Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"Nine, Ten, Never Sleep Again": 25 Years of A Nightmare on Elm Street

As the series is in its twenty-fifth year, and with the remake fast approaching, I thought it would be the appropriate time to look back on one of the most famous and influential series in horror history. In just over two decades, Freddy Krueger has become on of the biggest, most infamous monsters of the movies. Every kid knows his name, he's swiftly becoming one of the classics, and will no doubt soon be seen along the lines of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, etc. I think the idea of a remake only grounds the character as one that has begun to transcend series (like Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th). Except, Freddy has already transcended his own series quite literally in Wes Craven's New Nightmare.

Anyway, I thought we would take this time to look back on some of the best and worst moments of the series, with my ranking of the series from best to worst.

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street- One of the most powerful, shocking, and thoroughly original horror films of all time. Despite the low budget, it still holds up today. Wes Craven's original film was inspired by a mixture of folklore and newspaper articles, particularly articles based on children dying horribly in their sleep. With these he shaped a story with heartfelt, real characters, a heroine that was actually strong, and one of the most frightening bogeymen ever to appear on film.

2. Wes Craven's New Nightmare- Words cannot quite describe this film. The genius in it and behind it is simply breathtaking. It is easily one of the top ten, maybe top five, horror movies of the 1990's. Technically, this is not part of the series. Instead, it is more a companion piece to the original. In which Freddy transcends the films now that the stories have stopped, and haunts the cast and crew of the original film, in particular Heather Langenkamp (who played the heroine Nancy). The idea behind it is that this movie was the only way to actually stop Freddy, that to lay the demon to rest they had to let the story continue, so in a way the film is a part of the film. And it's when you hit that millisecond of "I wonder, could it really have...", that's when you see the sheer genius of the movie.

3. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors- A true standout gem of the series, also one of the most entertaining horror movies of the 1980's. It wisely ignores part 2 completely, focusing itself as a direct sequel to the original. Here, the last remaining children of the parents that initially killed Freddy have been taken to a psychiatric hospital where Nancy (Langenkamp) now works. Freddy is at his most dark and malicious in this film, picking off the kids (kids we truly can care about here) in the most inventive ways yet. The series is known for having transitioned from the darker Freddy of 1 and 2 to the more comic Freddy of 4, 5, 6. This is the transition film, and there is a perfect balance here: a dark, sadistic bastard who has a well-rounded sense of humor.

4. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master- This direct follow up to part 3 is fairly underrated, though it certainly lacks the charm of its predecessor. There are some inventive kills though, and some returning characters (even if they're the first to go), and the series has had worse scripts. Also, Englund is still ghoulishly entertaining. but there are moments, such as when a character wakes up in the hospital and sees one of the doctors to be Freddy, so he screams his name as Freddy replies "Well I ain't Dr. Seuss," moments that show the face of things to come.

5. Freddy vs Jason- It is what it is. What it is is basically a Nightmare on Elm Street story with Jason Voorhees wrapped around it like delicious bacon. Jason Voorhees, like bacon, would probably go well with everything if people were just willing to try. Anyway, the film harkens back to the oldstanding tradition of monster match-ups. Having seen some of the unused scripts, it could have been MUCH worse. Freddy is trying to return to the original dark, sadistic humor of parts 1 and 3 here, and essentially succeeds, but some of the original charm just feels gone.

6. Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare- Sure, it should probably rank last, but it doesn't. It gets into the character's backstory in a way that doesn't suck and essentially it does end the series, so points for that. Yes, Freddy is over-the-top and played for laughs, but I don't think the film takes itself too seriously, so at least it's entertaining.

7. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child- I just don't know what the hell to make of this movie. Not only is Freddy over the top and goofy, but he's bordering on uninteresting. Also, the film tries to play itself as dark and gloomy, and is visually interesting, but the way Freddy is done does not match the tone at all. Also, the script is not the most coherent of the bunch.

8. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge- I don't know what "revenge" Freddy's taking here, unless it's on heterosexuality. To put it as bluntly as possible, this is a very gay movie. And I mean gay in the homosexual sense. It is now infamous for its homoerotic undertones, and while such a film may easily have worked on its own, that is very far from my issue with this film in particular. The undertones in this are overtly silly in places, in others they're admittedly genius. But this doesn't feel like a Nightmare on Elm Street movie at all. In fact, its pretty much a different movie altogether. The original film is mentioned in passing, Freddy is completely out of character as a demon trying to, ahem, get into the male character's body. The boy (Jesse) sleepwalks into an S&M bar where Freddy (reduced to no more than Jesse's latent homosexuality) guides him to be picked up by his gym coach, who Freddy strips naked and whips to death. when the boy seeks help at his scantily clad jock best friend's house, Freddy "pops up" and kills him too. And Freddy dies by being kissed by a girl. Not subtle by any means. But it's the lack of actual nightmaring that make this admittedly interesting horror entry too far apart from the rest of the series to rank any higher.