Wes Craven's A Nightmare On Elm Street is making its debut in high definition with a worthwhile Blu-ray edition. The 1984 original is a true survivor of its era, a teen slasher movie that transcends the genre by hinting at something deeper than high school kids getting diced up by a psycho. If you've managed to avoid the movie over the years, perhaps jaded by the reputation Freddy Krueger gained from the endless sequels, this is a highly recommended release.
The plot is cleverly constructed, with Krueger (Robert Englund) haunting the dreams of Elm Street's teenagers right from the start of the movie. Rather than settling for making Krueger a simple madman, the reasons for his actions are revealed as the story unfolds. The fear of recurring nightmares is already easily relatable, so the very concept of a nightmare that can actually kill the dreamer is chilling. But as we find out who Krueger really was before these bad dreams began, and why he has chosen this group of victims, the story becomes even more unsettling.
Having seen the movie many times over the years, I forget just how little Freddy Krueger is actually seen. His presence is utilized only to inspire terror. The sequels gave Robert Englund more and more room for humor, to the point where there eventually wasn't anything remotely scary about the character. Most of the sequels do offer something in the way of entertainment value. At their best, such as parts three and seven, they are quite imaginative. But ultimately the very first one remains the scariest.
That's not to say everything is perfect. Wes Craven's storytelling is excellent, but his dialogue - at least in this movie - often leaves something to be desired. Much of what these characters say to each other is very perfunctory. What makes matters worse is the sometimes wooden acting. Heather Langenkamp, as the movie's protagonist Nancy, has a knack for playing fright very convincingly. But that doesn't stop some of her lines, particularly campy clunkers like "screw your hall pass," from sounding awkward. Ronee Blakley is especially atrocious as Nancy's mother. Blakley's face remains a mask of inexpressiveness throughout. The reliable John Saxon delivers passable work as Nancy's cop father, but isn't given much to work with.
Even for those who detest horror movies, the big draw will be the feature film debut of Johnny Depp as Nancy's boyfriend Glen. Depp was barely an adult when Nightmare was made. He handles his part just fine, delivering his lines more believably than most of the cast. While it's hard to glimpse the brilliance of his later career, for his fans this first leading role is essential viewing.