A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) Explained

An Average Movie-Goer’s Review

Spoilers! If you don’t want spoilers – check out the Spoiler-Free post

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) Explained

I love horror movies and if I’m going to watch them anyway, why not write an entertaining/funny review from the POV of an average movie-goer and not a professional critic.

Today we’re looking at Wes Craven’s 1984 horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street

A group of friends are stalked by a man with a razor claw glove who can enter their nightmares to kill them.

Is A Nightmare Elm Street Scary?

A Nightmare on Elm Street has plenty of jump scares and a few suspenseful scenes though those aren’t its strong suit. While the overall premise probably won’t leave you terrified, there are some gory and/or disgusting scenes involving bugs that might stick with you.

Overall you might be a bit scared after watching it especially if you don’t like green and red striped sweaters.


The film opens with a sequence of a man building a glove with knives on it as the opening credits play. Title card!

After a jump scare scream, we cut to one of our main characters Tina (played by Amanda Wyss) being chased by someone through a factory while she wears a nightgown. Someone calls out her name in a pretty threatening manner and cackles as she looks around terrified.

A man in a hat wearing the knife glove (it’s Freddy Kruger) appears and chases Tina down a hall but disappears as she comes to a dead-end. A random sheep walks by and we get a jump scare as Freddy Kruger (played by Robert Englund) pops up behind her screaming.

This is revealed to be a nightmare but when Tina’s mom checks on her, she notices Tina’s nightgown has multiple slashes in it. The following day we meet the rest of our plucky cast as Tina tells them about her nightmare while they walk to school.

Along with Tina, we have her boyfriend Rod (played by Jsu Garcia), Nancy (played by Heather Langenkamp), and her boyfriend Glen (played by Johnny Depp).

Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia, Heather Langenkamp, and  Johnny Depp in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Jessie, A.C Slater, Kelly, and Zack… I’m not the only one who sees this right?

Nancy mentions she also had a nightmare but Rod interrupts with some sexual comments directed at Tina. Before Glen leaves he insinuates he also had a bad dream but he doesn’t bother to elaborate.

That night Nancy and Glen stay over at Tina’s while her mother is away since Tina still feels uneasy about her string of nightmares. Tina mentions Freddy’s fingernails and Heather is shocked to learn they’ve been dreaming about the same person. The girls don’t see but Glen looks at them like he knows exactly who they’re talking about.

The group hear screeching sounds from outside reminiscent of the screeching sounds Freddy makes in their dreams. Glen goes out to investigate and gets tackled by Rod who is way more of a dick than he first appeared. Rod, who was not invited, asked what the group is doing and Glen lightly threatens him.

Glen stands up to Rod
You go Glen Coco!

Rod has no chill and pulls out a switchblade… the fuck? Nancy barely flinches, grabs his arm, takes the switchblade, and closes it while telling Rod to fuck off. She didn’t say that but it sure felt like she did.

Tina decides to let Rod stay and the two head upstairs to have sex. That night while everyone is asleep, Tina is awoken by someone throwing rocks at the window. She then hears someone calling out her name which tells us she’s having a nightmare. Meanwhile, in Heather’s room, Freddy attempts to push through the wall which wakes Heather up but she doesn’t it.

It’s never explained why the man with seemingly indestructible knives on a glove doesn’t just cut through the wall but we can assume it’s because of Nancy’s plot armor.

Freddy pushes through the wall
Who are you trying to impress with this stunt Freddy?

Tina follows the sound of someone calling her name and heads outside, walking down an alleyway. Pro Tip: If an unknown person from the shadows in the middle of the night is calling your name, don’t follow it, you will get murdered.

The unknown person finally makes themselves known and it’s Freddy causing Tina to run. In a jumpscare, Freddy appears in front of her as she turns around and Tina runs back towards the house. At one point he jumps out from behind a tree and taunts Tina by cutting off his own fingers which seem to cause him no pain. 

He also bleeds green blood which I think is a pretty rare condition caused by extra sulfur in your hemoglobin and I assume that would also cause Freddy to smell like rotten eggs.

Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
“Oh, my blood should not be green, I’m not supposed to smell like that, and I should see a doctor?”

Freddy catches up to Tina before she can get in the house and as the two struggle, she rips off his face which does nothing but reveal a cackling skull. We cut to Rod jumping out of bed as Tina screams under the sheets. Although we see Freddy pinning Tina down under the sheets, when Rod pulls off the sheets, from his point of view, he only sees Tina.

