Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Haunting Omen: Ghostly girls jumping rope to Freddy’s song

I watched “A Nightmare on Elm Street” from 1984, the original film of the slasher series of the same title, and the debut of now-famous blade-gloved serial killer Fred “Freddy” Krueger.

I watched this movie because I found it accidentally, at a public book swap case at Kew Gardens station, where I sometimes stop to check what’s there and what’s new. The other day, someone had added a burned DVD inside a CD jewel case with a self-printed, slightly blurry cover of Wes Craven’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street”; it immediately caught my attention. The cover just showed an ink jet print of the official poster of the first Elm Street film, with distinct blank margins on both of its sides. On closer inspection, I learned that – this was handwritten on the digital medium inside the jewel case – the DVD should not only include the original but the first three films of the slasher saga, released between 1984 and 1987. I took this gem with me and recently decided to have a home screening (luckily, I kept one of my old laptops, one with a built-in DVD drive).

The 1984 “A Nightmare on Elm Street” – the first film of the series – was directed by Wes Craven. Its two main locations are the “real” world on the one hand, and the dream world on the other. Fred Krueger, who has a complex history of being a child killer who was not convicted due to a technicality and got finally burnt by a mob of furious parents, lives on in the dream world of certain children. One of them is the blond high-school girl Tina, who saw Fred in her dreams, and so did her friend Nancy. Tina is not able to get Fred’s weird face and the sound of his fingernails out of her head, while Nancy mentions that the person in her dream didn’t have fingernails but some kind of finger-knives instead, and she describes the horrible sound these tools made as: “Screeeeeeee.”

The sound his finger-knives made was like: Screeeeeeee…

Krueger – who is very powerful and almost invulnerable in the dream world – generally attacks his victims after they have fallen asleep – by making use of these knives. They are his tool for tearing down the boundaries between the two worlds, symbolized e.g. by linen, walls, or even water. And finally – as demonstrated with Tina, his first victim, – Fred’s knives cut skin and flesh in a violent action that is visible in both the “real” and the dream world.

One, two, Freddy’s coming for you!

The major part of the film focuses on Nancy and her strategies to fight Fred. In order to keep him away, she needs to stay awake – that’s what she understands immediately. This is why she turns to “Stay Awake”-pills and drinking huge amounts of coffee. Her mother tries to handle her inner demons with the help of alcohol and cigarettes instead. At one point, after Nancy brought Fred’s hat from the dream world to the “real” world, she realises how she could defeat her evil opponent, and, finally, develops a risky plan.

After this point, it becomes clear what the film really is about: trust and reliability, or: the cracks in the surface of the idealized American suburban live. This is evident, in particular, when Nancy gets strongly dependent on people close to her to put her plan into practice, such as her boyfriend Glen (played by Johnny Depp in his first acting role) or her father Ltd. Donald Thompson. At that time, her mother has already drifted into another world, made from intoxication by substances.

Where’s Glen?

Nancy expects her dad to break the front door down in exactly 10 minutes.

I very much enjoyed watching “A Nightmare on Elm Street”. In particular, I liked the interplay of the real and the dream world in this film, represented in the sequences in which it was initially unclear which “world” was actually shown. I also liked Fred Kruger’s approach to art through his very own “concetto spaziale” that he developed through a variety of materials. Other aspects I liked were the reference to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and to learn about “the Balinese way of dreaming.”

What I didn’t like about the DVD was the fact that only the first of the Elm Street films worked. The other two files on it were corrupted.