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  • Writer's pictureAllan Major

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) Synopsis: Unraveling the Horror Classic

Featured Image For A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) Synopsis: Unraveling the Horror Classic.   Movie poster for A Nightmare on Elm Street featuring a terrified woman in bed with a menacing figure holding razor-sharp claws hovering above her, and the title in red letters.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984): When the line between dreams and reality blurs, a relentless killer stalks his prey in their sleep. Beware, for Freddy Krueger turns your worst nightmares into a deadly reality.

The film opens with a mysterious sequence where an unknown individual, identifiable only by his hands, meticulously crafts a strange weapon: a glove adorned with sharp knives as fingers. Then, Tina, a young girl clad in a nightgown, finds herself racing down foreboding alleyways filled with steam and shadows. Suddenly, the bizarre man lunges at her, brandishing the glove. Tina lets out a scream and bolts upright in her bed; the entire episode was a nightmare. Tina’s mother, alarmed by her scream, rushes into her bedroom and notices that Tina’s nightgown is slashed near her stomach. The cuts are eerily similar to those inflicted by the glove in her dream.

The next morning, Tina meets her friends at school: her boyfriend Rod, her best friend Nancy, and Nancy's boyfriend, Glen. Nancy and Tina discover they both had the same nightmare. Although Glen and Rod try to dismiss it, they seem to be having nightmares too.

That night, with Tina’s mother out of town, Nancy and Glen decide to stay with Tina. Rod shows up later, startling the group by making strange noises in the backyard before jumping out at Glen. Rod and Tina go upstairs to have sex, while Nancy and Glen sleep separately downstairs; Nancy resists any fooling around, focusing on supporting Tina.

As they all fall asleep, strange occurrences begin. The wall above Nancy's bed loses its solidity, a human figure’s shape seemingly leaning out. Nancy, half-asleep, misses it, and it disappears when she awakens. In Tina and Rod’s room, Tina is awakened by noises at the window; someone is in the backyard, throwing small rocks at the glass. Tina, believing it to be the same person trying to scare her, goes downstairs to confront them. Venturing into the backyard, a phantom voice lures her into the alley from her dream. She is startled by strange sights, like a goat suddenly lurching into the alley. Finally, her stalker appears: a man in a fedora, wearing a dirty red and green striped sweater and the deadly glove. He taunts Tina, laughing and whispering her name, walking towards her with arms stretching impossibly wide, blocking her escape. Tina retreats into her backyard, where the figure leaps out from behind a tree. He slices off his own fingers, releasing strangely colored blood. Tina tries to get inside but is grabbed, struggling with him. We then see Tina in bed next to Rod, thrashing around; she is dreaming the incident, with the man seemingly under the covers with her. Rod awakens and pulls off the sheet, seeing only Tina being manipulated by an unseen force. Her stomach is slashed, four wounds appearing simultaneously, clearly from the glove. Tina is dragged screaming up the wall, across the ceiling, and falls dead into the blood-soaked bed. Nancy and Glen rush in to find Rod gone, apparently through the window, and Tina dead.

At the police station, Nancy recounts the events to Lt. Donald Thompson, her father. Nancy’s parents, Lt. Thompson and Marge, are divorced, greeting each other with restrained hostility. Rod is the prime suspect in Tina’s murder, but Nancy believes otherwise; though Rod has a delinquent reputation, she knows he isn’t a killer.

As Nancy walks to school the next morning, Rod appears, pulling her into some bushes. He swears he didn’t kill Tina, but before they can talk further, Lt. Thompson arrives with his men, arresting Rod. Nancy is furious that her father used her to capture Rod and storms off.

At school, an exhausted Nancy falls asleep in English class, thinking she sees Tina standing outside the classroom door. Tina speaks to her from a bloody body bag, which is then dragged away by an unseen force. Nancy follows the bloody trail into the basement, encountering a female hall monitor who scolds her for not having a pass. Nancy turns around to find the girl speaking in a man’s voice, wielding the knife-glove and cackling.

Nancy descends into the basement, confronted by the killer, dressed in the same sweater and hat. His skin is horribly scarred, burned almost beyond recognition. He traps Nancy in the boiler room, taunting her. "Come to Freddy!" he says, but just before he can slash her, Nancy burns her arm on a hot pipe. The burn wakes her, causing her to scream and jump out of her chair in English class. Even awake, she has a large burn mark on her arm.

