Golden Oldies On the Big Screen Golden Oldies On the Big Screen

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A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 30, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: When this one showed up it was so much better than most slasher films that preceded it, that critics went a bit overboard. At least in my estimation. Nonetheless it was a hit and spawned no less than 8 follow-up films (to include his 2003 meeting with Jason of ‘Friday the 13th’ fame and a 2010 remake). And we mustn’t forget the 1988 TV series. Anyway, if you’re fan, it’s in several theaters this Halloween weekend. My review was published April 12, 1985. And notice that I don’t even mention that it marks the film debut of Johnny Depp. Who the heck was he in 1985?

 

“A Nightmare on Elm Street” is being touted by national critics as something special, as being so much better than other recent horror movies. And to some degree that’s true — but remember what we’re comparing it to.

 

Actually, this movie is merely a variation on the “slasher” motif, with a few good scare scenes, but like so many others it relies too heavily on gore and oozing special effects for its punch.

 

Writer/director Wes Craven continues to serve up interesting variations on used horror ideas. The utterly repulsive “Last House on the Left,” which put Craven on the horror map, was a disgusting rip-off of … of all things … Ingmar Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring.” But subsequent films have been better, such as “The Hills Have Eyes” and “Deadly Blessing,” though they still weren’t any great shakes, and they owed much to movies that preceded them.

 

“A Nightmare on Elm Street” deals with bad dreams somehow crossing over into real life, an idea that has been milked before (most recently in “Dreamscape”), but like Craven’s other films “Nightmare” offers certain stylistic compensations and a few genuine scares.

 

       

 

Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, 'A Nightmare On Elm Street' (1985)

 

Also like his other films, though, Craven is never secure enough to let his story and style be sufficient, so he lets the blood flow (and in this one it really does flow … ).

 

The story here has several promiscuous teenagers (what else?) having the same nightmares, in which they are stalked by a man with a monstrous face and knives for fingers. If he catches them in their dreams, however, they don’t simply die — a virtual bloodbath ensues, crossing over into reality and leaving quite a mess.

 

The police detective (John Saxon) investigating the unexplainable murders finds his own daughter (Heather Langenkamp) is having dreams that seem to coincide with the killings. His ex-wife (Ronee Blakley) is no help as she is an alcoholic.

 

Langenkamp is the survivor here, the constantly pursued but never quite-captured victim, also known as the Jamie Lee Curtis character, before Curtis gained respectability in films other than “Halloween,” “Terror Train” and “Prom Night.” (I wouldn’t waste time waiting for Langenkamp to do the same, however.)

 

       

 

Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger in 'A Nightmare On Elm Street' (1985).

 

Eventually, Langenkamp discovers the secret — this guy is a former child molester who has somehow managed to rise from the dead, and he’s after more kids in the neighborhood he once prowled.

 

Although obviously filmed on the cheap, this is one of those films that you thank for its sense of humor (Langenkamp, looking in a mirror after several sleepless nights, says, “I look 20 years old!”), and it really does help.

 

But don’t try to make any sense of it; it’s not possible. Suffice to say if you want a few good chills, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” may provide them.

 

On the other hand, if you’re looking for half-decent acting (Blakley is particularly awful) or any sense of restraint, look elsewhere. With its R-rated gore, violence, sex and nudity, and profanity, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” proves to be only marginally better than all the other low-budget, exploitative fare we usually get.