Of course horror director Wes Craven didn’t just do the Scream series. He also introduced the world of scary cinema to child and dream/nightmare murderer Fred Krueger. Even if he only directed two movies, the others are worth mentioning as well, because Freddy is such a suitable figure for our second day of horror movie madness preceding Halloween.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
(USA 1984, director: Wes Craven)
Child murderer Fred Krueger hunts down the kids of Elm Street, killing them in their dreams, and it’s up to one of them, Nancy, to fight back.
This is where it all started… and also ended, at least for Wes Craven, because except for the seventh installment, he didn’t plan on doing a sequel. Quite ironic, considering that he created a horror movie icon and kickstarted Robert Englund’s career. Taking the movie on its own, it’s still fun to watch today.
The background story of Freddy, his make-up and the way his knives as hands work make him memorable, although the movie has lost some of its scariness, substituting it for cheesiness. There are a few nightmarish scenes, like sinking into stair steps and being sucked into bed. Some of the special effects are also quite good and don’t look dated, e.g. having one character rotate on the ceiling or blood spilling from a bed upwards. There isn’t much gore, although the use of snakes, worms, etc. makes for a few disgusting moments.
But Freddy himself is simply not that intimidating. Some might argue that it became worse with the sequels, but his costume, despite some make-up, and especially the cracking of jokes doesn’t do much to take him very seriously. The same can be said about the cast, with Heather Langenkamp as the lead role being particularly bad at acting. A young Johnny Depp tries his best, but like the rest, his delivery of lines isn’t Shakespeare material. However, this is what makes the movie so charming, at least when it comes to humor. Freddy’s lines might be bad puns and overacting from the cast can’t be overlooked, but the first A Nightmare on Elm Street remains a guilty pleasure to watch.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
(USA 2010. director: Samuel Bayer)
Remakes always face the problem of trying to stay true to the original but also to find new ways of making the source material relevant for the modern audience. The new movie succeeds in introducing a Freddy who is much more serious and actually scarier with a terrifying voice. The nightmare sequences are done quite well, especially with the rooms falling apart, something only made possible in the age of CGI. But what it lacks is humor, memorable scenes and likable characters.
In short: the movie lacks originality. With a strong opening scene and the interesting idea of questioning Freddy’s guilt, it sadly falls back into well-known scenes (like a hand coming out in the bathtub between the legs of a character) and commits the biggest sin: taking itself too seriously, therefore getting a bit predictable and boring. This also has to do with teen characters who simply don’t have the same quality traits as in the original. Granted, the acting is better, but there just isn’t any dialogue scene with a light mood. This is also reflected in the soundtrack that is reminiscent of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake (also produced by Michael Bay).
The remake succeeds in creating a dark atmosphere with a Freddy who definitely has potential for a new breed of movies. However, it fails to capture the imagination and doesn’t grip the audience as the original did, with or without campiness.
A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge
(USA 1985, director: Jack Sholder)
Teenager Jesse’s dreams of becoming part of Freddy Krueger’s world increasingly becomes a reality.
Not having Wes Craven involved as a director/writer or even producer already shows that this movie tries to make some quick money. It still has the right ingredients of a troubled teenager drawn into a nightmarish world. But while some of the dream sequences are quite good (as a bus drive to hell despite some bad special effects) and more gore is added, it doesn’t quite add up.
This is mainly due to the main character who is simply not likable at all. Being more annoying than anything else, especially with the same high-pitched screaming and some very bad acting, it’s difficult to feel for his plight. It’s still an interesting idea to give Freddy a more frightening appearance, making dream and reality indistinguishable. But there’s not much of a story, and considering how many murders are happening and having no police investigation going on, suspense is lacking.
The rest of cast isn’t very convincing, either. With a sappy love story thrown in and no memorable dialogue scenes, what one is left with is some rather violent gory scenes which are still disgusting to watch even today. As a standalone movie, Freddy’s Revenge is okay entertainment, but as a direct sequel, it’s quite a forgettable part of the series.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
(USA 1987, director: Chuck Russell)
A group of teenagers is still haunted by the dream/child murderer, but together with Kristen who can invade their dreams they might just have a chance to defeat Freddy, as now-grown-up Nancy did years ago and who helps them with a new therapeutic drug.
After the disappointing sequel, this one is pretty good. But with Wes Craven being on (part) writing duty and Heather Langenkamp back as Nancy, it might not be such a big surprise. Her acting has improved, but not by a far stretch. The rest of the cast does a good job despite some overacting and the typical Afro-American forced one-liners. But what’s more important: they’re all a likable bunch, something the second movie didn’t have.
What it has going for it as well are even crazier dream sequences and very imaginative death sequences, being more creative than the original. Freddy also has a longer screen time and makes so many puns that this cements his popularity as a mainstay slasher villain. The special effects look dated (especially with a stop-motion skeleton fight), but they’re not distracting.
In addition to the nightmarish scenes and added gore, this also gives Freddy a new background story. Even if some of the other characters’ stories are somewhat left behind, one finally gets a whole new perspective of what made him such a psychopath. Maybe there’s too much information packed into 90 minutes, but this is a more rounded and memorable experience that even surpasses the first movie in originality, despite a few cringeworthy sentimental or plain cheesy moments (the Wizard Master scenes for example).
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
(USA 1988, director: Renny Harlin)
The dream warriors are slowly decimated by Freddy who wants to take revenge on them and invade the real world, but a new dream master fights back.
Renny Harlin is known for his action movies, e.g. Die Hard 2 or Cliffhanger, so it comes as a surprise to see him direct in a horror movie. Unfortunately, it shows. While it’s a great idea of having a dream master who can bring other people into her dreams, this was done much better in the excellent third installment. Replacing Patricia Arquette with some rather whiny actress seems like a bad idea at first, but at least it pays off in the end.
