Think of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street, and it’s impossible not to picture Freddy Krueger, one of if not the iconic Horror villains of the 1980s, and still one of the most recognisable and lauded serial killers ever created on film. The little known at the time New Line Cinema production company, struck gold with the first movie released in 1984, completely reinventing a slasher sub-genre which was already riding high with the likes of the Halloween and Friday The 13th franchises, with their own instantly recognisable but relatively similair antagonists in Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees.
Craven’s genius was reinventing his boogeyman as a stalker of dreams, and moving the horror of his narrative into the nightmares of his teenage cast of victims, an inescapable world where the powers of Freddy are not of this earth, and where there is no limit to the horror that could be conceived in the story. And although Craven’s involvement in the overall series would be sporadic, contributing a dismissed script for the second sequel, before returning to blow everyone’s mind with the proto-meta New Nightmare (1994), his vision in creating such a cultural phenomenon with the original film, cemented his name in the history of cinema.
A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
A movie which for good reason, can be considered as one of the most important horror films of all time. A Nightmare On Elm Street not only introduced Craven’s unique concept and a killer that would become an icon of pop-culture, but would also introduce us to the ultimate ‘final girl’ in Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), as well as the then unknown actor Johnny Depp, who would of course go on to have his own mildly success career in Hollywood. The movie opens with a scene showing Freddy Krueger (Robert England) sharpening the razor-fingered talons of his knifed glove, itself a unique and instantly iconic weapon, before infecting the dreams of teenager Tina (Amanda Wyss).
Tina talks to her friends and boyfriend about the demonic figure that has been stalking her nightmares, and the very next night she is murdered by Freddy in one of the most legendary kill sequences in 80s horror. As she is knifed in her dream, her sleeping body is also slashed by an invincible force, and her body is dragged from her bed up the wall and across the ceiling, to the horror of her boyfriend Rod (Jsu Garcia), who watches the massacre unfold before his eyes.
Her murder is investigated by Nancy’s father Lieutenant Thompson (John Saxon), as Nancy herself becomes stalked by Krueger. And she must come to terms with the truth of the supernatural and demonic phenomenon, ultimately showing her virtue as a strong female character, who by the end of the film is willing to go into the lions den, and fight back in order to end the madness. There are so many iconic moments in the film. Such as when Nancy falls asleep in school, before seeing Tina’s bloody bodybag being dragged along the hallway by an invincible force, which she follows into the basement boiler room that is Freddy’s lair.
As well as the scene when she falls asleep in the bath, and we see a shot of Freddy’s glove rising from the water before pulling her under, and Johnny Depp’s volcanic blood bed death. The movie introduced everything we came to love to hate about Freddy. His dirty stripy red and green jumper, his fedora hat, his burned skin. While the film would introduce the lore of the child murderer, hunted down and burned alive by the parents of Springwood, Ohio, before returning to haunt the dreams of their children, kick starting the ultimate horror franchise of the 80s.
A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2 : Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
Following the success of A Nightmare On Elm Street, New Line Cinema were looking to quickly capitalise on their smash hit, fast tracking a movie without any involvement from Wes Craven, and disregarding their heroic protagonist in Nancy. The studio also only brought back Robert Englund to reprise his iconic role at the eleventh hour, having previously resisted his significant pay demands, while unsuccessfully screen testing other actors.
Freddy’s Revenge opens with the notorious ‘school bus’ scene, where we meet timid teenager Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton), the fresh object of Freddy’s desire and macabre taunting, as the killer seeks to possess him in order to escape to the real world. Jesse’s parents have recently brought the house once occupied by Nancy and her family, and Jesse is the typical fish out of water as the new boy in high school, although he manages to acquire himself a girlfriend in Lisa (Kim Myers), and the friendship of typical jock Brady (Robert Rusler).
