Before you ask any questions, I am a fan of Alice Cooper! That’s not the reason why I used the Alice Cooper pun for the title, but it kind of works out. Anyway, today we’re looking at the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.
There’s actually an interesting backstory regarding this series. In the 1970’s, there were multiple cases of refugees from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam coming to America, and then dying in their sleep some time after arriving. Some cases mentioned these people screaming in their sleep. I’m not sure how true that was, but it was an interesting enough idea for Wes Craven to run with it.
The villain of the series, Freddy Krueger, is one of the most evil slasher villains, and also one of the most entertaining ones as well. Unlike with Leatherface, Michael, and Not Jason, Freddy talks a lot. He has a dark sense of humor that helps to make him stand out. Of course, his tendency to spout jokes can make some of the movies more silly than they should be, so it’s a fine line.
Freddy Krueger is kind of a cross between a ghost and a demon. Most of the powers and abilities that he displays are the powers that a ghost would have, but he shows a weakness to holy items like demons tend to have. When Freddy was alive, he was a child murderer who was arrested, but then let go because of a legal problem with the search warrant. The town’s parents decide to take the law into their own hands, and burn Freddy’s house down with him inside it. He vows to get revenge on the them by killing their children in their dreams.
As much as I like this character, there are a couple of red flags for me. As I mentioned in my post about ghosts, a lot of ghosts stories are also revenge stories like Freddy’s. The problem is that Freddy was already a child murderer before his death. I’m not entirely sure what the rules are for the afterlife, but I’m pretty sure that you don’t get to come back from the dead for revenge when the people that killed you were only trying to save their children.
To me, it would have made more sense if it turned out that Freddy wasn’t the one that was killing children before. That would have meant that the town had killed an innocent man, justifying his revenge and adding an ironic twist by having him become the child murderer that everyone thought he was. This also would have added something interesting for a sequel if the man or woman that was killing children before Freddy’s death was still running around.
The first film, 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, we follow some teenagers who find that the injuries they sustain in their dreams are starting to carry over to the real world, including fatal injuries. There are multiple imaginative deaths in this film that make it stand out from other slasher films. My personal favorite is the one where a young Johnny Depp is dragged into his bed, which then erupts in a volcano of blood.
One of the teens, a girl named Nancy, finds out that the reason Freddy is after her and her friends is because their parents were the ones that killed him. She eventually manages to bring Freddy back to the real world, and defeats him by using the same tactic a parent would use on a child throwing a tantrum. Of course, it all turns out to be a dream, and Freddy is revealed to still be…well, not alive. Hanging around?
This films was popular enough to lead to a string of sequels, starting with 1985’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. This movie has Freddy try to come back to life by possessing a young gay man named Jesse. Freddy spends the film…what? Oh come on now, everyone knows that the Jesse character is gay. There have been multiple articles and videos over the years that explore the homosexual themes in this film. Okay, fine. We’ll ignore the homoerotic subtext of the film.
Freddy spends the film trying to take complete control of Jesse, but Jesse wins out at the end. Maybe. The ending of the film implies that Freddy may have killed Jesse and the others on the school bus, but we never see them die so they may have survived.
This film was not as successful as the first, but it still led to what is generally referred to as the “Dream Trilogy” with 1987’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, 1988’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, and 1989’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. These three movies mark a shift in the series from being straight horror films to being horror-action films. Think Army of Darkness, but with a lot more deaths.
Dream Warriors features a group of kids gaining incredible powers in their dreams that they use to fight Freddy. These powers are so incredible that some of them even live long enough to die in the next film! The Dream Master has a young woman named Alice inherit the powers of the Dream Warriors that Freddy kills. The Dream Child basically recycles the plot from Freddy’s Revenge, with Freddy trying to return to the world of the living by possessing Alice’s unborn child.
I know I’m kind of rushing through these films, but I really can’t do them justice in this blog. If you’re interested in slasher films and don’t mind gore and corny jokes, then you should watch them for yourself.
In 1991 we got Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. If you’re anything like me, your first reaction on hearing that title is “Uh, yeah. We know Freddy’s dead. That’s kind of the whole point of the series.” Well, it turns out that this film was designed to be the last of the series.
In this film, the entirety of the town of Springwood (which I just realized that I haven’t mentioned until now) has been rendered childless due to Freddy’s murder spree. This has pretty much driven the adults in Springwood mad. A group of teenagers from another town happen to meet the only Springwood teen, an amnesiac boy that everyone calls John, that survived. John spends the movie thinking that he might be Freddy’s son, but when he dies he reveals that Freddy’s child is a girl.
Fortunately (or unfortunately as the case may be), it turns out that Freddy’s daughter Katherine (whose name was changed to Maggie) is one of the teens that visited the town. Freddy revealed that he lured his daughter to Springwood so that he could use her to leave and haunt other towns. Maggie defeats him by shoving a pipe bomb in his chest, proving that holy relics and dream powers are no match for good old fashioned science.
The next film, 1994’s Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, is possibly the most meta horror film before the later Scream series. In this film, the actress that played Nancy in the first film plays…the actress that played Nancy in the first film. This film supposedly takes place in the “real world”, where the previous films were just films.
Over the course of the film, it turns out that there is an actual demon that took on the identity of Freddy, and the only way to stop him is to keep making Nightmare on Elm Street movies. Hey, if it means we get more movies with Robert Englund making cheesy jokes, I’m all for it!
The next film was the long awaited Freddy vs. Jason in 2004. Freddy has been rendered powerless, as the people of Springwood don’t remember him anymore. However, he finds a loophole by sending Not Jason back to the world of the living to kill people in his name. Of course, Not Jason ends up being uncontrollable, leading to two epic fight scenes: one in the dream world, and one in the real world. This movie is kind of goofy and silly at times, but I still recommend it.
The last film (so far) was 2010’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, which was a remake of the original film. This film…is pretty much the exact same film as the first movie. Seriously, if you saw the first film, you don’t need to see this one. I will say that Jackie Earl Haley’s portrayal of Freddy is creepier than the original, but a lot of the fun of the previous films was the way Robert Englund portrayed the character.
As you can tell, I’m a huge fan of this series. It is a lot more imaginative than the other slasher films we’ve talked about so far, and the fact that the premise is supernatural to begin with means that there is no jarring additions of supernatural elements later in the series like with The Curse of Michael Myers or Jason Lives.
So that ends our journey to the nightmare land of Springwood. Tomorrow we’re going to talk about everyone’s favorite Good Guy, Chucky!