Craven produced A Nightmare on Elm Street on an estimated budget of just $1.8 million, a sum the film earned back during its first week. An instant commercial success, the film's total United States box office gross is $25.5 million. A Nightmare on Elm Street was met with rave critical reviews and went on to make a very significant impact on the horror genre, spawning a franchise consisting of a line of sequels, a television series, a crossover with Friday the 13th, beyond various other works of imitation, a remake of the same name was released in 2010.
The film is credited with carrying on many tropes found in low-budget horror films of the 1970s and 1980s, originating in John Carpenter's 1978 horror film Halloween, including the morality play that revolves around sexual promiscuity in teenagers resulting in their eventual death, leading to the term "slasher film". Critics and film historians argue that the film's premise is the question of the distinction between dreams and reality, which is manifested in the film through the teenagers' dreams and their realities. Critics today praise the film's ability to transgress "the boundaries between the imaginary and real", toying with audience perceptions.
As the film begins, we see an unknown person in a dark boiler room create a glove with razor-sharp knives embedded in the fingers. High school student Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss) has a disturbing nightmare in which she is stalked through the boiler room by a severely burned figure with the bladed glove on his right hand. When he finally catches her, she awakens screaming in her own bed. However her nightgown has four slashes in it, identical to the ones given to her in the dream by the unknown man's razors, and is less than convinced it was just a nightmare. The next day, Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) recalls a nursery rhyme from Tina's description when they meet up with Nancy's boyfriend, Glen Lantz (Johnny Depp). Tina's boyfriend Rod Lane (Nick Corri) shows up as well. Nancy admits she also had a bad dream and all of them dismiss the topic of the nightmare, though Tina is visibly disturbed.
That night, Nancy and Glen go to Tina's house because her mother is out of town and Tina is still troubled by her nightmare. Tina describes the killer in her dream, which intrigues Nancy who adds to the description having seen the same killer herself, also getting Glen's silent attention. Rod crashes the party and he and Tina have sex while Glen and Nancy sleep in adjoining rooms. Rod also tells Tina he's been having nightmares, but neither of them think about it and go to sleep. Once asleep, Tina is once again stalked by the hideous figure, who taunts her repeatedly before attacking. This time, he catches and murders her. Her struggles awaken Rod who watches Tina get slashed by the glove and dragged up the wall and across the ceiling, screaming his name and alerting the others before she falls dead onto the bed. Because Rod was the only one in the same room as Tina, he is suspected of the murder and is arrested the next day.
While at school, Nancy has a terrifying nightmare in class where she is attacked by the same figure that killed Tina. Nancy leaves the school early and goes to the jail to talk to Rod, who describes what he saw the night Tina was killed, which reminded him of his own nightmares where he was also stalked by the figure wearing the glove. To her shock, Nancy realizes that Rod did not kill Tina and leaves. Later, she begs Glen to watch her while she sleeps so she can investigate her dreams further. Glen hesitates, but accepts. When Nancy goes to sleep, she sees the killer enter Rod's jail cell and suspects that Rod is in danger. When she wakes up, she and Glen rush to the police station only to find Rod dead, hung by his own bed sheets. Everybody, except Nancy, believes that he committed suicide.
At Rod's funeral, Nancy's mother, Marge Thompson (Ronee Blakley) insists on getting her psychiatric help. But while at the clinic to evaluate her dreams, she has a violent encounter and awakens with a streak of white in her hair. Much to her horror, she also pulls the killer's battered hat out of the dream with her, which she recognizes. Marge begins to drink heavily and installs security bars on all the windows and the door. She reveals to Nancy that the owner of the hat and the burned figure from her nightmares is a man named Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund). Years ago, he was arrested after murdering 20 children, but due to a technicality (someone not signing the search warrant correctly), he was released. Soon after, the enraged parents of the murdered children took the law into their hands by burning Freddy alive. It now appears that he is exacting revenge against the parents that killed him from beyond the grave by killing their children from within their dreams. Nancy tells this to Glen, who advises her to turn her back on her fear and to take the energy of the killer away from him, but she plans to pull Freddy from the dreamworld where she and Glen can gang up on him and surrender him to the authorities. However, both Glen and Nancy's parents lock them inside their respective houses, keeping them from meeting. Glen later falls asleep and is killed when Freddy pulls him into his bed and he is regurgitated as a geyser of blood. Nancy then receives a phone call from Freddy, who tells her: "I'm your boyfriend now, Nancy.", indicating that he has killed Glen. Still unable to get her father to believe her, she tells Don to break down the door of her house in 20 minutes and then goes to sleep to hunt down Freddy.
