I recently had the pleasure of hosting a roundtable discussion with several members of the 25YL staff. We examined the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise in great detail in what made for a great conversation. Joining me for the roundtable were: Valerie Thompson (Managing Editor, Horror), Steve Wandling (Editor, Horror) and staff writers Anthony Divers, Riks Robinson and D. Aaron Schweighardt. Be sure to let us know your answers in the comments!
Andrew: What was the first Nightmare on Elm Street film you saw? How old were you, and what impact did it have on you?
Riks: I saw the first film first at a slumber party when I was like 12. I remember being too scared to sleep for quite a while but I was really drawn to it too.
Anthony: The first one I saw was the original with Johnny Depp. I must have been about 12 or 13, and I remember being really disturbed by the idea of him coming for you in your sleep. Thanks to my Dad, I was already used to horror by this age, but this was a new idea to me. It wasn’t zombies you can run from or a masked killer you can try to hide from. You had to stay awake, which is impossible. It was a refreshing take on horror for my young brain to process, and I’m fairly certain I had more than one nightmare thanks to old Fred. I also became obsessed with his glove and had a replica (plastic) that I would just wear around the house — such a weird kid.
Steve: I remember specifically the first Nightmare on Elm Street film I saw as it is intertwined with my “horror DNA” as it were. I was nine years old in 1994, and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was a new release as a VHS rental. I already knew all about Freddy Krueger, but my parents wouldn’t let me watch the actual films. Luckily, a friend with way more lenient parents had a sleepover with flicks and games. New Nightmare probably wasn’t the appropriate choice for a bunch of eight and nine year olds, but there we were. The film absolutely terrified me. I was too young to understand the meta script and I hadn’t seen any of the other films in the series yet but I instantly fell in love with the film. So many scenes stuck with me, but when Freddy jumps out of the casket at Heather Langenkamp’s husband’s funeral is an image/jump scare I don’t think I ever quite recovered from. And who can forget the most disgusting game of skin the cat? What stuck with me the most, and forgive me for sounding so obvious, is the dream-like nature of the film which would go on to reinforce a lot of what I liked about film in general as I got older.
Aaron: To be completely honest, I don’t have a distinctive memory of my first experience with a Nightmare on Elm Street movie. I would assume it was the first one. The scene where Johnny Depp was sucked into the bed and then his blood gushed up and out of it left a strong impression. I first saw some of them on TV. I want to say 1, 2 and 5 are the first ones I remember. And later I do have a distinctive memory of seeing Wes Craven’s New Nightmare with a cousin late at night while visiting relatives out of state, and us both being too scared to move around the dark house. A distinctive memory I do have is later in middle school after my parents had just gotten divorced, and my mom and I renting them from a local video store (I think it was called Movie Warehouse) and watching through the whole series while she also spoiled me with pizza and nachos (my favorites). My dad was more into horror than my mom (though I quickly surpassed them both), my mom being more resistant. I made her suffer through the Halloween and Friday the 13th series’ over and over again (which are still above NOES for me), but I remember she seemed genuinely excited to watch through the Nightmare on Elm Street series with me. I guess Freddy was her slasher. So yeah, I somewhat associate those movies with a special memory I shared with my mom.
Valerie: It had to be the original for me. Can’t remember the exact age, but I was definitely young enough to know this could be “nightmare” fuel (pardon the pun). More specifically, Tina’s death was the first glimpses I had of everyone’s favorite dream killer. The composition of that shot had the power to control your fear. A shadowy figure with arms outstretched to freakish proportions was enough to stoke a bit of curiosity while repulsing my childhood sensibilities. For the record, I would not venture totally into the world of horror until those all-important pre-teen years.
Andrew: Many fans of the Nightmare on Elm Street series are divided over the first sequel. I wanted to see how you guys felt about it as a film, and then how it compares to the rest of the franchise for you.
Anthony: For me, Freddy’s Revenge feels like Friday 13th Part 5, in the sense that I feel a bit cheated because Freddy isn’t in it. I know he is there in the film, but he doesn’t enter your dreams and kill you, he wants to possess Jesse to use him as a host almost. Or, if you believe the theory I do, Freddy isn’t there at all, it’s all in Jesse’s head. It’s one of those, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” situations. Freddy entering your dreams is a terrifying idea. Don’t try to make this a possession/mental illness movie. So for me, I’ll take a pass on Freddy’s Revenge and go straight to Dream Warriors. Maybe this would sit better as Part 4 or 5? I do actually like the movie, but not as Part 2. You can’t follow up the powerhouse of the original with a whole new concept. No thanks.
