"Whatever you do, don't fall asleep."
The original that started it all crafted a new form of slasher movie, one with overt supernatural themes and the idea of the sins of the parents returning to be revisited upon the children. The film found a great hook in the idea that if you fall asleep, you die since everyone has to sleep at some point, so you can only delay sleep for so long.
The kids of Springwood are starting to all dream of the same guy, a horribly burned man who wears a glove with razor blade claws. As her friends start dropping one by one, Nancy (played by Heather Lagenkamp) and her boyfriend Glen (played by Johnny Depp) try to work out what is happening and more importantly how to stop the boogeyman haunting their dreams, a man named Freddy Krueger (played by Robert Englund).
Writer/Director Wes Craven didn't have a huge budget to work with, making the film through the burgeoning film studio New Line Cinema, but he makes every cent count as he comes up with some truly evocative and haunting imagery. The thing that always set the Nightmare series apart was the imagination that could be unleashed in each entry and it was apparent from the very beginning. Robert Englund gives an iconic and scary performance as Krueger, so much so that he was impossible to replace for the sequels. Heather Lagenkamp is equally great as Nancy. Nancy was always different from usual horror movie "final girls" in the sense that she actively fought Freddy, learning from each encounter from Freddy and finally not only figuring out how to beat him but actively setting traps for him and taking the fight to him. In terms of final girls, she was one of the best.
It seems like every big eighties horror series has that one odd duck entry that doesn't really match with the rest of the series. Halloween had Halloween III, Friday the 13th had Friday the 13th Part V (and Jason Goes to Hell). This one has A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge. Still, even if it flies in the face of what came before and what would come after, if taken on it's own merits, this film has it's own bizarre moments.
This film picks up five years after the first film, with Jesse (played by Mark Patton) and his family moving into the house previously occupied by Nancy in the first film. Strange things happen almost immediately. Jesse is having weird dreams of Freddy (played by Robert Englund) and the house is constantly swelteringly hot. As Jesse continues to dream, it becomes apparent that Freddy has special plans for Jesse. He intends to possess Jesse to break out into the real world again. With the help of his girlfriend Lisa (played by Kim Myers) and friend Grady (played by Robert Rusler), he has to figure out a way to stop Freddy before he breaks through and kills again.
The second film is a strange duck in many ways, but primarily because it doesn't really follow on from the first one. If taken as a stand alone film, it's a bit more intriguing but taken as part of what came before and what came after, this one just doesn't fit. The whole point of the series was that Freddy tormented his victims in their sleep. They couldn't escape him that way because everyone has to sleep. Trying to come back into the real world seems...counter productive. Still, the film has it's moments. It's one of the few horror movies of the era to focus on a male lead, which is a refreshing change of pace. There are also some curious homosexual subtexts that run through the film. Hell, not even subtext, it's text. It's pretty much a subplot. Poor Jesse is struggling with his sexuality throughout the film. Needless to say, this film has gained a certain following within the gay community. I'm able to enjoy the second film on it's own, but as a part of the overall series, it doesn't really fit at all.
"Welcome to Prime Time, bitch!"
When it came time to do a third film, New Line Cinema had realized the error of their ways. A quick cash grab sequel wasn't going to satisfy the fans of the films and something a little more carefully thought out was required. New Line managed to woo Wes Craven to come back and write the script for the third one. The script was subsequently re-written by Frank Darabont and director Chuck Russell and in the process crafted one of the best films in the series, perhaps even the best one after the original, with A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.
For the third outing in the series, the action moves to a mental asylum ward populated by the last of the Elm Street kids. The latest addition, Kristen (played by Patricia Arquette), is admitted due to an apparent suicide attempt, but was actually because of a run in with Freddy. She goes ballistic when they try to sedate her until a familiar face intervenes, Nancy Thompson (played by Heather Langenkamp), who is now a grad student specializing in dream therapy. She tries to explain what is happening to the kids to their doctor, Neil Gordon (played by Craig Wasson), that their dreams can literally kill them. Meanwhile, she begins to work with the kids and teach them how to control their dreams and fight back against Freddy, leading to a last stand between Nancy, Kristen and the rest of the remaining Elm Street kids and Freddy.