Unable to do anything Rod watches as Tina is cut open and dragged up the wall by an invisible Freddy. Tina’s screams wake up Glen and Nancy but they’re unable to open the locked door. Meanwhile, Tina falls onto the bed and dies.

Tina is killed in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
See? Don’t follow voices.

Glen finally breaks the door open but he and Nancy only find Tina’s dead body and an open window with Rod nowhere to be found. A short time later Police Lieutenant Thompson (played by John Saxon) walks into the police station while getting briefed about the murder. As he enters his office we see Nancy and her mother Marge Thompson (played by Ronee Blakley).

Turns out Lt. Thompson is Nancy’s dad and Marge’s ex-husband. There’s obvious tension between him and Marge as he demands to know why Nancy was at Tina’s house. Nancy divulges that Tina dreamt someone was going to kill her before breaking down.

Ronee Blakley and John Saxon in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
“Can you two not fight, you’re embarrassing me in front of the killer dream guy in my subconscious.”

The following day Nancy heads to school despite her mother’s objections. While walking she spots something in a suit watching her but there gone when she looks again. As she passes some shrubs, Rod grabs her and drags her into them. He tells her he didn’t do it and is afraid the legal system will put him to death.

Lt. Thompson pops out of the bushes pointing a gun at Rod and as he runs, Nancy jumps in between. Unfortunately for Rod, the police don’t usually work alone like those 80’s action movies would have you believe. Rod is surrounded by police and arrested.

Nancy is in class looking pretty tired at school as one of her classmates reads off Shakespeare. Dude is so boring Nancy falls asleep instantly. Nancy hears Tina calling out to her and sees her standing by the door. Despite knowing she is totally dead, Nancy decides to follow her.

In the hall, Nancy sees Tina being dragged away into the basement leaving behind a trail of blood.

Entering the school’s basement with a boiler, Freddy appears and Nancy asks who he is. Freddy lifts his shirt, cuts his stomach open revealing green blood and maggots, and laughs. None of this answers Nancy’s question so she runs.

Arriving at a dead end and with Freddy approaching, Nancy slams her arm down on a hot pipe burning her skin and waking her up. Since she wakes up screaming like a lunatic, her teacher, who by the way is played by Lin Shaye in a role that’ll make you go, “hey is that the lady from the Insidious movies?”, allows Nancy to go home.

Outside Nancy notices the burn on her arm from her dream is real. She doesn’t seem to mind that it’s in a different spot though. Nancy’s burn in the wake world is on the inside of her forearm but in the dream world, she burned the bottom of her forearm, dreams be crazy though.

Nancy goes to visit Rod in jail and learns he has had nightmares about Freddy, and that whoever killed Tina cut her with four knives (so it was Freddy). That night Nancy is in the bath falling asleep as she recites an old jump rope song about Freddy. As she finally passes out Freddy’s hand reaches out from under the water.

Freddy's glove rises up in Nancy's bath
This is why I don’t take baths

Before Freddy can strike, Marge knocks on the door waking up Nancy but as soon as she leaves Nancy falls asleep again and Freddy pulls her underwater. The tub has become a huge pool-sized depth of water and Nancy struggles to swim back up. Marge hears the commotion and opens the door but Nancy has already successfully freed herself.

That night Glen, who lives across the street, sneaks into Nancy’s room and Nancy tells him she has a plan to find someone that she needs his help with. Later Nancy walks out of the house, calls out to Glen, and confirms he’s still watching.

Nancy continues her walk through the empty streets and arrives at the police station. Looking through a basement window she spots Rod sleeping in his cell. She then sees Freddy walk in and walk through the bars as she starts calling out to Rod. She also calls out to Glen but he doesn’t respond.

Looking back at Rod, she sees his woken up, and Freddy is gone. Tina appears calling out to Nancy and Freddy pops up from a bush to chase Nancy. Arriving back at her house, Freddy breaks through the main door’s small window wearing Tina’s face and reveals to Nancy that his name is Freddy.

Freddy wears Tina's face
“Nancy are you falling for this? You gotta be honest and tell me if you fell for it.”

