In 1984, a young director named Wes Craven unleashed the monster known as Freddy Krueger upon the world, and we loved it. After A Nightmare on Elm Street was released, the newest horror icon, Freddy Krueger (played magnificently by the horror cult icon, Robert Englund), became a household name throughout the 80s and 90s.
With A Nightmare on Elm Street came an abundance of toys, a television show, Halloween costumes, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a “Freddy O’s” breakfast cereal was in talks at some point. Freddy Krueger was arguably the biggest movie icon of the 80s. Forget Johnny Depp (whose first role was in the original NoES); forget Patrick Swayzel forget Tom Cruise. We wanted more Freddy, and we got it in the form of six sequels.
Nearly everyone has seen the original A Nightmare on Elm Street (or it’s 2010 remake), but not nearly as many people have ever given the many sequels a chance. Because of this, for my first-ever post here on Jet Fuel Review Blog, I will be looking at the first three of six sequels (Nightmare parts 2, 3, and 4) and determining if the hype for Freddy Krueger was deserved or not.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge was churned out not even an entire year after the first had been released (NoES released Nov. 16, 1984, whereas NoES 2 released Nov. 1, 1985). It really shows, too. If there was ever an award to be given to the most blatant cash grab in film history, it belongs to Freddy’s Revenge. Even the subtitle to the movie is yawn inducing. Freddy’s Revenge? Real original, guys. I imagine the head guy of New Line Cinema (the distribution company whose first big hit was NoES) saying, “hey, I’m the CEO of this film company and we need more money. Make a sequel quick to this movie that’s making us millions, and do it cheap! We’ll make even more millions!” And so they did.
Taking place five years after the events of the original, Freddy’s Revenge features a new cast of Elm Street kids (all of which are no-name actors who would go on to do nothing else of significance) to be harassed and ultimately murdered. Our main character is Jesse, a male teen who just recently moved into the house that was once occupied by Nancy Thompson, the heroine of the first film. Jesse has been having these nightmares that all include the same villainous Freddy Krueger at the helm of the madness.
It turns out that Freddy wants to use Jesse’s body as a surrogate to get to the real world. I think. Or maybe Freddy is using Jesse as a way to get to other kids in the neighborhood and attack them in their dreams? Maybe? It’s hard to remember at this point because this movie has such a half-baked plot. Also, there’s this odd undertone of suppressed homosexuality that feels way out of place in this rushed teen horror flick? Yeah, no, that last sentence is definitely true, and definitely doesn’t fit the movie.
Of course, we don’t go to watch horror movies to feel insecure about our inner sexual feelings, or to get to know the stupid main characters troubles. No, we go to see the blood and guts! The NoES series especially has some amazing death scenes due to the fact that Freddy attacks the characters in their dreams, which can result in some really cool visual effects. Here in Freddy’s Revenge, however, we get nothing too out of the ordinary (well, as “ordinary” as horror flicks get). There’s some highlights, like when Freddy pulls off his scalp, revealing a pulsating brain as he delightfully says to Jesse, “You be the braun, I’ll be the brain.” There’s another scene where Freddy bursts out of Jesse’s chest whilst in another character’s dream and it’s a fun little effect.
The rest of the time, though, Freddy’s Revenge is just a slow burn. It’s boring, has some really odd, time-filling scenes (including a montage of Jesse unpacking his stuff after moving in while singing along to some 80s girl pop hit), and doesn’t have enough Freddy nor does it do enough fun stuff with the little screen time he does get. My favorite part of watching this movie was when I turned on one of the special features following the movie and Wes Craven talked about how he never wanted NoES to become a series and how Freddy’s Revenge had such a terrible script. It would be weird to live in a world where we didn’t get a bunch of NoES sequels, but if they kept coming with the same quality as Freddy’s Revenge, I would have hoped they would have just stayed with the original. Thankfully, for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Wes Craven was back to write the script and gave us possibly the best NoES movie, perhaps even better than the original.
It wouldn’t be until 1987 that audiences were once again treated to the world of Elm Street, with Dream Warriors. Once again our main character is a female teenager, Kristen, played by Patricia Arquette (who just won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the movie Boyhood), in her first ever role. Kristen, of course, is having terrible nightmares. Freddy has her in the dream world, but in the real world, Kristen’s mother finds her holding a blade and her wrist slit open. It’s then that we find that Kristen’s been admitted to a hospital that is oddly specializing in kids who are having similar problems.
