“One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…Three, four, better lock your door….Five, six, grab your crucifix…Seven, eight, better stay awake….Nine, ten, never sleep again….” (From A Nightmare On Elm Street)
“It’s 1.00 a.m. and Freddy’s here.
He’s a real dream baby and that’s what I fear.
When ya see night comin’ stay away from the dark
Watch out or Freddy will bust ya heart.“ (From “Are You Ready for Freddy” by The Fat Boys)
It’s tough to underestimate the importance of Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare On Elm Street. The first thing to note is that came out three decades ago: a frightening thought in itself which makes this reviewer feel older than Bruce Forsyth. What the hell have any of us achieved in those three decades? Should we even be finding the time to read spurious “top ten” lists designed to “tie in” with upcoming genre releases and unnecessarily loaded with masturbation gags? Sigh…
More significantly, at a time when the slasher cycle was wearing itself into the ground, an established genre director came along with a feature-length extension of all those elaborate nightmare scenes in modern horror films (notably the influential final shock in Carrie). Just as Jason was developing a following and Benny in Crossroads (set for a 2013 remake starring Billy Bob Thornton) enjoyed nationwide infamy, Craven created a unique and terrifying figure of fear within an inventively surreal, disorientating narrative peopled by credible teen protagonists.
By 2003, this formidable child-molester-cum-flamboyant-bogeyman was reduced to hurling torpedoes at rival screen slasher Jason Vorhees and literally winking at the audience in the cartoonish Freddy Vs Jason. The dilution of Freddy via over-exposure was so dramatic that his creator made an entire movie about it, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, a flick that also prefigured the kind of self-referential meta horror movies of the late 90’s and early 2000’s that made straight-forward scary flicks like A Nightmare On Elm Street fairly redundant. Watching cast members of Party of Five and The O.C. crack wise and note the parallels between their own imminent death and that of First Schlub On The Left in Prom Night became the “in” thing. Us lot? We’d rather re-watch a topless Linnea Quigley get unironically impaled on antlers and day of the week.
Say what you will about Platinum Dunes’ 21st century remakes of horror hits of the 70’s and 80’s, but at least they have erased all that nudge-nudge self-satisfied cinematic wankery and taken a non-ironic approach to the sacred cows of modern horror. On a more basic, yet just as satisfying level, they also gave us Jennifer Biel in a wet t-shirt in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre(2003), “perfect nipple placement” in Friday the 13th (2009) and Sean Bean actually doing a fairly good job of “being” Rutger Hauer in The Hitcher (2007).
Samuel Bayer’s similarly approached back-to-basics redux of the original Craven movie has promising signs: it’s not in fuckin’ 3-D, it hasn’t pussied out in favour of a PG-13 rating, and it doesn’t star anyone from the extended streak of granny piss that is the Twilight saga. Genre buffs were quick to whine and decry its existence, while failing to note that, actually, Jackie Earle Haley is an excellent choice to assume the mantle of the too-old Robert England (inspired casting if you’ve seen Little Children ). Moreover, isn’t the idea of seeing a straight, scary Freddy on the big screen again just a great big nostalgia kick for those of us who shot their juvenile loads over being able to rent the original on video through Palace Home Video in the 80s?
If nothing else, the new flick provides us with an opportunity to revisit the original franchise and pluck out the kind of highlights that gave it a large rewind-factor among us horror fans back in the day. As with the rival franchises, there are numerous memorable moments to treasure and recall. There can only be ten, which means your own favourites - Freddy as a topless nurse in Part III was always a queasy thing to masturbate over in the 80’s but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t useful - will probably be missing. The franchise quality was consistent enough to ensure all the movies appear on this countdown, with two exceptions, so let’s take a moment to reflect….
A Nightmare On Elm Street: The Dream Child (1989) is the fifth one, otherwise known as Freddy Has Rosemary’s Baby and best forgotten as the one in which an irritating comic book geek faces Freddy while in the guise of his fave super hero, delivering the line “Prepare to die, you scar-faced limp dick!”. Almost made you grateful for that speccy wimpoid “wizard master” in Part III.
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) is similarly bereft of memorable moments, though on reflection doesn’t quite seem like the scrotum-shrivelling pile of badger dung that oozed out onto the screen all those years ago. It features the most Robert Englund’s broadest mugging, a cameo by human-walrus Roseanne Arnold and a shrill 3-D finale that even looked like shit in 1991. But it deserves a cursory mention for the sadistic torment it heaps upon a deaf kid, beginning with a Q-Tip thrust through his ears and ending with cranial detonation.
