibits. She awakens with a rumpled hat in her hands, having pulled it from the nightmare. When Nancy returns home, there are now bars on all the windows of her house. Her parents have put them up to keep her safe, but also keep Glen out, who they feel is a bad influence. Marge confides in Nancy that the monstrous man in the kids dreams is Fred Krueger, a child murderer who was let off on a technicality. Marge, and some of the other parents (it’s never completely specified) tracked down Krueger and burned him alive. Marge produces Freddy’s knife-glove from the family furnace; kept as a memento.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Nancy and Glen discuss the nightmares that Beth has been having.

That night Nancy tries to warn Glen, but his parents will not give him the message. He is sucked into his bed, erupting with a geyser-like eruption of blood. Nancy calls her father, who is now across the street at Glen’s house investigating his death, and asks him to wake her in twenty minutes. She then proceeds to set booby traps around her house, before lying down to sleep. In her dream she walks into her basement and out a backdoor into the boiler room from previous dreams. She lures Krueger to her front lawn, and grabs him just as her alarm wakes her up, pulling him out of the dream and into reality.

After some scary moments and a chase, Nancy is able to set Krueger on fire. Her father busts into the house and they follow the flaming footprints up to her mother’s room, just in time to see a flaming Freddy leap onto the inebriated Marge, disappearing into a mist-laced bed. Freddy jumps out at Nancy, who turns her back on him, negating his power and discorporating as he lunges at her.

The next morning, Marge is fine, with the events of last night having all been a part of an extended dream. Nancy gets in a car with Tina, Rod and Glen, who are all fine as well, as they all drive off to school on a strange foggy morning. Suddenly the convertible top covers them, striped in green and red like Krueger’s sweater. Marge waves goodbye to them, just as a gloved hand bursts through the front door’s window, grabbing her and pulling her violently through the small opening.

Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep.” – Nancy Thompson

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Freddy Krueger makes himself known to the children of Elm Street.

Dreams and nightmares in horror and suspense films have been around since the dawn of cinema. One of the earliest films that connects film and dreaming is the 1920 German expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. In that silent film, a performer named Dr. Caligari uses his sleepwalking assistant, Cesare, to commit murders. They are discovered by Francis, who helps capture the pair. But in a twist ending it is revealed that Francis is an inmate in an asylum, Caligari is the director of the asylum, and Cesare is just another patient. Other directors from Alfred Hitchock in Vertigo, to Roman Polanski in Rosemary’s Baby, or Dario Argento in Suspiria utilize characters dreams as potential precognitive moments into their future. Or possibly warnings from another realm.

A Nightmare on Elm Street breaks new ground in blurring the line between filmic reality and the dreams of the characters. No special filming techniques were used to differentiate the dream world from reality in the film. The opening sequence depicts Tina walking around in the boiler room, as it would have been shot for any other type of film. The only thing out of place is her being in a nightgown. There was no smoke, or softness to the focus that usually revealed characters were dreaming. The edit, jump cut, or even better jump-scare was used to bridge the moment when the character awakens, usually with some maintained and questionable continuity, such as Tina’s torn nightgown. How did that really happen?

Nightmare wasn’t the first modern horror film to blur that line. Almost a decade before, Brian DePalma’s 1976 film Carrie was the first horror film to utilize a jump scare followed by the character awakening from a dream, which was also part of the ambiguous ending. Did what happened really just happen? Another shocking, and ambiguous ending that leads viewers to believe the events of the film might be a dream is Phantasm, in which the antagonist leaps through a mirror dragging the main character into the dark and gaping hole. Nightmare has a similar ending, with Marge being pulled through the window, but the events prior to that indicate that the viewer may still be seeing a dreamworld. The film ends in a dream, just as it started.

The seamless blending of dream and reality sets A Nightmare on Elm Street apart from other films of the time. Just three months prior to its release, another film about dreaming and interacting with those dreams was released: Dreamscape. In this film, psychic research has lead to special government project that can enter dreams of individuals and manipulate them. Unfortunately one of the psychics has gone rogue and is killing the subjects. As with Nightmare, when you died in your dream, you died in real life. Nightmare added the additional possibility of pulling objects out of the dream. It also featured some additional social commentary as many slasher films of the time did.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

An iconic scene of Freddy “reaching out to touch someone,” via Nancy’s phone.

Besides the parable of pre-marital sex, as used in Friday the 13th or Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street sets up the resourceful teenager and the ineffectual adult. In fact, not only are the adults ineffective, but they’re actually to blame for the majority of the kids problems. The vigilante group of parents thinking that they were saving their children by murdering Freddy Krueger, but actually condemned him to haunt the dreams of their children. Nancy’s mother and father appear to be divorced (or at least separated) as they seem cold to each other in the initial scene together, and other than helping Nancy, he is never seen at the house. Nancy’s mom is also an alcoholic, choosing to live in the bottle rather than face her life. Glen’s father is a jerk, that bullies his mousy mother, and Tina’s mother hooks up with random men. Very few appropriate role models for the kids on Elm Street.

A Nightmare on Elm Street spawned six sequels, and a 2010 remake, as well as making Freddy Krueger a household name. Robert Englund’s portrayal of the psychotic dream-killer, with his wry humor, became a staple for future movies, and a large draw for fans of the franchise. The film holds up remarkably well, offering horror, humor, thrills and chills in a market that is already glutted with slasher films. It created many tropes that would go on to haunt filmgoers in future movies, as well as reap screams the world over.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” plays on Nancy’s TV during the movie. A response to Craven’s “The Hills Have Eyes” poster appearing in “Evil Dead.” Raimi would respond by putting Freddy’s glove on a wall in “Evil Dead II.”

Assorted Musings

  • The front of the school that the kids of Elm Street attend (John Marshall High School) is a famous film location, having been used in films such as Rebel Without A Cause, Grease, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Bachelor Party and the TV shows Growing Pains, The Wonder Years, and Boy Meets World.
  • Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy would return in the third film in the Franchise subtitled Dream Warriors, as well as herself in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
  • We Craven would not return to direct another film in the franchise until Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.

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