Monday, October 27, 2014

Halloween Horrors: A Guide to A Nightmare on Elm Street Movies

This is the latest in a series of re-posts from previous years, to help you with your Halloween weekend scary movie viewing. With a few tweaks and edits.

Image from
This is of course October, month of Halloween, and season of the horror film. I've been a fan of horror movies since I was old enough to stay up all night on Fridays, and watch Chiller Theater with Dan Immel, and later with Fritz the Night Owl on WBNS-TV in Columbus, Ohio. I grew up being fearless in the daylight hours, and terrified at night to go past our attic in the dark--because I knew there was a Frankenstein pull-string doll in there.

Arguably the best of the horror movie franchises of the last 30 years is A Nightmare on Elm Street. Sure, John Carpenter's Halloween jump-started the "slasher flick" in 1978, and Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th kept it going (by ripping it off) in 1980. But Wes Craven's Nightmare injected originality, humor, and the undeniable (and almost limitless) possibilities of nightmares. Anything can happen in nightmares, and everyone can relate to them.

I have watched all of the movies in this series multiple times (some more than others), and all of them have something to offer. Well, except part 6, unless you like Roseanne and Tom Arnold cameos. . .

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) - The first, and best in the series. The movie follows a group of teenagers, all experiencing the same bogeyman in their dreams. The seeming protagonist bites it early in the film, surprising the audience (oops, ***SPOILER***, sorry!). Another protagonist (Heather Langenkamp as Nancy) emerges, and becomes the icon of the series. Fred Krueger (Robert Englund) is far creepier in this film than in the sequels, and you're never quite sure what is a dream and what is reality. Johnny Depp did very well in this introductory role, and the only flaw in the film is the really bad performance by Ronee Blakley (which I've grown to love anyway). Awesome. ****

A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985) - The obligatory sequel mostly ditches the "is it a dream or reality" hook of the first film, and tries to bring Freddy into the real world. Freddy becomes a little more of a quip-master, and there is a bit of an anti-gay undercurrent to the film. Fortunately, the protagonist (Mark Patton) acquits himself well, for a guy who spends much of the movie in his underpants! This movie is sort of a stop-gap, quickie cash-maker for New Line, before the superior sequel.  It is notable for a few iconic lines ("You've got the body, I've got the brains!"), and for a gay subtext that is so overt, it's just text. It's better than you remember, and doesn't really deserve its bad reputation. Especially when you consider that the other sequels break the rules too.**½

Image from Wikipedia
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) - They pulled out all the stops for this one, and what a fun movie it is. Even though Freddy has become almost an anti-hero, this film is nearly as good as the first--better maybe, except that the novelty is gone. Patricia Arquette (of Medium) did a great job, and the effects are top-notch. Several teenagers (in a mental institution) discover that they have powers in their dreams, and can band together to fight Freddy. Heather Langenkamp is back as the iconic Nancy, and the nightmare/reality scenario is played to the hilt. This film begins filling in Freddy's back-story, a theme that would continue in further sequels, sometimes to the series' detriment. ****

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) - Another goodie, with the power of protagonist shifted from Patricia Arquette's character (now played by another actress) to "The Dream Master," Alice, who has mastery of the dream world. Follows the setup of the last movie, with characters having powers in their dreams. The "is it a dream?" vibe is back. Very good, but Freddy's jokes are getting a little too calculated. ***

A Nightmare on Elm Street (5): The Dream Child (1989) - A logical continuation of part 4, but a little thin. Some great moments, and unfairly maligned as a bad entry. Plays like an extended addition to part 4. Still enjoyable, if you liked parts 1-4. **
Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) - By far the weakest of the series, but still a must if you are a fan. Freddy has killed all of the kids, and must now branch out. Adds more mythology to Freddy's history, and feels a little shoe-horned in. Freddy "dies," but he's died in every installment. Still, Robert Englund is great. Finale 3-D sequence--rendered 2D on video--is lame. Johnny Depp has a cameo. Joins Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter in the "false title" game. *½

Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994) - Wes Craven is back, and it is obvious. This film takes the Freddy character into the real world, with the "spirit" of the character haunting the makers of the original film, including Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon and Wes Craven. Very well done, inventive and original. I love me some Heather. Where is she these days? A must for fans. ***

Freddy Vs. Jason (2003) - The inevitable (after New Line's acquisition of the Friday the 13th series) match up of Jason and Freddy. Much better than you might think (as I reported in my Friday the 13th reviews). A heck of a lot of fun, and the Freddy character has so much more to offer. You almost forget he was a child molester/murderer to begin with! Heh. ***

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) - The remake is itself not bad. While I'm sure future audiences will find things in it dated, it is of course much less so to contemporary eyes than the obviously 80s original. It takes some interesting chances, and veers off into some different areas. But it is not as impactful as the original, it makes the odd choice of eliminating the iconic house, and it suffers greatly for not having Robert Englund as Freddy. **½

Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010) - This documentary is an exhaustive (and a bit exhausting) collection of just about everything you ever wanted to know about the series. It his hosted by Heather Langenkamp, and is the best--by far--of its type. An absolute must for any horror fan, but pace yourself. ****

No comments:

Post a Comment

Have something to say to us? Post it here!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...