A Nightmare on Elm Street — Script

A Nightmare on Elm Street Movie Poster

Dig your claws into Wes Craven’s chilling masterpiece by reading one of the final scripts for A Nightmare on Elm Street. New Line Home Video included this draft on the original DVD release in 2000. It is available here in PDF format.

Wes Craven was inspired to write A Nightmare on Elm Street after reading “a series of small articles that ran in the Los Angeles Times about people inexplicably dying in their sleep.”

A Nightmare on Elm Street, as a story, seems to have its roots in those articles [from] the Times,” Craven explained. “The first article was about a young man, Asian descent, dying in the middle of a nightmare.”

“He and his family had come out of the relocation camps in Southeast Asia, during the time of Pol Pot where hundreds of thousands of people were being slaughtered. About a year later, there was a second article. Then about six months later, there was a third—and the third one got me.” (Never Sleep Again: The Making of A Nightmare on Elm Street)

“I had saved these clippings of [this] young man dying,” elaborated Craven. “His father was a physician and had given him sleeping pills, and the kid was supposedly taking them. They had come out from the Southeast Asia war camps, so the family just assumed he had been traumatized. [The kid] said, ‘No, no, it’s different. There’s something stalking me in my dream and I don’t want to sleep.’ He attempted to keep himself awake, but eventually he fell asleep and his family carried him up to his bed. They went to their own beds and heard screaming, thrashing and ran into his room. He was screaming and kicking on his bed and, by time they got to him, he just fell silent. And he was dead. They [later] found in his closet a coffee pot with black coffee he had hidden in there and found all of the sleeping pills—he hadn’t taken any. It was so dramatic: This kid knew he was going to die if he slept, and you have to sleep. How terrifying is that?!”

Eastern philosophy also fueled the script’s premise. “The whole thing with A Nightmare on Elm Street was based on Eastern philosophy I was studying at that time,” Craven said. “Most of us are down at the bottom level [of consciousness], where we go about our daily lives and everything else. We don’t think about a lot of things. And next [level] up is, like, businessmen, then artists, and then mystics. And the farther up you go the more uncomfortable it is. Just before the top there is a point where you either commit suicide, you go back down, or you break through into real enlightenment. You have to take, at that point, total responsibility for consciousness. And that is what I kind of built that [premise] around. Sleep is the paradigm of not being conscious. So, in order to be conscious, one of the primal things you had to do was to stay awake.” (Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film)

“I’ve always felt that nightmares are the horror movies of the psyche,” continued Craven. “Conversely, horror films are kind of the nightmares of a culture—they talk about the things that our normal rational mind or our polite society doesn’t want to bring to the dinner table. I was trying to think archetypes with A Nightmare on Elm Street. It was very much built on a system of archetypical thinking in nightmares.” (Never Sleep Again: The Making of A Nightmare on Elm Street)

“I sent the script all around Hollywood, and everybody in Hollywood thought the script was dumb, too scary, or not scary enough,” laughed Craven. “I have a whole stack of wonderful [rejection] letters I keep just to remind myself when things get rough.” (Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film)

Craven summarized the reason for A Nightmare on Elm Street’s success by stating, “It was from the heart. It had a good, solid story, it was totally original and it worked.” (Screams & Nightmares: The Films of Wes Craven)

A Nightmare on Elm Street
Script by Wes Craven

A Nightmare on Elm Street Script


NIGHTMARE MUSIC THEME begins as we FADE UP on a SERIES OF SHOTS, all CLOSE and teasing.

— A man’s FEET, in shabby work shoes, stalking through a junk bin in a dark, fire-lit, ash-dusted place. A huge BOILER ROOM is what it is, although we only glimpse it piecemeal. Then we SEE a MAN’S HAND, dirty and nail-bitten, reach INTO FRAME and pick up a piece of METAL.

— ANOTHER ANGLE as the HAND grabs a grimey WORKGLOVE and slashes at it with a straight razor, until its fingertips are off.

— CLOSE ON SAME HANDS dumping four fishing knives out of a filthy bag. Their blades are thin, curved, gleaming sharp.

— MORE ANGLES, EVEN CLOSER. We can HEAR the MAN’s wheezing BREATHING, but we still haven’t seen his face. We never will. We just SEE more metal being assembled with crude tools, into some sort of linkage — a splayed, spidery sort of apparatus, against a background light of FIRE, and a deep rushing of STEAM and HEAVY, DARK ENERGY.

— And then we see this linkage attached to the glove.

— Then the BLADES attached to all of it.

— Then the MAN’S HAND slips into this glove-like apparatus, filling it out and transforming it into an awesome, deadly claw-hand with four razor/talons gleaming at its blackened fingertips. Suddenly the HAND arches and STRIKES FORWARD, SLASHING THROUGH a DARK CANVAS, tearing it to shreds.

55. NANCY comes off the stairs into a dank boiler room. The smear trail is there. It runs behind a cracking, red-hot boiler the size of a diesel locomotive. Everything about the place feels dreadfully wrong, and the MUSIC is deep into the NIGHTMARE THEME when it pauses.

TIGHT ON NANCY. Slow terror moves into her face. There’s a low, sinister GIGGLE.

56. REVERSE IN HER POV — we see a tangle of pipes, shadows, and the tainted fire of the huge boiler. Then from behind this, deeply shadowed but still identifiable, steps TINA’s KILLER. The same filthy red and yellow sweater and slouch hat, the same melted face twisting into a smile, the same GARBLED LAUGH as he slides the long blades from beneath his shirt and fans them on the ends of his bony fingers.

Who are you?

Gonna get you.

148. CLOSE ON NANCY’s face. VERY CLOSE. Her eyes stare ahead, red-rimmed, anxious. She picks absently at the thick bandage covering her forearm. The long cuts from Fred Krueger’s fingers are bleeding again, but she doesn’t even care anymore. Too late to sweat the small stuff. She crosses the room.

On the bedside table with the nearly empty Pyrex coffee maker, the empty cup and the empty box of No-Doz, is her old fashioned alarm clock, and a phone.

NANCY pours herself the last of the coffee and drinks it to the dregs, then looks to the clock.

INSERT CLOCK — ten minutes to midnight.

NANCY’S eyes go to the door.

WIDER. Fully clothed and in a jacket now, she creeps to the door and cracks it, just to make sure. Then freezes.