Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the first horror movies I can remember. As a child, it scared the, um, dickens out of me. My memories of this movie were very vague. I knew who Freddy Kreuger was, of course, and I knew his backstory, but I didn't remember much about the events of this particular installation. As an adult, although it was still watchable and interesting, I didn't find it scary at all.
It seems that the kids on Elm Street are all having nightmares about the same creepy guy (Robert Englund). He can come at them through their dreams, but he also can affect the real world. Pretty dangerous combination. So the trick, as plucky Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) soon learns, is to not fall asleep. Kids start dropping dead one by one and it's up to Nancy (who sure is plucky) to fight this guy off. Along the way, Nancy's creepy chain-smoking, perpetually plastered mother (how did she get full custody of this kid?) takes Nancy to a sleep disorders clinic, because two nights of nightmares after the murders of a few close friends must be the sign of a major problem. Anyway, mom's not being up front about everything she knows.
The showdown between Nancy and Freddy (or "Fred," as the credits name him) is pretty good, actually. The way she beats him is original. And she sure is plucky.
Craven does a great job of almost skewering some of the usual conventions of horror films. (Insert Scream reference here, if you wish. I will abstain.) Typically, as in Friday the 13th and Halloween, the killer seeks out promiscuous victims. And Craven does set up Tina (Amanda Wyss, the undeserving Beth in Better Off Dead) as such a victim. Her mother is a woman of loose virtue. Tina and Rod engage in some very loud sex. Guess who the first victim is? It's a red herring, though, because that's not Freddy's motivation. Unlike its predecessors, A Nightmare on Elm Street gives us a human killer whose backstory has nothing to do with sex. And the nudity in the film isn't sexual.
Of course there are some major problems with the film (Nancy intensely booby-traps her house in 20 minutes) and it certainly isn't of the caliber of Halloween. I wasn't scared in the least by Freddy, simply because I'm used to him and to his particular brand of evil. There were very few moments when I was startled or surprised. It's a good movie, though, even if it's no longer really a nightmare.
The quality of the print was fairly good. The effects Craven used, color juxtaposition and fog filters especially, translate really well onto DVD. The sound isn't as clear as you would expect. Voices, especially, are kind of spotty. The music during intense moments is pretty dated, using lots of synthesizer.
There aren't many extras included. The bios were taken directly from the original publicity materials from 1984. It's a nice touch, but the DVD notes the obvious omissions of Robert Englund and the unknown Johnny Depp. The commentary, by Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, and director of photography Jacques Haitkin, is really disappointing. A lot of it is taken up with questioning each other, trying to remember bits of information, and with mumbling. Lots of mumbling. Way too much mumbling. Craven does seem to comment directly on the conventions he uses in the film ("Of course, someone has to go outside and look"). There are also DVD-ROM features (a game, the original script) that sound pretty impressive. I was unable to access them though (no DVD-ROM drive).
Lisa McInnis, 9/10/00