Nightmare on Elm Street: a Mini Retrospective

by  on May.08, 2010, under horror movies, Movie Review, nightmare on elm street, Retro Horror Movies, Slasher Movies

With remake of Nightmare on Elm street  now in theatres I take a look back at the original 7 films and their impact.  A few caveats before we start: I was a child of the 80’s so I saw these movies when I was in grade school.  It’s funny how the fog of time can make you remember things differently than how they actually are.  None of these films are high art although the first film has become a “classic” to most horror fans, but they all hold something of a special place in my childhood memories as I’m sure they do for many of my generation.  So without further ado let’s get started.

Nightmare on elm Street (1984)

With the slasher film boom in full swing Wes Craven came up with a pretty original idea about a man who can kill you with your dreams.  His name was Fred Kruger and he wore an old red and green sweater and had a glove with razors on it.  He was a child killer, although it was suggested he was also a child rapist, and he was murdered by the parents of his victims and an act of community vigilantism.

However he found a way to punish those parents by killing their children in their dreams, apparently killing their kids before wasn’t enough for Fred to say “even stevens”.  Nancy the protagonist of the original film manages to finally pull Fred out of her dreams and into the real world to kill him.  Although the end of the movie is left open as to whether the whole movie was a dream or what.

Does it still hold up?

The original NOES was scary for is time and truly launched the career of Wes Craven making him a “Master of Horror” for better or worse.  Watching the movie today there’s still a few things that work and a lot of things that don’t.  Some of the dream sequences are truly scary even by today’s standards.  Craven managed to create some memorable images such as Nancy’s Dead friend Tina standing in a school hallway while in a body bag and of course the blood geyser that kills off Johnny Depps character is probably the scene that everyone remembers.

However the film has its share of problems.  One of the biggest is the horrible acting abilities of Ronny Blakely who plays Nancy’s mom.  She hams up every line of dialogue she delivers and ruins some pretty important scenes.  Freddy Krueger is a little scary in this film but I was surprised upon re-watching this movie that he makes some wisecracks which I didn’t remember.  So while Kruger eventually becomes the clown prince of horror in later sequels I think that director Craven only has himself to blame for it.

Most Cringe inducing moment:  Every scene featuring Ronnie Blakely.

Is it worth Watching? Yes it’s a classic and worth seeing for its visuals, imagination and early SFX innovation.

Nightmare on Elm Street 2 Freddy’s Revenge (1985)

After the success of the first Nightmare New Line realized they had a potential cash cow here and rushed a sequel into development.  This is obvious when watching part 2 since the whole film can be summed up in one word: “Gay”.  Freddy has become a metaphor for being gay. Our protagonist Jesse moves into Nancy’s house from the original and begins immediately dreaming about Freddy.  However this time around Freddy Seems to want to use Jesse’s body as his vessel to kill people in the real world.  It becomes pretty obvious however that Jesse might actually be gay and Freddy is his gayness trying to come out of the closet.  No I’m not kidding.

Jesse likes the girl next door but he also seems to really like his best friend Grady too.  Freddy comes out during very ambiguously gay moments in the film.  At one point Jesse goes out in the middle of the night to an S&M bar where he runs into his gym coach.  His coach takes him back to the school and makes him run laps around the gym until Freddy comes out of Jesse and ties up the coach, slaps his bare ass with towels and then finally kills him.  When its over Freddy goes back inside Jesse.  Hmm… what could this mean?

There is so much more though.  Freddy comes out when Jesse’s trying to get it on with the girl next door and then again when he’s sleeping at his best friend Grady’s house.  The film is filled with shots of shirtless men, crotch shots, bizarre behavior and a very gay dance sequence in which Jesse cleans his room by dancing to a bad 80’s pop song.

When the DVD set came out about 10 years ago director of the film claimed he didn’t know about the gay subtext of the film.  However its since come out that the Actor playing Jesse and the screenwriter were both openly gay and Robert England has gone on record to say they knew what kind of movie they were making.  Something tells me that New Line however didn’t know.

Most Cringe inducing moment:  The aforementioned sequence of Jesse cleaning his room dancing to bad 80’s music.  He closes a dresser drawer with his butt and uses a pop toy as a pretty obvious phallus substitute.

