Updated: Nov 25, 2019
Growing up in the 1980s, there was no such thing as Netflix or streaming services. Hell, we even pre-dated Blockbuster. What we had was Ritz Video Rental. The great thing about Ritz was that all the new, mainstream titles were on the ground floor, but should you have descended the stairs into their basement area you found yourself in a world not meant for one as young and impressionable as I was. For this was the realm of the horror movie and soft-core pornographic content like Emmanuelle.
Wandering into this grotty little video dungeon was an adventure, and it’s what first sparked my interest in horror movies. Something that is still my passion today. It was the glorious covers that adorned these VHS boxes of temptation and mystery. Titles like The Fog (1980), The Howling (1981), and Return of the Living Dead (1985) sweetly whispered “come play with us Lee,” into my pre-pubescent brain box.
One such movie reached out and grabbed me above all others, and that movie was A Nightmare on Elm Street. The artwork on that video sleeve captivated me. A sleeping face against a blue backdrop with a sinister silhouette, menacingly reaching out a razor fingered hand.. Most of all, what really got to me was that title. ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’. Everything about that title screamed ‘cool’ and holy shit did I need to see that movie.
The biggest hurdle I faced besides not being old enough to rent these movies was that I grew up in a house with parents who didn’t like horror movies. When my parents returned from the video store, they brought back titles like Krull (1983) and Battle Beyond The Stars (1980). Don’t get me wrong, I loved those movies. Who wouldn’t want to watch Hannibal Smith from The A-Team and Johnboy Walton zipping round the Galaxy and fighting Aliens? They were great movies but, dammit; I wanted to see A Nightmare On Elm Street.
I finally got my wish around the age of 10ish. I had gone to spend the weekend at one of my school buddies. His Stepdad had been to the Video Store and low and behold, he returned with the film that (I kid you not), changed my life forever.
I was excited. I was frightened. I had no idea what was about to penetrate my young eyeballs. Would I become scarred for life? Would I ever be able to sleep with the light off again? I had no idea, but I was committed. No way was I backing out.
We waited until that evening so that, for maximum effect, we could turn the lights down and really set the mood. With nervous anticipation, we slide the tape into the machine and hit play.
That was it. I was converted. As the end credits rolled, I knew that I was a lifelong horror fan in the making. I had taken my first step into a much larger world and I had some serious catching up to do. That dark evening sat in front of the telly, watching as some twisted dream demon tore his helpless victims to shreds while they slept, made me the man I am today and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Over the years that followed, many sequels surfaced, and I lapped them up. Some were good. Some not so good but nothing would ever beat what I experienced when having finally gotten to feast my eyes on that first outing. It was my Everest. My Moby Dick and I conquered it like a beast.
Sometimes when writing something a little different, you find a whole new level of enjoyment. It’s something I try to do with fair regularity on this site. A few months ago, I started the Horror Retrospective with my piece on the Saw franchise. Having been out of action for a few days, due to illness, I woke up with a hankering for a part 2. So what better place to start than the franchise that started my love affair with the horror genre. So without further ado, I give you A Horror Retrospective #2–A Nightmare On Elm Street franchise.
A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984).
Directed By: Wes Craven, Written By: Wes Craven. Starring: Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, John Saxon, Amanda Wyss & Robert Englund.
In 1972 a then unknown, young filmmaker and ex university professor, Wes Craven, released The Last House on the Left onto an unsuspecting world. Last House was and still is a brutal, uncompromising movie about two suburban, teenage girls who while out for a night on the town are kidnapped by a gang, led by the vicious Krug (David Hess). Over the next couple of days, they subject the girls to degradation, physical violence and rape before finally being killed. Or so the gang believe. The gang takes shelter at a house that, unbeknownst to them, is owned by the parents of one of their victims. During the night, their daughter reappears. She isn’t dead, but she isn’t far off it. The third act of the film is all about the bloody vengeance, reaped on the gang by the parents. One of the gang is castrated by the mother using her teeth. Krug is finally dispatched using a chainsaw. It’s a must watch for any horror fan and is now pretty easy to find in its uncut form since its ban was lifted some years ago.
In the twelve years that followed, Craven continued to make his mark on the horror genre with films such as The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and Swamp Thing (1982). It was in 1984 that Craven established his place as a legend of horror and the rest as they say, is history.
A Nightmare on Elm Street opens with a young girl, Tina (Amanda Wyss) running, frantically through a dark, creepy boiler room. Something is chasing her, but we don’t know what. We hear scraping noises as metal meets metal. We see a goat… Yep, a goat. Tina runs into what appears to be a dead end when suddenly and without warning, a terrifying figure leaps up behind her. Tina jolts, sweat covered and screaming awake and we quickly establish that it had all been a bad dream.
This is the premise for A Nightmare On Elm Street. Teenagers are being stalked by someone once they fall asleep. While in the land of the awake, they are perfectly safe from harm but it’s impossible to stay awake forever, and this is what makes the concept of Nightmare terrifying. You can’t avoid sleep and once you reach the limits of your ability to stay awake and slumber takes you, he is waiting.
Wes Craven got the idea for Nightmare while reading about a group of boys of Asian ethnicity. The boys claimed that they were having nightmares, and they were convinced that if they fell asleep, they would eventually be killed in their dreams. Obviously their families didn’t believe them and without the kids knowledge, one family fed their son sleeping pills, believing that all he needed was a good night sleep. Eventually, sleep came and everything was fine at first, until screaming was heard from the kid's room. By the time the family got to him, he had in fact died in his sleep. Scary Stuff.
From this, Fred Krueger was born. Craven based the look of Freddy on a Hobo that had terrified him as a child, and the name came from a kid that had bullied Craven at school. The glove was chosen as Krueger’s weapon of choice because Craven believed that people had a deep, primal fear of claws. Freddy Krueger’s look is now so famous that even those who haven’t seen the movies know what he looks like. That sweater, the hat, the glove and the burnt skin. Now all that was needed was an actor to fill the role. Enter Robert Englund.
Englund had dipped into the horror genre prior to playing Freddy with Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive (1976). More recently, Englund had found fame playing the friendly alien, Willie on the tv series, V. It was the role of deranged child killer, Freddy Krueger that would define Englund’s career though.
Where other horror movie murderers like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers could just as easily be portrayed by stuntmen, Craven wanted an actor to embody Freddy. Robert Englund came aboard and made Freddy his own. As the 2010 remake proved, it’s impossible to imagine or accept anyone other than Robert as Krueger.
The movie needed its victims and besides Tina we got Rod Lane, Tina’s unstable, criminal boyfriend played by Jsu Garcia, Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), who is easily every horror fans favorite final girl and her boyfriend, Glen Lantz. It’s hard to remember a Johnny Deppless time but pre 1984, nobody knew the man who would be Captain Jack Sparrow. Sometimes I crave that time again because as great an actor as Depp is and as much as I have enjoyed many of his films. His quirky character Shtick has grown old fast and now he just rubs me up the wrong way with every silly hat, every silly English accent and every bloody Tim Burton film. Lets face it, Burton hasn’t made a great film since Edward Scissorhands.
But forget Depp. This is Langenkamp’s film, and she is wonderful in it. A film is only as good as its hero/heroine. Sure, mention Elm Street and everyone thinks of Freddy, but he is only in this movie for about 12 minutes. It’s Nancy that carries the movie and she does it with balls. As her friends are picked off one by one until Nancy is the only one left and with none of the adults prepared to believe her regarding what’s happening and who is after her, Nancy choses to fight. She doesn’t retreat like most would. She doesn’t sit around in abject terror. She fights back. She rigs booby-traps, and she devises a plan. Krueger isn’t taking her out without a war. He has underestimated her and he pays dearly for it.
A good deal might say “what about Laurie from Halloween?” when discussing Final Girls. Sure, Jamie Lee Curtis is brilliant in that film and I love Laurie Strode, but Laurie fights back reluctantly and would have been killed had it not been for Dr Loomis and his six shots. Nancy goes looking for Krueger. She is on the hunt and is bringing the pain.
A Nightmare On Elm Street was a wonderfully realised concept, and it breathed new life into an already lagging genre. Slasher movies were basically some masked killer stalking nubile young teens and punishing them for their sins. Elm Street not only gave us a more metaphysical killer, but the kids were being punished for the sins of their parents. When you think about it, what’s worse than being punished for crimes you had no part in? Sure Krueger deserved what happened to him and the parents could have never foreseen his revenge but as the old saying goes, ‘the sins of the parent are revisited on the child’.