Offering even more of a hand-clappingly good time are the following ten prime cutlets of Elm Street greatness.
10 .The 'Roach Motel' in Part 4 The Dream Master (1988) Wes Craven’s original was all about capturing the frightening pull of a terrible nightmare and sustaining the menace of a twisted freak guy invading the heads of suburban teens. By the fourth - and most commercially successful - episode, Freddy had been streamlined to the point where Robert Englund got top billing and the story would be structured around regular on-screen appearances designed to make the fan base cheer, while accompanying spectacular FX showcases. Inevitably, half the entries on this list are groovy Freddy-engineered death scenes, though it’s Part 4 that perhaps has the most vivid array of elaborate grotesquery: a fact reinforced by opening titles that list four separate credits for FX artists.
Screaming Mad George, the guy that crafted the talking ass hole and unforgettably icky “shunting” scenes in Society, supervised the most show-stopping demise of this chapter. Gym-freak / bug-hating big-haired 80’s babe Brooke Theiss has her workout ruined thanks to a painful transformation into an over-sized bug subsequently squished by you-know-who. It’s one of a series of Elm Street physical mutations (checkout the super-model who eats herself to death in the otherwise drab The Dream Child) and its old-school arm-ripping make up FX hold up well today. Anyone else notice the proliferation of really fetching actresses named “Brooke” in the 80’s? Theiss, Adams, Shields, Bruno Brookes…it was a definite and arousing trend.
9 .The Human Marionette from Part 3 : Dream Warriors (1987) Aside from a genuinely creepy prologue in which cute new heroine Patricia Arquette (ahh adolescent fantasies…) is guided through Freddy’s lair by an ominous little girl who trills “This is where he takes us” before turning into a decomposed cadaver, Part 3 signals the new direction for the franchise by emphasising surrealism, dream world-fantasy and one-liners above queasy scares. It’s also the one with Kincaid, an abrasive character created in Hollywood’s “A Black Stereotype In Five Minutes Or Your Money Back” factory and the kind of guy that looks like he’s going to steal your car and rape your woman even when he’s giving you a hug.
In a movie that completes Freddy’s transformation into a sadistic joker, there’s so much going on - including a Ray Harryhausen inspired fighting skeleton and the death of John “The Tiger” Saxon - that it mostly forgets to be scary. It does, however, feature an inventively cruel death around every 10 minutes. The first is the most visceral and one of the stand-out scenes from the whole series: artistic self-harmer Bradley Gregg is transformed by Freddy into a sleep-walking human puppet, grimly exposed veins from his arms and legs providing bloody strings. Freddy, glimpsed as an overwhelming God-like puppet master in the night-sky, callously cuts the “strings” to send Cooper plummeting to his death, but it’s the excruciating sight of him staggering down the hospital corridors, veins n all, that make this sequence so notable.
8 .Necrophilia for the masses in Freddy Vs Jason (2003) Though it devolves into a circus of stoner humour, in-jokes and a splattery cartoon battle between the two genre icons, this long-in-the-pipeline slasher movie WWF grudge-match at least remembers what a sick and sadistic bastard Freddy is. It scores early points for a scene of a pre-burn Freddy preparing to kill a terrified small child and earns considerable goodwill for staging the gruesome death of human-vacuum Kelly Rowland after she has mocked Freddy’s manhood, implying that his little bitty “butter knives” pale in comparison to Jason’s reliably big machete. (Ever fantasised about being taken from behind by Freddy while Jason watches and your strangely enthusiastic mum cheers…? Er, no, me either).
In a movie with at least one visual coup - a cornfield rave massacre with Jason ablaze - there is a particularly rewatchable Freddy moment, and arguably the most amusing entry on this list. During the Crystal Lake flashback we see Krueger failing to have sex with the corpse of a freshly murdered girl, defending his sexual prowess by asserting “I cant help it if the bitch is dead on her feet!”. For shoe-horning a necrophilia joke into an otherwise uber-slick mainstream romp, this flick deserves its place here. Generally, movies - and, let’s face it, life itself - are only ever improved by corpse-fondling.
7 .Someone is trying to get inside my body! from Part 2 - Freddy's Revenge (1985) Jack Sholder’s unloved second chapter is the one that alienates fans straight away by undermining Craven’s “rules” and letting Freddy terrorise the waking world. And though it ruins everything with a conventional hetero-love-conquers-all resolution, it’s also the only Freddy movie to feature a gay S&M club and a repressed gay PE teacher (Marshall Bell) being towel-whipped in the shower room.
