7 Days of Freddy, Day 1: A Nightmare on Elm Street 7 Days of Freddy, Day 1: A Nightmare on Elm Street
Those who listened to the Weekday Matinee podcast this month know that A Nightmare on Elm Street was one of my top 5 scariest... 7 Days of Freddy, Day 1: A Nightmare on Elm Street

Those who listened to the Weekday Matinee podcast this month know that A Nightmare on Elm Street was one of my top 5 scariest movies. While it deserves its place there, with a recent viewing for this series I have to say, it wasn’t quite as good as I remember. The last time I watched Nightmare was maybe a dozen or so years ago, and my thoughts about it then were very much what they had been since I first saw it on its release in 1984.

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What further surprised me when watching the rest of the series is that my opinion on most of the others had changed as well. In fact, I don’t think the first is even the best or scariest of the seven. As I go through each movie every day through Halloween, I’ll put them in some kind of order, and then we can all compare our lists. For now, though, let’s talk about that house at 1428 Elm St, and the girl who has bad dreams.

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After watching the creation of Freddy’s glove, we’re whisked away into the dream of a young woman. She’s being chased through a boiler room, complete with a random lamb wandering around. Tina wakes up with a start, with her nightgown shredded. We cut to the next morning when we meet her friends as they make their way to school. We see the by now iconic little girls in blue dresses jumping rope, as the car pulls up to the curb.

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Tina mentions her bad dreams and they all agree to help her stay awake that night. And as is wont to happen when teenagers are left alone to their own devices, one of them gets killed, and, in this case, it’s Tina. Her boyfriend Rod is blamed for her murder and after hiding from the police is eventually found and arrested. Her best friend Nancy, and also the daughter of the police chief starts having the nightmares next, and here we’re introduced to Freddy Krueger. In what’s probably one of the most iconic scenes in the movie, Nancy falls asleep in the bathtub, and we see Freddy’s gloved hand rising from the bath water between her legs. This sets Nancy off on trying to find out who Freddy is, why he’s after her and her friends and how to kill him.

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As mentioned earlier, I labeled Nightmare as one of the 5 scariest movies I’ve seen. I’ll stick to that claim, though I’ll be honest and say had I seen the movie before I recorded that podcast, I might have picked something else.  For me, the movie doesn’t hold up quite as well as I had thought. While Nightmare has a lot of atmosphere and some terrific set pieces, it’s ultimately let down with some very bad acting, and an over-reliance on jump scares. Does that mean I think it’s overrated? Not at all, Nightmare will always deserve its place in classic horror movies because of its villain. Yet, I don’t have it on the pedestal that I used to.

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Craven pulls a bit of a Hitchcock in Nightmare, in the fact that he introduces us to Tina, who we assume will be the main character, yet much like Psycho, she’s killed off early and Nancy takes over the story. In spite of the obvious source, it still works and is a clever way to start the movie by keeping the audience off kilter. For her short time in the film, Amanda Wyss as Tina is the strongest of the teen actors. This fact makes it a shame that she dies so soon because the rest of the cast doesn’t have near the acting chops Amanda has.

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Heather Langenkamp as Nancy is, to be blunt, not a good actress. Even in the sequels she appears in, she doesn’t seem to improve. While we’re supposed to sympathize with her, I found her whiny and annoying more than anything else. Langenkamp is certainly a pleasure to look at, but that’s about it.

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In his first movie, Johnny Depp plays Nancy’s boyfriend Glen, and while he certainly has a screen presence, he certainly had a long way to go. He’s certainly better than his costar but really, that’s not difficult. At all. Nick Corri as Tina’s douchebag boyfriend Rod is probably the next strongest, so of course he’s the second one to be killed. Trivia time: in the jailhouse scene, Nick Corri had just snorted heroin before filming and did the entire scene high.

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The adults do fare better, and John Saxon is always a pleasure to watch, even if he has a “What the hell am I doing here?” look in his eyes from time to time. Not surprisingly, his scenes with Heather are some of her best, as I think he got her to rise to a level that she couldn’t sustain. Ronee Blakely as Nancy’s mother is also a strong performance at times. Her turn as the alcoholic parent with a terrible secret is pretty spot on. However, when she has to give some exposition on Freddy (pulling his glove from the heater in the basement), she stumbles a bit.

