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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 20.93%
Average: 3.1%
Pretty Bad: 7.75%
Total Crap: 6.98%

2 reviews, 117 user ratings

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Nightmare on Elm Street, A (1984)
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by David Hollands

"An unfortunately laughable nightmare."
2 stars

Championed as a master of horror, Wes Craven's films are often smug affairs which just make one feel dirty. Mind you, that’s not exactly bad, but Craven hardly ever touched upon anything else besides the smugness. He also often made extremely poor directorial and tonal decisions. His 1996 film Scream, his supposed brilliant comeback, was so in fact so bad that I’m beginning to think that this guy, while pretty good natured, was only a hack who got lucky.

The criminally overrated Nightmare on Elm Street is a movie which has a few good moments but ultimately fails to deliver on both the creepiness and the scares that it promises. The film concerns a couple of teenagers who live on Elm Street. They are tormented in their sleep by something that’s trying to kill them. What’s worse is that i f this being destroys you in your dreams, you die in real life.

Craven’s screenplay features on extremely powerful and terrifying idea, which is the film’s strongest point. Throughout every frame, despite all the mediocrity being thrown at the audience from all angles, there is that underlying sense of menace that helps to give the film some quality. Basically, the being’s ability to get you in your sleep is an extremely scary idea, because human beings spend at least half their lives sleeping. And humans have to sleep as well -- or they become tired and weak -- a point which this film demonstrates quite well. No matter how hard the characters in this movie try, they just fall asleep sooner or later and fall into the dream world where they can then be killed. So, at least mildly, we find ourselves on edge waiting for what’s going to happen next.

Craven’s script also features many flaws. For example, Craven constantly has his characters doing dumb things. Although the actions of Nancy, the protagonist, during the conclusion are properly justified and make some sense by that point, the actions of the characters leading up to said conclusion are pretty stupid. Take a girl who’s been haunted by her dreams for a long time. The moment she hears a strange noise outside, the first thing she does is wander outside to be slaughtered. Naturally, once there, she doesn’t bother to run away once the monster shows up, and actually stops and stares at it for awhile when it calls to her and cuts off its own fingers. Now, she was in a dream anyway, so she probably would have died in any case. Craven could have at least come up with something a little better than the standard “let’s check out the noise” cliché.

Or how about this? There is a scene in which Nancy sees the CORPSE of her dead friend dragging itself down a school hallway. She follows it (!), and almost gets killed because of that. Now, I suppose we don’t demand characters in horror films to be geniuses, but we still can all realise that absolutely no one would follow a living dead body down a school hallway, or go outside to investigate a noise if said person had been really scared about her safety before hand. Granted, these are dreams, yet the way in which the dreams are presented suggests that the characters are not aware that they are dreaming. The dreams appear to still have a sense of reality, and thus the characters would still possess the logical and rational sense that most people in reality do.

But the moment that takes the cake is the idiotic Nancy. She attempts to stay awake by any means necessary as soon as a perceivable threat has been established. A mere few minutes later, she’s suddenly eager to enter into her dreams and search for this extremely dangerous creature that almost killed her in a previous scene, without even trying to find out anything about it before hand. I suppose one could argue that she had someone watching her, and thus she felt safer. Any person, I'm sure, would feel uneasy about trusting their lives to only one other individual watching him or her late at night, who doesn't necessarily believe in this wild supernatural explanation, AND who could possibly fall asleep himself. No, it appears that many characters in this movie just aren’t thinking logically at all, and it is because of their stupidity that the movie just seems so cheap and un-scary.

Also quite moronic is that Craven doesn’t seem to trust the atmosphere of this film to be terrifying. He uses too many poorly placed jump scares in this movie that just seem cheap and ineffective. It’s mostly the staging of these types of sequences that suffers most, since Craven telegraphs them so obviously -- we can see them coming a mile away. As an example, he usually does the standard thing by having his characters stare in one direction, and when they turn around, the creature would be there. Unfortunately, it seems that Craven just didn’t realise that countless movies before his had done this exact same thing, and it was extremely predictable by this point. Now, there have been films that keep reusing this but have still been effective, because of slight variations in the staging, yet this just isn’t one of them. One can see the exact moment a jump is going to occur, due to an obvious camera angle or the fact that all music has suddenly cut out. It isn’t even done in subtle fashion here. There’s one particular scene that has a young Johnny Depp stare out into the darkness, turn to his friends and shrug his shoulders. Gee, will something happen here? And yep, a second later, something does.

