In honor of its anniversary, we celebrate the legacy of the slasher classic that birthed a beloved horror icon, “A Nightmare on Elm Street”.
Freddy Krueger is the perfect nightmare.
From his extensive burn scars to his razor-sharp fingers, Krueger embodies our worst fears. In life, he committed the most heinous crimes; he’s a child killer. Murdered by a mob of angry parents, he reaches out from beyond the grave for vengeance. He haunts dreams and can kill in them.
Out of all of the horror movie characters, Freddy Krueger is one of the most frightening.
He seems unstoppable. All his victims had to do was fall asleep. He can come to get you in your dreams. With that, Craven brought horror to the last of safe-havens.
Michael Myers could be lurking in the shadows of your living room. Jason could be under your bed at summer camp. But Freddy will find you in your dreams.
I remember the first time I saw the movie when I was a child. I was frightened but fascinated. I remember watching it and wondering how Nancy was going to defeat Krueger.
Craven took different details from various sources to craft the perfect nightmare.
Freddy Krueger was a mixture of basic psychology, real-life events, and Craven’s desire to create a slasher that would stand out from their predecessors.
According to a 2014 Vulture article, “Freddy Lives An Oral History of A Nightmare on Elm Street,” by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum, Nightmare’s plot was inspired by a story Craven read in the L.A. Times. A young boy died after having a series of nightmares. The boy stayed awake for days. He told his parents that something was chasing him in his nightmares. He was afraid that if he fell asleep, it would get him.
Exhaustion caught up with him. The boy finally fell asleep. Sometime during the night, the boy’s screams woke his parents. They found him dead.
“Here was a youngster having a vision of a horror that everyone older was denying. That became the central line of Nightmare on Elm Street,” Craven said.
Basic psychology inspired Krueger’s weapon and wardrobe.
According to a 2018 Screen Rant article, “30 Crazy Details Behind The Making Of A Nightmare On Elm Street,” by Christopher Fiduccia, Craven told the American Film Institute that Freddy’s claws were inspired by what he saw as a basic human fear. Craven thought back to what humanity’s first threat or danger was — animals. As prey items, our most basic fear would be teeth and claws.
Craven also told Vulture, “A lot of horror villains used knives as weapons, and I didn’t want to duplicate that. So I thought, How about a glove with steak knives?”
Krueger’s iconic Christmasy sweater was designed to be purposely disorienting.
Craven did some research and found that the colors red and green are both difficult to process visually.
Krueger’s scarred appearance stems from Craven wanting him to stand out from his masked predecessors. According to Vulture, Craven said, “A lot of the killers were wearing masks: Leatherface, Michael Myers, Jason. 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.”
Craven combined elements to stir up our primal fears and instincts: scars, claws, and a visually disorienting color scheme.
Actor Robert Englund would animate them into a sinister, cold-blooded killer with a macabre sense of humor.
Krueger makes nightmares come true. This is what makes Freddy Krueger a valuable part of horror history. He’s part of our modern-day mythology. He’s the realization of our deepest fears. His dark humor is the spoonful of sugar we need to digest him. His wicked humor gives us pause and allows us to reluctantly embrace him.
Up until Nightmare, Englund was known for playing a loveable alien in the 1980s sci-fi series V. According to Vulture, Englund said that he auditioned for Nightmare because it fit into his schedule.
David Warner was originally cast as Krueger but had to back out due to a scheduling conflict. Warner has appeared in films such as Time Bandits and Titanic and various Star Trek-based series.
Craven auditioned many actors before finding Englund.
Craven told Vulture, “I couldn’t find an actor to play Freddy Krueger with the sense of ferocity I was seeking. Everyone was too quiet, too compassionate towards children. Then Robert Englund auditioned […] he impressed me with his willingness to go to the dark places in his mind. Robert understood Freddy.”
A Nightmare on Elm Street spawned a franchise consisting of nine films: six sequels, a Friday the 13th crossover, and a remake.
The film also had a TV spin-off, Freddy’s Nightmares, which ran from 1988-1990. Freddy Krueger’s misadventures have also been featured in comics. Every film except the remake has been adapted to a novel.
Needless to say, if you go online, there’s tons of Nightmare merch to be had from mugs to figures and even a little plush Freddy Krueger to snuggle with.
A Nightmare on Elm Street opened to some positive reviews. The Washington Post’s reviewer Paul Attanasio wrote “for such a low-budget movie, Nightmare on Elm Street is extraordinarily polished.” Attanasio described Krueger as “the most chilling figure in the genre since ‘The Shape’ made his debut in Halloween.”
Variety described Nightmare as “a highly imaginative horror film” but that it “fails to tie up his thematic threads satisfyingly at the conclusion.”
Movie-goers flocked to the theaters. The film grossed $1,271,000 during its opening weekend and would gross a combined total of $25,504,513 at the US and Canadian box office and $57 million worldwide.
With A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven created a perfect nightmare to haunt us for decades to come. Freddy Krueger’s scarred face, razor-sharp fingers, and even sharper wit brought terror to the one place where we should be safe — our own minds.
Fright Fun Facts About A Nightmare on Elm Street:
1. Freddy Krueger’s original backstory was changed because of current events. Krueger was originally a child molester but was changed to a child killer. Craven made the change because of a series of molestation cases that were in the news at the time. The 2010 remake revived this original plot point.
2. The original ending was also changed to leave room for sequels. The movie was supposed to end on a happy note with everything reverting back to normal. The ending was changed to leave the door open for Freddy Krueger’s return.
3. Nightmare was Johnny Depp’s first film. When casting the role of Nancy Thompson’s boyfriend, Glen, Craven wasn’t originally impressed with Depp. He decided to ask his daughter for her opinion. She took a look at Depp’s picture and said he was hot so Craven cast him. Depp had a cameo in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare.
4. Charlie Sheen was originally offered the role of Glen. He reportedly wanted too much money.
5. Before Jsu Garcia was cast as Rod Lane, Ralph Macchio of Karate Kid was originally considered for the part.
6. Robert Englund spent three hours in the make-up chair for Krueger’s iconic look. Englund is described as a talkative person. His chattiness presented a little bit of a challenge in the make-up chair.
7. Make-up artist Howard Berger said that he sometimes had to hold Englund’s head still to apply the make-up.
8. The least surprising behind-the-scenes fun fact is that Englund cut his hand the first time he tried on Krueger’s glove. That same glove would be used in the following two sequels and was lost after that. A rumor circulated that Englund’s agent has the glove.