A Nightmare on Elm Street
|A Nightmare on Elm Street|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Wes Craven|
|Produced by||Robert Shaye|
|Written by||Wes Craven|
|Music by||Charles Bernstein|
|Edited by||Patrick McMahon
Media Home Entertainment
Smart Egg Pictures
|Distributed by||New Line Cinema|
|Running time||87 minutes|
A Nightmare on Elm Street is a 1984 American supernatural slasher horror film written and directed by Wes Craven, and the first film of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. The film stars Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia, Robert Englund, and Johnny Depp in his feature film debut. Set in the fictional Midwestern town of Springwood, Ohio, the plot revolves around several teenagers who are stalked and killed in their dreams (and thus killed in reality) by Freddy Krueger. The teenagers are unaware of the cause of this strange phenomenon, but their parents hold a dark secret from long ago.
Craven produced A Nightmare on Elm Street on an estimated budget of just $1.8 million, a sum the film earned back during its first week. An instant commercial success, the film went on to gross over $25 million at the United States box office. A Nightmare on Elm Street was met with rave critical reviews and went on to make a very significant impact on the horror genre, spawning a franchise consisting of a line of sequels, a television series, a crossover with Friday the 13th, beyond various other works of imitation; a remake of the same name was released in 2010.
The film is credited with carrying on many tropes found in low-budget horror films of the 1970s and 1980s, originating in John Carpenter's 1978 horror film Halloween, including the morality play that revolves around sexual promiscuity in teenagers resulting in their eventual death, leading to the term "slasher film". Critics and film historians argue that the film's premise is the question of the distinction between dreams and reality, which is manifested in the film through the teenagers' dreams and their realities. Critics today praise the film's ability to transgress "the boundaries between the imaginary and real", toying with audience perceptions.
An unknown person in a boiler room creates a glove with razor-sharp knives embedded in the fingers. High school student Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss) has a horrific nightmare in which she is stalked through the boiler room by a severely burned figure with a bladed glove on his hand. When he finally catches her, she awakens screaming. Her nightgown has four slashes in it, identical to the ones given to her in the dream by the man's razors, and she is not convinced it was just a nightmare. The next day, Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) recalls a nursery rhyme from Tina's description when they meet up with Nancy's boyfriend, Glen Lantz (Johnny Depp) and Tina's boyfriend Rod Lane (Nick Corri).
That night, Nancy and Glen go to Tina's house, as Tina is still troubled by her nightmare. Tina describes the killer in her dream, which intrigues Nancy, who describes her own nightmare. Horrified, Tina realizes that the killer in her nightmare is the same from Nancy's dream. Rod crashes the party and he and Tina have sex while Glen and Nancy. Rod tells Tina he's also been having nightmares. Once asleep, Tina is again stalked in her dreams by the hideous figure, who taunts her repeatedly before going in for the kill. Her struggles awaken Rod who watches helplessly as Tina is slashed and dragged up the wall, screaming and alerting the others before she falls dead. Because Rod was the only one in the room, he is suspected and arrested the next day.
At school, Nancy has a terrifying nightmare of the burned figure. She goes to the jail to talk to Rod, who describes what he saw the night Tina was killed, which reminded him of his own nightmares of the burned figure. Nancy later begs Glen to watch her while she sleeps so she can investigate her dreams. When Nancy goes to sleep, she sees the killer enter Rod's jail cell and suspects that Rod is in danger. When she wakes up, she and Glen rush to the police station only to find Rod dead. Everyone believes he committed suicide, but Nancy and Glen think someone else was in the cell with him.
At Rod's funeral, Nancy's mother, Marge (Ronee Blakley) insists on getting her daughter psychiatric help. At the clinic, Nancy has a violent encounter and awakens with a streak of white in her hair, and a slash on her arm. Much to Marge's horror, Nancy also pulls the killer's hat out of the dream with her, which Marge recognizes. Marge begins to drink heavily and installs security bars on all the windows and the door. She reveals to Nancy that the burned figure is a man named Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund). Years ago, he was arrested after murdering 20 children, but due to a technicality, he was released. Soon after, the enraged parents of the murdered children took the law into their hands by burning Freddy alive. It now appears that he is exacting revenge against the parents that killed him by killing their children from within their dreams.
Nancy plans to pull Freddy from the dream world into the real world, where she and Glen can stop him. However, both Glen and Nancy's parents lock them inside their respective houses, keeping them from meeting. Glen later falls asleep and is killed by Freddy. Nancy speaks to her father (John Saxon), a police lieutenant, who tells his deputy Don to watch Nancy's house and break down the door if anything strange happens. After being awake for nearly one week straight, Nancy finally allows herself to sleep to hunt down Freddy.