Steve: I really can’t stand Freddy’s Revenge in a lot of ways. The pool scene that pulls you right out of the rules established in the original film kills it for me. The possession angle never worked for me either and the entire thing plays out like bad fan fiction. What there is plenty to love about Freddy’s Revenge where the story totally misses the mark, however, is the wonderful gay undertones throughout. Whether it’s the gym teacher being spotted at an S&M club, the boys wrestling during gym class, or just how Krueger works as a metaphor for this teenage kid’s trapped sexuality that’s just bursting out that he can’t control, the screenwriter has a helluva time and for a while it was happily known as the “gayest film in horror history.” There were a couple of memorable moments. The opening bus scene with Krueger as the driver sending kids to their death is fun, and the little nightmare girl jump roping in the bedroom is pretty creepy. Who can forget that alone bedroom dance though? Just awful.
Valerie: Honestly, I’m a bit apathetic towards this one. I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it either.
Aaron: Ok, so I guess I’m going to be the guy who has to defend Freddy’s Revenge, and yet I don’t have much to defend it with. It’s my third favorite movie in the series (at one point it was my second). The possession angle never really bothered me. Maybe because it was early on in the series, I was more forgiving. Let me also point out that it didn’t have any of the classic music themes which Charles Bernstein created in the first film (besides the jump rope song), but Christopher Young (who’d go on to score Hellraiser) did a really good job with a new score I thought. I’ve heard themes from Part 2 in several trailers for other movies in fact. Maybe part of the reason why it’s one of my favorites in the series is that it still plays it’s horror more straight…or, well, maybe straight isn’t the right word. But less intentionally comical as the series would later become. I tend to prefer the more serious horror movies over the ones that are more comedic. Not that there aren’t exceptions, of course, but in terms of how I typically rank movies within some of my favorite horror franchises. Speaking of the gay subtext, what’s weird is that even as a bisexual male, that side of the film never really stood out to me until the movie was #1 on a Cracked article, “The 5 Most Unintentionally Gay Horror Movies”, and then the screenwriter David Chaskin later confirmed that was intentional subtext on his part. That aspect of the film just never really spoke to me personally, even though I find it amusing. Though I did always think that dance scene while Jesse was unpacking boxes was odd. Part 2 has a fun nightmare opening, characters I like (my favorite being Grady, as played by Robert Rusler), it has my favorite Freddy line, “You are all my children now!”, I enjoyed the finale, and I thought the last jump scare was great! Fight me.
Andrew: What would you say your favorite three films from the series are?
Steve: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and Dream Warriors.
Anthony: Freddy Vs. Jason, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Dream Warriors.
Riks: Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Dream Warriors (1987), and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
Valerie: Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), New Nightmare (1994) and Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987).
Aaron: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.
Andrew: Now, just to see if we have any differing opinions, what would you call your three least favorite films in the franchise?
Steve: Freddy Vs. Jason, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and NOES (2009).
Anthony: The Dream Master, The Dream Child, and Freddy’s Revenge.
Riks: The Dream Child, Freddy’s Dead, and The Dream Master.
Aaron: For now, I want to offer a disclaimer that there isn’t a Nightmare on Elm Street movie I flat out dislike. Which also means that as a whole NOES has a better track record than other horror franchises I like more, such as Friday the 13th or Halloween. I’m also not completely sure of my ranking. Most confident of those top 3 favorites. I imagine I’ll have to elaborate on my answer, but for now, my bottom three are (from best to worst): A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, A Nightmare on Elm Street (2009).
Valerie: I’ll go with the remake, Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, and Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. I do have to say that any of these titles are still a great watch on Saturday afternoon though.
Andrew: I will freely admit that I didn’t expect The Dream Master to be on anyone’s bottom three list. Steve, this film didn’t make either your top 3 or bottom 3. What are your thoughts on this film?
Steve: My thoughts immediately go less narrative and more FX driven moments. The kills are more important. Fred Krueger from Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare On Elm Street is now a completely different albeit very entertaining version of himself. I do like the time loop and some elements of it but I do think it cheapens 3 by killing off the Dream Warriors so easily and not having Patricia Arquette back as Kristen definitely hurt. I don’t dislike Alice as a character though and the surreal element is always a plus but as a certain paper I’m writing will point a lot of the films seem to be reactions to themselves.
Andrew: Aaron, you did list this film as one of your least favorites. How would you respond to Steve here?
