A Nightmare on Elm Street

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A Nightmare on Elm Street
Poster for film featuring a woman lying face up in bed, eyes wide, a scary monster above her with knife fingers.
Theatrical release poster by Matthew Peak
Directed byWes Craven
Produced byRobert Shaye
Written byWes Craven
Music byCharles Bernstein
CinematographyJacques Haitkin
Edited by
  • Patrick McMahon
  • Rick Shaine
Distributed byNew Line Cinema
Release date
  • November 9, 1984 (1984-11-09)
Running time
91 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.8 million[3]
Box office$25.5 million (US)[4]

A Nightmare on Elm Street is a 1984 American slasher film written and directed by Wes Craven, and produced by Robert Shaye.[5] It stars Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia, Robert Englund, and Johnny Depp in his film debut. The plot focuses on four teenagers, living on one street in a fictitious town of Ohio, whose dreams are invaded by a burnt killer with a bladed glove. In the dreams, the teenagers are killed, but they also die in reality. The teenagers do not understand the cause of this strange phenomenon, but their parents, who hold a dark secret from long ago, might.

Craven filmed A Nightmare on Elm Street on an estimated budget of $1.8 million,[3] a sum the film earned back during its first week.[4] The film was released on November 9, 1984, where it went on to gross over $25 million at the United States box office.[4] A Nightmare on Elm Street was met with rave critical reviews and is considered to be one of the greatest horror films ever made, spawning a franchise consisting of a line of sequels, a television series, a crossover with Friday the 13th, and various other works of imitation. A remake of the same name was released in 2010.[6][7]

The film is credited with using many of the tropes found in the low-budget horror films of the 1970s and 1980s that originated with John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) and led this subgenre to be called the slasher film. The film includes a morality play where sexually promiscuous teenagers are killed.[7][8] Critics and film historians state that the film's premise is the struggle to define the distinction between dreams and reality, manifested by the lives and dreams of the teens in the film.[9] Critics today praise the film's ability to transgress "the boundaries between the imaginary and real",[10] toying with audience perceptions.[11]


In March 1981, Tina Gray awakens from a nightmare wherein she is attacked by a disfigured man wearing a blade-fixed glove. Her mother points out four mysterious slashes on her nightgown. The following morning she is consoled by her best friend, Nancy Thompson, and Nancy's boyfriend, Glen Lantz. The two stay at Tina's house when Tina's mother goes out of town, but their sleepover is interrupted by Tina's boyfriend, Rod Lane. When Tina falls asleep, she dreams of being chased by the disfigured man. Rod is awoken by Tina's thrashing and sees her dragged and fatally slashed by an unseen force; he flees as Nancy and Glen awaken to find Tina bloodied and dead.

The next day, Rod is arrested by Nancy's father, Lieutenant Don Thompson, despite his pleas of innocence. At school, Nancy falls asleep in class and dreams that the man, who calls himself Freddy Krueger, chases her to the boiler room where she is cornered and burns her arm on a pipe. The burn startles her awake in class and she notices a burn mark on her arm. At home, Nancy falls asleep in the bathtub and is nearly drowned by Krueger. Nancy goes to Rod at the police station, who tells her about what happened to Tina, and this makes Nancy believe that Krueger is responsible for Tina's death.

Nancy invites Glen to watch over her as she falls asleep. In her dream, she sees Krueger prepare to kill Rod in his cell, but then he turns his attention towards her. Nancy runs away and wakes up when her alarm clock goes off. Krueger kills Rod by wrapping bed sheets around his neck like a noose. Nancy and Glen find his body hanging in his cell. At Rod's funeral, Nancy's parents become worried when she describes her dream about Freddy. Her mother, Marge, takes her to a dream clinic, where, in a dream, Nancy grabs Krueger's hat and pulls it from the dream into reality.

