A Droidian Nightmare on Elm Street (1984-2010)

A Droidian Nightmare on Elm StreetMany things can give me nightmares. Falling to my death, being stuck in my current job for the rest of my life, or being sent to prison for a crime I didn’t commit and being greeted by my new cellmate, the grotesque gelatinous blob otherwise known as Don “Blubba” Murphy. But in the end those are avoidable because they are within my power to avoid or in the case of the prison cellmate, entirely unrealistic and only mentioned for the purpose of a cheap gag referencing the horrendously obese Hollywood douchebag.

However, the idea that an invincible bogeyman can get you when you’re asleep, something that is totally unavoidable and not within our power to control, is at it’s core fundamentally terrifying. This basic idea lies at the heart of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, and it’s what makes Freddy Krueger such an iconic creation. Well, that and the stripey shirt. So join me as I venture through a weekend long odyssey where I set myself the challenge (see you guys don’t need to challenge me, I come up with stupid stuff all on my own!) of watching the entire A Nightmare on Elm Street series, including Freddy vs Jason and the remake.

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A Nightmare on Elm St (1984)

Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) begins to have nightmares where she’s being stalked by a hideously burnt man in a striped shirt, fedora and a glove full of razor sharp blades named Fred Krueger (Robert Englund). She discovers that her friends are all having the same dream, and one night her friend is murdered in her sleep. Somehow Freddy is able to infiltrate the dreams of the kids of Elm Street and get his revenge. But why these kids?

Written and directed by Wes Craven, this is one of the best ideas for a bogeyman that has come out of Hollywood. As I said in the introduction, the idea that an unstoppable maniac can manifest himself in our dreams, whilst we are at our most vulnerable, is fundamentally terrifying. Trapped A Nightmare on Elm Street POSTER PUBLISHin an inescapable nightmare, we are at his mercy. Not only did Craven create one of the iconic monsters in cinema, with his hideously burnt face, striped shirt, fedora and knives on his fingers, he loaded the back story with a frightening motivation for Freddy. He is seeking revenge against the parents of these kids, which gives the story a lot more depth than your average slasher and also heightens our sympathy towards the innocent kids.

Craven takes his terrific villain and uses him perfectly. He takes his time, using Freddy sparingly and to great effect, creating tension, atmosphere and hell of a lot of creepiness. ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ is brilliant in the way it blurs the line between nightmare and reality, with terrific use of shadow, particularly in a scene where Freddy seems to be coming out of a wall above Nancy’s bed. Langenkamp is sympathetic and likeable as the squeaky clean Nancy, and it’s interesting to see Johnny Depp in his first role, but the real star of the show is Englund as Krueger. He brings a playful menace to the character. He knows he’s got these kids beat, and he’s having the time of his afterlife toying with them and knocking them off one by one. Englunds the star of the show and looks like he’s having a great time.

‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ was a huge success upon it’s release. It was the first film financed by New Line, which became known as ‘The House that Freddy Built’, and confirmed that Craven would, for better or for worse, have a long and productive career.

Freddys Revenge (1985)

Hot on the heels of the huge success of the first film, New Line latched onto their new cash cow and less than twelve months later they had their sequel in theaters. Wes Craven wasn’t interested in continuing the franchise after Robert Shaye demanded a twist, sequel baiting ending to the first film (which wasn’t what Craven originally intended), so Shaye hired some clueless twat named Jack Sholder to direct a quickie sequel. But someone obviously forgot to tell him that ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ is about a character named Freddy Kueger, not some po-faced asswipe that screams like a bitch every six minutes and is terrified of the funny feelings in his tighty whities.

Apparently Freddy is manipulating this douchebag (Mark Patton) into committing his murders for him, which is quite clearly not the fucking point of a Freddy Krueger movie! The script wanders from a high school baseball coach’s S&M fetish, to said douchenozzle’s problems with his air A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 POSTER PUBLISHconditioning, to embarrassingly shitty high school romantic angst. If you frequently insert a shot of an effeminate knobgobbler waking up and screaming like he’s just got his first period then you’ve got your movie.

When Freddy finally turns up they have him in a scene in reality where he hacks and slashes his way through a party full of teenage morons who think that if they stand still enough Freddy won’t see them. Little do they know that Freddy isn’t a T-Rex and they duly get horrifically slashed to death by a handful of razor sharp blades.

This is an abysmally awful film and is quite clearly the worst film in the series. I was, at this point, quite seriously contemplating packing this series in after this film, because the thought of SEVEN more films made me very, very sad. But trouper that I am, I went and grabbed a beer and moved quickly onto number three.

