Follow TV Tropes


Film / A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Go To
"Come to Freddy."

Nancy: But what if they meet a monster in their dreams, then what?
Glen: They turn their back on it. Take away its energy and it disappears.
Nancy: But what happens if they don't do that?
Glen: I guess those people don't wake up to tell what happens.

A Nightmare on Elm Street is a 1984 horror film by Wes Craven.

Teens living in Springwood, Ohio are having nightmares about a burned man with blades on his fingers. After one of her friends dies during a nightmare like that, it's up to Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) to find out what's going on, and ultimately to confront it before she dies too.

The film was successful upon release; it saved New Line Cinema, then a struggling a foreign/indie film distributor, from bankruptcy, and introduced the world to the dream-stalking Freddy Krueger, who would return many times since.

"One two, Freddy's troping for you...":

  • Adults Are Useless: The adults don't do anything about it and they will do anything to disregard it, whether it be ignoring evidence that something weird is going on, being drunk, making empty promises, or just plain not listening.
  • Alcoholic Parent: Nancy's mother. She's not the abusive sort, but once, she slaps Nancy after Nancy calls her out on her booze habit; she immediately regrets it.
  • All Just a Dream: Zig-zagged at the end of the film. Nancy defeats Freddy when she realizes that all the events that transpired over the last few days were a prolonged nightmare. She wishes Freddy were gone, and walks outside, where it's a sunny day, her family and friends are fine, and she's about to go to school. Then Freddy takes control of the world again. It's not at all clear however exactly what is happening, whether this is a dream or reality, who is dreaming, or whether Freddy was real or not.
  • And Starring: Johnny Depp's name is preceded by "and introducing," as it was his very first film appearance.
  • Answers to the Name of God: Freddy sort-of pulls this on Tina in their second meeting.
    Tina: Please, God...
    Freddy: *brandishing his glove* God.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Nancy seemingly defeats Freddy, only for it to turn out that Freddy is still alive and the movie ends with him killing her mom.
  • Barrier-Busting Blow: At the end, Freddy smashes through the window in the door and drags Nancy's mother through it.
  • Being Good Sucks: Nancy refuses Glen's advances because they were there for Tina's benefit and needed to behave themselves. Later, Glen hears Tina and Rod having loud, enthusiastic sex in the room above him. He sighs and says "morality sucks."
  • Brought Down to Normal: In the dream world, Freddy has reality warping powers, can't feel pain, and is basically invincible. When Nancy manages to grab him and pull him into the real world by waking up while grappling him he seems to have no powers and be no tougher physically than a normal person, as he yells in pain several times when hit by Nancy's booby traps, and is seemingly killed by being lit on fire.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Nancy does this to both of her parents at different points in the movie. She's clearly disgusted that Donald used her to draw out Rod, and she later snaps back at Marge for patronizing her, being an alcoholic, and lying to her about Freddy Krueger being an actual person. Nancy's first moment actually occurs right after Tina's death, when talking about the fight Tina and Rod had.
    Nancy: It wasn't that serious.
    Marge: Maybe you don't think murder is serious.
    Nancy: How can you say I don't take her death seriously?!
  • Cassandra Truth: No one believes Nancy when she tells them someone is after her in her dreams. Double subverted in that it's later revealed they are fully aware who Freddy Krueger was and that they personally murdered and buried him after he murdered their children. They just don't believe he could come back from the dead, much less kill people in their dreams.
  • Catapult Nightmare: This is what happens to Tina after her first nightmare with Freddy.
  • Chairman of the Brawl: When Nancy sees Freddy attacking her mother, she breaks a chair across his back.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Freddy's colors are red and green stripes. When the car hood flips open with this color scheme, for example, it's a sign that Freddy is afoot.
  • Creator Cameo: Producer Robert Shaye appears as the newscaster announcing Tina's death.
  • Covers Always Lie: The face on the cover/poster looks nothing like Freddy.
  • Creepily Long Arms: When Freddy is chasing Tina down the alley, his arms extend to a freakish length, with his claws scraping the walls on both sides of the alley.