Dream Warriors is one of the strongest entries in the series because it makes you care about each of the kids. They are not just cannon fodder for Freddy but each a fully formed character you want to see survive. This of course adds more suspense and tension to the film because you want to see these kids survive. They're all survivors and none are victims and that adds to the film and makes it stronger. The return of Nancy, the heroine from the first film also adds to the film. It also expands on the mythology of Freddy and how they finally lay him to rest at the end makes sense and would have made a fitting concluding chapter, but nothing will keep Freddy down but a diminishing box office.
With the release of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, the series started to make a sharp shift away from the darker horror aspects of the previous films and the more fully developed characters to a jokier Freddy and a larger emphasis on elaborate dream sequences. In some ways this hurt the series in the sense that it robbed Freddy of any real ability to truly scare. But at the same time, Part 4 remains an entertaining piece of 80's horror.
After the events of the third film, the remaining Elm Street kids have been released from the hospital and resumed their normal teenage lives. It doesn't last long though when Freddy finds a way back and is resurrected in one of their dreams by flaming dog piss (I swear I am not making this up!) and back to torment the dreams of our plucky young survivors. But Freddy has finally met his match in Alice (played by Lisa Wilcox). Alice starts off the film as this quiet and reserved girl, but as the film goes on and her friends drop one by one to Freddy, she starts gaining their skills and grows stronger each time until she is able to face Freddy herself.
Renny Harlin directed the fourth film and manged to create one of the most visually interesting Nightmare films. It may favor spectacle over character, but it is impressive spectacle, especially for the budget they had to work with. They managed to craft some genuinely inventive and creative sequences for the film. While not all the characters were well developed, I really responded to the character of Alice and not only how reserved she was at the beginning but also how she grew as the film went along. The film may have been a shifting change to a more crowd-pleasing and spectacle driven sensibility, but Part Four still worked and brought the goods.
By the time the fifth film came about, it was starting to become clear that the producers were running out of ideas for the series. Coming out just one year after Part 4, we catch up with the survivors of the previous film as they once again tangle with the dream demon that never says die.
Alice and her boyfriend Dan are getting ready to graduate high school and move on with their lives along with their new group of Freddy cannon fodder, er um, I mean friends. The majority of which have some sort of defining characteristic or fear that Freddy can exploit against them in a vivid dream sequence. Meanwhile, Alice and Dan have been getting rather intimate as Alice finds herself pregnant. It is because of this that Freddy is able to come back, going through the unborn child's dreams to access Alice and her friends. Who knew unborn babies dream? Learn something new every day. It's not long until Alice and Dan's friends start falling to Freddy's finger knives and have to once again figure out a way to stop him.
Still, the film is better than average for a late in the series sequel. It covers such controversial topics as teen pregnancy and even abortion. I have to appreciate it taking such things head on in a film that, let's be honest, is marketed to teenagers. Likewise, the dream sequences again are the star of the show, bringing some impressive and creative effects to the screen. There are a few new twists to the tale this time around, mainly that since the dreams are through Alice's unborn child, she can be pulled into a dream state even when she is wide awake, which makes for some jarring transitions in the film. We also see Alice's child in Alice's dreams as a grown boy named Jacob (played by Whitby Hertford) and the two of them teaming up to take down Krueger lends an unexpected poignancy to the film. Even though, by this point there was a well set formula to this film and even with the little flourishes it felt like it was just going through the motions.
After the disappointing reception to Part 5, it was decided by the execs at New Line Cinema to craft a final entry to end the series. The resulting film, Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, was a jarring left turn compared to the films that came before it. While the previous films remained at least reasonably serious, despite Freddy's increasingly jokey behavior, this film is a live action cartoon.
This film introduces us to John (played by Shon Greenblatt), who is the last of the Elm Street kids. Funny, several of these movies have included the last of the Elm Street kids and I don't recall him. Freddy manages to torment the kid in his dreams before flinging him back into the real world to go and round up some fresh victims for him. John wakes up without any memories except where he's from and soon finds his way to a halfway house of sorts for troubled kids. There he meets social worker Maggie (played by Lisa Zane), who decides to take him back to Springwood to try and retrace who he is. On the way there, they find they have a few stowaways in the form of Carlos (played by Ricky Dean Logan), Spencer (played by Breckin Meyer) and Tracy (played by Lezlie Dean). Once they hit Springwood, Freddy is waiting, working his way into each of their dreams. In the process, revelations are made about Freddy himself, who he was when he was alive and that one of the members of this new group may just have a familial connection to the dream demon, leading to the ultimate showdown to take Freddy out once and for all.
Freddy's Dead for much of it's run time plays much more like a black comedy than it does as a horror film. I laughed throughout the whole thing as Freddy took on each of the cast members in the dream world. Everything is played so over the top, so dialed up to eleven that it really does feel like a cartoon and Freddy is Wile Coyote. It is a jarring shift from the previous films, but it is at least amusing. It is cool to see a bit of backstory on Freddy as we see how he came to be and how he gained the power to impact people's dreams. At the same time though, the film doesn't quite come up with a convincing final demise for Freddy. It harkens back to the first one when Nancy pulled Freddy into the real world and offed him there, but he still came back for the next sequel. The third film had a far more satisfying final offing, with Freddy's remains laid to rest and consecrated with holy water. Nonetheless, the finale is pretty thrilling, but lacks that feeling that this time it's going to take. And of course, it didn't, not really.
When Wes Craven returned to the Nightmare series with Wes Craven's New Nightmare, he crafted a clever and unique sequel that managed to do the impossible. He made Freddy Krueger scary again. In the process, he let the series finally grow up and made a smart and thrilling new film that paid homage to the original film and it's stars.
The new film concerns Freddy Krueger trying to break out into the real world. When I say real world, I mean our world and our reality. So, in the movie we have Heather Langenkamp returning, but she's playing herself. Robert Englund is back and he's both playing himself and the new, meaner, and nastier Freddy. Wes Craven himself shows up to explain what is going on. Turns out, when they made the original Nightmare on Elm Street, the filmmakers unwittingly trapped a real demon within the guise of Freddy and he had been trapped there for the past ten years on the silver screen as they made sequel after sequel. But, now that Freddy's dead, he is trying to escape back into our reality. Heather realizes the demon has targeted her since she played Nancy in the original film, but has also targeted her young son, Dylan (played by Miko Hughes). As the line between fiction and reality continue to blur, Heather has to figure out how to defeat this demon once and for all and save not only herself but her young son as well.
When Wes Craven sat down to revisit the Nightmare on Elm Street series ahead of it's tenth anniversary, he couldn't find any sort of overarching storyline between the sequels to continue and instead came up with a clever and unique storyline that both functioned as it's own film but also honored the first film as well. Throughout the film there are little nods to the original film. At the same time, by setting the film in the real world and having all sorts of people play themselves in the film adds a very unique twist to the film. It also allows the series to grow up, away from teenagers and instead dealing with adults, with adult problems and also tapping into the fears of a parent trying to protect their child. It was a breath of fresh air and served as a wonderful and satisfying cap to the original Nightmare on Elm Street series. But it still wasn't the last we'd see of Mr. Krueger.
(The following originally appeared as part of my Looking Back at the Friday the 13th series, Part 3 post.)
