“A Nightmare on Elm Street – Thirty Years of Scares”

“I don’t even know who’s doing it and I’m not interested. It’s actually really painful to think about it. It’s the film of mine that I probably love the most, and which made the most money. The script went around Hollywood for three years and nobody touched it and I went through all my life savings and everything else to pay for it, so I had to make the deal I did. Frankly, at that time I thought it would be one movie and that’s it. I never thought it would go on and on and on… Yes it does hurt, it does because it’s such an important film for me that, unfortunately, when I signed the original contract I gave up all rights to it and so there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Wes Craven’s response to being asked about the 2010 re-make of “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

The idea behind Freddy Krueger, who has become one of the most infamous villains in the annals of horror cinema history, was launched in the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street” film. As early as his childhood, there were aspects of Wes Craven’s (Scream) life, that would one day wind up making it into the film he wrote and directed. Fred Krueger was the name of a school bully who tormented him, both during school hours, as well as after school on the paper route, that they both worked. Additionally, when Craven was ten years of age, he heard some noise in the alleyway located next to the apartment building he lived in. When he looked out the window to see what the disturbance was, there was a homeless person, who was dressed in filthy clothes, wearing a Fedora. The man looked up and stared at him. Craven went away and hid for what to him, felt like hours. When he returned to the window, the guy was still standing there. Next thing Craven knew, he heard the man coming into the building, but when his brother, went to investigate, no one was there.

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Another source of inspiration, which brought Freddy to the forefront of Craven’s creative thoughts, was attributable to articles he read in the Los Angeles Times. Unlike the fictional scenarios he was used to depicting in his films, these stories contained nightmarish elements that were all too real. The articles pertained to three male, Cambodian refugees, who had come to America, in order to escape the totalitarian dictatorship of the Pol Pot regime. Each one of them would suffer the same horrific ending. Before meeting their demise, each spoke of not wanting to go to bed. In fact, each of the men outright refused to sleep, due to the surrealistic nightmares each was experiencing. Eventually, each of the three would succumb to sheer exhaustion. Once the men fell asleep, none of them ever woke up again. One of the men, whose family was concerned about him not sleeping, gave him pills, which they thought he was taking. After he died, his family members found all of the pills, hidden, in his room. In addition, he also had a coffee pot plugged into a wall socket in his closet. The autopsies conducted on the three men revealed there was no specific cause for their deaths. In recent years, the medical community has taken to calling the affliction that the three men died from, Asian Death Syndrome or Brugada Syndrome.

“A Nightmare on Elm Street” first screened in Germany, in October of 1984, at The Hof International Film Festival, which has been taking place annually since October of 1967. Afterward, it opened in limited release in America on November 9, before opening on a number of screens on November 16th. The film’s budget, which was estimated to have been one million eight hundred thousand dollars, made almost the entire amount back during its limited release, earning a bit over one million two hundred and seventy thousand dollars. In terms of total gross, the film was a success that wound up earning close to twenty-seven million dollars, and saving New Line Cinema from having to declare bankruptcy. The movie, which as previously mentioned in Craven’s quote, took three years to secure a producer, was shot in a span of thirty days, and has a runtime of ninety-one minutes.

The film begins with Freddy, constructing a glove, which contains knives for fingers. The murder weapon will become synonymous with the killer. Krueger, portrayed not just in the original movie, but in its many sequels, as well as a television show, is completely embodied by Robert Englund (New Nightmare).