Nancy finds Freddy and grabs him when her alarm goes off, waking her. Freddy appears, and the two face off. Nancy sets up booby traps and makes him fall into every one, then lights him on fire and traps him in the basement before calling her father. Don arrives with other policemen to put out the fires. He and Nancy then follow a trail of footsteps up to Marge's room and discover Freddy smothering her with his flaming body. They knock him out but he disappears, leaving Marge's body vanishing slowly into the bed. Freddy rises from the bed but Nancy proclaims she is no longer afraid of him, causing him to lose his powers. She orders him to bring her loved ones back.
Nancy steps out into daylight and sees her mother, well and sober, as her friends pull up in Glen's convertible. Suddenly, the car starts moving of its own accord as Marge stands in front of her house, happily waving good-bye at them. The film ends with Nancy screaming as Freddy drags Marge through the front door's window.
- Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson
- Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger
- John Saxon as Lt. Don Thompson
- Johnny Depp as Glen Lantz
- Ronee Blakley as Marge Thompson
- Amanda Wyss as Tina Gray
- Jsu Garcia as Rod Lane
- Joe Unger as Sgt. Garcia
- Charles Fleischer as Dr. King
|"It was a series of articles in the LA Times, three small articles about men from South East Asia, who were from immigrant families and had died in the middle of nightmares—and the paper never correlated them, never said, ‘Hey, we’ve had another story like this."|
|— Wes Craven on the film's creation|
A Nightmare on Elm Street contains many biographical elements, taking inspiration from director Wes Craven's childhood. The basis of the film was inspired by several newspaper articles printed in the LA Times in the 1970s on a group of Khmer refugees, who, after fleeing to the United States from the results of American bombing in Cambodia, were suffering disturbing nightmares, after which they refused to sleep. Some of the men died in their sleep soon after. Medical authorities called the phenomenon Asian Death Syndrome. The condition itself afflicted only men between the ages of 19 and 57 and is believed to be sudden unexplained death syndrome or Brugada syndrome, or both. The 1970s pop song "Dream Weaver" by Gary Wright sealed the story for Craven, giving him not only an artistic setting to "jump off" from, but a synthesizer riff from the Elm Street soundtrack as well. Craven has stated that he drew some inspiration after studying eastern religions.
Other sources also attribute the inspiration for the film to be a 1968 student film project made by students of Craven's at Clarkson University. The student film parodied contemporary horror films, and was filmed along Elm Street in Potsdam, New York (the town in the film was named Madstop—Potsdam spelled backwards).
The film's villain, Freddy Krueger, draws heavily from Craven's early life. One night, a young Craven saw an elderly man walking on the sidepath outside the window of his home. The man stopped to glance at a startled Craven, and then walked off. This served as the inspiration for Krueger. Initially, Fred Krueger was intended to be a child molester, but Craven eventually decided to characterize him as a child murderer to avoid being accused of exploiting a spate of highly publicized child molestation cases that occurred in California around the time of production of the film.
By Craven's account, his own adolescent experiences led to the naming of Freddy Krueger. He had been bullied at school by a child named Fred Krueger, and named his villain accordingly. In addition, Craven had done the same in his earlier film The Last House on the Left (1972), where the villain's name was shortened to "Krug". The colored sweater he chose for his villain was based on the DC Comics character Plastic Man, and Craven chose to make Krueger's sweater red and green, after reading an article in Scientific American in 1982 that said the two most clashing colors to the human retina were this particular combination.
Craven strove to make Krueger different from other horror-film villains of the era. "A lot of the killers were wearing masks: Leatherface, Michael Myers, Jason," he recalled in 2014. "I wanted my villain to have a 'mask,' but be able to talk and taunt and threaten. So I thought of him being burned and scarred." He also felt the killer should use something other than a knife, which was too common. "So I thought, How about a glove with steak knives? I gave the idea to our special-effects guy, Jim Doyle." Ultimately two models of the glove were built: one called the "hero glove" used only whenever anything needs to be cut, and the other a stunt glove less likely to cause injury.
Wes Craven began writing A Nightmare on Elm Street's screenplay around 1981, after he had finished production on Swamp Thing (1982). He pitched it to several studios, but each one of them rejected it for different reasons. The first studio to show interest was Walt Disney Pictures, although they wanted Craven to tone down the content to make it suitable for children and pre-teens. Craven declined. Another early suitor was Paramount Pictures; however the studios passed on the project due to Nightmare on Elm Street's similarity to Dreamscape (1984), a film they were producing at the time. Universal Studios also passed; Craven, who was in desperate personal and financial straits during this period, still has their rejection letter framed on the wall of his office.
