Appellate Judge Mac McEntire's your boyfriend now, Nancy.
Our reviews of A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) (published October 31st, 2000), A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) (Blu-ray) (published April 12th, 2010), A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010) (Blu-ray) (published October 25th, 2010), A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and 3 (Blu-ray) (published October 23rd, 2012), and Wes Craven's New Nightmare (published September 26th, 2000) are also available.
"How sweet…fresh meat."
His face is horribly burned. He wears a dusty old hat and a garish red and green striped sweater. On his right hand is a glove with long, sharp knives at the ends of the fingers. He has a devilish sense of humor, underneath which lurks a dark, murderous evil. You can run, hide, try to fight back, and even put bars on your windows, but he will come for you in the one place where you're not protected, and the one place you can't avoid going to—in your dreams.
He's Freddy Krueger.
Facts of the Case
A Nightmare on Elm Street
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 5: The Dream Child
Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare
Wes Craven's New Nightmare
Appropriately enough for a story about dreams, writer-director Wes Craven (Scream) somehow tapped into a universal subconscious for us all, creating a classic movie monster in Freddy Krueger, one whose both frights and appeal speak to us all. Throughout these seven films, Freddy is occasionally referred to as "the boogeyman," the seminal shape in the shadows, just outside our eyesight, hunting and stalking us all. The fact that Freddy appears in our dreams adds to the universality of the character, as we've all had nightmares. Putting a face on those nightmares, and giving movie heroes like Nancy or Alice a real chance to fight back against those nightmares, speaks to basic wish fulfillment within us all.
While A Nightmare on Elm Street features a lot of the usual '80s slasher movie tropes we all enjoy, the dream angle makes it different enough from the rest so that it still feels like a real original. Just like it'll never be possible to be shocked by the shower scene in Psycho because it's become so prevalent in pop culture, the same is true for Freddy's presence in the first film. It's hard to imagine how off-balance 1984 audiences must have been, not knowing what the movie's about or who Freddy is. When Tina ends up on the ceiling, people must have been freaked out, with no idea what they were watching. Today, though, we know all about Freddy, and yet the movie is still a thrill ride.
It's true that Heather Langenkamp overacts some in the first movie, but she's nonetheless likable enough that we really want to root for her as the hero, which makes the film great fun to revisit. Heather versus Freddy is the classic good versus evil story. Interestingly, a lot of screentime is devoted to Nancy's conflict with her mother, as Mom serves as a secondary antagonist. Freddy menaces Nancy in dreams, and Mom menaces her when she's awake. The final act of the movie, starting from the point in which Nancy goes to sleep in hopes of confronting Freddy, is relentless, charging along from one chase and/or set piece to the next. The finale comes back to both Freddy and Nancy's mother, and Nancy's mother makes another appearance in the ambiguous but highly memorable final scene.
Given the whirlwind success of the first movie, a sequel was in order, but I'm not sure A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge is what anyone had in mind. The first movie was all how about Freddy wanted to kill you in your dreams. The second movie is about Freddy wanting to come back to the real world. Is this an inconsistency or isn't it? The fans like to debate the "rules" of this series, but we're dealing with dream logic here. Forget the word "Revenge" in the title. Freddy's not after the Elm Street kids in this movie. That was his revenge last time around. With that more or less done with, Freddy's motivation in part 2 is merely to get back to business, which for him is killing kids. Jesse is his conduit for that, so Freddy isn't out of character. While part 2 is slowest paced and dullest of the series, it occasionally has its moments, such as the school bus opening, and the centerpiece in which Freddy attacks a backyard party as the swimming pool boils and then burns behind him.
Of course, no one can discuss part 2 without mentioning the homosexual content. Jesse flees an awkward makeout session with his girlfriend and runs to his shirtless male friend instead. While sleepwalking, Jesse ends up at a leather bar where he finds, of all people, his gym coach. This leads to a highly uncomfortable shower scene. If this stuff is intentional, then it's very progressive. If it's not intentional, then it's hilarious. Either way, this one has a subtext wholly different from the rest of the series.
For Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Wes Craven returned to the franchise as producer, bringing Langenkamp with him, as well as director Chuck Russell. The hospital setting instantly makes this one feel different from the usual high school-based slasher. Unlike teens in a lot of slasher sequels, the ones in this movie are really likable and interesting. Although it's true each are basic stock types, the setting ensures that the characters have flaws, and we're immediately rooting for them to succeed. The cast helps as well, bringing a fresh new energy to the series. Patricia Arquette wears her heart on her sleeve throughout, making for another girl hero to stand strong against her nightmares. Ken Sagoes (Intolerable Cruelty) is a riot as blustering tough guy Kincaid. When Jennifer Rubin (Bad Dreams) as Taryn says, "In my dreams, I'm beautiful…and bad!" while wearing that outfit, you know she's in on the joke, and that she's having just as much fun as the audience is.
Part 3 pushes the series forward in a lot of ways, as Craven says his goal as producer was to take it to the next level. The practical effects are great, with slithering tongues, a giant "Freddy snake," and a massive boiler room set. I especially like the "sink comes to life" puppetry effects during the opening scare. The script digs deeper into Freddy's origin, as we get the horrific tale of his mother. Instead of Freddy running around in the real world, the finale of this one is an away game, with the teens taking the fight to Freddy on his home turf, deep within the dream world. This makes for another relentless third act, moving rapidly from one crazy dream sequence to the next, with a lot of back and forth action between Freddy and the kid heroes. It all makes for a hugely entertaining, satisfying Freddy flick.
A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master had a troubled history. They started writing the script in February 1988, with an August 1988 release date. No sooner did that happen than the 1988 writers' strike hit, and director Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger), a transplant from Finland making his first American film, found himself in charge of a production running full-steam ahead without a completed screenplay. Not only did the movie get made amid this chaos, but it was enormously successful, pushing Freddy into full-on pop culture icon status. The character had been popular among horror fans, but after part 4, suddenly your grandparents knew who Freddy was.
People have a lot of criticisms about part 4. Some say that it's too simplistic, while others argue that it's too confusing. Some say it wallows in slasher clichés, while still more argue that it's too lighthearted. As for me, here's my secret confession: I love, love, LOVE part 4! One reason for this is nostalgia—it's the first Freddy movie I ever saw, and made me a fan. Another reason, though, is that movie is a roller coaster ride. This one's not about atmospheric gloom, or psychological intensity, it's about a-monster's-chasing-me-oh-my-god-run!!! Every once in a while, that's all a horror movie has to be, and in the case with part 4.
Part 4 goes back to basics, with a theme of starting over. The survivors of part 3 are here, out of the hospital and beginning their lives anew. The setting is high school again, with flirty romantic subplots and tense parent/teen relationships. This back-to-basics approach invokes the first movie in a lot of ways, which works in its favor. We all know who Freddy is and what he's about, so we're able to jump right into he-kills-you-in-your-dreams action without hesitation. While Nancy will always be Freddy's number one nemesis, Alice deserves a space right next to her. Like the shut-ins of part 3, Alice is likable because she's flawed. We see her escape into her daydreams, saying in her mind what she wishes she could say in real life. Later, after things have gotten Freddy-rific, Alice finds her confidence, obtaining her friends' skills and "powers." This works in a fantasy-adventure sense in that it helps her confront Freddy, but it also works in a metaphorical way, in that the shy girl overcomes her shyness by making connections with others. Actress Lisa Wilcox goes through quite a chameleonic physical change as Alice, as her frumpy shy-girl appearance at the start looks like a completely different person from the tough girl she gradually transforms into.
Another reason why part 4 is such a thrill ride is thanks to stylish direction by Renny Harlin. Desperate to make it big in Hollywood, Harlin really worked to push the visuals as far as they could go. Scenes that could have been filmed any old way are instead given a stylistic push. When Kristen struggles to stay awake, we get a shot filmed with the camera on the ceiling, looking straight down into her bedroom. From this vantage point, the camera spins around as it follows Kristen, for a disorienting effect that puts the viewer in the same frame of mind as the character. Little touches like this can be seen throughout the movie. There's the cockroach transformation, the sucked-into-the-movie-screen bit, and the exciting "time loop" sequence, which really ups the intensity as the movie speeds toward its third act. Why do the classroom windows explode inward as Alice wakes from a nightmare? I have no idea, but it looks awesome. Some say that Freddy is too comical in this one, or that he's been set up as the story's "hero," but I dare you not to get chills during the action-packed finale when he drops the jokey shtick and coldly states, "I…am…immortal." God, I love part 4.
