This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, I picked “A Nightmare On Elm Street.”
The Movie: “A Nightmare On Elm Street”
Starring: Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund
Director: Wes Craven
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) Several people are hunted by a cruel serial killer who kills his victims in their dreams. While the survivors are trying to find the reason for being chosen, the murderer won’t lose any chance to kill them as soon as they fall asleep.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 94 percent
Froemming: After being floored last week with Tommy Wiseau’s epic, “The Room,” I decided to go back to a genre I happen to love and Joe Brown…not so much. I decided to go back to the horror genre. But this time, a horror movie that is actually well regarded by fans and movie reviewers alike.
I went with the classic “A Nightmare On Elm Street.” Not that goofy 2010 remake, the Wes Craven original. A film about vigilantism gone awry when a neighborhood decided to burn a local child killer alive and he comes back to haunt their children’s dreams with razor fingers, a ratty sweater that would have made Kurt Cobain proud and puns.
So Brown, what did you think of the film that actually terrorized my childhood in the 1980s?
Brown: I’m not a slasher guy. I get easily spooked by jump scares and movies like these typically heighten my anxiety something fierce.
You know, normally.
Now, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is in the “Child’s Play” category where I can see the tropes develop before my eyes. And in the case of this movie, the ending plays more like “Home Alone” than a horror movie.
As a child of the ‘80s, I get why this haunted you. And I will say, this is actually a pretty well put-together movie. Not quite the gorefest you’d typically think of.
Now, before I start humming nursery rhymes, I’ll let you get things underway.
Froemming: Well, we start with 15-year-old Tina (who looks 28-years-old), who is being stalked in a dream by a fedora-hatted burned man who likes to make sparks with his razor fingers. Now, I will say this about this film: It is not the hokey, jokey kind of movie that the sequels devolved into. This is a straight-up horror film. And when Tina is attacked in her dream, she wakes up to find that her nightgown is cut up, just like in her dream. I like this. Wes Craven didn’t need to throw blood and guts in every direction to build suspense here. He saved that for later with Johnny Depp.
Brown: From the onset of this movie, I couldn’t take it seriously. The credits are in comic sans. A note to anyone who e-mails a reporter: If you send things to a newsroom in comic sans, no one is going to take you seriously.
After Tina’s knife-gloved dream with this disfigured hipster, we meet her friend Nancy, who also talks about not being able to sleep due to a nightmare. There’s Glen (Depp), who has a nightmare but is afraid to elaborate on what it was, being masculine and all.
Froemming: Do you think that nightmare was that one day, people would find out Depp has his lines fed to him via earpiece, because he doesn’t bother remembering the script?
Brown: Depp drops a line later in the movie about not believing in the boogeyman. Because he would probably play the boogeyman because he’s more obsessed with being a good character than a good actor. Hot take: Johnny Depp is not a good actor.
Back to “Nightmare,” then there’s the last friend, Rod, who is a jerk whom I’m sure gives every woman in his life unwanted sexual advances. Even later in the movie where he’s trying to be a sympathetic figure, he rubs me the wrong way.
After a nightmare where she has her nightgown torn by blades (!!), Tina asks Glen and Nancy to stay over since her mom is out of town like any good ‘80s parent. Rod shows up as well and we get the good ol’ slasher trope of teenage sex.
Someone’s about to die.
Froemming: It is funny. I have seen this movie a bunch of times, and for some reason I couldn’t remember Rod’s name as I was taking notes for this.
Yup, if you want to survive an 80s slasher film, don’t bump uglies. But Tina and Rod ignore this sage wisdom, and they have James Bond-style loud sex.
Brown: Loud sex that NO TEENAGER WOULD EVER HAVE. I’ll let Mrs. Krabappel speak my thoughts.
Froemming: Their moaning is probably heard by everyone in the neighborhood. If I was Glen here, that would be my cue to leave with Nancy. That’s just gross.
Anyway, after their very loud sex, Tina falls asleep and is confronted by the hipster burn victim from the previous night.