Embarrassed and frightened, she leaves school. She visits Rod in prison, confirming her fears: Rod is having the same nightmare, haunted by the same figure. She tells Rod she knows he didn’t kill Tina and leaves.

Nancy has another encounter with "Freddy," this time falling asleep in the bathtub and being pulled underwater, dragged into an abyss. She manages to swim back up and pull herself to safety. Marge, hearing the horror of Nancy’s screams, bursts in, but Nancy pretends she simply fell. Marge sends Nancy to bed, but Nancy is now afraid to sleep, drinking coffee constantly with a fresh pot hidden in her room.

Nancy enlists Glen’s help in an experiment. Though it appears she asks Glen to follow her, she is in her nightclothes, indicating she is dreaming. Nancy goes to the jail where Rod is held, peering in the window to see his cell. Rod is asleep, and she sees the killer approaching him, walking through the bars of Rod’s cell. Nancy yells for Glen, but he is gone; the killer’s voice answers, "I’m here, Nancy!" and lunges at her. She runs back to her house, finding her stairs have turned into a sticky mess. The killer smashes the window on the front door, peering inside while wearing Tina’s face as a mask, mimicking her voice, "Nancy, help me! Save me from Freddy!" Nancy wakes up, furious to find Glen asleep next to her bed, failing to keep watch.

Nancy and Glen rush to the jail, convinced the killer will strike. Before they can intervene, Rod’s nightmare becomes reality: an unseen force twists his bedsheets around his neck, hanging him and breaking his neck. Lt. Thompson dismisses Nancy’s claims, attributing it to a simple suicide. Marge and Lt. Thompson seem to share an unspoken realization but won’t admit anything to Nancy.

Marge takes Nancy to a sleep clinic, monitoring her sleep. Nancy’s nightmare sends the instruments haywire, and when she wakes up, she has a gray streak in her hair from terror, inexplicably holding the killer’s fedora. Nancy insists the name inside, Fred Krueger, is significant, but Marge denies knowing him. Nancy reacts angrily, turning to books on booby traps and survival techniques.

Marge finally tells Nancy the truth. Taking her to their basement, Marge recounts how Fred Krueger, a child murderer, was released from prison on a technicality. Nancy’s parents and other neighborhood parents killed Krueger by setting him on fire. Marge produces Freddy’s glove, which she kept as a grim souvenir. Nancy realizes Freddy seeks revenge from beyond the grave.

Nancy tries to warn Glen, but his parents refuse to let her speak to him. She receives a taunting call from Krueger, even after ripping the phone out of the wall, realizing Glen is about to die. Unable to rescue him due to the metal bars her mother installed, Nancy is helpless as Freddy kills Glen, sucking him into his bed and shredding him until nothing remains but a fountain of gore.

Nancy, now alone, decides to face Freddy. Calling her father, she claims she’ll bring Freddy out of her dream, wanting him arrested. Lt. Thompson patronizes her, disbelieving her claim. Nancy sets up booby traps around the house, determined to gain an advantage. After saying goodnight to her drunken mother, Nancy falls asleep and descends into her basement, finding a door leading down further than ever before, into Freddy’s boiler room.

She struggles with Freddy as her alarm goes off, bringing him into the real world. The booby traps give her an edge, but she can’t get her father’s attention; the cop outside seems oblivious.

Freddy chases Nancy through the house and into the basement, where she sets him on fire. Lt. Thompson breaks in, seeing fiery footprints leading out of the basement. They follow the trail upstairs, finding Freddy attacking Marge. Freddy vanishes, leaving Marge’s charred corpse, which disappears into the bed. Shocked, Lt. Thompson leaves Nancy alone. Freddy reappears, but Nancy turns her back on him, remembering Glen’s advice. Her lack of fear renders Freddy powerless, and he vanishes.

Nancy steps outside, suddenly finding herself dressed for school. Marge stands on the porch, seeing Nancy off lovingly, promising to quit drinking. Glen, Rod, and Tina arrive to take Nancy to school. The convertible’s roof slams shut, trapping them inside. Marge, waving goodbye, is oblivious until Freddy’s arm smashes through the small window in the front door, pulling her through it in a bizarre movement. She is gone.

And that is a plot summary for A Nightmare on Elm Street from 1984.

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