If you had to ask me what my favourite horror franchise is, I would say A Nightmare on Elm Street with no hesitation. Home to Wes Craven’s iconic slasher villain, Freddy Krueger, a dream-haunting nightmare with knives for fingers on one hand. He’s disgusting and terrifying and doesn’t let his victims die easily. The first film was released in 1984 and has seen multiple sequels, a reboot and even a feature mashup with another certain horror icon. They’re not to everyone’s taste due to their extreme violence and inappropriate content but as a horror fan, I find them fun to watch. Kruegar is the first truly charismatic slasher to come from this genre as Jason and Michael Myers silently stalk and kill their prey. Freddy on the other hand likes to torment his victims and is constantly making grim jokes about their pending demise. Wes Craven has always been a skilled filmmaker but he really reached his peak with this creation. It’s brilliant and crosses the line between horror and humour. This makes the films entertaining and, dare I say, enjoyable to watch.
Now I’ve already done a ranking for the Child’s Play and Final Destination films which you can read here and here, respectively, but I thought it would be fun to look at this franchise as a whole and see where the films would slot from best to worst.
Without further ado, let’s delve into the nightmare and get on with the reviews:
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The one that started the nightmare. A Nightmare on Elm Street is a pioneer in the slasher genre, coming after Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980). Spearheaded by horror legend, Wes Craven and featuring Robert Englund as the gruesome killer, Krueger, we are plunged into a world that sees the teens of Elm Street slashed to death one by one. The film is widely known for its explicit violence, paedophilic themed subtext and also marked Johnny Depp’s film debut. A group of teens start being killed off one by one, apparently by a badly burned man with knives for fingers. Led by Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), the group work together to trap and kill the monster. It’s an iconic film. Even if you haven’t heard of it, you know what Krueger looks like and the basic premise of the film. Nancy is a brilliant protagonist and just like Laurie Strode in Halloween franchise, she is fearless when needed. It’s strange to think that a genre associated with the subjectification and glorification of violence towards women (which is a completely legitimate issue) also provides such progressive roles for women as well. There’s a humour in this film that you don’t really see in other slashers that would set a trend for franchises like Child’s Play and the sequels for Friday the 13th which purposely become weirder as the films went on.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
It’s no secret that I love camp horror films. I love a film that isn’t afraid to be highly satirical of itself and the genre. Despite only being released a year before, Freddy had become somewhat of a titan of horror. A sequel was rushed through with no involvement from Craven and the result is the polar opposite of its predecessor. The film follows the Walsh family who move into the Thomson family home five years after Freddy’s initial defeat. Teenage Jesse (Mark Patton) is struggling to fit in and finds himself getting into fights with his peers at school but his world is quickly flipped when the people who . The film has become a cult classic among fans and is known for its homosexual undertones with Englund himself declaring it a “bisexual film”. There is a strong argument to suggest that Jesse’s inability to fit in is due to his conflict with his own sexuality. The big issue that I have with this film is that it flips Freddy around to be the hero. When he’s bullied by a group of partying teenagers, the audience sympathises with him. This sentiment was shared by Craven himself who stated that Freddy should be “threatening and overpowering” which I think was missing. Freddy becomes a punchline in this feature rather than a genuine threat.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
This sequel does not get enough love. Coming off the failure of the previous installment, Dream Warriors is a brilliant addition to the franchise. It’s known among fans of the franchise that this film is fantastic but not as well known to horror fans in general who truthfully are missing out. Following a group of young people in a psychiatric ward, we see Freddy messing with the minds of these vulnerable individuals and watch as their pleas are quashed by the doctors and other authorities figures. The film marked Patricia Arquette’s film debut as Kristen Parker, a young teen who is chased in her dreams by Freddy who then cuts her wrists which looks like a suicide attempt to her mother who swiftly commits her to Westin Hills psychiatric hospital. She teams up with a group like her who have had nightmares of the same man and soon they are killed one by one. Calling themselves “dream warriors”, they plan to use their weaknesses as strengths to quash Freddy’s murderous attempts. The film also marks the welcome return of Heather Langenkamp as Nancy who has grown to be a psychiatrist, inspired by the events of her childhood. This film features some of the best death scenes in the franchise and sees Craven taking control of his franchise once again.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
The film follows the remaining survivors of the third film (Tuesday Knight taking over the role of Kristen Parker) after they have been released from the psychiatric unit one year later. Kristen is still haunted by what happens and Freddy returns to cause havoc on the survivors and their school friends. This is where the films start to play the same routine and becomes more repetitive but trying to make the death scenes as ridiculous as possible. There is even a death where one of the girls is turned into a cockroach and squished! It’s still a good popcorn flick but largely unoriginal. This film also features Lisa Wilcox as new protagonist, Alice Johnson, who takes the helm as scream queen for this segment after befriending Kristen. I like the aspect of bringing someone else into the dream which is continued from the third film into this one. Freddy uses Alice to lure him to her friends who he starts to pick off one by one, including a horrific death involving her asthmatic friend. This installment was the highest grossing the original franchise and kept it that way until 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason so it was a huge hit with audiences.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)
The fifth film follows Alice (Lisa Wilcox) who is still haunted by the events of the fourth film. The opening scene throws us immediately into the dream world as we see Alice as Amanda Krueger, a nun who works in a men’s psychiatric ward who is subsequently raped by masses of inmates when she is accidentally locked among them. She has a second nightmare that sees Freddy as a baby digging up his remains from the fourth film and brings him back to life. After Alice’s boyfriend, Dan (Danny Hassel), dies tragically, Alice is convinced that Freddy is back which is swiftly followed by the revelation that she is pregnant and Freddy subsequently starts to give the unborn baby powers so he can be more like him. There is a lot going on in this film and the more I think about it, the more confused I become. There’s the usual plotline of Freddy killing teenagers then the subplot of Alice’s pregnancy and then there’s the second subplot involving Freddy’s origins. It’s a lot to cram into one film and naturally the film fails because of it.