It’s only too bad that it takes too long for the final act to deliver. Most of the time, there’s simply not enough tension. While the new Elm Street kids show some potential, they’re not nearly as likable or memorable enough as the former ones. Being a direct sequel, it feels coherent enough, but again lacks originality.
At least the dream/nightmare sequences are disgustingly well done, a particular highlight being one character turning into a bug. However, despite a very strong atmospheric beginning, there isn’t much creepiness or subtle horror, let alone an engaging story. Even if it has a cool and horrific ending (despite some cheesiness) and a catchy 80s soundtrack, this isn’t the strongest of the Freddy series (despite some funny one-liners).
A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
(USA 1989, director: Stephen Hopkins)
Survivor girl and dream master Alice has to fight once again, as Freddy tries to return in the form of her unborn son whose dreams he uses for his own purposes.
After a more action-oriented approach, this movie goes back to the psychological roots. Unfortunately it doesn’t always succeed. There are some scary scenes, and the death/nightmarish sequences are especially memorable and creative (e.g. when being thrown into a black and white comic book world). But it commits the same sin as the fourth and even second installment.
While the main character isn’t as bad and the new teenagers have a certain quality about them (with one being ordered around by her mom), the story doesn’t make one feel sympathy for them. Maybe it’s the curse of sequels that it’s difficult to better the first heroine, or maybe it’s because the acting is just so TV soap opera drama-like. Make no mistake, Heather Langenkamp was a pretty bad actress, but the way she showed her strength in both movies made her easier to relate to than Lisa Wilcox playing Alice. Her friends aren’t anything else than annoying sidekicks, so only Freddy and his “son” are left.
Krueger is as nasty as ever with some bad puns, and showing more of his mother’s past adds to the atmosphere. Alice’s unborn son isn’t really that convincing, and their relationship feels contrived, especially with such a sappy ending. What one is left with then is a good continuation of the dream master storyline with memorable nightmares, but a forgettable cast and even less tension.
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
(USA 1991, director: Rachel Talalay)
After getting rid of all the kids on Elm Street, Fred Krueger expands his dream killings, but has to find a new host to bring him back and also confront his own past.
So Freddy’s back again, and it’s the 90s. But is it really that terrible for trying to get a piece of the horror action one more time? Not really. Actually, this is quite an enjoyable entry. Granted, there are no really scary scenes or creepy nightmare sequences. However, the death scenes are memorable, because they show imagination and a different, much more self-aware Freddy.
Many people seem to dislike this final entry because of the comedy elements. But what those people forget is that even the first one had them and saying that Freddy was always scary is a bit exaggerated. Maybe back in the days he was something new and the concept of dying in your sleep with a boogeyman chasing you was terrifying. But if you look at Krueger without the rose-tinted nostalgia glasses, you don’t see anything more than just a guy in a red sweater.
This is where the sixth movie gets interesting, because it again tells a part of Fred Krueger’s backstory. It might feel as if one has seen it before (the tired old bullying at school scene), but it gives the character much more depth than most of the sequels and even the original did. The teenagers might be nothing more than annoying cannon/slasher fodder, but this wasn’t any different in what came before. The plot is actually quite good and engaging, as it offers a few surprises.
One could argue that Freddy has become a comedy figure when watching this installment. There haven’t been this many wisecracking jokes and bad puns in the series before. But if one wants to watch a fun slasher flick with creative ways of killing off teenagers, then one can’t go wrong with this one. The best over-the-top part is probably a real-life videogame Freddy plays with one of his victims (although many accustomed to the scary bits will most definitely hate this). The same is true for the 3D version. Being shot with limited resources, it might look weird (and unfortunately there’s no Real 3D version yet) and intrusive at times, but it’s another indication that for a final movie, the director wanted to try new ways in order to engage the audience.
(USA 1994, director: Wes Craven)
Heather Langenkamp and her son start to have nightmares when a new Freddy movie with real deaths surrounding its production materializes.
Do the 90s or modern times actually need another Freddy movie, or is he a thing of the often cheesy past? Wes Craven’s sequel being the only one he ever directed proves that the concept still works if one bends the rules. In this case, it’s not only bending the rules of the genre, as he would later do with the Scream series.
While being set in the real world, with real names of actors and actresses like Langenkamp and Englund, the movie questions the popularity of the franchise and Fred Krueger in particular. At times it comes across a bit too self-absorbed when Wes himself talks about the background of the new story he’s writing or how the producer Robert Shaye gets in touch with Langenkamp, showing the daily office business. But most of the time, the meta-fictional elements work extremely well, especially in the final parts when the discrepancy between dream, reality and the importance of storytelling becomes prevalent.
Freddy Kruger is much darker, more violent and despite some one-liners a completely different villain compared to what came before. He’s scarier, more vicious, and that’s what this movie is as well. There are some truly terrifying scenes with lots of blood thrown in when appropriate. It’s also a much bigger budget movie with a score that sometimes tries too much. The same can be said of the acting, with Heather Langenkamp trying her best and child actor Miko Hughes (who also had horror experience with Pet Sematary) doing lots of screaming and strange things with his voice (reminiscent of The Shining‘s famous REDRUM scene.
But except for some subpar acting of the main protagonists, the movie achieves something the former sequels haven’t succeeded in, namely bringing Freddy back in a scarily convincing way and even surpassing Wes Craven’s original in terms of originality and fear factor. The death sequences might not be as elaborate and it takes time before the real Freddy shows his face, but it’s all the more nightmarish when it finally happens, making the movie the best in the series.
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