Television series V’s Willie made Robert Englund a familiar face, A Nightmare on Elm Street made Englund a iconic horror film star and Freddy Krueger a household name. To this day adults who saw the original in their youth still can’t bear to watch them again with fear of dying in their sleep with Freddy giving a smart one-liner before they bite the dust.
It’s hard to believe that a novel idea spawned a Tales from the crypt like TV show (Freddy’s Nightmares), its own merchandise including those bobble heads would remain so captivating. The series has been resurrected and refined as many times as Freddy himself mainly in Dream Warriors, then a New Nightmare, crossover film Freddy Versus Jason and a 2010 remake (without Englund). Here’s a look at the roller-coaster ride that was the Nightmare on Elm Street films and more.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Made in 1984, it’s inevitably dated slightly – only loosing it’s edge due to imitations and sequels, nevertheless, it still retains much of its eerie factor and many of the effects still hold up today. (That said, Freddy’s long arms segment are just as tacky and odd as they were back then.)
Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy goes against the stereotype and look of usual damsels in distress lead and to director/writer Wes Craven’s credit he’s uses the Psycho (1963) casting ploy with Amanda Wyss as Tina. An unknown (at the time) Johnny Depp appears and veteran John Saxon give some weight to the film in an extended cameo, the rest of cast are above par for the stigmatized genre. Notable is Ronee Blakley as Marge Thompson Nancy’s alcoholic mother.
There are many standout moments – the hand between Nancy’s legs in the bath scene, the body bag in the corridor, the bloody ceiling and bed deaths, the shock ending and more, actually too many to mention. This coupled with Charles Bernstein’s excellent and memorable score, sound design and creepy makeup effects is enough to deliver chills.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is a quintessential and defining horror that made a star of Robert England sowed the seeds for Freddy’s pop icon status. Craven delivered a novel concept and villain which has been imitated many times since.
With an assortment of slasher, fantasy and horror – nightmare mixed with reality has never been quite equalled since.
A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
Freddy is back and possesses a young man to carry out his revenge on the teens of Elm St.
It’s of its time, the Freddy’s make-up is worthy of note and some of the effects though of their time deserve a nod of ingenuity credit.
Unfortunately the few good scenes directed by Jack Sholder are out weighed by an abundance of mediocre ones, a killer exploding bird, press-up on press-ups, Freddy running amok at a pool party to name a few. Writer David Chaskin presents some interesting idea’s for example the temperature representing the heat form the boiler room, the homosexual edgy undercurrent and Freddy using Jesse Walsh as an instrument to carry out his killings. But they are never fully explored or slot in to the Freddy mythos that appeared to be laid down in the first by Wes Craven. You feel short changed from the outset even by the title as it’s really not about Freddy Krueger wanting revenge it about Jesse Walsh’s revenge.
The tone is warm, there’s little suspense and at times it reeks of the mid 80s Brat pack stereotypes inside a kitsch horror. Meryl Streep look alike Sydney Walsh as Kerry gives a solid performance but sadly isn’t given enough to do. Poor Robert Rusler’s talent and character is wasted. Some characters feel frustratingly poorly written seemingly to change in a blink of an eye to suit the muddled motivations and storyline. Mark Patton plays Jesse Walsh the unsure oddball perfectly but the scenes, situations and dialogue are so campy that everything including the supporting cast no matter how cute or talented become laughable. To Sholder’s credit the bus scenes which bookends the film are probably the most effective and well executed.
Revenge’s success may be due to riding on the coat tails of the originality of its predecessor. If it were a B film parody it may have had some sort of cult allure but given budget and as successful as it was at the time in retrospect it really isn’t that good. In fact it stinks.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Departed serial killer Freddy Krueger returns to pick off the remaining teenagers of Elm Street who are housed in Westin Hills, a psychiatric hospital for the disturbed.
After the oddly toned second outing, Wes Craven and co-writer Bruce Wagner bring the dreamlike horror back to series with an interesting premise that reunites Heather Langenkamp (Nancy) and Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger) respectively. The catchy theme song “Dream Warriors”, by heavy metal band Dokken is hard to shake off like Patricia Arquette’s screams as Kristen Parker.