Marge begins to drink heavily and bars the windows at home. She reveals to Nancy that Krueger was a child murderer who was released on a technicality and then burned alive by parents (who lived on their street) seeking vigilante justice. Nancy realizes that Krueger, now a vengeful ghost, desires revenge and to satiate his sociopathic needs. She tries to call Glen to warn him, but his parents prevent her from speaking to him. Glen falls asleep and is killed by Krueger, and a large fountain of blood is released in his room. Now alone, Nancy puts Marge to sleep and asks Don, who is across the street investigating Glen's death, to break into the house in twenty minutes. She rigs booby traps around the house, and grabs Krueger out of the dream and into the real world. The boopy traps affect Krueger enough that Nancy is able to light him on fire and lock him in the basement. Nancy rushes to the door for help. The police arrive to find that Freddy has escaped from the basement. Nancy and Don go upstairs to find a burning Krueger smothering Marge in her bedroom. After Don puts out the fire, Krueger and Marge vanish into the bed.

When Don leaves the room, Krueger rises from the bed behind Nancy. Nancy realizes that Krueger is powered by his victim's fear and she calmly turns her back to him. Kreuger evaporates when he attempts to lunge at her.

Nancy steps outside into a bright morning where all of her friends and her mother are still alive. She gets into Glen's convertible to go to school and then the top suddenly comes down and locks them in as the car drives uncontrollably down the street. Two girls playing jump rope are heard chanting Krueger's nursery rhyme as Marge is grabbed by Krueger through the front door window.


The cast of A Nightmare on Elm Street included a crew of veteran actors such as Robert Englund and John Saxon and several aspiring young actors like Johnny Depp and Heather Langenkamp.

Krueger's disfigured face was brought to life by makeup man David Miller, who based his creation on photographs of burn victims that he obtained from the UCLA Medical Center.[12]



"It was a series of articles in the LA Times, three small articles about men from South East Asia, who were from immigrant families and had died in the middle of nightmares—and the paper never correlated them, never said, 'Hey, we've had another story like this.'"
 — Wes Craven on the film's creation[13]

A Nightmare on Elm Street contains many biographical elements from director Wes Craven's childhood.[14] The basis of the film was inspired by several newspaper articles printed in the Los Angeles Times in the 1970s about Southeast Asian refugees, who, after fleeing to the United States because of war and genocide in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, suffered disturbing nightmares and refused to sleep. Some of the men died in their sleep soon after. Medical authorities called the phenomenon Asian Death Syndrome. The condition afflicted men between the ages of 19 and 57 and was believed to be sudden unexplained death syndrome or Brugada syndrome or both.[15] 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 for the movie soundtrack.[16] Craven has also stated that he drew some inspiration for the film from Eastern religions.[17]

Other sources attribute the inspiration for the film to be a 1968 student film project made by Craven's students at Clarkson University. The student film parodied contemporary horror films, and was filmed along Elm Street in Potsdam, New York.[18][19]

The film's villain, Freddy Krueger, is drawn 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 walked off. This served as the inspiration for Krueger.[14] Initially, Fred Krueger was intended to be a child molester, but Craven eventually characterized 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.[12]

By Craven's account, his own adolescent experiences led him to the name Freddy Krueger; he had been bullied at school by a child named Fred Krueger.[12] Craven had done the same thing in his 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. Craven chose to make Krueger's sweater red and green after reading an article in a 1982 Scientific American that said these two colors were the most clashing colors to the human retina.[13]

Craven strove to make Krueger different from other horror film villains of the era. "A lot of the killers were wearing masks: Leatherface, Michael Myers, Jason," he recalled in 2014. "I wanted my villain to have a mask, but be able to talk and taunt and threaten. So I thought of him being burned and scarred." He also felt the killer should use something other than a knife because it was too common. "So I thought, 'How about a glove with steak knives?' I gave the idea to our special effects guy, Jim Doyle." Ultimately two models of the glove were built: the hero glove that was only used whenever anything needed to be cut, and the stunt glove that was less likely to cause injury.[20]


Wes Craven began writing the screenplay for A Nightmare on Elm Street 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. The first studio to show interest was Walt Disney Productions, although they wanted Craven to tone down the content to make it suitable for children and preteens. Craven declined.[12][13] Another studio to show interest was Paramount Pictures; however the studios passed on the project due to its similarity to Dreamscape (1984), a film they were producing at the time. Universal Studios also passed; Craven, who was in desperate personal and financial straits during this period, later framed their rejection letter on the wall of his office.[20]