She finds him in her last few minutes of sleep and gets hold of him when her alarm goes off. When she doesn't see him at first, she thinks she's gone crazy, but Freddy eventually appears, and the two face-off. Nancy proves to be a match for him, setting up several booby traps and making him fall into every one, then lighting him on fire and trapping him in the basement to call her father. Don and his department arrive to put out the fires. He and Nancy then follow a trail of footsteps up to Marge's room and discover Freddy smothering her with his flaming body. They knock him out but he disappears, leaving the body of Marge Thompson vanishing slowly into the bed. Nancy sends her father from the room and turns her back as Freddy rises from the bed. She proclaims she is no longer afraid of him, causing him to lose his powers. Freddy lunges forward as she walks out of the room and vanishes. Nancy steps out into daylight from her front door and her mother appears well and sober, promising to stop drinking as her friends pull up in Glen's car. Suddenly, the roof clamps shut; the material an exact match to Freddy's sweater; and the car starts moving of its own accord. The film ends with Nancy screaming as she is driven off with her friends and we see Freddy pull Marge through the front door's window.
The cast of A Nightmare on Elm Street included a crew of veteran actors such as Robert Englund and John Saxon, as well as several aspiring young actors including Johnny Depp and Heather Langenkamp.
- Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson
- Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger
- John Saxon as Lt. Don Thompson
- Johnny Depp as Glen Lantz
- Ronee Blakley as Marge Thompson
- Amanda Wyss as Tina Gray
- Nick Corri as Rod Lane
- Joe Unger as Sgt. Garcia
The task of creating Krueger's disfigured face fell to makeup man David Miller, who based his creation on photographs of burn victims he obtained from the UCLA Medical Center.
A Nightmare on Elm Street contains many biographical elements, taking inspiration from director Wes Craven's childhood. The basis of the film was inspired by several newspaper articles printed in the LA Times in the 1970s on a group of Khmer refugees, who, after fleeing to America from the Khmer Rouge Genocide in Cambodia, were suffering disturbing nightmares, after which they refused to sleep. Some of the men died in their sleep soon after. Medical authorities called the phenomenon Asian Death Syndrome. The condition itself afflicted only men between the ages of 19 and 57 and is believed to be sudden unexplained death syndrome or Brugada syndrome, or both. The 1970s pop song "Dream Weaver" by Gary Wright sealed the story for Craven, giving him not only an artistic setting to "jump off" from, but a synthesizer riff from the Elm Street soundtrack as well. It has also been stated that he drew some inspiration after studying eastern religions.
Other sources also attribute the inspiration for the film to be a 1968 student film project made by students of Craven's at Clarkson University. The student film parodied contemporary horror films, and was filmed along Elm Street in Potsdam, New York (the town in the film was named Madstop—Potsdam spelled backwards).
The film's villain, Freddy Krueger, draws heavily from Craven's early life. One night, a young Craven saw an elderly man walking on the sidepath outside the window of his home. The man stopped to glance at a startled Craven, and then walked off. This served as the inspiration for Krueger. Initially, Fred Krueger was intended to be a child molester, but Craven eventually decided to characterize him as a child murderer to avoid being accused of exploiting a spate of highly publicized child molestation cases that occurred in California around the time of production of the film.
By Craven's account, his own adolescent experiences lead to the naming of Freddy Krueger. He had been bullied at school by a child named Fred Krueger, and named his villain accordingly. In addition, Craven had done the same in his earlier film The Last House on the Left (1972), where the villain's name was shortened to "Krug". The colored sweater he chose for his villain was based on the DC Comics character Plastic Man, and Craven chose to make Krueger's sweater red and green, after reading an article in Scientific American in 1982 that said the two most clashing colors to the human retina were this particular combination.