Released in theaters exactly a year and a day after part 4, Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child suffers from franchise fatigue. It has a lot of the same beats as part 4, but lacks a lot of its predecessor's fun energy. See a motorcycle transform into a bitchin' "Freddycycle." Chuckle as Freddy appears in tuxedo as a fancy chef. Hoot and holler as Freddy hops on a skateboard to chase a guy around. These scenes have a cynical feel to them, as they're created just to be Freddy kills, rather than having grown organically out of the plot. Speaking of "organically," there's no shortage of Freudian imagery in this one, with a lot of shots of long tunnels that, uh, resemble certain body parts.
Fortunately, part 5 does have its positives. As befitting the subject matter, we get more information about Freddy's mother, who is a presence throughout the film, adding more layers to Freddy's back story. Continuity is fairly rock solid throughout, as not only do the survivors of part 4 return, but setting the movie during and after graduation means we get to see these characters grow and develop. This is especially true of Alice's dad, who goes from the "jerk dad" trope to a guy working hard to change his ways.
On paper, part 5 should work better than it does. Teens respond to horror movies, and teen pregnancy is big fear for young people, so putting two and two together is a no-brainer. The movie doesn't really explore this angle as deeply as it could, though. The pregnancy is merely an excuse for Freddy to mess with Alice some more. Is it out of character for Freddy to want to possess Alice's baby, so he can eventually live in the waking world again? I don't think so. It harkens back to part 2, in which after (almost) satisfying his revenge, Freddy's attention turns to coming back from the dead and keep on killing as he once did. This singular motivation carries us right into the start of the next film.
Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare is a movie at odds with itself. As the alleged "final" movie in the series, it takes back in time to further explore Freddy's origin. What makes this interesting is how nicely it ties together continuity from all the other films. In each of the previous films, including the sore-thumb part 2, there's that little blonde girl hanging out in dreams around the Elm Street house, usually jumping rope or doing another such "kid" activity while chanting the famous "one, two, Freddy's coming for you" nursery rhyme that's a hallmark of the series. In Freddy's Dead we actually learn who that little girl is, which I find fascinating. It has me wondering just how far in advance they knew this stuff. The creators get even more ambitious during the finale, introducing weird-ass concepts like dream demons and dream gates that allow Freddy to do what he does—at least, that's what I think it's all about. It's confusing. By going cosmic like this, it's supposed to give the film a sense of finality, so that we believe Freddy's really not coming back this time. Instead, it serves only to introduce a ton of new exposition, which one might argue is not needed. Further, the abrupt ending is a disappointment. For what was supposed to be the last time we'd ever see Freddy, there's no wind-down or resolution. Just two words, spoken very casually, almost with a shrug, and then the credits roll. It leaves you with a "That's it?" The film's ending was originally shown in 3-D in theaters, and it seems the emphasis was on the 3-D tech and not on supplying a satisfying and dramatic conclusion.
Still, stuff like dream demons, Freddy's origin, and his final fate are actually the good parts of Freddy's Dead. The first hour is typical slasher movie stuff, and it's here that the cheese is at its thickest. Audiences were so familiar with Freddy by this point that they expected laughs from him, not scares. The movie obliges in a big way. Freddy acts like a Warner Bros. cartoon character, doing all kinds of old-timey slapstick. This culminates in the franchise's lowest point, in which Freddy dispatches a video game-playing teen with his version of a Nintendo Power Glove. It's the worst possible form of pandering to a young audience, and removes all that which made the character such a great movie monster. Throw in an out-of-place cameo by Roseanne and Tom Arnold, and the awfulness of the comedy overwhelms the movie's good points.
Seeing that Freddy had been demoted from boogeyman to the kid-friendly comedian, Wes Craven returned to the series with a vengeance for Wes Craven's New Nightmare. His goal was to make Freddy scary again, and his determination to do so comes through in every frame. Going deeply meta long before "meta" was as common a concept as it is today, Craven posited Freddy escaping the screen and seeing what he'd do if running around in the real world, so everyone plays themselves and it's all relatively grounded. While parts 3 and 4 are the fantasy-based roller coaster ride, New Nightmare is the psychological thriller, going more for atmosphere than chases. The argument is made that this is not really Freddy, but some ancient evil that's taken the form of Freddy. I kind of like this, as it establishes Freddy's place among classic and mythological monsters, as someone to be feared. Langenkamp gives a bravado performance, as her fears for her son feel genuine. Craven appears on screen with a weird non-actor performance as he delivers the exposition, and yet this too feels genuine, as you believe that this creepy loner really is the type to delve so deep into the darkness of the human mind as to unearth ancient evil directly from the collective subconscious. Interestingly, back in the first movie, a character wonders if an earthquake is the cause of the nightmares, only to have earthquakes figure prominently in New Nightmare's story, which once again makes me wonder how far in advance Craven and company thought this stuff out.