Aaron: Well, it actually used to be my least favorite of the series, but I’ve reconsidered my opinions in recent years. I agree with some of Steve’s points actually. I do think it becomes much more jokey and a bit goofier, some of which really doesn’t work. Freddy being revived by flaming dog urine?! It does kill the remaining Dream Warriors a little too easily and brings in more characters without much motive. Freddy just wants to kill more people. However, and I’m going to get some flack for this (I’m surprised I haven’t been demanded to answer for my Dream Warriors take yet, in general), but I think the characters in Dream Master are generally more interesting. The film has at least my favorite SECONDARY character from the whole series: Rick, as played by Andras Jones. That character had a lot of charisma, was funny, and one of the few instances where I truly felt his absence when he’s killed. The song “Anything, Anything” by Dramarama that plays during his martial arts montage is also one of the best songs in any of the movies. And I LOVE that time loop scene. I remember when my mom and I rented it, we both thought something was wrong with the VHS during that scene haha. Brilliant! I think the look of the film is better too.
Andrew: I will actually go as far as to say that it’s my favorite film in the series not directed by Wes Craven, for some of the reasons you mentioned above. Speaking of Wes Craven, there was undeniable love for the Craven trilogy here when I asked everyone’s favorites. Let’s start with Valerie. What makes the three films helmed by Craven stand out to you the most in this series?
Valerie: Craven’s background in English and Humanities plays a role in all of his films. I’ve always felt like he was creating a language of his own among a previously established genre, just go back to films like The Last House on the Left. The original Nightmare on Elm Street took on the classic teens in trouble cliche and gave it a depth that many overlook. With New Nightmare, he went even further by exploring and ripping apart the very characters that he created, along with delving into his place among the films themselves. I think other films in the series didn’t hold that same affection; they were strictly for profit instead of fascination.
Andrew: Let’s dive into Craven’s films individually a bit, starting with Dream Warriors. Aaron, the floor is yours, sir. Everyone else listed it as a favorite and you didn’t. Let’s get your thoughts and then open the floor for everyone’s responses.
Aaron: I had a feeling that’s the one that I’d have to answer for, given it’s at least one of most people’s favorites and one of my least favorites. But I do like it. Let me highlight the good stuff first to lessen the blow. I think the writing is tighter, and you bring back certain things that added to the first film while adding to the backstory. You have a lot of that in the opening. The house, the girls jumping rope, Freddy’s history as a child killer, the classic theme music. It has a pretty great opening dream sequence. I love that they brought back Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon. With Wes Craven, he was only involved in the early stages, the first draft of the screenplay basically. The Dokken title song is fucking great! And Freddy does become more of a jokester, and some of that really works. Of course the “Welcome to Prime Time, bitch!” scene, but my other favorite funny moment is Kristin’s dream with her mother getting decapitated and still scolding her while Freddy yells, “I asked for the damn bourbon!” But I think some of the movie is really cheesy—“I am the Wizard Master!” UGH; and that scene where they fight the skeleton. The look of the film is drab and ugly—different from “dark”. Besides the classic themes being brought back, I think Angelo Badalamenti’s new score is pretty awful. I just think it was the wrong choice; I typically love his music for David Lynch. And I know most people love the characters, but I find them a bit bland and one note. It might be my least favorite group of characters of any of the NOES movies honestly. Except for Taryn, played by Jennifer Rubin. Taryn fucking rules. “In my dreams, I’m beautiful…and BAD!” But that’s way more than enough from me [laughs].
Anthony: I just love the idea of this Breakfast Club collection of misfit kids, all coming together to fight Freddy using their dream abilities. It’s fucking mental! Especially Taryn, whose special power is just to be more confident and sexy, but also a punk rock knife expert. And the Wizard Master! Wtf?! It’s in my top 3 because it’s so insane that it’s good. Plus some of the deaths are excruciating to watch. I see those vein puppet strings in my own nightmares.
Riks: Dream Warriors seemed to follow the original story better than the others for me. In the first movie, we met Nancy, and although she wasn’t in the second one we still felt her….it taking place in her house and with her diary being featured…but it seemed disconnected from the first. Freddy’s revenge was campy and fun but wasn’t as dark as the first one for me. Dream Warriors brought back Nancy, someone I already felt I knew and could relate to, and with Nancy—and probably Craven—it felt darker again. Less campy. There were still camp elements, but Freddy was someone I feared again. The dream elements of NOES was one of the things I was really drawn to, and Nancy was a fantastic protagonist.