Part 2 boldly strives for something different to its popular predecessor and forms part of a modest 80’s mainstream horror trend for gay subtext within stories (unusually) centred around a teenage male protagonist rather than the standard final girl (see also Fright Night and The Hitcher for more possible “gay panic” horror pics of the era). There’s no subtlety about the plot, as oddly coiffeured hero Mark Patton becomes aware of Freddy’s efforts to hijack his body. After a creepy bit of business in which a disorientated Patton stands over his sleeping little sis, tucking her in with one hand and flexing the Freddy claw with the other, the premise pays off in spectacular 80’s body horror style.
Freddy literally breaks out of Jessie’s body, emerging to slash up the lad’s best buddy (and possible object of desire). The transformation is typically painful for the era, using excellent old-school fx as Freddy’s eye opens in Patton’s mouth, his glove-blades excruciatingly protrude from Patton’s fingers and the Krueger bonce emerges from his stomach in a brutal variation on the chest-burster in Alien. An underrated entry in the series.
6 .Freddy Krueger's origins explained in A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) It’s easy to forget just how unsettling the original movie is: you’ll remember the spectacle and the frisson you felt upon first seeing Mr Krueger and that goofy bit at the very end where an unconvincing dummy is abruptly dragged through a ridiculously small window. But revisit it and you find little moments of sinister reflection and suggested horrors.
Though an origin story for a long-running franchise, Freddy’s background and the details of how he became a dream-stalker are described rather than shown; later sequels added unnecessary baggage (“bastard son of 1000 maniacs” most of all) and both the TV spin off and Freddy Vs Jason actually depicted the vigilante lynch mob of Elm Street parents responsible second lease of life. It’s the 1984 movie, however, that provides bonafide chills merely from the cost-cutting exercise of having the heroine’s mom (Ronee Blakley) explain what happened.
Blakley’s portrayal of the haunted, washed-up, alcoholic Marge Thompson is one of the movie’s underrated treasures, and she is absolutely chilling in her basement-set monologue to terrified, resentful teenage daughter Nancy. Craven’s recurring movie theme of the Sins of the Parents was never better used than here, and in Blakley’s recounting of the extreme act of retribution that led to the current reign of terror, there is real anger, melancholy and a disturbing authenticity. It’s capped by her frank, bizarre admission : “I even kept his knives…” as she pulls out the handmade glove that helped birth an icon.
5 .The death of ambition in Part 3: Dream Warriors (1987) “Welcome to Prime Time, Bitch”
So what’s the highlight of a movie that features the debut of Freddy’s “chest of souls”, Freddy as a buxom topless nurse straddling a mute (talk about fulfilling all major fantasies in one) and Freddy as a giant phallic snake munching on a barely legal Patricia Arquette (see previous comment)? Surely it’s the demise of the endearing, hamster-cheeked Penelope Sudrow!
Young Sudrow is one of the fucked-up young patients at a psychiatric clinic Freddy is hounding. She has big plans for a Hollywood career and the fact that she already stubs out live fags on her arms and appears to be in a permanent self-hating funk bodes well for her short-lived success. In a sublime never-to-be-repeated moment, her bid to stay awake by watching the Dick Cavett show secures her fate when the mild mannered host suddenly snaps at special guest Zsa Zsa Gabor (“Who gives a fuck what you think?”), turns into Krueger and then emerges from the wall-mounted TV set, hoisting Sudrow in the air with extendo mechanical arms and shoving her face through the screen.
Ignoring the following scene in which the dopey hospital authorities blithely accept this uber-bizarre death as the latest in a string of suicides (eh!), this sequence must have taken the roof off at U.S. theatres: imagine Michael Parkinson calling Joan Collins a cunt before ripping his head off.
4 .Johnny Depp, spunked out all over the ceiling in A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) Craven didn’t have the funds to stage regular elaborate deaths like those that would become the trademark of the sequels to come, but his directorial savvy and technical skills allowed the first movie to have at least one thigh-slapping playground talking point. That thigh-slapper turned out to be the spectacle of watching lovely 10 year old Johnny Depp in a too-small T-shirt getting sucked into his bed while watching “Miss Nude America” only to re-emerge moments later as an erupting fountain of room-drenching blood and gore.
Craven’s reliable sense of dark humour is all over this sequence (one cop notes to another: “You’re not gonna need a stretcher, you need a mop”), though the efforts made to craft Depp as a genuinely sympathetic, three dimensional character and the devastation expressed by girlfriend Heather Langenkamp make the set piece as wrenching as it is applause-worthy fun. Its influences lie clearly in a typical early 80’s can-you-top-this horror movie mentality, with Craven striving to out-do the geysers of blood that had recently spewed forth during equally unforgettable moments in The Shining and The Evil Dead.
