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Jason Thorson

A Nightmare on Elm Street Retrospective

Posted on April 27, 2010 by Jason Thorson

Twenty-six years ago horror fans were introduced to arguably the most complex and unique addition to the pantheon of slasher-era icons – Freddy Krueger.  He was no stiff mute in a mask, maliciously misusing garden tools as a violent catharsis to purge his mommy-issues.  No, Freddy had panache.

First and foremost, Freddy could talk – a simple differentiation that opened up vast new areas to cover that were not navigable to his peers.  And Freddy inhabited dreams, another seemingly small difference that yielded an incredibly creative set of rules with which to play for Freddy and his victims alike.  Most importantly, there’s the bladed glove – his handcrafted implement of death designed to both terrify and eviscerate sleepy Springwood teenagers.  Anybody can pick up a machete or a large kitchen knife and perhaps clear some brush or prepare dinner, but Freddy’s glove had a singular horrible purpose and it, along with his dusty fedora and dirty red and green sweater, is now iconic on a global level. 

So, it should come as no surprise that I’ll begrudgingly make my way to the theatre on April 30th to witness yet another unnecessary regurgitation of horror royalty as the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street hits the big screen courtesy of Platinum Dunes.  Good, bad, or ugly you can watch for my review in early May, but first let’s take a stroll down Memory Lane or more specifically, Elm Street. 

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) 

When teenaged Nancy Thompson discovers that she and her friend Tina are both having violent nightmares featuring a scarred lunatic with razorblade fingers, she invites Tina over for a sleepover.  Shockingly, the sleepover is also attended by their boyfriends, Glen Lantz (played by an unknown kid named Johnny Depp) and Rod Lane.  Needless to say, horniness rules the night.   As Tina and Rod enjoy post-coitus slumber, Freddy murders Tina in a truly brutal scene while Rod watches helplessly.  Rod is arrested for the murder, but Nancy knows the truth.  Despite Nancy’s warnings to her police lieutenant father, Freddy soon gets to Rod as he sleeps in his jail cell. 

Since everyone now thinks Nancy is nuts, save for Glen, Mom insists Nancy get help via dream therapy.  During her first therapy session, Nancy wakes up from her nightmare while simultaneously grabbing Freddy’s hat from his head.  Mom recognizes the hat and comes clean, telling her that Freddy was a child murderer known as the Springwood Slasher.  After he was arrested and later released on a technicality, the angry parents of Springwood chased him down and burned him alive.  Emboldened by commandeering Freddy’s hat into the real world, Nancy decides she can lure Freddy back to reality as well where she will try to kill him once and for all! 

A Nightmare on Elm Street became an instant classic by providing horror fans with the most interesting and at the time, frightening bogeymen to come along in a generation.  Its success resulted in New Line Cinema becoming a viable movie studio and later a real player among production companies in general.  Until its absorption by Warner Brothers in 2008 New Line had been known as “the house that Freddy built.” 

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

Hastily made against the wishes of creator Wes Craven, Freddy’s Revenge was the first misstep in a series containing a few.  Five years after the events of the original movie a new family has moved into the house at 1428 Elm Street and in no time teenager Jesse Walsh begins dreaming about Freddy.  Soon Freddy begins to take possession of Jesse’s soul, using him to kill Springwood kids in the real world.  After a few helpings of blood, horniness, and teen angst the film culminates at a killer backyard pool party….literally.  Freddy’s Revenge is an unnecessary edition to the series as it contributes virtually nothing to the Elm Street mythos.  It plays fast and loose with the rules established in the original film and as a result it doesn’t end up on many fan favorite lists. 

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

Dream Warriors saw the franchise successfully return to form with the help of a deep pool of talented filmmakers.  Wes Craven was back onboard as a screenwriter alongside others including Frank Darabont.  It also featured the debuting Patricia Arquette as well as Laurence Fishburne and series vets Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, and the incomparable Robert England. 

The majority of Dream Warriors takes place at Westin Hills Asylum where Nancy Thompson is now a therapist who makes a special connection to Kristen, a teenaged patient who’s being stalked in her dreams by Mr. Krueger.  It’s revealed that the hospital’s teenaged patients are the last remaining Elm Street kids whose parents killed Freddy.  When Kristen manifests a unique ability to pull people into and out of her dreams, Nancy hatches a plan to put Freddy down for good. 

Dream Warriors fleshes out Freddy’s biography quite a bit.  We find out that Freddy’s mother, Amanda Krueger, worked at Weston Hills back in the 1940’s and after being accidentally locked-in over the holidays she was raped by 100 criminally insane inmates.  It was during this rape that Freddy was conceived.  He was later born in an abandoned wing of Westin Hills.  This back story plays a prominent role throughout the remainder of the series. 

Dream Warriors takes full advantage of the incredible fertility inherent to the Elm Street concept, providing easily the most creative, complex, and fun addition to the franchise.  Unfortunately, the series is unable to find this success again.  So without further ado, please strap on your shark-jumping shoes as we proceed. 

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

Directed by Renny Harlan, The Dream Master is an example of not leaving well enough alone.  It marks the start of the series foregoing legitimate terror in favor of campy laughs.   By the end of this movie you expect Freddy to grab a microphone and start riffing on airline food and the differences between men and women. 

