“Is It Time To Say Goodbye To The Horror Trinity?” Part Three: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET
*Author’s Note: With this 3rd and final article on whether it’s time to say goodbye to the HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchises, the subject at hand is everybody’s favorite dream stalker, Freddy Krueger. Going on nine films having to do with Krueger, this editorial article takes you fans (and myself) through the ANOES series, and asks if you fans think that Freddy has anymore dreams to haunt. Read on!
Ending this short series of articles is somewhat bittersweet, as it’s been very nostalgic to look back throughout the films that I have spent so many hours of my life watching, enjoying, and now, dissecting. It’s helped me pinpoint where the HALLOWEEN series began to frustrate me, and where the FRIDAY THE 13TH series began to make me downright upset. With the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise though, things aren’t as cut and dry, the films going back and forth between amazing to mediocre to right back on track, then just plain laughable. Freddy and his exploits are of legendary status by now, but the character is so very far from his humble beginnings, that it leads me to ask once more, is it time to just say goodbye and let the villainous slasher stay confined to our nightmares?
Beginning as the brainchild of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT/THE HILLS HAVE EYES writer & director Wes Craven, 1984’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET gave horror fans a breath of fresh air, one that would be forcefully taken from them in their sleep by one hell of a villain: Freddy Krueger. The story focused on teenager Nancy Thompson and her friends, being picked off, one by one, by a horribly disfigured man whose methods of mayhem were to invade their dreams and kill them there. As the film went on, Nancy slowly succeeded in putting together the mysterious puzzle of Freddy’s motives behind the killings (He was a child killer who was released from jail on a technicality and soon torched to death by the parents of each child). As her friends soon began to get killed in various, dream-like ways (being dragged across a ceiling, sucked into a bed then gallons of blood erupting from said bed), Nancy was forced to not only find a strength inside of her, but to also discover that the sins of the father most typically do come back to haunt the child, as her parents were part of the posse that set Krueger ablaze years before (in a deleted scene from the film, it’s revealed that Freddy had killed younger siblings of Nancy and her friends, giving an even greater reason than just fear for the parents to have taken justice into their own hands). By the film’s climax, Nancy realizing that not only is it up to her to take Freddy on, but also finding a strength inside of her that she never knew that she had, made the film a standout from just regular slasher fare. Her arc in the film goes from a soft spoken, almost shy wallflower, to a take no prisoners heroine, one that uses tactical survival traps to catch Krueger and bring him into the real world, to finally kill him. After doing so, and when all is said and done, Nancy woke up, fresh and optimistic, with her friends all alive, figuring that it was all a dream. That would soon be put to rest with the film’s twist ending , revealing that Freddy had the last laugh, driving the kids off in a car with a Krueger-inspired car cover closing on top of them and driving off.
What set A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET apart from most of the other horror entries released around the same time, is how smart its writing was. It wasn’t just a slasher-by-numbers film, instead being what films written by Craven typically ended up being: allegorical and metaphorical stories, dealing with social commentaries and also making a statement on different thematically empowering issues. Craven wrote the character of Nancy as a homage to his own daughter, Jessica, giving Nancy a voice that grows stronger as the film progresses, and one that confronts the mistakes that her parents had made prior, deciding to not only face said mistakes, but gaining a courage and the ability to use that new-found strength to refuse to allow the fear,so frighteningly embodied in the form of Freddy Krueger, to get the best of her. It was a film that spoke to many kids who grew up being afraid of themselves and the world, myself included. When the film ended, and it seemed as if Nancy had been successful in her confrontation of her fears, the twist ending of it NOT being over, was a slight slap to the face of those who felt Nancy’s courage was the defining point of the film, but a scary one that led to a possibility of another film.
