Nightmares on Elm Street – Part One

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+.

a plus grade



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.

Like this:

horror 80s horror a nightmare on elm street 1985 a nightmare on elm street 2

And this:

horror 80s horror a nightmare on elm street 1985 a nightmare on elm street 2

And especially this:

horror 80s horror a nightmare on elm street 1985 a nightmare on elm street 2

And 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-.

d-minus-school-letter-grade



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.

So odd he’s in this.

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-.

a-minus-school-letter-grade


download.jpg


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.

b grade


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!

80s retro 1980s 80s movies movie s

17 Comments Add yours

  1. Wendell says:

    Glad you’re going through these. So far I am in agreement with all of these. I personally cut Craven some slack for the ending to the original because it was forced on him by the studio trying to make sure the door was open for a sequel. As for Fishburne in part 3, he was in a weird spot in his career. He was no longer a child star, but hadn’t really hit it big as an adult, yet. He did a lot of parts in schlocky movies during this period. I’m looking forward to the next batch.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I actually didn’t know Fishburne was a child star. Huh, the more you know.
      I think it’s funny that the ending was nonsensical, and then not explained in the sequel it was forced on Crave for.

      Like

      1. Wendell says:

        As a youngster, Fishburne was most known for his turn in Apocalypse Now and had a starring role in minor hit Cornbread, Earl, and Me. Yeah, nothing about the sequel makes sense.

        Like

  2. Matt says:

    I’ve only seen the first two (well, and Freddy vs. Jason but let’s not talk about that). I can’t believe how well the first one holds up and, the older Johnny Depp gets, the funnier it is to look back on his first role today. The second one is just bizarre.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m ducking Freddy vs. Jason for now, I’ll get around to it when I finish up with the Nightmare and Friday series. Boy, that film, that sure is a film.
      It’s funny how all 3 main slasher series have future stars in supporting roles: Halloween 6 has Paul Rudd, Nightmare 1 has Johnny Depp, and Friday 1 has Kevin Bacon.

      Like

  3. Matt says:

    I know! Then even H20 has Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michelle Williams. Actually, I forgot completely about Kevin Bacon in Friday the 13th.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kevin Bacon was one of only a few successful actors to star in a Friday the 13th film, along with Crispin Glover and Corey Feldman from The Final Chapter.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. emmakwall says:

        And do you remember him racing Steve Martin for a cab in Planes, Trains & Automobiles?! Lol.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh, yeah! Such an awesome cameo, might just be my all-time favorite; it’s easily Stan Lee in Princess Diaries 2 caliber.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. emmakwall says:

    Those gifs for the sequel!!!!! So funny, especially the bum shutting the drawer, I’m still giggling lol, but you know my sense of humour by now Jake….!

    So 80s!!

    And a GREAT write up!!! Totally agree – I LOOOOOVE Dream Warriors! Great deaths, great one liners, the proper sequel really. And the whole franchise is fun. I like funny Freddy 🙂

    And I particularly enjoyed – “and takes the fight to Freddy with her pre-Home-Alone Home Alone finale” and “he’s even got Ray Bans” – LOL! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That drawer thing comes from the weirdest riff on Risky Business I’ve ever seen. And without any of the talent involved in Risky Business.
      Dream Warriors is really the definitive Nightmare film, it’s the one to show a Freddy newb.
      Really, we should call the “Home Alone” third act from Skyfall a “Nightmare on Elm Street” third act. It did come first. Funny that Home Alone is most remembered for what amounts to basically 20 minutes of its runtime.
      I think Krueger might rock Ray Bans better even than Tom Cruise and Roddy “The Rod” Piper.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. emmakwall says:

        I have NEVER seen Risky Business! Should I?!! I know there’s something in about wearing a white shirt and sunglasses and not much else?! Ah….my brain just made some connections – the Ray Bans and Roddy “The Rod” Piper?!

        That gif still makes me chuckle, so ’80s lame’!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Risky Business is great early Tom Cruise, and a pretty great comedy, as well. It’s also very, very 80’s. But not as 80’s as Freddy’s Revenge.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. vinnieh says:

    This was a fun post to read. I have only ever seen the first one and it is a damn classic. So inventive and creepy. I don’t know about watching the rest of them, as I think it would be hard to live up to the first.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you feel like it, just watch Part 3 and New Nightmare. They’re both great, and expand on the first film. Not as good as the first, but still quite great.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. vinnieh says:

        Thank you for the recommendations.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s