With a remake of the original A Nightmare in Elm Street currently in cinemas, Luke Owen looks back over the classic horror franchise…
Freddy Krueger is one of the biggest horror icons in the world. Even people who have never sat down and watched a Nightmare movie know who Freddy Krueger is. He has featured in nine films, a TV series, plenty of comic books, novels and has appeared on The Simpsons three times. And now, he’s been re-imagined for a new generation by Michael Bay.
I’m a huge Nightmare on Elm Street fan. I watched the films a lot when I was a kid and even more as an adult. While they are hardly cinematic masterpieces, they are great examples of the slasher genre that was popular in the 1980s.
Being that I am a massive fan of the franchise, and seeing as the new one is currently running in cinemas, I thought I would compile a Nightmare on Elm Street retrospective. I’ll focus my attention on the original series and New Nightmare as I’ve not seen the new one and I don’t have time to review the TV show. So, lock your door, grab you crucifix, stay up late and never sleep again, because one, two, Freddy is coming for you…
A Nightmare on Elm Street (Craven, 1984)
The film that started it all. Young Nancy is being haunted in her dreams by a horrible burnt man in a dirty red and green jumper. Her friends are also being haunted by the same man, could it all be a coincidence? Or is something more sinister afoot..?
It’s the latter obviously.
The first entry in the series is highly regarded as the best one and for good reason. It has a great cast of characters, an intriguing premise, cool death sequences and a genuinely creepy atmosphere. Robert Englund brings the idea of Freddy and turns him into an incredible reality and Heather Langenkamp brings believability to Nancy, the weak willed heroine who becomes a strong hero. It’s also incredibly surreal, peculiar in various shapes and holds a great ideal that Freddy is the manifestation of the sins of our fathers. Something the later films missed.
While it’s not the greatest film ever made, it’s certainly one of the better slasher films of the 1980s and one of my personal favourites.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (Sholder, 1985)
The studios capitalised on the success of Nightmare the following year by making a horrible and dreadfully bad sequel. Way to go New Line Cinemas!
In a bizarre change of pace, Nightmare 2 sees a kid being possessed by Freddy Krueger in order to kill people for no real rhyme or reason. This is a major problem seeing as the film was trying to keep in with a similar theme of Nightmare. The other problem the film has is that screenwriter David Chaskin was too busy trying to work homoerotic subtext into the film that he completely missed the point of its predecessor. It was unneeded and unnecessary seeing that neither Sholder nor film producer Robert Shaye picked up on it until years later and is regarded as the films biggest downfall.
The film is a complete mess and it’s widely regarded as the worst entry in the series.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (Russell, 1987)
Thank God Wes Craven came back on board to help write the screenplay for the third instalment. After the disaster of Nightmare 2, they worked really hard to get the series back on track. Freddy is back and is now haunting the children of Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital. They complain of nightmares they are having but the head nurse isn’t buying into it. That is until the returning Nancy comes in to help the kids.
In bringing back characters from the first instalment as well as the music and back story, the film feels like the true sequel to Nightmare. The death sequences are well thought out, the plot is cool, the characters are nicely portrayed and well performed (by 80s slasher standards) and the soundtrack is very good.
Amongst fans, the argument has always been which is the better Nightmare film, the first or third one? Personally, I would go with Nightmare 3 just because it does a great job of continuing on the franchise without truly ruining or convoluting it. However, if I did have one complaint, it would be the introduction of Amanda Krueger, Freddy’s mother. It was a nice idea to further his back story but it almost humanises Freddy in a way that wasn’t needed. He is the bogeyman who we should all be afraid of; he does not need to be “the bastard son of 1000 maniacs” who we should pity.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (Harlin, 1988)
Part 4 carries on from Part 3 by having all of the surviving characters come back, but promptly kills them off within the first half hour. One of the best things about the mini trilogy within the Friday the 13th series (parts 4, 5 and 6) is that we Tommy Jarvis again and again trying to survive the horrors he’s faced before. We grow to like him as a character and we care about his survival. Nightmare never had this despite having a mini trilogy (named by fans “The Dream Trilogy”). We had Nancy come back only to be killed in Part 3 and the same thing happened with Kristen, Kincade and Joey in this instalment.