Finally, the fledgling and independent New Line Cinema corporation—which had up to that point only distributed films, rather than making its own—gave the project the go-ahead. During filming, New Line's distribution deal for the film fell through and for two weeks it was unable to pay its cast and crew. Although New Line has gone on to make much bigger and more profitable films, Nightmare holds such an important place in the company's history that the studio is often referred to as "The House That Freddy Built". In fact, much of the successful application filed by producer Robert Shaye for a public offering of New Line's stock centered around the Nightmare franchise, because it provided a Hollywood rarity of large profits that could also be regularly counted on by the company.
Actor David Warner was originally slated to play Freddy. Make-up tests were done, but he had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts. Replacing him was difficult at first. "I couldn’t find an actor to play Freddy Krueger with the sense of ferocity I was seeking," Craven recalled on the film's 30th anniversary. "Everyone was too quiet, too compassionate towards children. "Then Robert Englund auditioned. [He] wasn’t as tall I’d hoped, and he had baby fat on his face, but he impressed me with his willingness to go to the dark places in his mind. Robert understood Freddy."
To get that understanding, Englund had darkened his lower eyelids with cigarette ash on his way to the audition and slicked his hair back. "I looked strange. I sat there and listened to Wes talk. He was tall and preppy and erudite. I posed a bit, like Klaus Kinski, and that was the audition," he said later. He took the part because it was the only project that fit his schedule during the hiatus between the V miniseries and series.
Craven claimed he wanted someone very "non-Hollywood" for the role of Nancy, and he believed Langenkamp met this quality. Langenkamp, before becoming an actress, worked as a newspaper copy girl, and saw an advertisement for extras needed on The Outsiders earlier that year, which was being shot in Tulsa. She did not get the part, but it encouraged her to take time off from her studies at Stanford and continue acting. Eventually she landed the role of Nancy Thompson after an open audition, beating out more than 200 actresses including Demi Moore, Courteney Cox, Tracey Gold and Jennifer Grey. Langenkamp returned as Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), and also played herself in Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994).
Johnny Depp was another unknown when he was cast; and initially went to accompany a friend (Jackie Earle Haley, who went on to play Freddy in the 2010 remake) so he could audition, yet eventually got the part of Glen. Craven's daughters picked Depp's headshot from the set he showed them.. Other actors such as Charlie Sheen (who wanted too much money), John Cusack, Brad Pitt, Kiefer Sutherland, Nicolas Cage and C. Thomas Howell were considered.
According to Shaye, all the film's original investors backed out at one point or another during pre-production. The original budget was merely $700,000. "It ended up at $1.1 million ... Half the funding came from a Yugoslavian guy who had a girlfriend he wanted in movies."
Principal photography began in June 1984 and wrapped in July. The fictional address of the house that appears in the film is 1428 Elm Street in Springwood, Ohio. The actual house is a private home located in Los Angeles, California on 1428 North Genesee Avenue. During production, over 500 gallons of fake blood were used for the special effects production. For the famous blood geyser sequence, the filmmakers used the same revolving room set that was used for Tina's death. They put the set so that it was upside down and attached the camera so that it looked like the room was right side up, then they poured gallons of red water into the room, because the normal film blood would not make the right effect for the geyser. During the filming of this scene, the blood poured in an unexpected way causing the rotating room to spin. Much of the blood spilled out of the bedroom window covering Craven and Langenkamp. The scene where Nancy is attacked by Krueger in her bathtub was accomplished with a special bottomless tub. The tub was put in a bathroom set that was built over a swimming pool. During the underwater sequence Heather Langenkamp was replaced with a stuntwoman. The "melting staircase" as seen in Nancy's dream was Robert Shaye's idea; it was created using pancake mix.
Jsu Garcia, who was credited as Rod under the name "Nick Corri", says the production was difficult for him. He had recently come off a period of homelessness, and was still dealing with the depression from that by snorting heroin in the bathroom between takes. In 2014 he revealed that he was high on that drug during the scene between him and Langenkamp in his jail cell. "His eyes were watery and they weren’t focused," Langenkamp said. "I thought, Wow, he’s giving the best performance of his life."
