Halloween Tribute: A Nightmare on Elm Street
In the spirit of Halloween, let’s take a look at the big three. Who the hell are the big three? Well, I’m talking about the three un-killable, sequeled to near death, unstoppable killing machines that defined the slasher genre, along with 80s and 90s horror. They make us afraid to go into the woods, walk the streets of small-town suburbia, and even fall asleep.
Just a few things to note:
- This is one part of three for this tribute, so hang tight if you like the first because the others are coming soon.
- These are in no particular order and one is not necessarily better than the others.
- The analysis below is based on my own opinions and experiences with these movies.
- The release dates and some of the minor stats were taken from the back of the movies themselves, but the rest was from pure memory and re-watch.
Warning: there are some spoilers, as they are required to clarify certain aspects of the series.
If Jason is the one that we can feel the most sympathy for, as his origins are rich with tragedy, Freddy is the polar opposite. A child predator (sometimes referred or eluded to be a child molester), the striped sweater-wearing killer began his reign of terror long before stalking the children of Elm Street in their dreams. Residing on the soon to be notorious street in the quiet town of Springwood, Ohio, this sick psychopath leisurely abducted children and murdered them with his infamous clawed gloves.
Although he’s eventually caught, Freddy is freed on a technicality. Now seeking justice, the parents of Springwood unite and track down the deviant. After trapping him in a boiler room, the vigilante parents set the building ablaze and Krueger is burned alive. Unfortunately, little did they know that the vile man would become an incarnation of evil that would vengefully prey upon their children as they slept.
While the concept of being stalked through the woods by an unstoppable zombie is truly creepy, the idea of being hunted down and murdered in your dreams is simply terrifying. It’s the place where we’re supposed to reenergize and be soothed after a long day. But this is the dream master’s territory and Freddy preys upon us during our most vulnerable state with his deadly nightmares. While Jason makes us afraid to go into the woods, which is an area we can simply avoid if necessary, Freddy has us questioning whether or not to shut our eyes. Sleep is an essential part of life and unfortunately for the children of Elm Street, it often results in not waking up.
Entries into the Series – 9 total - 7 parts (part 6 is called the final nightmare…), 1 cross over with Jason, and 1 remake.
Debut – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – Freddy makes his dream-slashing debut in Wes Craven's extremely successful 1984, horror classic. As he stalks the defenseless teenage dreamers during their least protected state, protagonist Nancy unravels the truth about Freddy Krueger and methods to end his madness. Freddy is noticeably darker and more serious in this entry, while reframing from his ridiculous one-liners that litter the rest of the series.
Greatest Adversary – With Jason we had to wait until a few movies in before Tommy was introduced, but the Nightmare on Elm Street Franchise introduces Freddy’s greatest challenger in the very first movie. This one’s going to be slightly longer, since I personally believe our heroine is much more interesting and likeable than Tommy.
Nancy Thompson is not only a relatable character, but also innocent, quick-witted, and courageous. The story unravels through her perspective, as we discover the tormentor of Elm Street’s origins and the ways that he can be combated, with the teen.
After her best friend, best friend’s lover, and her own boyfriends (Johnny Depp) are all slain by Freddy, Nancy manages to outwit the nightmarish predator. By extracting him from the dream world, she brings the fight to Krueger on her own turf and subjects the killer to a series of pre-established traps. Although Freddy appears to get the last laugh render the dream predator nonlethal.
Unlike Tommy Jarvis, who is played by three actors in the Friday the 13thseries, actress Heather Langenkamp plays Nancy with every appearance the character makes in the original Nightmare franchise. The only time that she is absent from the role is during the new 2010 remake, where Rooney Mara plays the high school girl. After her debut in the original, Nancy would proceed to battle Freddy in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, where she leads his other victims into battle against him in nightmarish encounters. During this entry, Nancy has a classic final showdown with Freddy and delivers a crippling strike that leads to his destruction, before finally obtaining a fatal blow from her old nemesis’s claws. She appears one final time, but with an interesting twist, since Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is about a malevolent Freddy entity stalking the real cast of the series.
