5. Freddy Vs. Jason (2003, Ronny Yu)
Down the long corridors of time there have been many face-offs: Captain Ahab and Moby Dick, Ali vs. Frasier…Leonardo DiCaprio’s run in with an iceberg…but, in terms of sheer rabid anticipation (and the volume of scripts written) Freddy vs. Jason may have topped them all.
Seemingly taking an age to get to the screen (lucky their both immortal) this battle to end all battles commences as a forgotten Freddy resurrects the hulking hockey masked killer Jason Voorhees and places him in Elm Street, to terrorise the kids and remind them that if they live on Elm Street they aren’t ever going to live an easy life, no matter if Freddy is around or not.
Jason seems to slip from Freddy’s control so Krueger invades Jason’s dreams and with the addition of a group of annoying teens (what did you expect?!) they find themselves airing their grievances only they know how, setting up for one last grisly stand at Jason’s old stomping ground, Camp Crystal Lake.
After a long break from the series severing New Nightmare way back in 1994, this builds on a scene from Jason Goes To Hell (from even further back in 1993) and twists the two strands together for a gory rollercoaster ride which has more in common with the brain busting Goes To Hell than the clever nuances of New Nightmare. The acting is typically dreadful from the teens, all out acted by Jason, a mute, undead psychopath wearing a mask and the ever reliable Robert Englund as Freddie. A role he has lovingly steered through some quite awful movies in the past.
The action is fast paced and it’s clearly not aimed for high end scares, but low brow high octane violence, although the gloom of Camp Crystal Lake is suitably murky. If all meetings of movie monsters were as successful as this one then we would’ve had some real entertainment, unfortunately we’ve had Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, King Kong vs. Godzilla and the previously mentioned DiCaprio and Winslet vs. The Iceberg.
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: Dream Master (1988, Renny Harlin)
Another day, another sequel, another MTV friendly rock song over the opening credits, but the same Freddy…always the same Freddy. In Dream Master he seems to be skulking around in a feature length heavy metal music video, the director (Renny Harlin of Die Hard II and Cliffhanger fame) has a unique visual flare, giving every dream sequence a skewed, uncontrolled edge, which are layered with a thick gloop of 80’s gloss. The only thing lacking is a miming poodle haired singer jumping out of a cloud of dry ice into a flailing pool of half naked groupies.
The Dream Warriors return briefly for a doomed reunion, but the new focus of Freddy’s evil attentions is Alice (Lisa Wilcox) and her merry band of highly strung teen friends. Alice is the doorway into which Freddy can enter reality, so she must fight to stop him from getting there and from slashing away all of the other kids into oblivion.
The special effects improve as each film is produced (apart from a silly fight sequence with an invisible Freddy, maybe as a direct result of an evaporating budget), and with a wink and a nod to Alice in Wonderland, the Friday 13th franchise (one of the characters has a pet dog called Jason) and paraphrasing Sigourney Weaver’s famous line in Aliens (“Get away from him you son-of-a-bitch!”), the cast is a step down from Part 3, they seem to range from troubled teens to boring, chiselled out of Styrofoam jocks.
Lisa Wilcox, as the youthful Alice with a hidden gift, is certainly no Sissy Spacek’s Carrie or even Drew Barrymore in Firestarter, so it’s left down to the set pieces to save the film, which are comically sadistic and stay lingering in the mind well after Freddy has gone back to dreamland.
Special mention goes to Brooke Theiss as Debbie, whose slimy metamorphosis into a creepy crawly is the stand out Freddy nightmare. How’s that for a wet dream?
3. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994, Wes Craven)
“I thought you killed Freddy off?”
A film within a film, like a Russian Matryoshka doll, is a rare theme for a horror film. Its self awareness can be off putting and pretentious. Thankfully Wes Craven avoids this, and crafts a supreme horror, one that bundles up the whole series into a ball and builds around it rather than tacking something onto the end of it, which at this point would have really seemed futile and pointless, as this isn’t designed to carry on the series, but to end it once and for all.
The actors here all play themselves, Heather Langenkamp (Nancy in the original and Part 3) returns along with John Saxon and Robert Englund (acting as himself AND a retooled, re-imagined, less clownish Freddy) and Wes plays Wes. He’s been working on a new script for a new Nightmare on Elm Street film and he’s getting the old gang back together. Heather is suffering from intense nightmares so is rather reluctant to commit to the project. Tragic events unfold, and it soon becomes apparent that Freddy Krueger is no longer just the work of Craven’s imagination.
The famed dream sequences lose their cartoonish veneer and go for something more harrowing, sharpening the terrors of the original to a pin point, and where Parts 4 and 5 tried desperately to add different aspects to the story to keep the franchise from falling asleep completely, this one does it simply, and effectively. If the character of Kristen from Dream Warriors has the ability to pull others into her dreams, then Wes has the power to drag Freddy into our world. And he does it with such fiendish glee; it makes this entry one of the best in the whole franchise.
2. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987, Chuck Russell)
“Goodnight darling. Say your prayers. Oh and by the way, your father and I torched some maniac last night”.
Dream Warriors thankfully steamrolls over the dampened bed sheet that was Part 2 and brings back Wes Craven and Heather Langenkamp as Nancy (although unconvincingly now a psychiatrist with a shock of grey through her hair that Elsa Lanchester herself would be proud of (see Bride of Frankenstein (1935)).
Nancy’s patients are the institutionalized descendants of Elm Street and all suffer with hyperactive nightmares where our old steel fingered friend takes his residence. Each of the mixed up kids have their own unique power (Patricia Arquette’s character Kristen can pull others into her dreams) and they use these to eventually combat Freddy.
The film is a carousel of special effects and twitchy dream scenarios, and like the original, the cast of characters are strong too (for a slasher flick), with a young Patricia Arquette leading the pack, along with Laurence Fishburne and the returning John Saxon and Heather Langenkamp, a step up from the hormonal teenage driftwood and dull as dish water adults of Part 2 indeed.
Although Freddy is still wisecracking, his one liner’s are more sadistically funny than before (Dream Warriors contains the ultimate Freddy quip in the scene where he emerges from a TV) and the dream world scenes are a banquet for the senses in their eye popping inventiveness.
And any film which has a theme song by the power perm heavy metal band Dokken and the ruffled nightmare of Zsa Zsa Gabor getting sliced up must be considered something of a minor masterpiece.
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, Wes Craven)
Even George Orwell couldn’t have predicted what would come tearing through the screen at us in 1984. After the Halloween franchise took a left turn with a Michael Myers-less Halloween III and Jason eventually swapping the sack he was using to conceal his malformed face for a hockey mask, we heralded the arrival of a claw wielding, jumper wearing child murderer by the name of Freddy.
Wes Craven, after suffering several setbacks with the flashbacked nightmare of The Hills Have Eyes 2 and the dull comic book, horror-less Swamp Thing, delved into his psyche and moulded what would be THE horror icon for the future. The Elm Street teens seem to be sharing dreams of a scarred, stalking fiend, and naturally they all find themselves victims in his playfully brutal games.
Tina is the first, before her boyfriend’s very eyes (and after the obligatory teen sex scene!) she is dragged up the walls and torn apart by an invisible force. Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) is the ultimate goal for the dream killer, and only when her mother (Ronee Blakley) s the Elm Street secret does she (and the viewer) find out who the charred psychopath is.
Robert Englund IS Freddy, several actors/stuntmen played Jason and Michael Myers over the years, but only Englund could play Krueger. He has real menace and he exudes a joyful glee when torturing the sleep deprived youngsters. The group of teens are a step up, character wise, from usual horror fodder, although all follow the familiar 80’s template (sexually unadventurous heroine Nancy, her not so sexually unadventurous friend Tina (not so surprisingly, the first to suffer her demise at the hands (or blades) of Freddy!)).
The special effects shine (apart from the silly twist at the end) and Craven rips open the tired stalk and slash into the infinite dream world, where anything is possible (surely paradise for an effects crew) and drives fear into the one place where we are supposed to feel peace and comfort, dreamland.
Author Bio: Daniel Evans is a former art student, and writes mainly for his own entertainment. He developed a keen interest in film at a young age, and continues to unearth new, obscure movies when he can.