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I think it’s fair to say that Wes Craven was never an actor’s director. He excelled in creating tension, and dread, and wasn’t as concerned, it seems to me, with getting god performances. This makes his decision to hire Robert Englund to play Freddy, a godsend, as Englund is terrific. Despite the fact he has little screen time, what he does have is used to great effect. He gets the character, he knows what motivates Freddy, something that I think gets lost in future installments, and he’s a lot of fun to watch.

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The special effects and makeup are, however, top notch, and really add a lot to the movie. And in spite of my reevaluation of the movie, the scene where Freddy’s arms elongate as he’s walking down the alley is still one creepy scene that managed to give me chills again.

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There’s always a danger when going back to movies we remember with a fair amount of fondness that they may not be all we remembered. That’s certainly the case with Nightmare for me, and despite all its flaws, the horror genre would be poorer without Freddy and his glove.

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7/10 gloves.

 

Tomorrow: get your best shades out, for Freddy’s Revenge! It’s a gay old time!

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Scott Colbert

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  • I love this. Not is it only Wes Craven’s best film in my books, but it’s still scary as hell. I don’t know if anyone else has ever made a film that really feels like you’re stuck in a Nightmare this effectively before or since.

  • As you know I also reevaluated my NOES ranking, but this one is still my number one. The parents are wonderfully campy, like out of a 50s drama.

  • Also, the parents seem to be in even bigger denial of the supernatural than Agent Scully, lol

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    “In fact, I don’t think the first is even the best or scariest of the seven.”

    Hard to see which of the remaining six is more frightening than this one. I like some of the sequels, but none of them matched the peculiar atmosphere of the first, and many were downright camp.

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    I agree, it’s his best. Gets 9.5/10 gloves from me. The only thing I don’t care for is the silly ending, which Craven was forced to film at the behest of Robert Shaye of New Line. Other than that, it’s as perfect a horror movie as ever was.

  • Tarmac492.1

    Great way to describe it “peculiar”. That is how bad dreams usually are. Something is just “off.”

  • CoolHandJuke

    i think the part where his face comes off now freaks me out more than the puppet kid being lead around by his tendons in 3…

  • Tarmac492.1

    Great, honest article. I still love this movie and it is truly one of my favorite horror movies. In fact, I think I would only watch this one and number 3 again. The others can go scratch–including New Nightmare which i found boring.

  • Yeah, I had forgotten about that until I saw it, and freaked me out lol.

  • Tarmac492.1

    Helps the mother was plastered all the time.

  • I think Serpent and the Rainbow is his best, but NOES is a classic, and unfair to compare the two

  • Tarmac492.1

    Her nightmare when she falls asleep in school is an amazing sequence. Especially when considering how low budget this was. Her classmate reading the play in that voice(it is called something in theater I think) sends chills down my spine

  • I have A LOT to say about new nightmare. Much of it unpleasant.

  • Tarmac492.1

    I didnt like it and the good reviews perplex me.

  • Tarmac492.1

    Lin Shaye was young in this.

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    Nepotism is alive and well.

  • Like a lot of the series, my opinion has changed on almost all of them. Those I used to like I don’t, and those I didn’t show me something new. Go figure.

  • Tarmac492.1

    LOL!!! She was great in Kingpin!! I actually saw Insidious chapter 3 and she was pretty good in it. The movie was pretty good up until the end. I vast improvement over the dreadful 2nd one.

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    I did, but there were some missed opportunities there, for sure. I could quite happily watch the “Nancy” movies and skip the rest. Same thing with Halloween and Laurie Strode. Two solid trilogies embedded in those labyrinthine franchises.

  • Mr Nick Nightly

    Tina’s death is where the film peaks. It’s one of my all-time favorite horror scenes. It’s just brutal and pure nightmare stuff. The following scenes in the high school with her body keep a great, nasty little tone before things start to get a bit silly. The ending is a cop out.

  • Mr Nick Nightly

    My opinions on that one have been a roller coaster since its release.

  • Tarmac492.1

    After 30 years of watching hardcore blood and guts, Tina’s death still resonates with me. Yes, it is brutal and nightmarish. And I love the dream sequence that starts with her in the body bag.