Wes Craven isn’t the only returning member of the original NoES team, Heather Langenkamp returns to reprise her role as Nancy Thompson. Nancy is currently working for the hospital in order to help the teens who have been suffering from these nightmares. Unlike in Freddy’s Revenge, Dream Warriors actually has a fun cast of interesting characters in these hospitalized teens. There’s Kincaid, a big, tough black kid who’s also playful and funny. Joey’s a shy mute, but still is a nice kid. Taryn is the dark, cool, crazy chick who was a former drug addict. Philip is a sleepwalker (not too much to say about him). Will is a wheelchair-bound nerd who loves medieval fantasy and Jennifer is an aspiring actress.
Whereas Freddy’s Revenge was dull and drab, Dream Warriors picks up the pace and makes Freddy fun. We find out that Kristen happens to have the ability to will other people into her dreams, and so together, the group takes it upon themselves to all go into their nightmare together and take on Freddy. Of course, it doesn’t all go as planned, but boy does it make for some amazingly unique death scenes. Every character has the ability to become what they want in their dreams, so Kincaid becomes a walking tank, essentially, while Will is able to use his legs and walk and has taken the form of the “Grand Wizard.”
The special effects work in Dream Warriors is so on-point. 10/10. Even if some of the effects look out-dated, it’s obvious that a lot of work went into these effects and for the most part they translate well to the screen. Some fantastic use of stop motion claymation, too, and I love me some claymation. In my favorite death scene, Freddy leads his victim up to the top of the bell tower of the hospital like he’s a puppet master (the character’s veins have been ripped out of his skin, and essentially work as the “puppet strings” that Freddy pulls). It’s really a fantastic scene with amazing effects. Ultimately, Dream Warriors just has a fun set of characters and a slick script, and is maybe the best film of the entire series.
This leads me to the last film I’ll be talking about today, and that’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. The Dream Master takes place not too long after the events of Dream Warriors, and even some of the characters of the previous film return. Kristen, along with a few of the other hospital kids, of whom I won’t say, are back after “defeating” Freddy. But come on, this is Hollywood, and people need to get paid. Of course Freddy isn’t defeated, just like he wasn’t defeated in NoES 1 or 2. Unfortunately, Patricia Arquette doesn’t reprise her role as Kristen in The Dream Master, for she was pregnant during shooting, but the other characters from Dream Warriors are played by the same actors, and the replacement for Kristen does an alright job anyways.
The Dream Master introduces a new main character, Alice. Alice is a timid girl who daydreams a lot and just so happens to be best friends with Kristen and co. Alice, just like Kristen, also has special dream powers, but her power is that she can not only tell when one of her friends is in trouble or dies, but when they do die, she gains their strengths. For example, when one character dies, she gains the ability to do martial arts like they did (this makes for a great montage scene, too).
The Dream Master was the most expensive to produce NoES film to date, and it shows in the effects department. Just like Dream Warriors, the effects in The Dream Master are both fantastic and fantastical. The fact that the NoES movies are based in a dream world means that literally anything can happen, and some crazy situations occur in The Dream Master that are legitimately really cool, but I’ll spare you the details because I know that if you’ve followed this post this far, then that means you’re most likely going to go seek these movies out for yourself and don’t want to have all of the fun spoiled.
The Dream Master is important in that Freddy Krueger really starts to become a more comedic character (he showed flashes of this in Dream Warriors, too, but it’s much more apparent here) and he begins to use puns and jokes before killing any and every character. I’m glad that they ultimately went this route and continued with it through the rest of the sequels (save for the final sequel, New Nightmare, but we’ll get to that when it’s necessary).
Freddy Krueger already stood out from the rest of the “horror icons” like Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers because he talks, so making him say cheesy/funny lines just makes him a much more fun character that in turn really makes the movies more fun, and these movies really take on an entirely different genre apart from the other slasher series’ going at the time.
In the end, The Dream Master is a fun sequel that deserves to be watched by fans of the NoES series, but not a required viewing of all horror fans. Dream Warriors, however, should be seen by fans of the horror genre, even if you don’t like the other movies in the series. And as for Freddy’s Revenge, give it a shot if you like the series I guess, but don’t expect much from it.
So there you have it, folks. My personal thoughts on the first three NoES sequels. Travel Down a Dark Lane with me, Michael Lane, again next time when I take a look back on the final three sequels in the series.
— Michael Lane, Horror Film Blogger