Valerie: I thought the hospital setting along with Nancy in a position as a doctor was an interesting choice for the story. It opened up the series to more of an exploration of the nightmares themselves and the mental health aspects that often go unnoticed around teenagers.
Steve: I think that Dream Warriors is far and away the best sequel in the series. It is kind of a double edged sword because it is the film that transformed Krueger from a sinister trickster serial murderer into a self-aware pop culture icon. The monster had to be brought out of the shadows and that was a huge risk. The studio felt at the time that Part 2 had been a big misfire, so there was definitely this sense of “all or nothing” for the franchise as a whole, and I think that energy shows in Dream Warriors. And Craven’s involvement isn’t to be overstated, but it isn’t to be understated either. It can be easily argued that NOES is of two minds: Cravens and producer Bob Shaye’s. That goes all the way back to the ending of the original with Shaye winning out with the ending he wanted that left the film open for a sequel. So it’s no surprise that Craven’s original screenplay was deemed far too dark and meta by the studio (oddly enough, many of the elements would show up in New Nightmare years later). I think that Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell took the idea of diving deeper into the dream world and also really adding a lot of fan wish fulfillment into the screenplay by having the characters actually be “warriors” and not just simply victims was brilliant. Craven wanted Part 3 to end of the franchise, so it’s funny that Part 3 is what kept it going, but I think it largely works, is well shot, and the performances are excellent. I think it’s the perfect balance of this new iteration of Krueger and the surrealism of the original before it got too loopy and/or silly and devolved into knowing self-parody. That’s why I think it’s far superior to any of the other four sequels in that original Craven (and Shaye) created universe.
Andrew: After Dream Warriors, in the fourth through sixth installments of the franchise, the tone did change some. There was a shift where Freddy himself became the star and the humor was certainly ramped up. Want to give everyone a chance to weigh in here on these films in between the Craven entries and what they meant for the series.
Riks: They are fun, popcorn horror films. I almost found myself rooting for Freddy at times.
Steve: I would suggest the final act of Dream Warriors set that tone, but Dream Master, The Dream Child, Freddy’s Dead are all movies ABOUT Freddy as a dream demon rockstar and not much else…or at least opposed to the original film which is about a helluva lot. The character completely becomes Elvis here. Wisecracking badass that the audience can’t wait to see what he does next! That’s post Dream Warriors NOES. And I get it. It was a huge gamble making that shift that could be laughably bad (and was at times), but that iteration of the character may not be the most revered and artistically respected, but he is the most popular. People love a fun devil, a little safe evil in their lives. And they could laugh at it. It’s all about the setups and the kills. Those films are the Freddy Krueger show with Freddy as Johnny Carson from Hell.
Aaron: I’ve already talked about The Dream Master, but A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare rank as my fourth and fifth favorites. A little behind-the-scenes with 25YL: when this series was proposed, I very seriously considered writing about them until time constraints got in the way, because I felt like they were presented as the weak points of the NOES series, and I really like both. I like The Dream Child more than the previous two of what I see as a trilogy. It was one of the first ones I remember seeing, and while it does still go with jokes in the writing and with Robert Englund’s performance, I actually think it’s got a visually darker tone to it than the previous two, and some moments creeped me out as a kid. Even though it opens with a love scene, the way it’s shot with Jay Ferguson’s theme song over it adds an ominous tone to it. Alice’s opening dream sequence that goes through Freddy’s conception, and then the other one where Freddy is rebirthed. What’s somewhat a final jump scare where Freddy’s hand bursts out of his mother’s stomach. These all scared me as a kid. Otherwise, I like how it plays on the characters’ insecurities. Dan’s parents’ disapproval of Alice. Greta being groomed to be a model. I also think it’s a sweet touch having Alice’s father being in recovery after the loss of the BEST SECONDARY CHARACTER OF THE ENTIRE SERIES, his son Rick.
Riks: I wonder if the age we saw these films plays a part? I was 8 for the first one — 11 for Dream Warriors, 17 for New Nightmare. I was almost 14 when Dream Child came out, so maybe I was too cool for school. Perhaps those first impressions stick with you? Nostalgia often plays such a significant role in sequels and remakes.
Anthony: That’s why, while I still enjoy those films, they’re not my favourites. I like the plot of the original and Dream Warriors. I found them genuinely scary when I was younger, whereas 4 to 6 were just—as Steve excellently put it—The Freddy Krueger show. It’s like they realised Freddy wasn’t as scary as he was originally intended to be, so let’s just go all out and make him a celebrity. I do still enjoy these films a lot; they just don’t have the same essence that the originals did.