Freddy has invaded the dream, of Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss). She is running down a hallway, which leads into a boiler room. Tina hears her name being called, as she tries to escape from something that is not yet shown to the viewer. Freddy scratches the knives of his glove on the wall, and then rips through a sheet, that is hanging, before showing up behind Tina, ready to strike. She wakes up screaming, which causes her mother (Donna Woodrum) to knock on her door and enter the room. When Tina looks at her night gown, she sees that it has been ripped. Her mother asks her how she is, and she tells her not to worry, that it was just a dream, which suits Tina’s mother’s boyfriend (Paul Grenier) just fine; all he’s interested in, is getting the haggard looking woman back into bed. The motherly advice she imparts to Tina, is that she should cut her fingernails, and stop having bad dreams. My inner child groaned at the advice. I am sure we all would have opted back then, as well as now, to not have nightmares, if it were that simple. Deciding a bit more than nail trimming and wishful thinking is in order, Tina takes her crucifix off her bedroom wall, and keeps it in bed with her. Afterward, as little girls in white dresses on an outside lawn play jump rope, for the very first time, the viewer will hear a rhyme that goes hand in hand with the character of Freddy Krueger, and the franchise in general:

One, two, Freddy’s coming for you.
Three, four, Better lock your door
Five, six, grab a crucifix.
Seven, eight, Gonna stay up late.
Nine, ten, Never sleep again….

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The next morning at high school, the viewer is introduced to the other three teenage protagonists. There is Nancy Thompson, acted by Heather Langenkamp (Just the Ten of Us), Tina’s best friend, and as am sure many of you who are reading this already know, a true horror heroine. She is someone, who is not self absorbed, but the type of person a viewer will want to cheer for to make it out in one piece, when the film concludes. There is also Nancy’s boyfriend, Glen Lantz, played by Academy Award nominee and Golden Globe winner, Johnny Depp (Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street), in his film debut. The last of the three others is Tina’s boyfriend, Rod Lane (Jsu Garcia). The characters, except for Rod, who heads in another direction, are discussing Tina’s nightmare. With Tina’s mother going to be out of town for the next two days, Nancy and Glen agree to stay with her, since she is still not over the freakiness of her dream. While there, Rod, who was not invited, shows up. It is a decision, he will live to regret, albeit for a short time. (As an aside: While Langenkamp was being considered for the role of Nancy, she was in competition with two hundred other actresses; some of the more famous actresses that she beat out to secure the role, were Courtney Cox, Jennifer Grey, and Demi Moore.)

As it turns out, Nancy also had a similar nightmare, that contains the same characteristics as Tina’s dream. The person they are both afraid of, has long fingernails, or as Nancy more accurately points out, finger knives, that he likes to scrape along things. They also both remember his attire – a dirty, red and green sweater. The color choice of red and green for Freddy’s sweater, was done purposely, after Craven read an article in a 1982 edition of the magazine “Scientific American.” According to the piece that was written, the two colors that clashed the most when looked at by the human retina, were green and red.

Less than twenty minutes into the film, the viewers gets their first real look at Freddy, during an intense nightmare sequence. Rod is awakened by Tina’s screaming. He see her thrashing around on the bed, and being dragged up the wall and onto the ceiling, but he cannot see who is doing it to her. As much as Rod wants to help Tina, he can’t, because Freddy, outside of the dream world, is not visible. Knowing that he will be blamed for the murder, Rod flees through Tina’s bedroom window, and goes on the run. (As an aside: The scene where Tina is shown being dragged up and across the ceiling was shot on a set that was built to rotate. The camera was bolted to the wall for the scene, and was filmed with a cameraman, who was strapped to a chair, he spun as the room spun, to give the scene the effect Craven wanted. When Tina is shown on the ceiling, she is actually on the floor, and Garcia, who is panic stricken as to what is being done to her, is the one who is actually on the ceiling.)

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The police Lieutenant, Donald Thompson, played by Golden Globe winner, John Saxon (The Appaloosa), is put in charge of the homicide investigation. He is also Nancy’s father. The first question he has for her mother, Marge, acted by Academy Award nominee, Ronee Blakley (Nashville), who he is divorced from, is: what was Nancy doing at Tina’s house in the first place? Unbeknownst to Nancy, he is having some of his men watch her, thinking that Rod will attempt to reach out and make contact, which is exactly what he does the next day. Rod is placed in jail, but he doesn’t go quietly, proclaiming his innocence as loudly as he can, and of course as viewers, we know, he is not guilty of Tina’s murder.

