Wes Craven’s innovative take on the slasher genre, A Nightmare on Elm Street, follows the tale of high-school age adolescents who struggle to evade and outmaneuver the deranged child murderer, Fred Kreuger (Robert Englund). The worst part? He only appears in their incredibly life-like dreams.
Normally slashers are scary because they pose a series of characters who have to find a way to outwit a serial killer. This movie makes that tension even more palpable, because from the narrative to the visual effects, the character’s, and as a result the audience’s, sense of separation between reality and dream become harder to tell apart. This creates a constant sense of unease as we’re left to ask if the characters are really awake now or sleeping.
In particular a lot of the visual effects are seamless and help create a sense of immersion. The boundary between the real and dream world is constantly being transgressed. As a result, none of the characters ever feel safe. In school, in their beds, under their sheets, in the view of medical professionals- the movie slowly tears away at our sense of security.
I really loved how main character, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), felt like a fully realized and fleshed out person. Unlike the traditional scream queen, she was fairly resourceful the whole film, and acted with a lot of patience and ingenuity. The whole time, I was genuinely rooting for her , because she felt a lot more like an action hero than a damsel in distress. Honestly, her biggest adversaries are the adults in her life- which highlights one of the bigger themes of the movie- the trauma and repression of growing up.
This is highlighted and demonstrated in great and subtle ways the entire movie. Most of the adults in the movie aren’t present in their children’s lives or actively try and inhibit them. An early victim is killed after having sex, almost as if a condemnation of trying to grow up. Constantly, the main group of characters tries to use their agency and are sidelined or disregarded by the adults, who put them in even more danger with their ineptitude.
The only real issues I had with the movie weren’t that serious. I felt like outside of Nancy, no other character received significant development. This wasn’t a big issue because following Nancy is interesting, but the deaths of other characters don’t feel as tragic as they could have. On top of this, the film has some thematic beats that are followed through and executed well, but kind of falter by the end of the film, making it less satisfying that it could’ve been.
TLDR: A Nightmare on Elm Street is a riveting take on the slasher genre- that adds a new dimension of scares by playing around with reality and the supernatural. Though some moments fall flat or feel disconnected, the story remains interesting throughout and have you questioning what’s really real.
Final Rating: 9.1/10. If you like slasher movies or strong female leads this is your movie. Or if you liked Inception and wondered what a more horror version of it would feel like – check this out.
Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!