A cleverly envisioned, multi-layered & stylishly violent slasher that keeps its viewers guessing by blurring the lines between dream & reality, A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the most popular works of 1980s horror that spawned a franchise of its own, and is also notable for bringing one of the most iconic villains in cinema history into existence.
The story of A Nightmare on Elm Street revolves around a group of teenagers who are tormented by a clawed killer who stalks & kills his victims in their dreams. The plot follows a young girl who finds herself to be the chosen one after she begins having nightmares of being pursued by the same killer and must soon find a way out before it’s too late.
Written & directed by Wes Craven, the story features an interesting concept and Craven brings it to life with finesse by continuously challenging the audience throughout its runtime. The execution works for the most part, a foreboding sense of terror is skilfully maintained, and even though the human characters aren’t that compelling, their peril & confusion is still relatable.
The technical aspects are finely executed. The small-town setting fits its narrative, camerawork is controlled and firmly elevates the suspense when required, Editing paces the story amazingly well, and music only enhances the overall experience. However, the most impressive thing about A Nightmare on Elm Street is the input by the special effects crew & make-up department.
The practical effects may seem dated today and bits n pieces of it even looks cartoonish but there is still much to admire about it, for some scenes are filmed in a truly inventive manner. Its make-up team also deserves a mention, for they played a vital role in realising the physical attributes of the antagonist on the film canvas and their painstaking effort does stand out in the final print.
The cast comprises of Heather Langencamp, Robert Englund, John Saxon, Ronee Blakley & Johnny Depp in his debut role. Langencamp is hyper at times but for the most part, she does well. Saxon & Blakley just tag along, for their characters are mere caricatures. Depp sleeps his way through most of the story but signs off in spectacular style. Englund chips in with an over-the-top performance but it works in favour of the movie.
However, there is a level of uniqueness to every single characteristic of the antagonist, and Craven smartly uses all of it to amplify the tension & creepiness. Be it the burnt face or metal-clawed glove or red-n-green striped sweater or even the fedora hat, the minutest of these details contribute to shape a nightmarish figure on the silver screen while Englund takes him up by a further few notches and wholly embraces the nightmare-demon.
On an overall scale, A Nightmare on Elm Street is an excellent blend of imagination, creativity & old-school suspense that has etched itself into the annals of horror cinema over the years, and remains a staple of pop-culture after all this time. Its outdated effects & exaggerated violence may result in a few unintentional laughs but the way few of its scenes are shot nevertheless evoke a deep sense of respect & admiration. In short, Wes Craven’s signature film lives up to its legacy.