Sadly, Rooney Mara’s portrayal of the character deludes everything that made the original great. The re-imagined Nancy lacks the charisma, quick wittedness, and self-reliance of the original. While not completely helpless, she relies more on others than the original who undoubtedly maintained the strongest role. Her portrayal is dull and just doesn’t do it for me. It's missing that special, tough personality that Heather brought to the character.
Series Most Memorable Kills
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)- While Tina’s vertical contorting death is by no means forgettable, I think that no fan or anyone who’s seen this classic would disagree with me that the Johnny Depp is the winner here. Poor Glen’s (Depp) demise, which Nancy helplessly tried to prevent, can be solely blamed on his parents. Believing that their son’s girlfriend has mentally checked out and is creating fabrications of the long deceased child killer of Elm Street, they sever contact between the two by disconnecting the phone. After falling asleep, Glen is swallowed by his bed and what results is an amazing, non-computerized, awesome display of special effects, where all of the poor teens blood (and then some) explodes back up into the bedroom. The crimson mess coats the ceiling, the walls, and everything else in and below the room where it begins to leak through. This is without a doubt the best in the movie and one of the most memorable in the entire franchise for that matter.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge- The sequel to the original is lacking to say the least. The main character is weaker than Nancy and the story less appealing. Also, the number of dream scenes and kills are no up to par. Although many discredit this scene because Freddy is out of the dream world, the most memorable kill in this film is actually a sequence where Freddy crashes a pool party. The guests are burned, slashed, impaled and incinerated. The sheer number makes this sequence stand out, as it’s extremely rare to see Freddy take on so many victims at once.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors- This film houses one of Freddy’s most disturbing methods of dispatching the poor children of Elm Street. Philip, who is a young sculptor, has his tendons pulled from his feet and hands. Freddy then painstaking leads him to the top of a building like a marionette. We see the dream master’s silhouette enlarged behind the structure as the young kid falls to his death. The idea is simple, but effective and repulsively horrifying.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master- Freddy returns and eliminates all of the surviving dream warriors from part 3, before beginning to seek out the new victims of this entry. While there are plenty of deaths in this one, the most memorable is awarded to the dorky, asthma girl Sheila. Freddy literally sucks the air out of her body and deflates her into nothing more than a rubbery corpse. The effect is so poorly done and laughable, but hey that’s why it’s great. On a different note, this film also houses one of the best Freddy deaths. After a confrontation with the new heroine, Alice, all of the souls of his victims begin to stretch from his flesh and tare him to pieces. Unlike Sheila’s death, the special effect is awesome and quite traumatic.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child – One of the most forgettable in the series, this one has a few creative Freddy kills. Although the comic book sequence ranks up there, the most memorable death is simply because of how disgusting it is. As it’s early in the film, it was an utter let down with the Freddy kills that followed throughout the film. Of course I’m referring to Greta, who aspires to be a supermodel. Freddy forces the poor girl to eat herself to death and if you haven’t seen it, you’ve been warned as sheer nastiness results.
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare – This one goes to poor pot smoking Spencer, who is killed while Freddy directs him in a video game. Krueger drops comical one-liners, which even reference Nintendo’s failed Power Glove. While lame and completely absurd, the scene is only a reflection of the film itself. It’s most distinguishable in this uninspired mess and will get a laugh from me with every watch.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare – Surprisingly one of the best in the series, as it’s so late in the franchise, this film took a unique approach and focuses on the real world where a demon manifestation of Freddy is trying to kill Heather Langenkamp. But the film takes it one step further with this unforgettable Freddy kill, where there’s a complete throwback to the original. Unfortunate babysitter, Julie, is brutally slain on the ceiling in the same fashion as Tina from the 1980 classic. The effect is well done and possesses that sought nostalgic quality.