Aaron: I never found Dream Warriors to be scary or even creepy; I think I’m more with Steve on that regard. But that is a good point in terms of how when we saw it affected our experience; I saw Dream Warriors later, in eighth grade. But there were no scares to be found with Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. It’s the one that goes the most for laughs. And yet it was one of my favorites as a kid; less sure of my ranking now. But some of the humor still works. I thought the opening was hilarious, with moments like “John Doe’s” (in the original script it was Alice’s son Jacob!), the airline passenger telling him to not “be a pussy”, and Freddy showing up as the Wicked Witch of the West—love that line, “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little soul too!”. I also think the moments where he kills Spencer in a video game and exploits Carlos’ hearing loss are pretty funny too. And I LOVE that they bring back Johnny Depp to do an anti-drug PSA before Freddy hits him with a frying pan! Though they do give a serious moment when they touch on Tracy’s sexual abuse, which was a life-changing moment for actress Lezlie Deane. I’m not sure the ending works. I’ve seen that sequence in 3D that was presented in theaters, and the 3D is pretty lousy. That whole “dream demon” thing is silly. But hey, at least Alice Cooper popped up!
Steve: I actually don’t hate Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, Aaron. It may be in my bottom three that I listed, but I may replace that with Freddy V Jason, which I quite liked when it came out. I was a Ronny Yu fan, very stylistic visually driven director. I loved what he did with Bride of Chucky, completely reinvented that franchise just when it needed it. But over time the elements of that movie I found charming when I was 18 I cringe at now at 33. So I’m changing my bottom three officially to replace Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare with Freddy Vs. Jason. Rachel Talalay is a really great director who had worked on the previous four out of five films and loved the surrealistic humor that is wholly unique to FD that she cites as an influence. The end is terrible, but the map scene: “it says we’re fucked” or whatever the exact line is…where it keeps unfolding is great. So is Johnny Depp’s PSA camel and the video game pothead death scene. Loved all of the stuff in the abandoned version of the town with the kids on the road trip and the opening is great with the Wizard of Oz sequence. But just like the other later sequels, it’s a series of memorable set pieces, not a good film.
Andrew: There was across the board praise from this group for New Nightmare. What makes this film stand out to you?
Aaron: Well, Valerie made some good points on it earlier. I think it was a chance for Wes Craven to speak to his critics, as well as explore what effect reality has on these movies, versus what effect these movies have on reality. I think it’s very clever how it starts off very similar to the first NOES, but then takes you into the “real world,” and it’s really fun seeing these people play versions of themselves. On that, it’s also fun towards the end to see Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon give themselves over to their characters. I personally think it’s the most technically well-made movie out of the whole series, though I still like the first one more. I do think they succeed at showing us the “darkest” Freddy to date. Plus, I believe they are almost doing a Jaws thing in how they tease us with giving us Freddy in small doses, which is very effective. The music by J. Peter Robinson is my favorite score after the first one. The freeway scene is one of the best scenes in the whole series. There’s some humor in the hospital sequences, with the, “where’s your pass?” exchange being repeated, and a bitchy doctor getting hit in the face. But there’s also a recreation of the scene where Freddy drags a victim up the walls and across the ceiling, which I think is done even BETTER than in the first film.
My only minor quibble is I don’t know if the very end in that other lair is entirely successful. At the very least, it leads to this moment where Freddy transforms into a demon that is a pretty awful effect. But that’s very minor. I listen to this podcast called “Now Playing,” and they once covered the NOES. All three hosts disliked New Nightmare. They thought it was a film from a bitter old man whining about where the series went after him, and they even accused Craven of what they called “artistic douchebaggery” (this was before he passed away; maybe they would’ve been a little kinder if it had been after). I’m still a fan of that podcast, and I love those guys, but that was one of the HARDEST episodes to listen to, and might even be the time I most passionately disagreed with them.
Steve: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is a very special film for me. It was one of the first horror experiences that I really vividly remember. That iteration of Krueger—the Craven iteration—is the one I met first and the one I fell in love with. He’s more of a certain presence or a statement about the world being rotten. I think New Nightmare is ambitious and really nails the landing for once and mirrors the original in a lot of ways. All I need are the first one and New Nightmare when it comes down to it.
Valerie: I personally liked the humor when it was more subtle. Freddy goes more over the top with each film and I think in some ways that was a response to the audience asking, “what’s next?”