Finally, the fledgling and independent New Line Cinema corporation, which had up to that point only distributed films, agreed to produce the film.[12] 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 bigger and more profitable films, A Nightmare on Elm Street was its first commercial success and the studio is often referred to as "The House That Freddy Built".[21]


Actor David Warner was originally cast to play Freddy.[22] Make-up tests were done,[23] but he had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts. Replacing him was difficult at first. "I couldn't find an actor to play Freddy Krueger with the sense of ferocity I was seeking," Craven recalled on the film's 30th anniversary. "Everyone was too quiet, too compassionate towards children. Then Robert Englund auditioned. [He] wasn't as tall I'd hoped, and he had baby fat on his face, but he impressed me with his willingness to go to the dark places in his mind. Robert understood Freddy."[20]

Englund had darkened his lower eyelids with cigarette ash on his way to the audition and slicked his hair back. "I looked strange. I sat there and listened to Wes talk. He was tall and preppy and erudite. I posed a bit, like Klaus Kinski, and that was the audition," he said later. He took the part because it was the only project that fit his schedule during the hiatus between the V miniseries and series.[20]

Craven said he wanted someone very non-Hollywood for the role of Nancy, and he believed Langenkamp met this quality.[14] Langenkamp, who had appeared in several commercials and a TV film, had taken time off from her studies at Stanford to continue acting.[20] Eventually she landed the role of Nancy Thompson after an open audition, beating out more than 200 actresses including Demi Moore, Courteney Cox, Tracey Gold, and Jennifer Grey.[24] 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; he initially went to accompany a friend (Jackie Earle Haley, who went on to play Freddy in the 2010 remake) but eventually got the part of Glen.[14] Homage is played to Glen Lantz's epic death scene by a flashback in Freddy vs. Jason. Depp got his own nod in a cameo role in Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare as a guy on TV.[25] Craven's daughters picked Depp's headshot from the set he showed them.[20] Other actors such as Charlie Sheen (who wanted too much money),[20] John Cusack, Kiefer Sutherland, Nicolas Cage, and C. Thomas Howell were considered.[citation needed]


According to Shaye, all the film's original investors backed out at one point or another during pre-production. The original budget was $700,000. "It ended up at $1.1 million ... half the funding came from a Yugoslavian guy who had a girlfriend he wanted in movies."[20]

Principal photography began in June 1984 at several locations throughout Los Angeles, California. The fictional address of the house that appears in the film is 1428 Elm Street; the actual house is a private home located in Los Angeles at 1428 North Genesee Avenue.[26][27] During production, over 500 gallons of fake blood were used for special effects production.[28] For the blood geyser sequence, the filmmakers used the same revolving room set that was used for Tina's death.

They inverted the set 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. The used water because the special effects blood did not have right look for a geyser. During filming of this scene, the red water poured in an unexpected way and caused the rotating room to spin. Much of the water spilled out of the bedroom window covering Craven and Langenkamp.[29] 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 in Nancy's dream was Robert Shaye's idea; it was created using pancake mix.[29]

Jsu Garcia, who was cast as Rod and credited as Nick Corri, says the production was difficult for him. He was dealing with depression due to recent homelessness by snorting heroin in the bathroom between takes. In 2014, he revealed that he was high on heroin during the scene with Langenkamp in the jail cell. "His eyes were watery and they weren't focused," Langenkamp said. "I thought, 'Wow, he's giving the best performance of his life.'"[20]

About halfway through the film, when Nancy is trying to stay awake, a scene from Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead appears on a television. Craven decided to include the scene because Raimi had featured a Hills Have Eyes (Craven, 1977) poster in The Evil Dead. In return, Raimi featured a Freddy Krueger glove in the tool shed scene of Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn.[citation needed]

Craven originally planned for the film to have a more evocative ending: Nancy kills Krueger by ceasing to believe in him, then awakens 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 all seems to have been a dream, only for the audience to discover that it was a dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream.[29] 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, did not work on the first sequel, Freddy's Revenge (1985).[29] Production wrapped in late July, and the film was rushed to get ready for its November release.