  • Dangerous Windows: This is the last scare of the movie as Freddy snags the heroine's mother through the front door window.
  • Deadly Bath: Double subverted. Nancy falls asleep in the tub and Freddy's bladed glove pops out of the water, but she wakes up in time for nothing to happen. When she dozes off again, he suddenly drags her under into a huge underwater space that he created with his dream powers, and she almost drowns.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The film starts by following Tina, but switches to Nancy when she dies.
  • Disappeared Dad: It is mentioned that Tina's father has abandoned her and her mother.
  • Downer Ending: Nancy seemingly destroys Freddy, revealing this entire ordeal to be an extended nightmare where nobody actually died. Her mother promises to quit drinking and she gets in a car with all her friends...which promptly locks them inside and drives off on its own before Freddy drags Nancy's mom into a window to her doom. The sequels reveal that Nancy lived, and this was her mother's nightmare, but it's still a downer.
  • Drop the Hammer: One of Nancy's traps at the end involves literally dropping a hammer.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Freddy isn't nearly as talkative as he is in later films, and what few lines he does have lack the dark humor or bombast that later became typical of the character. He's also identified as "Fred Krueger" in the credits and referred to as such throughout most of the movie, though he does call himself "Freddy," and the famous jump-rope rhyme already uses the nickname. Finally, the sleeves of his sweater didn't have green stripes on them.
  • '80s Hair: Exemplified by Glen and Nancy.
  • Elongating Arm Gag: Played for horror. When Freddy first confronts Tina in the nightmare that ultimately leads to her death, as he walks toward her he stretches his arms out to the width of the alley they're in.
  • Everyone Has Standards: The sight of Glen's blood-soaked room is so horrifying that even the coroner becomes ill.
  • The Ending Changes Everything:
    • The movie's Gainax Ending raises a ton of unanswered questions about the rest of the film. Nancy defeats Freddy by realizing that everything that has transpired over the recent days has been an extended nightmare, and she takes his power away from him. It seems like all is well and Nancy's friends are still alive, but Freddy returns only moments later to take them all on a ride to hell. This makes it impossible to discern what parts of the film were actually dreams and which weren't.
    • Another thing to note was the theme of the movie: Nancy having to grow up and face this threat by herself, almost like a coming of age story. However, by having the movie ending with Freddy winning (thanks to Executive Meddling), the point of the film seemed lost.
  • Enter Stage Window: Glen visits Nancy by climbing through her bedroom window.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Nancy realizing that she pulled Freddy's hat into the real world.
  • Evil Phone: Freddy calls Nancy to mock her on Glen's impending fate.
    Freddy: I'm your boyfriend now, Nancy.
  • Fake Shemp: The very first time we see Freddy in the movie, he isn't being played by Robert Englund, but by Special Effects man Charles Belardinelli, as Belardinelli was the only one who knew exactly how to cut the glove and insert the blades.
  • Final Girl: Nancy Thompson.
  • Fingore: Freddy slices off two of his fingers to freak out Tina even more than she already was.
  • Gainax Ending: Was the whole movie a dream? Did Nancy ever escape into the real world? Was that part a dream? Is her mother dreaming? Was it just a regular nightmare, not generated by Freddy? Nancy's diary in the second film, Freddy's Revenge, describes her friends being killed, and it's said that her mother "killed herself" (i.e. got killed by Freddy), so it can be inferred that the ending was Nancy's mother's nightmare. Furthermore, Nancy herself returns in the third film, Dream Warriors, and specifically talks about her friends having been killed. This should technically resolve the situation. Should. Watch the ending of the original Nightmare while knowing that Nancy survives, and it's still a WTF-y Gainax Ending.
  • Ghost Butler: A door closes itself behind Nancy to signify that Freddy is still in the same room with her.
  • Girl Next Door: Nancy Thompson lives across the street from her boyfriend Glen. Wes Craven noted he cast the actress specifically because of her accessible, wholesome appeal.
  • Greaser Delinquents: Rod has this aesthetic, wearing a leather jacket and jeans and carrying a switchblade. He's described as a delinquent and a "musician."
  • Grievous Harm with a Body: Freddy clubs Rod with Tina while in the midst of causing her to float around the room.
  • Harassing Phone Call: Nancy tries to call Glen to warn him not to go to sleep. Then the phone rings. She picks it up. It's the sound of Fred's claws being sharpened. She (understandably) freaks out, tears the phone out of the plug, and throws it across the room. Then, despite being unplugged, it starts ringing again. This time, it's Freddy telling her that "I'm your boyfriend now, Nancy," and sticking his tongue out of the phone.
  • Hate Sink: Prior to the Villain Decay he underwent in the sequels, Wes Craven intended Fred Krueger to be a dreadful, irredeemable monster of the lowest order. Originally intended to have been a child rapist in addition to a child murderer, he claimed over 20 young victims in life. To further make him stand out from other iconic slasher villains, he revels in bullying his victims in whatever way he can, tormenting them with the images of their dead friends.
  • High-Pressure Blood: Nancy's boyfriend Glen is dragged into his bed by Freddy, disappearing into a hole — and a massive geyser of blood comes exploding out. No, this was not just in the nightmare world; later in the movie, we see cops carrying down buckets of blood from the boy's room. Lots of them.
  • Honking Arriving Car: At the end of the film, a honking car horn is heard as Nancy stands with her mother at her front porch, just before Glen, Tina, and Rod pull up to Nancy's house in the red convertible.
  • I'm Not Afraid of You: Subverted. At the end Nancy says to Freddy "I take back all the power I gave you, Freddy!" and that he's not even real, so she shouldn't be afraid of him. It seems like she defeated him, but he reappears not much later.
  • It Won't Turn Off: Nancy yanks her phone out of the wall after she gets a call of Freddy's trademark claw scraping noises. He's still able to call, however, and mock her about Glen's upcoming death.
  • I Want My Mommy!: Dramatic version. During the infamous bed scene, Glen starts yelling for his mother to come in.
  • Lack of Empathy: Donald and Marge Thompson show varying degrees of this regarding Nancy and what she's going through. When Nancy accuses Donald of using her to flush out Rod, he only responds, "What the hell were you doing going to school today anyway?" like it's Nancy's fault. Marge, meanwhile, crawls deeper into her bottle, and while she does know something is wrong, she refuses to really listen to Nancy and writes her off as sick.
    • Glen's father expresses this toward Nancy as well, calling her a "lunatic" and stating that he doesn't want her around his son due to how she's acting mere days after two of her closest friends were brutally murdered.
  • Lady Drunk: Marge Thompson starts hitting the bottle due to the stress of dealing with Nancy.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: The identity of the strange killer with the burnt face who keeps appearing in the kids' dreams is kept a mystery up until the halfway point of the movie, and his face is always partially obscured...but if you're even slightly familiar with this movie and the series it spawned, you definitely already know who he is and have gotten a pretty good look at him via promotional media.
  • Lecherous Licking: Freddy wags his tongue out at Nancy when he corners her in the classroom nightmare, and actually licks her mouth a bit when his mouth appears on her phone.
  • Locked into Strangeness: Nancy gets her skunk stripe during the nightmare where she takes Freddy's hat off his head and into the real world.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: When Glen bites it he is sucked into a waterbed and a geyser of blood comes out from it. Perhaps somewhat justified because we're dealing with Freddy Krueger here; if he wants you to have more blood, you're damn well going to.
  • MacGyvering: Nancy prepares for the climax by constructing various traps for Freddy.
  • Made of Iron: Freddy during the Final Battle.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Or, rather, suicide, as Freddy kills Rod in such a way that it looks like he committed suicide in jail.
  • Man on Fire: Nancy sets Freddy on fire when she pulls him out of her dream and lures him to the basement.
  • No Sympathy: Glen's father has none to spare for Nancy, dismissing her as a 'lunatic' and telling his wife that he doesn't want Glen to see her anymore. Keep in mind, this is roughly a week after two of Nancy's best friends have died horribly. Even with her erratic behavior, most people would be willing to cut the poor kid some slack.
  • No Time to Explain: Nancy has a dream that she's seeing Rod being killed in the jail cell he's in. She wakes up and gets Glen to accompany her to the police station. They join up at Nancy's house and run to the police station. Nancy waits until they're entering the police station to tell Glen that she doesn't have any time to explain. What could they have been discussing the rest of the way there that was more important than the fact that Rod Lane was being killed?
  • Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep: In what is probably the most appropriate use of this ever, Nancy recites the prayer before going to sleep to confront Freddy.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: Freddy pulls it on Tina when he's chasing her down a street, and appears before her when she looks back.
  • Overdrawn at the Blood Bank: Glen becoming a blood geyser. A deleted scene shows his body was still intact. Somehow.
  • Parental Neglect: Wes Craven said in the DVD Commentary that the distance between parents and teenage children (particularly teenagers) is a major theme of the first film. For example, Nancy's parents are not just divorced from each other but emotionally disengaged from their daughter, regarding her teenage problems as trivial and refusing to take her nightmares seriously, and divorced from life in general—Nancy's mother is an alcoholic, and her father arguably a workaholic to the point of neglect.
  • Police Are Useless: Nancy's attempts to get the help of the police including her own father amount to zilch. Their lack of motivation and misplaced keys waste time getting to Rod's jail cell before he is murdered. Toward the end, Nancy tries to get her father to break into the house when she has pulled Freddy into reality. All he does is assign an officer to watch the officer who precedes to ignore her screams for help until finally getting off his ass. By then Freddy has made it back into the dream world.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Done when Nancy warns Glen over the phone.
    Nancy: Whatever you do. . . Don't. Fall. Asleep.
  • Precision F-Strike: Downplayed during Nancy's classroom nightmare. After she runs into the hall monitor, the "girl" asks "Where's your pass?" Nancy replies "Screw your pass!" and walks away.
  • Rain of Blood: When Nancy's father arrives at Glen Lantz's house after his death, the first thing he sees is blood dripping from the living room ceiling. The real thing was a lot worse.
  • Reaching Between the Lines: Freddy possesses Nancy's phone and sticks his tongue through it and into her mouth.
  • Readings Are Off the Scale: Nancy has her dreams monitored by a brain-scan. The doctor notes that a "really intense" nightmare would read about seven... then watches in disbelief as it goes to 10, 15, 30...
  • Reality Warper: Freddy can seemingly do anything he wants within a dream.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Nancy to Freddy at the end.
    Nancy: It's too late, Krueger. I know the secret now. This is just a dream. You're not alive. This whole thing is just a dream...I want my mother and friends again. I take back every bit of energy I ever gave you. You're nothing, Freddy. You're shit.
  • Revised Ending: Wes Craven planned for the film to have a happy ending, but this was changed by the executives, and the Downer Ending (where Nancy's mother is killed, and Nancy's own fate is left ambiguous) was created.
  • Scenery Dissonance: At the end, we get a Hope Spot where Nancy firmly believes Freddy is dead and gone. It's an overly bright, clear day. She gets in a car, waves lovingly to her mother...then the car morphs into Freddy's signature colors, closes its own windows and locks its doors, and carts her and her friends off to their sunny, cheerful, and oblivious doom, while her mother gets pulled into the house by Freddy. The End.
  • Scully Syndrome: The authority figures in the film seem to have a major case of this. When Tina is killed they immediately blame Rod, which might make sense as he was with her last except that a. there was no murder weapon found, and more importantly, b. Tina was held on the ceiling by Freddy when he killed her, meaning her blood was all over the ceiling. How do they suppose Rod did that? Later, when Rod is in jail he is killed by Freddy and it's made to look like a suicide, which everyone falls for even though the anchoring point for the bedsheet he supposedly hanged himself with is outside his cell and several feet up, meaning there's no way he could have reached it. Worst of all, when Nancy undergoes a sleep study, she has a nightmare where she manages to pull Freddy's hat off into the real world. Despite this, neither the doctor nor her mom are convinced anything supernatural is going on (in her mom's defense she has a reason to be in denial. No such explanation for the doctor though.)
  • Second-Hand Storytelling: Used late in the movie when Nancy's mother finally gets around to explaining the original death of Fred Krueger.
  • Self-Mutilation Demonstration: Freddy says "Watch this!" to Tina before cutting his own fingers off, causing a strange green liquid to squirt from them. Later, he answers Nancy's "What are you?" by cutting into his own chest, revealing more green pus and what looks like maggots under his skin.
  • Sequel Hook: The Revised Ending, as noted above, was added by New Line against Craven's objections for exactly this reason.
  • Sexy Shirt Switch: After having sex with Rod, Tina ventures outside to investigate a strange noise wearing only a button down shirt.
  • Sex Signals Death: Tina dies after having sex with Rod. Glen's death is a variation on this trope; it happens after he watches Miss Nude America.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Nancy is seen watching The Evil Dead (1981) on TV while trying to stay awake.
    • On the commentary, Wes Craven notes the sheep in the opening shot is a Shout-Out to Luis Buuel, another shot is a Shout-Out to Stanley Kubrick , and Heather Langenkamp notes her performance in the sleep clinic is a Shout-Out to The Exorcist.
    • The teacher in one of Nancy's classes is seen leading a discussion on William Shakespeare and starts speaking about another play of his, Julius Caesar, just as Nancy begins to fall asleep in class. A classmate gets up and starts to read a passage from Hamlet as Nancy sees the ghost of Tina, who was recently killed by Freddy similar to when Hamlet sees the ghost of his father.
      "O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams."
  • Sins of the Father: Freddy is targeting the children of those responsible for his murder.
  • Slashers Prefer Blondes: The blonde Tina dies while the brunette Nancy lives. Halloween (1978) had done the same thing, while Friday the 13th had averted it.
  • Sleep Deprivation: Much of the drama and horror comes from the fact that a person has to sleep sooner or later, no matter how drastic the measures they take to stay awake. And when they do sleep, Freddy will come for them.
  • Spoiler Title: The name of the film may foreshadow the first ending twist. Its "A Nightmare" on Elm Street. Not several nightmares.
  • Suburban Gothic: The teenagers of Springwood are haunted one by one in their sleep by the ghost of a child murderer who was burned alive by their parents after being released on a technicality.
  • Super Window Jump: Freddy jumps through the mirror in Nancy's room as she tries to wake herself up.
  • Supernatural-Proof Father: Donald Thompson doesn't take Nancy's warnings seriously as he believes that she is suffering from Sanity Slippage.
  • Tear Off Your Face: After Freddy tackles Tina, as she's struggling to get away from him she pulls the skin off his face, revealing his leering skull. However, this was just another scare tactic by Freddy, as he's back to normal later on.
  • Teeny Weenie: When Rod tells Tina he has a hard-on with her name written on it, she shoots back her name has four letters, so there wouldn't be room on his dick for it.
  • Trail of Blood: During Nancy's classroom nightmare, she follows Tina's corpse down the school hallway, which has left a bloody trail on the floor behind it.
  • Trap Master: Nancy sets a series of traps for Freddy and he is caught in all of them.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Glen's father, refusing to let Nancy talk to his son again, deliberately takes the phone off the hook to prevent the 'lunatic' from calling him. This, coupled with Nancy's mother's own interference by bolting the front door and refusing to let her out, lead to Glen's death at Freddy's hands.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The non-supernatural parts are inspired by events that happened in the hometown the director lived in as a kid. Specifically, Freddy is the name of the kid who tormented wee little Craven. Freddy's appearance was based on that of an old homeless man wee Craven had a terrifying run-in with one night. The "died in their sleep" thing was based on a few cases of young Cambodian refugees dying in their sleep of no apparent cause after repeatedly saying they were frightened to go to sleep. That would be Sudden Unexpected Death Syndrome, which for some reason is most common among South East Asians.
  • Villain Opening Scene: The film opens with Freddy constructing his iconic bladed glove when he was still a human serial killer before transitioning to Tina's first nightmare.
  • Vomiting Cop: One of the cops on the scene after Glen's death pukes, and dialogue between two others reveals the coroner is in the bathroom puking as well.


Video Example(s):


A Nightmare on Elm Street

Teens living in Springwood, Ohio are having nightmares about a burned man with blades on his fingers. After one of her friends dies during a nightmare like that, it's up to Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) to find out what's going on, and ultimately to confront it before she dies too.

How well does it match the trope?

4.33 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / SlasherMovie

Media sources: