Before Johnny Depp became the Johnny Depp we’ve come to know and love for his unique characters that fall outside society’s norms, he played the clean-cut, prep/jock, boy next door Glen Lantz in the 1984 film A Nightmare on Elm Street. His role in this movie consists of being the supportive, good-looking (but non-threatening), boyfriend to Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy.
The movie itself revolves around four teens who are having nightmares that involve the same disfigured man who wears a glove with knife-like fingers on one hand. While invading their dreams, Freddy Kruger has the ability to affect them in the real world, and begins to pick them off one by one. Afraid to sleep, Nancy tries to devise a plot to capture Freddy, only to discover the truth behind who Kruger is and why he’s haunting Nancy.
Being of a certain age, I had the pleasure of seeing Nightmare on the big screen many moons ago when it first debuted. Actually, I saw it at the local Drive-In complete with screaming teenage girls in the back of a pick-up truck, but that’s a story for another time. When it was first released it was a very enjoyable flick and memorable for its creepy atmosphere and unique premise of a killer haunting your dreams. In terms a younger generation might appreciate, Freddy Kruger and A Nightmare on Elm was the equivalent of what Jigsaw and the SAW franchise is today.
Watching A Nightmare on Elm Street a second time around, it’s a lot harder to love it as much as the first time, partly because its harder to look past the bad 80s fashions, old school special effects, and ancient artifacts like boomboxes, rotary dial phones, and portable tv’s.
Johnny has said in interviews that he took the role basically to support his music career and had no real desire to become a full-time actor. In a way we have Nic Cage to thank for Johnny Depp’s career, since it was Cage who first introduced him to a casting agent that eventually led him to the role in A Nightmare on Elm Street. He looks so young in this movie, you can almost believe he’s in his teens watching it now despite that he was likely 20 at the time of filming.
Depp’s performance as Glen doesn’t stand out in a way that might lead you to think he would go on to have a long career in Hollywood, but it’s probably a good thing that none of the trademark Depp eccentricities came out in his portrayal of boyfriend who eventually meets his demise by being sucked through his bed, portable TV, stereo turntable and all only to be regurgitated as some kind of human slurry. I’m no CSI-like scientist but I am pretty sure even if you could put a human into some sort of giant blender it would be physically impossible to create the sheer volume of goo that is produced in that scene.
Surprisingly there are only 4 deaths in the movie, Tina, Rod, Glen, and Nancy’s alcoholic Mom, but its not the deaths that are so memorable as the interludes between the deaths. The scene where the body of Tina is dragged through the school in a body bag by an invisible hand, leaving a gruesome blood trail for Nancy to follow is creepy as hell and was one of the scenes I vividly remember from nearly 30 years ago watching this.
Other old school effects like the scene where Freddy menaces Nancy through what looks like an Olympic sized dental dam on the ceiling may be dated but are still creepy looking even if they would be rendered in CGI today.
While I have not seen the 2010 remake (and hope never to have the misfortune to) the original still holds a fond place in my heart equally for the acting debut of Johnny Depp as well as the memories of those teen years that it invokes.
Tune in next week when I review the 1985 comedic masterpiece Private Resort in which Depp teams up with Rob Morrow (Numb3rs, Northern Exposure) to chase girls and get mixed up in a jewel heist gone wrong.