Stylistically Freddy’s Revenge is an interesting movie, with probably the darkest Freddy of the series, and a distinct sexual undertone which is accentuated far beyond the rest of the franchise. There are heavy undertones of homo-eroticism throughout, as Jessie is taunted to the brink of madness by the sadistic Dream-Demon, and the movie generally tends to polarise the hardcore fans with its often bizarrely portrayed sub-text. Jesse discovers the diary of Nancy, and the recording of her experiences with Freddy touch a nerve as his own nightmares are consuming his soul, to a point where he sleepwalks and murders his depraved gym-coach with Freddy’s glove, after meeting him in a seedy S&M bar, never quite knowing whether what’s unfolding is a dream, or his reality.
With the help of Lisa he investigates who Freddy Krueger was in the town of Springwood, and he begins to realise what is happening to him. Director Jack Sholder (The Hidden) provides a highly memorable scene of fine grotesque body horror that David Cronenberg would have been proud of, as Krueger literally bursts out of Jesse’s body and murders Brady. Before the movie culminates in a pool party in which Freddy finally uses Jesse in order to transcend to the real world, delivering the classic line; “You are all my children now!” as he starts slashing victims left right and centre, before Lisa assumes the role of the heroine, as she looks to defeat Freddy and save the soul of her boyfriend.
A Nightmare On Elm Street 3 : Dream Warriors (1987)
“Sleep. Those little slices of Death. How I loathe them.” Edgar Allan Poe And so opens Dream Warriors, the third instalment of the series and widely considered to be the quintessential A Nightmare On Elm Street sequel … and with good reason! Directed by Chuck Russell (The Blob / The Mask), this movie does everything a perfect sequel should. It introduces Kristen (Patricia Arquette) as the next teenager living on Elm Street to be haunted in her dreams by our razor fingered antagonist, as she is drawn to Freddy’s haunted house by the sweet and innocent singing of his murdered child victims, who act like sirens as they chant the ‘One Two, Freddy’s coming for you’ nursery rhyme.
Kristen ends up in a psychiatric hospital for disturbed children, after her mother discovers her with a razor in her hand and cut wrists after she sleepwalked into her bathroom, and it is in this medical facility setting that the film introduces a fine cast of engaging new characters. And in a shrewd move by New Line, Heather Langenkamp also returns as Nancy, now a young adult and an intern psychologist working closely on the ward with Dr Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson), in an attempt to help understand the collective trauma of the group of disturbed teenagers, who are all experiencing sleep deprivation and a conjoined fear of a Boogeyman that no one, except Nancy of course, understands.
On her first night in the facility Kirsten appears to have a psychic connection with Nancy, and is able to pull her into her dream where she is able to save her from the nightmare of being eaten by a giant snake with Freddy’s head. There is an increased fantasy element to Dream Warriors, which works really well for the narrative as we meet each troubled teenager, who with the help of Kristen are able to group together and meet in each others dreams, where they all have a special power which is an extension of their own real world personalities. In his dreamworld Freddy is however able to take a number of them out in spectacular fashion, with classic kill scenes such as the puppet master sleep walking sequence, where Freddy uses his victims tendons as strings and has him walk out of a top floor window. As well as when he delivers his immortal “Welcome to Prime time bitch!” one-liner, as he electrocutes an aspiring young actress, by smashing her face-first into a TV screen.
This was the movie when Freddy’s use of one liners to accompany his kills would come into full force, and although the movie remains as dark in tone as it’s two predecessors, it would signal the start of the characters descent into the more tongue-in- cheek killer he would become in later films. We also discover a fresh back story of Freddy’s origins as the bastard son of one-hundred maniacs, after his mother, a young nun was trapped in an asylum and raped for weeks by its demented criminally insane inmates. The apparition of Sister Krueger visits Dr Gordon, and helps him and Nancy understand what they can do to try and end Freddy’s rein of terror once and for all.
A Nightmare On Elm Street 4 : The Dream Master (1988)
Acting as a direct sequel and companion piece to Dream Warriors, The Dream Master picks up with the surviving characters from the previous film, albeit with actress Tuesday Knight taking over the role of Kristen from Patricia Arquette. She finds herself back in Freddy’s house, drawing her friends into her nightmare a year down the line, where they are now free of the asylum and are attending high school, trying to put the events of the previous movie behind them. Although Freddy is dead, Kristen cannot stop herself returning to his lair in her dreams, and her presence begins to stir his spirit.