The Dream Master was the first film to show that the franchise was beginning to decline in quality to the point where it looked like no one cared anymore. It’s not a terrible film by any stretch of the imagination, but it tries too hard to have creative deaths while furthering the franchise back story but in the end just becomes a series of gruesome set pieces with poor dialogue and a dreadful story. Alice isn’t as likeable as Kristen and she certainly isn’t as believable as Nancy. As I said it’s not a bad film, it’s just not a very good one.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (Hopkins, 1989)
Blimey, where do I begin with the final instalment of the mini “Dream Trilogy”? Nightmare 5 once again deals with Freddy trying to possess someone, only this time he’s trying to possess the unborn child of Alice (from Part 4 this time played by Lisa Wilcox). But Alice has help in the form of Amanda Krueger (who is dead) and Jacob (who is Alice’s unborn son). Sound stupid? It is.
You remember how I said that Part 4 was starting to show the decline in quality of the franchise? Well this is further proof. The plot is stupid and convoluted, the acting is horrid and once again they managed to wreck the back story of Freddy. Where once was a man who was killed by the residents of Elm Street who made a deal with the Dream Demons so he could get his revenge on their children, now just lies a quip firing unborn child possessor who wants to be part of the real world. Why does Freddy want to be reborn in the real world when he can extract the revenge he desires in the dream world where he is all powerful? It doesn’t make sense.
Still, it was better than Part 2.
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (Talalay, 1991)
If you thought Part 5 was silly, Freddy’s Dead was (a little bit) worse.
As with the previous instalment, the main problem lies in its convoluting of the back story and making things up for no rhyme or reason just to justify a sequel or plot point. How convoluted you ask? This film focuses on Freddy’s Daughter trying to defeat Freddy because he wants to create a new Elm Street so he can wreak his revenge again. Why? I don’t know.
The film is a bad instalment and would have been a terrible ending to the franchise. After seven years and six films worth of build, the film whimpers and runs out of steam as it reaches its final scenes (in rubbish 3D). I don’t want to talk about it too much as it just ruins what was once a very promising franchise. But trust me, this one is rotten.
Still, it was better than Part 2.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (Craven, 1994)
I always had this vision of Wes Craven sitting in a cinema watching Freddy’s Dead and holding back the urge to scream, “what have you done to my creation?!” at the screen. The film was a bad way to end the franchise.
So, just like Dream Warriors, Wes stood up to the plate to save the franchise and restore some pride back into it and in 1994 he did so with New Nightmare.
Craven stated that he watched every film in the series but by the end of it couldn’t follow the story. Too many cooks had come on board and ruined what was quite a nice broth. Wes needed to take the series back to the roots he’d created.
The plot of the film was actually the original proposed idea for Dream Warriors in which Freddy Krueger is a film character but he works his way into the real world to attack the stars of the original film (at least that makes sense for him wanting to be in the real world). The studios didn’t like the metacinematic idea so it was shelved. Wes brought it back for this instalment feeling it would be the best way to end the series. I love the concept and it should have worked wonders. Only, it sort of doesn’t.
Part of the problem is the film is too long to sustain interest. The film clocks in at nearly 2 hours and it doesn’t have enough millage to warrant it. The idea was very intriguing and at times is excellent, but overall it just feels badly executed and poorly paced.
However, I do like this film. It was a great way to end the series and it had a fantastic reinvention of the Freddy character. Gone is the James Bond-esque quip firing funny man and back is the horrible scary bogeyman demon. The metacinematic idea that Craven introduced here could have been a precursor to the very successful Scream franchise, also directed by Craven. Thus showing that the idea was there, it just needed to be done better.
Which brings us to a close of my retrospective look at the A Nightmare on Elm Street series. And do you know what I realised? Out of the seven films, I only rate three of them highly. Less than half – 43% to be exact. That’s not a good statistic. So why do I like the series so much?
Two words – Freddy Krueger. He makes the films and Robert Englund makes him. In the world of slasher films we find ourselves swimming in an ocean of silent killers in masks but Freddy Krueger gave us a different kind of tide. He was funny, he was scary, he had an intriguing premise and an interesting (if often convoluted) back story. Although he lost his edge as the series progressed, Englund never let up that Freddy was someone we should always be scared of with his first class performance. I just hope that Michael Bay’s “re-imagining” doesn’t ruin it.
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“Welcome to prime time bitch!” – Freddy Krueger, Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: The Dream Warriors (Russell, 1987)