Freddy vs. Jason – Nearly a blatant rip of Jason Mewes’s Jay character from Kevin Smith’s film collection, Freeburg first trips out and hallucinates a weird Freddy caterpillar, which is awkward and funny. Then he is forced to tranquilize Jason while all his friends flee, since the dream master now possesses him. However, before the undead killer loses consciousness, he successfully kills the pothead. Hilariously enough, as it is the duo’s only team kill.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)- As with the original, the scene where Tina is slammed around her bedroom certainly makes an impression. Tina, who is now renamed Kris in the remake, suffers a similar fate as her original counterpart. Although more graphic and faster paced, it’s only the absence of Depp’s bloody bed scene that propel this one to the top.
Musical Score- The theme for the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise invokes a surreal, dreamlike atmosphere. It builds tension well and helps immerse the viewer in the haunting nightmarish experience. As we wait for Freddy to make his next appearance, the musical pressure mounts before exploding with that awesome 80s chase music when the dream killer claws his next victim.
The Best - As with the Friday the 13th franchise, it’s hard to disagree that the original is by far the best. It’s simply a classic from the slasher genre and, although guiltily enjoyable, is before Freddy started spouting off one-liners with each kill. Freddy is a mystery during the film’s first half and it only adds to the suspense. Similar to the character's within, you'll often question whether Nancy and the others are really experiencing something or if they've simply slipped into the dream world. It's a unique experience that is used throughout the series, but not as effectively.
Another brilliant aspect for a first time viewer is that Craven convinces you that Tina is going to be the main focus of the film, as she is the one being pursued during the movie’s opening. It’s only after she’s murdered that the focus shifts to Nancy, our true protagonist. As already mentioned, the character is someone that the audience easily finds themselves sympathizing with and rooting for.
The film took the slasher genre template and perfected it, while developing a creative method for the killer to stalk his prey. This one is certainly my favorite of the series and ranks high in the retro horror category in general. Obviously tame by today’s standards, but if you want to watch something classically creepy, creative, and a phenomenal display of real special effects, give it a visit.
The Worst- In a sea of sequels, some of the entries, such as part 2 and 5, are not a satisfying experience but still bring something to the table. However, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (part 6) seems doomed to fail with the irony of its own title. It does little to move the story forward and rehashes everything that we’ve seen already. The one-liners are stupider, the tone less dark and more comical, and the plot pointless. This atrocious entry is only cemented into crappiness with its unimaginative ending, where Freddy is killed with a pipe bomb... Wow, quite the change up from the many supernatural means that we've seen used to dispatch the dream predator in the past. While it’s worth a watch if you’re a fan, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
Thoughts on the Remake
Unlike the Friday the 13thremake, which was a completely new reimagining, A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) is nothing more than a complete rehash of the original movie, with some tweaks to Freddy’s character in what seems like an attempt to make him darker. Gone are all the eye candy special effects of the first film and what we get are inferior CGI replacements. Some of these look absolutely god awful, such as the scene where Freddy is coming out of the wall in Nancy’s room. It looks synthetic, computerized, and would be more at home in a Pixar movie (although that itself is an insult to Pixar).
While the new look and actor, Jackie Earle Haley, are not horrible by any means, I find myself missing Robert England. I mean he’s played Freddy in eight films now, so it’s hard to disassociate him from the role. Also, many will agree that Freddy’s new voice bares an uncanny resemblance to Christian Bale’s portrayal of Batman. The makeup on his face is more resembling of a leper, as opposed to a burn victim.
Already having commented on my feelings about the re-imagined Nancy, there’s no point in beating a dead horse, but she’s lacking. That’s my problem with this movie in general. I don’t feel anything towards the new characters. I found myself wanting Heather and Depp to succeed in the original. However, that feeling is just not recreated with the new soulless, dull cast. I'm don't find myself caring even the slightest if they live or die.
The film brings very little new to the table, other than a darker origin story and a modern revamp, but is not completely without heart either. While I wouldn’t really recommend it too much, it’s at least worth a watch if you’re a Freddy fan. However, you’ll most likely spend the majority of the movie wishing that you were watching its 1984 predecessor.
Just a Reminder...
This is only the second part of three. So, if you're dying (pun intended) for more,check out the other two parts.
The undead menace that made us fear the woods, Jason: http://moviearbiter.hubpages.com/hub/The-Big-Three-Slashers
The manifestation of pure evil, Michael Myers.