Comic Book Curious

Starter Guide: A Nightmare on Elm Street

October 26, 2021

Bad dreams, they linger in your head for a few days. They’re sometimes crisp in certain visuals or details but have this sort of ethereal quality that makes them difficult to comprehend or illogical. What’s worse is that when you try to tell someone else about them, you can’t convey the terror that made you wake up in a cold sweat at 3am and they just seem to look at you as if to say, “Yeah, it was only a dream”.

That’s why I love Freddy Kruger and the entire premise of the “Elm Street” movies; he’s a killer that stalks you in your dreams. You either try and stay away (sleep deprivation is torture under the UN) or you fall asleep, and Freddy kills you, often in hilarious and / or ironic ways.

Freddy rides the line between a cruel ghoul and a jester of the macabre.

I love his backstory, he’s a child murderer (and maybe more than murder… ehhh) who was burned alive by the parents of Springwood and now he kills their children in their sleep. He’s an irredeemable monster, awesome!

But there are 9 movies, one of them is a crossover, and even a TV series. Where do you start if you want to get into this? Well, I’m here to help and point you in the right direction in a good introduction to the series.

A Nightmare on Elm Street – 1984 START HERE

This is a good place to start; I don’t usually say that but right out of the gate, this movie hits a lot of high notes. There is a fantastic protagonist switch, the “Freddy Song” already exists, Freddy Kruger is well played by Robert Englund who went on to play Freddy in ALL of the sequels (aside from the remake), and the tone is a lot more creepy than jokey as the series became more camp as it went along.

What’s different about this film as opposed to the other slasher movies of the era, is that the practical effects were done with a lot of imagination and craft. Freddy is someone who kills people in their dreams, so the kills and setups have the freedom to be loads more creative and elaborate. It’s never “knife stabs someone in the chest” sort of setup; things get crazy like they would in any unforgettable nightmare!

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge – 1985

Um, jeez. Yeah feel free to skip this one. None of the original characters are in it (aside from Freddy) and Freddy’s powers are kind of … off, the dreamlike quality isn’t here. The tone isn’t the same and … how do I put this, the level of homoerotic overtones are almost a parody to the point where it goes off the rails. This makes the movie both progressive and regressive and it is distracting.

The movie also doesn’t progress the plot in any way or the overall story.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors – 1987 (The best one)

Hey look, they didn’t rush this into production and it shows! We get some nice Freddy backstory that doesn’t feel forced, the protagonist from the first movie comes back to help the Elm Street kids survive using pharmacology and dream therapy, and it’s got more humor but not TOO much humor to make it irritating or too campy.

This is where the classic sort of “wise cracking ghoul” Freddy comes in. Robert Englund was having a ball here and this starts the whole “ironic death” kind of kills that the series became known for. It also feels like an ending, or a more definitive ending to the series (it clearly was not as it also made a pile of money so they made a sequel, of course) so the payoffs and the risks that the characters take feel justified.

The kids in this movie use their “dreams” to fight back as they learn to be their ideal selves when dreaming, this allows them to fight Freddy more effectively, yet also allows Freddy to torment them easier as he also knows what scares / motivates them, raising what can be done in a dream to new levels. “Welcome to prime-time, bitch” indeed.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 – The Dream Master (1988)

This one is fine. If you liked part 3, this one is ok too. I like the theme of a character having dream powers, and as her friends die, she gains their unique abilities, like learning jujitsu or like … hmm… I think that was the main one really. It’s a cool concept, and it made a lot of money (mostly because part 3 did well on home video) grossing 8 times its budget. The kills are creative in this one and set up nicely without feeling predictable. Girl that is afraid of bugs gets turned into a bug and caught in a glue trap in a roach motel, good times!

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 – The Dream Child (1989)

Ehh, it’s not great. The plot is that Freddy is using the dreams of an unborn baby whose mom is one of the Elm Street kids. I mean, that’s kinda cool, but the movie drags and the ghost baby child thing is annoying somehow. The major flaw is that this movie and part 6 are sort of the same movie, Freddy wanting to have a child that is corrupted by his dream powers and becomes him.

There are a LOT of flashbacks that we covered in part 3 and now Freddy was born basically a sort of devil baby that is fully capable of running around seconds after being born. I kind of liked it more when he was some terrible man that became a dream ghost, not destined to be evil from the start.

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare / A Nightmare on Elm Street 6: The Final Nightmare -1991

Oh boy. Ok do you like goofball humor and insanity? Is 3D your thing? Do you like movies where the movie just runs out of money and abruptly ends? This is for you. The movie isn’t great at any of these things, but they happen. It’s goofy and stupid and silly, but it’s not good. Robert Englund is having a ball here, and honestly, that’s important to me on a personal level.

Also, Freddy was apparently given his dream powers by 3 dream gods that are eventually exploded out of him with a pipe bomb that for some reason is found in the basement of an orphanage.

Wes Craven's New Nightmare – 1994 (watch this right after part 3)

If you don’t want to do the whole series, watch the first, the third, and then this. This movie is basically a “what if” story about what if the movies were just movies and the actual character of Freddy came to life out of director Wes Craven’s imagination and started killing people. Great! How fresh!

Heather Langenkamp is fantastic in this movie as herself; she’s the actress that played Nancy all the way back in the first movie. Heads up, this movie is more of a behind the scenes movie. Robert Englund plays both Freddy and Robert Englund, whom Freddy is also haunting. It’s kind of creepy and while the pace isn’t really my speed and I don’t think the child actor in it is good, I like it, but I think I like the concept more than anything else. This movie made the least in terms of production budget, and I get that as this movie is more of a think piece than a slasher flick.

Freddy vs Jason – 2003 Maybe start here if you only want to watch ONE horror movie ever.

Freddy vs Jason was in production limbo for a LONG time, written and rewritten for ages, scaled down to a PG-13 rating, and feels a lot like a cash grab on two dead series. But honestly, it does an EXCELLENT job of both getting across the mythos of both Freddy and Jason and summing up nearly 20 movies in ONE movie is commendable.

The violence is blunted by the PG-13 rating and it is very much a product of its time with the stoner “Jay-like” character from Jay and Silent Bob in this, a rave, and plastic surgery being popular. It feels sort of forced, but if you were pressed for time and REALLY had to learn about Freddy and Jason and only had 2 hours; like if you had to write a paper about them for school, ok then yes, this one is fine. It made the most money out of any of the previous movies, so it can’t be that bad. And it isn’t, it’s at least kind of fun, so that helps.

A Nightmare on Elm Street – 2010 (skip)

Sigh, oh boy. Yeah, that’s a no from me dawg. Freddy is played by Jack Earle Haley, and while he is a competent actor, it’s off-putting to NOT have Robert Englund in this role. It’s a remake of the first, except Michael Bay produced it, so there is lots of endless CGI and unnecessary sparks. Oh, look at the sparks! I’d include a picture of sparks here, but you know what sparks look like. In a movie series about creative and imaginative visual effects, why would I care about sparks?

The CGI doesn’t look nearly as good as the practical effects the series was known for. Let’s look at two scenes side by side. Honestly, you be the judge!

For more recommendations from Captain Chris, check out his starter guide "Halloween: The Terror of Diminishing Returns".

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