Nightmare (Ranked & Reviewed)
Transcribed directly from an audio recording
Well, it’s nearing the end of 2020. A U.S. election is just around the corner and my favourite holiday is coming up, Halloween. And, oh yeah, I’m getting married on Halloween! I absolutely love everything about Halloween and the fall season. The colours, the vibe, the costumes, and most of all, the scary films. As a child, I remember vividly growing up with the slasher genre, watching films like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and Friday the 13th. I often dressed up as my favourite horror slasher villains including Freddy Kreuger, Michael Myers, and Jason Vorhees. This year, after our wedding celebration, my partner and I are dressing up as Freddy and Nancy from the first Nightmare. In fact, the profile picture of this post is actually me in costume this year.
To refresh our memories and to get us in the mood for Halloween, we recently watched all nine Nightmare films over a weekend and now I’d like to rank all nine from worst to best with a quick note about each.
Number 9 is Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare.
What can be said about this dumpster fire? I’m sure fans around the world can agree that this entry in the franchise is awful. What threw me over the edge is the scene featuring Freddy playing a real-life video game. Truly, what were the filmmakers thinking? The only enjoyable moment for me was seeing Robert Englund out of makeup and a little more backstory on Freddy, however, the rest of the film was purely unenjoyable, predictable, and a terrible sendoff of our beloved Freddy.
Number 8 is Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
This choice is controversial, I know. Most fans of the franchise rank this film much higher on their list. With that said, for me, this film is quite boring. I appreciate very much that Wes Craven tried a new approach with this entry and I do love that this is essentially the precursor to the Scream films. Without this film, I’m not sure if the Scream franchise would have worked as well as it has. So, I do give this film some credit. I do appreciate the idea, but for me, it’s just not overly scary or exhilarating. Above and beyond anything else, it only features Freddy in a few scenes near the end and unlike the first film, we see him very clearly in makeup that looks fake and processed. In the first film, Freddy is rarely featured, but when he is, he is used in the shadows and in the dark. Wes Craven uses Freddy in the first film as the creature in the shadows and his clever use of lighting and angles, truly makes his presence felt throughout the film, even though he’s only featured in a few minutes. This film, however, doesn’t employ the same techniques and all said and done, it falls flat. One quick final note is that I saw this film in theatres in 1994 and I had absolutely no idea what it was about given that I was eight-years-old at the time and not up to date on meta-references and so on. I was quite confused as to the difference between Heather the actress and Nancy the character.
Number 7 is A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.
This film for me isn’t terrible, but as a sequel to the third Nightmare, it falls well short of the successes of the previous film. The third Nightmare set up a very interesting concept and this concept could have continued better in the sequels; however, it isn’t handled with the appropriate diligence. A recasting of major characters also doesn’t help. As mentioned many times before, I am not a fan of recasting in any way. Write a new character instead of having the audience trying to disassociate a character with the previous actor or actress that portrayed the role. This is the most “MTV” of the franchise and it’s quite dated. In 1988, this would have been a fun theatre experience, but over the years, it simply hasn’t aged well. As I said previously, this film isn’t terrible and I do enjoy it, but not as much as other entries on this list. As a final note, Freddy’s makeup and design are great in this film.
Number 6 is A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child.
While not much better, this film for me is slightly better than the fourth Nightmare due to better ageing. It beats out the fourth Nightmare by a very narrow margin. It’s great to see Lisa Wilcox again now that I’ve gotten used to her in the role of Alice. She does much better in this film with perhaps some stronger directing. This film is darker than the fourth Nightmare and explores Freddy in more depth. Don’t get me wrong, this film is far from perfect and there definitely is an oversaturation of comedy and Freddy. With latter films in the franchise, the overarching complaint I have with them is the fact that the comedy is dialled up to the extreme and Freddy is featured in more than seventy-five percent of the films. This concept is a completely different approach than the first Nightmare or even the second Nightmare, and whilst I can agree these films are a lot of fun, they simply aren’t scary due to the gags and an in your face Freddy. I can’t blame the filmmakers entirely. It’s obvious that Freddy Krueger is the money maker in this franchise and as such, they chose to feature him as much as possible. This was also made in the “MTV” era in which stylization tended to be more popular than story or premise.
Number 5 is Freddy vs. Jason.
We waited for years for this one and in the summer of 2003, I can tell you that a lot of theatregoers had a great time at the cinema. This film is also of its time, in an era where CGI was just coming into mainstream use and remakes or redoes of slasher films were becoming popular. This film is far from “scary”, but honestly, it’s a whole lot of fun. Robert Englund is great as Freddy and the concept of pitting slasher icon versus slasher icon is brilliant and certainly what the fans had been clamouring for, for years.
Number 4 is A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010).
I actually enjoyed this entry quite a bit, and although uninspired and quite unoriginal, there are definitely some stand out moments. The effects are quite decent and it’s filmed quite well. It’s less comedic and gets back to form, which I definitely appreciate. Jackie Earle Haley does a decent job as Freddy, and although not a great as Robert Englund, I do commend him for the effort. It would be impossible or nearly impossible to top the performance of someone who had portrayed the role for decades in multiple films and other media. Rooney Mara and Kyle Gallner actually bring some great acting to the franchise and both handle the material well. Rooney in particular is such a heavy-hitting actress and this franchise is blessed to have her. I enjoyed some of the concepts of this film including the molestation angle and Freddy’s secret room and as always, I enjoy seeing Freddy before being burnt and seeing an actor portray the before and after Freddy. My general criticism of this film is that it doesn’t feel fresh. It’s a been-there/done-that vibe, which hurts the film.
Number 3 is A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.
I know I’ll take some flak for ranking this film in the top three, but for me, I really enjoy this film. I enjoy Robert’s portrayal of Freddy. I enjoy the makeup and costume, I enjoy and empathize with Jesse portrayed by Mark Patton, and although I don’t think this film is better than the original, for me, it’s a solid sequel and a more than decent follow up to the first film. This film is scary and I very much appreciate the filmmakers trying to expand upon Wes Craven’s vision and trying a slightly different approach. The concept of this film is actually quite interesting. It’s freighting to imagine someone invading your mind and controlling your actions.
Number 2 is A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.
Ranking this film in the number two spot is pretty obvious and I’m sure most fans agree. This is a worthy successor to the first film and certainly an improvement over the second film. The concepts presented in this film are fabulous and we have some great directing by Chuck Russell, famous for directing The Mask with Jim Carrey. Patricia Arquette is fabulous as Alice. The effects, makeup, and plot of this film are in top form. Robert Englund is fantastic as Freddy Krueger and all-in-all, this is a great sequel. A couple of negative points are the return of Heather Langenkamp as an actress and as her character Nancy. As an actress, she just doesn’t carry the role well. Her line readings are weak and compared to other scream queens like Jamie Lee Curtis, this franchise deserved better. As a character, I’m not sure why it was important to bring Nancy back, especially after the ending of the first film. I would have appreciated each film presenting a new and interesting set of characters like the second film did.
Number 1 is A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Well, I think it’s pretty obvious what film gets the top spot. The film that started it all and Johnny Depp’s first major film appearance. What I like most about this film is Freddy’s makeup, but more importantly the subtlety of the use of his character. Robert is excellent here, and although he isn’t in a lot of the film, the potency of his performance makes his presence felt throughout. As mentioned, Wes Craven’s decision to use certain angles and lighting effects really helps deliver the best Freddy in the franchise. I appreciate very much that we see a shadowy villain, in which we never truly get to see him in full light. Seeing his eyes, or his silhouette etc. is exactly what makes him scary. A criticism I have as mentioned previously is Heather Langenkamp. She comes off as rude and unrelatable. Her acting is terrible and any scenes with her aren’t enjoyable. All-in-all, this is a bonafide classic, aside from a few negative points. Given its budget and what it has to accomplish, this film delivers, bottom line.
There is no doubt that this is a solid slasher franchise, if not the best. I personally enjoy the Halloween franchise more, but I could conceive why some fans consider this franchise the greatest slasher franchise of all-time. I love Freddy Krueger and Robert Englund portrays him extremely well. I’m glad that he was the consistency in this franchise from start to finish (except for one remake film).
The concept of someone invading your nightmares is terrifying. Exploring nightmares and dreaming allow many possibilities in storytelling with complexity and variety. I’ve watched all of these films numerous times over the past thirty or so years and greatest of all, I’ve personally met Robert Englund, and what a sweetheart. He’s the nicest guy ever and most importantly, great with his fans.
My biggest criticism of the franchise is simply that the films became too comedic and too campy over the years and featured an oversaturation of the Freddy Krueger character. I hope the next sequel can get back to the heart of what makes these films enjoyable and scary.