Wes Craven began writing A Nightmare on Elm Street's screenplay around 1981, after he had finished production on Swamp Thing (1982). He pitched it to several studios, but each one of them rejected it for different reasons. Interestingly, the first studio to show interest was Walt Disney Studios, although they wanted Craven to tone down the content to make it suitable for children and pre-teens. Craven declined and moved on. Another early suitor was Paramount Pictures; however the studios passed on the project due to Nightmare on Elm Street's similarity to Dreamscape (1984), a film they were producing at the time. Finally, the fledgling and independent New Line Cinema corporation—which had up to that point only distributed films, rather than making its own—gave the project the go-ahead. During filming, New Line's distribution deal for the film fell through and for two weeks it was unable to pay its cast and crew. Although New Line has gone on to make much bigger and more profitable films, Nightmare holds such an important place in the company's history that the studio is often referred to as "The House That Freddy Built". In fact, much of the successful application filed by Robert Shaye for a public offering in the studio centered around the Nightmare franchise, because it provided a Hollywood rarity of large profits that could also be regularly counted on by the company.
Craven claimed he wanted someone very "non-Hollywood" for the role of Nancy, and he believed Langenkamp met this quality. Langenkamp, before becoming an actress, worked as a newspaper copy girl, and saw an advertisement for extras needed on The Outsiders earlier that year, which was being shot in Tulsa. She did not get the part, but it encouraged her to continue acting and she eventually landed the role of Nancy Thompson after an open audition, beating out more than 200 actresses which included Demi Moore, Courteney Cox, Tracey Gold and Jennifer Grey. Langenkamp returned as Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), and also played herself in Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994).
Johnny Depp was another unknown when he was cast; and initially went to accompany a friend (Jackie Earle Haley, who went on to play Freddy in the 2010 remake) so he could audition, yet eventually got the part of Glen. Before Johnny Depp got the role and before Jackie Earle Haley failed to win the role, other actors such as Charlie Sheen, John Cusack, Brad Pitt, Kiefer Sutherland, Nicolas Cage and C. Thomas Howell were considered.
On a budget of $1.8 million, principal photography began in June 1984 and wrapped in July. The fictional address of the house that appears in the film is 300 Elm Street in Springwood, Ohio. The actual house is a private home located in Los Angeles, California on 1428 North Genesee Avenue. During production, over 500 gallons of fake blood were used for the special effects production. For the famous blood geyser sequence, the film makers used the same revolving room set that was used for Tina's death. They put the set so that it was upside down and attached the camera so that it looked like the room was right side up, then they poured gallons of red water into the room, because the normal film blood would not make the right effect for the geyser. During the filming of this scene, the blood poured in an unexpected way causing the rotating room to spin. Much of the blood spilled out of the bedroom window covering Craven and Langenkamp. The scene where Nancy is attacked by Krueger in her bathtub was accomplished with a special bottomless tub. The tub was put in a bathroom set that was built over a swimming pool. During the underwater sequence Heather Langenkamp was replaced with a stuntwoman. The "melting staircase" as seen in Nancy's dream was Robert Shaye's idea; it was created using pancake mix. Friday the 13th's director Sean S. Cunningham was uncredited for his direction of part of the chase scene in the alley.
Wes Craven originally planned for the film to have a more evocative ending: Nancy kills Krueger by ceasing to believe in him, then awakes to discover that everything that happened in the film was an elongated nightmare. However, New Line leader Robert Shaye demanded a twist ending, in which Krueger disappears and the film all appears to have been a dream, only for the audience to discover that they are watching a dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream, where Fred reappears as a car that "kidnaps" Nancy, followed by Fred reaching through a window on the front door to pull Nancy's mother inside. Both a happy ending and a twist ending were filmed, but the final film used the twist ending. As a result, Craven (who never wanted the film to be an ongoing franchise), dropped out of working on the first sequel, Freddy's Revenge (1985). Production wrapped in July, and was rushed to get it ready for its November release.
Loss of InnocenceEdit
Freddy exclusively attacks teenagers and his actions have been interpreted as symbolic of the often traumatic experiences of adolescence. Nancy, like the archetypal teenager, experiences social anxiety and her relationships with her parents become very strained. Sexuality is present in Freudian images and is almost exclusively displayed in a threatening and mysterious context (e.g. Tina's death visually evokes a rape, Freddy's glove between Nancy's legs in the bath). The original script actually called for Krueger to be a child molester, rather than a child killer, before being murdered.
