"A Nightmare on Elm Street" DVD, Blu-ray Review

4/07/2010 Posted by Admin

DVD, Blu-ray Review

"A Nightmare on Elm Street"

Directed by Wes Craven, Written by Craven, 91 Minutes, Rated R

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

What could be scarier than the idea that your worst nightmares could come true, or that you could actually die because of something that happens in your dreams? It's a pretty brilliant concept, and Wes Craven's classic '80s horror film "A Nightmare on Elm Street" is far from the first feature to explore such an idea, but it's unlikely that any others are nearly as iconic as this one.

The first time I saw "Nightmare" was around 10 and it scared the hell out of me. Then again, most horror and slasher films did. Kids are impressionable. Looking back on the film, it's far from frightening, and the execution is surprisingly subpar as well.

For those not in the know, "Elm Street" is about a group of teenagers who have recurring dreams of a menacing man wearing a glove with razor blades for fingers and a face scarred from the fire that killed him. This is Freddy Krueger, and he's not just any nightmare. He enters your dreams and whatever he does to you will happen in real life. He cuts your hand, it'll be cut when (or if) you wake up.

Despite the awesome idea, the film pretty much follows the typical slasher formula. The least important characters are picked off first to maintain a level of urgency and as the film goes on the characters learn a bit more about their nemesis and make attempts to stop him. Heather Langenkamp plays Nancy, the real brains of the film, and her desperate attempts to tell the police, her family, and her friends about Freddy are met with little more than rolling eyes and accusations of a lack of sleep. Sure, she's lacking in sleep because the moment her eyes close she has to come face-to-face with character actor Robert Englund with his face made up with pizza ingredients.

Johnny Depp also made his film debut here as Nancy's boyfriend Glen. I wouldn't hold it against anyone to have pretty low expectations for Depp's acting prowess based on his performance. He seems cast pretty much entirely for his looks--and why not? It's a slasher movie, not high art. Thankfully the role got him some attention from Tim Burton and now we have the Depp of today.

Director Wes Craven makes some pretty interesting attempts at mixing slasher horror and surrealism, and while most of the attempts fall pretty flat, the effort is definitely admirable. Where something like "Friday the 13th" is pretty much just kill after kill with little creativity, "Elm Street" has some really imaginative murder sequences, the best (and probably most well known) of which is the scene where one character stands by in horror as another is lifted into the air (seemingly by nothing) and is then dragged across the ceiling leaving trails of blood all over the walls. Craven recreated this sequence in his later film "The New Nightmare." It's certainly among the better moments of the film.

Overall, though, this is really just a bunch of corny nonsense. The characters are all totally one-note and illogical, the imagery--while iconic--isn't particularly interesting, and some of it (Freddy in particular) comes off as flat-out silly. Also, I can't help but think Freddy didn't really become particularly great as a villain before the first sequel where he really started gaining his sense of humor. Craven is always at his best when he mixes horror and comedy (see: "Scream") and "Elm Street" is pretty dreary stuff. Sure, some of it's funny, but not exactly on purpose.

It may be responsible for my interest in film, but "Elm Street" doesn't really hold up. It's a step above the average slasher film, and Freddy definitely grew to be a good and sometimes even great villain, but there's just too much stuff going on in the film that just doesn't work. I hate to say it, but I think the upcoming remake is pretty much guaranteed to be better, if just for the fact that the imagery will probably be better.

Grade: D+

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  1. A Sound Mind said...

    That's a pretty harsh assessment of the film. While I agree that some of the elements don't hold up well, particularly the very end, it breathed new life into the stagnate slasher genre with it's imaginative back story and inventive kills. The water bed scene alone is worth watching the movie. As far as the characters being one-note and illogical, what do you want from them? They're typical suburbanite teenagers. It would seem illogical if, for example, Glen was an expert in hand to hand combat and had a dark past where he killed 12 men in a bar fight in Mexico and is now a fugitive in hiding.