Retro-Viewing: A Nightmare on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Written & Directed by Wes Craven
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While I would never claim that I learned everything I know about life from horror movies, I will admit that sometimes they do teach a valuable lesson. Nothing is a better fat burner, for example, than running for your life from a serial killer. Especially if you do it barefoot. On rain-slick pavement.

Of course, in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street most of the running takes place while the main characters are asleep, for this movie was the first in a long series about Fred Krueger, the pizza-faced slasher who stalks teenagers in their dreams.

As horror movie premises go, this first installment, which was released when I was a freshman in high school, was fairly original, and very scary. After all, everybody sleeps, and everybody dreams (if you don’t dream, you literally go crazy), and almost everyone has wondered what really happens if you die in your dream.

While I initially watched the film because I thought the concept was cool, and because as a twelve- and thirteen-year-old, I’d had a crush on Robert Englund (the actor who brought Freddie to life) after seeing him in the miniseries V and V: the Final Battle, the teenagers in the cast were actually pretty impressive. Amanda Wyss (who would later appear in several episodes of another favorite show, Highlander: the Series) brought the perfect blend of edginess and vulnerability to the role of Tina Grey. Heather Langencamp (who would return to the franchise in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, was smart and snarky as Nancy Thompson (more recent television viewers would see her play another Nancy – Nancy Kerrigan – in a movie of the week about Kerrigan and Tonya Harding), and a very young, dare I say – babyfaced – Johnny Depp ate up the screen as Nancy’s boyfriend Glenn.

The adult castmembers, aside from Englund, included John Saxon and Ronee Blakley as Nancy’s parents, both of whom turned in quirky and interesting performances.

But it’s the villain in a horror film that makes or breaks it, and old Freddy has become an iconic horror villain, as much because of the razor-glove he uses to slaughter his teenaged victims as because of the one-liners he slings with equal sharpness.

As an eight-year-old, I once had to sleep with the closet light on because the original black-and-white movie of Frankenstein creeped me out so much.

As an teen, lingering fear from my first experience with Fred Krueger had me compelled to make sure all closet/laundry room/basement (when we had a basement) lights were OFF before I went to sleep, so that I wouldn’t wake up and panic over a fictional murder’s boiler room being linked to my house.

Today? Today, I can watch this film for the performances, laugh at the effects, and listen to the commentary thinking, “Man, Robert Englund and my friend Clay are totally voice doubles.”

I still love sharing the film with new viewers – and I still know exactly when to start it so that Nancy’s midnight countdown is in synch with real time.