A Nightmare on Elm Street review, A Nightmare on Elm Street DVD review

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Buy your copy from Amazon.com A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) starstarstarhalf starno star Starring: Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, Amanda Wyss, John Saxon, Ronee Blakely
Director: Wes Craven
Rating: R
Category: Horror

Time is cruel. There was a time when “A Nightmare on Elm Street” was the scariest, movie, ever. And while the movie still delivers some genuine thrills, the sad fact is that Wes Craven’s landmark horror film has not aged well. This, from the guy who listened to music every night when he went to sleep on a boom box…just like Johnny Depp does here. I think I fell asleep at 4:00am the night I first saw this movie.

The movie begins, natch, with a dream sequence, where Tina (Amanda Wyss, a.k.a. Beth from “Better Off Dead…”) is chased by a mysterious figure wearing gloves with talon-like knives on the end. Tina tells her friend Nancy (Heather Langankamp), and Nancy agrees to spend the night with Tina and her boyfriend Rod (Nick Corri). While asleep, Tina is visited by the figure again, and brutally murdered before Rod’s eyes. Rod, the punk with the troubled past, takes the fall for her death but Nancy knows that Rod is innocent, because the creature is haunting her dreams as well. Not only that, Nancy realizes that her mother (Ronee Blakely) knows more than she’s letting on. Who is this monster, and why is he attacking them?

Of course, everyone knows the answers to these questions. The monster, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), is one of the most enduring characters in horror movie history, spawning six “Nightmare” installments, not to mention a face-off with Jason Voorhees of the “Friday the 13th” franchise. Director Wes Craven was working with a budget that wouldn’t buy a spot during the Super Bowl today, and there are several scenes where it is readily apparent. The four-foot Freddy chasing Tina down the alley in the second dream, Freddy’s extra-long arms, held up by fishing line, Nancy’s “mother” getting pulled through the window in the front door…these bits are pure comedy now (and, admittedly, they were then, too). But don’t forget the bits that Craven absolutely nailed, like Tina’s climbing-up-the-walls death and the hair-raising bathtub scene with Nancy. Oh, and poor Johnny Depp, who makes his acting debut as Nancy’s boyfriend Glenn and suffers the worst of them all.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the performance by Blakely (“Nashville”), which, well, is hilarious. It seemed a little off at the time, but it’s downright comical now. Unnaturally mellow, she sleepwalks through the movie like she’s on valium, even when Nancy’s getting slashed before her eyes. Craven’s clearly going for the we-kids-are-on-our-own angle, but sweet mercy, give Blakely some coffee, speed, anything. Englund doesn’t do much in this installment but grunt and speak in a demonic voice, but that mystery adds to the fear factor, as opposed to the jokester he’d become in later installments. (My personal favorite line of his from this movie: “I’ll kill you slow!”) Speaking of jokesters, don’t blink or you’ll miss Charles Fleisher, voice of Roger Rabbit, as the doctor who tries to figure out Nancy’s sleep issues. And how awesome is it that they let Nancy’s mother smoke in a clinic?

It’s easy to look at a movie like “A Nightmare on Elm Street” with over 20 years of hindsight and pick it apart (it’s fun, too), but give the devil his due. “Nightmare” was a phenomenally influential movie, and its success gave rise to the studio that would one day shock the world by making the $3 billion-grossing “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. So you’ll forgive ole Freddy if he doesn’t quite pack as much punch as he once did. Neither will any of us 20 years from now.

DVD Features:
Lots of audio commentaries, featuring Craven, Langankamp, and cinematographer Jacques Haitkin (which appears to have been recorded in 1995), and another featuring producer Robert Shay. There is also “Never Sleep Again – the Making of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street,’” a very lengthy behind-the-scenes piece that includes scores of alternate footage. For film buffs, there’s “The House that Freddy Built: The Legacy of New Line Horror,” which covers the studio’s rise from a chop shop to “Lord of the Rings”-bankrolling behemoth.

~David Medsker

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