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
This installment is by far my least favourite. If you thought the previous film was overcomplicated then you’re not prepared for this one. Freddy has killed all the kids and teenagers in a small town and seeks out the one survivor to bring more teens to kill. There are so many questions that come to mind regarding the cannon and where this sits in the universe as there is no reason for his reincarnation from the last one. The adults in the small town have gone insane and there is definitely a strange Twin Peaks tone that they are going for that fails spectacularly. This is probably the rock bottom for the original franchise and seems to just be a money grab rather than a genuine passion project. It also features a cameo from Johnny Depp and a bizarre cameo from Roseanne Barr who plays one of the deranged townspeople.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
This film takes place outside the universe and is a unique experience as it is very meta. Following the making of a new film, Freddy breaks out and starts killing the cast and crew. Featuring a return from Heather Langenkamp and with many of the other parts played by cast and crew. Wes Craven returned for the project and the great thing is that it seems like everyone is genuinely having fun. It’s a shame that this film had become largely forgotten as it is a great addition to the franchise. It’s to Craven’s credit that he is always trying to think of something new while still being faithful to the originals. The Freddy in this film also goes back to darker routes and becomes less comical than the last few installments.
Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
This film is one of those that is so bad it’s great and I love it. Freddy resurrects Friday the 13th villain, Jason Voorhees in a bid to scare the residents of Elm Street while they’re awake so he can kill them while they sleep. Soon enough, Jason starts going on a killing spree which angers Freddy and the two become embroiled in a feud that brings a huge body count. It’s a fun film that ventures on the wackier side and also serves up a variety of stereotypes in an ironic way such as the resident stoner and drunk partying teens. The film is the last to feature Englund as Krueger and stars Ken Kirzinger as Jason. It’s a shame they didn’t follow this up with a sequel as it would have been great to see what more they can do with this universe cursed with this villains. It’s not a great film by any means but it’s a fun popcorn flick. I think what makes this film so enjoyable to watch ishat it isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself and be completely bonkers.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
This is one of those rare films where I go against the grain a little bit. This film was (rightfully) torn apart by critics like one of Freddy’s victims despite its commercial success. It is equally hated by fans and despised so much that they didn’t even bother making any sequels for this reboot. It’s a rehash of the first film with newcomer Rooney Mara filling the boots for Nancy Thompson. The reason I go against the grain is that I am one of the few people who actually enjoyed this reboot. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t hold a candle besides the original at all but I thought it was an interesting take in bringing up the darker themes that couldn’t be discussed in the original, mainly Freddy’s paedophilic nature. I think Jackie Earle Healey is one of the most underrated actors working today and his performance is a darker take on Englund’s Krueger. I understand why his performance wasn’t well received because the humour and charisma is what differentiates Kruegar from other slasher villains. Also, Mara is one of my favourite actresses working today and this is the film that properly introduced me to her (aside from The Social Network but that was a small support role). I thought that the darker tone was an interesting aspect to explore but I do think ultimately the film suffers because of this and becomes just another horror film.
So that’s all of the reviews done and dusted. I am not sure if they’re going to create anymore, especially since Craven has since sadly passed, but it would be intriguing to see how they would reintroduce Freddy in this new revolutionary climate.
Here is my ranking:
1) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
2) A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
3) A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
4) A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
5) Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
6) Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
7) A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)
8) A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
9) Freddy’s Dead: the Final Nightmare (1991)
What do you think? Which one is your favourite? Let me know in the comments below!