And as quickly as the film introduces a couple of new character in Kristen’s boyfriend Rick (Andros Jones) and his sister Alice (Lisa Wilcox), it dispatches the leftover cast from Dream Warriors in typically over the top fashion. As the returning demon takes out Kincaid (Ken Sagoes) in the car scrapyard Freddie was buried in, Joey (Rodney Eastman) in his waterbed following an illicit ‘wet dream’, and Kristen herself surviving a scene featuring Freddie legend Robert Englund in drag as a school nurse, before finally succumbing after a sun bathing session on the beach turns ugly.
It is however clear, that there is a distinct change in tone throughout The Dream Master. Which is directed by Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2) with style over substance, in terms of everything from the colour palette to the watered down cartoon style kills, and Freddy himself now prancing around like never before, as the movie plays on the limitless possibilities of what he can conjour up in his dreamworld. And once he’s got his revenge on the trio that bested him in Dream Warriors, he’s back to wreck havoc on their friends in a unique style that blends mind-bending slasher horror, with pure slapstick shlock.
It often feels disjointed, as if each scene is merely a stand alone set piece to reintroduce a new Freddy kill, rather than conveying an engaging flowing narrative. And it represents exactly where New Line Cinema were at the time of the franchise, begin to milk the series for the cash cow that it was, as it follows the new central figure of Lisa’s descent into madness, as Freddy uses her to pull more victims into the dreamworld for him to devour. There are however a couple of particularly memorable sequences, with some twistedly explicit body horror in the ‘cockroach’ death scene, and a depraved pizza date between Alice and the main man.
A Nightmare On Elm Street : The Dream Child (1989)
The fifth instalment opens with Alice dreaming of making love, before she takes a shower where the pipes take on a life of their own and it fills with water, trapping and slowly drowning her before she manages to break out through the glass, with the water gushing out around her in a visual metaphor of child birth. She is spewed out into the asylum where Amanda Krueger was held captive and raped, and we see the events leading up to Freddy’s conception unfold, as told in Dream Warriors.
Lisa is graduating from Springwood High School and has her whole life ahead of her, but is continuously haunted by the souls of Freddy’s murdered children. She also feels a strong connection to the ghost of Amanda, and has visions of Freddy’s hideous birth. Krueger is an abomination from the very beginning, and the movie once again takes the series in quite a fantastical direction, with a tone that feels very different to its predecessors, while Freddy’s appearance is also different with more of a cartoonish look about his makeup, as he once again returns from the dead after his latest demise at the end of The Dream Master.
And the script and kill sequences have also take on a distinct cartoon flavour, with a motorbike death scene where Alice’s boyfriend Dan is merged with the mechanics of his bike. Which has somehow turned into Freddy, who quips a number of cheesy one liner puns after another. Alice’s lover is dead, but she finds out she is pregnant, and also fears that Freddy is once again using her to bring him victims. In one very bizarre and repugnant kill sequence, Freddy dons a chefs hat and force feeds to death one of Alice’s friends Greta, who has an eating disorder. But her friends are being killed while Alice is awake, and if she is the catalyst for Freddy accessing their dreams, how is he doing this?
Alice comes to the realisation that it may be the dreams of her unborn baby that is giving Freddy life. And as the plot thickens, she once again discovers that the key to defeating Freddy lies with Amanda Krueger. Throughout The Dream Child, directed by Stephen Hopkins (Predator 2), there are a number of scenes of questionable early CGI and animation, particularly within the fantasy sequences, which have not aged well. Most notably when one forgettable victim is sucked into the comic book he is reading, and the movie delivers the most ludicrous of kill sequences, that shows it has fully transcended beyond its pure horror roots … into parody.