Yet another flaw is the dream sequences themselves. Craven establishes quite effectively that Freddy can appear anywhere in the dream world at will. He can even kill people while they are still sleeping and/or haven’t awakened in their dreams yet. In fact, this happens many times. So why is it that he always chases Nancy everywhere when he could just appear in front of her? The film shows that he wants to kill every major character, yet whenever it’s Nancy being stalked, he for some reason just forgets that he can appear anywhere. Instead, he starts running after her. This automatically eradicates any fear that Nancy won’t survive, since the inner logic of Craven's premise has not been respected. Also, by the conclusion, Freddy almost becomes a silent version of a James Bond villain, a guy who never kills Bond when he has the chance, or simply threatens or laughs evily ad nauseum.

Even more idiotic is that fact that this conclusion suffers from the standard Wes Craven movie syndrome: the rules and tone previously established are pushed aside in favour of a more “bathroom-break” type of ending. Craven rushes his conclusion, choosing one of the most idiotic ways to destroy his main villain. It’s a way that just seems utterly lazy, and also an ending that doesn’t seem to work given the fact that Nancy had already tried this to stop the madman in an earlier scene, and it hadn’t worked there. Plus, Craven’s script has a pretty standard ending in which he plants the seed for a sequel by showing that the monster actually wasn’t dead, and that he actually had the upper hand the whole time. Some endings of this type are pretty well done, but here it just seems extremely stupid and pointless because of its lazy and rushed feeling. Plus, Craven unfortunately ends his films with one of the most ridiculous and laughable images ever put onscreen, so we leave the film in hysterics. So unless A Nightmare on Elm Street was actually somehow a comedy, one can see how such an ending is entirely inappropriate. The film should end with the audience still feeling uneasy, not chatting it up ferociously with others about how dumb the ending was.

Also a problem is the liberties taken with the film's overall concept. Craven establishes that the antagonist, Freddy, can only get you in your dreams. However, there are moments where he reaches through to people while they are still awake. For example, the monster calls up Nancy while she’s still awake. Also, something that he does to the character of Glen in the dream world shows up in the real world in exactly the same way while his mother watches on horrified. This, according to previous dream sequences, is completely wrong given the inner logic that Craven had already established. THEN there’s the moment when a guy wakes up and Freddy is still able to choke him with a prison blanket. Huh? I thought Freddy no longer has any affect on you in the real world, so what's up with this? These kinds of clumsy missteps just seem sloppy, and are indicative of a screenplay that just doesn’t work most of the time.

But enough about the script. While the overall film is a very misguided affair, there are some moments that truly shine thanks to some excellent visuals. What makes them so effective is how Craven presents them. When characters in this film dream, they wake up in their dreams and everything’s still the way it looks as if it was in real life. Then, Craven shocks us by introducing elements so bizarre and off-putting that we become psychologically unnerved. Take the otherwise dumb moment when Nancy sees her friend in a body bag. Despite the fact that the follow-through is idiotic, the visual is extremely creepy because of its suddenness. It actually proves to be the most effective jump in this movie, a far cry from the other poorly timed ones.

This film features performances that are, quite frankly, terrible. Heather Langenkamp makes a poor heroine, one who over and under-emotes constantly. She hardly has any interesting range, and the scenes which require her to act scared fall flat on their faces due to the fact that she screams uncontrollably most of the time. Sure, she has quite the pretty face, yet that’s not the only thing in a performance. Not much better is Johnny Depp in his first film role as Glen. Sadly, the guy hadn't learned his craft yet, and is un-emotive and blank. In fact, he has the same expression throughout the entire film, and only really comes alive during the moments in which he has to scream. Unfortunately, he’s only required to do that once. Perhaps the worst is Ronee Blakley as Nancy’s mother, who is abysmal here. She doesn’t seem to even act at all, and instead appears to be a somnambulist most of the time.