3 .A vicious dream circle in Part 4: The Dream Master (1988) Detractors are quick to point out how the playfulness of Renny Harlin’s fourth movie effectively marked the end of Freddy as a figure of fear, accurately pointing to elements like the Jaws pastiche with the glove, as a sign of a wrong path taken. There’s no denying that the actual resurrection of F.K. in this one is well and truly taking the piss: literally, in fact, given that the sleep-stalker is revived thanks to a dog that pisses fire on his remains. Was there no shitting badger available?
Nonetheless, this episode is in some ways under-valued. Lisa Wilcox, as a pre-Buffy ass-kicking heroine, is one of the series’ finest leads, and there is a visually striking, surprisingly poignant cinema sequence in which she gets thrust into a realisation of her absolute worst nightmare. No blood or horrible death here, just the sight of her as an old woman still working the same dead end job.
Even better, and one of the franchise’s finest sequences, is the very cool, disorientating extended set piece in which Wilcox and bland, day-dreaming boyfriend Danny Hassel, aware of the danger facing their friends, get caught in a cyclical, seemingly inescapable dream loop. Engineered by Freddy just so he can off more of their pals, this representation of a nightmarish time-trap, of running and getting nowhere, of feeling absolutely helpless, redeems Part 4 from all its missteps. Except for that Freddy “rap” over the credits.
2 .Freddy on prime time in New Nightmare (1994) Wes Craven’s pre-Scream post-modernist take on his own creation walks the tightrope of successfully making Freddy scary again while cannily satirising Hollywood’s gradual dilution of the character itself. It aims pot-shots at long-term Craven bugbears the MPAA, comments positively on horror’s role in society at large and finds rich irony in the way Krueger crossed over into a demographic that was never intended (“Every kid knows who Freddy is, he’s like Santa Claus!”).
There is much to admire, from a brilliantly edited freeway suspense set piece to a lot of seriously sinister stuff involving that weird kid from Pet Sematary giving a 100 yard stare while projectile-vomiting. The key sequence, and the most powerful, unfolds on an initially innocuous chat show interview with Heather Langenkamp (playing herself as a struggling actress forever haunted by the role that made her). When the host asks her if she would trust Robert Englund alone with her son, she hesitates, while appearing visibly unnerved by the unannounced arrival of Englund himself, in full Freddy garb, who’s greeted by an enraptured audience cheering and waving “We Love You Freddy” banners.
While reminding us of what a disturbing character this hero-worshipped figure really is, Craven cleverly exploits our subconscious unease about an actor who has spent so long playing such a horrific character, while making us question our own worship of said character over the course of the series. It’s a terrific post-script to the Elm Street series and a thought-provoking sequence typical of the movie as a whole.
1 .The horrific fate of Tina in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) Few moments in 80’s horror are as startling as the very first on-screen death in the Elm Street franchise. The movie packs a powerful punch throughout when its fresh-faced cast members buy the farm, largely because Craven is adept at taking genre archetypes (doomed sexually active blonde, wiseass boyfriend, falsely suspected tough guy) and humanising them, making us give a shit. And, while it was his bloodiest movie up to this point, Craven knows just when and where to unleash his bags of gore.
In a short space of time, Amanda Wyss establishes Tina as a funny, likeable character and, conforming to the established pattern of the traditional slasher movie, she meets a grim end right after a sex session with bad-boy lover Nick Corri. Hers is the most gut-wrenching kill of the series, and not just because it occurs at a point in the series where we don’t fully understand who is doing these terrible things and why.
With occasional cutaways to show a shadowy Krueger as a presence in the room or under the covers with her, Craven depicts a terrified, helpless Corri watching as his girl is slashed by some invisible force before her blood-caked body is dragged up the walls and across the ceiling - all the while screaming in agony. A combination of Wyss’ convincing hysteria, a neatly used revolving set, and Corri’s stupefied reaction make for a still visceral sequence, and it’s capped by oddly poignant shot of her lifeless body dropping with a splat on the bed below, showering Corri in the grue of his own girlfriend.
In a sub-plot that’s a variation on Griffin Dunne’s recurring post-mortem role in An American Werewolf In London, Wyss reappears eerily throughout as an ethereal ghost encased in a bloody body bag. For those moments and her harrowing death, the short-lived young blonde is one of the most unforgettable elements of the whole franchise. Though we have to admit that bit with Freddy as the horny topless nurse in Part 3 almost made the top spot. Bring on the shame.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is released in cinemas on May 7th