A Cinefessions Series Review is a periodic column that sees one or more writers watching and reviewing an entire film series. Cinefessions considers any film franchise that has two or more films a series, and thus available for review in this column. This is a way to get a quick look at an entire collection of films in one column. Today, as another celebration of our favorite horror film series during the 13 Days of Halloween, Ashe takes a ride through the nightmares of Freddy Krueger and the Nightmare on Elm Street Series.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, dir. Wes Craven)
A Nightmare on Elm Street is the film that saved New Line Cinema from it’s indie status, and would eventually lead to it being called the “House that Freddy built” before being acquired by Warner Bros. Wes Craven’s masterpiece tackles dreams and a monster that’s going after the children for their parents’ sins. Brought to life brilliantly by Robert Englund, Freddy is both charismatic and terrifying, and completely sells the film in every scene he’s in. The rest of the cast turns in decent enough performances with the weak link perhaps being Jsu Garcia as Rod, who seems very much the stereotypical ‘80s punk kid. Johnny Depp and Heather Langenkamp do the bulk of the heavy lifting. Ronee Blakley and John Saxon also turn in nice performances.
This isn’t the typical slasher faire, and while Wes Craven hadn’t really planned sequels, and wasn’t happy with where they went, the first film really does a great job world building and setting up the rules the better sequels would use. The first film is much darker than the other films as far as tone goes, and Freddy is far more menacing than he’ll end up being in later films. It’s always great to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985, dir. Jack Sholder)
When you have a successful horror film, especially in the 1980s, you have to make a sequel. Wes Craven never really intended on having a sequel, so when they went around to make one, they decided to do it without Wes. They went even further to try to save money and started without the guy who made Freddy so successful, Robert Englund. It’s painfully obvious they had no idea where to go with this, and instead of a slasher invading kid’s dreams for revenge, our villain has decided to possess the newest teen in town that lives in the house that Nancy from the first film lived in. While this would have been a fairly interesting tale, it doesn’t feel like a Nightmare film at all, and stands out from the others.
The pacing is off. The script is lacking. Freddy isn’t hell bent on any kind of revenge, really, and is simply getting his kicks torturing and trying to possess the lead kid. The theme that we identify so much with Fred Krueger is gone. Instead we have this musical score that involves dolphin song, of all things, to try and get us into this awkward film that doesn’t work on so many levels.
This iss a big misstep on the part of New Line for the Nightmare franchise, and is definitely the weakest of the film series. There’s no real revenge on Freddy’s part, the leads have no chemistry at all on screen, and they even kept footage in where Robert wasn’t actually suited up as Freddy before they got him back in, and you can easily pick it out as the body language is entirely wrong. It is definitely easy to pass Freddy’s Revenge up.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987, dir. Chuck Russell)
If Freddy’s Revenge was the film that almost buried the franchise, Dream Warriors is the one that rights the ship and puts it back on track. Not only is this a much better film than the previous in the series, but it also feels like a proper sequel to the first film. Bringing Wes Craven back on board and getting Freddy back to doing what he does best – going after people in their dreams – they manage to not only get the formula right again with this one, but also put in some more backstory for one of my favorite slasher villains. We get another appearance from Nancy and her father while we get into the nitty gritty of dreams and the possibilities of bringing others into our dreams to help fight Freddy. They definitely get more creative with the dreamscape, and although Freddy was killed in a boiler room, and that’s where he often tried to take the kids in the first film, he’s firmly latched onto Nancy’s old house as one of his favorite haunts, using the basement as a twisted representation of the boiler room.
Some bigger actors have parts in this: Patricia Arquette and Lawrence Fishburne among them. While Arquette wouldn’t come back to the series, she delivers a great performance here as someone who’s been tortured through her dreams. It’s good to see Heather Langenkamp back in this one, but she’s not as good here as she was in the first, and some of the scenes come off as a little hollow. Overall, though, the production feels a bit more put together, the script is tighter, and we get a feel for the twisted sense of humor Freddy has, along with some other dark jokes to go along with it.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988, dir. Renny Harlin)
While keeping within the same feel, tone, look and pacing as Dream Warriors, The Dream Master has some problems similar to Freddy’s Revenge, but nowhere near as drastic. They introduce some changes to the rules they’d already laid out, but these make sense, and while the music does fit the film much better than Freddy’s Revenge, we’re missing that ever present theme from the first and third entries. So while this one feels much more like a Nightmare film, and also the highest grossing in the series before Freddy vs. Jason came out, it’s lacking.
