Month of Horror 2019: Days 1-3 Nightmare on Elm Street Franchise


Writer’s note: I love horror movies both from a geeky fanboy stance and also as someone whose spent a fair amount of time in film academia. While the genre definitely has more lows than highs, I find it fascinating just how varied those highs are (The Shining, Jaws and Psycho are all incredibly different films yet each would be categorized as horror). 

While I am using the title of A Winged Potato’s series, I don’t want to copy his excellent and in depth format and instead am using this as a space to celebrate in my own way my love/respect for the genre. As with all things cinema and academic related, I am in the debt of those who came before me. But that’s enough of the preface, let the gory geek-out commence!

The Nightmare on Elm Street Films

Changing up the Slasher Scene

By a certain point in the 80s, walking into a slasher movie you had a pretty good idea of what to expect based a few things: setting, age group of main characters (yes usually teens, but sometimes young married couples were horror fodder as well), and type of killer (prank gone wrong, vengeful killer in local area, madman escaped , etc). Then Nightmare on Elm Street happened. The setting and characters were familiar, small towns, teens and serial killers had been 3 great tastes that had been going well together since Halloween. The difference came in the who, what , and how of the killer.

Enter Sandman

After becoming an iconic wisecracking demonic bugs bunny, it’s easy to forget just how scary the initial concept of Freddy Krueger really is. There’s an escape route for almost any basic slasher film: escape the asylum, get off the island, survive the cursed holiday, etc. But as much as you plan, read local lore and learn tragic backstory from a ghost nun, you’ll eventually have to go to sleep and face the nightmare. That’s where the core fear comes from, the inevitability of facing this terror, a real thing that all teens will have to face (I love the horror movie IT Follows but it pretty much owes everything to this film).

Of course a good idea for a monster is only as good as the idea is realized, and in one of the best cases of casting in cinema history Robert Englund fit the role like a bladed glove. He imbued the creature with humanity, the monster with menace and ultimately created something that we could fear both in the waking world and the one of dreams. While learning more about Freddy’s backstory can diminish the monster’s mysteriousness, it also lends a twist of nasty real-world cruelty that is hard to ignore: monsters aren’t born, they are created. And what a strange tale the life , death and afterlife of Fredrick Kruger has been.

Continuity is the Name of the Game

A big factor that made this horror franchise a favorite of mine growing up was that the series had a much tighter continuity from film to film than almost any other slasher franchise up to that point (the next most connected story-wise franchise was also spawned by Wes- Scream). We have our final girl in Nancy, a small town cop’s daughter who realizes early on why her friends are dying mysterious deaths. Nancy’s presence is most felt throughout the series almost as much as Fred: she survives the first NOES, has a diary that plays an important role in the 2nd film which also takes place in her families old house – a place that seems cursed from being a site where Fred last emerged into the real world (this is my head cannon for why Freddy is able to affect so much in the real world to waking people, and pet birds, compared to the other films in the series). Nancy returns in the 3rd movie to guide a new group of troubled teens (this time set in a juvie psyche ward) against a returning Freddy. Although she dies in the final battle, her grouping together of teens and leading them through discovering powers in the dream world to fight Freddy will be a continuing theme for the rest of the main entries until she/her actress literally returns in the very meta New Nightmare (which I may save for it’s own article).

Most horror franchises have a bunch of entries that feel pretty disconnected from other ones (Halloween 4 for as much as it tries to continue the original story from the first two has always felt more like a soft reboot to me), but for me the fun of watching NOES growing up was progressing through the overall story up until Freddy was finally dead (it was the easily the weakest of the first 6, and yet being… younger than I should have maybe to be a fan of the Fred, 6 at its most cartoon-iest was like the Return of the Jedi ending of the series to me and made it a movie I enjoyed a lot more then than I do now). Which brings us to:

Horror Nerd Ranks Things

While it has changed a few times while growing up, this ranking has been the way I have felt for some time now and don’t foresee it changing any time soon.

  1. Nightmare on Elm Street- a classic in almost every way. Iconic scenes (body bag being dragged down long hallway, the latex face pressing through the bedroom wall, the knifed glove emerging from the bath-tub), iconic villain being introduced into the horror lexicon
  2.  Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors – expands the mythos of Freddy’s backstory, goes more into the world of dreams and connecting other heroes in the dream world allows for fun new ways to explore the movie’s premise. Freddy walks the perfect line here between menacing and quips
  3.  Wes Craven’s New Nightmare– one of the first meta movies I ever saw, it being about a movie series I really liked just solidified my interest in this weird one – off. Not everything in it works, but it just has so many callbacks to the first film while examining how things that were once scary become less so the more exposure they get and then reflects on how/if that horror can evolve. Not technically in the “cannon” but definitely fits in the NOES multiverse.
  1. NOES 4 : Dream Master – this is a slick sequel that what it lacks in 3’s soul, makes up for it with style. It continues with the characters from 3 meeting new high school friends and dealing with yet again the return of Freddy. There’s some of the best effects works here of the series including one scene guaranteed to make people with a fear of bugs squirm
  2. Freddy vs. Jason- mixes the continuity of both franchises in a fun comic book-blender fashion while it’s rough around the edges, still is one of the better Freddy films and maybe one of the best F13 entries as well.
  3. NOES 2: Freddy’s Revenge – I think time has been much kinder to this movie than a lot of initial reactions were. It has an interesting main character, one of the few main male leads in a horror movie, a more or less possession/entity plot and a few tense/fun scenes.
  4.  NOES 5: The Dream Child – one of the weirder plots in the series. Like 2, it involves Freddy trying to come into the real world this time by possessing an unborn baby from a character who survived part 4. Some of the nightmare scenes are pretty well done, but one of the weakest supporting casts and a plot that just doesn’t get weird enough for what it’s about makes this one a lesser entry
  5. NOES 6: Freddy’s Dead – silly but without edge. Characters less interesting than 5, even with a reveal that should be more of a bombshell about one of the main protagonists. Retreads the 3rd movie’s ground of being in a institution for troubled youths (and does it far less effectively). By the time it ends, almost feels like a mercy killing off Freddy.
  6. The Remake – I didn’t want to end on a negative note but while horror remakes have been mediocre (Texas Chainsaw) or at least interesting (Zombie’s Halloweens) but I have unabashed hate for the NOES remake. Other than decently casting a new Kruger it gets pretty much everything else wrong and ultimately fails for being a boring horror movie about a killer with dream invading powers. I might not care for part 6, but I can’t say it’s boring.

Closing Thoughts

The franchise has been dormant for nearly a decade now, but being a fan of as much the concept as the actual entries, I can only dream we’ll see more from this fictional corner of the world.