In the midst of endless sequels featuring two masked villains came a guy who didn’t need to wear a disguise. His face was horrifying enough. His name was Freddy Krueger. He emerged into the nightmares of kids everywhere in 1984 in A Nightmare on Elm Street. A new kind of evil – one who haunts the dreams of his victims – Freddy Krueger, pervert and child murderer now stalks the slumber of the teenagers on Elm Street after being murdered by vigilante parents. This film, which is darker and more twisted than any of its sequels would be, really put Wes Craven on the map despite making low-budget films for years, and opened a new door for horror, and would spark yet another long-running film franchise.
We meet 15-year-old Tina Gray (there is always a Tina…always, and I don’t think she passes for 15, but that’s beside the point), being chased through a boiler room by an unseen stalker. She is terrified of him and his sharp “fingerknives”. She awakens in a cold sweat, and notices her shirt is shredded. Her mother shrugs it off and tells her to either “cut your fingernails, or stop that kinda dreamin’”…okay, Mom. We are introduced to Tina’s friends, Nancy Thompson and Glen Lantz, and her hotly tempered boyfriend, Rod Lane. Nancy tells her it was just a dream and not to worry, but Tina isn’t persuaded. That night, Nancy and Glen decide to stay with Tina since her mom is out of town. Besides having good-for-nothing mothers, Tina and Nancy have something else in common – they both dreamed of the same creepy man. By their description of the guy, Glen gets a shocked look on his face, possibly revealing that he has, as well. Rod shows up and woos Tina out of her bad mood and back into bed, while Glen is forced to listen through the walls, sexually frustrated. Later, Tina has another nightmare, where the nightmare man, Freddy, is truly revealed. She begins to struggle in her sleep, and Rod believes it’s just a dream, until four slashes appear on her chest simultaneously. She is dragged up the wall and across the ceiling, and eventually falls onto the bed below, covered in blood and very dead. Rod jumps out the window, and Nancy and Glen burst in the room, assuming that Rod must have done it. Nancy begins to rethink things when she remembers the man from their nightmares and how he had four razors on his hand. She begins to crusade for Rod’s innocence, but he is subsequently hanged in his cell by Freddy.
Nancy is now determined to figure out who this dream demon is and the origins of his evil. Marge takes her to a sleep clinic in order to monitor her sleep patterns, and she ends up pulling Freddy’s dirty brown hat out of her subconscious. Marge, taking to the drink yet again, decides to board up the house to protect her daughter, but really to prevent her from leaving. Marge believes a good night’s sleep is the key for everything, but apparently not on Elm Street. Nancy buys a book on booby traps, and knows she must fight back. Her mother tells her how Fred Krueger was a child murderer who was freed on a technicality, and subsequently killed by her and other distraught parents in the neighborhood. Nancy hasn’t slept in nearly a week, when she tries to make a plan with Glen to kill Freddy when she brings him out of her dream. Sadly, Glen falls asleep, and his jerk parents don’t wake him when Nancy frantically calls him on the phone. After station KRGR (you guys caught that, right?) goes off the air, Glen is fast asleep and is pulled into his bed, which acts as some sort of a blender. His blood is thrown all around the room, and his mother enters, screaming. Nancy is now severely upset and even more pissed off and determined to stop this madman. She calls her father, a police officer, and tells him to bust down the door and kill Freddy in exactly 20 minutes. He thinks she’s gone nuts, but oh no, you don’t kill off Johnny Depp and get away with it. She rigs the house, puts her drunken mother to bed, sets her alarm, and falls asleep. After tracking Freddy down, she indeed pulls him out of the dream into the real world, where pain and injury affect him. Nancy eventually sets him on fire, and her father busts down the door. Freddy has made his way up to Marge’s room and kills her, when Nancy’s father puts the fire out. Marge sinks down into the bed, now skeletonized, and disappears. Nancy needs a minute alone, and as Freddy appears, she tells him that she is taking back all the energy she gave him, and he promptly vanishes as he attempts to attack her. Cut to the next day, and Nancy and Marge are fine, and looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Her now un-dead friends pull up to pick Nancy up for school, and as Marge waves goodbye, she is grabbed and pulled through the door’s teeny-tiny window by Freddy. The four friends drive off in a locked car, screaming their heads off, as the little jump-rope girls sing The Freddy Anthem. That was just a dream, the nightmare isn’t over….you can’t fill Freddy that easily.
This movie is, by now a cult classic, the film that really catapulted Wes Craven into the limelight. While being scary, and funny at times, this is a far cry from Last House on the Left, but we get the Krug homage out of Krueger, so Craven definitely never forgot his roots. Launching another film franchise that would go on to terrorize young kids, sell a plethora of merchandise, and even spawn a relatively crappy remake, the original A Nightmare on Elm Street stands alone in a sea of mostly forgettable 80s horror films. The sequels would take a more humorous tone, and make Freddy a bit of a slapstick comedian, no doubt allowing some skeptical viewers to forget that we were watching a sadistic child molesting murderer kill teenagers in their sleep. Some sequels were on par with the original, some less so. Unlike Friday the 13th, you don’t have to go to camp to get killed, simply stay home. You might be able to escape Jason and Michael, if you’re lucky, but you cannot escape Freddy. You have to sleep some time, and he will definitely be waiting…