The film has been described as a reaction to the growing trend of families moving to suburbs and the perceived innocence of American suburbs. Parents in the film's fictional suburb of Springwood, Ohio kill Krueger and hide his existence in an attempt to make a safe environment for their children, but they still cannot protect their kids.
A Nightmare on Elm Street premiered in the United States on a limited theatrical release on November 9, 1984, opening in 165 cinemas across the country. The film performed moderately well commercially with little advertising — relying mostly on commercial advertisements and word-of-mouth. Grossing US$1,271,000 during its opening weekend, the film was considered an instant commercial success. The film eventually earned a total of $25 million at the American box office. Additionally, A Nightmare on Elm Street was released in Europe, India, Canada and Australia.
- United States – $10.000.000K
- Germany – $815,448
- Worldwide – $26,319,961
- Adjusted for Inflation – $62,823,240
Since its initial release, critics have praised the film's ability to rupture "the boundaries between the imaginary and real," toying with audience perceptions. Some film historians interpreted this overriding theme as a social subtext, "the struggles of adolescents in American society". Variety said the film was "A highly imaginative horror film that provides the requisite shocks to keep fans of the genre happy".
The film has a 95% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is considered by many as one of the best films of 1984. It ranked at #17 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments (2004), a five-hour program that selected cinema's scariest moments. In 2003, Freddy Krueger was named the 40th greatest film villain on American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains. In 2008, Empire ranked A Nightmare on Elm Street 162nd on their list of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. It also was selected by The New York Times as one of The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made.
American Film Institute ListsEdit
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills—Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains—#40, Freddy Krueger, Villain
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes: "One, two, Freddy's coming for you..."—Nominated
The film was first introduced to the home video market by Media Home Entertainment in early 1985 and eventually in laserdisc format. It has since been released on DVD, first in 1999 in the United States as part of the Nightmare on Elm Street Collection box set (along with the other six sequels), and once again in Restored "Infinifilm" special edition in 2006, containing various special features with contributions from Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon and the director of photography.
The Blu-ray Disc was released on April 13, 2010 by Warner Home Video and features all the same extras from the 2006 Special Edition. A new DVD box set containing all of the films up to that point was released on the same day.
2006 Special Edition DVD Re-release
This DVD Re-release consisted of 2 DVDs, one with the film picture and sound restored (DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 & original mono audio track) and another DVD with special features. Along with the restored version of the film, DVD 1 also had 2 commentaries, other nightmares (if not all) from the film's sequels (2–7 & Freddy Vs. Jason). It also included additional, extended or alternate scenes of the film, such as one scene where Marge reveals to Nancy that she had another sibling that was killed by Freddy. These unused clips/scenes were not included/added in the film but could be viewed separately from the DVD's Menus.
In a trivia clip on Disc 1 one of the crew describes how they shot the part where Nancy's mother descends into her bed after she dies. Filming the scene required two separate shots: one with the bed with blue lights, and another with specially-constructed bed that held a trapdoor to allow the body to drop. The final effect was achieved by combining the 2 shots, a technique that was discovered in 1910.
When the film was submitted to the MPAA trims were made to the scene where Tina falls from her bedroom ceiling, missing out the subsequent splash of blood that flies up as she hits the bed. The film was passed with the cuts as an R rating for the US theatrical release. For the original 1985 home video releases in the US, UK and Australia; the scene was shown uncut. The 1996 Elite Entertainment laserdisc also features this scene uncut. In 1999, when the film was first issued to DVD, the censored theatrical version was used. Since the initial DVD release, all home video formats, including the recent 2006 Re-release DVD and 2010 Warner release, have featured the censored theatrical version.
Awards and NominationsEdit
- Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films – Best Horror Film (1985) (Nomination)
- Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films – Best Performance by a Young Actor – Jsu Garcia (Nomination)
- Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films – Best DVD Classic Film Release (2007) (Nomination)
- Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival – Critic Award 1985 – Wes Craven (won)
- Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival – Special Mention for Acting 1985 – Heather Langenkamp (Won)