Freddy’s Dead : The Final Nightmare (1991)
‘Springwood Ohio, Ten Years From Now : Mysterious killings and suicides wipe out entire population of children and teenagers. Remaining adults are experiencing mass psychosis. There is now evidence of one surviving teenager’… And so lies the premise for Freddy’s Dead : The Final Nightmare! The movie that was meant to signify the end of the Nightmare On Elm Street saga, which New Line Cinema had virtually run into the ground following the absurdly goofy fifth instalment … but things were unfortunately about to get a whole lot kookier. We see Freddy in the opening sequence, tormenting John Doe (Shon Greenblatt) Springwood’s last remaining teenager, playing the role of the wicked witch of the west, in a Wizard Of Oz skit that had diehard fans of the series rolling their eyes from the off.
This is pure slapstick Freddy, accentuated even beyond his often playful and tongue-in-cheek role at being sinister in The Dream Child, and his make up looks just as fake and prosthetic as it did in its predecessor too. The movie introduces a whole new cast of characters, residents of a home for troubled teenagers, as well the concept of the Twisted Dream Demons, who may just be at the heart of Freddy’s rein of terror. John Doe is dropped at the shelter after being picked up by police, as he roamed the streets taking pills in order to stop himself falling asleep, while showing signs of amnesia, not remembering who he is or where he is from. His dreams appear to have a connection with the dreams of the shelters resident therapist Maggie (Lisa Zane), and she takes him back to Springwood to try and help him remember his origins.
Other kids from their shelter stow away in her van, and they all arrive in Springwood during a town fair where their are no children, and where they meet Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold in truly absurd and unnecessary cameos. The group explore the ghost town where the adults all seem crazy, and the film pays out like some goofy cartoon episode of The Twilight Zone. Until the inevitable happens and the night draws in, bringing the dream master with it to haunt the fresh meat that has arrived within his reach, and torment them each in a unique way of slapstick horror comedy. If nothing else, Robert Englund clearly looks like he is having a barrel of fun in the role, and appears to have relished taking the character of Freddy in more of a characterture direction with each new movie. Johnny Depp makes a return to the franchise with a quick cameo warning kids of the dangers of drugs, before being hit in the face with a frying pan (Loony Toons anyone!?)
And Freddy’s Dead moves further into the bizarre, with ‘that’ computer game kill sequence, featuring Spencer (Breckin Meyer) being taken out by Freddy in an early Nintendo sequence. The graphics and visual F/X are just awful here as is the soundtrack, and the whole scene is a real low point for the series. It eventually turns out that Maggie is not quite who she seems, as we learn that Fred Krueger once had a daughter, and the film delves into her upbringing as well as the origins of how Freddy became the Dream Master. As the original A Nightmare On Elm Street series finishes, Maggie brings Freddy out of the dreamworld in a carbon copy of Nancy in the original film. Finally killing him with his own glove … before the credits role with a ‘best of’ medley of scenes from the franchise.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
So Freddy is dead, and after trilogy of absolute Horror classics, the series had descended into farce and burnt out with a whimper. But New Line felt there was still a little life left in the franchise, and wanted to head a new direction away from the slapstick, with something completely different. And a decade after the first movie landed, they finally brought back creator Wes Craven to write and direct his own follow up, using plenty of ideas he first pitched on his script for Dream Warriors. And taking the story into a new direction is certainly what he did, creating a story around a meta idealisation in which Heather, Robert and himself, all play themselves in the ‘real world’, working in Hollywood and with Wes developing a new Freddy script that he wants Heather to once again star in.
But her reality starts to blur with the fantasy, as she begins dreaming about Freddy and her involvement in A Nightmare On Elm Street. She gets prank calls from ‘someone’ reciting the Freddy nursery rhyme, and her young son Dylan slowly starts to act very strange, talking about the ‘Man with the Claw’. The tone of the movie is a clear improvement on the last three instalments, and the meta element was almost a prototype for where Wes would go next in his career, creating his second major successful franchise with the Scream series. Heather attends a talk show and Robert is brought out in full Freddy character, and he instantly looks like the old Freddy, where the make up is much better than in recent movies, and his iconic jumper is dirty and tatty again, where it had looked fresh off the shelf previously (a small touch, but a sign of much needed attention to detail from Craven).