One of the things that bug me is the recasting of Patricia Arquette. I understand she was pregnant at the time, but the person they recast her character with can’t match the intensity or the vulnerability that Arquette brought. She does a decent enough job, but the performance is hollow in comparison, and it does lessen the impact a lot. This is the first time Robert Englund would get top billing as Freddy, and there is some great direction from Renny Harlin. There is also great effects work that, combined with some excellent editing, work almost seamlessly to deliver a great slasher flick, and a decent follow up to Dream Warriors. They’re still getting creative with Freddy’s abilities, and it hasn’t jumped the shark quite yet. It’s not as good as I remember it from when I was 12, and I hadn’t seen it since I was in my late teens, but The Dream Master is still something I’d recommend, just not as much as the first or third entries.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989, dir. Stephen Hopkins)
While not nearly as bad as Freddy’s Revenge, The Dream Child has some issues. Mainly, a weak script, some really awful dialogue, and mostly poor acting, except for Freddy and our lead carrying over from the previous film. It has some neat ideas, but the execution is awful. While most of the effects look pretty good, it doesn’t make up for the bad pacing and acting that permeates the film.
The Dream Child jumps the series off the rails a bit, and while it’s still serviceable as a Nightmare series film, its shortcomings make it one to easily pass on, much like Freddy’s Revenge. Part of this stems from their need to reinvent how they bring Freddy back in every film after “killing him off” at the end of the previous film instead of just going with the theory from the original that says simply believing in him gives him enough power to return.
There are some neat ideas that are squandered here, and it could have been given a little more development time before release. The Dream Child is far too reliant on Freddy cracking dark jokes after a kill than anything else.
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991, dir. Rachel Talalay)
Freddy’s Dead starts off being just as off-putting and terrible as Freddy’s Revenge, but at about the halfway point, when they shift gears and it becomes about Freddy’s history and him trying to use his past to get out to a new crop of kids, it becomes a much better film. The setup at the beginning doesn’t drag, but it does seem entirely preposterous and unbelievable, which might be why they chose to ignore this chunk of the film when they made Freddy vs. Jason over a decade later.
While Englund is again fantastic, the female lead, Lisa Zane, isn’t all that great in this, and I know she can be. I don’t know if it’s the direction, or just a weak script, but she feels like one of the other weak links in a disintegrating chain. The other big name, and one that needed a lot more screen time, is Yahpet Kotto. He is great in his role and adds a much-needed boost to the film. The 3D gimmick looks incredibly stupid without any 3D attached to it, even though it is an interesting way to handle the bigger dream sequence. There are too many things that are re-used in this film from the others, though, and it ends up feeling like they’re trying to prop up their plot, as weak as it is, with a crutch, when they could have done some amazing things with the back end of the film and getting more into Freddy’s head and past instead.
As an end to the series, Freddy’s Dead is kind of a letdown. Its final half is much better than the previous film in the series, but the first half of the film just drags down what could have been a perfect send off. It’s poorly paced, and way too comical. Freddy feels more like a prankster throughout than an actual threat, and that doesn’t help the film out either. So while it does try to redeem itself, it still feels like a bit of a mess overall.
New Nightmare (1994, dir. Wes Craven)
Bringing Wes Craven back to do not only another Nightmare flick in the series, but to tackle what ends up being a great ten year anniversary for the original, was not only a great idea, but ended up doing what Freddy’s Dead failed to accomplish and gave Freddy a proper send-off. Acting as a great homage, but also throwing in some great new ideas for the series, Wes Craven delivers New Nightmare as a self-aware entry in the series before he ever tackled Scream. It is also a different way to appreciate what Freddy could represent. There are some great shots, and while the acting is give or take in some parts, the script is really well done. This is definitely a more grown-up Nightmare flick that relies less on the shock scares and gore, and more on the psychological aspects of what everyone on screen is going through, so don’t go in expecting the same old Freddy cause he isn’t to be found here.
What we do get with New Nightmare is one of my favorites in the series because they play with the rules while still keeping the basics intact enough for it to fit within the franchise really well. While some of the effects haven’t aged too well, the smart premise, and toying with reality versus the films versus dreams is a lot of fun to mess with.
