Best & Worst: A Nightmare on Elm Street

Well, it’s Cinema Smack’s second Halloween so you know what that means. It’s time to talk about some more horror movies! We already tackled the Halloween series last year so, this year, we’re taking on another one of the most popular horror franchises of all time in A Nightmare on Elm Street!

Even if you’ve never seen a single one of the films, everyone’s familiar with the franchise’s villain, Freddy Krueger. Freddy has become a cultural icon since his debut in the original 1984 film. The Nightmare series has spawned nine feature films, a television show, a Nintendo game, toys, and nearly every piece of merchandise imaginable. Most of this has to do with the charisma of the man behind the makeup, Robert Englund. He has played the character in nearly every major incarnation other than the 2010 reboot and has reached legendary status among horror fans.

The Nightmare on Elm Street series is one of the most consistent and entertaining of all time. Even the bad films aren’t completely unwatchable. In all honesty, the TV series, Freddy’s Nightmares, has some pretty good moments of its own as well. That being said, without further ado, let’s jump into the weakest film of the franchise in this installment of Best & Worst!

9. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

This one’s a no-brainer. The plot centers on a group of teenagers that begin to die in their sleep in violent ways. The teens, headlined by Nancy Holbrook (Rooney Mara) and her pseudo-boyfriend, Quentin (Kyle Gallner), all dream about the same man, Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley), who hunts them while they sleep. They soon discover that if you die in a dream, you die for real. As the film continues, Freddy’s potential victims discover their connection to one another as they try to stay alive and kill Freddy for good.

In all fairness, Platinum Dunes’ reboot isn’t a terrible film. It’s just extremely uninspired and does very little to separate itself from the original. Like the original, Freddy is the same burnt, claw wielding murderer. Though, he’s played by Jackie Earle Haley who does his best with a darker and more sinister interpretation of the character. Though, it just doesn’t work like Robert Englund’s performances do. Classic scenes like Freddy emerging from a wall, a teenage girl getting thrashed around her bedroom while asleep, and Freddy’s glove coming out of the bathtub are all ripped straight from the original 1984 movie. Of course, they’re not nearly as well done with their ugly CGI as opposed to the original’s practical effects.

The worst part about 2010’s A Nightmare on Elm Street is definitely its main character. Rooney Mara’s bland and unlikable version of Nancy kills anything positive about this film. She doesn’t hold a candle to Heather Langenkamp’s performances in any of her three Nightmares. Also, the 2010 film does attempt to make Freddy a child molester in life which is something that was dropped from the original. While it’s an interesting idea, the overall story doesn’t do it any favors. How do all the teens forget that they’ve known each other for seemingly their whole lives? It doesn’t make any sense and it’s hard to care about a film that feels so lifeless in general. Hence, it’s easily the worst of the bunch.

8. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)

Going forward, there can be a case made for pretty much any ranking of these middle films. Many people would probably put Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare in this spot but that’s not the case here. The Dream Child sees the return of Alice (Lisa Wilcox) and Dan (Danny Hassel) from the fourth film. Following the conquest of Freddy (Robert Englund), Alice becomes pregnant. Freddy is resurrected after Alice starts dreaming about the insane asylum that his mother was trapped and impregnated in. From there, Freddy is able to get to Alice while she’s awake while also feeding souls of his new crop of victims to her unborn baby.

Yes, it sounds absolutely ridiculous and, for the most part, it is. Yet, it somehow works even though it’s not the conventional way of Freddy tormenting his victims. At times, the film can get a little boring and, compared to the previous two sequels, the body count is severely lacking. Only three people are killed off in The Dream Child. All are unique but they’re also pretty over-the-top. Most people tend to remember Mark (Joe Seely) who dies a comic book death from Super Freddy (Michael Bailey Smith). It’s definitely as dumb as it sounds but also amusing as can be. Ultimately, the idea of Freddy invading the dreams of Alice’s baby are sort of intriguing but, again, the film still feels like it’s lacking something.

7. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)

Still no Freddy’s Dead? Nope. Not yet. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is a polarizing film among fans of the series. It’s notably different than its predecessor and plays by a different set of rules. In this film, Freddy terrorizes a new protagonist in Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton) who moves into the Elm Street house formerly inhabited by Nancy Thompson of the first film. This time around, though, Freddy wants to possess Jesse to continue his reign of terror beyond the dream world. Along with his crush, Lisa (Kim Myers), Jesse fights to stop Freddy from taking over his body and slaughtering all of those close to him.

Freddy’s Revenge has often been credited with being the “gayest” installment of the series. Although Jesse and Lisa are obviously attracted to one another, there’s a lot of homosexual innuendo that has been talked about. One of the most talked about death scenes is with Coach Schneider (Marshall Bell). Jesse runs into him at a bar wearing full S&M clothing. Soon enough, Schneider is stripped naked, whipped with a towel, and killed in the high school showers. Director Jack Sholder has stated that the innuendo was all unintentional. Oddly enough, the male lead, Mark Patton, later came out as a homosexual. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the film’s overall tone but it’s amusing that the film has been discussed in such a way over time.

