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Nancy Thompson (Heather Lagenkamp) and the teen children of the town of Springwood are having nightmares. Under the cover of night and in the privacy of their dreams, the terrifying, badly disfigured killer Fred Fruger (Robert Englund) is visiting them and killing them off one by one. When Nancy begins to investigate Kruger and uncovers the sinister truth that her local cop father (John Saxon) and her alcoholic mother Marge (Ronee Blakley) along with other townsfolk of Springwood caught and murdered a vicious child murderer named Fred Kruger a number of years earlier, it dawns on her that Kruger has come back in their dreams to right her parents' wrongs and exact bloody revenge for his own death.

Review by Craig Miller:
If you ask people to think horror flicks, I doubt there would be too many who couldn't identify at least one of the "slasher" icons from the late 1970s/early 1980s. Butcher's knives, hockey masks, machetes all of them conjure up images of bloody kill counts and hulking masses of muscle separating delicate teens from their own life force by the most deplorable means necessary. However, nothing quite says horror like the bladed glove, crusty fedora hat and red and green pullover of A Nightmare on Elm Street's Freddy Kruger, horror master Wes Craven's most identifiable project and arguably the most wretched of all the slasher kings.

While most of these genre films of the time had a focus on single-minded killing machines (think Jason Voorhes from Friday the 13th series or, at a stretch, Mike Myers from Halloween), A Nightmare on Elm Street had a sadistic child killer who delighted in pain and suffering, which not only made him a killing machine, but also a real cinematic sicko.

Having developed the idea for a film involving a dream demon by combining his own terrifying, late-night boyhood experience with a series of rather disturbing articles from the LA Times about a number of South East Asian families who had lost children in their sleep, Wes Craven delivers what is easily one of the most important and blood-curdling horror flicks of the 1980s, a film which plays with the idea that we are never safe, not even inside our own heads.

Blurring the lines between consciousness and sleep, reality and the dream world in which Kruger rules, is a masterstroke from Craven, and it allows the director plenty of opportunity to confuse and disorientate his audience, an effective tool when realizing a killer who can be and do just about anything he wants.

The film's minuscule budget didn't stop it from having a great look, thanks in no small part to the wonderful vision and work of director of photography Jacques Haitkin, and from a novelty point of view, it doesn't hurt that it contains the first ever film performance of one Johnny Depp and features the scream queen introduction of franchise regular Heather Lagenkamp.

Characters don't get any more iconic than the Springwood slasher, one Mr. Kruger, and Robert Englund's portrayal here is something else. While it's not until later sequels that the true sadistic Kruger history and morbid, dry sense of humour develop and eventually became a trademark of the franchise, in this first installment Englund is at his menacing best, unashamedly bringing everything to the role with great results

While it does deliver a unique spin on the slasher genre, giving birth to a sort of fantasy horror that other franchise flicks of the same ilk (again, Halloween and Friday the 13th) ignored for more gory kill counts until later in their respective series, Nightmare doesn't vary much from the popular conventions, with these perceived necessary ideals_ the teenage heroine the parents don't believe, virginal purity saving the day etc etc_ ever so slightly tarnishing its originality.

Like with the majority of these late 1970s/early 1980s slasher franchises, the first installment is easily the best. The next two follow-ups (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, both available on DVD also) suffer a little thanks to minimal input from Craven, who was involved in other projects at the time of creation, but they expand on the Freddy mythology and that in itself is a delight if you're a fan or just dig on slasher series'.

Two short featurettes on the film's special effects, detail a key effects sequence from the film as well as the creation of the infamous Kruger bladed glove, kick off the series of documentary vignettes in the DVD's special features, both of which feature effects wizard Lou Carlucci chatting about his involvement in the project. The best two additions however are the 45-minute doco on the making of the film containing some wonderful cast and crew interviews discussing the film's genesis and production, and the filmmaker's commentary with director of photography Jacques Haitkin, cast members John Saxon and Heather Langenkamp, and writer/director Wes Craven, it's amazing the small details these cast and crew remember, which makes for listening paradise.

It's not often I get the shakes popping a DVD into the player these days, horror at the present time is experiencing something of a downturn in thrills and convincing bloody spills, but settling in with A Nightmare on Elm Street and feeling the sweat rise as you battle to convince your violently quivering hand to hit 'play', is something of a comfort. Sure, it's an unsettling comfort, but it's comfort nonetheless.

Published October 20, 2005

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(US, 1984)

CAST: Heather Lagenkamp, John Saxon, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund, Ronee Blakely, Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia, Charles Fleischer

DIRECTOR: Wes Craven

SCRIPT: Wes Craven

RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen 1.85:1, Dolby Digital 5.1

SPECIAL FEATURES: Filmmaker's audio commentary, interview and production vignettes, trailer.

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: October 6, 2005

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