Censorship issues[edit]

When the film was submitted to the Motion Picture Association of America film rating system (MPAA), they required two cuts to grant it an R rating.[16] The theatrical version was released with an R rating and thirteen seconds of cuts. In the U.K. the film was released theatrically and on home video uncut.[30] The Australian theatrical release was edited to an M rating,[31] but the VHS home video was released uncut in 1985 with an Australian R rating.[32] The uncut version would not see a U.S. release until the 1996 Elite Entertainment Laserdisc release.[33] All DVD, digital, and Blu-ray releases use the R rated theatrical version; the uncut version has yet to be released on a digital format.[30]


Freddy exclusively attacks teenagers and his actions have been interpreted as symbolic of the often traumatic experiences of adolescence.[34] Nancy, like the archetypal teenager, experiences social anxiety and her relationship with her parents becomes 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 called for Krueger to be a child molester, rather than a child killer, before being murdered.[35]

"In Nightmare, all the adults are damaged: They're alcoholic, they're on pills, they're not around," Englund has observed. Blakley says the parents in the film "verge on being villains." Englund adds: "the adolescents have to wade through that, and Heather is the last girl standing. She lives. She defeats Freddy." Langenkamp agrees: "Nightmare is a feminist movie, but I look at it more as a 'youth power' film."[20]


Home media[edit]

The film was first introduced to the home video market by Media Home Entertainment in early 1985 and was eventually released on Laserdisc. 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 a 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 special edition consisted of two DVDs, one with the film picture and sound restored (DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, and original mono audio track) and another DVD with special features. Along with the restored version of the film, DVD one also had two commentaries, and other nightmares (if not all) from the film's sequels (two through seven and 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 who was killed by Freddy. These unused clips and scenes were not included or added to the DVD film but could be viewed separately from the DVD's menus.

On April 13, 2010, the film was released on Blu-ray Disc by Warner Home Video,[36] with all the same extras from the 2006 special edition;[37] a DVD box set containing all of the films up to that point was released on the same day.[38]


Box office[edit]

A Nightmare on Elm Street premiered in the United States with a limited theatrical release on November 9, 1984, opening in 165 cinemas across the country.[4] Grossing $1,271,000 during its opening weekend, the film was considered an instant commercial success. The film eventually earned a total of $25,504,513 at the American box office.[4] A Nightmare on Elm Street was released in Europe, Canada, and Australia.[39]

Critical reception[edit]

In a contemporary review, Kim Newman wrote in the Monthly Film Bulletin that A Nightmare on Elm Street was closer to a Stephen King adaptation with its small-town setting, and "invented monster myth".[1] Newman concluded that the film found "Craven emerging from the his recent career slump (Swamp Thing, The Hills Have Eyes Part 2, Invitation to Hell) with a fine, perhaps definitive bogeyman to back him up" and that the film was "a superior example of an over-worked genre".[1] Paul Attanasio of The Washington Post praised the film, stating that "for such a low-budget movie, Nightmare on Elm Street is extraordinarily polished. The script is consistently witty, the camera work (by cinematographer Jacques Haitkin) is crisp and expressive."[40] The review noted that "the genre has built-in limitations ... but Craven faces the challenge admirably; A Nightmare on Elm Street is halfway between an exploitation flick and classic surrealism". The review also commented on Freddy Krueger, calling him "the most chilling figure in the genre since 'The Shape' made his debut in Halloween."[40] Variety commented that the film was "a highly imaginative horror film", praising the special effects while finding that the film "fails to tie up his thematic threads satisfyingly at the conclusion."[41]

The review commented negatively on some of the scenes involving Nancy's family, noting that "the movie's worst scenes involve Nancy and her alcoholic mother".[40] On the character development, Newman stated that "the impression that about two hundred pages worth of characterisation has been compressed into cliché details like boozy Ronee Blakley demonstrating her renewed self-respect by throwing away a half-full bottle."[1] Newman also said that the nightmares in the film worked against itself, stating that "while the kissing telephone and bottomless bathtub are disorienting in the [David] Cronenberg spirit, they get in the way of the relentless, pursuing-monster aspect that Carpenter manages so well."[1]