With a cast that includes the likes of Arquette (in a début role), Laurence Fishburne and John Saxon – director Chuck Russell dishes out some creepy and macabre visuals and the introduction of the otherworldly nun (Nan Martin) is a nice touch. Englund is on top form and has a stronger presence with a defined look. The return of Langenkamp gives part 3 some credibility, continuity and closure. Notable is the Jason and the Argonauts (1963) homage where the special effects that are expertly handled and the marionette puppet scene of Phillip played by Class of 1999 (1990) actor Bradley Gregg.
In this instalment there’s plenty of social commentary in the Craven, Wagner, Frank Darabont and Russell screenplay that touches on the staffing of hospitals, parenting, drug usage and means of psychiatric therapy. While it has its cheesy comedic moments in relation to the sectioned aspirations it has a positive theme of team working which is not usually seen in horror films.
Yes, Dream Warriors is a series of kills linked together as with most horrors but it’s the atmosphere and execution that gives it a lasting appeal. It’s not often especially in the 80s’ that sequels, certainly a third would deliver quality but to producer Robert Shaye’s credit goes against the norm’.
It’s subtle ghost, resurrection theme underpins the camaraderie storyline and while humorous at times with Freddy being less crucial its delivers a layered piece of entertainment with a peppering of horror.
Freddy is resurrected and sets about to murder the teens who destroyed him and collect their souls. However, the survivors of his last onslaught have the help of a gifted girl Alice Johnson.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
A year later hot on the heels on Dream Warriors comes A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. Opening with a cracking little theme song “Nightmare” sung by Tuesday Knight (who also plays Kristen Parker) with a fairly new director at the time, namely Renny Harlin, he delivers slick setups and visuals, very much reflective of MTV at it’s peak.
While Patricia Arquette played Kristen intensely, her replacement Knight is sorely overlooked and dismissed due to continuity and aesthetic reasons, she plays Kris with as much conviction integrating her with normality, therefore the character is naturally different. Visionary day dreamer Alice Johnson becomes the new protagonist as the characters and returning actors from part three namely Joey (Rodney Eastman), Ronald (Ken Sagoes) quickly disappear. With Brooke Bundy as Mrs Parker putting in a brief appearance.
This 1988 sequel focuses very much on teenage shenanigans, issues and interests – cinema, karate, keeping fit, sex, drinking to name a few and possibly not in that order. There’s music track after music track and it sometimes feels like the film is a platform to plug new bands of the time.
The ominous tone of the third is partly retained with Harlin injecting a little more stylised lighting and a faster pace into the proceedings. The real life scenes have natural looking lighting in contrast to the nightmare segments which are a mixed bag some effective and some no so (namely the invisible fight scene). The acting is good but sadly is let down by some of the supporting cast whom shall remain nameless, Jake the dog gives a better performance. There’s some kills that are reminiscent of previous films that are arguably not as effective.
The special effects are again well executed, the practical effects simply outstanding – especially Freddy’s Hellraiser-esque return and demise and the wince inducing gross cockroach transformation. Craig Safan’s score is more electronic in keeping with new generation feel and compliments Harlin’s style.
Englund in nurses drag is a blast, Freddy’s laughs at many of his own quips and has a little more dialogue and more to do. The producers at this point certainly has realised that he owns the role, even if removing much of the fright factor – replacing it with a menacing playful edge. There’s some nice ideas in William Kotzwinkle’s story and the Brian Helgeland, Jim Wheat & Ken Wheat screenplay including Alice picking up the traits of the fallen, her being trapped in a film, the aged diner and the on loop gag.
Although actress Lisa Wilcox does a great job as Alice unfortunately Elm St 4 wants you to warm to yet another new heroine and annoyingly feels like an ad wanting you to go out and buy the soundtrack.
The Dream Master is a solid enough entry and has the one of the most satisfying endings and closures of the series. That’s said, at times it all feels a little too forced and you can’t but miss the simplicity of the first film.
A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child (1989)
Alice, after watching Freddy Krueger’s return must protect her unborn child and save her University friends who at first are reluctant to believe in her boogeyman.
