I am by no means a horror movie super-fan, but I do enjoy a good horror film now and again. The horror films that marked my childhood – and scared me enough to never want to revisit the series again – were any from the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.
Freddy Krueger is indeed the stuff that nightmares are made of. Although Robert Englund’s legendary performances plays a big role in that, Wes Craven’s idea of being attacked in one’s sleep, when we are the most vulnerable, is genius too.
Since I have been on a horror movie kick of late, I decided to grow a set of balls and revisit all the movies – none of which I can recall I had ever seen from start to finish. There are nine major releases in total.
While these movies certainly didn’t have me reaching to turn on the light, like when I was a kid, some were quite entertaining and even made me think twice before closing my eyes.
The series also has its real duds, and had it not been for my desire to complete all of them, I would have never made it through the schlock.
Here is my ranking of the movies from worst to best. Make sure to disagree and tell me how you would rank them. Enjoy!!!
9. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
This 2010 remake of the 1984 classic is dead on arrival. The kids (who are played by actors who look like they are pushing thirty) walk around like the bunch of depressed millennials that they are and feel like they have no pulse long before they are killed. It made me wonder if the original Freddy Krueger would even get off on killing these kids? Well the answer is, “no!” because this Freddy Krueger is not a viciously brutal child killer, but a sickening predatory child molester – so going after broken and lonely social outcasts are his thing.
Although the cinematography is crisp, and the special effects look great, the clinical production of the movie only compounds on the lifelessness that abounds. Every single character – from the parents to Freddy himself (who is barely intelligible behind his prosthetic mask) – is given nothing interesting to do but take up screen time. The kids, in particular, are so bland that I had no reason reason to root for them. This in effect created no suspense. In fact, I couldn’t wait for most of them to die, and even when they did die I kept wishing the old Krueger would step in and say “Cut! This is how you properly decapitate someone!”
But, alas! How can this new Krueger devise imaginative ways to murder his victims when his victims lack any imagination or creative drive?
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) did prove one thing – the stereotypical millennial does not have the sufficient spark for life necessary for an intense slasher horror film. When the studio heads inevitably try for another remake, I hope they push for a script with some kids who have skipped a rock or two in their lifetimes or even climbed a tree. Better yet, set it in the 80s ala Stranger Things – those kids were awesome.
Don’t watch this movie unless you want to fall asleep. I know that if I had to be forced to watch this mess again, I may indeed have nightmares – but not for the reasons that producers were shooting for.
8. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare is the sixth and final chapter of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street series. It attempts to put the Freddy Krueger character to rest with a bang, but it hit all the wrong buttons. This movie isn’t as bad as the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street – but no by much.
Is there anything worthwhile to say about this movie? Well, the soundtrack wasn’t bad. There is a pretty great Iggy Pop tune that plays during the end credits and a few decent pre-mega-rock/pop-phase Goo Goo Dolls songs to fill in the empty space between each excruciatingly bad scene.
The other mini-redeeming quality of this movie is that it puts a cap on the rest of the Krueger mythology as far as telling us a little about his youth and how he came to be a child murderer. Unfortunately these scenes are short and vary blasé. Had the writers taken the time to really go into the psychology of Freddy Krueger before he turned hell hound, it would have added a lot more weight to the climax – and perhaps would have even made for a more interesting focal point for the film as a whole.
What we do have instead is a movie that doesn’t really concern itself with a plot or characterization, but rather, how to get all the players into place for Freddy’s terror. While that criticism could be levied on some other movies in this long franchise, at least the Freddy-kills in those movies were darkly funny, creative, and somewhat scary. Here they are mostly all played for Loony Tunes-level comedy violence.
The final act of Freddy’s Dead is probably the most absurd part of it all. Krueger is taken out of the dream world again (you would’ve figure he would have learned how to defend himself from that little tactic by now) to face off with his own daughter. It’s a grudge match that is badly staged and lacks any real depth of character or odds to root for or against. Although the writers did try to build Freddy’s relationship with her as something more meaningful, via a series of flashbacks, these scenes, like the ones trying to explain his upbringing, were short and badly written thus adding nothing to the final confrontation.
Skip this one unless you are in completest mode or really need to see a Johnny Depp cameo. Here is the never boring Iggy Pop, though.
7. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
I know this movie is a bit of a fan favourite (and also the highest grossing film of the original six movies in the franchise) mostly for its very creative Freddy-kills, but it bored me to bits. I think I nodded off a few times before I could finish it. The comments section is below – so you can let me have it – but let me say my piece.
Simply put, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master lacks an interesting story. Its only mission is to set the pieces in motion to allow for Freddy to continue his murderous spree by tricking Kristin, the main protagonist in the previous A Nightmare on Elm Street film, into pulling her friends into one of her dreams.
Like I said, this movie is beloved for its many inventive Freddy-kills, and there are certainly a lot of them and they are without a doubt morbidly entertaining. However, I needed little bit more than just that to hold my attention.
Though I do love a fair amount gore and violence in my horror movies, without a proper set up, the payoff feels empty. Besides that, Freddy is at his best when he has reason to kill – revenge for being murdered and fear of being forgotten being his two great motivators. Without that extra impulse, he can teeter closely to being portrayed as just a cartoon character. This is not a horrible movie, but I would probably never put it on again.
6. A Nightmare on Elm Street: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
The second installment in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise is one strange turkey. It picks up a few years after the events of the first movie, but it doesn’t really bother to expand on them. There is a whole new host of characters which include Jesse, a teenage boy who is now living in the same house that Freddy had haunted in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s not long before Freddy begins to appear in Jessie’s dreams.
The movie takes us on a trip through Jessie’s increasingly bizarre behavior as Krueger uses the boy’s body to operate in the real world. Having Krueger manifest in this fashion is a bit confusing and also strips away a lot of his scare factor since in dreams he is much more terrorizing and powerful.
A Nightmare on Elm Street: Freddy’s Revenge also fails to present us with a good motive for his killing other than just the fact that he wants to and can – as I have stated earlier, this neuters Freddy Krueger a bit into just your average bogeyman. What saves the movie is that Freddy has yet to fully turn into the king of the comic one-liners, and his attacks here are still delightfully sadistic and gruesome.
I had never seen this movie before and one thing that did stand out was the gay subtext – there’s a lot of boy and man ass to be seen, and Jesse’s scream is on par with most of the best female scream-queens. Later, out of curiosity, I searched around the web to see if I was reading too much into the movie, but it seems that there are many sources that confirm what I thought. Some have even speculated that the plot of the movie (with all the changes in Jesse’s demeanor, as he struggles with Freddy living inside of him) is a metaphor for his coming to terms with his own sexuality. I don’t know if I would go that deep – to me it just felt like 80s gay camp fun.
Whatever the gay case may be, Freddy’s Revenge doesn’t do much to set up a good reason for Krueger’s revenge, as none of the original kids are back, but it at least makes an attempt at having a plot, keeps Freddy Krueger mostly vicious, and is filmed well enough for me to rank it higher on this list than the movies we have already gotten past. This movie needs to be watched with a good dose of tongue inserted firmly in cheek.
5. A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child (1989)
Although this fifth installment in the A Nightmare on Elm Street series plods along at a very uneven pace, flitting between being a straight up gore-filled horror film and an atmospheric Goth inspired suspense thriller, it manages to have a few truly interesting moments.
Alice, the hero from the last A Nightmare on Elm Street film, is the main protagonist again. Freddy Krueger has been silent for a while, but when she suddenly begins to have visions of herself dressed as a nun some mysteries unravel about Krueger’s past and his plans to get back into action.
Freddy Krueger’s kills are not that scary or creative this time around, but the scenes involving the visions of a mysterious nun and the secrets she hides caught my attention. Though this movie edges very close to entering the fantasy genre in some spots, I found the change of pace refreshing after having watched four previous films which mostly covered the same ground. Even the coloring of the film is different, with a shadowy blue filter covering most of the scenes, adding to a more suspense than horror mood. While the plot was a bit bizarre and uneven in parts, it was clear enough to have made me invest more in The Dream Child’s final acts, unlike many of the movies we have already seen on this list.
A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child is not a great film by any means, but it’s far from unwatchable; it simply takes a decidedly different path in telling a Freddy Krueger story. It may lack the humour, and jump scares of earlier films, but it does a decent job a building up Krueger’s mythology by telling us about his past. There are times when this works magic and other times that it falls completely flat. It makes me wonder what this movie could have been under more skilled hands in the script writing department.
