By Brad Grandrino
1,2, Freddy’s coming for you. We all know the rest. Hell, you’re singing it either in your head or aloud right now, even as you read this. It’s an eerie tune, most often chanted in unison by the horrifying high-pitched voices of some distant, ghostly little girls, with the occasional fwip… fwip… fwip of a jump rope. Much like the ground-shaking stomps in Jurassic Park or the duh-dun, duh-dun in Jaws, when you hear that seemingly innocuous playground hymn, you know he’s closing in.
His name is Freddy Krueger. You know him, and, if you’re anything like me, you love him. Sure, he found himself thrown into a couple really bad movies, but Fred Krueger—the man, the myth, the legend—he’s the reason we’re able to sit through those terrible films. Because no matter how bad they get, Freddy always keeps us intrigued. The only difference between Freddy’s on-screen victims and ourselves is that he slays us while we’re wide awake, eyes glued to the screen.
And now, if you’ll join me once more, I’d like to show you a mildly satisfying redemption…
A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)
Written by Leslie Bohem; Directed by Stephen Hopkins
Freddy’s “Bitch” Count: 3 (one in written form)
It’s no secret that by the fifth installment to the Elm Street franchise, only two good films had emerged. The film that started it all was delightful, and then the sequel took itself way too seriously, struggling to find a balance between seriousness and comedy. The third movie had an ideal blend of drama and humor, while the fourth was more of a soap opera-esque spectacle. By Freddy Five, the writers knew how to handle Krueger—for the most part. They Chuckied him before Chucky was even a thing (so, I guess that means they Freddied Chucky, doesn’t it?). Somebody sat down with a group of writers and said, “Listen, everybody loves Freddy, but we’re five flicks deep at this juncture. No more dipping our toes in to test the water. We know exactly what we’re doing.” And it was at that moment that it was decided that henceforth, Freddy Krueger would be the Deadpool before Deadpool. Only, you know, subtract the love of Mexican food in favor of a lust for slaughtering Springwood teenagers.
In Freddy folklore, The Dream Child is nothing groundbreaking. But it sets the stage for what’s to come: a new, refurbished Freddy. Not so much “out with the old,” but rather, a polished version of something that had the potential to become a turd. What could’ve been yet another nosedive into a pile of rancid feces turned into a disturbingly amusing take on the Springwood Slasher.
The writers did to Freddy what everybody else was doing to horror at the time, because it was working: they added a hell of a lot more humor and a busload of blood and guts. And in response to these excessively goofy and ultra-violent kills, audiences laughed. They shielded their eyes, groaning an elongated “Ewwwww,” with a wide grin and eyes peering through spread fingers. The plot was weak, but Freddy, as a character, was at the top of his game.
The humor in Dream Child is abundant. From lines like “Bon appétit, bitch!” to a kid turning into a paper cutout of himself and getting slashed like a paper shredder, Dream Child definitely has its fair share of daft but enjoyable moments. But the best part, I think, is the fact that a character you expect to die actually survives. This broke the rules a bit.
A refreshing air of unpredictability hangs over Dream Child, which is what makes it one of the better of the bad. But at the same time, there’s still the ridiculous plot, horrendous dialogue, a still-annoying Alice, and the completely unnecessary addition of that little brat from the beginning of Jurassic Park.
There is good news, though. Along with the fact that this is Alice’s last appearance, we only have one more Nightmare to endure before the way-overdue return of Wes Craven. Buckle up, bitch.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 6: Freddy’s Dead aka Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
Written by Michael Deluca; Directed by Rachel Talalay
Freddy’s “Bitch” Count: 2
Oh, man. Talk about a fucking roller coaster of potential. One minute Freddy’s Dead is great and the next it’s just bad. We start with bad, when we’re shown a white-on-black outline of the United States, with a red dot where Springwood, Ohio would be. And then a bunch of text appears in a flash of some pseudo-futuristic 1980s computer sound effect—like a digital rendering of a typewriter or something. This would make sense if the movie we were about to watch had been a Tom Clancy adaptation or something with Arnold Shwarzenegger. But it’s not.
So, yeah, from the get-go it’s a little confusing. The stupid text informs us that it’s “Ten years from now,” meaning 2001 (good luck believing that), and that every single child in Springwood has been killed, leaving the adults experiencing mass psychosis (instead of, you know, leaving their haunted town). Except, wait for it: “New evidence” suggests that one Springwood teenager remains.
Cue John Doe (Shon Greenblatt), seemingly our protagonist and the aforementioned last surviving Springwood teenager who is attempting to leave his teen-less town via the safety and comfort of a commercial airliner. This is when the movie starts to pick up, and the roller coaster begins its ascend uphill: Freddy, of course, comes back and drags John Doe straight back down to Springwood, only to throw him into some random town, demanding that the poor kid bring him more teens to kill (and souls to swallow).
This is a cool premise. Initially, Freddy’s Dead is not like its three Dream-titled predecessors. John Doe wanders aimlessly, forgetting who he is, until he’s picked up by the police and dropped off at a shelter for troubled youth, where we’re introduced to the accompanying cast: there’s Spencer, the video game-loving stoner; Carlos, the partially-deaf kid with a hearing aid; and Tracy, the hip, badass chick who was once abused by her father. Well, golly gee, I wonder how these kids are gonna die? Again, this Freddy flick follows that same formula introduced in Dream Warriors, but it’s okay: I promise. This one’s not that bad.