Nancy decides to go to school, in order to try and keep a semblance of normalcy in her life. While she is in her English class, she falls asleep, as her teacher (Lin Shaye) is having a student read aloud from Shakespeare. The moment marks the first time we get to see Nancy encounter Freddy in the dream state. After chasing her through his boiler- room domain, he has backed her up into a corner. Demonstrating that she is not just going to allow herself to be ripped to shreds by Freddy’s glove, she realizes that she only sees the burnt visage of Krueger when she is dreaming. Nancy not only reminds herself that what she is experiencing is ‘only a dream,’ but she takes her arm, and places it onto a hot pipe, in order to burn herself. Her actions, jolt her out of her dream state, all the while she is screaming at the top of her lungs. Gathering her belongings, she immediately leaves the classroom. When she steps outside of school to head home, she looks at her arm and notices the burn mark on it. Nancy has learned the important lesson, that when it comes to dealing with Freddy, what happens to you in your dream, carries over into real life.

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After several other incidents, that would contain too many spoilers, for those of you, who have never seen the film, Nancy’s mother comes up with an idea to help her daughter. She takes Nancy to a sleep clinic, run by Dr. King (Charles Fleischer), who specializes in sleep disorders. While monitoring Nancy, the readings on the machines, which normally don’t go past a certain number, reach levels that are unprecedented, indicating, that something terrible is happening while Nancy is asleep. The doctor, Nancy’s mother, and the nurse, run into the room to wake her up. They discover that there is blood on Nancy’s arm, but she has also brought back something with her from her dream, Krueger’s Fedora. From that point forward Nancy makes it her missions to find out the truth behind who Freddy Krueger is, and why he is trying to murder her and her friends. Little did she expect her mother to come clean and talk about the time that she, and a number of other people, took the law into their own hands to kill Krueger, a child murderer, who thanks to a legal technicality walked free.

Trivia buffs take note: The make-up Englund was required to wear took on average three hours a day to apply, before he could begin filming his scenes. Englund wasn’t Wes Craven’s first choice for the part of Freddy. He initially wanted a stunt man to play the role, but after conducting some screen tests, he came to the realization that the film would be better served by having a real actor play the part. Englund’s total screen time amounted to less than seven minutes. Johnny Depp, had a good deal of competition: such as Nicholas Cage, John Cusack, Brad Pitt, and Charlie Sheen, among others, who all were considered for the part of Glen. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in charge of cleaning the sets after a day’s filming, because the total amount of fake blood that was used amounted to over five hundred gallons during the production of the movie. AFI (The American Film Institute) ranked Krueger as number forty, on their list of AFI 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains. The film also made the top twenty, coming in at number seventeen on Bravo’s list of The 100 Scariest Movie Moments.

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In addition to Craven, Englund, Langenkamp, and the rest of the ensemble cast, credit also must be given to the following individuals: Emmy winner, Charles Bernstein (Inglourious Basterds) for the score he composed, which, like John Carpenter’s score for “Halloween,” is instantaneously recognizable. Like Bernstein’s score, the film probably would not have resonated as strongly as it did with audiences, if not for the excellent cinematography of Jacques Haitkin (The Hidden), who managed to capture just the right mood for each scene.

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Will Nancy be able to save the remainder of her friends from being sliced up by Krueger? Will she be able to save herself? How does she go about trying to put an end to Freddy? Is there a secret weapon that can be used against him to stop his reign of terror? All of those questions and more, will be answered by the conclusion of this highly entertaining, horror film, which features one of the all time greatest horror heroines in Nancy, and one of the ultimate bad guys in Freddy Krueger. The film, which, will soon be celebrating its thirtieth birthday, is still a beloved offering of the horror genre, and it doesn’t appear as if that will be changing anytime soon.