Brown: Before we get to this, we get Nancy getting a brief glimpse of Freddy. In one of the coolest shots of the film, we see Freddy poking out of the wall like he’s in a Green Man costume.
This stuck with me because I remember as a child having a fever dream where someone was coming through the wall above my bed like that. And for the record, hadn’t seen “A Nightmare On Elm Street” when this happened.
Froemming: Wes Craven had quite a few really cool shots in this. There is a documentary about the franchise on Netflix. It is pretty cool how he came up with these shots.
Anyway, Tina is being chased in her dream by Fred Krueger. The kids call him Freddy because they are not prudes like their parents I guess.
Tina is attacked in her dream by Krueger, but Rod just sees her thrashing around in the bed like her body just realized she had sex with that scumbag and is revolting against her brain, which should know better. Then she starts floating on the ceiling like Lionel Richie and is cut up and murdered. Rod, naturally, runs away as Nancy and Glen run upstairs to find out what’s with all the noise that isn’t loud sex.
Brown: Yep, after Nancy is unable to get the door open (because it was locked), Glen just turns the knob and gets in. … Sure.
And we get a sequence prior to her death of Tina running away from Freddy, with our antagonist going with surreal imagery, like looking like a Stretch Armstrong after expanding his arms.
Now, I don’t know if you were like me, Froemming, but I took Freddy Krueger seriously until I saw how Freddy ran. That first glimpse of it, he looked like Andy Dwyer acting like a monkey in “Parks and Rec.”
With that said, the scene of Tina getting dragged around all over her parents’ room is an awesome shot. It’s the macabre version of the “Virtual Insanity” music video.
Froemming: Well, the police show up and we find out that Nancy’s father is on the force. Is he concerned about his daughter witnessing her friend getting slashed to bits? No, he is upset that she was with Glen at a friend’s house on a school night.
The next day, Nancy falls asleep in class (I have nothing here. I slept in class in high school a lot) and she finds herself being chased by Krueger in a boiler room. She wakes up with a real burn from her dream. But everyone is upset she is being loud in the classroom.
OK, after the events of the night before, why the (REDACTED) was she in school? Shouldn’t she have been talking to a therapist?
Brown: Nancy’s mom brings that up to her! But she does the “I need to stay busy” excuse. Hell, Nancy’s DAD tells her that after he follows Nancy around and catches Rod pleading his innocence to her. Alas, Rod gets charged for Tina’s alleged murder.
Nancy also didn’t take her nightmare with Freddy seriously because she bolts the classroom without her hall pass. Look, I just think Freddy is trying to educate these kids to be like a nice nuclear ‘50s family, where hall passes were mandatory and sex is sacred and needs to wait until marriage. Or, he’s a serial killer.
With all this said, I really liked Heather Langenkamp as Nancy. She actually seems like a run-of-the-mill ‘80s kid instead of picking people who were horny mid 20-year-olds playing teenagers.
Froemming: I agree. She is pretty good here as an all American girl character.
Well, we next see Nancy in the bathtub in a surprisingly non-sexual way that most 80s horror films would have had. And her mom warns her not to fall asleep in the tub, citing statistics about people dying in bathtubs, which is a curious thing to say to your daughter after her friend was just brutally murdered.
But she falls asleep anyway and we get another cool shot from Craven with Freddy’s glove coming out of the water like Jaws, about to attack! In fact, she is pulled under by Krueger, who is trying to drown her, but Nancy is able to pull herself out of the tub and wakes up. Again, I like that Craven didn’t need a ton of blood and guts to make things creepy. Again, he saves that for Depp later on in the film.
Brown: It makes for such a great, terrifying scene because few, if any, things leave a person more vulnerable than in the bath. Naked and afraid, nothing to defend yourself with, nothing to shield yourself with. Freddy’s knife hand coming out of the water works the same way the murder scene in “Psycho” does, thanks to that feeling of vulnerability and helplessness.