With an opening that mixes pigeonholed horror that the original steered away from with glimpses of the edginess that made the first so interesting A Nightmare on Elm Street The Dream Child (Part 5, the first to have the number in the title dropped) is an attractive looking yet forgettable sequel.
Danny Hassle (Danny) and Lisa Wilcox (Alice) return also her father features briefly in more soberer guise. Moving along possibly with the age of it viewers, here to a University setting The Dream Child has more of a mature sub text. Leslie Bohem’s screenplay touches on the topical issues of anorexia, abortion, adoption and rape. However, we are introduced to yet another cast of stereotype character including a comic book kid, sporty girl and pretty girl.
Director Stephen Hopkins gives some well directed jump scares from the outset. Hopkins with cinematographer Peter Levy delivers a natural less stylised look in contrast to Harlin’s vivid schemes. The odd macabre births, churches and sanatoriums with some modest practical and visual effects give way to Freddy’s tension built return.
Here Alice’s ‘vision powers’ allow the nightmare elements to happen at anytime braking the having to be a sleep rule. Although the tantalising element exploring how Freddy was conceived is strong – John Skipp, Craig Spector and Leslie Bohem’s story languishes in muddle of wonderfully shot larger than life theatrical scenes.
In amongst the hooky concepts the ‘Do unborn babies dream?’ elements add some interest but turns in to an unsatisfying demon seed curve ball twist. The action orientated Twilight Zone meets Creep Show-like deaths are mere set pieces for rubbery looking Freddy to spurting out a few quips and it needlessly tries too hard. For example, the high concept Salvador Dali inspired staircase scene in the closing was better executed in the earlier family film The Labyrinth (1986).
To Hopkins credit the film for the most part looks great, with the sound design and Jay Ferguson’s score just right. Nevertheless, with a symbolic closing and a ‘happy ending’ followed by some rapping over the credits you really appreciate how good Harlin’s predecessor actually was.
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
Set 10 years from now – mysterious killings and suicides wipe-out the population of children and teens of Springwood, Ohio. With the adults experiencing mass psychosis there is evidence of one surviving teenager…
With a rock-track intro and sweeping Escape from New York styled title card (paraphrased above) Freddy’s Dead The Final Nightmare distances its self even further from its origins and previous characters. With nods to the Twilight Zone and The Wizard of Oz with Freddy Krueger featuring as the witch with in the first five minutes you know this is more of nightmare adventure than a horror.
Some strong visual effects are sadly brought down by some less effective ones. Thankfully The Final Nightmare benefits from a 1080p makeover with the now redundant 3D segments looking balanced. Director and long-time Newline employee Rachel Talalay takes the helm with producer Rob Shay putting in a humorous cameo early doors. Although the tone seems inconsistent Talalay delivers and an array of tracking shots and thought-out compositions . There’s more of a real dreamlike feel in some scenes but it delivers very few shocks or surprises. The twist and insight into Freddy’s past- from a child, youth to adulthood makes The Final Nightmare of interest even if the scenes are only brief.
The acting is a lot better with the lead teens surprising good alongside the likes of Lisa Green and Yaphet Kotto as Doc. Tom Arnold and Roseanne Barr cameo as well as Alice Cooper as Mr. Underwood. In addition, Johnny Depp (who starred in the original and by now a big star) cameos and fans may feel it’s a shame Depp didn’t save this for the superior New Nightmare.
Brian May’s (not of the band Queen) score has all the familiar cues you expect and gives the film much of the required chills in the unsurprising death set pieces. In a nice round up in the closing credits many of the actors from previous films appear in a Nightmare on Elm Street flashback scene compilation accompanied by Iggy Pop’s ‘Why Was I Born? (Freddy’s Dead)’ track.
Michael DeLuca’s screenplay and Talalay’s story tackles some serious issues, the effects of abuse, parenting and the like but this is brushed aside for the Freddy showman factor. Here Robert Englund while excellent as Krueger plays up DeLuca’s comedy aspect, unfortunately the makeup on display while slickly done is again on the latex side and rubber looking. The climax delivers a little more blood and action then expected but the final effects take that edge away.
