Teenager Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) is having vivid nightmares in which a sinister figure with knives for fingers and a hideously scarred face is attempting to kill her. When people start turning up dead and she discovers her friends are having the same dream, the local parents are forced to reveal a horrible secret from their past.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is probably the best known of the 1980s slasher movie wave. It spawned five straight sequels, a video game, a pop song, a franchise crossover movie, and a TV series before director Wes Craven returned to put a post-modern lid on the franchise with his 'dry run' for Scream, New Nightmare in 1994.
In spite of its age, it's the original Nightmare that packs the best punches. As David Lynch would do later in Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, Craven delights in creating an impossibly perfect vision of small-town America, a transparent bubble of safety filled with fresh-faced teenagers (including a young Johnny Depp) who, once they start becoming victims of the town's nasty secret, are left helplessly vulnerable. All except Nancy that is, the plucky heroine, portrayed excellently by Langenkamp, who manages to stop short of the first trap in teenage slasher movies - being so aggravating that you start cheering for the killer!
If Craven has achieved one stroke of genius in the movie, it's pretty obvious...Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund). He instantly became one of the most identifiable figures in film horror when unleased in 1984, and twenty years on he's still giving people nightmares. If, for some reason, the mention of his name doesn't send a shiver down your spine, just repeat after me, 'One, two, Freddy's coming for you, three, four, better lock the door...'
One of the main reasons Johnny Depp was chosen was because the producer's daughter thought he was "dreamy."
Over 500 gallons of fake blood were used during the making of the film.
The scene where Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) is attacked by Freddy in her bathtub was shot using a bottomless tub, which was put in a bathroom set that had been built over a swimming pool. During the underwater sequence, Langenkamp was replaced with stuntwoman Christina Johnson. Langenkamp spent 12 hours in the bath during filming.
Wes Craven wrote the script and presented it in 1981 to try to sell it to a major studio, but no one wanted it. He said that "It just flew around" for three years until New Line Cinema picked it up.
The movie almost folded before production had even begun. Initially, Smart Egg productions were supposed to put $1 million into the movie, but they dropped out several days before filming began, and producer Robert Shaye had to try to raise money elsewhere. Two weeks into shooting, the production had no money left to pay the crew, so line producer John Burrows used his credit card. Eventually, Shaye brokered a deal with a European company called Media Home Entertainment and subsequently persuaded Smart Egg to put up the final $200,000 needed to complete the film.
New Line Cinema was saved from bankruptcy by the success of the film, and was jokingly nicknamed "the house that Freddy built".
Heather Langenkamp beat over 200 actresses for the role of Nancy Thompson, some of the other actresses who auditioned for the role of Nancy were Jennifer Grey, Demi Moore, Courteney Cox and Tracey Gold.
The idea behind the glove was a practical one on Wes Craven's part, as he wanted to give the character a unique weapon, but also something that could be made cheaply and wouldn't be difficult to use or transport. At the time, he was studying primal fears embedded in the subconscious of people of all cultures and discovered that one of those fears is attack by animal claws. Around the same time, he saw his cat unsheathe its claws, and the two concepts merged, although in the original script the blades were fishing knives, not stake knives as in the finished film.
Special makeup effects artist David B. Miller based Freddy's disfigurement on photographs of burn victims he saw in UCLA Medical Centre.
The first time Freddy is seen in the movie, he isn't being played by Robert Englund, but by special-effects man Charles Belardinelli, as Belardinelli was the only one who knew exactly how to cut the glove and insert the blades.
Children: One, two, Freddy's coming for you. / Three, four, better lock your door. / Five, six, grab your crucifix. / Seven, eight, better stay awake. / Nine, ten, never sleep again.
Ambulance crew member: We don't need a stretcher in there. We need a mop!
Marge: You want to know who Fred Krueger was? He was a filthy child murderer who killed at least 20 kids in the neighborhood. Kids we all knew.
Nancy: [taken aback] Oh, mom.
Marge: It drove us crazy when we didn't know who it was, but it was even worse after they caught him.
Nancy: Did they put him away?
Marge: Well, the lawyers got fat and the judge got famous, but somebody forgot to sign the search warrant in the right place and Krueger was free, just like that.
Rod Lane: I probably could have saved her if I'd have moved sooner. But I thought it was just another nightmare, like the one I had the night before. There was... there was this guy; he had knives for fingers.
Glen Lantz: Miss Nude America is going to be on tonight.
Mrs. Lantz: How can you hear what she's going to say?
Glen Lantz: Who cares what she says?
Nancy: It's too late, Krueger. I know the secret now. This is just a dream. You're not alive. This whole thing is just a dream.
GOOFS AND BLUNDERS
The crash mat is visible when Nancy jumps out of the boiler room and lands in her lawn.
When the sheet is coming around Rod's neck to choke him you can see the wire that is pulling it.
When Nancy runs up the stairs near the end of the movie, the camera shows a close up of her feet sinking into the "goo" stairs. You can see exactly where she going to put her feet as the "goo" pots are visible.
An obvious stunt dummy is used at the end when Nancy's mother is pulled through the window in the door.
It's the Bay touch you feel in the way actors register as body count, characters go undeveloped, and sensation trumps feeling. A nightmare, indeed. Reviewed by: Peter Travers of Rolling Stone.
I stared at A Nightmare on Elm Street with weary resignation. The movie consists of a series of teenagers who are introduced, haunted by nightmares and then slashed to death by Freddy. So what? Are we supposed to be scared? Reviewed by: Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times.
It's moderately entertaining and instantly forgettable. Poor Freddy. I can't help thinking he deserves better. Reviewed by: A.O. Scott of The New York Times.