Nightmare was an instant classic. With its clever premise and ground breaking special effects, it dragged in audiences and single-handedly built New Line Cinema. Wes Craven had made a smash hit, but even he couldn’t have foreseen what his movie was about to become….
A Nightmare On Elm Street 2–Freddy’s Revenge (1985).
Directed By: Jack Sholder, Written By: David Chaskin, Starring: Robert Englund, Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Rusler & Clu Gulager.
With A Nightmare On Elm Street being an overnight success, a sequel was inevitable. Craven, having never wished to create a franchise jumped ship, so the studio decided to make it without him. Because Robert Englund’s fee had risen off the back of the first film, New Line almost opted to make the film without him as well. It was only after shooting began and the stuntman they had cast as Freddy was so awful in the part that they relented and paid Englund what he demanded/deserved.
Freddy’s Revenge is an odd movie when compared to the original. Rather than the dream rules established in the first, part 2 opts for a possession movie. With Nancy having packed up and shipped out after the events of the previous film, a new family moves into 1428 Elm Street. Enter Jesse, the world’s first and greatest male scream queen. Jesse hasn’t even finished unpacking and the bad dreams have started. Only this time, instead of wanting Jesse dead, Freddy needs him as a vessel to carry out his evil deeds in the real world. As Jesse so eloquently puts it, “He wants to get inside of me!” This line is just one of many examples of a homoerotic subtext that I will get too soon.
As I mentioned before, Freddy’s Revenge goes down a possession route and while it differs from what comes before, I think it’s an equally disturbing concept. All we really own in this world is our bodies. If you took away all our possessions and all our companions, we are all we have left. So what if that’s taken away from us too? What then? We would truly have nothing. Besides that, aside from having a bit of a temper, I know that I am in control of myself enough so as not to harm the people I love (well sorta). Jesse loses this ability once Freddy takes hold of him. At one point in the movie, Jesse finds himself wearing Freddy’s glove while looming over his sleeping baby sister. Jesse gets a hold of himself just in time. What would have happened had he not doesn’t bear thinking about.
Right, back to that homosexual subtext. I didn’t notice it as a kid, and why would I have? I wasn’t interested in girls at that age. I wasn’t interested in boys either. It was an Asexual period in my life and I don’t suppose I even really understood homosexuality. As I’ve both aged and are a much wiser man now, I fail to see how you could miss it. A Nightmare On Elm Street 2 is very much a film about a young gay man struggling in a straight world. You can argue with me all you like, but that is what this film says to me. The sign on Jesse’s door that reads ‘No Chicks Allowed’. There is a board game in his closet (his CLOSET) called Probe. That dance that Jesse performs on his bed. The S&M bar. Jesse’s bondage clad PE Teacher who forces Jesse to run around before having to hit the shower, (that shit would not fly in today's world). Jesse choosing to find sanctuary in the arms of his friend Ron (Rusler), instead of doing the nasty on the cabana floor with his love interest Lisa (Myers). The writer can argue that this wasn’t intentional all he wants, but I simply don’t believe it. What I do know is that it’s a bold move. Remember that this was 1985 and attitudes towards homosexuality were not as liberal or understanding as they are today. It’s also this subtext that makes Freddy’s Revenge (controversially) my favorite sequel.
Everyone claims part 3 is the better sequel. Sorry, but you’re all very wrong. Freddy’s Revenge is deeper. It has more to say. It’s an unsettling idea to not be who you want to be. To not be the person you know you really are because society and your peers state that it’s wrong and shameful. This is what Freddy represents in this movie and the Freddy we get in this film has never been scarier. Seriously, watch this film again and tell me that Freddy isn’t a nasty, evil bastard in this film. Part 2 also boasts my favourite, Freddy, makeup job. The makeup on Englund in this film has never been beaten. Freddy is a nasty prick in this film.
Sure, some things don’t work. Freddy bursting into the real world and being surrounded by a load of drunken jocks who just, don’t proceed to kick the shit out of him makes no sense. And the least said about the exploding, killer parakeet, the better.
One of my favorite moments from the series happens in part 2. Freddy, tearing his way out of Jesse’s body to get at Grady is such a wonderful moment. It’s a brilliantly executed practical effect.
I love Freddy’s Revenge. As I said, It’s my favourite sequel in the series. Mark Patton who portrayed Jesse has a new documentary doing the rounds, that I can’t wait to see called ‘Scream Queen–My Nightmare On Elm Street’ about his time on the film as an openly gay actor in a straight role. It looks really interesting and has been receiving some great word of mouth so keep your eyes peeled for it.
A Nightmare On Elm Street 3–Dream Warriors (1987).
Directed By: Chuck Russell, Written By: Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont & Chuck Russell. Starring: Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Patricia Arquette & Jennifer Rubin.
As I said above, contrary to popular opinion I prefer part 2 over part 3. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think this is a great fucking movie though because it is. We have Nancy back. John Saxon returns as her father. Robert is back again as Freddy and even Wes Craven returns, sort of, as a writer.
This time around, Freddy targets the teenage inmates at the Weston Hills mental hospital. Most of them are extremely sleep deprived and suicidal. A fact that Freddy can't resist using to his advantage. Enter Nancy (Langenkamp). She, having faced down and defeated Krueger beforehand, is the only person who knows what these kids are going through and she is the only one who can help them.
One day during therapy, Nancy introduces the kids to the concept of Dream Warriors. People who know they are in the dream world and can therefore manipulate it to their advantage and gain the power they need to fight Freddy. It’s a killer concept and works really well as the kids dream themselves, Stronger, more agile and one character even dreams himself into a wizard.
Dream Warriors returns to following the rules established in the original and bears very little in common with Freddy’s Revenge. If Dream Warriors has anything to answer for, it’s around this time that Krueger started to morph into a joke cracking mirth machine. It’s not too over the top at this point, but the seed is sewn.
What I enjoy most about part 3 is some of the more inventive kills. One character is marched to his death after Freddy uses his veins to operate him like a marionette. In another scene Freddy bursts out of a tv set, complete with robot arms and antenna attached to his head before ramming his victim's head through the tv. “Welcome to prime time bitch!”
With a more ambitious script and budget, Dream Warriors is a much bigger movie than the previous two, and this really shows on screen. While it’s a great film and I would always defend it as being so, it marks the downturn of the series. All the ingredients are in place for what was to become of the franchise and especially the character of Freddy with his one liners coming thicker and faster. Now join me in singing along to Dokken, “We’re the dreaaammmm Warrioorrrrrrrs”…
A Nightmare On Elm Street 4–The Dream Master (1988).
Directed By: Renny Harlin, Written By: William Kotzwinkle, Jim Wheat & Brian Helgeland. Starring: Starring: Robert Englund, Lisa Wilcox, Tuesday Knight, Brooke Theiss & Andras Jones.
After the event’s of Dream Warriors, only a handful of the warriors are left. Nancy is dead and gone and Kristen (this time played by Tuesday Knight) is struggling to adjust to a world without Freddy in it. Well, she need not worry to much as all that will soon change, thanks to some dog piss.
The series needed an injection of new blood or ‘fresh meat’ as Freddy later describes it. Enter Renny Harlin. The man who would go on to direct Die Hard 2–Die Harder. Not only did the then unknown Harlin deliver The Dream Master on time and under budget but he also made the last Nightmare film that I actually really liked until part 7.
A Nightmare On Elm Street 4–The Dream Master is a great movie. There I said it. It’s fun and boasts some of the most inventive kills in the franchise. Who can forget Debbie’s (Theiss) transformation into a cockroach? “You can check in, but you can’t check out.”
In place of the now deceased Nancy, we are introduced to Alice (Wilcox). Alice is a painfully shy girl who is bullied by her father and only has her brother Rick (Jones)to stick up for her. Once Freddy kills Kristen, Kristen passes her power, of being able to pull people into her dreams over to Alice. Alice also develops the skill of gaining the abilities of her friends once Krueger has dispatched them. Over the course of the movie, we follow Alice as she goes from meek to bad ass Freddy fighting machine.
With this being the fourth movie, series fatigue could have easily set in, but luckily Dream Master is inventive and fresh enough to avoid this. Sure, some of it is a little cheesy, “Ah Rick, you little meatball.” It’s the 80s, so a little cheese is forgivable. The special effects, though, are incredible. My personal favourite scene is Alice’s tumble through a cinema screen and into dream land.
The studio took a real punt on Harlin and it paid off in spades. If I remember right, Dream Master was the most profitable of all the Elm Street films and it’s easy to see why. It’s just a shame that it was all downhill from here.
A Nightmare On Elm Street 5–The Dream Child (1989).
Directed By: Stephen Hopkins, Written By: Leslie Bohem, Craig Spencer & John Skipp, Starring: Robert Englund, Lisa Wilcox, Danny Hassel & Kelly Jo Minter.
With the monstrous success generated by part 4, New Line set about rushing a part 5 into production. What a shame they did as the actual premise for The Dream Child is actually a decent one.
Alice has unknowingly become pregnant and can’t understand why she is ending up in Krueger’ dream world once again even though Freddy is strangely absent. The clever part is that it’s her unborn fetus that is dreaming and can pull its mother into its dream just like he can.
The problem isn’t the concept, it’s the execution. I really dislike The Dream Child. Everything about it, from the new characters (Alice, Dan & Freddy are the only returning characters) to the way it’s lit, to Freddy’s makeup antagonises me. Freddy, by this point, had become a circus clown with claws. Gone was any sense of threat the character once possessed.
I’m sure that Director Stephen Hopkins did his best with the time he had to produce the film, but personally it falls flat. There is a scene during the movie where one character falls asleep and tumbles into the pages of his comic to face SuperFreddy. As this happened I found myself watching an R Rated Aha video. I hated it. It’s this scene where the series jumped the shark and I lost interest. That enthusiasm I had at the start of the series was dwindling and I knew my beloved Freddy was on a slippery slope.
It wasn’t all bad. It was great having Alice back and making her pregnant raised the stakes for her character but this film should have been more. It could have gotten really dark. Alice having to protect her unborn child from a dead, razor fingered serial killer should have been darker. It wasn’t. I think of part 5 as one of the more cartoon-ish of the Nightmare films.
I failed to see how the series could get any worse. The next film was more than happy to demonstrate this for me.
Freddy’s Dead–The Final Nightmare. (1991).
Directed By: Rachel Talalay, Written By: Rachel Talalay & Michael De Luca, Starring: Robert Englund, Lisa Zane, Leslie Deane, Ricky Dean Logan & Breckin Meyer.
Peter Jackson wrote a screenplay for part 6 that involved thrill seeking kids who held parties where under the influence of sleeping drugs, they would enter Freddy’s dream world and attack him for shits and giggles. It is only after Freddy accidently kills one of the kids that he gains his power back. The story by Jackson sounds amazing and I would have loved to have seen it get made because what we ended up with made The Dream Child look like Citizen Kane.
I’m not sure that I can find it in my heart to say anything positive about this film. It’s a horrible, horrible movie. When the movie starts with a house being swept up by a tornado and Freddy circling the house on a broomstick quoting the Wizard of Oz, you know you’re in trouble.
Once again, we get a new crop of characters, but you won’t care. None of them are likable, and they serve only to be killed in increasingly stupid, comedic ways.
Robert Englund achieves phoning it in and hamming it up in the same movie. I’m trying to think of another example of that ever happening.
The film’s main gimmick is its biggest embarrassment. They issued anyone attending a screening or renting a copy a pair of 3D glasses as the movie’s final act becomes 3 dimensional for no reason whatsoever. I’m not talking about the 3D effect we take for granted today. The effect is awful, and it’s utterly pointless. When Tom and Roseanne Arnold show up in your movie, it’s time to accept you have a stinker on your hands.
Freddy’s Dead–The Final Nightmare was and is to this day a cinematic turd. Thank god it wasn’t to be Freddy’s true swan song because it would have been a shit show to go out on. Things, thankfully, were about to improve.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994).
Directed By: Wes Craven, Written By: Wes Craven, Starring: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, John Saxon, Miko Hughes & Tracy Middendorf.
