So for this past year, I’ve been on a bit of a horror bender. Okay, a lot of a horror bender. Horror is a genre I’d neglected for far, far too long, it comprises the largest gap in my film knowledge, but its also one of cinema’s most consistently popular genres. So, over the past year, I’ve watched through all 10 Halloween films, all 12 Friday the 13th films, and all 8 Nightmare on Elm Street films, as well as Freddy vs. Jason, and the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre. So I think I’ve finally got the horror basics covered, or at least in slashers. I’ve written about Friday the 13th, and I’ve written about Halloween, twice. So I figured that its time I give Fred “Freddy” Krueger his time to shine.
The claw-fingered fiend was first introduced by the alternately brilliant and inane Wes Craven, in one of his best outings as writer-director. The “Bastard Son of 100 Maniacs” captured audiences’ attention almost immediately, earning the highest mean gross of the three iconic slasher series. Ol’ Mister “Springwood Slasher” went on to leave an indelible impression on pop culture as one of the best”funny killers.” Some might argue he was turned into a complete joke, and that his constant quipping was a bastardization of Wes Craven’s vision, but let’s not forget:
Debates may rage on whether Funny or Scary Freddy has more value, but, in all honesty, they both have their merits, and Robert Englund never falters in delivering the laughs or the scares. Unlike Halloween or Friday the 13th, the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise has one universally good element unifying it: Englund’s performance. Neither Halloween nor Friday can claim their villain is consistently iconic; Jason doesn’t truly perfect his look until Part III (and the films have messed with it ever since), and Michael Myers’s mask is so inconsistent and has deteriorated in quality since Part II. Freddy, however, is Robert Englund, and the almost direct continuity of the make-up across films also helps to keep Krueger constant, in design as well as in characterization. But enough of the preamble, on to…
One of the most gleefully inventive horror films of the 1980’s, as well as one of the most unique slasher films ever made, A Nightmare on Elm Street does what any truly terrifying horror film does: take something mundane and turn it into something terrifying. Psycho did it for showers, Halloween did it for babysitting, Friday the 13th did it for summer camps, and A Nightmare on Elm Street does it for sleep. Nightmares themselves are already terrifying, an instance of the brain turning against itself, and a nightmare with true consequences is even more so.
Wes Craven is at the top of his game here. The man has been called the Master of Horror, but his body of work is dreadfully inconsistent. Of course you have Nightmare on Elm Street, New Nightmare, Red Eye, The Hills Have Eyes, and Scream, but you also have Deadly Blessing, Vampire in Brooklyn, Cursed, Scream 3, etc. But a Nightmare on Elm Street displays just why Craven was so highly regarded late in his career, even after his glory days. A Nightmare on Elm Street is a near-perfect horror film, it’s scary, it’s fun, it’s gritty, it has rules for its supernatural lore, and it sticks to them, until it doesn’t. Yep, I’m talking about that ending. A Nightmare on Elm Street has your typical “final scare,” e.g. Little Boy Jason jumping out of the lake, Michael Myers disappearing from the lawn, etc. In this case, Freddy comes back from the “dead,” in what is supposedly the waking world, though he still has his dream powers, and yada, yada, yada, it doesn’t make sense.
Aside from the baffling ending, the film is great. The kills are simple, compared to later installments, but still great. The ceiling kill holds up as perfect to this day.
Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson is the ultimate Final Girl. While Laurie Strode may always be my favorite horror protagonist, I recognize Nancy as an improvement on Laurie Strode’s template. Langenkamp is charismatic, interesting, and has a natural screen presence. She’s also got more initiative than most Final Girls, and takes the fight to Freddy with her pre-Home-Alone Home Alone finale. That’s right, Nancy was fighting back invaders with homemade booby traps before Macaulay Culkin made it cool.
All in all, A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the best horror films of the 80’s, with a wonderful synth score, a brilliant atmosphere, smart writing, tight camerawork, great performances, and instantly recognizable iconography. A hallmark of mid-period slasher fare, A Nightmare on Elm Street earns an A+.
And of course it was followed by this. While Halloween II paled in comparison to the Carpenter classic, it was still good in its own right. Friday the 13th Part 2 was actually an improvement on its predecessor. However, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is not only not good, but really, really bad. It’s not scary, it’s not funny enough, and its got some weird shit going on beneath the surface.
And especially this:
Basically, Freddy decides to possess some (non-Springwood) kid, and the kid has to fight back so he can be with his girlfriend. Yep, Freddy’s Revenge uses Freddy Krueger as an allegory for repressed homosexuality. The film is bizarrely homophobic. Other writers have written about it much better before, so I’m not going to get into that, but this is important to understand before watching. In fact, the film’s under/overtones are so widely publicized that a documentary entitled “Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street” exploring the homosexual overtones was successfully Kickstarted, and is currently in production. In all honesty, it’ll probably be a better film than this one. Bizarrely camp and horribly misguided, A Nightmare on Elm Street earns a few points for its absurd 80’s-ness and ridiculously bright color palette, but ultimately falls flat in too many areas to be a true camp classic. An unfortunate entry in the series which departs from the usual formula, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge fails to do anything that’s both unique and effective, and thus earns a D-.
Right from the start, it’s apparent that Dream Warriors is a return to form. We open with a classic dream sequence featuring Freddy the Snake.
The film does exactly what it sets out to do: progress the mythology of the Nightmare on Elm Street Series, elaborate on Freddy Krueger’s lore, provide effective thrills, unique kills, prove Part 2 was only a slip, and give Fred Krueger many a quip. Dream Warriors is perhaps more straight-up entertaining than the first film: it takes more advantage of the “dream killer” scenario with inventive, effective kills, as well as providing the kids with a way to fight back, though not entirely effectively.
The main characters can make or break a horror film, and here, boy do they make it. Nancy’s back, and this film serves as a perfect send-off to the character. She’s matured, serving as a sort of “den mother” to the last surviving Elm Street children, working as an aide in a psychiatric institution, counseling Freddy survivors institutionalized as hallucinatory or even suicidal. Heather Langenkamp is once again great, and so are the rest of the Dream Warriors, Kristen, Kincaid, Taryn, Joey, Philip, and Will (I am the Wizard Master!) are all great, they play well off each other and each bring something to the table. There’s a true sense of tragedy around death in this film, not a frivolous one. Each character is important, each character matters, even a young Laurence Fishburne in a small role, for some reason.
An effective horror film with a true sense of enjoyment, a lively look, innovative special effects, and interesting world-building, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors earns an A-.
The first “meh” entry in the franchise, it’s difficult to know what to think about A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. Though it immediately kills off the remaining characters from Part 3, the new cast is still relatively effective. Though the script is lackluster, the direction is lively. Though Freddy’s a full-blown joke at this point, he’s a really, really funny one. Robert Englund has fully settled into the quips, and he’s ready to rapid-fire them out. He’s even got Ray-Bans, for goodness’ sake!
Though the film isn’t scary, it’s funny as hell and endlessly rewatchable. Though the story’s derivative, the kills are unique, and there’s one sequence that’s particularly clever wherein Krueger traps the protagonists in a déjà vu loop to keep them from saving their friend. It’s clever, it’s impressive, it’s effective, it’s awesome. A middling yet fun 80’s horror sequel, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master is a wonderful fusion of comedy and horror, utilizing irony to keep the series fresh, and earning a B.
So that’s it for now. A second post will examine the latter half of the franchise some time later this week or early next week. But for now, I’ll see ya later! Bye!