Although there is much to praise about New Nightmare, mostly for bringing real suspense back to the series, it's not a perfect film. A scene on the freeway employs some simply awful visual effects, with greenscreen work of the worst possible kind. The huge amount of callbacks to the first movie could be considered fan pandering, so much that at times the movie comes across as a Tarantino-esque games of "spot the reference." Freddy's glove gets a major redesign as well, complete with bone claws. A lot of fans have liked this, but I would have preferred the classic glove.
For the most part, the Blu-rays' tech specs aren't that much of an upgrade over their DVD counterparts. The first two films have an overall softness to them, with black levels not as deep or rich as they could be. They don't look bad, exactly, just not as razor-sharp as the best Blu-rays. Things improve with the more recently-made films, with better, cleaner pictures and rich, solid black levels. Similarly, the sound on the first three films is good but not great, taking a huge leap forward starting with part 4. From that point on, the audio is impresses. The song that kicks off the fourth movie is both booming and perfectly balanced among all the surrounds. The "church destruction" scene that opens part 5 is an aural highlight, immersing the viewer in raw sound, forcing you to sit up and take notice as the action unfolds on screen.
Disc five is devoted to bonus features. The highlight is a new documentary, "Fear Himself: The Life and Times of Freddy Krueger." This retrospective of the in the series puts an emphasis on Freddy's place in classical mythology as well as Hollywood history.
Disc five also features two episodes of Freddy's Nightmares the short-lived syndicated TV series that came out during the height of Freddymania. Slightly similar to The Twilight Zone, Freddy usually acted as host on any given episode, introducing horror tales in which a teen's reality unraveled into dream/nightmare states. Occasionally, though, Freddy would take part in the stories themselves, exploring a few other aspects of his origin. The disc contains the second episode, "It's a Miserable Life," in which…holy crap, that's Hedwig! Yes, a young John Cameron Mitchell of Hedwig and the Angry Inch plays the episode's hero, who longs to break away from his boring suburban life, only to have that become his nightmare come to life. Next is the show's third episode, "Killer Instinct," which stars a pre-fame Lori Petty (Tank Girl) as an ambitious teen track star whose ambitions turn deadly. Could the inclusion of these two episodes mean that a complete series set will make it onto home video in the near future? Please? Oh, Please?
The rest of the bonus features have been taken from the 1999 "Encyclopedia" box set, but without that set's game-like menu puzzle:
Disc One (the first movie)
• Two commentaries. The first is from Craven, Langenkamp, and others, which dates back to the movie's days on laserdisc. It's still a great listen, though. A newer commentary is made of interview clips edited together and repeats a lot of what's in the first one.
• "Never Sleep Again: The Making of A Nightmare on Elm Street." This hour-long featurette covers the entirety of the first movie's production, from concept to filming, to its whirlwind success.
• "The House That Freddy Built" featurette. A discussion about the relationship between the Nightmare on Elm Street series and New Line Cinema.
• "Night Terrors" featurette. An extended interview with Wes Craven, where he goes deeper into how he first originated the Freddy concept.
• Interactive trivia track, with more production info.
Disc Two (Parts two and three)
• "Heroes and Villains" featurette. Producer Bob Shaye and director Jack Sholder (Alone in the Dark) talk about the origin of the part 2, while Craven isn't shy about criticizing the script.
• "Psycho Sexual Circus" featurette. The creators and actors discuss the homoerotic context of part 2, and how the movie breaks the rules established in the first film.
• "The Male Witch" featurette. Discussion of makeup artist Kevin Yagher's work on Part 2.
• "Freddy on 8th Street" featurette. A look at how publicists held screenings of the first movie filled with fans dressed as Freddy to help promote part 2.
• "Fan Mail" featurette. Talk show host Dick Cavett discusses his cameo in part 3.
• "Onward Christian Soldiers" featurette. Craven, director Chuck Russell, co-writer Frank Darabount, and others talk about their approach to part 3, and the importance they put on taking the story to the next level.
• "Snakes and Ladders" Russell, Darabount, and others share anecdotes involving the part 3's special effects.
• "Trading 8s" featurette. Interview segments about part 3, covering various odds and ends about the movie.
• "That's Show Biz" featurette. Englund shares a humorous story about part 3's low-budget filming.
• "Burn Out" featurette. Langenkamp tells of how and why she returned to the series for Part 3.