Regardless, Freddy’s Revenge isn’t nearly as bad as some fans make it out to be. It’s definitely different than the first but there are plenty of things to like. Freddy attempting to take over someone in the real world is an interesting twist. Throughout the film, we see Freddy as the killer with Jesse being the lone witness to every murder. It constantly makes you wonder if Jesse is actually the one behind the glove or not. The film isn’t the best entry in the series but it’s still decent.

6. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)

Alright. Here we go. Yes, this movie is stupid but it was made to be stupid. The reason that it makes it this high on the list is for a personal reason. As many of you know, I don’t often address myself personally but I need to defend myself on Freddy’s Dead. This was the first “horror” film that I ever saw all the way through. At about 8 or 9 years old, I watched Freddy’s Dead and fell in love with the horror genre. The kills are goofy, the story is ridiculous, but in an odd way, it changed my life. I love this movie far too much to put it any lower but can’t back it up in terms of quality enough to put it any higher.

The plot centers on Freddy hunting the lone Elm Street survivor who goes only by “John Doe” (Shon Greenblatt). John has amnesia and gets put into a shelter for troubled kids. He meets Dr. Maggie Burroughs (Lisa Zane) who tries to trigger his memory by bringing him back to Springwood. Throughout the film, Freddy only uses John to reunite himself with his unknown child who had never previously been mentioned in the other films.

It’s understandable why so many people hate this sequel. It changes the mythos and history of Freddy, has a lackluster ending, and is highlighted by some interesting cameos. Tom Arnold, Roseanne Barr, Johnny Depp, and Alice Cooper make appearances over the course of the film. Obviously, the best is Alice Cooper as Freddy’s father which is also another reason why I chose this specific movie to rent from the video store. One of the most hated kills of the entire series comes in this film with Freddy playing a video game as himself chasing down Spencer (Breckin Meyer) after he falls asleep from “tripping out” on marijuana. Yeah, it’s as dumb as it sounds but, ultimately, this movie is not to be taken the least bit seriously. Let’s all just agree to disagree on this one.

5. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

After the silliness of Freddy’s Dead, creator Wes Craven returned to provide a dark, serious take on his greatest character. This film plays off of real life where Nightmare on Elm Street is just a popular film series. Heather Langenkamp stars as herself as she’s being recruited by Wes Craven (as himself) to star in another Elm Street film. Her life is turned upside down as she’s harassed with phone calls and letters from an unknown stalker. Meanwhile, her son, Dylan (Miko Hughes), begins to act like he’s possessed while frequently watching the original Nightmare on Elm Street. Robert Englund appears as himself and the darker, more twisted version of Freddy as real life becomes a movie and Heather has to play Nancy and defeat him one last time.

This one isn’t going to sit well with some people either. This is a film that definitely gets better each time you watch it. It’s not a sequel by any means. Though, if you haven’t seen the original film, you’ll definitely be a bit confused. In that regard, it’s not entirely a standalone entry either. New Nightmare is more about Wes Craven acknowledging how far the sequels had strayed from his source material. While the kills aren’t that great and sort of emulate others in the series, they’re still satisfying enough. The death of Dylan’s babysitter, Julie (Tracy Middendorf), is definitely the best in the film. As previously stated, New Nightmare isn’t a sequel or a standalone but it’s definitely in a class by itself. If you love everything about the series, then this film will definitely appeal to you.

4. Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

Oddly enough, this film landed at the same spot on both this list and our one for the Friday the 13th franchise. Rightfully so. Despite what some people may say, this is easily the best modern versus film that has been made. It treats both horror icons well and focuses in on both of their strengths and weaknesses in their respective environments.

The film sees Freddy, again played by Robert Englund, as he’s unable to come back to haunt nightmares. The teenagers of Springwood have long forgotten about Freddy due to the experimental drug, Hypnocil, which first made its appearance in Nightmare 3. Freddy resurrects the Camp Crystal Lake killer, Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger), to stalk the teens on Elm Street and make them remember. Over the course of the film, Jason instills fear by creating a body count while Freddy gets the credit. This allows him to come back and enter his victims’ dreams once again. Of course, the two behemoths of horror face off a number of times in both the dream and real worlds leading to one epic final battle.

Freddy vs. Jason is much more a Nightmare on Elm Street film than a Friday the 13th. The main protagonists, Lori (Monica Keena) and Will (Jason Ritter), had both of their pasts unknowingly destroyed by Freddy. It’s nice to see something like Hypnocil make a comeback from a previous Nightmare film as well. One thing that’s a little unsatisfying is how few kills Freddy is credited with. The dream sequences are great but usually Jason somehow swoops in and gets credited with the kill while Freddy toys with his prey. For some, Freddy vs. Jason was a letdown but, for the most part, it’s a satisfyingly bloody affair with both characters getting time to shine.

3. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)

Sure, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master is 80’s cheese at its finest. It’s also the third highest grossing Nightmare film and had the highest opening of the series until Freddy vs. Jason. With this film, Freddy fully embraced his wisecracking nature and had some of his most memorable kills even if some of them were a bit dumb.

