A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

(On DVD, August 2016) I was about to watch the 2010 remake of Nightmare on Elm Street without paying homage to the 1984 original … but then common sense came back to me and I had to take a look at it. Despite the film’s flaws, I’m glad I did, because this original Nightmare has a few things that weren’t captured by the remake. Probably the most significant of them is the eerie horror of the film’s dreamlike logic: Freddy’s first confrontation alone has more disturbing imagery than the entire remake, and the roughness of the film’s execution often highlights the disarming surrealism of writer/director Wes Craven’s vision. It’s this nervous energy that runs through Nightmare on Elm Street and makes it far more memorable than many slasher horror movies of the time. In other aspects, the film doesn’t fare as well: The acting isn’t particularly good (Heather Langenkamp is disappointing as the lead, and Johnny Depp does not impress in his big-screen debut), the pacing stops and goes, the cinematography is recognizably low-budget. And that’s without mentioning the somewhat unsatisfying ending, which just throws reality and nightmares in the same dumpster, then sets fire to everything and runs around laughing. Meh. It’s worth noting, from a perspective thirty years later, that Freddy’s character in this inaugural film, even played by Robert Englund, isn’t the wisecracking chatterbox of latter films: he largely remains this implacable threat and that further distinguishes this film from latter sequels and remakes. While this original Nightmare on Elm Street isn’t, strictly speaking, an exceptional movie or even a particularly good horror movie, it does have, even today, something more than other horror movies of the time. No wonder it still endures.

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