• "The House that Freddy Built" featurette. A short follow-up to the disc one featurette, elaborating on how much New Line had grown as a studio between the first and third movies.
• "Dream Warriors" music video by Dokken. Hell, yes.
Disc Three (parts four and five)
• "Krueger, Freddy Krueger" featurette. A look at the creation of part 4, and its rushed, troubled history.
• "Hopeless Chest" featurette. Discussion of some of part 4's visual effects. Instead of just talking head interviews, this one contains some vintage behind-the-scenes test footage as well.
• "Let's Makeup" featurette. All about creating Freddy's famous face.
• "The Finnish Line" featurette. Harlin talks about the release of part 4, and its huge audience reaction.
• "Womb Raiders" featurette. The creators behind part 5 discuss their inspirations and original ideas for the movie.
• "The Sticky Floor" featurette. Interviews about part 5's visual effects.
• "Take the Stairs" featurette. A brief look at part 5's M.C. Escher-inspired dream sequence.
• "Hopkins Directs" featurette. Vintage behind-the-scenes footage of part 5 director Stephen Hopkins on set with Robert Englund.
• "A Slight Miscalculation" featurette. The creators discuss the part 5's poor critical reaction, and how many fans expressed disappointment about the film.
• "Are You Ready For Freddy?" music video by the Fat Boys. Two words: Freddy raps.
• "I Gotta Swing it" music video by Whodini. Who? Exactly.
Disc Four (Freddy's Dead and New Nightmare)
• "Rachel's Dream" featurette. Discussion of Rachel Talalay (Tank Girl) taking over the directing chair for the sixth film, after she had worked behind the scenes on all previous films in the series.
• "3-D Demise" featurette. Talking about the ups and downs of creating the 3-D scenes for the sixth film.
• "86'd" featurette. Producer and New Line head honcho Bob Shaye on why it was time to say goodbye to Freddy for a while and move on to other things.
• "Hellraiser" featurette. Clive Barker, writer and director of Hellraiser, offers some brief thoughts about the challenges of maintaining a long-running franchise.
• Commentary on New Nightmare with Wes Craven. Craven is again enjoyable to listen to as he expounds on the making of the film and the ideas behind it.
• "Becoming a Filmmaker" featurette. Craven discusses his childhood and his early years before his life in film.
• "An Insane Troupe" featurette. Craven talks about the importance of a horror filmmaker's public persona.
• "Two Worlds" featurette. Craven opens up about the popularity of the Freddy movies, and his initial idea of making a movie about the series' phenomena.
• "The Problem with Sequels" featurette. Craven further elaborates on his reasons for trying something new with the series in the seventh film, rather than merely continue where the last one left off.
• "Filmmaker" featurette. Craven goes abstract, describing his theory of film, which he says has to do with seeking imagery that exists outside what is common rationale.
• Theatrical trailers, one for each movie, on their respective discs.
Disc Five (Bonus features)
• In addition to the new doc and the TV episodes, disc five features two galleries of short interview snippets, all carried over from the 1999 Encylopedia disc. These come with a convenient "Play all" button. One of them, amusingly, even mentions the "Labyrinth," which was the 1999 disc's puzzle-like menu system.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Where's Freddy vs. Jason? Fan reaction to this one is mixed, but it is Robert Englund as Freddy. Plus, it was produced by New Line, so I don't see why it can't be included. It's no more the red-headed stepchild of the series than part 2 is.
There's no option to be able to watch the 3-D scenes from Freddy's Dead in 3-D, even though 3-D Blu-rays are a real thing now.
Also not found on this set is the 2010 remake, which was never, ever, made and doesn't exist, right? (Freddy fans, back me up on this one,)
If you already own the DVDs, it's up to you to decide if you're a big enough Elm Street enthusiast to cough up the dough for a handful of new extras and a slight tech upgrade. If you don't already own these movies, this set is the one to buy.
The Nightmare on Elm Street series certainly has its high points and low points, but what I like about it is how well it works as a series. Continuity ties together nicely, and beginning and ending with the two Craven films really makes it seem like the whole thing is one big journey. What's more, there's a purity to the old slasher movies that can no longer be recaptured. Sure, everyone involved knows what kind of movies these are and everyone knows the formula, and yet there's a genuineness to the proceedings, one that could only exist in the era before horror went meta and got deconstructed to death. This, too, makes these movies a journey worth taking.
Not guilty. I'll see you…in your dreams.
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