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
Trying to stay fresh and inventive in any long franchise is difficult – especially one where the audience already knows the major plot points and gimmicks. Therefore, very rarely are the follow ups to the original as good as the first outing. Yet sometimes, things are tweaked around just enough that a good story comes around that is on par with the energy of the original – A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 – Dream Warriors is one of those films.
The story focuses on Freddy Krueger’s attempt to kill the last of the Elm Street children. At the start, a young girl named Kristen is his main target. After one of his bloody dreamscape attacks, her mother thinks that she has tried to commit suicide and promptly puts her in a psychiatric hospital to be looked after. There she meets other kids who are also plagued by strange nightmare involving a man with razor glove.
Dream Warriors brings back the original movie’s final girl, Nancy, who plays a therapist who is assigned to the hospital. She has been able to control her dreams so that Freddie cannot attack her and wants to help these kids do the same in order to defeat him.
It’s a shame that Nancy’s character never comes off as believable – she simply doesn’t have the gravitas or emotional weight of someone who was once a victim of Krueger. She also doesn’t look the part of a therapist for these kids who appear to be only about a year or two younger than her. Her dialogue and action sequences are wooden compared to them. She, and the scenes focused on her, unfortunately, end up being the movie’s weakest link.
The movie succeeds greatly when it lets everyone else get a chance to shine. These kids are interesting, charismatic, tough, and funny. This forces Krueger to find many new and inventive ways to kill them off. The movie also does a better job at moving the original plot from the first film further along (unlike the direct sequel, Freddy’s Revenge) and adding more to the mythology of the Kruger character like expanding on his abilities in both the real and dream world, which I think was a great touch.
While the original A Nightmare on Elm Street works as a straight up horror/slasher classic, Dream Warriors is a broader, action-filled horror film which stand out for its gruesomely awesome kills and a set of kids who decide to take the fight to Krueger instead of wimping out.
3. Freddy vs Jason (2003)
Start screaming now because I ranked this one so high!
I will say right from the start, this is not a good movie, but it’s damn entertaining. It offers up blood, guts, and a few fun action sequences – although one could debate that Michael was responsible for most of them. Most importantly of all, as flimsy as it was, there was an actual plot line to follow (anyone notice how important that is to me, yet?)
The story centers on Freddy needing to slip back into people’s conscious fear in order to have enough power to terrorize and murder kids again. In order to do this, he conveniently brings Jason back to life and somehow the big man manages to get all the way to Elm Street. Once Jason starts killing unsuspecting teenagers (who look about thirty) older people start murmuring the Freddy name, thinking he is back. The kids start to get curious about this Krueger character and and our old man slowly creeps back into the game.
There are plenty of, “don’t ask how or why that happened” moments in Freddy vs Jason, but the movie seems to be completely aware of this and just winks at the audience while pushing forward at breakneck speed. Its main concern is the headline match up of Freddy and Jason going at it over the souls of wayward teenagers.
The breaking point that leads to this epic confrontation is when Jason starts killing off more teenagers than he should have, which begins to draw all attention to him and leaves Freddy out of the fear-zone. Mr. Krueger quickly realizes he has unleashed an uncontrollable beast and aims to put an end to the shenanigans so he can have all the fun – the fight is on.
Freddy vs Jason is campy and even a bit cheesy – but not embarrassing so. After a series of overly explained Freddy movies, this was a call back to what audiences enjoyed the most from the series: blood and guts and just enough brain power to not be a complete dud. The not-so-young-looking kids are full of life and genuinely frightened, but they are also not afraid to fight back in Dream Warriors fashion.
After having watched all the movies in the series to this point, I found that the most endearing part of the movies were the victims who wouldn’t allow themselves to be victims. Different than some other horror movies that have their characters fight to survive, the best A Nightmare on Elm Street movies are the ones where the characters take the fight to Freddy before he can really get warmed up.
Another positive in this little funfair is that the gore and special effects department had a bit of a field day. There is blood squirting, decapitations, and dismemberments galore. Although this movie doesn’t have the shadowy demonic mood of the earlier classics, it is a good take at the more entertaining pop-culture phenomenon which is Freddy Krueger without completely neutering him. This movie is a a fun breeze to watch and it’s definitely a nice finish for Mr. Englund, who finally hung up the claws after production was ended.
2. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
After watching the A Nightmare on Elm Street series implode on itself and then finally attempt to but Freddy to rest in the horrible Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, I wasn’t sure I could handle another movie.
Thank God Wes Craven came back to save me. This movie is smart, suspenseful, and has its share of real scares. It’s also plays out like a dry run for what will eventually become Scream for it is set in a “real world” where the actors (all playing themselves, or a caricature thereof) comment on the impact of the fictional world of the A Nightmare on Elm Street movies.
The plot revolves around the fact that Wes Craven is writing a new script for the A Nightmare on Elm Street series and Heather Langenkamp is asked if she wants to reprise her role as Nancy. Most of the actors from the original franchise show up as themselves, including Robert Englund. as they decide whether or not they want to be part of the project.
What feels like a pseudo-documentary feature at the start slowly evolves into a supernatural horror-fest as Freddy Krueger (who is supposed to just be a made up character) manages to slip into reality, terrorizing Heather’s family and friends. From thereon in, the movie does a sleek job of bending the lines between truth and fiction while poking a finger at itself, the movie industry, horror films and critics of the genre.
As I was watching Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, I kept thinking that if felt like a poor man’s version a David Lynch movie, where reality and fantasy blur, but it’s done so expertly and with good intentions that I can hardly fault it. Everything that had been missing from the A Nightmare on Elm Street series for so long – the mood, the build-up, the creepy camera angles and a Freddy Krueger who jokes less and is truly menacing – is back in this film, and this 1994 movie still holds up very well for those reason.
One final plus how this film pays fan service to the original 1984 movie. There are some copycat kill-scenes and plenty of other call backs. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was able to both close out a chapter in horror history while commemorating the glory from yesteryear. Freddy Krueger could have easily been put to a satisfying rest after this movie, but he came back for one more bloody bout in Freddy vs Jason. In either case, both movies washed the bad taste of Freddy’s Dead out of my mouth.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Yes, there have been plenty of fun rides with Freddy Krueger over the years, but nothing beats the original outing.
The first thing that stood out while I watched this movie for the first time in a very long time is how A Nightmare on Elm Street looked fresh. The cinematography was crisp and the plot moved along at a pace that current audiences are more accustomed to. Furthermore, although the characters (especially the lead, Nancy) were a bit one dimensional, there was a palpable sense of urgency they transmitted when facing the dilemma of how to deal with a monster who attacks them in their dreams.
This version of Freddy Krueger (who is still called Fred) is far removed from the campy pop culture icon he would eventually become. His role here is to add real terror (not rattle off one liners), usually creeping up from the shadows and killing in less inventive albeit extremely brutal ways.
An example of how Wes Craven chooses direct slasher brutality over the oft-utilized carnival-like dreamscapes of later movies is how Tina, one of the kids on Freddy Krueger’s hit list, is killed. Freddy stalks her from the shadows in his nightmare world but when he finally catches up to her, in order to start slicing her up with his iconic glove, he throws a blanket over both of them. We, the audience, are mostly not shown the attack in Freddy’s world, the real horror is in watching what Tina’s death looks like in her world, in her bedroom, while her boyfriend looks on helplessly. It plays out like a scene from the Exorcist on speed as she is jolted about the room and even ends up on the ceiling, blood spilling everywhere. Sequences like this add a true element of horror and suspense that still hold up to a lot of today’s standards for the genre.
Much of the success of this film can be attributed to director and writer Wes Craven, who uses camera angles, lighting and mood to set each scene up. He never allows things to settle down long enough to lose track of the main story but he also allows us, the audience, a time to breathe (albeit heavily) before shocking us back into his nightmare. Robert Englund is also great as Freddy. He has a lot less to say, but that’s because his main mission is revenge, not entertaining a crowd.
This movie didn’t scare me as much now as when I was a kid, but it still managed to give me enough chills to think twice before closing my eyes. Most will agree that the best horror is not the type that only knows how to play us for jump scares every other scene, but the type that stays with us long after the credit rolls. A Nightmare on Elm Street definitely stands firmly as a part of that latter group. It would be a decade before Wes Craven would helm the ship again and make Freddie a truly frightening creature, but even his New Nightmare doesn’t match the grandness of this original film.