Anthony: I loved the idea of the actor’s from the film, mainly Heather, being haunted by the thing they helped create. It’s a crazy idea but a fun one. And some of the scenes really scared me. The kids’ reaction to, (is it his nanny?) getting killed in front of him in a similar way to Tina from the original is brilliant. And the bit where he skewers Freddy’s tongue. Awesome stuff. I really enjoyed New Nightmare.
Andrew: After New Nightmare, we got two additions to the franchise that are both controversial, to say the least. First, the long awaited Freddy Vs. Jason matchup and then more recently, a remake of the original film. Let’s dive into Freddy Vs. Jason first. Did this film meet expectations for you, after being rumored for nearly 20 years at that point?
Riks: I loved it both when I first saw it and when I rewatched for this. I do feel like Jason would kick Freddy’s ass in a street fight. It was packed full of nostalgia. I’m a sucker for nostalgia when it comes to horror film franchises.
Anthony: I absolutely love Freddy Vs. Jason. I saw it at the cinema a few times and played the DVD to death as soon as it came out. I know it’s not a great story, and we have to ignore some plot holes, but I just love it. I didn’t have the 20 year build up as I’d never seen that Friday 13th ending scene until this year, so when it came out, I was just ecstatic. And it’s just fun from start to finish. It’s not horror, and it’s not serious its just gore-filled fun. I loved Pamela Voorhees inclusion, I love the idea of Freddy using her to get to Jason. I love the scene where Jason is unconscious, and they take his mask off, and I love the final fight and that iconic shot of Jason exiting the lake holding Freddy’s decapitated head. Considering how ridiculous both franchises got at times, I think Freddy Vs. Jason is a perfect fit into both of their worlds. I. Love. This. Movie.
Steve: Yes, and no. As a film, Ronny Yu made a really fun reinvention and it had that slick Ronny Yu thing that he also employed much better with Bride of Chucky. Now I watched Freddy Vs. Jason recently and have to admit I was kind of embarrassed and the behind the scenes story of Kane Hodder being replaced is sad. When they expounded on the stupid idea that water hurts Voorhees it loses me, but it’s way better than it has any right to be. I was 18 the year it came out and I went to the premiere, and it was an absolute fucking blast. And still is warts and all. There’s a lot to love, and it’s the last film in the original canon. Katharine Isabelle is always a sight for sore eyes. The fold up bed kill is awesome. I don’t know. The way I feel about a lot of these films ebbs and flows over time and I have always defended Freddy Vs. Jason until I rewatched it last year. It’s one of the most dated films I’ve ever seen in my life, and not in a good “it captured the times” way either. I mean it’s a Ronny Yu film for god’s sake.
Oh yeah, I also love the whole rave scene. That was perfectly executed with Jason Voorhees on fire killing those two meatheads. He just shambles through that cornfield, and there’s that great aerial shot. That’s a great sequence. Boy, it’s a slick looking film. I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not. I think the look actually works for the film that it is but still just looks dated to me in a bad way whereas I think Yu’s Bride of Chucky is dated in a great way. And maybe not so dated either. On the Freddy side, it’s the last time Robert Englund has played Freddy Krueger on the big screen and most likely will be and he was a lot of fun if you’re into the more standup shock jock iteration of the character but I don’t know. Freddy Vs. Jason just didn’t age well at all for me and I don’t experience that a lot with movies. I am going to have to have more of a negative honest outlook on it.
Aaron: I think what I most appreciate about Freddy Vs. Jason is how much you can tell they honored and respected both franchises, which may be more of a credit to screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift. There are all these little references to films in both series, and I even think they mostly capture the mood of both. I’m a bit more of a Friday the 13th fan, though I might be one of the only people on the planet who actually prefers Mrs.Voorhees over Jason (though I still love the big lug). So even though I was sad they couldn’t get Betsy Palmer on board, I was most excited that they brought back the character for a brief appearance. I think they made her as close to that original character as they possibly could (unlike the F13 reboot, which completely changed her appearance and made her this weakling that you couldn’t believe for a second could be a killer). I did feel bad for Kane Hodder, considering how much he championed the film and since he had played the role multiple times, even though I wasn’t personally outraged he was replaced (my favorite Jason was Richard Brooker in Part III). Maybe I’m biased, but I do think Jason won the battle, if not the war. But Robert Englund still gave an excellent performance. I will say that I’d probably agree with the screenwriters that the final product ended up being a little “jokier” than they or I wanted, though it is way better than the final product of the Friday the 13th reboot, which they also scripted. And I thought the way the blood sprayed near the end got to be a little over-the-top or goofy. And if you’ll allow me one big nitpick that always bothered me way more than it rationally should; there was a shot in the trailers that got me the most excited for the film, where Freddy leaps out of the waters of Crystal Lake, with the camp surrounding him in the background. When I finally saw the film, I was so mad that they changed that shot and replaced the camp with basically this red screen. But I digress. I don’t know if I’d say it quite met my expectations, but I typically set my expectations for movies I’m excited about way too high. I thought it was a lot of fun, and the fact that they got these two characters together in a mostly cohesive way is probably nothing short of a miracle in itself.
Andrew: Horror fans almost universally love the original Nightmare on Elm Street. Horror fans almost universally pan the remake. What did the remake do wrong and do right in terms of trying to channel the spirit of the original?
Aaron: Well, while the remake is my least favorite of the series, I still like it enough to give it a pass. I think it took the character misdirect one step further than the original in terms of who the main character might be. It first focuses on Dean (Kellan Lutz) in the opening scene, and then Kris (Katie Cassidy), and for a while, I thought they might keep shifting the main character throughout the whole movie, which would’ve been ambitious and a cooler route to go. But once Kris dies, they do kind of settle mostly on Nancy (Rooney Mara) and Quentin (Kyle Gallner). But I like the cast led by Mara, who would go on to somewhat bigger fame, and there are actors with some horror cred too: Clancy Brown from Pet Sematary 2, Thomas Dekker from John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned remake; though maybe I’m the only one who associates these actors with these movies [laughs]. I also like the idea they added of the “micro-naps,” or whatever it is where Freddy can somewhat get to them while they’re semi-awake and semi-asleep. Plus they throw in dialogue from throughout the whole series that NOES fans might recognize. And they do try to bring it back to a darker tone. I feel alone in thinking that the NOES reboot was a step up from Platinum Dunes’ previous Friday the 13th reboot, which was my least favorite of THAT series and which I did flat out dislike. I think if anything, it’s a case of missed opportunity. I remember getting so excited when I found out that Jackie Earle Haley was going to be playing Freddy, after seeing him give a great, Oscar-nominated performance as a character that I thought had some parallels to Freddy in a sense, in a movie I loved called Little Children. I wasn’t a fan of the new character design, even if they tried saying it was a more “realistic” look for a burn victim. And I felt that they gave Freddy this “Christian Bale as Batman” voice, which felt off. But I don’t blame Haley for that stuff, and I thought the movie as a whole was alright.
Valerie: I think the remake was in a no-win situation. Unlike Jason, a silent killer behind a mask, Freddy and Robert Englund are inseparable; you can’t have one without the other. He brought so much to this iconic character that anyone would be hard pressed to match, much less top, his performances in the role.
Riks: I watched it On Demand and I wanted back my $4.99.
Steve: Okay I’m watching it now for the first time since the cinema a decade ago, and I hated it then but I think Samuel Beyer made a really interesting reimagining of the story. By reinjecting the pedophile angle into the story that Wes Craven originally took out it makes for an even darker disturbing tone than the original film. Beyer directed a lot of music videos including “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, so he definitely has an eye for visuals. It can get boring sometimes, but it’s really dingy and dark, and Jackie early Haley gives a really great performance, but no one was ever going to accept this film. It’s not without problems, to put it mildly. Katie Cassidy (Kris) and her mom both look 30; there’s a whole boring segment where Nancy (Holbrook this time around instead of Thompson), played by a stiff Rooney Mara who I usually love, spends too much of the film researching things on the Internet at the public library. It can’t be that big a mystery if it can be solved with a search engine. Then it turns out though Krueger was framed?! That turn kills everything going for this idea. Why?? What a dumb creative decision for what was absolutely working for me. Does it seem he turned a little bit more disgusting than normal if he wasn’t actually a pedophile?? I don’t know. And micro-naps. Sounds stupid. Works worse.
Anthony: I honestly don’t even remember this film. That’s how much of an impression it left on me. I don’t even remember Rooney Mara being in it and I bloody love her. I will try and rewatch it after work today to have more insight, but I remember hating the way he looked. As Aaron mentioned, it may have looked more realistic as a burn victim, but I’d rather it look like Freddy Krueger than medically accurate. To echo Valerie as well, this movie proved that Robert Englund IS Freddy Krueger. You can’t cast anyone else; he’s too iconic. Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, even Leatherface can be played by anyone because of the mask. Freddy has too much character just in Englund’s face and voice, so the new casting didn’t work for me. I remember going into the cinema expecting to be disappointed and I was. Having said all this, I do tend to dislike horror in the cinema but then appreciate it much more when rewatched at home. I disliked The Conjuring and the Evil Dead after seeing them in the cinema; now they’re 2 of my favourite recent horrors. So I will report back after a rewatch and may argue with myself.
Andrew: Final questions: Compared to Halloween and Friday the 13th, how does Nightmare on Elm Street rank as a franchise for you? How does Freddy Krueger rank as a horror icon compared to Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees?
Riks: I see Friday the 13th and Halloween as being different than NOES. Freddy is so completely original. Halloween is my favorite franchise though.
Steve: I think he was a natural evolution of the slasher character. There had been so much dilution of the slasher by ’84 that A Nightmare on Elm Street was really a breath of fresh air and I would counter it’s not a typical slasher, it’s more of a whodunit. The franchise as a whole is just more entertaining than Halloween, which never got its shit together as a franchise and Friday the 13th eventually came back empty. Nightmare on Elm Street did too but for different reasons. That franchise ran out for a different reason but yeah I think Krueger is a natural extension of those characters in a lot of ways especially in structure but just carried out into new territory where the bad guy was the star of the show. He already was really in Halloween and F13 but not in such an unabashed open way.
Anthony: Wow, that is a tough one. For me, I think I’d rate them with Michael as number 1, Jason (and Pam) as number 2 and Freddy as number 3. So he is in that top 3 horror icons for me. Followed closely by Leatherface. I just don’t think of him first when I think horror icon. The Nightmare films do have the same kind of classic horror feel that I get from Halloween and Friday 13th, so I think they sit well together as the same kind of genre. I think the major differences would be that Freddy does have that personality, unlike the silent killers Michael and Jason, so I guess Freddy is the most human. Which is crazy considering he’s a dream stalking child predator. Demon? Is he a demon? I think if you sat and watched all three original films one after the other, Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare; they could almost be a trilogy of separate horror tales. Like The Conjuring, Annabelle and The Nun kind of thing. They’re all classics and I think they work well side by side.
Aaron: Well, I’d say that A Nightmare on Elm Street is the most creative of the three, and yeah, sure, it has the killer with the most personality (though let’s not forget Mrs.Voorhees cough cough). And as I’ve mentioned before, there isn’t a movie that I flat out dislike, unlike Halloween (Halloween: Resurrection) or Friday the 13th (the reboot and maybe Jason Goes to Hell). Yet it’s still my least favorite series of the three. The original Halloween is my favorite horror movie of all time; I have a special memory of the first time I saw that when I was eight, courtesy of my dad. And I disagree with Steve on the rest of the series; there’s only one of those that I think sucked. Friday the 13th is my favorite horror series and gave me my love for doing movie marathons from when I watched the marathons they used to do on TV every Friday the 13th.
I think I’m a simple man of simple pleasures. For whatever reason I like the more simple slashers, maybe because there’s a comfort in the familiarity. There’s a reason why the FIRST Prom Night is my third favorite slasher movie after the two previously mentioned. But it’s very uncommon for me not to like the first film of any series the most, and such is the case with these three series. There’s something about these creators working their ideas out, making the most out of a low budget and limited means, that adds a lot of charm to the first film. I didn’t say much about the first Nightmare on Elm Street before except on the Johnny Depp death, but Wes Craven had a terrific vision and created a beautifully surreal landscape to work out his horror in. Charles Bernstein’s musical score perfectly matches the idea and tone that Craven crafted. I love the character misdirect inspired by Psycho, where you start off thinking Tina is the main character only to kill her off and shift to Nancy suddenly. And I don’t think Robert Englund is so precious that he’s a Highlander where “there can be only one,” but he’s taken that character through the series and really developed him into a charismatic…killer, which is saying something.
Valerie: I think all three franchises have their own strengths and weaknesses. What I find so interesting about these three series are the connecting themes. Myers and Voorhees were both children when their lives changed forever. Freddy is a child molester trying to kill teens through their dreams. I don’t think it was on the filmmaker’s mind when the pairing of Jason Vs. Freddy happened, but there it is. If I choose the most technically sound series, that would be Halloween. If I choose the most fun, that would be Friday the 13th. For me, Nightmare falls somewhere in between.
Thanks so much for joining us for this conversation! Please be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments section!