Is it worth Watching?
Only if for the morbidly curious that are amazed that a sequel to a very successful movie was so rushed that it somehow managed to be about 1 mans struggle with being gay.  How this movie got made is still a baffling mystery to me and I’d love to know more about it.  Its become something of a cult movie because of its subtext especially to the gay community.   In my opinion it also has the best Freddy make up of all the films.  Freddy is more skeletal and looks more realistically burned.

Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (1987)

Somehow Nightmare 2 managed to make money even with its Gay subtext in 1985 which tells me the ticket buying masses didn’t realize what it was really about.  However apparently New Line learned their lesson and took a bit more time with part 3.  Heather Lagenkamp returned to reprise her role as Nancy from the first film.  This time a group of kids have been committed to a clinic because of their bad dreams.  Of course no one in the clinic believes that they are all dreaming about the same man and Nancy, fresh out of grad school, comes to the clinic to help them.

Nightmare 3 improves the production values a bit of from the previous sequels and has some pretty interesting nightmare sequences.  The most memorable being the Giant Freddy snake that tries to devour one of the kids, a TV that becomes Freddy, and a kid is pulled around like a marionette via his blood veins.

Dream Warriors is very dated from its 80’s hair band music to its production values.  The movie looks better than the second one did with its cardboard sets but not a lot better.  The music is the worst of the series and sounds better suited to a 80’s tv show.   The special effects are decent for the time but very dated by today’s standards.  The characters are a bit more fleshed out than before but most of them are annoying.  Patricia Arqette plays Kristen and has the most irritating and shrill scream in cinema history.  I spent most of the time wanting to see here die.

Most Cringe inducing moment: The bad girl Taren goes into her dream world and looks like a bad stereotype of 1980’s punk rockers with her 2 foot high spiked hair, big leather shoulder pads and spiked accents.  Just one example of how dated this movie is, but there are many more moments that will make your eyes roll.

Even with its short comings its worth seeing.  The movie has some great visual moments and some pretty unintentionally funny ones too which also makes it worth seeing.   This movie is what resurrected the series and breathed new life into it to keep it going for 4 more sequels.  Dream Warriors and the Dream Master are what horror movies sequels should be.

Nightmare on Elm Street part 4: The Dream Master (1988)

Nightmare 4 holds a special place in my heart simply because it was the first nightmare I was able to go out and see in a theatre with my friends.  I also remember liking the movie a lot, but what did I know I was in the 4th grade and I thought almost every horror film I saw was great.  The Dream Master directed by the great (at being mediocre) auteur Renny Harlin in what I believe was his first American movie.  Seeing it now the movie is probably the best of the sequels even though the storyline feels pretty thin.  It has fantastic production values compared to the previous films.  From the lighting, to the sets, to even the actors the movie raises the bar in the series.  There are some pretty good set pieces here and pretty good surreal nightmares.

Lisa Wilcox plays Alice, the protagonist of this outing, and she’s more than capable of shouldering the movie.  That I had a crush on her back in the day doesn’t factor in at all I assure you.    That said the movie does have its problems, the biggest being the silliness of the film.  Freddy goes balls out campy in with his one-liners and kills.  There’s a scene where his blades appear as a shark fin cutting through the water leading up to the beach where he explodes from the sand in full form.   Or there’s the silly “soul pizza” scene and chest of souls concept.  But when I was 12 years old I loved these scenes.  The final showdown between Freddy and Alice is pretty convenient in how Alice defeats Freddy however his prolonged death scene isn’t bad.

Most Cringe Inducing Moment: Definitely the 80’s montage of Alice getting geared up to fight Freddy.  She puts on tight clothes, a leather coat, a studded leather belt, and takes her friends inhaler which is later used as a weapon.  The cherry on the top however is  after all that preparing she just lays down and goes to sleep.

Is it worth watching?  I think of all the sequels this one is probably the best so if you’re going to watch any of them after the first one then this should be it.