Dr. Maggie (Lisa Zane) is looking over our John Doe, and together they’re trying to figure out where he’s from and who he is. After finding a newspaper clipping from Springwood in John’s pocket, Maggie figures the best course of action is to take a drive to Springwood in an attempt to jump-start John Doe’s memory. Of course, unbeknownst to Maggie, the three kids from earlier tag along, and of course, chaos ensues.
At first we’re meant to believe that Freddy Krueger had a son, and that that son may be John Doe. This is when Freddy’s Dead does something kind of awesome. It gives us a nice little twist. Nothing forced or farfetched, mind you, but a twist that’s mostly unpredictable and overall fun to watch unfold.
And then our little roller coaster suddenly stops, right before it’s about to make its final, sky-high drop.
You see, slasher flicks in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s were injured by this really off-putting fad of throwing in a totally uncalled for 3-D scene—and Freddy’s Dead was no exception. That whole roller coaster metaphor I’ve been using suddenly becomes a bit too real right before the film’s third act, when Maggie puts on a pair of 3-D glasses (and the theatrical audience, presumably, follows suit) and suddenly she’s put to sleep, entering Freddy’s now three-dimensional Dream World where she intends on snatching Krueger and bringing him into the waking world, a concept that Nancy Thompson had discovered in the very first Nightmare. A nice callback that’s terribly executed. Classic.
The whole 3-D gimmick is exceedingly dumb. Half the shots are just Freddy’s claws coming at you in slow-motion, or other objects being thrown at the “audience.” Suddenly the movie feels more like an amusement park ride—and a bad one, at that. Add this to a totally random batch of demons that look like H. R. Giger’s sperm cells and a pathetic, anti-climactic death scene for the Springwood Slasher, and what could’ve been a pretty good Krueger picture becomes a pretty shitty one, all in a manner of, like, ten minutes.
Wes Craven’s A New Nightmare (1994)
Written & Directed by Wes Craven
Freddy’s “Bitch” Count: 1
“Just when you thought it was safe to get back into bed!”
Forget everything you thought you knew about Freddy, bitches, because Wes Craven is back with a vengeance. In the final installment to the Freddy franchise (again, nixing Freddy vs. Jason), a new flavor of Krueger is introduced. Craven writes and directs the seventh Nightmare, which is wonderfully twisted.
Those familiar with Craven’s work are aware that he likes to take reality and turn it on its head. It’s most evident in the Scream films, Shocker (1989), and, of course, the original Nightmare on Elm Street. In New Nightmare, Craven takes reality and places it center stage, taking meta to a whole new level.
Heather Langenkamp returns, but not as Nancy Thompson. This time she plays herself, Heather Langenkamp, in a universe much like our own where the Nightmare on Elm Street films exist as a film series that ended with 1991’s Freddy’s Dead. Heather, meanwhile, is married with a kid, Dylan (Pet Sematary’s very creepy Miko Hughes), and for the last few weeks she’s been receiving strange prank calls from somebody pretending to be Fred Krueger. This is to be expected, of course, when you’re a retired veteran scream queen. But when Langenkamp’s husband dies in a car wreck—and four mysterious scars appear on his torso—and Wes Craven (Yep, he’s in it, too, playing himself!) admits he’s been forcibly working on a new Nightmare script, the supernatural serial killer whom everyone thought did not exist suddenly becomes a little too real.
Craven soon reveals to Langenkamp that some sort of ancient entity—a tulpa-like demon, perhaps—has taken the form of Freddy Krueger, and wants to break free from the reins of its Hollywood limbo and enter the real world. This demon will surely succeed in its mission unless, of course, Heather can play Nancy one last time and conquer it.
This time around, we’re given a whole different version of Freddy—arguably the scariest incarnation since his original appearance. The demonic creature embodying everybody’s favorite claw-gloved killer dons a brand new glove: one with five blades in lieu of four, a turtleneck sweatshirt, long black trench coat, and piercing yellow eyes that put Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith to shame. In New Nightmare, Freddy is at his most nefarious, because we’re really meant to believe that this fucker is real.
The kill count may be lower than usual, but for the first time since Dream Warriors, this Freddy flick has a curiously intriguing plot that’s bound to leave you wanting more.
Actually, that might be New Nightmare’s only downside, that its ending is rather abrupt. Despite the fact that New Nightmare boasts the longest runtime of the Elm Street series, clocking in at nearly two hours, the buildup is much more satisfying than the “final battle,” which is relatively short for Freddy’s standards. This aside, it can be said without a doubt that Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is the third best Freddy flick, right after Dream Warriors. I know I said before that if you’re only going to watch two Nightmares you should see the first and third, but allow me to correct myself: New Nightmare definitely deserves a watch. Unlike the bulk of its precursors, New Nightmare never makes you cringe, never leaves you bored, and always keeps you sufficiently entertained.
It’s tough to make a series of seven good films, especially in the critically-panned slasher genre. The Nightmare on Elm Street movies are obviously no exception to this fact, as only three pictures are genuinely good. But it can still be said that all throughout, the series wields vibrant scenes; comical kills; an increasingly captivating antagonist; and some genuinely beautiful and surreal shots, sets, and practical effects. At the end of the day, even though most of it is groan-worthy and god awful, the Freddy franchise is a slasher series that can entertain. I mean, as bad as those movies may be, you’ve got to ask yourself: How horrible could the ride have really been if, by the end of it all, you’re left wanting more of Freddy Krueger and his enigmatic world?
Perhaps what was supposed to be a series of nightmares actually ended up being some pretty sweet dreams.
Freddy’s Grand Total “Bitch” Count: 10! He’s got attitude, but he’s no Jesse Pinkman.
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