7. Freddy vs Jason (2003)
Freddy Krueger returns to Springwood and a teenage generation that have forgotten him, so he resurrects Jason Voorhees to slaughter teenagers and cause panic on his behalf.
It’s actually incredible this didn’t happen much sooner, but that’s “development hell” for you. The Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises had both died a death by this point and were a few years out from being outright remade, so this was a blindingly obvious move for studio execs. Let’s just bash together two complimentary money-making properties and hope the resultant mess is fun at the very least.
There’s no denying that there are things to enjoy here; the story might not be up to much at all but the splatter set pieces are good, the titular battle delivers once it eventually arrives and Robert Englund is clearly having the time of his life. On the downside most of the acting is awful, the film feels padded despite only being 95 minutes, and you end up cheering for the paper-thin and abrasive protagonists to die as quickly as possible. It’s always a bad sign when hulking, silent killer zombie Jason Vorhees is the easiest one to root for.
As scary as a nightmare where: You realise too late that you put your new jeans in a white wash.
6. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
Freddy returns to claim revenge on the kids who beat him last time in his dream realm.
Following the much-needed jolt of charisma Patricia Arquette provided in Dream Warriors (she didn’t come back), new lead protagonist Alice (Lisa Wilcox) is wet and uninteresting by comparison. The film has very little style of its own, which is strange considering it was directed by Renny Harlin, perhaps the only director of note aside from Craven who worked on this series (he followed this with Die Hard 2), and one who was particularly keen to secure this gig. It also looks surprisingly cheap for the second most expensive Elm Street movie, but that might just be the clumsy way the action is edited.
This could have been the time travelling Elm Street, but that was considered too high concept a premise so instead we ended up with “just another one”, a time loop scene thrown in as compensation. At this point the wider plot of the series was clearly just being made up on the fly and the mythology became stodgy and largely incomprehensible. The nightmare scenes aren’t scary, they’re just odd, apparently based on Harlin’s own bizarre dreams. About the only thing to really recommend in Dream Master is how Freddy is creatively dispatched – he eats souls now, so they are induced to revolt against their host and tear him apart in a slightly dodgy but still striking special effect.
As scary as a nightmare where: You realise too late that you left money in your new jeans in the white wash.
5. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Freddy attempts to terrorise a group of teens suffering from horrific nightmares in a psychiatric hospital and the “Dream Warriors” take the fight to Freddy in his realm.
Most people think of that segment from ‘The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror’ with Groundskeeper Willie as a shapeshifting Freddy-alike. You could do worse than just re-watching that.
Patricia Arquette is a star from the start in her film debut, but Heather Langenkamp looks disengaged upon her return as original series heroine Nancy and Freddy’s irritating wisecrack overload is notably dialled to 11 here… the start of a new, unwelcomed trend for the series.
There is so much potential in the concept of a team of kids fighting back against Freddy in their dreams, but that great promise is largely squandered. With a bigger budget to render the Dream Warriors’ array of powers as scripted, this might have ended up a really exciting superhero-asylum-horror. As it is, it’s just rubbish X-Men with a few memorable death scenes (Freddy turning into a TV to kill the wannabe actress and “puppeteering” the puppeteer kid using his own tendons are series highlights).
As scary as a nightmare where: All your teeth spontaneously fall out.
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
Another family moves into 1428 Elm Street and the sadistic undead child-murderer Freddy Krueger begins a new reign of terror, taking control of his latest teenage victim in the real world.
A lot of Nightmare fans have an axe to grind against the first sequel, seeing it as among, if not the worst of the series. True, it’s trashy and shallow compared to Craven’s original and the acting and hair is painfully, horribly 80s, but it brings plenty of new ideas to the table, amps up Freddy’s powers, and ratchets up the tension consistently. It’s a neat trick to lean into the summer heatwave setting, to make Freddy more demonic and to give him the power of possession to really screw with our new protagonist Jesse (Mark Patton).
Famously this is seen as “the gay one” with heaps of homoerotic subtext courtesy of screenwriter David Chaskin and Patton’s intention to play Jesse as being in denial about his sexuality, which might explain less enlightened 80s viewers’ initial distaste. No, it doesn’t really make sense when Freddy makes an appearance outside of his nightmare world and starts slashing up a pool party (a power he conveniently forgets he has in the later sequels) but horror movies do often break down with the addition of too much logic.
As scary as a nightmare where: You’re running agonisingly slowly away from an axe-murderer.