Freddy vs. Jason (2003, dir. Ronny Yu)
Freddy is back after a nine-year hiatus, but he’s lost his mojo and he’s decided that using the mute man with the hockey mask and an axe is the best way to get it back. Point Jason at Springwood, Ohio from the wilds of New Jersey, and sit back and wait. Freddy vs. Jason was a long time coming; one they wanted to do so badly that Friday the 13th jumped the gun with the seventh film in their series – The New Blood – and gave someone mental powers to kick Jason’s ass much the way Freddy ends up doing in this one.
The script in here isn’t completely horrible. There are a lot of great lines, and Robert Englund is definitely back to playing the more menacing Freddy from earlier in the Nightmare series. The rest of the cast is very hit or miss, and the range of delivery is so far out of whack that it ends up hurting the film more than anything else. The pacing is pretty good and the effects are a nice mix of practical and CG, and work well together. The make-up effects on both Freddy and Jason are fantastic, and Freddy hasn’t looked nearly as menacing in any other outing.
Don’t get me wrong: I do love Freddy vs. Jason, and it’s a fun event to partake in, but the final fight doesn’t make up for some really terrible plot holes. They basically have to ignore Freddy’s Dead in its entirety. They also decided to give Jason a fear, which works on one hand if you’ve never seen a chunk of the Friday the 13th films. While I do think they could have used different takes, or slightly different direction in a few scenes, especially the ones where plot points are so obviously being force-fed to us because we have to move the film along. I mean they did look up how long it takes to get to New Jersey from Ohio, right? Oh, no, looks like they forgot that. It’s still a fun romp, and seeing the two of them go head to head was, and still is, a blast. It’s the rest of the haphazardly thrown together film, with some great nightmares, fantastic kills from Jason, and then terribly delivered dialogue that makes this one harder to digest than it should be.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010, dir. Samuel Bayer)
I’m one of the minority that didn’t mind Platinum Dunes coming in to do a remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street after amazing remakes of several of my other favorites, including Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror, and, of course, Friday the 13th. While it definitely doesn’t have any of the dark comedy themes from the other entries in the series, Jackie Earl Haley as Freddy is entirely creepy and threatening, and never really relents throughout the entire film. He’s got great lines, but they’re not really to entertain as a wisecrack, but to deliver the hopelessness to the rest of the cast. Taking elements from the original film, and a few nods to Freddy vs. Jason, they managed to put together a decent re-imagining of Freddy and the events leading up to him going after kids in their dreams, while at the same time making his stalking of the kids in the film a far more intimate affair. These kids are far more directly tied to him than before, when it was just revenge on what the parents did to him.
While some of the plot points really work, and some don’t ever have any impact, one of the things I love is the inclusion of hallucinations and dreaming while awake due to sleep deprivation. It leads to some great moments where they recreate a few shots from the original, but at the same time do something new for this remake. While I do love Englund’s portrayal of Krueger in the other films, I appreciate the absolute menace that Haley brings here. Is this the Nightmare films from the ‘80s and early ‘90s? No, definitely not. But like Friday the 13th, it’s a great modern interpretation of the character that works as a more serious take on the idea.
The CSR Awards
(The Cinefessions’ Series Review Awards)
Best Picture: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
Worst Picture: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
Favorite Scene/Moment in Series: Freddy as a giant worm monster swallowing Kristen (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors)
Kristen uses her ability to pull Nancy into her dream just as Freddy has turned into a giant worm and is attempting to swallow Kristen whole. Nancy realizes what’s going on, grabs some debris nearby, and stabs Freddy in the eye, forcing him to drop Kristen to the floor. He reels back to recover, gets a good look at Nancy, and utters one word with such malice I still get shivers: “You”.
Best Actor: Robert Englund
He steals the show as Freddy in every scene in the series, whether they want him doing that dark malice, or attempting to be a bit more comical about the whole thing. There’s a reason they started giving him top billing in each of the films after the third. He’s what made the series work as well as it did.
Best Actress: Rooney Mara (A Nightmare on Elm Street – 2010)
While I’d love to give this to Paticia Arquette or Heather Langenkamp, Rooney Mara does an amazing job with Nancy in the remake that frankly makes it work for me.
The average film rating for the Nightmare film series is 2.72 stars.