The looming threat of Freddy is also very much symbolised by his glove, something that had also been discarded in recent movies, in favour of other cartoonish means of Freddy killing his prey. As Heather’s paranoia increases over the first act, her SFX artist husband falls asleep while driving home from work, and Freddy’s claw comes out of his car seat, stabbing him in the chest causing the vehicle to crash. Local Police deliver the news to Heather citing a car crash as cause of death, but she knows that spirit of Freddy is somehow involved. His funeral is made up of a cast of characters from the entire movie series, there is an earthquake and as the coffin is disturbed, Freddy tries to pull her son into the ground, while her dead husband comes to life grabbing her face, but she has fallen asleep and seemingly imagined the whole episode. Her sanity slowly starts to unravel and the heavy use of the stalker-esq phone calls she receives as a main part of her mental torture, is something that Craven uses to great effect once again during the intro of the original Scream (1996), and it does feel as if there is a clear connection between the two movies.
Heather visits Wes to ask him about his script, and to try and piece together any connection with what is happening to her. He tells her about his dreaming and writing of an ancient entity that takes on many forms, and whose existence is based purely on the murder of innocents. And that the evil had been contained within Freddy for ten years in the movies, but now that the series has finished, the entity which inhabits Freddy now wants to come out into the real world. Nancy and her son are seemingly conduits for its transition, and the whole scene is incredibly meta as Wes is explaining the script he is writing, which is mirroring the events as they are actually happening to Nancy … a total mind-twister, and very cleverly written.
Freddy Vs. Jason (2003)
Freddy Vs. Jason is a movie that was hotly anticipated by horror fans, ever since Freddy’s glove rose from the grave at the end of Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993), while it had also been nearly a decade since we had seen Robert Englund as the Dream Master on screen. The crossover movie intro looks back at Freddy’s time as The Springwood Slasher, and his subsequent fiery death at the hands of an angry mob. In monologue he then recaps his reign of dream terror, before explaining how he has lost his powers, as he has been long forgotten by the children of the town. But he has found a way back from hell, and the film cuts to a vintage Jason Vorhees kill scene in the woods, as he stalks a young female who had been bathing in Crystal Lake. Freddy assumes the form of Jason’s mother and orders him to go to Elm Street, where the children have been ‘very bad’. Screaming as he walks away “Make them remember me Jason … make them remember what fear tastes like!”
It’s clear from the opening scenes that New Line Cinema are once again forgoing the cartoonish tone that their original series descended into, the colour palette is dark and dreary, Jason looks horribly disfigured under his trademark hockey mask, and Freddy’s make up is grizzly and on point, with razor sharp teeth. The film cuts to 1428 Elm Street (the original Freddy house) in which a group of teenagers are home alone, Jason is already there stalking the outside signifying the movie intends to move at a sharp and snappy pace. The power goes off and the scene is bathed in candle light, and in typical Friday The 13th fashion Jason (Ken Kirzinger) first brutally murders a victim who is laying in bed having just had sex. The police investigators speculate among themselves that the murder must be the return of Freddy. They quiz Lori (Monica Keena) who had been at the party, asking her about her dreams and they put Freddy Kruger’s name in her head.
Now she is aware of who he is, she is transported into his dream world when she falls asleep in the interview room. Little girls are reciting the Freddy rhyme, and one tells her that Freddy will soon be strong enough to return … but until then, he’s going to let Jason have some fun! The film also introduces Will (Jason Ritter) and Mark (Brendan Fletcher), two teenagers who escape from a psychiatric facility to return to Springwood after hearing about the murder on the news. They realise they have been locked up and segregated because they’d had previous contact with Freddy, so as not to infect other children. There is a memorable rave scene in which a girl falls asleep and is taunted by Freddy, but as he’s about to go in for the kill it is taken from him as Jason impales her in the real world, splattering Freddy with blood and taking the pleasure of the kill away from him. A flaming Jason then goes berserk on the revellers, with Lori and her friends fleeing trying to figure out who ‘the guy in the hockey mask’ is.
