amoslamb’s review published on Letterboxd:
Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street uses all the tricks in the bag to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat. Opening the film with the unsettling image of what we learn to be Fred Kruger making his finger-blades, and ultimately leads into Tina’s first nightmare, not only is this a fantastic opening scene that sets the tone well. But Craven beautifully transitions into a dream-like view of American suburbia literally at first through the filter, but also through the life of the main cast. Much like he disrupts their literal dreams, the lingering trauma of Freddy disrupts the idealised life of the teens. As the film progresses Craven starts to reveal the cracks in the community; Marge’s alcoholism, Lt. Thompson’s detached relationship with his family, etc.
This, of course, goes hand in hand with the terror that Kruger inflicts on the kids. It’s in these explicit dream sequences that Craven excels, keeping Freddy hidden in the shadows of the boiler room only to be heard by the chilling scraping of his blades. But there’s also a level of sadism in Freddy that adds an interesting element to the film. Because he’s so powerful he can’t be presented as a ruthless killing machine (like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees), so Craven presents him as this perverted predator (lining up with his backstory as well) that’s toying with the teens before he finally kills them. The best example of this, for me, is when Nancy falls asleep as school, the body bag effects are done so well, it’s eerie and creepy, but it feels like Freddy is orchestrating the whole thing specifically to mess with Nancy and make her even more erratic and frantic. Craven’s presentation of the dreams is also so well thought out, especially the impossibility of space which is handled brilliantly.
While I think there could definitely have been improvements in the script, dialogue specifically, I think there’s a really interesting open question that’s posed about how much of the film is a dream, and which sections actually take place in real life. Craven doesn’t give clear answers, I think, on purpose so when the final scene happens it calls into question the rest of the climax, and perhaps even the whole film.
The cast is small, but never feels that way. All the teenagers, despite being somewhat cartoony in their stereotypes, all do really well. Heather Langenkamp especially so, capturing the disorientated and terrified portrayal of Nancy perfectly. Robert Englund is great as Freddy, as I said before he manages to balance the sadistic nature while maintaining the fear that comes with the character.
The special effects crew also deserve massive credit. Consistently the practical effects look amazing. There’s the more talked about scenes like the blood pouring (maybe gushing is a better word) out of the bed, but Freddy’s makeup, and the surreal elements of the nightmares also deserve credit as some really solid work.
There’s a reason this film is considered a classic, watching this 35 years later, there’s definitely elements that don’t hold up that well, but I was surprised how many of the effects and the general sense of terror has transcended time to still capture Craven’s intention. If you still haven’t seen this, now is the time, and whatever you do, don’t fall asleep.