  • Tarmac492.1

    Amanda Wyss was great in Better Off Dead. And, yeah,Heather Lanagenkamp was a looker.

  • Can’t argue with that, it’s one of the great deaths of all time for me.

  • Noticed some dissing of New Nightmare below and I’d just like to say that’s my favourite of all of these, yes even more than the first one. *shrug*

    Was hoping that would be your pick as the “new” favourite, but I guess it’ll be III based on your comment below. Anything else and I dunno, man. It’ll be like your opinion of The Shining all over again. =P

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    If his new favorite is “Freddy’s Dead”, I’ll eat my shoe. In disgusted protest.

  • Screw that, we’ll kick him off the site instead! =P

  • Toruk_Makto

    “Heather Langenkamp as Nancy is, to be blunt, not a good actress. Even in the sequels she appears in, she doesn’t seem to improve.”

    Pure, unadulterated blasphemy.

    Heather Langenkamp is one of the greatest things about the Nightmare on Elm Street series (aside from Freddy).
    Period.
    Point Blank.
    End of discussion.

  • Toruk_Makto

    None of them can even remotely come close to the original in terms of pure horror/scares.

    Part 2 was too crappy to be scary.

    The rest started to diverge into a new brand of horror ( comedy, camp, action, surrealist ) which in my opinion was a smart move on their part. Once Nancy kicked Freddy’s ass in part one with her macgyver traps you really couldn’t go back to traditional horror.

  • Toruk_Makto

    Toruks’ Nightmare ranking.

    1. A Nightmare on Elm Street

    2. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

    3. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (Heather’s Back!)

    4. A Nightmare of Elm Street: The Dream Master

    5. A Nightmare of Elm Street: The Dream Child

    6. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare

    7: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge

    8 Freddy vs who? Get the fuck outta here.

    9: Remake made in 2010 – doesn’t deserve a title

  • I guess we simply saw two different movies. ????

  • Hey, no need to Dio me!

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    Actually, I have a fondness for Freddy’s Revenge. Despite some silly scenes, I think it’s underrated, and it’s the only movie in the series, along with New Nightmare, that came close to the dark, eerie feel of the original.

    The third had some darkness to it as well, but,as you say, the movies had crept more into cartoonish fantasy territory by that point. Not necessarily a bad thing.

  • Turd Has Escaped The Gravy

    Yeah, she was great. Langenkamp felt like a real girl, not some overly made-up supermodel or plastic airhead, which is a real barrier to believeability when it comes to most horror movies (hell, most movies) today.

  • Toruk_Makto

    Ha. we really, really did. I think she was fantastic. Even decades later.
    Good article though, always fun to talk about the NOES series.

  • Stalkeye

    OK I thought Freddy vs jason was fun as in not to be taken too seriously. That being said, Dream warriors is still my favorite. But Dream Child ?? Bleechh!

  • Toruk_Makto

    I wouldn’t begrudge anyone if they chose Dream Warriors as number 1. It is an excellent horror/Freddy flick.

    I actually enjoy watching Freddy’s Dead ( even though I know it’s bad ) more than the dream child but as a film I can’t rank it any higher because of the horrible 3D gimmicks.

    Regarding the mashups…this is just one lone geeks opinion, but I just don’t think modern horror icons like Freddy,Jason, Michael Myers etc. exist well in that context. It saps them of their power, rendering them buffoons as opposed to their rightful place as masters of their respective universes.

  • Stalkeye

    Regarding the mashups…this is just one lone geeks opinion, but I just don’t think modern horror icons like Freddy,Jason, Michael Myers etc. exist well in that context. It saps them of their power, rendering them buffoons as opposed to their rightful place as masters of their respective universes.”

    Yeah, but I acknowledge the efforts of Ronny Yu and Co. FvJ was almost like rooting for your favorite Sports team let alone, a “what if” scenario. I heard that Pinhead was to make a cameo as some referee. Well, that would be overkill.

  • Toruk_Makto

    They were gonna bring in Pinhead? Really? Yowzers.

  • I agree about the mash ups, and it’s one reason I’m not even going to talk about Freddy vs Jason. I simply don’t consider it an elm street movie.