RANKED: A Nightmare on Elm Street

One… Two… Freddy’s coming for you…

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My love affair with horror can be traced back to a number of disparate sources. TV shows like Strange but True and The X-Files, books by R.L. Stine and Stephen King, and finally horror films. While I have embraced horror films like Hannibal Lecter embraced fave beans and a nice Chianti, there is one horror franchise that eclipses all the others…

When I was 11, a bigger boy asked me if I would care to join him at his house for a viewing of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. My answer in the affirmative would change the course of my film watching habits forever. I was instantly smitten. And terrified. While not every Freddy film is as captivating as that one, they are all interesting in their own right.

There is more to Freddy Kruger than just dirty sweaters and calling everyone bitch.

Let’s start with the worst, oh and we aren’t including the 2010 reboot. We just aren’t, OK bitch?

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

The Dream Master was a betrayal. After the third entry in the franchise (The Dream Warriors) produced possibly the greatest horror movie sequel ever, The Dream Master undid all the sterling work that made A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 so successful. Firstly, after being killed off so emphatically in the third film, Freddy is brought back by a dog called Jason pissing on his grave. Seriously. Then we have Kristen being played by Tuesday Knight, an actress who bears no resemblance to the infinitely more talented Patricia Arquette who played Kristen so memorably in Dream Warriors. Kinkade and Joey return but are dragged back to high school and then killed off early on and even Kristen herself is eventually tossed away as an afterthought. It is as if Dream Warriors never happened. This is an affront.

All this is a shame because Alice Johnson is actually a compelling and interesting character as played by Lisa Wilcox. Had the focus been on Alice from the start in the form of a cold reboot instead of trying to bend over backwards to render Dream Warriors a bad dream, then director Renny Harlin might just have pulled it off.

Bizarrely, Harlin was given the Die Hard franchise on the back of this atrocity. Even more bizarrely, this film is the highest grossing of all the original Nightmare films by some margin. Go figure.

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

One of the more forgotten sequels in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, The Dream Child actually has way more going for it than its limp predecessor The Dream Master.

The Dream Child stumbles along for an hour or so punctuated by some, actually pretty fun, death scenes embedded into a competent sub plot about Amanda Krueger – Freddy’s unfortunate mother. Just when you think The Dream Child will conclude with little fanfare, one of the franchise’s most preposterous scenes rears its grotesque face in the shape of one of the main characters turning into a walking comic book strip before facing off with Freddy and having the colour drained out of him. It’s honestly mental. You can watch it here.  I urge you to do so.

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

In some ways, Freddy’s Revenge is the most disappointing Nightmare sequel. Expectations were high following the success of the first film and yet Freddy’s Revenge was messy, tame and, in some places, laughable. What it isn’t though is boring. And the main reason for this is that it is really, really gay. Like the volleyball scene in Top Gun gay.

Freddy Krueger actor Robert England conceded ‘… the second Nightmare on Elm Street is obviously intended as a bisexual themed film. It was early ’80s, pre-AIDS paranoia. Jesse’s wrestling with whether to come out or not and his own sexual desires was manifested by Freddy’. Mark Patton, the actor who played Jesse went  a step further stating ”I’m lying in bed and the candles are dripping and they’re bending like phallus’s and white wax is dripping all over. It’s like I’m the centre of a bukkake video’.

So there’s that.

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

Freddy’s Dead is quite unique in Nightmare terms in as much as it is almost like a stand alone film. A brief Johnny Depp cameo aside, there is very little linking this movie to all the other Freddy films. We have a whole new set of characters and Krueger acting as bizarrely as he ever has.

While Freddy’s Dead is a lot of fun, by this point we had strayed about as far away from the original as could possibly be. If only Wes Craven would return with a hard reboot. A film to drag Freddy away from the kitsch and the camp and back into his dark past…

4. Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

The crossover that horror fans had been waiting decades for. While it didn’t quite live up to the hype, I still don’t understand the hate for Freddy vs. Jason.

Director Ronnie Yu  does a good job in honouring both franchises with a film that is nasty, goofy and a whole lot of fun. It lacks the visceral power of both sets of source material but Freddy vs. Jason is way more watchable than nearly all the other sequels for both Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Freddy vs. Jason is worth watching for the scene in which Jason cuts Kelly Rowland’s character in half alone. Possibly the most satisfying death scene in either franchise. Mainly because it marks the moment in which Rowland’s character finally shuts the hell up.

3. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

Upon researching this article I re-watched most of the Nightmare franchise in order to reacquaint myself with it. Everything was present and correct and just as I’d remembered it… apart from Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.

Perhaps I was just too young to fully appreciate New Nightmare or perhaps it was too meta and smart to acknowledge after one viewing, but Wes Craven’s triumphant return to the franchise is a minor horror masterpiece. It is some kind of dark magic that can take the ludicrous figure that Freddy had become and make him darker and scarier than ever but Craven manages it here.

On reflection, for anyone new to the Nightmare franchise I would recommend watching the original film, Dream Warriors and then New Nightmare. You don’t really need anything else.

2. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

The film that started it all. Not just the movie career of Johnny Depp but the murderous rampage of Freddy Krueger. Wes Craven revolutionised horror forever with a monster who had knives for fingers, a horribly burnt face and a penchant for killing people in their dreams. It is an ingenious idea executed beautifully.

It also marks the first time that iconic Final Girl Nancy Thompson graced Elm Street as well as being the only Nightmare film where Freddy is truly, uncompromisingly frightening. A horror classic that spawned a franchise that will last forever.

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

There are a lot of sweeping statements I can apply to Dream Warriors. The best horror sequel ever, the most underrated horror film ever, the most visually imaginative horror film ever, but the only title that matters for this list is this one: Dream Warriors is undoubtedly the best film in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.

The story is an intoxicating one. A group of teenagers in a secure facility have all separately encountered Freddy Krueger. When they are brought together, Krueger goes on a rampage that eclipses all others.

A talented cast featuring Patricia Arquette and Larry Fishburne, combined with the return of Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson, ensures that Dream Warriors is a cut and slash above the other Nightmare films, even including the unforgettable original.

I have seen Dream Warriors many, many times and every time I watch it, I am returned to the state of a shivering 11-year-old, using bravado and nervous laughter to mask the naked terror bubbling under just below the surface. That is why we watch horror, after all. To feel scared.

I love horror films. I love Freddy Krueger. Most of all I just love A Nightmare on Elm Street and all the terrible, wonderful, hilarious sequels that the franchise has wrought.

All together now… One… Two… Freddy’s coming for you…

For a list of the top 10 horror movie directors, click here.

For a list of the top 7 horror movie survivors (including Nancy Thompson), click here.