A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) **1/2
D: Wes Craven
C: John Saxon, Ronee Blakely, Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Johnny Depp, Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia, Charles Fleischer, Joseph Whipp, Lin Shaye, Mimi Craven
Plot Synopsis: Several people are hunted by a cruel serial killer who kills his victims in their dreams. When the survivors are trying to find the reason for being chosen, the murderer won't lose any chance to kill them as soon as they fall asleep.
Review: If I was to judge A Nightmare on Elm Street strictly on surface details, it's easy to see why it became such a hit with audiences back in the 80's and continues to endure even today.
The premise of a serial killer who haunts the dreams of teenagers with the catch being that if they die in their dream, they die in real life is certainly intriguing. The villain, a guy by the name of Fred Krueger (as played by Robert Englund), would go on to achieve iconic status. There's an array of eye catching death sequences. It's stylishly directed. It has an above average cast, including cult legend John Saxon and Oscar nominee Ronee Blakely. The pacing rarely lags. However, at the core of any good film, there has to be a good story.
That's where A Nightmare on Elm Street doesn't stand up to scrutiny. There's several instances of clunky dialogue, especially in Ronee Blakely's scenes. It's easy to see why she was nominated for an Oscar after she manages to keep a straight face with some of the dialogue she has to recite. Then there's actual logic and point of view from which the story is told.
Within the course of the film, we learn that Fred Krueger was a child murderer who was burned alive by the parents of Elm Street, including Saxon & Blakely. If you add two and two together, it's not hard to figure out that Kruger isn't merely killing kids in their sleep, but that he's taking out revenge against the parents for burning him alive by killing their kids. This time around, the parents are helpless to do anything since Kruger kills their children while they dream. All the parents can do is sit back and watch the horror unfold.
That's a fantastic story idea, just one problem. All of this is told from the point of view of the kids themselves. If Kruger's revenge is designed against the parents, then this should have been told from the parent's point of view. Since the story is largely told from the kid's point of view, we never get a substantial story dealing with the horror that the parents are having to witness and are powerless to do anything about.
There's a few scenes that try to establish that such as Blakely's character being a drunk, Blakely and Saxon being divorced, Blakely putting bars on the windows of her house, but it's not enough to provide any truly meaningful examination into the mental state of the parents. At the end, they suggest it's all merely a dream which goes against everything else that's happened. However, I'll suspend logic a minute, but that still leaves me with one question. If it's all a dream, then how did any of the teen character's give Krueger the power to exist in their dreams? After all, none of the teen characters were even aware of Kruger's existence until Blakely's character reveals who Kruger is and his significance to them.
Even in simpler details, the story is a mess. We see the main character of Nancy (played by Heather Langenkamp, in an arresting performance) booby trap her house, have a heart to heart with her mom, ponder over all of the events that have unfolded, fall asleep, have a dream, wake back up, then have a duel with Krueger in the real world. Nancy supposedly achieves all of this in twenty minutes! It sometimes takes me twenty minutes just to fall asleep!
A Nightmare on Elm Street has a lot of good story ideas. Those ideas are what have caused me to watch this on more then one occasion. However, it disappoints in the worst way possible. You can see the potential of the story. It's been brought to the screen in a technically proficient manner, but they still haven't quite figured out how to bring those ideas together. This feels like the first draft of Wes Craven's script, not the final draft that made it to the screen. [R] 92 minutes.
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