Also, when she’s plunged underwater and only has a small hole to swim up to, that’s a scare I feel as a Minnesotan that goes ice fishing.
Knowing now she really can’t fall asleep, Nancy goes full Jessie Spano and finds some pills that’ll help her stay awake. You know they’re of a high quality and not picked up from a sketchy gas station because the bottle says “STAY AWAKE FAST ACTING.”
Froemming: I have never seen caffeine pills in any medicine cabinet in my life. Nancy’s parents, I suspect, moonlight as truck drivers in their spare time.
Brown: Keep in mind that later in the movie, we see Nancy’s mother taking a pull from a vodka bottle kept in the linen closet. There’s clearly a substance abuse problem in that household.
Froemming: I gathered that Nancy’s mom just might have addiction issues. But I am not here to judge her, I am here to judge the whole damn movie.
And we see Glen just climb Nancy’s house and goes to her window like a prowler. Nancy wants him to watch over her as she falls asleep, which tells me Nancy gulping a fistfull of caffeine pills has no effect on her whatsoever. Nancy is a pill head. She would have gulped those down whether Freddy tried to kill her or not.
Brown: Well, as she tries to figure out more about what Freddy is doing, she sees the killer go to Rod’s jail cell. So like any well-respecting cop’s daughter, she demands to see the prisoner. As she’s haggling, Freddy is taking care of Rod, wrapping a bedsheet noose around the guy. By the time Nancy and her dad get there, it looks like Rod hanged himself.
My one gripe with this scene: Why do the cops let him keep wearing his leather jacket in his jail cell? Furthermore, why is Rod sleeping in a leather jacket?
Froemming: When he was arrested, he wasn’t wearing a shirt, only his jacket. Where did the shirt come from?
Also, why — as a ghost-monster who kills people in their dreams — does Freddy need to frame Rod and make it look like he killed himself out of guilt? It’s not like the police force has a dreams division to go after Krueger.
Well, now Nancy is spooked to the point where she refuses to sleep. She even keeps a coffee maker hidden in her closet like her alcoholic mom hides her vodka. This family has issues beyond Krueger at this point.
Brown: Who doesn’t smell a freshly-brewed pot of coffee? There is a weird Joan Collins “Mommie Dearest” vibe going on with this family (right down to using “mother” at every reference).
Also, I don’t recall the order this falls in the movie, so I’ll bring it up now. Since Nancy is a speed addict (or something) because she hasn’t slept for nearly a week, her mother brings her to a sleep study. Her sleep patterns seem normal before spiking as she’s convulsing (she’s actually being attacked by Freddy). As she wakes up, she (for reasons NEVER explained) comes out with Freddy’s hat.
Froemming: Even more baffling: Freddy apparently writes his name in his own hat. Something Nancy tells her mom, as proof this is Krueger killing children again and she confronted him. It really baffled me. I had too many questions as to why Freddy put his name on his hat. Does Jason from “Friday the 13th” do the same with his hockey mask? It was (REDACTED) weird.
Well, after this revelation of spectres making sure their clothing isn’t stolen via labeling them, Nancy finds her home now has bars on the windows and doors, which I am sure the neighbors hate because it might devalue their property in the housing market.
Brown: And we finally get the backstory behind our murderer: Freddy Krueger killed 20 kids in the neighborhood and when he finally got caught, he got off on a technicality. Not satisfied with that, the parents of the neighborhood performed good ol’ vigilante justice and burned the (REDACTED) alive.
OK, how the (REDACTED) did he kill 20 kids IN ONE NEIGHBORHOOD? My parents have lived in the same neighborhood for nearly 30 years and I don’t know if there has been 20 total kids around there. That is a laughably obscene amount of kids to live in a neighborhood, let alone to be pulled into a boiler room and killed (possibly raped, too. Movie doesn’t say it but there are strong overtones).
Froemming: The 2010 remake made the rape more apparent. That movie was hot garbage.
