There are spoilers everywhere in this article.
9. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010): This one might seem like an “easy” pick for dead last. After all, it is a horror remake made during a time when it seems like most horror films are remakes. And Robert Englund, the face of Freddy since the beginning, was replaced with Jackie Earle Haley. But I am not anti-remake. In fact, in ranking the Halloween franchise, Rob Zombie’s two remakes (or reboots, whatever term you feel is applicable) would not be the bottom two choices. But with those films, there was a clear understanding of the source material, and enough of it was referenced in the first that Zombie’s Halloween II could severely deviate from the original sequel and it would work. The same can’t be said of this Nightmare remake. The film didn’t seem like an inspiring jumping point for an entirely new series of sequels. It was a drab, lifeless film. While the film digs deeper into Freddy’s backstory than the original Nightmare, most of the horror discovered was in some way mentioned in one of the other series’ installments. Creating more of a connection between Nancy and Freddy could have worked, but it didn’t. The only portion of the film I found even remotely entertaining was that one of the character’s shares a name with my cousin. Yeah, it was that bad.
Best Death Scene: Nancy’s slice-then-burn murder of Freddy, only because it signaled that the film was near its end.
Bethany’s Grade: F
8. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989): Potential victims of Freddy tend to pick one of two options to avoid death. They either try to avoid sleep, or they learn to take control of their dreams. Alice thought she had control of her dreams, but she quickly realizes that something is wrong when it seems like Freddy is back, this time even when Alice is awake. After a handful of movies, changing up the formula was inevitable, and I do like the clever twist of Freddy using an unborn baby’s dreams to stalk his newest victims. Alice, though, just isn’t the leading lady that Nancy or Kristen (the Patricia Arquette version) were, so it seems almost unfair that she gets more redemption than they did. The group Alice hangs out with is also one of the blandest of all Freddy’s victim pools. It’s not even that sad when Dan, Alice’s boyfriend and father of her baby, dies, because their relationship never felt more than a plot convenience.
Best Death: Mark’s comic-inspired nightmare is not as terrifying as Greta’s death smorgasbord, but it is incredibly entertaining to watch, and it does make a solid attempt to connect elements from the previous film by having Mark attempt to be a “dream warrior.”
7. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991): After waking up from a nightmare (featuring Freddy, of course), a teenage boy loses his memory. He walks away from Springwood, Ohio, and end up in a shelter for troubled teens. As Dr. Maggie Burroughs tries to help this “John Doe” find out who he really is, she and some of the teens get caught up in Freddy’s tangled web, not knowing that by searching for answers, they will uncover horrible truths—and Freddy! By this time in the series, Freddy (and the series) was embracing the campiness like any series over three films should. Two of the cameo roles were played by Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold, so their appearance alone signals that this Elm Street is a little less serious than the original. But many of the campy moments work, thanks to Robert Englund’s performance. The story also answers some questions, ties up some loose ends, and makes room for a sequel (of course!!). Roseanne and Tom aside, some of the creepiest scenes come during the group’s trip to Springwood, Ohio (the town that houses Freddy’s Elm Street), a town that is nearly deserted aside from some rambling and disturbed adults. New details of Freddy’s life pre-dream demon are revealed (and are much more interesting than the “new”/rehashed points in the remake). While the film is entertaining, it in no subtle way suggested that the franchise really did need to die off, or at the least needed a serious overhaul.
Best Death Scene: While Spencer’s death does feature a Johnny Depp (billed as Oprah Noodlemantra) cameo, Carlos’ death scene always stood out to me as equally comedic and terrifying. Freddy often finds the worst fears of his victims and uses them to his advantage, and in this death sequence, that’s exactly what happens. Carlos lost part of his hearing after years of abuse, and Freddy gleefully takes the rest of his hearing away. But he happily makes amends, providing Carlos with a new hearing aid. This piece amplifies every sound, and Freddy toys with Carlos before providing him with a sound that is too much. The results are explosive.
Bethany’s Grade: C+
6. Freddy Vs. Jason (2003): This film was in the works for a long time, and with each passing year, I gave up hope that a pairing of two of my favorite horror villains would ever come to fruition. I imagine that anticipation (paired with the fact that I “accidentally” read the entire plot in Fangoria because I had no idea the article’s point was to detail the entire plot) is part of the reason why this film disappointed me. Freddy Vs. Jason could never be the movie I wanted it to be, and it was made at least five years too late to be the film it needed to be. The plot starts strong, with Freddy unable to continue his killing spree after the town of Springwood finally finds a way to stop the workaholic dream demon (the continuity seems to suggest that, at the very least, the audience should assume Freddy’s Dead never happened). So he tricks the undead Jason into resurrecting himself (?) by using Jason’s only weakness, his mother. After Jason makes a grand entrance on Elm Street, Freddy gets increasingly excited, just waiting for the moment to reclaim his bloody reign. But Jason doesn’t really understand the business partnership, so he just continues to do what he does best, kill whatever teenager is in his way. This failure to leave causes Freddy to lose it, and that’s when the battle begins, and fans are soon transported from Elm Street to Camp Crystal Lake. Unfortunately, this film focuses too much on too many character backstories, which often takes the focus off of Freddy and Jason.
Best Death Scene: Trey, enjoying a post-coital rest, is repeatedly stabbed by Jason, but since Jason has just woken up from a long decade’s nap, he doesn’t settle for keeping his first kill a traditional machete job. So he quickly folds the bed in half, leaving Trey with a slightly broken body.
Bethany’s Grade: C+
5. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985): Jesse and his family move into the former home of the Thompson family (from the original film), and Jesse is quickly plagued with dreams of Freddy. While trying to figure out just what is causing his nightmares, he’s also trying to fit in and find love, all of which cause him to have some very mixed feelings and create even more nightmares for him. The first of what I think will be a controversial ranking. I know a lot of people who love this film, many even claiming its superiority over the first. I have a soft spot for it, for sure, as this is one of the first films I remember seeing in the theater. And in even the last few months, this film has actually climbed two spots in the rankings. I do like the feel of the film. It looks more like an extended episode of the Freddy’s Nightmares series (1988-1990), an hour-long show that featured two Springwood-based stories (both connecting in some way, or featuring the same actors in different roles or situations). Rather than being a companion piece to the first film, Freddy’s Revenge feels like the start to a new set of sequels. I used to be completely turned off by the fact that this film strayed so far from its source material, but over the years I have more than warmed up to it. If the franchise had split into two separate series, one featuring sequels to the original and the other featuring sequels to this film, I might have moved this up to the top three. I’ll admit that many flaws I argue this film has are mostly flaws connected to my hopes for a sequel. I wanted more of Freddy, and more of the dreamworld killings. I didn’t get that with the sequel. I also appreciate the film’s somewhat blatant subtext. I think featuring a male protagonist who was questioning his sexuality was a brilliant choice for a horror film. I just wish it’d been done in a different horror film, a new standalone film. Not in the sequel to Nightmare.
Best Death Scene: There’s not much to choose from here, but I have to pick the death of Jesse’s friend, Ron Grady. It was visually exciting, and a great representation of Jesse’s own struggles, as Freddy actually comes out of Jesse’s body before claiming Ron Grady’s life.
Bethany’s Grade: B-
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988): Perhaps this film will eventually switch spots with part 2, but for now it remains higher because of some brilliant death scenes and one of my favorite moments from any Nightmare film. This film features surviving teens from the previous film, but quickly gets rid of them in favor of “new blood.” Freddy’s penchant for over-the-top murders is in full force here, but unfortunately the first few deaths are done quickly and without much flair. Again, Alice isn’t the most charismatic heroine, but there are so many other interesting characters that she becomes the vanilla ice cream that’s part of a much more delicious sundae. One of the best scenes comes near the end, when Alice and Dan are in a desperate attempt to save one of their friends. The couple rush away from a diner, and it appears they could make it to their friend in time. But mere seconds later, they are back in front of the diner. They say the same thing to each other before rushing off to save their friend and then—voilà —they are back at the diner! Freddy has them repeating the same actions over and over, allowing him enough time to attack his next victim.
Best Death Scene: I have to give it to Freddy’s attack on Debbie, the film’s resident badass. While her character was rough and tough, she had one weakness: bugs! In one of his most deviously playful murders, Freddy transformed Debbie’s appendages to those of a cockroach, before showing us that she was stuck to the floor of a tiny roach motel which Freddy gleefully crushed.
Bethany’s Grade: B+
3. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994): From all I’ve heard, this seems to be one of the top “love-it-or-hate-it” Nightmare films, and I am in the love camp. This film marks the return of the man who started it all, Wes Craven, and he puts a creepy spin to the franchise. The film does not take place on Elm Street. The film does not take place in Springwood. Instead, Craven sets the film in Hollywood. Robert Englund, the actor who plays Freddy in nearly every Nightmare film, play himself. As does Heather Langenkamp, the actress who portrayed Nancy Thompson in two of the series’ installments. Even Wes Craven himself shows up as (who else), himself! But as plans for a final Nightmare film are discussed, the “real” world and the film world soon start to blend, and Heather begins to think that somehow Freddy has become real. This film takes place ten years after the first, and it works well as an anniversary piece. It was nice to see Craven once again involved in the franchise, and it was more than great to see Heather/Nancy back. This film really works as Craven’s farewell to the series. Yes, it did continue after this film, but I think he was pretty aware that would happen, so, before he started a new iconic horror series, Scream, he officially closed the chapter on another.
Best Death Scene: OK, this one is purely personal. In the film, Heather is married to Chase, who is creating props for the new Nightmare film. Chase falls asleep while driving, and is murdered by Freddy. The death scene itself isn’t anything spectacular, but the song sung during the scene is (well, to me at least). I have always given horror films theme songs, meaning I’d pick an existing song and pair it with a horror film. Some series got their own theme, and after I heard R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion,” I decided it would be a perfect theme song for all the Nightmare films (you could argue this was an easy choice, because R.E.M./Rapid Eye Movement, and the “that was just a dream,” portion of the lyrics, but I was also around 9 when the album came out, so I’m not sure if I was connecting those dots yet). I didn’t get to see New Nigtmare in the theaters, but that’s probably a good thing, because when Chase sings part of this song right before he dies, I literally jumped out of my seat and screamed (with joy).
2. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984): The film that started it all. A group of teens realizes they are having similar nightmares. At first they don’t worry too much. After all, what real harm can a nightmare do? They soon find out, as a sleepover turns deadly for Tina, the best friend of the film’s sleep deprived protagonist, Nancy. Nancy attempts to save her life, and those of her remaining friends, all while trying to figure out just who this mysterious nightmare-dwelling killer is. Nancy’s troubles are exacerbated by her father, Lt. Thompson, who works at the local police department and refuses to listen to Nancy’s pleas that her friend, Rod, is not the real killer. Nancy also lives with her alcoholic mother, who is hiding more secrets than just a vodka bottle in the linen closet.
Best Death: While Freddy is notably absent (he was busy “flirting” with Nancy), I have to pick Glen’s death. Not only is this death the last straw for Nancy, as Glen was the last of her living friends and her boyfriend, but visually it is one of the more grotesque death scenes in the series, as Glen (along with his television and headphones) is swallowed into his bed. All that remains of Glen after his meeting with Freddy is a geyser of blood that sprays out from his bed and throughout his room.
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987): OK, I admit, it’s a tie for the number 1 spot. But it’s just too predictable to put the first in a series as the best, so I am giving the “official” top spot to this one. Not that it doesn’t deserve the top all on its own, because it totally does. Nancy returns, and this time she’s older, wiser, and prepared to battle Freddy. She still sports her gray streak from the first film, but this time she wears it almost as a badge of honor rather than a “disfiguring” mark. Instead of a group of friends, she’s out to help a group of teens who are hospitalized for various reasons but soon all face the terror of Freddy Krueger. It’s up to Nancy to stop Freddy before he can claim more victims. Dream Warriors has a great addition to the original plot, with the teens and Nancy practicing entering each other’s dreams and maintaining control over them. During a particularly pivotal nightmare, Freddy transforms into a large, snakelike creature, attempting to swallow one of the dream warriors. The soundtrack is probably the best of all the Nightmare soundtracks, and includes the totally ’80s (and that’s OK) track, “Dream Warriors,” by Dokken. John Saxon also returns as Nancy’s father.
Best Death: I’d have to say that this film has the most consistently awesome death scenes, whether they are unique or heartbreaking. The franchise was perfectly balanced between the serious demon entity from the first film and the “playful” Krueger the series continued with. So while the human marionette scene is pretty amazing, I will have to go with the death of Jennifer. She plops down in front of the television to watch The Dick Cavett Show. The night’s guest is Zsa Zsa Gabor, but it quickly becomes clear that Jennifer is dreaming. As she walks up to inspect the television, the box sprouts arms and Freddy’s head tears out of the top. After he pulls Jennifer into the screen, Freddy utters what is perhaps his best known line from the franchise, “Welcome to prime time, bitch.”
Bethany’s Grade: A+
Article by Entertainment Writer and Film Critic, Bethany Rose