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Dream Warriors (1987)

It appears that New Line learnt from the almost series killing mistake of ‘Freddy’s Revenge’ and for the third film managed to coax Wes Craven back, even if it was only for a hand in the screenplay. Cravens script (intended to finish the series) was quite different to the end product, which focused more on characters returning from the first film, Nancy (Langenkamp) and Lt. Donald Thompson (John Saxon).

Six years after the events of the first film (they wisely pretend the sequel doesn’t exist), once again the kids of Elm Street are plagued by nightmares of Freddy. Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) is attacked by A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 POSTER PUBLISHKrueger, and wakes with her wrists slit. She survives and is placed in a mental hospital. There she meets “the last of the Elm Street children”. Nancy (Langenkamp) is a newly employed sleep therapist or somesuch and together they form a team to fight Freddy.

Directed by Chuck Russell and co-written by Russell, Frank Darabont and Craven, it goes without saying that ‘Dream Warriors’ is a vast improvement over the second film. Some of the effects are impressive, particularly the marionette sequence, and the film succeeds in generating a fair bit of tension as well as a couple of good scares. The only problem is that this third film set the precedent that the next three films would follow, in that each kid dies in an elaborate reflection of their personality. For example, a girl who wants to be a TV actress dies by getting her head slammed into, yep, you guessed it, a TV. The sequels took this idea and created increasingly elaborate set pieces around them.

‘Dream Warriors’ is the third best film in the series, and a very entertaining one at that. And it features the best line in any of the films, when an elderly nun explains that Freddy is “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs.” Awesome.

The Dream Master (1988)

Despite Wes Craven’s wish that this series would hurry up and die, ‘The Dream Master’ continued the impressive box office success of the A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 POSTER PUBLISH‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ series. Each film had thus far proved more successful than the last, with this one finishing up with $72 million from a $7 million budget.

Having killed Freddy in the third film, Kristen Parker (now played by Tuesday Knight) is happily back at school. But because they needed a sequel, Freddy isn’t really dead, and has returned to murder his way through the nightmares of a bunch more Elm Street kids.

There’s really not much to say about the ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ films at this point. The third film created the blueprint and for the next few films it’s all about the set pieces. Directed by Renny Harlin, and co-written by Brian Helgeland, the ‘The Dream Master’ has some terrific production design, which is one of the most consistent things about the series, but with each successive film Freddy has become more of a comedic character, which while mildly entertaining, just isn’t scary or menacing.

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The Dream Child (1989)

Here we have the first evidence that the audience is growing tired of the formula. After ‘The Dream Master’s massive box office haul, the fifth film in A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 POSTER PUBLISHthe series only grossed $22 million. The end is nigh for Freddy. I saw this at the cinema and recall being grossed out by Freddy feeding a girl (who was an aspiring model) to death with an assortment of hideous things, like a meatball pizza where the meatballs were tiny Freddy heads. Hey, I was 11. Give me a break.

Directed by Stephen Hopkins, ‘The Dream Master’ is more of the same. Excellent production values, increasingly elaborate deaths (a cartoonist gets sucked into a comic book world and Freddie shreds him into confetti), and an even more comedic Krueger. It might look good, but there’s not a great deal of enjoyment to be found and the film isn’t remotely scary. I was pretty bored by this.

Freddy’s Dead (1991)

And here we have the last of the blueprint ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ films. By the sixth film the series is utterly uninspired and quite simply boring. To try to polish a turd, they released the film with the last 10 minutes in 3D. I saw this one at the cinema and my only recollection of it prior to this A Nightmare on Elm Street 6 POSTER PUBLISHseries was “the 3D was crap”. After watching it again for this series, my only recollection of it now is, the film is crap.

Apparently Peter Jackson wrote a script for this film, that went unused, called ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Lover’, and “the supposed concept was that Freddy had become so weak in the dream world that teens made a game out of going into to the dream world and beating up Freddy. But when Freddy regains enough power to take a boy’s father hostage in the dream world, the boy must go there one last time to save his dad.” I’m not sure that concept is any better, but at least it’s different and it would’ve been amusing to see a bunch of douchebag teenagers beating the crap out of Krueger.

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New Nightmare (1994)

Conceding the series was pretty much done creatively after the terrible (but profitable) ‘Freddy’s Dead’, New Line convinced Wes Craven to return (he wasn’t exactly pumping out hits so it might have been quite easy) and make the ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ sequel he had wanted to make for the third film. This film proves that Craven seems to be the only person that actually understands what to do with Freddy.