Just when things couldn’t get worse, along came the franchise’s original creator to save the day. Three years after the terrible Freddy’s dead and two years before he would reinvent the slasher film with Scream (1996), Wes Craven delivered the most meta film of his career.
The story is simple and yet ingenious all at the same time. Heather Langenkamp plays actress, Heather Langenkamp. Star of the hit movie A Nightmare On Elm Street. That’s it.. Except Heather is now married with a young son and may have a stalker on her hands. On top of all this, horror director Wes Craven is trying to convince Heather to play Nancy once again in a new film he has written.
Unbeknownst to Heather, an evil is rising, and it wants her son. The evil has taken the form of Freddy Krueger and is once again played by Robert Englund, Even though it isn’t really Freddy and Robert Englund is already in the film as Robert Englund. I’m making this sound far more complicated than it really is.
One night while rushing home to his family, Heather’s husband is tragically killed in an auto wreck. We know it’s at the hands of the Freddy imposter and Heather suspects this might be the case after spotting claw marks while identifying her husband's body.
Heather Learns that the only way to defeat the evil and save her son is to play Nancy one more time.
A New Nightmare is a ridiculously clever take on the series. It shouldn’t work as well as it does and had anyone other than Craven approached it, it probably wouldn’t. While I guess you couldn’t consider it cannon as it breaches the walls of the series and spills out into reality, it’s still a real treat for fans of the Nightmare movies. It's great to see Langenkamp back and to lap up all the references to the original film. It also washes away the awful taste left in my mouth from the last movie.
Freddy VS Jason (2003).
Directed By: Ronny Yu, Written By: Damian Shannon & Mark Swift, Starring: Robert Englund, Ken Kirzinger, Monica Keena, Katharine Isabelle & Kelly Rowland.
Decades in the making and having had more scripts drafted than possibly any other movie, we finally got the Freddy VS Jason movie that they had promised us since the end of Jason Goes to Hell–The Final Friday (1993). We got Englund back in what is currently his last portrayal of Mr Krueger. What we didn’t get as fans of the Friday the 13th movies was Kane Hodder. The filmmakers decided they wanted a larger contrast between the two characters and cast a 6ft 5” Kirzinger in the role of Jason Voorhees instead. I never liked that decision and would have much rather have had Hodder back but so be it.
I remember leaving the cinema having seen this film on its release feeling very satisfied as a fan of both franchises. This is an opinion I still hold today. Sure there is plenty about it that is just plain daft. That Fucking Jay and Silent Bob rip off character for one thing, but I only ever watch this film when I’m in the mood for something that shouldn’t be taken seriously. Freddy VS Jason is a fun movie and shouldn’t be treated as high art. Sure it takes a while to get the two characters to face off but once they do, it’s a monster smack down of epic proportions.
The human cast only really exists to move the story forward and I doubt anyone actually gives a shit about any of them. I will give a crisp £10 note to anyone who can tell me one of the human characters' names without looking them up. It’s all about Freddy and Jason and it handles their histories with much love and respect, except… Why the fuck is Jason afraid of water suddenly? That big, hockey masked bastard spends 50% of his time in the lake in previous movies, so introducing his hydrophobia at this point is just stupid.
Over all I felt at the time that the wait had been a worthy one. As far as monster mashups go, it could have been a lot worse.
A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010).
Directed By: Who cares, Written By: Some kid with a crayon, Starring: Not Robert Englund, Not Heather Langenkamp.
Fuck this movie’s very existence. It is a slight on the name of A Nightmare On Elm Street. I hate remakes and this is the worst example I can think of.
I could go more in depth about the film, but I have been trying for nine years to erase it from my memory. It’s a blasphemous waste of celluloid and all involved should be shot in the face.
I will say it again in case you wasn’t listening. Fuck this fucking movie…
So that was my retrospective look at the Elm Street series. Over all I have nothing but love for this series. Sure there are some bad apples but they don’t ruin the films that do work for me. I’m sure everyone has an opinion on these films and agree with me or not, I would love to read your comments in the section below. Until next time, Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep..
If for some bizarre reason you don't already own the series. You could do a lot worse than this blu-ray collection. You can find it by clicking the link below:
UK readers can find it here: