Recap #95: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) by Dove
Title: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Tagline: If Nancy doesn’t wake up screaming, she won’t wake up at all.
Summary: Several people are hunted by a cruel serial killer who kills his victims in their dreams. While the survivors are trying to find the reason for being chosen, the murderer won’t lose any chance to kill them as soon as they fall asleep. (from imdb.com)
Notes: Be warned: I love this movie. I have watched it so often I know it by heart, I own the novelisations, I bought the VHS tapes separately, then in a box set. Then I bought the DVD set of movies 1-4; then the 1-5 box set; then the 1-6 box set; I spent a fortune hunting down Wes Craven’s New Nightmare on DVD (pre-Amazon era). Then I repeated this ridiculous process on Blu-Ray. I own, and frequently re-watch, Never Sleep Again, but I can’t get through I Am Nancy, which seems to just be Heather Langenkamp wandering around talking to Freddy fans. I have retained a lot of trivia, fan theories, alternate timelines (from the books), and my recaps will be filled to the hilt with this nonsense.
The only place where I draw the line is reading the original stories based on Freddy (official book releases). I’ll take (and love) Seven Sweetest Dreams (a compilation of short stories), but the thick, heavy books lose me every time. They’re just far too away from cannon – much like the TV series, which I have watched once from beginning to end, and several episodes more than once, but do not love, and cannot remember much about.
I haven’t read much of the comics, partly because they’re so expensive (to me) for a media type that doesn’t hold my interest. Partly because they’re still quite hard to come by. And if I’m going to get into a bidding war on eBay over something from the 80s, it’s going to be Gen 1 My Little Ponies.
[Wing: Surprise! Dove has returned to help us celebrate this year’s Halloween Extravaganza, and she brings a horror movie, all her nerdy trivia, and a hell of a lot of fun. I hope you all are as excited as I am about having her back for a very special recap.]
(Jude: Ah, so you’re the infamous Dove I’ve heard so much about. Hi! I’m Jude. And you better fasten your seatbelt because this ain’t gonna be no cakewalk! Among the famed slasher movie franchises, the Elm Street one became my go-to favorite. I watched the first (and some of the fourth) when I was 9. After spending four years horrified beyond belief by these movies I fell in love with them, but I still can’t really look at any pictures of Freddy Krueger where he’s looking RIGHT at you. I actually HAVE read the comics, but if you were to ask, I by far prefer the ones published by Innovation. The Avatar Comics were awful, and so were the Wildstorm ones. I was especially disappointed by the Freddy Vs Jason Vs Ash comics, if only because of what they did to Alice Johnson and Maggie Burroughs. However, you CAN read the Marvel and Innovation comics on nightmareonelmstreetfilms.com. I look forward to ruining-I mean, enhancing your post with my comments. Yes, enhance. I covered that up pretty good. BTW, one of the first entries I worked on for “If It Were Stine” was this movie.)
[Wing: Is it this one?]
The opening credits play over a smaller screen, showing a man in a workroom, creating the infamous glove that is part of what made this series so iconic. It’s a great minute or so that really sets the scene. The man’s face is kept of screen, but he grunts and growls, like he’s inhuman, and the soundtrack is suitably off. Anything I predominantly describe as “electronic” shouldn’t be so scary. It was a deliberate style choice for the refrain to change keys, so the sound is jarring. (I don’t know anything about music, I know a lot about this franchise though.) [Wing: Key changes are creepy, creepy things.]
He uses the glove to tear through fabric, and we cut to Tina Grey (Amanda Wyss) flinching back in terror. Unlike movies now (or even scenes later in this movie), Tina is not flouncing around in sexy lingerie, she is wearing a neck-to-toe nightgown. She runs around hallways, which are wet and dripping, while Freddy (Robert Englund) growls her name. (Side note: everywhere they filmed nightmare shots was absolutely full of asbestos. This was before asbestos was recognised as a Bad Thing. These shots were filmed inside the Lincoln Heights Jail in LA.) [Wing: … how many of them died from asbestos poisoning later in life? Freddy’s Nightmare #100.]
The music builds and Tina’s panic increases, there’s a crash and a sheep (of all things) runs through the hallway. This is apparently a reference or homage to Luis Buñuel. It’s a reference I don’t get, but it still works, because why not? Dreams are odd, non-linear things.
(Jude: I always thought that was supposed to be some reference to the idea that the kids are being brought to Freddy like lambs to the slaughter, or something.)
[Wing: I imagine it has to do with what he did with surrealism, and when I was younger, I thought the sheep itself was a bit of a nod to counting sheep when you can’t sleep.]
Tina makes her way through a boiler room, filled with metal catwalks, dripping pipes and filled with steam. Freddy is mostly kept off camera, except for very shadowed glimpses of him. And that’s how he works best. Would the franchise have worked so well if he was unseen for a further seven movies? Probably not, but seeing and hearing more from Freddy did turn him into a joke. But more on that when we get to that point.