‘New Nightmare’ is a brilliant idea. Set in the “real” world, with Heather Langenkamp and numerous other real life people that were involved in the films, including Robert Englund, Bob Shaye and Craven, playing A Nightmare on Elm Street 7 POSTER PUBLISHthemselves. On the set of the new ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ film, Freddy has somehow manifested himself off the script and into the nightmares of his creators.

The seventh film in the series is perfectly executed. Craven has returned the character of Freddy to his original state. There’s no cartoonish buffoonery or elaborate monsters, and Freddy is back to being a darker, more menacing villain. There are some stand out set pieces, such as a scene in the hospital that references the rotating bedroom in the original film, as well as scenes of an earthquake hitting LA (which was filmed just before the actual 1994 LA earthquakes). But the best scene in the film is where Langenkamp’s son is crossing a busy highway. This scene is terrifically intense and is brilliantly executed. It’s the highlight of an excellent film that returns the character of Freddy Kreuger to his original state. A frightening monster.

Freddy vs Jason (2003)

After fifteen years and eighteen scripts costing $6 million, in 2003 we finally got the film no one except the people involved really wanted. A mash up of two the longest running horror film franchises in Hollywood.

Never having seen a Friday the 13th film, I’m not that familiar with Jason Voorhees apart from the vague knowledge of a huge, hulking bloke terrorizing the campers at Crystal Lake. To say I was suitably uninterested in a film where Jason dukes it out with Freddy is an understatement. When I saw this film a few years after it’s release, my expectations were met. It was terrible. But a funny thing has happened in the intervening Freddy vs Jason POSTER PUBLISHyears. Maybe my taste in films has devolved since those heady days of the mid-noughties because while watching ‘Freddy vs Jason’ I was very surprised to find that I was really enjoying myself. It quite possibly comes down to series fatigue (due to a cock up I had to watch this film last, after the remake). With my expectations at zero and my patience at breaking point, I was amazed that the movie is fun.

Freddy’s lost his mojo, and his power to invade the dreams of the kids of Elm Street is rendered impotent because no one believes he is real. To regain his powers he concocts a scheme to unleash Jason on the kids, which will fuel the fear he needs to rise again. Or something like that. What it really is, is a cheap excuse to have both Freddy and Jason in a film together. I can’t believe it took 18 scripts to come up with this concept.

‘Freddy vs Jason’ does exactly what you expect from such a stupid film. A bunch of attractive kids get killed in various brutal ways, there’s quite a good amount of decent boob unleashed and the film ends with a ridiculous royal rumble between the two titular characters. If you watch this with zero expectations, at midnight after a weekend of trawling through the entire series as I did, you may have some fun.

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A Nightmare on Elm St (2010)

And so we have the final installment of the ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ series. The remake. The only way I can describe this film is thus. It’s utterly pointless. While it’s not as cretinously horrible as I feared, there is absolutely no point in it existing. The only reason it even works as much as it does (which isn’t much) is that it’s mimicking an excellent film.

Directed by some bloke named Samuel Bayer, the remake is far too dark. So much so that you frequently have trouble making out what’s happening on screen. It also suffers from ADHD. While the original film took it’s time to set up characters, and create atmosphere, the remake shifts around between characters at hyper speed, with no real intent on creating anything except a few jump scares accompanied by really loud A Nightmare on Elm Street REMAKE POSTER PUBLISHmusical cues. And if there’s any debate about practical vs CGI effects, then I would point to the scene in both films where Freddy appears in the wall over Nancy’s bed. In the first film it’s a chilling, menacingly creepy moment, while in the remake it’s not any of those things and just looks like crap CGI. It’s not the worst film in the series, but there’s absolutely no reason for this film to exist at all apart from the fact that it lined the already overstuffed pockets of Mikey Bay.

                                                                                                                                                                            
And here we are. The end of the journey. I honestly didn’t think I’d get there. It was a rollercoaster ride, with mostly dreadful films but punctuated by a couple of honest to goodness brilliant films. I can safely say that apart from the original film and ‘New Nightmare’, I doubt I’ll ever watch any of these films again. I hope you enjoyed this epic review. Hell, I hope you even made it all the way through. I’ll understand if you haven’t. I felt the same way at many stages of my ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ weekend. May I rest in peace.

droid1

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About Judge Droid

In between refining my procrastination skills I talk a lot of shit about movies and such.