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About robbinsrealm

I was born in Smithtown, New York, and grew up, worked, and lived in various areas of Long Island before moving to Boca Raton, Florida where I now make my home. In addition to being an aspiring writer, I am also an English teacher. I have a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master’s Degree in Education, both from Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. In my spare time you will find me engrossed in books, watching movies, socializing with friends, or just staying active.
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13 Responses to “A Nightmare on Elm Street – Thirty Years of Scares”

  1. le0pard13 says:

    Yeah, this is one of the greats. So imaginative and original. Fine tribute, Jonathan.

    • robbinsrealm says:

      Firstly, thank you for reading and commenting; as always it is appreciated.

      Agreed, it is one of the greats the horror genre has to offer. Wes Craven, literally, put his heart and soul, as well as every penny he had, into bringing his creative vision to life, and what an enduring legacy he created. I think there are very few places someone can go in the world where the name Freddy Krueger is not recognized. As you stated in your comment, the film was both imaginative and original for its time. I am sorry that it was ever re-made. I am a firm believer, that not every film that was successful in the past, needs to be re-made for the current generation. I am of the opinion, that they should take the classic they want to remake, perhaps clean up any audio and visual problems, and just re-release the original in the theater.

    • Victor Vee says:

      lets get Liam Neeson in as Freddy next time and watch the craze begin again

  2. davecrewe says:

    Great write-up man.

  3. Jack Flacco says:

    I have to confess that I haven’t seen any of the Friday the 13th movies! I know about Freddie, but that’s as far as I go. I know, I have a lot to catch up on.

    • robbinsrealm says:

      I have met many people over the years, who have also either never seen any of the films, in their entirety, or saw a few minutes here or there, because a friend, significant other, or spouse was watching one of them and they happened to catch a couple of minutes of it. If you’re going to watch any of those types of horror films, I recommend that you start with the original “Nightmare on Elm Street.” I truly think it is one of the best films the genre has to offer.

      I know that zombies are all the rage these days, and I am fully willing to confess that I, along with millions of other people, according to the ratings, watch the show “The Walking Dead,” but if you’re going to watch a film in the zombie sub-genre of horror, do yourself a favor, and watch the original “Dawn of the Dead.” I consider that film the quintessential zombie offering. George Romero, who started the modern day zombie movement, with his iconic “Night of the Living Dead,” did a sequel, which in my opinion, is far superior to the first film. “Dawn of the Dead” is a brilliant film for its genre, and just like Romero’s original, it not only offers viewers a fun time during the movie’s duration, but makes one think about important issues, upon its conclusion.

      I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on my work.

  4. Zoë says:

    Excellent work here! I do so love this movie, flaws and cheese and all, it holds up really well and is a great watch each and every time. Freddy Krueger is a brilliant villain 😀

    • robbinsrealm says:

      Firstly, thank you for reading. Secondly, thank you kindly for your compliment, I very much appreciate it. I know what you mean, I have loved the movie since the first time I saw it, and shouldn’t have been watching it because I was very young. I am surprised it didn’t give me nightmares of my own, but no, it didn’t have that sort of effect on me.

      Wes Craven really did create one of the all time iconic horror Villains.

  5. Great review! You had all kinds of fun facts in here that I did not know. I had never heard Wes Craven’s quote that you opened the article with. How frustrating it must be for him! He had his own vision, the franchise took on a life of its own, beyond his control. But, at least he became a household name after this movie.

    • robbinsrealm says:

      Thank you very much for your compliment on my blog. I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. I am glad you got something out of it.

      I can’t see how Craven can’t be frustrated. I agree with you, he did become a household name after that film.

      The movie should never have been re-made. Nothing against anyone involved with it, but the original was great just the way it was.

  6. Summit10 says:

    loved the series. More so how they finally challenged this entity and not just staying alive while your sleeping anyway 😀

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