Outposter Why Would You Post That? returns again, this time to share his love of Wes Craven’s contribution to the A Nightmare On Elm Street Franchise.
One, Two Freddy’s Coming For You…
In 1984, a horror icon was born. Freddy Krueger was a child murderer freed from police custody on a technicality. He was found by a mob of revenge seeking, vigilante parents – and burned alive. He came back from death with a hideously burned face – and with his razor glove – began to haunt the nightmares of the teenagers of Springwood.
Not only did A Nightmare On Elm Street make Robert Englund a horror movie megastar – it also pushed independent studio New Line Cinema into the big leagues.
It is the story of Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) and her friends who begin to have horrible nightmares involving the disfigured killer. Her friends start to get picked off one by one. Her doomed boyfriend Greg was played by a pre-superstar Johnny Depp.
The injuries they sustain in their nightmares are manifesting physically. Resulting in their real-world deaths. Gruesome EVERY time.
Nancy knows she must find the courage and strength to defeat him and face him head on. First though, she must contend with her alcoholic mother and disbelieving police lieutenant father (John Saxon).
Freddy Krueger is perhaps like a James Bond of horror. In as much whether you love or hate the movies – you know who he is. The burnt face, the razor clawed glove, the fedora hat and striped jumper. He is an indelible part of pop culture and a defining character of the 80s. Then there is the “One two, Freddy’s coming for you…” nursery rhyme. I am sure you know the rest.
He is also remembered for his cheesy wisecracks and elaborate, prank like kills. And the boiler room where he originally died – used as the location of his induced nightmares to stalk his prey.
The character evolved this way as the movie franchise progressed – but original writer and director Wes Craven created him as a sinister and terrifying villain.
Krueger works so well because when we are asleep, we are at our most vulnerable. This taps into a very primal fear and horror hounds lapped it up immediately. Craven got the idea from three main sources.
He based Krueger’s look on a childhood memory of a strange man he saw staring up at him from the street when he looked out of his window one night. The name came from a bully who tormented Craven at school.
As for Krueger’s methods – Craven had read a story in the news about how some male Hmong refugees to the United States (fleeing war in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam) had died in the 70s whilst experiencing horrific nightmares. Unnerved by the story – Craven remembered it and used it for the basis of his story.
Also, Craven wanted to do something different. Horror movie mass murderers like Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees (who Freddy would come face to face with down the line) were famous for wearing masks. Craven wanted to create a villain who is face we see. An actual character played not by a stuntman but by an actor. For Robert Englund (taking a break from filming V) it was just any other acting job at first. Little did he know that in the years to come his name would be mentioned in the same breath as Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff and Vincent Price.
To this day it is still a great film. There are jump scares – but it is mainly concerned with building a sense of slow burning, creeping dread. The movie is Craven’s masterpiece.
Or course due to its massive success the studio wanted a sequel. Craven was not really interested in the idea and declined to be involved. A year later A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge was released. Again, it was a box office hit – but critics were not kind. New Line Cinema knew for the third one that they needed Craven back.
By this stage Craven’s interest had been reignited. He could not direct the movie because of a prior commitment but he was available to work on the production in a co-executive producer capacity and co-write the story.
Directed by Chuck Russell A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors was a robust return to form. A hit with most critics –many fans of the franchise would pick this as their favorite.
It picked up the story of Nancy Thompson with Heather Langenkamp returning to the role. She had been absent from the second movie along with John Saxon as her father. Saxon also returns here.
Dream Warriors moves the action out of Elm Street, Springwood and into Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital – the current residence of Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) and five of her friends.
Nancy joins the staff as therapist intern – noting that these kids originate from the Elm Street area and are more than likely in the institution because they are being terrorized in their subconscious by Krueger.
Using hypnosis and other therapeutic methods she gives the kids the means to fight back against the dream demon. To look within themselves at their own abilities and face Freddy head on much like she did.
Her father in the meantime must find Freddy’s human remains to help destroy him for good (yeah right). The film also added more to Freddy’s backstory through the presence of a mysterious Nun who would tell Kristen of the horrific circumstances in which he was born.
The star of the show here is Englund. Without a doubt. He has more screen time in this instalment than he does in the previous two and goes about his murderous antics with an almost infectious glee.
Smashing heads into televisions (“Welcome to prime-time, Bitch!!!”), transforming into a giant snake, turning his fingers into needles to torment a recovering drug addict, his sick machinations result in some truly memorable horror movie imagery. Especially using a victim’s exposed veins to lead him to his death like a crazed marionette.
A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is a terrific sequel and a great movie in it’s own right.
Due to their character’s fates – Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon would again leave the franchise and so would Wes Craven.
Three more installments A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare would come out over the next few years to varying degrees of critical and commercial success.
After Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare the consensus was that the series was now over.
But original creator Wes Craven had one more in him. In October 1994 Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was released. One of the most original and clever horror movie sequels ever made.
Craven’s third and final instalment took a truly unprecedented approach – and could be regarded as the first “meta” horror movie. Craven had suggested this story idea for the third part, but it was rejected at the time. After the original narrative had ended – there was nothing stopping him.
Heather Langenkamp returned, playing herself. John Saxon also played himself. Robert Englund played himself, and according to the end credits… so did Freddy Krueger!!!
In the story Langenkamp begins having unusual dreams much like her character did. Unbeknownst to her, her FX technician husband is working on a new entry for the franchise. Langenkamp is called for a meeting at New Line. After a strange phone call, she notices the timing is a bit strange but reluctantly goes anyway. To her amazement she hears Wes Craven is working on a new Nightmare movie.
After her husband dies, her son begins to act very strangely. Also Robert Englund seems to be terrified and disappears leaving no way to contact him.
It turns out Freddy Krueger is breaking out into the real world. After a meeting with Wes Craven, they decide to make another film in order to keep him in the fictional realm and save reality.
Frankly that story is bonkers. Also… it is utterly, utterly brilliant.
Freddy Krueger is more terrifying than ever. His razor fingers now an organic part of his form and possessing a countenance more akin to an actual demon. There is also sly commentary on horror movie fandom, celebrity and the overall business of filmmaking in general.
But key to this is Langenkamp. Her performance in the first and third movies have somewhat been criticized as wooden in the past but here she is an absolute tour-de-force.
Again, another Krueger masterpiece from Craven.
Krueger would of course return after this. The next movie Freddy Vs. Jason would bring back the original continuity and have him face off against Jason Vorhees from the Friday The 13th films. There would also be remake of the original (that to this day I still have not seen and am in no particular hurry to do so).
But Craven was the man who created this world and created this character. The three that he was involved with it will ALWAYS be the best.
Why Would You Post That?