Also present in this dream is Freddy’s screech of the knives against metal. It is not a soothing sound. After a few minutes of chasing Tina around, he pops up behind her and grabs her and she wakes up screaming.
Current horror movies take note: that is how you open a movie. We don’t need to see boobs, gore, the killer, hear sassy dialogue; we just need atmosphere.
Tina’s mum checks on her and points out the four slashes down the front of her nightgown. If I wasn’t so attached to this movie, I’d probably get all bent out of shape that he grabbed her from behind, but somehow ripped the front of her nightgown. But since I love it, I don’t care.
(Jude: I’d say we didn’t see him grab the front of her nightgown before she woke up.)
Three young girls, all dressed in white, jumping rope to this:
One, two, Freddy’s coming for you
Three, four, better lock your door
Five, six, grab your crucifix
Seven, eight, better stay up late
Nine, ten, never sleep again.
Which is a pretty good summary of this movie. [Wing: And is damn creepy. Little kids: creepy. Jump rope rhymes in those little voices: creepy. That specific rhyme: creepy.]
The camera pans across and we meet Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), Rod Lane (Jsu Garcia, credited as Nick Corri) and Glen Lantz (Johnny Depp in his first role). [Wing: Such a crush on Nancy still, and Garcia is such a hottie.]
A note about the casting. In 1984, Jsu Garcia was well aware that a Cuban guy wasn’t getting a role, so he and his agent renamed him Nick Corri and claimed he was Italian. According to imdb, he held on to this name until 1999. [Wing: This still happens today, across all sorts of jobs, and it is such bullshit that racism is still so fucking persistent.]
On a lighter note, Wes Craven was torn on casting between Johnny Depp, who had the acting chops, but looked small and pale, and not very jock-like, which was how Glen was written; and another guy. When agonising over the decision, his 14 year old daughter, Jessica Craven, told him to pick Depp, as he was “beautiful”.
(Jude: Oh Jessica, honey. If she only knew several years later he’d look like someone glued a bird’s nest to his face. Among other things.)
It cannot be stated enough that Nancy Thompson has the most gigantic hair. I feel it probably has its own gravity system. This is very eighties. Star (Jami Gertz) from Lost Boys had even larger hair. It was simply enormous. [Wing: As someone who has fluffy, giant hair, I long for those days. Also, Star was smoking hot.]
Tina tells Nancy about her dream, and how it reminded her of the jump rope song. Nancy is just about to tell them about her nightmare when Rod interrupts. He and Tina have banter, and he stomps off. Nancy reassures Tina that everyone has bad dreams, no big deal. Glen advises that she tell herself she’s dreaming, and she’ll wake right up. [Wing: Lies.] As Glen walks away, Tina calls after him, asking if he had a bad dream too. Tina suggests there’s going to be an earthquake, because things get weird before them. (Oh, hey, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Nice callback.)
That night, Nancy and Glen stay over at Tina’s as her mother is away, leaving her home alone. Hi, thar, PH counters. I had missed you. Actually, this was a deliberate choice, to make the parents inaccessible for the teens, Tina’s mum is spending time with a new boyfriend in Vegas; and Nancy’s parents are divorced, the mum an alcoholic and the dad a workaholic.
Tina can’t believe Glen’s allowed to stay over with Tina’s mum out of town. They explain he’s not, his parents think he’s at his cousin’s. His cousin lives by the airport, so Glen borrowed a sound effects tape for aeroplanes from Rod. He plays this in the background while calling, and it works for all of twenty seconds, before dissolving into noisy car/motorbike sounds, a car crash, possibly a chainsaw, loads of screaming, and then various guns. [Wing: /dying.]
(Jude: Does anyone else but think Rod did it deliberately just to fuck with Glen?)
When they’ve had a good laugh at this epic fail, Nancy says that she knew Tina would feel better, but Tina says no, she’s been remembering her boogeyman’s weird face and finger knives. This surprises Nancy, because she had the same dream. At this point, Glen looks pensive, so he’s probably dreamed the same thing.
Then we hear the same scraping noise from outside. It turns out it’s Rod, scraping things with a hand-rake. And once again, you can infer that Rod had a nightmare too, otherwise what would provoke him to make that choice for creepy noises? Glen and Rod have harsh words and Rod pulls a switchblade knife. Nancy diffuses the situation, and tries to get Rod to leave, but Rod and Tina head back to the house to do what no young woman should do in a classic horror movie: have premarital sex.
(Jude: We LOVE premarital sex!)
Glen tries to start something, but Nancy shuts him down. Classic horror virgin/final girl move. Glen and Nancy sleep in separate rooms, listening to the enthusiastic shagging going on down the hall. Surprisingly, this is not shown. Heard, but not seen.