Kristen returns from Nightmare 3, although she’s played by Tuesday Knight instead of Patricia Arquette this time. She continues to dream about Freddy and his iconic boiler room even though he was defeated by her and her friends, Joey (Rodney Eastman) and Kincaid (Ken Sagoes), at the end of the last film. After Kristen begins to stir the fear in Freddy back up, Kincaid’s dog resurrects the burned slasher by peeing fire onto his junkyard grave. Yes, seriously. Freddy is resurrected by flaming dog pee. Anyway, the remaining heroes from Nightmare 3 are soon killed off with Kristen giving her power to her friend, Alice (Lisa Wilcox). Alice becomes the vehicle for Freddy to discover more victims but as he murders her friends, she acquires their individual powers. Obviously, the two duke it out in the film’s finale.

This film is definitely not perfect by any means but it’s arguably the most fun of the entire bunch. It boasts some of the most likable characters in the entire series. They each have memorable deaths including Debbie’s (Brooke Theiss) visit to the roach motel, Sheila (Toy Newkirk) literally getting the life sucked out of her by Freddy, and, yes, Rick’s (Andras Jones) invisible fistfight. On top of that, Alice is easily the franchise’s best protagonist behind only Nancy. As her friends start to drop like flies around her, she becomes stronger and more confident as opposed to her originally shy and timid nature. As for Freddy himself, he jokes much more in this film than in previous ones but it fits the times and he’s still an intimidating force.

2. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Wait a second. A Best & Worst without the original film being number one? Yep. Of course, the original Nightmare on Elm Street is a horror masterpiece. It spawned one of the best horror franchises and introduced one of the most iconic slasher villains of all time. Wes Craven, who already had some success with The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes became a legend with the release of this film.

You should all know the story by now. The teenagers of Elm Street begin to have the same dream about one specific nightmare man with a glove made of knives. Dreams become reality after the villain, Fred Krueger (Englund), murders Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss) in brutal fashion. Her boyfriend, Rod Lane (Nick Corri), is blamed for the murder but Nancy Thompson (Langenkamp) believes there’s more to it. She goes looking for Freddy and discovers that she can pull items out of her dreams. Along with her boyfriend, Glen (Johnny Depp), the two plan to pull Freddy out of the dream world and put an end to his homicidal ways.

This film easily is the most iconic of the entire franchise. Craven’s screenplay is one of the most original to ever come out of the horror genre. Also, the film’s star, Heather Langenkamp, is known as one of the greatest female protagonists in the genre. Even the supporting cast with John Saxon and Ronee Blakley is excellent. One thing that’s a little different here than in the sequels is that Freddy is often shrouded in darkness. You won’t catch him wearing sunglasses on a beach here like you do in The Dream Master. He does make a few jokes but they’re more sick and twisted than outright funny. Either way, this is possibly the most ruthless and vile version of Freddy Krueger there is.

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

With all of that being said, there’s one main reason that A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors tops this list and it’s not because of the theme song by Dokken. This film is the perfect amalgam of all things Freddy and all things Nightmare on Elm Street.

The plot follows Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) as she’s attacked by Freddy Krueger in the opening minutes. She’s admitted to a psychiatric hospital where her and a number of other troubled teens open up in their group discussions about their dreams. Nancy Thompson (Langenkamp), now a psychiatrist, is hired by the hospital to help the teenagers manage their dreaming. Kristen has the ability to pull people into her dreams which she does to Nancy as she’s being attacked by Freddy. With Kristen and Nancy, the rest of the group discover their individual dream powers that they’ll eventually use to battle their fire scorched nemesis.

As previously mentioned, this installment simply has everything that you could want from this series. The kids are all interesting and have their own stories. Most of the death sequences are extremely creative. The best scenes are the giant, phallic Freddy “snake” attacking Kristen as well as the stop-motion Freddy puppet turning Phillip (Bradley Gregg) into his own human marionette. This film also boasts the best version of Freddy Krueger put to film. Robert Englund’s performance is the perfect mix of evil and humorous. Like the original 1984 movie, his jokes are more sickening than laugh out loud funny. However, he gets off on them along with his increased strength and power over his foes. The lone complaint about this movie is that sometimes Freddy’s voice changes and can be distracting. This is a minor gripe though. Ultimately, this is the definitive Nightmare on Elm Street experience on all levels.

Since 2010, the Nightmare on Elm Street series has remained dormant. The poor critical and fan reception to the reboot caused Warner Bros./New Line Cinema to announce yet another reboot back in 2015. Though, not much has been heard since. Either way, there’s no denying that this is one of the greatest horror franchises of all time. Not counting the reboot, every one of these films is worth a watch for slasher fans. While some are certainly better than others, there’s no Jason Goes to Hell or Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers here.

So, that’s it for this installment of Cinema Smack’s Best & Worst. Do you agree with our list? Let us know in the comments section below. Happy Halloween to everyone! Now, get out there and watch some horror flicks.

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