The movie begins with Kristen and the two other remaining Elm Street Kids having just been released from Westin Hills.  Meanwhile, Kristen gets a boyfriend, Rick, and befriends his sister, Alice, as well as a few other new friends.  Kristen’s Westin Hills cohorts are soon slain by an inexplicably resurrected Freddy.  This leaves Kristen as the last remaining Elm Street Kid and Freddy dependent on her to bring him more potential victims.  Coincidentally, Kristen’s new friend Alice is some sort of super-powered gatekeeper of good dreams, Freddy’s foil if you will.  Kristen dies, thereby passing her dream power to Alice, who also inherits the powers and skills of all the other dead Elm Street Kids which all leads to an inevitable showdown between Alice and Freddy. 

The Dream Master was another misstep in the series which would have been just fine as a trilogy.  Its cheesiness, purposeful and not, removed its status as a franchise embraced by horror buffs and thrust it toward more mainstream audiences. 

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

I’ll make this simple: The Dream Child is the worst of the series.  It’s a bloodless convoluted mess. 

Alice and the previous film’s other survivor, Dan, are now dating.  Alice is also pregnant and has made a few new friends.  So much for Rick.

Note: If you happen to meet someone and at some point during the conversation they mention that they’ve recently defeated Freddy Krueger, do not, I repeat – DO NOT befriend them.  Just politely stop talking, nod once, and walk away.

After a brief period of peace and quiet, Alice begins dreaming about Freddy’s mom, Amanda, as well as a young boy named Jacob who turns out to be Alice’s unborn son.  It doesn’t take long for Freddy to kill Dan and go after the rest of Alice’s new friends.  But despite wielding the best weapon in horror movie history, Freddy kills everyone in ridiculous cartoon-inspired ways such as cutting a character to pieces, but only after turning that character into paper, cracking bad puns all the while.  Yes, really. 

Alice surmises that Freddy is hiding inside of her with her unborn child Jacob, using him as a vessel to reach her friends.  And obviously there’s only one way to handle this: Somehow turn Freddy into a baby and make Jacob and Baby-Freddy duke it out.  That’s a lot of responsibility to a kid who’s not even born yet. 

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) 

Freddy’s Dead takes place several years after the events of the previous film. In the meantime Freddy has killed all but one of a new generation of Springwood teenagers. This lone survivor is referred to as John Doe because during a dreamy confrontation with Freddy he’s thrown beyond the Springwood city limits and hits his head leading to a bought of amnesia. However, this event also establishes the fact that Freddy is powerless outside of Springwood, as he is unable to leave.

John gets picked up by police and sent to a youth shelter where he befriends the resident teenagers. Dr. Maggie Burroughs notices that John has a newspaper clipping from the Springwood Paper and decides to take him there to jog his memory. Predictably, Elm Street-style chaos ensues after Maggie, John, and the others get to Springwood.

Conveniently, we find out that Maggie is Freddy’s daughter and that Freddy achieves immortality because of little dream demons that revive him. The only way to kill Freddy is to lure him into the real world, which of course Maggie eventually does.

Similar to the previous two films, Freddy’s Dead lacks the guts of the earlier movies, but tries to make up for it by delivering its climactic final sequence in 3-D. Good times…..well, ten minutes worth, anyway.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) 

Wes Craven’s ambitious high concept idea for New Nightmare predates Dream Warriors, but unfortunately he was only able to write and direct it into fruition after seven years worth of bad sequels.  It’s a meta-movie meaning the boundary is broken between reality where Wes Craven makes Freddy movies and fiction where Freddy is the prolific predator of Elm Street teenagers. 

In the movie, several of the series’ filmmakers including Heather Langenkamp, Robert England, and Wes Craven as well as other industry folks portray themselves working on another Elm Street movie.  Eventually, Freddy Krueger manifests in reality and commences slaying the cast and crew. 

Despite the bold idea, its realization onscreen is a bit underwhelming and dull.  It’s conceptually similar to Craven’s Scream series for which it clearly paved the way.  However, New Nightmare is much darker in tone and a lot less annoying. 

Freddy vs. Jason (2003) 

Following a brief cameo in 1993’s Jason Goes to Hell in which Freddy pulls Jason’s hockey mask down to hell after demons had just dragged Jason there, a clash between horror’s two biggest icons became an inevitability.  The following is an excerpt from my Friday the 13th retrospective

“[Freddy vs. Jason] spent a long time in development hell possibly hanging out with its two title characters. When it was finally released it wasn’t half bad.” 

“It’s been so long since Freddy sliced up the kids on Elm St. that he’s been rendered impotent. In order for Freddy Krueger to get his mojo back he needs Springwood to be populated with scared teenagers. He resurrects Jason to do his dirty work, but Jason predictably kills a few too many of teens Freddy needs to regain his power. This sets up an entertaining battle between arguably the two most iconic horror characters in film history. And not even Freddy, it seems, can keep a good killer down.” 

This movie once again features the wise-ass version of Freddy and in the end it’s Jason who wins round 1.  However, Freddy vs. Jason was entertaining as well as successful at the box office.  It inspired other crossover products including the comic book series, Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, released by Wildstorm and Dynamite Entertainment in 2007. 

And with that our journey comes back to the house at 1428 Elm Street where on April 30th I’ll be there alongside the new guard of horror fans to be reintroduced to that sick bastard wearing the Christmas sweater and slicing up kids with his gnarly glove.  I dread it every bit as much as I look forward to it.  Here we go again…. 

Check back in early May for my review of A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010).

Jason Thorson

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2 Responses to “A Nightmare on Elm Street Retrospective”

  1. Melissa says:

    OUTSTANDING!!!

    Reply

  2. Steven Dawes Steven Dawes says:

    Well done sir… well done indeed!

    But I would like to add that while it was kinda dull, I still enjoy watching Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.

    Reply

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