Frightening Franchise Marathon: Ranking the Nightmare on Elm Street Films

Welcome to Pop Break’s Frightening Franchise Marathon, a month long editorial series curated by George Heftler. The series follows George, a non-horror fan, as he sits through some of the classic horror franchises.

October and I have a… complicated relationship. I love the cool weather, cider is in season, and there’s candy everywhere you look… but I have a condition called “I’m-a-huge-wuss-iosis”, and October is first and foremost the time for horror movies.

To cure my condition, I’m doing some immersion therapy and surrounding myself with nothing but horror movies for 31 days. I’m marathoning 4 classic franchises that go bump in the night, and ranking each entry from worst to best. To kick this off I’m starting with everyone’s favorite night terror… A Nightmare on Elm Street. But beware… spooky spoilers ahead.

9. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child

This movie is dreadful… and not in the way you want from a horror movie. A direct continuation of NoES 4, it was filmed during a writer’s strike and that is very obvious. It’s not just nitpicks, like Freddy being shown deformed at birth, but when we see him as an adult in prior movies, he looks normal… they also make zero attempt at explaining how Freddy comes back from his previous vanquishing, and it has just terrible dialogue. I actually missed a bit of the movie because I rolled my eyes so hard they got stuck in the back of my head at the line “You’re just a little pregnant.”

The second thing that ruins this movie is how heavily it relies on obvious tropes. To a point they have to be there, but five movies in and I’m pretty of tired of “it was an accident” as the 29th teenager dies under mysterious circumstances. “You’re crazy” they all say, as Freddy inexplicably comes back for the 5th time.

I didn’t really care for the weird MC Escher room at the end, but at least respected it as an attempt at something interesting, and they did get a chuckle at “Time to die, you scar-faced limp-dick.”

Best part of this movie? Realizing that the titular “dream child” was the same kid who got scared by Dr. Grant in Jurassic Park.

8. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

“Produced by Michael Bay” *eye roll*

Even on the surface, it’s immediately worse than the original because these don’t look like high schoolers, they look like beautiful actors in their late 20s (that was a guess, but I looked it up later and Rooney Mara was in fact 26). Jackie Earl Haley also doesn’t look as good as Robert Englund… the more “realistic” approach to his makeup robs his face of a lot of its expressiveness. In addition to simple appearances, things that are blatantly stolen from the original are done worse, especially the Tina (now Kris) kill at the beginning.

The dream sequences are now ham-fisted, with none of subtlety of the original and the “scares” are everything I hate about modern horror. If it’s just a loud noise and someone jumping into frame, I’m not scared, I’m just surprised. And these were so telegraphed they’re not even surprising.

They DO take a novel approach to Freddy by suggesting that “maybe he didn’t do it” but it doesn’t pay off, because he DID do it, which makes the whole angle a waste of time. May have been a cool way to differentiate itself if they’d actually committed to it, but they didn’t, so it’s not.

7. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

At the end of NoES 3, Freddy’s grave is consecrated, which is supposed to keep him dead forever. To undo that, a dog… pees fire onto the grave… in a dream? And that completely brings him back? At least they give us SOMETHING though, unlike Dream Child. We’re following some of the same characters from NoES 3, but our main character, Kristen, is played by Tuesday Knight instead of Patricia Arquette and she is not nearly as solid an actress unfortunately.

This installment is where the dream sequences start to lose their subtlety. Part of the joy of the first one was it being hard to tell when someone was dreaming and awake. In this, it is SO obvious. None of the nuance. That said, this movie LOOKS great. The effects were the best part, with special shout-outs to the waterbed kill, the workout/broken arms/bug transformation, and Freddy’s resurrection.

Finally, I can’t believe Freddy rapped over the end credits.

6. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare

Maybe it’s because I watched them all in a row, but I really liked the concept of Springwood falling into a mass delusion, and it’s about time they’re all accepting that Freddy is real! It had some creepy scenes, like the Q-tip with Carlos and an awful molestation scene (thankfully you don’t see anything) in addition to a lot of small things that I enjoyed. Specifically, the Johnny Deep cameo, the Nintendo quips, and even though it was dumb, I kind of enjoyed Spencer’s death scene. I also thought it was a neat twist to have us thinking Freddy had a son, when it ended up being a daughter.

Freddy himself isn’t particularly frightening in this one, but it’s kind of representative of the times… Freddy was everywhere, and so he became less frightening the more mainstream and acknowledged he was.

Finally, WHY IS CHILD FREDDY BACK TO LOOKING NOR- you know what, I’m just going to ignore Dream Child.

5. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

There are some pacing problems in this one, but the tension is definitely there, even when you sort of know how it’s going to go. A great example of this is how you know they won’t kill the little kid, but you’re still nervous watching him cross a freeway. The new claw is spooky as heck and there’s a bunch of fun callbacks, like “Screw your pass”, Heather going grey, and Julie’s death being basically the same as Tina’s in the first movie (Also, RIP Julie. Good job punching out that nurse).

They imply that Freddy is fighting a T-Rex in dreamland, and I was honestly a little bummed when they found the stuffed animal completely shredded. I’d have liked to have seen this fight.

The demon looked really dumb at the end, but there were some pretty neat effects in this and a cool story. Might have been a liiiiiitle too meta for my taste, but still, a solid entry.

4. Freddy vs. Jason

This movie is a conundrum. The intro is awesome, but then they immediately hit us with terrible tropes like:

HELLO MY NAME IS KELLY ROWLAND AND I AM HERE FOR SASSY BLACK GIRL EXPOSITION.

HELLO MY NAME IS BEN AND I AM HERE TO BE THE DOUCHEBAG THAT GETS KILLED (Worth noting that his death is awesome, predictable as it is. Jason stabs him a bunch and then folds him backwards via the bed. One of many cool kills in the movie).

HELLO I AM HERE TO BE THE ANTAGONISTIC HEALTHCARE GUY.

HELLO I AM HERE TO BE A LAZY STONER STEREOTYPE.

This movie also does a pretty bad job of “show don’t tell,” spelling out exposition and plot points.

It’s frustrating because even though there’s really nothing subtle about this movie (looking at you, obvious Freddy reflection in the mirror) there’s a lot of cool stuff in it too. The burning Jason fight, the fight scene in the boiler room, the final fight… I honestly wish the whole movie was just them fighting, because it is consistently the best part. At the end of the day, I enjoyed this movie a lot, but it is very unbalanced.

3. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge

This is an interesting movie. It’s rare in horror movies for the “final girl” to in fact be a “final boy,” so that sets it apart… it’s also a little (read: a lot) heavy handed with the sexuality themes. As far as Freddy himself, it seemed like they weren’t quite sure where they wanted to go with how his powers worked yet, because he did an awful lot of affecting the real world which he can’t do in the first movie.

NoES 2 also has some more incredibly solid effects, and Freddy himself seemed a lot scarier (especially when he’s bursting out of Jesse. Yipes!). There are some confusing moments and I had questions at the end, but while not quite as coherent as the original, this is a very worthy sequel.

2. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Not a lot to say about Dream Warriors because I quite enjoyed this movie, and it’s more straightforward than the first two installments. There is again some very creepy imagery, like a horrifying puppet kill and drug use track marks becoming gaping mouths. It’s very intense, Patricia Arquette is great, and it’s awesome to see Heather Langenkamp back after she was left out of NoES 2. Definitely worth a watch.

Special shout-out to Dokken’s awesome theme song for the movie.

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street

Sometimes, there’s just no improving on the original. This movie is legitimately tense the whole way through. It’s difficult to tell what’s real and what’s a dream, with an ambiguous ending to keep you discussing for hours afterwards. Heather Langenkamp turns in a stellar performance as Nancy, who gains a serious thousand-yard stare as the movie goes on, but the rest of the cast does great too. A few of the effects don’t necessarily hold up, but most still look incredible, including actually flipping the set upside down to drag poor Tina along the ceiling. Great story, great acting, great movie.

BONUS

Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy

An interesting documentary with a lot of good interviews. That said, it seemed like a lot of passing the buck and not acknowledging just how bad the bad movies are. Worth a watch if you’re a big fan of the series.


Final thoughts

The first three movies are great, but it’s a pretty serious plummet after that. Even if you want to watch the whole franchise, stick to the originals and don’t waste your time with the reboot… especially since they’re already discussing rebooting it again.

Come back next week after I relive the glory of my camp days with Friday the 13th!

 

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