Nightmare on Elm Street part 5: The Dream Child (1989)

After surviving part 4 Alice returns and her boyfriend Dan promptly dies after impregnating her.  Using the unborn child’s dreams Freddy is able to attack Alice while she’s awake and again uses her to get more victims.  I really hated this movie when I saw it as a kid and my opinion hasn’t changed much.  While the production values are maybe even better than part 4 the movie is crap.  First off I really don’t get why horror movies about pregnancies are supposed to be scary.  Maybe its because I haven’t had any kids yet but I just don’t get it.  Alice returns stronger in this film and I still like her character but everything else about this movie sucks.  The nightmares range from unimaginative to just insulting: one sequence features “Super Freddy” a muscle bound cape wearing super hero that kills a comic book addicted character.  Then there’s the lazy kill scene of the model that’s afraid to get fat.  I’m sure you can guess how that one plays out.

Most Cringe inducing moment:  You would think it’s the Super Freddy moment but actually it’s the ending with Alice’s unborn child, Jacob tries to turn the tables on Freddy by pretending to be like him with burn makeup and bad kiddie Freddie voice.   It’s bad.

Is it worth watching: definitely not, avoid it like death!

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)

Only its not the final nightmare in fact Freddy does “die” but he pops back up it 2 more sequels after this one.  Freddy’s Dead is yet another sequel that I remember being much better when I was in 6th grade.  Out of all the films this one is the silliest.  Freddy has decimated the population of Springfield and uses the last teenager to travel and find more kids to torment and kill.  With that one might think that this will be just another light hearted killing spree but no, the producers decided to make Freddy a daddy, isn’t that sweet?  So now the “Filthy child killer” had a child as his own.  Funny how that never came up before.

Long time Freddy producer Rachel Talalay comes aboard as director for this final nightmare but fails to deliver a fitting in to Freddy.  Saddled with the horrible marketing gimmick of filming the finale in 3D the film suffers from gimmicky effects that throw stuff at the screen in a desperate attempt to try to make this death of Freddy bigger.  But when Freddy finally buys the farm is pretty anticlimactic and not nearly as good as the death scenes in parts 3 or 4.

Most Cringe Inducing moment: Freddy kills one video game obsessed victim via a razor fingered power glove and a video game side scrolling nightmare.  “Now I’m playing with Power!”  Freddy says.  Ugh!

Is it worth seeing?  While it does have its moments and is pretty funny in parts Freddy’s Dead pales in comparison to earlier outings and really isn’t worth much of anyone’s time.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

After 5 sequels, a TV series and countless marketing tie ins Freddy was finally dead… for 3 years.  Then Wes Craven decided to dig him up again.  In 1994 Freddy again returned but this time he was a representation of an evil that was somehow held at bay by the Nightmare on Elm Street films.  Now that the films were gone Freddy became real and into our world.  Heather Langenkamp returns and plays herself as does most of the cast of the original film all playing themselves including Wes Craven.

The problem with The New Nightmare is the same problem as the Dream Child, you can’t make a horror film that’s supposed to appeal to teens and make the protagonist a middle aged mother with a child that seems to be possessed by Freddy.  While Craven does explore some pretty cool concepts the film fails to deliver anything better than rehashes of previous nightmare film scenes incluiding a new rotating room scene where Freddy drags the babysitter up the wall and kills her on the ceiling.   The film drags on with child tantrum scenes that just annoy the shit out of the viewer.  When the film finally does reach its final showdown with Freddy it’s boring and anticlimactic.

Most Cringe Inducing scene: It probably depends on what you find more irritating: a  Kid screaming at the top of their lungs every 10 minutes or Robert England playing the 80s Freddy to a crowd of kids dressed up as Freddy.

Is it worth seeing: No.  Don’t waste your time since it really isn’t even a Freddy movie.

Freddy Vs. Jason (2003)

Wow the less said about this turd the better.  The plot? Who cares.  The point of this movie is to get Freddy and Jason to beat the shit out of each other for 15 minutes.  The final battle is bloody and pretty decent as far as monster fighting scenes go but everything leading up to the payoff is excruciating! The storyline is not even worth trying to explain, the actors and Director Ronny Yu should all be banned from ever making films again! Even the guy who plays Jason gets it wrong.  I mean how can you mess up Jason?

Most Cringe inducing moment: I can’t pick just one! There’s not a single line of good dialogue in this movie.

Is it worth watching: God no! It should be banned, all copies destroyed and we can all just pretend it never happened.

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