OK, so Nancy’s mom tells her this story and shows her the creepy murder knife-glove of Krueger’s that she has tucked away in the basement. Look, you killed the man. Why would you keep incriminating evidence of that? Also, why keep a child-murderer’s weapon of choice? Nancy’s mom is not only a drunk, but a weirdo as well.
Now, Nancy is convinced she can pull Freddy out of her dream and into the real world. She, like you mentioned earlier, Kevin McCallister’s the house with traps. She wants Glen to help, but his parents think she is a psycho and refuses to let her talk to him. Also, this is the only Depp film where he isn’t the weirdo.
Brown: The moral of the story: Listen to weirdos. Because Glen falls asleep with his headphones on and the TV going on his lap when the bed swallows him whole and a geyser of blood starts gushing onto the ceiling. I went full “Mythbusters” in my head trying to decide how many humans would it take to make up that much blood. My answer: Hell if I know. I just thought like a “Mythbuster.” I didn’t want to put in the work like a “Mythbuster.”
My theory is that Glen isn’t dead. Instead, Freddy felt sorry for him and tried to make him a Krueger. Gave him a gimp suit and a glove made of scissors. Years later, Glen reemerged into the world as Edward Scissorhands.
And now to the part of the movie I hated: Where our slasher flick becomes a Road Runner cartoon.
Froemming: Yes, when our menacing antagonist suddenly turns into the hapless Wile E. Coyote and just falls for these goofy traps. Like getting slammed in the gut with a sledgehammer and tripping over wires. I was (REDACTED) embarrassed for Krueger here. He had less grace with these traps than the Wet Bandits in “Home Alone.” He chases Nancy through the house, just falling over and tripping like a doofus. Really takes away the menace the first hour of this movie made him to be.
Brown: The Wet Bandits were made less foolish than how Nancy made Freddy look like a worthless goon. The only way Freddy would look worse is if we went into his dream and saw him get picked on like Scary Terry from “Rick and Morty.”
So, Nancy lights Freddy on fire, only for Freddy to escape upstairs after the cops get into the house. Here, Freddy kills Nancy’s mom by making her catch on fire. Or maybe not. I thought perhaps she spontaneously combusted due to her blood alcohol content.
Froemming: Her blood alcohol content was so high, she probably burst into flames from lighting a cigarette. And after she is burned, we get this weird part where the bed glows and her body just vanishes.
This was very baffling to me.
Well, her dad saw this too and seems to shrug it off as normal and heads back to Glen’s house. Nancy is now alone in the house and Freddy comes back, probably more burned? I don’t know.
Good thing Glen told Nancy some weird story about how people in some country survive nightmares by ignoring the evil, or some weird (REDACTED) like that. So Nancy gives it the old college try and turns her back on a monster with razor fingers. And it seems to work! Freddy turns into what I can only describe as pixie dust and bad 80s lightning effects.
Brown: Knowing how enigmatic Johnny Depp is, the thing about some culture being able to master their dreams is something he brought up to the actress playing Nancy before “Action” was called but for some reason, the cameras were rolling.
So after Freddy disappears into dust, Nancy walks outside in this strangely euphoric state. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, my sinuses are flaring up out of instinct. Her mother is alive and says she’ll cut out the drinking. Then in a convertible is Glen, Tina and (unfortunately) Rod. But as soon as the top comes up, it’s revealed to be the same color and style as Freddy’s hipster sweater. Then, in the best shot of the movie, Nancy’s mom is grabbed through the door’s window where she is likely murdered. Any shot that is CLEARLY a blow-up doll is OK in my book.
Froemming: It should be noted Wes Craven hated this ending and caused him to walk away from the franchise. Also, he never wanted it to become a franchise.
OK, let’s put on our hipster sweaters and dream our way over to recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Yes. Again, Craven made a great horror movie without having to go the easy route with tons of blood and guts. I liked a lot of his shots here, which we discussed, and it is a fun flick.
Brown: Sure. This was a fun, schlocky ‘80s horror movie. It’s not going to scare you like it did in the ‘80s, but it’s a hallmark movie of the slasher genre.
Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down: