Content Warning: This article contains references to violence and horror
Most entries in the slasher canon of the 1980s have long since been forgotten by audiences. Movies like Final Exam and Blood Lake were panned by critics and eventually swept under the cinematic rug. But Wes Craven’s 1984 supernatural gem, A Nightmare on Elm Street, is still praised as one of the greatest horror movies ever made.
Freddy Krueger remains one of the most iconic horror villains, Craven remains one of the most revered horror filmmakers, and the original A Nightmare on Elm Street remains a timeless classic.
10 Wes Craven’s Command Of Horror
Wes Craven had made a handful of celebrated horror classics by the time he made A Nightmare on Elm Street, so he knew how to terrify audiences.
Horror filmmaking is inherently instinctive. With a decade of experience in the genre, Craven had developed and refined his instincts as a horror filmmaker before helming Nightmare. Throughout the movie, he knows exactly where to place each scare for maximum impact.
9 Robert Englund’s Portrayal Of Freddy Krueger
Most slasher villains, from Leatherface to Michael Myers to Jason Voorhees, are hidden behind a mask, but Freddy Krueger shows his face and talks to his victims, so Wes Craven needed to find somebody with real acting chops to play him. He found the perfect actor with Robert Englund.
As a serial killer who continues to murder innocent children from beyond the grave, Freddy is pretty reprehensible and is meant to instill fear among the audience. Englund managed to do exactly this by terrifying viewers with his chilling voice and demeanor – ultimately becoming one of the best horror movies in the film industry.
8 Bringing A Supernatural Angle To The Slasher Genre
After John Carpenter’s seminal low-budget horror masterpiece Halloween changed the face of the genre in 1978, filmmakers everywhere were scraping together their own indie budgets to produce their own slashers. This led to an unstoppable slasher craze in the 1980s, with movies like Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine, and Sleepaway Camp.
By adding a whole new angle to the genre with the supernatural elements of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven helped to shake up the post-Halloween slasher trend of the ‘80s.
7 The Fast-Paced Storytelling
Slow-burn horror can be really effective – Alien, Psycho, and Rosemary’s Baby all take their time – but those masterpieces aside, the most timeless, rewatchable horror films dive into the terror early on. Wes Craven’s script for A Nightmare on Elm Street races along at a breakneck pace and jumps right into Freddy’s blood-soaked antics from the offset.
Craven’s script is a masterclass in horror storytelling. The kids figure out the supernatural threat they face pretty quickly, then the challenge is trying to stay awake for the rest of the movie.
5 The Teen Cast’s Performances
The acting in horror movies – especially by the young, inexperienced actors playing the teenage protagonists – tends to lack the nuance of Oscar-caliber dramatic work. But the teen cast of A Nightmare on Elm Street stands out as an exception.
Actors like Heather Langenkamp and Amanda Wyss don’t play their roles as one-dimensional archetypes; they’re relatable kids. It’s telling that some of Craven’s unknown supporting players eventually went on to become one of the world’s biggest movie stars or producers. The casting of this movie is a cut above the average horror movie.
4 Seamless Transitions Between The Real World And The Dreamscape
These days, the most well-known cinematic portrayal of the dreamscape is arguably Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending heist thriller Inception. But Nolan overtly distinguished between scenes set in the real world and scenes set in the dream world. In A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven seamlessly transitions from the waking world into the dreamscape, so subtly that it takes the characters (and the audience) by surprise.
There’s a fun, but unbearable tension in characters seeing something out of the ordinary and realizing they’ve accidentally fallen asleep and they’re on Freddy’s turf.
3 The Fun Tone
Craven gave A Nightmare on Elm Street a wonderfully fun tone. It’s not the kind of horror movie that leaves the audience feeling empty or demoralized, like It Comes at Night or The Witch. Those movies are great, but they don’t necessarily make for a rollicking night at the movies. A Nightmare on Elm Street is scary, but never at the expense of fun.
Moments like Freddy bearing down on a sleeping Nancy through her bedroom wall and Glen being blended inside his own mattress are certainly horrifying, but they’re also wildly entertaining.
2 Freddy’s Terrifying Appearance
All these years later, Freddy Krueger is still one of the most iconic horror movie villains. This can largely be attributed to Robert Englund’s hypnotic performance, but a big part of it is his terrifying appearance – designed by makeup artist David B. Miller.
The horrific scarring is a reminder of the brutality of the adults’ retribution against Freddy. Every great slasher movie villain needs an iconic signature weapon, which Freddy has in the form of his totally unique bladed glove. After watching this movie, Freddy doesn’t just haunt fictional nightmares but real ones too.
1 The Final Twist
In the final scene of A Nightmare on Elm Street, when it seems as though Nancy has defeated Freddy and everything has gone back to normal, she gets ready to leave for school. However, she suddenly realizes she’s still in the dream world and Freddy is still around.
This ending may have just been added to leave the door open for Freddy-centric sequels, but the haunting revelation that Nancy stopped nothing and Freddy is still out there leaves the audience feeling suitably unsettled as the end credits roll.