A Bloody Good Time 11.15.12: Ranking The Nightmare on Elm Street Films
Posted by Joseph Lee on 11.15.2012
From the classic Wes Craven original through Freddy vs. Jason all the way to the 2010 reboot, 411's Joseph Lee ranks all nine Nightmare on Elm Street films from best to worst!
Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)
Welcome to A Bloody Good Time.
Before I reveal the winner of the Horror Knockout tournament and get into this week's topic, I have a plea to my readers. The end of the year is fast approaching and that means the best of 2012 horror column is also coming up. I'm going to be completely honest. This year, Hollywood has not stepped up. I've got maybe three to four big budget Hollywood movies that could potentially make the list and then a lot of crap both mainstream and indie. So I need your help. Have you seen a really kick-ass horror film from this year that I need to check out? Let me know in the comments! I'm cultivating a list and will soon marathon these things over the weeks to make this list all the better.
Last week, we had the finals of our first annual A Bloody Good Time Horror Knockout Tournament. I mentioned that the winner would get the topic of this week's edition, so if you haven't figured it out, that means our first champion is Freddy Krueger! He won 338-333, finally getting revenge for the loss in Freddy vs Jason. But it close though...five votes! As a result of this win, Freddy has defeated some of the biggest names in horror: Jason, Godzilla, the Xenomorph, the shark from Jaws and Victor Crowley. If he re-enters the tournament next year, we'll see if he can defend his crown.
Which means that I'm going to spend this week ranking all nine films in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. You may be surprised at what ranks where, but I think the #1 choice will be pretty obvious to everyone. As you know, when I do these ranking columns, that means you won't be seeing me bring up the franchise anymore except for once in a while. It's my way of keeping my columns fresh.
Anyway, let's rank the best of Freddy.
#9: A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)
One thing I love about the Nightmare series is that even the bad entries have some great things within. It's the one horror franchise where you can find enjoyment somewhere, even if the film itself is rather bad. In the case of The Dream Child, enjoyment comes from the surreal imagery at the end and Lisa Wilcox continuing to impress as Alice. There are also some outright grisly kills, from the motorcycle/man fusion to Greta being fed her own intestines.
As much as I love Robert Englund here, the material given for Freddy is so bad that he's just really annoying. Plus the makeup is a lot worse than it normally is. The dream child story is actually quite stupid, or at least isn't explained enough to help it develop. How in the world do the souls of people being fed to an unborn child cause Freddy to be reborn through it? Finally although the kills made count, there are only three and there's a perfectly good character to kill off in Yvonne who gets to hang around for some unknown reason. Maybe they just decided enough of Alice's friends died, but Nancy lost all of her friends and her parents before Freddy killed her. At least Alice still had her kid.
#8: Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
There's one reason that Freddy's Dead is better than the Dream Child, and it's this: Robert Englund clearly doesn't care that Freddy is a clown at this point. While he's annoying in The Dream Child, he goes over the barrier here and just becomes funny. At this point the series becomes a cartoon, so Englund plays Freddy like some sort of demented cartoon character. He tries his best to make it entertaining and essentially turns the thing into a one man show.
But that doesn't mean the movie's any good. He just saves what was a bad sequel from being worse. All of the kills are absolutely awful, the twists on the mythology are worse. Not only does Freddy Krueger, a man who killed (and probably molested, it was never outright said until the remake) many children have a wife, but he had a daughter. And somehow kept all of this secret for years. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but it does seem like he picked the dumbest woman in the world to marry. I also never enjoyed the change that made people just get erased from history after being killed.
#7: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)
Technically, wasn't Freddy's real revenge in Part 3? Anyway, I've grown to appreciate this film more over the years but that doesn't change the fact that it is seriously flawed. I'm going to get the good stuff out of the way first. Freddy's massacre in the film, which I mentioned last week, is great. The idea of Freddy possessing some poor guy to return to life is another good idea. I also liked that while Freddy wasn't a clown yet, he still had that dark sense of humor from the first. He wasn't quite mainstream yet and still felt grimy.
Now let's look at the bad. There's the whole homoerotic undertone to the whole thing. I've explained this before. I don't have a problem with there being a gay lead character. If you wanted to make Jesse gay, do that. It wouldn't change the fact he's not that great of a hero but at least it'd be some sort of character development. But don't skip and dance around the topic and make your whole movie some sort of weird subtext for the seduction of the youth. But if you ignore that, this has the weakest kills of the entire series (outside of that pool party massacre) and a really stupid moment in which a bird explodes after losing its mind. It's just a lot of bad stuff mixed in with some awesome Freddy moments.
#6: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
The fact that I have this ahead of any of the original Nightmare movies, even the bad ones, is sure to anger some people. There are a lot of problems with the remake, I'm not denying that. I wouldn't even call it a good movie. But like any Freddy movie, it also has its positives. In this case it's Jackie Early Haley's portrayal of Krueger. The script doesn't give him a hell of a lot to work with but he tries hard to make Freddy scary again and in some ways he succeeds. Whenever Haley is on screen, this is a serviceable film.
But Haley isn't on the screen all the time. In fact, through most of the first third he's limited to brief appearances. When he's not on screen we're stuck with legitimately the worst cast in Nightmare history and Clancy Brown (who doesn't get nearly enough screen time). Rooney Mara appears to be sleepwalking (she didn't want to be there but still signed on for some inexplicable reason) and the rest of the cast do not appear to be trying hard. The kills, which should be some of the most enjoyable parts of the film, are either rip-offs of things we've seen before or just general hack and slash stuff. You had the ability to use CGi to play around in the dream world and you squandered it.
It's by no means a good movie, but I do enjoy watching Haley and for that it's better than the movie where Freddy dresses up like the Wicked Witch of the West.
#5: A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
This is where the films get good. While The Dream Master isn't anything special, it's a decent entry in the series and it sets up a new strong heroine in Alice Johnson. I think, in some ways, Alice is a better foil for Freddy than Nancy. For one thing, she fought him twice and lived. Nancy fought him twice and died once (Heather Langenkamp fought him in New Nightmare, not Nancy). Nancy's more iconic because she was in the first, but Alice is stronger in her own ways. Ultimately I think it comes down to fan preference.
One thing I like about the middle three Nightmare films is that they all tied together. The third film led into the fourth, and the fifth is a direct sequel to the fifth. You could probably call them the "Dream Trilogy". As for this movie, it's the exact point that Freddy went from a killer with twisted sense of humor to a joker. He's making constant puns, the kills are largely goofy ("wanna suck face?") and Freddy just isn't scary anymore. Al least he was still entertaining.
#4: Freddy vs Jason (2003)
If you guys don't mind, I'm going to post what I wrote the last time I mentioned this movie, as it hasn't been that long since I ranked the Jason movies and I feel the exact same about this movie.
For ten years horror fans were waiting for this. Actually even longer, considering Paramount wanted to do it for The New Blood. But Jason Goes to Hell teased everybody, and writer after writer attempted to put something together to get these two to fight. In terms of match-ups, you'd think Jason would be a better foil for Michael, but then you wouldn't have nearly as entertaining of a fight. I'd rather watch Jason fight the guy with personality then someone that's almost just like him.
The reason this movie works isn't the characters, the story or the direction (although the latter is nice too). No, what works here is when we actually get to see the two horror legends do battle at Crystal Lake in an absolutely bloody battle. Jason and Freddy bleed buckets and you really feel like these two are giving it everything they got. For a fight that good, plus the awesome bed kill in the beginning, I can forgive casting Kelly Rowland and replacing Kane Hodder.
#3: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
This is how you do a proper Nightmare on Elm Street sequel. The kill count is increased, the kills themselves are more imaginative and Freddy is front and center fighting his nemesis in Nancy. While Freddy became slightly more of a joker in this film, he still had enough of an edge that he was still a threat and as the end of the film proves, he was still very dangerous. He kills off the last of the Elm Street kids in violent, gory ways but this time his victims are actually able to fight back.
This introduces the concept that you have a special ability in dreams and that with proper hard work and practice, you can bring it forth to help you against Freddy. Some of the powers are lame (like the Wizard Master) but it's more about working together with other like individuals to get the job done. Even then, Freddy's gained strength thanks to his kills in the second and third movies so it makes for a very climactic battle that results in loss on the side of our heroes before Freddy is put down for good. This movie has everything a fan of this character could want, and would be the best of the sequels if not for the next entry.
#2Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)
While I may think Wes Craven is overrated, there's no debating that this film is great. Instead of making yet another Freddy sequel, he took the series in a completely different and unexpected direction. Freddy Krueger is just a character that was written to contain a force of evil that has had various forms over the years. This ancient evil just happens to like the form of Freddy because, let's face it, Freddy is pretty evil himself.
Craven made Freddy a force to be reckoned with by acknowledging that the movie character became a joke and just ignoring that continuity. This film still, however, has many echoes of the first film and other entries in the series and some fun blurring of the lines between reality and fiction. My only wish would be that this more evil Freddy interacted more with the real Nightmare stars or that we found out exactly where Robert Englund disappeared to.
#1: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
There's just no way this couldn't be #1. It's not only the film that started it all but it's one of the best horror films ever made. Freddy is at his most terrifying here but he still has some humor to him. He just thinks other things are funny, like slicing off his own fingers and giving you the crazy eyes. Even with a lower budget than the rest of the series, this film also had impressive special effects that as the remake proved, just don't look the same when done with a computer.
Plus it's filled with so many memorable moments. "This is God". Johnny Depp's death, Freddy leaping through a mirror, etc. It gets to a certain point where saying a film is great over and over just doesn't do it justice. A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of those times. It's just a film that has to be seen, preferably over and over again. It's a classic in every sense of the word, and there's no competition when it comes to the best of this franchise.
That's it for me. Leave some comments here on or my Twitter. Next week, I look at how to survive a hauntd house movie.
Closing Logo courtesy of Kyle Morton (get your own custom artwork and commissions at his Etsy account)
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