Later reception[edit]

Author Ian Conrich praised the film's ability to rupture "the boundaries between the imaginary and real",[42] and critic James Berardinelli said it toys with audience perceptions.[11] Kelly Bulkeley interpreted the overriding theme as a social subtext, "the struggles of adolescents in American society".[43]

The film has a 94% approval rating based on 50 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes with and average rating of 7.8/10 and with the site's consensus saying: "Wes Craven's intelligent premise, combined with the horrifying visual appearance of Freddy Krueger, still causes nightmares to this day."[44] The film is also considered one of the best of 1984 by Filmsite.org.[45] In 2010, the Independent Film & Television Alliance selected the film as one of the 30 most significant independent films of the past 30 years.[46] It ranked at number 17 on Bravo's The 100 Scariest Movie Moments (2004)—a five-hour program that selected cinema's scariest moments. In 2008, Empire ranked A Nightmare on Elm Street 162nd on their list of the 500 greatestmovies of all time.[47] It also was selected by The New York Times as one of the best 1000 movies ever made.[48]

American Film Institute recognition


  • 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 (1985) (nomination)
  • Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films – Best DVD Classic Film Release (2007) (nomination)
  • Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival – Critics Award – Wes Craven (1985) (winner)
  • Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival – Special Mention for Acting – Heather Langenkamp (1985) (winner)[49]


In 2010, a remake was released, also titled A Nightmare on Elm Street, starring Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger. The film was produced by Michael Bay, directed by Samuel Bayer, and written by the team of Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer. The film was intended as a reboot to the franchise, but plans for a sequel never came to fruition after the film received mostly negative reviews.

On August 7, 2015, it was reported that New Line Cinema was developing a second remake with Orphan writer David Leslie Johnson.[50] Englund expressed interest in returning to the series in a cameo role.[51]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ "A Nightmare on Elm Street (18)". British Board of Film Classification. May 28, 1985. Archived from the original on September 16, 2016. Retrieved September 4, 2016.
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  43. ^ Kelly Bulkeley, Visions of the Night: Dreams, Religion, and Psychology (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999), p. 108; see also chap. 11: "Dreamily Deconstructing the Dream Factory: The Wizard of Oz and A Nightmare on Elm Street," ISBN 0-7914-4283-7.
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Further reading[edit]

  • Badley, Linda. Film, Horror, and the Body Fantastic. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. ISBN 0-313-27523-8.
  • Baird, Robert. "The Startle Effect: Implications for Spectator Cognition and Media Theory". Film Quarterly 53 (No. 3, Spring 2000): pp. 12–24.
  • Carroll, Noël. "The Nature of Horror." Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 46 (No. 1, Autumn 1987): pp. 51 – 59.
  • Christensen, Kyle. "The Final Girl versus Wes Craven's 'A Nightmare on Elm Street': Proposing a Stronger Model of Feminism in Slasher Horror Cinema". Studies in Popular Culture 34 (No. 1, Fall 2011): pp. 23–47.
  • Cumbow, Robert C. Order in the Universe: The Films of John Carpenter. 2nd ed., Lanham, Md.: Scarcrow Press, 2000. ISBN 0-8108-3719-6.
  • Johnson, Kenneth. "The Point of View of the Wandering Camera". Cinema Journal 32 (No. 2, Winter 1993): pp. 49–56.
  • King, Stephen. Danse Macabre. New York: Berkley Books, 1981. ISBN 0-425-10433-8.
  • Prince, Stephen, ed. The Horror Film. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8135-3363-5.
  • Schneider, Steven Jay, ed. Horror Film and Psychoanalysis: Freud's Worst Nightmare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-521-82521-0.
  • Williams, Tony. Hearths of Darkness: The Family in the American Horror Film. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-8386-3564-4.

External links[edit]