Top Trailers: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)

The year was 1984.  The horror genre was riding high in the midst of its Fangoria era but it needed something new. The glut of slasher films had played itself out creatively and teens, the major consumers of horror fare, were looking  for the next big scare. When it arrived, it would come from an indie film company teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and a filmmaker who had spent the first part of the ’80s navigating a bumpy path through Hollywood.  As fate would have it, the professional fortunes of company and filmmaker would rise like phoenixes on the back of the film they created – A Nightmare On Elm Street. It infused standard slasher film elements with surrealistic imagery and a sense of mythology that helped it become the other major horror franchise of the ’80s.

New Line knew their bread and butter was the teenage audience so the trailer for A Nightmare On Elm Street is aimed directly at them. The first minute of this spot lays it out nicely: after a few shots that establish we are in idyllic suburbia, offset with the film’s famously creepy nursery-rhyme musical motif, we establish there is a killer on the loose. The teens are the targets and they will clearly have to figure it out for themselves as the adults scratch their heads and try to latch onto an easy scapegoat. 

This section of the trailer also introduces the film’s iconic villain Freddy Krueger and his abilities with subtlety.  We don’t get a clear glimpse of his face but we see that he’s no simple hack-’em-up horror villain. He can appear anywhere: materializing from the wall over your bed, shoving his arm up through the water in your bathtub, even popping up under your bedsheets. He also has supernatural abilities, demonstrated by him levitating victims in the air, pulling them down into their beds and even walking through the bars of a jail cell as he makes the bedsheets curl around the neck of its occupant.

The first minute of the trailer also introduces our teenage heroine, Nancy: she makes the connection between the killer’s strange abilities and his murders as she warns another character with one of the film’s iconic lines: “Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep.” The next twenty-odd seconds of the film establish that she will be this film’s version of the Final Girl… and a rather resourceful one at that as she sets up the kind of Rube Goldberg-ian death traps that Craven loved to include in his films. We also see that the adults remain hapless as Freddy aims his campaign of mayhem at her, threatening her with a tongue extending from her telephone receiver and showing his flame-scarred visage.

As the frenzy builds to a peak, the trailer cuts to its closing title graphic. The narrator tells us the film is from Wes Craven, making sure to name-check his past classics Last House On The Left and The Hills Have Eyes.  The credits list him but give top credit to producer Robert Shaye (New Line’s head honcho) and give New Line a distribution credit bigger than either of their names. In the last moments, the narrator assures the film is “a new masterpiece in fantasy-terror.”

That “fantasy-terror” distinction was important because it let the target audience know that the film had something new to add to horror cinema’s repertoire of shock tactics – and it also let the critics know that it was more than just another ‘dead teenager’ flick, although most of them wouldn’t really get hip to the series until its third film. In any event, this trailer does an excellent job of selling a potentially tricky premise and the excitement it generates takes you right back to that endorphin rush that A Nightmare On Elm Street gave horror fans at the end of 1984.

To read Schlockmania’s film review of A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984), click here.

To read Schlockmania’s film review of A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010), click here.

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