Freddy vs. Jason had been an on again, off again thing since 1987 but the two studios, Paramount and New Line, could never reach a deal. When New Line picked up the rights to the Friday the 13th series in 1994, it seemed like the film was finally going to happen, even teasing it at the end of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday with Freddy's claw pulling Jason's hockey mask down to hell. Sadly, it would take another nine years for the film to finally arrive in cinemas. But for a group of fans of either Jason, Freddy or both, myself included, when it finally arrived it was a huge event.
Freddy (played once again by Robert Englund) has found the children of Springfield have forgotten about him, rendering him powerless to invade their dreams. To counteract this, he recruits Jason (played by Ken Kirzinger) to head to Springwood and create a little terror with the idea that it will get people thinking Freddy again and he can come back. However, Jason gets carried away bringing about Freddy's ire and leads to an epic showdown between the two.
While by and large Freddy vs. Jason delivered on it's promise, it's not exactly perfect. The acting is a bit all over the place, with Kelly Rowland being the biggest offender playing an overall unpleasant character, Kia, whose improvised homophobic taunts to Freddy were less than appreciated not only by me but the film's writers as well.
In the end though, the film is quite a bit of fun seeing two titans of terror square off against one another. The film really picks up once their fight starts, first in the dream world Freddy inhabits and then finishing in the real world. The film manages to accomplish the daunting task of blending the imaginative and surreal Nightmare on Elm Street series with more grounded stalk and slash Friday the 13th series. It's a film that was made for the fans of both series and for the most part, it delivers.
In the spring of 2010, a remake of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street was released with Jackie Earl Haley strapping on the famous razor glove in place of Robert Englund as a new group of teens start having nightmares they won't wake up from. Now, I know it's become fashionable to bash the remake, but I actually kind of liked it. It doesn't compare to the original and Englund will always be the true Freddy Krueger to me, but this film has some neat ideas of it's own that they pull off pretty well.
The film more or less follows the plot of the original with Nancy (played by Rooney Mara) and her boyfriend Quentin (played by Kyle Gallner) discover that they and all their friends are dreaming about the same horribly burned man in their dreams, a man known as Freddy. The begin to investigate to figure out why and as they dig deeper and deeper they find some long hidden secrets dating back to their early childhood that their parents have deliberately kept from them. As they do, they do whatever they can to try not to fall asleep, including chugging Red Bull and coffee, abusing ritalin and even towards the end injecting themselves with adrenaline.
What I liked about the film was that it got more into the effects of sleep deprivation and just how inevitable having to sleep really is. It added a sense of dread to the film and desperation to the characters as they tried not to sleep. I also liked that they played with the history of Freddy a little and were bold enough to suggest he not only murdered kids but molested them as well, something the original film shied away from. Not only that, but they also suggested that Freddy actually was innocent of his crimes, adding an extra layer to his character and revenge motivations (of course, he wasn't really, he was just manipulating our characters, but it fooled me the first time I watched the movie. It was just the small touches that made the film work for me. Still, it doesn't match the original film. It plays a bit too closely to the original in plotting to ever really be suspenseful and the shoddy CGI is more of a distraction than a good addition. But there are little flourishes that added to the film and still made it worthwhile viewing for this Freddy fan.
As a teenager myself back in the mid-nineties, I discovered both Freddy and Jason at about the same time and am a fan of both. But the Nightmare films were always a bit more high brow than the Friday the 13th films. Even at their worst, there was a cleverness and creativity to them that made them stand out a little more among the horror franchises. That's what I always enjoyed about them, the idea that anything could happen. It wasn't just a bunch of teens smoking dope and getting slaughtered by a masked killer, it was a little smarter than that, aimed a little higher.
A couple years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Robert Englund, the original Freddy himself at a local convention and he couldn't have been more opposite of Freddy. He was sweet and funny, just a total teddy bear of a guy. He was even nice enough to sign my Nightmare on Elm Street box set, making it one of my prized possessions now.
"One, two Freddy's coming for you. Three, four better lock your door. Five, Six, Grab a Crucifix. Seven, Eight, Better Stay Up Late. Nine, Ten, Never sleep again..."