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!
There are several reasons horror movies work, but ultimately they have to be scary and get at the parts of the brain that are still terrified of the Bogeyman. Director Wes Craven explores the possibility of what happens when dark dreams become an even more terrifying reality.
Freddy Kreuger (Robert Englund) is a child serial killer. He is arrested but released on a technicality. The neighbourhood of Elm street form a lynch mob and go after him and burn him dead, taking the law into their own hands. But Freddy returns with a vengeance in the nightmares of the children of the members of the lynch mob, hacking away at them with his patented finger knives. This wouldn't be a problem were it not for the fact that anything that happens in the dreams of children has a tangible effect.
The high school-age kids are Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss), Rod Lane (Jsu Garcia), and Glen Lantz (Johnny Depp). With the exception of the bright and plucky Nancy, they don't do much except get picked off one by one. It's Nancy who realises the connection between her dreams and reality and finds a way to thwart Freddy.
The actors all do a decent job, but the typecasting generally made it such that we didn't see most of them again on the big screen. Even though Freddy Kreuger became an household word, Robert Englund himself didn't escape this phenomenon. Johnny Depp's debut, however, paved the way to arguably bigger and better projects.
Not only does A Nightmare on Elm Street work on a visceral level, it also is intelligent and challenging. There is adequate development of the characters without dwelling on them too much. It works well because it's a combination of a supernatural force as well as psychotic human being. Freddy's power demands on the fear his nightmares induce and in the end, a Zen-like solution is found (and quickly abandoned, in the interests of a B-movie ending and future sequels).