Post-coitally, Rod tells Tina that he had a nightmare. In Tina’s room, Nancy tries to sleep, but can’t, and a crucifix falls off the wall. We cut back to Tina, and Rod is apparently asleep. Tina can’t sleep because someone’s throwing stones at her window. Back with Nancy, Freddy pushes through the wall, looking for Tina, but retreats when he finds Nancy awake instead.
(Jude: Didn’t it turn out the stone lodged in Tina’s window was actually a TOOTH?)
[Dove: I think that’s in the novelisation but not the movie. I don’t have the books to hand at the moment – everything in my office is stacked up on top of each other following a flood.]
This effect was created very simply by someone pushing against spandex. It cost almost nothing. And contrast it with the costly CGI used in the remake, and what a pile of shit that looks. #JustSayin’
Back with Tina, naturally, she has to go downstairs to investigate – this time dressed only in a shirt. Tina heads into a back alley to find who’s calling her name and sees Freddy. There is a very goofy effect that – if I’m honest, didn’t even look that great the first time I saw it – where Freddy’s arms extend outwards. It was done with fishing wire and a car battery to get the knives to spark against the metal fence. [Wing: The sparking knives = awesome. The arms extending = never not a cheesy visual.]
Also, when Tina runs away, this is not Robert Englund chasing her, but a stunt man. And boy can you tell. He too is very goofy, and runs with an ooogly-boogly, “scary arms are scary” way that Robert’s Freddy would never do. But if I’m being fair, Tina runs in quite an arm-flailing fashion too. Possibly this is why serial killers generally saunter. They all look ridiculous when they run.
However, what follows is a death so brutal, I forget how goofy any moment of this is. Tina is chased through the garden and winds up back in bed. Tina can see Freddy, but Rod can’t, he can just see how terrified she is of apparently nothing. Tina is cut multiple times and dragged up the wall and along the ceiling, leaving a trail of blood behind her. After what my eleven-year old self decided was way too long, she eventually falls back to the bed dead.
Originally, the cut was a little longer, and there was a lot of blood spatter to land on Rod’s face, but the MPAA gave that a hard no. Craven was always disappointed with the cut. (That’s why you release unrated… but then again, I suspect New Line own the rights now, and not Bob Shaye. Let’s not get into The House that Freddy Built just yet.)
(Jude: Oh GOD don’t even get me started. I’m still waiting for an uncut version of Part 5 on DVD.)
The shot was achieved with a rotating room, the inspiration came from Royal Wedding, where Fred Astair dances up the walls and on the ceiling. Amanda Wyss suffered terrible vertigo while filming, and at one point started to have a panic attack, because she couldn’t work out which way up and down went. Wes Craven climbed into the room to talk her down, and started to experience the same problem. [Wing: I am simultaneously horrified at the thought of a rotating room and also want to try one immediately.]
Glen and Nancy arrive outside the locked door to hear Rod threatening to kill whoever did it, but when they break open the door, Rod is gone through the bedroom window.
Next we cut to the police station, where we find out that Nancy’s father is Lieutenant Donald “Don” Thompson (John Saxon), and he’s in charge of solving the murder of Tina Grey. We also meet Marge Thompson (Ronee Blakley), who is a functioning alcoholic. In every scene, with only glares and sharp tones, they make it very clear that the divorce was quite acrimonious.
(Jude: And there’s that whole thing where Marge makes an ass of herself by misunderstanding Nancy saying “It wasn’t that serious” as her not taking Tina’s death seriously. I love it when she screams at Marge “HOW CAN YOU SAY I DON’T TAKE HER DEATH SERIOUSLY?!”)
Rod is the number one suspect in the murder, given that he has a history of general bad behaviour, he’s described as a “musician type” (what’s up with that, Eric Draven is also described the same way), [Wing: Musicians, especially the dark haired, dramatic eyed, black wearing type, are the devil, Dove, don’t you remember?”] and – check out the foreshadowing – we know he had a straight blade that would have inflicted wounds like Tina suffered.
The next morning, Nancy sees the news on TV, a few seconds before her mother turns it off. It shows them removing Tina in a body bag, and her left arm flops out of the bag. Seriously, 1984 America, do you really show that stuff on the news at 8am, did the movie make it up? [Wing: I actually have no idea about 1984. I would assume generally no, unless it was live at that moment and something that couldn’t be edited out on the spot.]
This morning Nancy is mainlining coffee and avoiding answering her mother’s questions on whether or not she slept last night.
On her way to school, she notices a man in a suit watching her, but then Rod grabs her and drags her into the bushes. He tells her that he’s innocent. Before Nancy can really respond to this, Rod gets jumped by the police and arrested by dear old Detective Dad.