When A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET ended up making around twenty times its budget at the box office, New Line decided that it was time for another nightmare, and in 1985, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE was released. It was a film that, while breaking some of the rules set forth by Craven in the first film, served as not only a fun and entertaining sequel, but one with, like the original film, an underlying message to it. Taking place half a decade after the events of the first film, FREDDY’S REVENGE followed the Walsh family, and more specifically, Jesse Walsh. A young, obvious outsider, Jesse didn’t fit in, got into fights at school, and had continual nightmares involving well…Freddy Kreuger. What made the second outing different from the first film, is not only the fact that the horror typical cliche of a heroine was replaced by a male character, but the fact that the character of Jesse was very obviously a homosexual character, something that wasn’t very common in horror films around that time. Though the filmmakers insist that they weren’t privy to that information, it’s something that you would have to be a fool to miss. In the film, as Freddy begins using Jesse’s body as an avatar of sorts, a way to kill for him, the film speaks so blatantly about wanting something to get out of your skin, to be “saved” by shedding the evil that has taken you over. Even as a straight male, I find FREDDY’S REVENGE to be such a powerful film, one that uses the metaphor of Freddy as something causing you to do things that you wouldn’t typically do. The character of Jesse is so caught up in trying to be a “normal” male teen, that it takes an outside source for him to have the courage to do things that he wouldn’t typically have the courage to do. Sadly, the film uses those “things” in more of a “kill your evil P.E. teacher” kind of way and less of an “I am here, and this is who I am” approach. Another reason that FREDDY’S DEAD is still as powerful as the first film, is how little of the comedian Freddy angle would appear in this one, an approach that would eventually be prevalent in every sequel after this one. The Freddy in the first two films does have his share of one-liners, but not in a jokey way. His humor is dark, and aimed to disgust, similar to the way a rapist might taunt their victim. Freddy in the first two films wants to invade the dreams and intimate thoughts of his victims, his intention is to terrify them before going in for the kill. When Jesse is able to break out of the shell that Freddy holds him in, and his true self comes out, it’s akin to a butterfly breaking free of its cocoon, and it feels like a good way to close the film, but like every other film in the series, there has to be a cliffhanger, so viewers got one in the form of a school bus and Freddy taking it over.
Beginning with A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: THE DREAM WARRIORS, The Freddy Krueger that fans would grow to love, dressing like him during Halloween, playing ANOES video games, buying toys, etc, would begin to become more apparent. With the film’s group of teenagers stuck in Westin Hills, a hospital for troubled teens, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3 brought the return of Nancy Thompson. This time, an older, wiser and more knowledgeable character. When she hears that the teens’ are having dreams of Krueger, this Nancy acts more as a guide to the teens, showing them that they have the power to stop him. Though the film is quite vocally one of the biggest fan favorites of the series, it’s also the beginning of the less-scary, more silly approach that the franchise would put out quite frequently. With Nancy’s help, the gang becomes the “Dream Warriors” in their sleep, and we’re given everything AND the kitchen sink, in terms of one-liners from the teens (“Let’s go kick the motherfucker’s ass all over dreamland.”, “In my dreams, I’m beautiful..(opens switchblade)..AND BAD!“), and most of all, a barrage of jokes from Freddy. When a teen obsessed with TV tries to smoke cigarettes and stay awake, it obviously doesn’t work, and when she hits the TV to get it to work (haven’t we all done that at some point?), Freddy’s head pops out of the top, lifts her up, says, “This is it, Jennifer, your big break in TV..WELCOME TO PRIME TIME BITCH!“, and slams her head into the TV. While it’s an inventive, highly stylized film, one that is very entertaining, it’s more of a horror comedy than the thought provoking first film, or even the metaphorical second film. It’s at this point, where the series decided to focus less on the characters trying to stay alive, and more on making Freddy into a household name, one stamped on lunchboxes, Halloween costumes, and vinyl soundtracks. The lack of care towards its characters aside from Freddy becomes very apparent, with the throwaway death of Nancy, during the film’s climax, involving her father and friend attempting to bury Krueger’s bones to kill him. Like the moment in the HALLOWEEN franchise, were Laurie Strode is killed off, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3‘s decision to kill Nancy is one that viewers who had enjoyed following Nancy’s arc in the first film, and her finding her own voice and courage, were given somewhat of an “I don’t care” from the series’ producers.
Though heavily and very quickly becoming somewhat of a joke, the franchise gave fans a few more gut punches in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER, with not only killing off every survivor from the third film, but by resurrecting Freddy by, get this,…a dog urinating fire onto the ground in which Freddy’s bones were buried. Yeah, I don’t know either. What viewers got in the fourth Krueger outing, was a new heroine that would last two films (Lisa Wilcox’s Alice character), some inventive death scenes, and one stylish and fun film directed by PRISON director Renny Harlin. Under Harlin’s direction, the kills were extravagant, the silliness was top notch, and the characters weren’t all too annoying like later films in the series would be. Like that of Nancy finding her strength when she’s without anymore living friends in the first film, THE DREAM MASTER‘s Alice character slowly absorbs all of her friends’ powers and traits, with each one dying one by one at the hands of Krueger. By the end of the film, Alice has Karate’ skills from her brother, smarts from her bookwork friend, and some ass kicking attitude from her weight-lifting fanatic friend Debbie. Kicking Krueger’s ass and showing him his own reflection, the many souls that Freddy had taken by that point all begin to tear him apart (watch out for a nice shot of Scream Queen Linnea Quigley….you’ll know what shot I’m talking about), reigning Alice victorious. A year later, in 1989’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET: THE DREAM CHILD, Alice finds herself finding out that Freddy’s mother was a nun named Amanda, who was unfortunately accidentally trapped in a large area full of lunatics in an asylum and raped by the 100 maniacs. When she confides her dream to her fiance’ Dan (the only other surviving teen from THE DREAM MASTER), he dismisses it, but Freddy is soon resurrected by Alice dreaming of Amanda giving birth to a creature and the creature eventually squirms into Freddy’s empty clothes from the previous film..(yeah, confusing and weird). What follows, is yet another a series of death scenes that make it completely obvious to viewers that all that mattered at this point in the franchise, were said death scenes, with poorly written plots to serve as buffers in between kills and jokes. While there are glimpses of some interesting Gothic-like set design by director Stephen Hopkins (PREDATOR 2), the film is a mess that, at that point, ended up being the least interesting and appealing entry into the franchise.
When producers decided that Freddy had run out of jokes and steam, they thought the best way to send him off into the ether, would be one more film, which ended up being 1991’s FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE, a film that not only didn’t resemble the tone or aesthetic of the first film WHATSOEVER, but like HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION or JASON GOES TO HELL, was the series’ lowest point possible. Revolving around a youngster with amnesia trying to find out who is is (believing that he is Krueger’s son), while being stalked in his dreams by Freddy, FREDDY’S DEAD didn’t even act for a second, that it was a scary movie. It was a full on THREE STOOGES approach to a character who started off pretty terrifying in the first two films and had sadly lost his shock in consecutive sequels . No, with this one, it was a movie completely absent of a single scare, relying on gags and one-liners, such as replacing a deaf victim’s hearing aid with an amplifier, just before Freddy uses his claws on a chalkboard to blow the kid’s head off. Adding more of a backstory to the franchise, and telling viewers that not only was the kid with amnesia NOT Freddy’s son, but that the counselor in which the troubled kid was being helped by, was Katherine Krueger, Freddy’s daughter AND the reason behind his original carnage…yeah right. It’s a film that deserved a big “GOODBYE” to the franchise/character, a complete lack of respect to the great story-telling that Craven had set up in the original 1984 film. When Freddy ended up getting blown up (in 3D nonetheless) at the end of FREDDY’S DEAD, it seemed that the franchise was being put to rest for good, but in 1994 that would once again NOT be the case, when New Line Cinema and Wes Craven decided to bury the glove,..err hatchet, releasing WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE, another Elm Street sequel that breathed new life into a franchise that at that point, was on life support, with the plug getting awfully close to being pulled.
With Craven back in the fold, NEW NIGHTMARE got rid of funny Freddy, making him somewhat scary again, dealing with a meta-approach of Craven’s typical form of storytelling: themes and metaphors. In NEW NIGHTMARE, Craven brought Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund and many other faces from the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET alumni back, as..themselves. Dealing with the effect of when society tries to shelter people from something and how when that something is bottled up, it eventually comes back even stronger, NEW NIGHTMARE made Krueger more vicious looking in design, more ferocious in his killing, and gave viewers a SMART Elm Street film again, something that really hadn’t been given to them in a decade. With the actors playing themselves, there was a sense of real danger to the film, and while it SHOULD have done very well (it’s a great film), the film didn’t break any records at the box-office due to Freddy fans not wanting the smarter Freddy, they wanted more of the joking, silly Freddy approach that had been spoon fed to them for almost a decade at that point. When Freddy returned again in 2003 for the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET/FRIDAY THE 13TH crossover, FREDDY VS. JASON, it just wasn’t the same, and though the film did exceptionally well (proving that a lot of fans will just see whatever happens to have familiar characters in it), fans of the Elm Street series were dying to see what would be in store for Krueger in his own series, not paired up against another franchise’s villain. Like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and FRIDAY THE 13TH, the Michael Bay, Andrew Form and Brad Fuller-led Platinum Dunes company remade the original film with 2009’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Replacing Freddy mainstay Robert Englund with Jackie Earle Hayley, the film gave viewers a smaller, less intimidating and less interesting approach to Krueger. Missing every mark possible, the remake alienated fans all around, making it quite easily one of the most despised remakes since Rob Zombie’s 2007 HALLOWEEN. Gone was the charm of the original film, the practical effects replaced by an overload of CGI, phoned in performances all across the board and just a downright boring and mean-spirited film, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET was universally hated. If FREDDY’S DEAD was the previous low-point of the franchise, then 2009’s film was definitely the new one, leaving fans to ask themselves, “Is this really the end of Freddy?”
As a massive fan of the first four A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET films, I can say that I just don’t see another story to tell. Like the later FRIDAY THE 13TH and HALLOWEEN films, it’s a strange feeling to see films come out, featuring characters that were once so well written and enthralling, and having those films feel more like parodies of themselves, than genuine horror films. Our dreams are infinite, and since Krueger lives within those slumber-filled dreams, who knows?, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe someone has one hell of an Elm Street story to tell, but it’s going to take something truly special to resurrect the Springwood Slasher for me. My gut says to let him go, into the cemetery of horror. What do you fright fiends think?