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A Nightmare on Elm Street
1984 - R - 91 Mins.
Director: Wes Craven
Written By: Wes Craven
Starring: Heather Langenkamp, Ronee Blakley, John Saxon, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund
Review by: John Ulmer
   
Doesn't every small town neighborhood have its own legends and secrets? For the residents of Elm Street, Fred Krueger is the demonic soul that plagues their nightmares. Krueger was an evil child molester, burned alive by the parents of the children he had slain in the past. Now, years later, he has reappeared in the nightmares of Elm Street's teenagers. Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) continually experiences these haunting dreams where a permanently scarred man chases her through the shadows of a boiler room -- the same room in which where he used to slay his helpless victims. Nancy figures her dreams to be typical nightmares until one of her best friends is apparently "sliced" to death in bed.

Soon Nancy's dreams become worse, and her boyfriend Glen ( Johnny Depp, in his big screen debut ) admits that he has also been experiencing unpleasant nightmares. As they vow to stay awake as long as possible, they learn the truth behind Krueger's death years ago. They realize that they need to come up with a plan to lure Krueger into the "real world" in order to kill him once and for all.

Loosely based on true events, Wes Craven was inspired when he read an article in the LA Times about a Burmese man who was afraid to fall asleep because he felt his dreams would kill him. Blending fantasy with reality, 'Nightmare' has become the most iconic horror films of all time.

The brilliance of "A Nightmare on Elm Street" is that it relies on psychological fear vs. cheap exploitation tricks. "Halloween," directed by John Carpenter and released in 1978, had re-sparked interest in the Hitchcock-style horror/thrillers, and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" builds upon this, cleverly channeling the mystery surrounding dreams and using it as a gateway for chills and thrills.

In the movie, a doctor (Richard Fleischer) tells Nancy's mother that dreams - where do they come from? - has yet to be explained. As everyone tends to dream, this film remains scary. Though some of the special effects are outdated, gore plays second to the plot and characters -- something rare in a horror film.

In 'Nightmare', Freddy is rarely given screen time at all. We see his infamous hands (wearing gloves with long razors for fingers), we see his hat, we see his sweater, we see his outline in the darkness of the shadows. But when we finally see Freddy up-close, Craven manages to keep the camera moving so that we never get a distinct image.

The acting is one of the film's weaknesses -- Heather Langenkamp is never awe-inspiring as Nancy (although she does a decent job); Depp shows a sign of talent to come but basically mutters clich├ęd dialogue most of the time. The co-stars are acceptable at best. However, the best performance in the movie is - not surprisingly - Robert Englund's as Freddy, who, ironically, is barely seen in the film. This only adds to the film's scariness.

The direction is not as good as "Halloween," and for that matter neither is the film. But compared to some of the other "horror films" released during the '80s -- including "Friday the 13th" and other dumb slasher flicks -- "A Nightmare on Elm Street" stands as one of the best of the decade. Despite its flaws, it is quite smart with a surprise "final" ending and one of cinema's greatest villains.

"A Nightmare on Elm Street" is ultimately Nancy's story. The film focuses on Nancy's troubles, Nancy's dreams and Nancy's actions. The ending of the film becomes a bit muddled; Freddy helplessly (almost humorously) chasing Nancy around her home supposedly trying to murder her is something the film could have done without. Overall it is a satisfying mixture of horror, thriller and fantasy, a movie that taps into the vulnerabilities of two key functions of human life: sleeping and dreaming. For horror buffs it is a must-see and for non-horror-buffs (and Johnny Depp fans) there is a fair amount of other elements to sustain one's interest.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

 
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