14 responses to “A Droidian Nightmare on Elm Street (1984-2010)”

  1. Droid says :

    Man this is a long review. And I cut down a fair bit of my rambling attempts at jokes. Which is probably a good thing.

  2. Continentalop says :

    Good job Droid.

    I never was a fan of the Nightmare films, not even the 1st one, but I do admire what Craven was trying to do and the concept. I just hated when he became this “kill a teen, say a bad pun” character.

    • koutchboom says :

      So your feelings of Freddy turned about half way through the first movie?

      • Continentalop says :

        No, from 4 on. He did say puns in the earlier ones but he wasn’t some bad stand up comedian yet like in the later films. The puns were spread out and intermittent ; in part 4 they happen with every murder.

        This also inspired the horrible killer says a pun gag that appeared in horror movies during this era: Leprechaun, Chuckie, even Pinhead in later films I think.

      • koutchboom says :

        hahaha ok. I stopped watching after 3 recently.

  3. Continentalop says :

    “It was the 13th hour, of the 13th day, of the 13th…we had met to discuss the misprinted calendars the school ordered.”

    “Lousy Smarch weather.”

    • Droid says :

      hehe

      Thats a great Treehouse of Horror ep.

      • Toadkillerdog says :

        Droid, good job. I have only seen two of these flicks, the first and the Freddy vs Jason. I remember taking a date to see the first one, it was one of the last movies I saw as a civilian before i hit the Island for boot. I thought it was ok, nothing great but since she was scared- well, lets just say I was very ‘comforting’ that night

        As for Freddy vs Jason, well i saw that on cable, and I did get a laugh out of it, so it was enjoyable if not memorable -because I got no action from my wife afterwards.

  4. Frank Marmoset says :

    Nicely done, Droid.

    I must admit I have a weakness for these films, primarily for nostalgia value because they were a big deal to me and my friends when we were youngsters, but they are mostly pretty crap.

    The first one and New Nightmare are really good, three is pretty decent, and I also thought Freddy Vs Jason was entertaining for such a daft idea. I also have a soft spot for part two, not because it’s a good film, but purely because it boggles my mind that they used a Nightmare sequel to make such a spitefully anti-gay statement. And the weirdest thing about it is the lead actor is gay.

    The remake is the only one I’d give the Orangutan of Doom, though. I really hated that film.

  5. Frank Marmoset says :

    After doing the Saw series, it occurred to me that the New Nightmare approach might be a good way to make another Saw film.

    They could have Tobin Bell playing himself, and the entire film would be about him torturing the various writers, directors and producers involved in making the Saw series. Finally, they are punished for making so many terrible Saw sequels and for killing off Jigsaw at the end of part three!

  6. Xiphos0311 says :

    The first movie is one of the better horror films out there and holds up quite well, I watched it a year or so ago and still enjoyed it.

    Don’t remember the second one at all don’t plan on watching it. 3&4 are enjoyable goofests and the rest I haven’t seen.

    Nice write up.

  7. ThereWolf says :

    Good stuff, Droid.

    The first one is superb – but I really like the 3rd one which is kind of in the same tent as ‘Dreamscape’, not surprising as Chuck Russell was involved in both.

    I don’t think Jack Sholder is a “clueless twat”, though Part 2 certainly is complete tripe. Sholder hit back with ‘The Hidden’ and ‘By Dawn’s Early Light’ – both good. Yeh, he probably hit back with some shite as well…

    I haven’t watched a ‘Nightmare’ from ‘New Nightmare’ onwards.

  8. Spud McSpud says :

    Good work there, Droid! You hit on all the good and bad aspects of the series, and pretty much agreed with what most of the uber-fans agreed on – that Craven-less Elm St movies never work, and that the ones that stick to and expand upon the mythology of Freddy and his dream world are the ones that work well, and the ones that focus most on the deaths over plot are the shittier ones.

    I’d also pretty much agree that the only movies worth watching are the first, the third, and the New Nightmare – though gratuitous Katharine Isabelle boobage and a fantastic Act III smackdown makes FREDDY VS JASON well worth a view with copious amounts of beer and pizza.

    And we’re all agreed, the reboot is not just pretty much the worst reboot made since THE FOG, but pretty much the textbook example of eveything that is soulless, mindless and uninspired in this lame-ass re-envisioning of anything that was cool.

    So well done, Droid – great mutiple review. Looking forward to the next one!

  9. just pillow talk says :

    That was a nice summary for a ridiculously long series.

    I’m surprised that there was so many passable movies in there (meaning more than just the first). Perhaps I’ll have to check out a few of them if they’re on instant play.

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