Nancy says, “You used me!”, and sometimes he is misquoted as saying “What the hell did you expect?” I’m not sure whether this is alternative/TV cut or something, but his actual response is “What the hell were you doing going to school today for anyway?” The other cut makes him look like an asshole. The real response makes him look like an asshole who at least prioritises his daughter’s wellbeing (even if it causes him to form really bad sentences). There’s also a later part when Don gets misquoted. I guess he’s just ripe for it.
(Jude: BEST DAD EVER.)
In English class, which is taught by Lin Shaye, sister to Bob Shaye, the producer of this movie and – at the time – the sole owner of New Line Cinema. If you’re not an old horror hound from the 80s like me, you may know New Line as the company that put out the Lord of the Rings movies. Anyone who enjoyed them owes their thanks to this movie. This movie pulled a very-nearly bankrupt distribution company, which bought movies when their rights had expired, into a nearly-functioning production company. The franchise as a whole dragged that still-not-quite-financially-solid business into a profit-generating powerhouse. It’s why New Line is known as The House that Freddy Built. And it’s a travesty that Bob Shaye was hounded out of it by the bigwigs when it merged with Warner.
If you think it’s nepotism that got Lin the role… you’re probably right, but she has acted in quite a lot – you’d be surprised how often she pops up unexpectedly. My personal favourite of her movies is called Dead End, which is another creepy, low-budget horror. If you’re in the mood for silly high-camp gore, try 2001 Maniacs, where she plays Robert Englund’s wife. This is my horror OTP.
So, back to the movie. Nancy drifts off to sleep in English class, and sees Tina standing in a bodybag in the hall. She glances to the front of the class, where a student is now reciting Shakespeare in a stage whisper (the scene wasn’t working when he spoke in a normal voice, so Wes Craven made that suggestion. When Heather asked why, his response was basically, “Dream!”). When she looks back at Tina, there’s a pool of blood, which Nancy feels compelled to follow. Around the corner, she finds Tina, lying down and her arm flops out of the bag, just like Nancy saw on the news. Tina is dragged off by some unseen force, and Nancy again follows. She runs around the corner and smacks into a girl wearing a red and green striped sweater, who demands to see her hall pass. Nancy snaps, “Screw your pass!” and Heather Langenkamp will forever be asked to repeat that line for fans. Nancy runs past, and then hears Freddy’s voice from behind her. The girl is now dripping blood and wearing his glove. “No running in the hallways.”
The dream leads her to the school basement/Freddy’s boiler room, where Freddy chases her around. Again, Freddy is kept at a distance. I’m sorry for the blurry cap, it really was a short few seconds he was on screen, but you can see that Freddy’s stance is off-balance. Robert Englund said that when wearing the real glove (there were several, some that picked up the light nicely, some that were good for close ups, and one with real knives – the “real glove”) caused his shoulder to drop, and he incorporated that into her performance – playing Freddy in his glove like a “gunslinger”.
It took him over three hours to get into makeup. While in the trailer, he would see the main four come in and get lightly made up, and hate them for their youth and beauty – and the fact that they weren’t in a chair for three plus hours – and used that resentment to build Freddy.
Nancy realises it’s a dream, but she’s cornered, and deliberately burns her arm on a hot pipe to wake herself up. Nancy rocks. She wakes up screaming her head off in class. “I’m ok, I’m fine,” she says to a disbelieving room. As she leaves school, she notices a burn on her arm, just like in the dream.
She goes to visit Rod in jail, and he tells her that an invisible someone killed Tina, using four razors simultaneously, while he watched helplessly. And at first he thought it was just a dream, like the nightmare he had the night before. He tells her that he’s seen Freddy – though none of them know his name at this point. Rod asks Nancy if she thinks he killed Tina, and she says no. The novelisation hammers it further home, adding her thinking, “I just wish I did,” and I always hear that extra line whenever I watch this scene.
Next up is Nancy in the bath. She dozes, and when she falls asleep, Freddy’s arm reaches out between her legs towards her face. [Wing: Rape metaphor what.] She’s awoken by her mother, who knocks on the door and warns her not to fall asleep because people drown in bathtubs all the time. Nancy ignores this warning and immediately falls asleep. This time she is violently dragged under by Freddy, and the water is a lot deeper than your usual bathtub. Every time her head breaks the surface, she screams for her mum, who manages to get the door unlocked in record time with a piece of wire. Damn, these Thompson women are resourceful.
(Jude: The one time Marge actually does something useful for her daughter’s well being.)
This scene was done by sawing the bottom off a bath and placing it over a water tank. Heather perched on a plank, while someone – not Robert Englund – wore scuba gear and Freddy’s sweater and glove for the “reaching” scene. However toasty Heather looks in that bath water, she’s not. It was warm enough not to freeze her, and that’s it. She was in there for eight or nine hours, and her skin got very pruny! The swimming-to-the-surface shot was not Heather, but a stunt woman, and that was shot in someone’s swimming pool, blurred up by plastic sheeting.
Before she goes to bed, Nancy grabs a bottle of caffeine pills. Initially, I thought why would they be in anyone’s medicine cabinet, but if you remember that Marge is an alcoholic, and they are probably used to give her a little perk on some of her heavier mornings, then it all makes sense.
(Jude: Huh. I never thought of it that way, though admittedly I never considered why those pills would be there in the first place.)
Nancy avoids sleep by watching a movie (Jude: I think this was one of the Evil Dead movies.) that has the exact soundtrack Glen used on his failed phone call to his parents, when he pretended to be staying at his cousin’s house. And it’s only now occurred to me that they must have found out he didn’t when the police called him to say their kid had been at a house where a girl was murdered. Which explains a lot of their later reactions.
Talking about Glen, he appears, by climbing up the rose trellis to her window – which is adorable, but possibly the Thompsons should have had second thoughts about building what is essentially a ladder straight into their daughter’s bedroom, when her boyfriend lives literally across the street.
(Jude: Wow, and her dad’s a cop as well.)
They talk a little, and Heather comments that she looks “twenty years old”. Heather was exactly that age when filming this scene. Nancy asks Glen to watch her while she sleeps and wake her up if she looks like she’s having a bad dream.
Nancy goes for a wander in her dream, and winds up outside the window of Rod’s cell, and sees Freddy walking in. She deduces that Freddy is after Rod, but unfortunately Glen has fallen asleep. Dead Tina is back in the bodybag, and she’s oozing eels. Nancy takes off running for home. She runs up the stairs, but they turn to glue. Wes Craven didn’t want this scene in there, but Bob Shaye felt strongly about it, and he was allowed to direct that scene. (Yes, there was tension between Bob and Wes, but since Bob was the only one willing to make the film, they were stuck together. Several years after Dream Warriors, they were able to reconcile.) [Wing: Do you know the reasons why Craven didn’t want to include it but Shaye did?] [Dove: Short version: Craven thought it was cheap and shlocky, but Shaye thought it played into the dream we all have, where we’re unable to move properly. I say “we all”, but I don’t remember having that dream. The ones I have are that people are talking too quietly or I turn the light switch on and there’s no light, but everyone’s acting like either of these things are business as usual.]
In Nancy’s room, she and Freddy scuffle and knock her alarm clock off the side table. It goes off and she wakes up. Nancy, rightly, calls Glen on being shit and not doing what she asked. Then they head off to the police station to check on Rod.
(Jude: The creepiest thing about that part was when she saw the feather floating in the air. I wonder, was that supposed to imply Glen wasn’t actually there? What if she’d already been dreaming when he “Showed up?”)
Rod is actually being strangled by a sheet twisted into a noose by an invisible hand. This was done practically with wires, filmed backwards and then run in reverse.
Nancy is held up by her dad, who is reluctant to let Nancy see Rod in the middle of the night, plus Garcia, the other cop, can’t find the keys. They get there just in time to see Rod die.
Another corpse Glen has seen with Nancy, when he should be at home in bed, by himself. Ok, maybe the Lantzes aren’t such awful parents.
Rod gets a funeral, unlike Tina, and it has a pretty good turnout for someone who was allegedly as disliked as him. Nancy tells her dad that the killer is still out there, and then describes Freddy, mentioning the hat, sweater, glove and the burns. Her parents exchange worried looks, and Don says that Nancy should stay home until she’s over the shock. Marge says she’s taking Nancy to get some real help.
Cut to the Katja Institute for the study of Sleep Disorders. Nancy asks for a pill to stop her from dreaming, and since it’s the 80s, the doctor replies that “If you don’t dream, you go…” and makes the finger swirling at the temple sign. We don’t see Nancy’s dream this time, instead sticking with Marge and Dr King.
They’ve hooked Nancy up to an output meter, like a lie detector or earthquake meter. A “normal” bad dream should be plus or minus 5 or 6 on their scale. Nancy basically breaks the needle by going so wildly off the chart. They wake her up and a streak of hair on the left side of her face has turned grey from fright. Dr King wants to sedate her, but Nancy shoves him away, and they notice the cuts on her arm.
Also, she pulled Freddy’s hat out of her dream.
(I bet this story is an urban legend at the Katja Institute and everyone who witnessed it has been labelled as liars and/or idiots.)
The next day, Nancy overhears her mother talking about the hat (presumably to Don), and then Marge sweeps the hat into a drawer, and hides a bottle of gin behind her. Marge encourages Nancy to sleep, but Nancy wants to talk about the hat – will dad examine it to find out who the owner was. There’s a name inside the hat.
Fred Krueger, Mom. Fred Krueger. Do you know who that is, Mother? Because if you do you better tell me ‘cause he’s after me now.
Again, Marge urges her to sleep, but Nancy snaps back, saying sure, why not? She could grab the bottle with Marge and get “good and loaded”. This earns her a slap, but Nancy won’t back down. Marge says that Fred isn’t coming after her, because he’s dead. Nancy is furious that Marge has withheld this information and made her feel like she was making it all up. She smashes Marge’s bottle and storms out.
(Jude: NANCY THOMPSON IS DONE WITH YOUR SHIT)
She meets up with Glen. He tells her about the Balinese way of dreaming, that they have dream skills and can control their dreams. Nancy asks what they do if they meet a monster in their dreams. Glen says to turn away and take away its power. In the book, he was making it up as he went along, trying to make her feel better about sleeping. When I googled “Balinese dream skills”, the first result took me to the Daily Mail website (a disgusting, racist, tory-voting, tax-evading, hate-mongering tabloid site, do not go there), so I guess he really was just BS-ing her.
At this time, Nancy is reading a book called “Booby Traps and Improvised Anti-Personnel Devices” – again, she rocks. Although some of the booby traps she later uses actually came from The Anarchist’s Cookbook.
She gets home to find that her mother has put bars on the windows and doors of the house in an attempt to keep her safe. My first thought was: what if there’s a fire? In the house, Marge is wearing a dressing gown, cradling a bottle of gin, and smoking a cigarette. She tells Nancy to come down to the basement and she’ll tell her everything.
Marge reveals that Fred Krueger had been a child killer on a spree when Nancy was a small child. He was caught but the search warrant wasn’t properly signed, so he was released on a technicality. The parents rounded up a lynch mob, and burned him to death in the boiler room where he took the kids to kill them. Marge even took his knives as a souvenir. She keeps them wrapped up in rags inside the boiler. But it’s all ok, “Because mommy killed him,” so Nancy can sleep.
In the original draft, he was supposed to be a child molester as well, and Marge’s phrase “filthy child murderer”, still gives a slight implication of this. At the time there was a large court case where a bunch of children were molested by – I believe – the janitor at their school, and Wes Craven pulled that aspect of the story, feeling it was bad taste and would look as if they were cashing in on a very real tragedy. Another point that didn’t make the cut was the implication that Nancy and Tina had siblings who were killed by Freddy. [Wing: Oooh, I wish the siblings part had stayed in, but pulling the child molester story because of the real world situation was the right call, I think.]
(Jude: Didn’t they also include Marge revealing she shot Krueger in the head when he burst of the boiler room covered in flames. Actually, now I want to say how ironic it is that these people killed Krueger to protect their kids, but now they’re doing pretty much everything possible to make it easier for him to get to their kids by being patronizing and condescending and writing them all off as “Sick.” Like in hindsight why did they even bother killing Krueger in the first place?)
[Wing: I think you can read it as their guilt over doing what they did in the mob justice rage. Now it’s hard to even look at their kids, much less listen to them.]
[Dove: I’ve never seen or read anything where Marge shot him in the head. Do you know where this came from?]
And now he’s haunting Nancy in her dreams to get even. Wes Craven got this idea when he read a news article about a rash of Asian boys dying in their sleep, apparently terrified of going to sleep. They found a coffee machine hidden in one of the boys rooms. [Wing: Ah, yes, the monolithic Asian culture, Craven.] Wes went put this together with the biblical idea of “sins of the father” and Freddy was born. His look came from a bum that scared Wes as a child. One night when his parents were out, Wes noticed a guy standing outside of his house. When he went down to the front door to check whether he’d left, the guy was eye-to-eye with the peephole. [Wing: Fuck, that’s horrifying.] Wes remembered the maliciousness of the man, enjoying scaring a young boy. If you’re into these movies, I strongly suggest watching Never Sleep Again, which gives so much insight and backstory into how these films were made and what they meant to the people involved.
Nancy calls Glen that night. He asks how long she’s been awake, she says seven days. The record in the Guinness Book of Records is eleven. One of the first things I googled when I got online was this. [Wing: You are adorable.] After getting nowhere for a long time (you had to subscribe with a fee to their website for that kind of information in 1998), I eventually found out Guinness stopped recording things like this that encourage people to damage their mental and physical health.
Also, Glen is wearing a cropped football jersey for all of these scenes. I cannot take him seriously. At all.
Nancy has a plan to be executed at midnight, which goes thusly:
Nancy Thompson: I grab the guy in my dream. You see me struggling so you wake me up. We both come out, you whack the fucker and we got him.
Glen Lantz: Are you crazy? Hit him with what?
Nancy Thompson: You’re the jock. You have a baseball bat or something.
Glen reluctantly agrees, despite the fact he still doesn’t really believe her. Nancy utters the best advice anyone can give in this franchise: Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep.
Glen falls asleep. His mother wakes him up, largely to tell him to go to sleep.
Back at the Thompson house, Marge puts Nancy to bed like a child, and clears up all the coffee and No Doze lying around. Nancy feigns sleep until she’s gone, then pulls out her secret coffee maker and the mug she stashed under her pillow. Can we just take a moment to enjoy how great Nancy is?
(Jude: I wish I had a secret coffee maker and secret mug. I’d even label it “SECRET MUG.”)
We cut to Glen’s parents. Daddy Lantz is staring at Nancy’s house, and decides that she’s a “lunatic” and he doesn’t want her anywhere near their son. Which is a bit harsh from someone who joined a lynch mob that BURNED A MAN TO DEATH.
Time ticks on and no sign of Glen, so Nancy calls him. His parents won’t let her speak to him, and then take the phone off the hook. All the while, Glen slumbers peacefully. Because he’s a fucking moron.
Nancy tries to call again, but gets the busy signal. Then the phone rings for her, and it’s just the screeching of metal on metal. Nancy freaks out and rips the phone out of the wall. She immediately admonishes herself, because what if Glen tries to call. (The downstairs phone will ring, Nance. It’s all fine. I know you’re tired, but the other extension will ring.) She winds the broken wire around the phone and then walks away, but the phone rings again.
I’d probably wonder how this was happening if Nancy’s not asleep, if I didn’t love this film so much, but also, this happens:
Freddy says, “I’m your boyfriend now, Nancy.” From this she realises that Glen isn’t going to last much longer. And good riddance. This moron has been dead weight since the start. Even Rod was more useful.
Nancy tries to run out of the house, but Marge has locked her in. Marge, by the way, is toasted and doesn’t have the key to let her out.
Back at Glen’s, he’s snoringly asleep, and the radio station (KRGR – I see what you did there) is going off the air. Without warning, Freddy’s arms break through the bed and drag Glen into it. [Wing: A scene that I knew about long before I watched the movie, and which struck with me as a terrifying image for years.]
Across the road, Nancy screams his name.
Then back to Glen’s room, and a torrent of blood is exploding from the hole in the bed. Once again, this was achieved using the same rotating room as Tina’s death. But this time, the weight of the water caused it to wildly careen over, knocking people flying, and power cables charged the fake blood, which gave a few people shocks. The injuries were not too serious, thankfully.
Possibly this shot may have been from that incident, since all the blood seems to be skewing to the top left corner of the image.
The emergency services arrive and one extra comments, “You won’t need a stretcher up there. You need a mop.” Nancy’s dad, Don, is among the police that arrive and Nancy calls him at the Lantzes’ house.
Nancy makes the same deal with dad as she did with Glen. She’s going to grab Krueger, and daddy will be there to arrest him once she does. You know how I said earlier that Don gets misquoted? This is the other scene.
When Nancy says, “Fred Krueger did it, Daddy, and only I can get him. It’s my nightmare he comes to.” In the film, Don just looks alarmed for his daughter’s health. But with the misquote, the line cuts off after “Daddy” and he says, “Yeah, sure.” in a cold, hard voice. The “Yeah, sure,” comes from the line after, when he’s humouring her about agreeing to break down the door to arrest Freddy. This is the cut they use in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, but the edited delivery also gets used in later books (but not this novelisation, which stays incredibly close to the script).
Don tells her to get some rest and that he loves her. He then turns to another cop – Garcia, I think – and says, “Go outside and watch my daughter’s house. If you see anything funny, call me.” He asks what kind of funny and Don says any, just keep Nancy away from the house as she’s “too far gone” to be able to handle Glen’s corpse.
Cut to Nancy setting up booby traps all over the house, with a hard-as-nails look in her eye. #NancyRocks
When she’s done, Nancy has to put her mother to bed like she’s the adult and Marge is the child. Marge says that Nancy faces things head on, but sometimes you have to turn away.
Nancy sets herself an alarm, says a prayer and synchronizes her watch with the alarm, then falls asleep. [Wing: Nancy is seriously the greatest, and so swoonworthy.]
This time Nancy goes hunting for Freddy. Straight down to the basement of her house. She checks the boiler for his glove, but only finds the rag Marge wrapped it in. Freddy keeps his distance, sensing a trap. Robert Englund says he thinks Freddy considers Nancy a worthy adversary. Nancy badassed before badassery was a thing.
In the final few seconds of the countdown on her watch, Freddy finally gets close enough, so Nancy grabs him just in time before the alarm goes off.
She wakes up alone, and for a moment thinks it was all in her head. Then Freddy jump scares her, popping up from behind the bed.
And. It. Is. ON.
Nancy sets up the first booby trap then screams out of the window for Garcia to go get her dad. He tries to placate her but does nothing. So Nancy turns her attention back to not dying. She leads Freddy through her house full of booby traps, which he does not appreciate. We have a falling sledgehammer, and an exploding lightbulb – at this point, after an explosion – Garcia contemplates telling Don that shit is going down at 1428 Elm Street.
Nancy runs into the basement, and sets Freddy on fire. (Jude: My favorite part is when she douses him in the – lighter fluid I think? – and he LOSES HIS SHIT realizing what’s about to happen and he doesn’t even think to just gut her right there) She runs up the stairs and shuts the door behind her, then times it just right to open the door in Freddy’s face and knock him down the stairs. Why is Nancy not the poster child for the “took a level in badass” trope? Again she screams for her father.
To his credit, once alerted, Don runs like hell to get to the house. The get distracted by the fire in the basement, but Nancy follows the fiery footprints, and Don follows her. (Also, this house has two staircases. I’d love to see an actual real plan, not a fan theory, of how the house was supposed to be laid out.)
The footprints lead to her mum’s room, where a burning Freddy is killing her. Nancy, without hesitation, breaks a chair over Freddy’s back. But it doesn’t help. Don covers the burning pair to smother the flames. When he pulls the cover away, there’s nothing but a dead and bloody Marge, and a hole in the bed, filled with steam, which she sinks into and disappears, leaving a cleanly-made and un-burnt bed behind.
“Now do you believe me?” Nancy asks her father. Given how he turns out in Dream Warriors, I’m guessing that line haunts him.
Don is needed downstairs and Nancy sends him away. She turns her back on the bed, and Freddy rises up behind him. She says she knows he’s there, and she wants her mother and friends back. This is nothing but a dream. “I take back every bit of energy I gave you. You’re nothing. You’re shit.”
Freddy lunges for her, but she absolutely refuses to acknowledge him and give him any more fear. He dissolves into nothing, and Nancy steps out of the bedroom door and winds up outside, dressed for school, on a bright morning. Her mother is there, and feeling better. She’s going to quit drinking.
Then Glen, Tina and Rod show up in a red convertible to give her a ride to school. Everything is very perfect. Until the car stops responding to Glen, the top comes down and it’s painted in red and green stripes, and the kids start screaming.
Marge waves serenely as Nancy screams for help. Then Freddy’s arm reaches through the window in the front door and drags Marge through. The camera pans to the creepy white kids jumping rope to the Freddy chant.
When Raven and I want to convey that the other has just uttered the most basic of sentences with the least amount of thought possible, we state, “You’re right. It works on a number of levels.” With this, I say that without the sarcasm.
Everything about this movie works; the killer, the victims and the final girl. Even the side characters make sense. Why are Don and Marge divorced and working through their own addictions? They killed a guy for the greater good. Why is Tina’s mum throwing herself into relationships that distance herself from her daughter? Because she killed someone to protect that daughter. Why are the Lantzes so overprotective? Because they know what happens to kids who aren’t protected. Everything works.
Even the last bit, if you accept Robert Englund’s interpretation of it, instead of Wes Craven’s. Wes thought Bob Shaye wanted a sequel hook – something Bob still disputes, saying he just wanted the audience to leave on a high impact ending. Robert thinks the entire movie was a precognitive dream of Nancy’s, and everything’s going to happen, just like it did in her dream. She’s simply doomed, and the only person she can save is herself.
Sure, some bits haven’t stood the test of time (the aforementioned extending arms), but other parts, like Tina’s death, and Nancy’s badassery, really have.
This movie is great.
And I didn’t sleep for years after seeing it.
Admittedly, I’m an insomniac, but I still blame Freddy.
(Jude: I never really considered the parents being the way they are now was a result of the trauma of lynching Freddy, so thanks for that. And I wanted to share this with everyone.)
Nancy Thompson by Tony Harris
(Jude: I got this at Boston Comic Con way back in April 2011. The previous January my paternal grandmother passed away, and while I’d always been close to her I spent the past three years working as her companion, and even held her hand as she went. I spent that weekend in Boston with my mother for a chance to simply get away. Tony Harris is mainly famous as one of the co-creators of DC’s “Starman” series back in the 1990s, alongside James Robinson. He also did the artwork for the first two issues of the “Nightmares on Elm Street” series by Innovation, and it was a story that focused on Nancy’s life before and after Part 3, so I thought it’d be cool to commission her from Tony. Unfortunately, a year later he went on some big rant online, bashing female cosplayers as “fake geek girls” and just being very transphobic and horrible, so it made me regret how much cash I spent on this piece. I’m also not very fond of Robinson, but for entirely different reasons.)
[Wing: That is lovely art, it’s a shame the artist is such a shit. I’m glad you were able to spend all that time with your grandmother, even though I know that providing that sort of care can be difficult.]Category: Nightmare on Elm Street movies
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