Nancy runs to her room where Freddy breaks through her mirror and the two struggle. Nancy’s alarm goes off in the real world and she wakes up. She then rightfully curses out Glen for falling asleep as he was supposed to be keeping watch.

Nancy and Glen run to the police station and she asks her dad to check up on Rod. After some debate, Lt. Thompson agrees to let her check on him. Meanwhile, we see Rod’s blanket twist itself around his neck and lift him up into the air killing him. Nancy, Glen, and the police arrive too late to save him.

At Rod’s funeral, Nancy tells her parents about the real killer and describes Freddy but they shut that conversation down real quick… almost like they know something. Marge decides to take Nancy to a Sleep Institute where doctors hook her up to some wires and they, along with Marge, watch Nancy sleep.

After Nancy falls asleep everything seems normal but she starts to convulse and the numbers on her readings jump. The doctor, nurse, and Marge rush to Nancy and wake her up, finding she has several cuts on her arm.

But Nancy has a bigger surprise, she has Freddy’s hat and that should solidify some weird shit is going on. Who’s going to deny a physical object manifested from a dream?

Nancy pulls Freddy's hat from her dream in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
“Nancy, you’re a teen in a horror movie so I’m going to have to call bullshit on this with no logical explanation.”

The following day Nancy and her mom argue about the hat leading to Marge smacking her after Nancy calls out her drinking. Marge then reveals that Fred Krueger is dead and there’s no way he can come after her. Nancy storms out of the house and meets with Glen.

The two discuss dreams and Glen tells her about “Balinese dreaming” calling them dream skills. He says that when their dreams created monsters, they simply turned their backs on the monster causing it to lose its energy and disappear. We also find out that Nancy is reading a book on creating improvised booby traps.

Arriving back at home, Nancy finds all the windows in the house now have bars and Marge says it’s for security from someone. Marge brings her to the cellar for some sweet exposition and an origin story. 

Marge reveals that Fred Krueger was a serial killer who had killed 20 kids in the neighborhood. After police arrested him, he was released on a technicality. The parents of the neighborhood hunted him down and cornered him at an abandoned boiler room where he used to take the children. They poured gasoline everywhere and burned him alive. 

Marge then reveals she’s kept his glove in her furnace all this time. She also says my favorite lines of the movie so far (not from Freddy), she says, “But he can’t get you now. He’s dead, honey, because mommy killed him.” 

Along with the delivery it reflects and encapsulates how the alcoholic Marge knows she sucks as a mother but, feels that she has at least done something to protect to her daughter.

“Ma, does my Lieutenant of a father know you have evidence of a murder you committed in our basement?”

Later Nancy calls Glen and tells him she has a plan to pull Freddy out of her dream. She wants Glen to be there at midnight to knock Freddy out. Glen is confused but agrees. Before she hangs up, Nancy tells Glen no matter what he does, “do not fall asleep.”

Glen falls asleep but his parents wake him with 18 minutes left till midnight. Nancy looks out her window and spots Glen’s parents staring up at her, turns out they don’t like her. A few minutes later, Glen has fallen back asleep and Nancy calls Glen’s house but his parents don’t let her speak with him.

Nancy gets a callback but she only hears the same screeching that Freddy makes when he runs his knives across pipes. Nancy rips her phone off the wall but somehow it rings again and it’s Freddy once again. Freddy tells her he’s her boyfriend now and the phone changes into his mouth and tongue.

Freddy licks Nancy through the phone
Freddy would not survive the #MeToo movement

But how is Nancy being tormented by Freddy if she’s not asleep? Something fishy is going on here…

Nancy realizes that Freddy calling himself her boyfriend means he’s now targeting Glen and she runs downstairs to leave but finds the door locked. Her mother, now drunk, tells her she locked the door to protect her and doesn’t remember where she put the key.

At exactly midnight, we see Glen sleeping when he’s suddenly pulled into his bed by Freddy. A gusher of blood explodes out coating the ceiling in his blood.

A short time later police, including Nancy’s dad, arrive. Nancy calls the house to speak with her father and tells him to break open the door in 20 minutes as she’s going to bring Freddy Krueger out. Her father doesn’t believe her but he entertains the idea and agrees. After hanging up he tells one of the cops to watch the house.

Meanwhile, in the next 20 minutes, Nancy sets up several traps in a scene that would have Macaulay Culkin impressed. She sets up a trip wire, places gunpowder in a lightbulb, adds locks to the door, and sets up a sledgehammer trap.

Nancy goes to bed and wakes up in her dream where she finds a door in the basement leading to a factory boiler room. Walking through it she hears the voices of all her dead friends and she calls out to Freddy. After she finds Glen’s bloody headphones, Freddy appears in a jump scare and Nancy runs.

Jumping from a ledge she lands outside of her house in the bushes and once again calls out to Freddy. He jumps out of the bushes and, probably to his shock, Nancy tackles him just as her alarm clock goes off.

Nancy wakes up without Freddy and for a moment considers that she’s going crazy but then Freddy pops out from under her bed in another jump scare.

Freddy appears in the real world in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
“Holy shit, Nancy am I in the real world?!”

Nancy smashes a coffee pot against Freddy’s head, runs out of the room, and ties the string connected to the sledgehammer to her doorknob. She runs to a window and yells out for her dad but the cop watching the house tells her to calm down. Nancy, in a very uncalm way, demands he get her father.

Freddy breaks out of the room and gets hit by the sledgehammer sending him tumbling down the stairs. After he gets up, Nancy taunts him and lures him to the living him. Freddy triggers the tripwire which was connected to a nearby lamp with the gunpowder-filled light bulb and causes an explosion. 

Leading him to the basement, Nancy throws gasoline on Freddy and lights him on fire. Feels like she should’ve started with that. 

Lt. Thompson finally arrives and he and a few other cops break down the door. Nancy leads them to the basement but she spots burning footprints leading upstairs. She and her dad follow them up to Marge’s room and they find Freddy on top of her. Nancy hits him with a chair and her dad places a blanket over them to put out the fire.

Removing the blanket, the two see Marge’s burned body descend slowly into the bed which has become a portal with the sounds of thunder emanating from it. None of that is a typo.

Marge is killed in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Did you think I was joking?

After Marge’s body falls in, the bed returns to normal. Nancy sends her dad downstairs and turns towards the bed. She then turns away and announces that she knows Freddy is there. Freddy rises up from under a sheet behind her threatening to kill her but Nancy says he’s nothing but a dream. 

In a reveal, Nancy says the events of the entire movie have been a dream. She declares she wants her mom and friends back and says she takes back all the energy she gave Freddy. A confused Freddy lunges at her but he disappears into nothing.

The next day Nancy leaves for school and Marge walks out of the house with her saying she no longer wants to drink. Seems pretty clear that this is an ideal dream since everything is brighter and everyone is dressed in white. Glen drives up in his convertible with Tina and Rod in the backseat. Nancy hops in and the top shoots open revealing green and red stripes matching Freddy’s sweater.

The car locks on its own and the windows roll. Nancy screams for her mother as the car drives off on its own. Marge is then grabbed by Freddy and pulled through the door as we pan over to several kids singing the Freddy jump rope song.

What Happened in the End?

The whole movie was Nancy’s nightmare and none of it ever happened. There has been confusion since the ending implies Freddy is still around despite Nancy removing his energy. Turns out this is because of studio interference.

The movie’s original ending was everyone driving off like normal and Marge waving bye without Freddy popping up. The studio wanted an ending with a twist horror scene like most horror movies so three new endings were filmed. All of them end with Freddy still alive and a bleak horror twist. 


A Nightmare on Elm Street is good and it has a little bit of everything horror. There are jump scares, gore, creepy scenes, good music, and unsettling scenes. The acting isn’t all great but Robert Englund and Heather Langenkamp are among the better actors which is a good thing since they’re the leads.

Dialogue is alright and nothing special. For those of you expecting a quip-heavy Freddy, that’s not present in this movie as that incarnation of Freddy is later in the series. The story overall makes pretty good sense but then starts to fall apart at the end although not completely.

For example the whole movie being a dream came out of nowhere but you can argue it makes sense since by the end Nancy is communicating with Freddy when she’s still awake. There’s then more confusion because of that bleak ending, still it doesn’t ruin the movie so it’s not that bad.

Still for what it is; a horror movie with a serial killer that kills teens in their dreams, it’s entertaining. Overall I recommend giving it a watch, if not just so you can know the origins of one of the greatest horror movie icons and protagonists in the last 50 years.


Stuff to Ignore

Rotten Tomatoes – 95%

Metacritic – 76

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