Wes Craven originally planned for the film to have a more evocative ending: Nancy kills Krueger by ceasing to believe in him, then awakes to discover that everything that happened in the film was an elongated nightmare. However, New Line leader Robert Shaye demanded a twist ending, in which Krueger disappears and the film all appears to have been a dream, only for the audience to discover that they are watching a dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream, where Fred reappears as a car that "kidnaps" Nancy and her friends, followed by Fred reaching through a window on the front door to pull Nancy's mother inside. Both a happy ending and a twist ending were filmed, but the final film used the twist ending. As a result, Craven (who never wanted the film to be an ongoing franchise), dropped out of working on the first sequel, Freddy's Revenge (1985). Production wrapped in July, and was rushed to get it ready for its November release.
Coming of Age
Freddy exclusively attacks teenagers and his actions have been interpreted as symbolic of the often traumatic experiences of adolescence. Nancy, like the archetypal teenager, experiences social anxiety and her relationships with her parents become very strained. Sexuality is present in Freudian images and is almost exclusively displayed in a threatening and mysterious context (e.g. Tina's death visually evokes a rape, Freddy's glove between Nancy's legs in the bath). The original script actually called for Krueger to be a child molester, rather than a child killer, before being murdered.
"In Nightmare, all the adults are damaged: They're alcoholic, they're on pills, they're not around," Englund has observed. Blakely says the parents in the film "verge on being villains." Englund adds that "[t]he adolescents have to wade through that, and Heather is the last girl standing. She lives. She defeats Freddy." Langenkamp agrees. "Nightmare is a feminist movie, but I look at it more as a 'youth power' film."
The film has been described as a reaction to the growing trend of families moving to suburbs and the perceived innocence of American suburbs. Parents in the film's fictional suburb of Springwood, Ohio, kill Krueger and hide his existence in an attempt to make a safe environment for their children, but they still cannot protect their kids.
The film was first introduced to the home video market by Media Home Entertainment in early 1985 and was eventually released on Laserdisc. It has since been released on DVD, first in 1999 in the United States as part of the Nightmare on Elm Street Collection box set (along with the other six sequels), and once again in Restored "Infinifilm" Special Edition in 2006, containing various special features with contributions from Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon and the director of photography.
The Special Edition consisted of 2 DVDs, one with the film picture and sound restored (DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 & original mono audio track) and another DVD with special features. Along with the restored version of the film, DVD 1 also had 2 commentaries, other nightmares (if not all) from the film's sequels (2–7 & Freddy Vs. Jason). It also included additional, extended or alternate scenes of the film, such as one scene where Marge reveals to Nancy that she had another sibling that was killed by Freddy. These unused clips/scenes were not included/added in the film but could be viewed separately from the DVD's Menus.
On April 13, 2010, the film was released on Blu-ray Disc by Warner Home Video, with all the same extras from the 2006 Special Edition included on the Blu-ray release. A new DVD box set containing all of the films up to that point was released on the same day.
A Nightmare on Elm Street premiered in the United States with a limited theatrical release on November 9, 1984, opening in 165 cinemas across the country. Grossing $1,271,000 during its opening weekend, the film was considered an instant commercial success. The film eventually earned a total of $25,504,513 at the American box office. Additionally, A Nightmare on Elm Street was released in Europe, Canada and Australia.
Since its initial release, the film has received universal critical acclaim. Critics have praised the film's ability to rupture "the boundaries between the imaginary and real," toying with audience perceptions. Some film historians interpreted this overriding theme as a social subtext, "the struggles of adolescents in American society". Variety said the film was "A highly imaginative horror film that provides the requisite shocks to keep fans of the genre happy".
The film has a 96% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is considered by many as one of the best films of 1984. It ranked at #17 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments (2004), a five-hour program that selected cinema's scariest moments. In 2003, Freddy Krueger was named the 40th greatest film villain on American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains. In 2008, Empire ranked A Nightmare on Elm Street 162nd on their list of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. It also was selected by The New York Times as one of The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made.
American Film Institute recognition
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills—Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains—#40, Freddy Krueger, Villain
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes: "One, two, Freddy's coming for you..."—Nominated
- Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films – Best Horror Film (1985) (Nomination)
- Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films – Best Performance by a Young Actor – Jsu Garcia (Nomination)
- Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films – Best DVD Classic Film Release (2007) (Nomination)
- Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival – Critic Award 1985 – Wes Craven (won)
- Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival – Special Mention for Acting 1985 – Heather Langenkamp (Won)
In 2010, a remake was released, also titled A Nightmare on Elm Street, starring Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger. The film was produced by Michael Bay, and directed by Samuel Bayer and written by the team of Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer. The film is also a reboot to the franchise.
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