After reading Robg’s nostalgic post about Freddy’s Nightmares and seeing the warm reception it received got me wondering, has any die hard “Fred Head” completely viewed the series from start to finish? Having never been released officially in it’s entirety, save for a couple random episode VHS tapes, a couple years ago I was lurking around an Elm Street forum (I spend my time wisely…) I came across a seller with the complete, unedited Freddy’s Nightmares collection on DVD-Rs which I bought immediately, where they in turn went into my closet, unwatched. Until now! I figured now’s the time to dust off the set and provide what may be the first episode-by-episode reviews of this semi-forgotten series, one week at a time. Join me, won’t you?
It’s August 19th, 1988 and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, the latest installment in the horror franchise just premiered with staggering success. Debuting with close to $13 million and finishing up with around $50 million at the box office, it was clear “Freddy-Mania” was in full swing. It was New Line Cinema’s (nicknamed “The House That Freddy Built”) highest grossing film to date and essentially their bread & butter. Like any profitable cash cow, New Line wanted to keep the proverbial train chugging along and aimed to take dream demon Freddy Krueger to another medium; Television. “Welcome to prime-time bitch!” indeed.
Two months later on October 8th, 1988, Freddy’s Nightmares premiered on TV sets across the U.S. Opting to be an anthology series in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Tales From The Crypt instead of a traditional continuing narrative, with Krueger (Robert Englund reprising his legendary role) acting as a host to the stories and offering wise cracking zingers throughout. The series debut episode, titled “No More Mr. Nice Guy” serves as a prequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street and focuses on how Fred Krueger goes from child murderer to the burned, razor gloved, dream stalking maniac he’s infamously known for. Now this might sound amazing for Elm Street fans (it was 1988 after all, fans only knew his origins from a drunken speech given by Nancy’s Mother in Wes Craven’s original film and a few tidbits given in the sequels. Long before the short recreation seen in Freddy VS. Jason and eventually the 2010 remake), an actual visual look at Krueger’s fiery demise! I’m here to say, settle down, it’s quite lackluster but offers a bizarre and eerie look that is worth your time.
Fred Krueger is set free after Lt. Tim Blocker (Ian Patrick Williams, asshole Dad from Dolls) fails to read him his rights during a bust that saved his two daughters. Fed up with the justice system and “doing things by the book”, a group of townsfolk turn vigilante and decide to kill Krueger, putting an end to his killing spree. After failing to finish what he started with Blocker’s daughters, Krueger retreats back to his boiler room with pissed lynch mob en route. Arriving just before the parents shoot a cornered Krueger to bits, Lt. Blocker decides “the law is taking a vacation” this time and douses the child murderer in gasoline before setting him a blaze. Lt. Blocker begins to suffer from all too real dreams and hallucinations, guilt ridden from taking the law into his own hands. As the paranoia increases, Blocker finds out that Freddy Krueger has returned as something much worse and no one is safe. But, you knew that, right?
Right off the bat, it’s clear they slightly retconned the Elm Street backstory. No Thompson’s or any familiar faces from the films, not set in the late 60’s and Freddy drives an ice cream truck. Yes, an ice cream truck, further establishing his hinted at child molesting ways. Krueger is more of the one liner, anti-hero here like he had become in the later film sequels. Freddy even seems to know he’ll come back, welcoming his death exclaiming “I am forever” and “I’m free!”. A couple of hilarious (intentional?) scenes include Freddy willingly be showered in gasoline while showing his comedic chops, spouting phrases like, “missed a spot” and “gonna have a cookout, huh?”. Those pesky, floating tad pole dream demons (see Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare) sure do make pacts quickly.
Most interesting about this pilot episode is that it was directed by horror legend Tobe Hooper (The Funhouse, Texas Chain Saw Massacre). How they got Hooper to kickoff the beginning of an Elm Street series instead of a feature is beyond me but I digress. I’m not sure what the budget was for this show so I’m going to assume it was low going off how atrocious it looks. This pilot (and assuming the rest of the series) looks like it was shot in “beer goggle rama” since everything is out of focus, blurry and washed out. Especially when we get a POV shot from Freddy, which is a mixture of harsh sepia filter and Sega CD graphics. If the goal was to make everything look like a dream beamed through an analog TV, mission accomplished. For better or worse it does add some creepy atmosphere to it all and guaranteed would have frightened when I was 7.
Clocking in around the 45 minute mark, “No More Mr. Nice Guy” is essentially a mini movie, which is despite it’s technical limitations, is pretty fun. As I continue to watch the series I can see this being a minor gem in the pantheon of horror TV anthologies, if anything because Freddy Krueger actually got his own show. The 80’s were a weird and awesome time. Hopefully you enjoyed my review of this slightly obscured show and I sparked some interest in revisiting or introducing it to you. I’ll be back next week with a review of episode 2, titled “It’s a Miserable Life” directed by another horror alum, Tom McLoughlin of Jason Lives: Friday The 13th Part VI! – Justin Edwards