As Freddy, Robert Englund is merely okay. He can be creepy at times, yet Englund and company have unfortunately made the decision to play Freddy as a cartoony kind of creature. His constant taunting and crazy expressions are sadly overdone. The most effective incarnation of Freddy, I think, was New Nightmare, in which Englund adjusted his character to actually coincide tonally with the rest of the film. Here however, it’s just a grave miscalculation to have Freddy acting Anthony Hopkins Silence of the Lambs-like in some instances; cartoonish over-emoting elicits laughs rather than screams.

A good element to this movie is a haunting score by Charles Bernstein. Bernstein, working with synthesizers, has created creepy music that goes very well with some of the more frightening images. Mostly, Bernstein uses and reuses simple note combinations to elicit the chills in a way that never gets boring. Bernstein also creates some pretty good stinger effects for the jump scares. They fall flat though, because of Craven’s poor staging. Still, Bernstein's work is highly effective, even if the overall film is poor.

All in all, I'm pretty sure that I was almost scared to death when I first saw A Nightmare on Elm Street at age seven. Now, however, the film just doesn’t hold up. I believe this to be a factor that, sadly, applies to almost every Wes Craven film.

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originally posted: 03/31/08 09:24:36
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User Comments

7/25/17 Chaz Walter This will always be the best in the series. Amazing. RIP Wes Craven. 5 stars
1/15/15 the truth Imaginative,dumb,fun slasher movie that rides the line between tongue-in-cheek and scary 4 stars
9/29/14 FireWithFire The parents were NOT WRONG in killing Freddie, this film insults all common sense!!!! 1 stars
2/04/13 J Bomb One of the best horror movies I've ever seen. To Hell with the sequels and remake. 5 stars
8/07/11 art GREAT FILM,the best HOROR FRANCHISE EVER,FREDDY could kick jason and micheal's BUTT"S! 5 stars
5/04/10 art THEY SHOULD HAVE STOPED after THIS one! 3 stars
1/19/10 Stanley Thai A good movie with a terrible ending that prevents it from being a classic. 3 stars
12/29/09 Chad Dillon Cooper Best of the series, which isn't saying much. 2 stars
12/29/09 art MORE SILLY THAN SCARY! 1 stars
12/13/09 Michael Jay Very creepy idea for a film, but turned out to be cheesy fun. 4 stars
10/04/09 art THIS MOVIE IS A REAL NIGHTMARE! 1 stars
9/16/09 art FREDDY BURIES JASON AND MICHEAL,nightmare on ELM STREET is A ICON in thriller movies! 5 stars
3/09/09 blarginbadigalnohif GREAT MOVIE 5 stars
2/10/09 lo& Scary as hell, a little cheesy though. 5 stars
1/20/09 Camilo Espinoza One of my favorite horror movies 5 stars
4/27/08 Jayme Isaacs I Like This Movie 5 stars
4/11/08 mark madsen never like this movie 1 stars
4/10/08 Brandy One of the only horror films I was ever interested in watching. I could never stomach any o 4 stars
4/04/08 Colleen Cousineau One of the first horror films that got me talking to the screen. Excellent. 5 stars
4/03/08 shaw 1 of my fav 4 stars
1/04/08 action movie fan lame,boring silly movie not scary at all-freddy kruger looks like costume party clown-crap! 1 stars
1/16/07 David Pollastrini brilliant, frightening 5 stars
12/28/06 Mark Louis Baumgart Dates some, but at the time he was unique, and he deserves his icon status. Great stuff!!! 5 stars
10/08/06 Bitchflaps Jungian overtones, terrifying images, unforgettable film. 5 stars
10/03/06 Jeremy Davies a great premise- If you fall asleep you're dead 4 stars
6/02/06 chris f the best horror movie of all time 5 stars
5/07/06 Woza Better than Jaws 5 stars
3/24/06 UndeadCaleb First Movie to scare the hell out of me 5 stars
3/24/06 Dethbyhashi One of my all time favorite horror movies 5 stars
3/11/06 Dillon Scary and surprisingly subtle unlike many of the sequels 5 stars
12/21/05 miss patience 5 not is the best elm street there is duh............. 5 stars
11/24/05 cr my most favorite horror movie of all time, scary as hell and nancy is one favorites 5 stars
10/27/05 chris great acting by robert englund i loved this movie 5 stars
10/14/05 Darren O Stylish, brilliant, and with an ideal boogeyman. Langenkamp makes a great heroine. Classic. 5 stars
10/08/05 Mrs.Depp Best Movie i ever saw, Johnny Depp is so great and very adorable in this film! 5 stars
8/25/05 Eden Surreal and imaginative horror. Only let down by weak ending 5 stars
5/17/05 what? good film. sequels were shit though. 4 stars
4/13/05 Indrid Cold Radically overrated. Was 80s horror so bad that this is held up as "the best"? 2 stars
3/15/05 brody two hooks up 5 stars
3/13/05 R.W. Welch Gimmicky teen horror flick has inventive premise and good acting for the genre. 4 stars
11/18/04 chris surprisingly boring 2 stars
11/05/04 Freddy Hey i must say i did a pretty good job on this 5 stars
8/29/04 American Slasher Goddess Scary, unique and brilliant. Englund is spectacular as Freddy Krueger. 5 stars
8/16/04 Dallas Moye The reason Wes Craven was born 5 stars
8/07/04 Anthony G GREAT 5 stars
7/03/04 nftqa NOT BAD....nah....GREAT!!!!! 5 stars
6/03/04 mr. me darkofnight is a fucking retard 5 stars
5/24/04 Blakers A great film 5 stars
5/02/04 American Slasher Goddess Scary and creative. Englund is amazing as Freddy Krueger. 5 stars
4/18/04 valerie hart a great movie to taly creepy freddies so kool and its got some funny scenes too 4 stars
4/15/04 J One the horrors of all time! Besides Johnny Depp is shredded in 1million piece! **** 5 stars
4/10/04 Rohail (Freddys biggest fan) I am the ultimate fan, Period!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
3/17/04 PAYNE_KillerZ A classic... !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
1/26/04 Eric If all of them was as good as this it would have been a awesome series 5 stars
12/12/03 Captain Spaulding Origional and very scary, none of the sequels even compare... 5 stars
12/12/03 Charlie and the Chocalte FActory Great! 4 stars
12/10/03 Samuel A very great film!! 5 stars
12/03/03 Kyle Classic scare - but don't bother with the sequels. 4 stars
11/27/03 movie guy sucked i liked freedy v.s jason better 1 stars
11/11/03 douglas lacayo this movie is terrorifically good 5 stars
11/02/03 American Slasher Goddess Scary all the way, Englund kicks ass as Freddy Krueger. 5 stars
10/16/03 Erik Van Sant Craven's best film. Children pay attention: Freddy Krueger was scary at one point. 5 stars
8/16/03 Red great 5 stars
8/09/03 Liz mirizz hmmm.... hard 2 say, i guess It was ok 3 stars
7/31/03 nr A GREAT FILM 5 stars
7/22/03 Double G I'm speachless, this movie blew me away!!! WOW 4 stars
7/14/03 Samuel Justus The only one that was good cause they made this one like it was a real movie in the others! 4 stars
6/14/03 Alice The movie was so different at the time from all the other slasher horrors..Awesome! 5 stars
5/31/03 mee AWESOME 5 stars
5/12/03 Kyle What happened to you, Wes.... 5 stars
5/04/03 sleepy worth it, to see Depp's first appearance on film...his first acting job...ever! 5 stars
4/06/03 Dave The only film in th series that takes itself seriously enough to actually be scary. 5 stars
1/05/03 Monster W. Kung Not a masterpiece, but not far off either. 4 stars
12/29/02 Jack Sommersby One of the scariest ever made. A masterpiece. 5 stars
10/16/02 Charles Tatum An overrated beginning to an overrated series 3 stars
8/16/02 Shaun sleep kills 5 stars
6/07/02 Matthew cool 5 stars
5/15/02 Blake This movie was dying for a sequal. 5 stars
4/28/02 Butterbean Of course, it's the best of the series. 4 stars
4/20/02 Jason It's much better than the Friday the 13th movies. That's for sure! 5 stars
3/01/02 Chowie I AM YOUR BOYFRIEND NOW........... 5 stars
11/30/01 Rutt13 My fave horror film..still scares me 5 stars
10/23/01 Sthenno Wicked ass horror flick.Wonderful idea played to the hilt. I always liked this one. 5 stars
10/07/01 jawsboy certain music and acting hurt this slick shocker. great atmosphere! one of the best!! 4 stars
8/06/01 E-Funk It doesn't get much better than this, kids... 5 stars
7/10/01 JT Truly one of the classics in the horror field and a must for anyone with a taste for horror 5 stars
6/29/01 King Jackass This says it all --------------------------------------------> 5 stars
5/18/01 Alexander OVERATED in every way! 1 stars
4/14/01 LiL This was so fantastic! A masterpiece, it kicks all the sequels asses! 5 stars
2/10/01 KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi This movie is a modern horror classic. Orignal and unapologetic. KICKS ASS!!! 5 stars
12/02/00 The Evil Penguin one of the best in the series 4 stars
10/16/00 TIM incredibly inventive and well written 5 stars
8/17/00 Rich Corle AWESOME, 4th best in the series!! 5 stars
7/19/00 Terrie Smith Good old "Freddy". The first and the best of the lot. One of Craven's best. 4 stars
7/18/00 Bender Very scary. Freddy is creepy and scary. Freddy became so lame after part 2. 4 stars
5/05/00 matt THE ONLY GOOD ONE OUT OF ALL OF THEM 5 stars
5/03/00 cort major An american classic in everyway.Astounding-ground breaking 5 stars
5/02/00 Pansy Excellently made shite! 5 stars
5/01/00 yo momma I agree with the guy below me! 5 stars
2/16/00 Kyle Broflovski Freddy Krueger was actually scary once... 5 stars
2/06/00 Steve Layne At least the 2nd best in the series 4 stars
11/04/99 Mickey "Father Death" MacJohnstmyster Excellent , the best of the series . It's just a shame it spawned so many crap seqeuls. 5 stars
10/30/99 the Grinch Scared the hell outta me when I was 10. Not so much now, but it's earned its place. 5 stars
7/04/99 J-Dogg Despite its flaws, this film always freaks me out. Not many horror flicks do that you know. 4 stars
6/25/99 David Keech The only one from the series that was genuinely scary. RE is great. 4 stars
1/26/99 donkey_dew Scary? are you fucking kidding me? what a snooze fest. horrid. lame. 'nuff said. 1 stars
1/24/99 Meepos. If only horror hadn't lost it's way. A very good film, scary and funny. 5 stars
1/24/99 MR HOLLYWOOD!! better than 'Excorcist'!!,Wes Craven is one hell of a film-maker! 5 stars
12/20/98 mike brilliant horror fick...very well made 5 stars
11/26/98 Mr.Pink One of the genre's classics! Along with Scream, Wes Craven's masterpiece! 5 stars
10/29/98 Silent Rob Yeah, this creeped me out and blew my mind. I'm better now! 5 stars
10/20/98 {{{OZ}}} An original idea that was executed (pun intended) really well. 5 stars
10/18/98 Johny Truly scary 5 stars
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  16-Nov-1984 (R)
  DVD: 13-Apr-2010


  16-Nov-1984 (R)

Directed by
  Wes Craven

Written by
  Wes Craven

  Robert Englund
  Ronee Blakley
  Heather Langenkamp
  Amanda Wyss
  Nick Corri
  Johnny Depp

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