This ‘final’ instalment is more of the dreams of a 50’s kid than nightmarish – it’s a fun enough entry that gives a fitting yet abrupt end to the child killer. While respectably successful- in retrospect and like its predecessors you can’t help but feel that producers pandered and delivered what the audience wanted at the time and not necessarily what they needed i.e a primordial creepy horror like the first.
New Nightmare (1994)
The lead actors of the original Nightmare on Elm Street, on it’s 10th Anniversary, are terrorized by a Freddy Kruger like entity that wants Heather Langenkamp and her son dead.
The seemingly outrageous bloody opening is quickly defused as a fitting dream sequence and new ground is broken as we discover the actors are playing themselves. It appears to break the fourth wall with director Wes Craven, John Saxon and Robert Englund to name a few playing themselves. Of course this allows Langenkamp to return as herself after her Nancy character’s death in the third. This non-conventional approach with a number of uneasy phone calls would become the precursor film within a film which appears in Craven’s Scream series.
While you’d expect most of the actors to be able to play themselves they do at times come across as awkward and uncomfortable. Thankfully the leads pull it off with ease namely Englund and Langenkamp. Faces from the original also cameo as themselves and a photo of Depp shows up in the background. Some scenes are a blast for fans with Englund playing himself as Freddy on a talk show. Of course Englund also plays Freddy the embodiment of an evil spirit with an expert indifference. This darker, scarier Freddy is probably what fans of the original wanted to see in the handful of sequels.
There’s irony on irony with producer Rob Shay inviting Langenkamp to come back and play Nancy one last time in a definitive nightmare. Writer/Director Craven delivers another novel idea with a tantalizing hook. There’s a nice touch where reality merges with dreams and John Sax returns as his character Lt. Donald Thompson with Langenkamp calling him John and him unawares in turn calling her Nancy. The kill scenes pay homage to the original and even some of the sequels notably the Chase Porter car crash. With a strong supporting cast (mainly those ones who don’t play themselves) including Miko Hughes as Dylan Porter Heather’s on screen son gives a solid mixture of Poltergeist/Exorcist-like performance.
It may have benefited from a more natural looking production, less film-like to emphasis the realness in contrast to the movie world and Nightmare sequences. It’s own high production values and Mark Irwin’s great cinematography dilute the edginess. Craven’s screenplay also injects a part actress character study there is an interesting subtext about fame and it trappings. A New Nightmare has all the kills one would expect with excellent make up and visual effect on display with Craven trying to out do himself with the accompanying music by J. Peter Robinson.
The idea of uber Freddy character harassing the real life cast and crew doesn’t tire with the entertaining and fitting premise. It’s only a movie…or is it?
Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer’s screenplay is never brave enough to develop new ideas to inject into A Nightmare on Elm Street which is a shame as Watchmen and Shutter Island lead Jackie Earle Haley is excellent as Freddy Krueger, but is rarely on screen.
Where as unnecessary remakes The Amityville Horror: (2005), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) ,Halloween (2007) and Friday the 13th (2009) to name a few tried to elevate the original concepts and add further depth, director Samuel Bayer’s Nightmare’ fails to do either and this latest offering is no better than Robert Englund’s last outing in 2003.
There a distinct lack of dreamlike quality for the most part. The lighting and sets are first-rate but the eerie, ominous atmosphere and build up of tension are missing. Just as there are glimmers, the return to the school, the parents decisions, Freddy’s return as so on, it never gives enough weight to the exposition or execution to those new ideas and your left with a hollow feeling and a few cheap jump scares.
With limited screen-time Clancy Brown, of Highlander (1986), steals every scene with his presence. Sub-characters Kris (Katie Cassidy) and Dean (Kellan Lutz) are missed early on. The acting of the rest of the cast is adequate, with a teen cast of familiar faces including, Rooney Mara and Thomas Dekker,they are all too polished for the viewer to connect with them and feel any authentic fear. That said, Jackie Earle Haley limited time is welcomed and the Freddy makeup and costume is excellent, as too is the effective rework of the original music score.
Ultimately, A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) adds nothing new, either as a re-imagining, an addition/reboot to the series or a remake of the original. Even as standalone horror film it falls short and fails to give you nightmares.