As he reaches full power, Freddy brings Jason into his dreamworld to get rid of him, and attacks him using his dream powers to his advantage. Before both Jason and Freddy are brought out into the real world by Lori, where they fight to the death in a gory one on one. As their fight climaxes on the boardwalk of Crystal Lake, Lori blows it up by setting fire to gas canisters, before Jason sticks Freddy with the razored glove of his own severed arm, then falls into the water as Lori decapitates Freddy with Jason’s machete. Directed by Ronny Yu (Bride Of Chucky), Freddy Vs. Jason is certainly not the terrible movie it could have been. A clear tonal improvement on Parts 4-6, while still retaining a little of the dark Freddy humour, without taking the movie into full on spoof territory.
A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010)
And so we come to what is, as it currently stands, the final Freddy movie to hit our screens. A remake following on in the tradition of an era where all of the beloved Horror and Slasher flicks from the 70s and 80s were being rebooted, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and Halloween (2007). And this would be the first time that we saw another actor Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen), take on the iconic role made so perfectly famous in his own image by Robert Englund. And much like Freddy Vs. Jason, the tone is dark and sinister from the beginning, and it is clear the direction this film is headed in from the introductory cafe scene, where Nancy (Rooney Mara) works, and where Dean (Keilan Lutz) keeps nodding off into Freddy’s world.
The film quickly introduces us to a cast of teenagers including Quentin (Kyle Gallner) and Jesse (Thomas Dekker) who has just split up from Kris (Katie Cassidy), As Dean falls back as sleep, an extremely disturbing Freddy, sporting a unique new look with hideous and more realistic looking burn prosthetics, murders him. While in the waking world, Kris watches as Dean is seemingly cutting his own throat. Kris then falls asleep at his funeral, and watches as a strange little girl throws flowers into his grave, before Freddy’s arm and razor glove comes up through the ground, The antagonist then starts to go to work on terrorising the new cast of characters. Haley’s take on Freddy is incredibly dark, and he does his best to make the role his own, but it was never going to be easy following in the footsteps of such an iconic performance by Englund, and die-hard fans seemingly found it difficult to accept his version of the demented villain.
Kris is the first to start to investigate what or who may have been behind Dean’s suicide, and questions her mother about why she can’t remember her childhood. She searches her basement and discovers a slashed child’s dress, when the lights suddenly go and Freddy is with her, “Remember me?” He visits her again as she falls asleep in class, a classic setting for A Nightmare On Elm Street horror. And this is just one Easter egg nugget of homage that the reboot pays towards the original film, The movie also delivers a recreation of THE iconic kill scene from the first film as Kris finally succumbs to her tormenter, shows Freddy’s face coming out of Nancy’s bedroom wall and the glove coming up from her bath water, and shows her seeing Kris in a bloody body bag, being dragged through the school hall… It’s all there!
Where the movie has perhaps fallen flat in terms of its fan appreciation, is that it is completely devoid of any humour whatsoever. Although The Dream Child and Freddy’s Dead took the slapstick to a wholly ridiculous level, there was still always a little humour in the early classics, as well as in New Nightmare, and a strong dose in amongst the darkness of Freddy Vs. Jason. But this movie created by music video director Samuel Bayer, is a purely bleak and dismal version which makes it a unique offering in the franchise that certainly appealed to some Horror fans, but seemingly not the masses. Another strange choice the film takes was to focus on Freddy’s background as a child molester, rather than a serial killer. A sub-text always there before, but never fully explored and for good reason, due to the deeply unpleasant nature of the theme. KZ
Kult-Zilla’s : A Nightmare On Elm Street Ranking
1. // Dream Warriors 8.5/10
2. // A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) 8/10
3. // Wes Craven’s New Nightmare 8/10
4. // Freddy’s Revenge 7.5/10
5. // A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010) 7/10
6. // Freddy Vs. Jason 6.5/10
7. // The Dream Master 6/10
8. // The Dream Child 5.5/10
9. // Freddy’s Dead 5/10
Words by : Mark Bates
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