3. A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child (1989)
A pregnant Alice comes to believe that Freddy Krueger is going to return through the dreams of her unborn child.
This has the seediest of all the Elm Street opening scenes – straight in with the sexploitation. Also, what was it with 80s movies and blue-lit slow-motion sex? Aside from this, Dream Child goes to some unexpected places reputedly inspired by the experiences of its pregnant executive producer.
It’s amazing how good lighting and striking framing can elevate a trashy slasher. A good dollop of the Gothic in the production design and camera angles, a pretty clever premise that kicks off with Freddy being born again in a nightmare and the trippiest imagery in the series (epecially the Escher-riffing finale) makes this one especially memorable. It’s also very obviously rushed (shot and edited over just eight weeks) which might explain why the really fun fight on the pages of a pulp comic book is so disappointingly brief. They didn’t even have time to round up all the angry tarantulas they painted red and green to use in a few shots of Freddy transforming – rumour has it they’re still somewhere in that studio…
It’s easy to forget the big plot twist from two movies before but it’s back here in bewildering fashion (yes, we’re talking about the ghost nun) and the way she helps to finally defeat Freddy is vague at best, but you will at least remember this Nightmare.
As scary as a nightmare where: You’re trapped in a room with a load of angry painted tarantulas crawling on you.
2. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Freddy Krueger’s first nightmare killing spree sees him hunt the sons and daughters of the vigilante mob of parents who burned him alive for his crimes.
The simple genius of Wes Craven as a horror filmmaker is fully evident here – everything is so well calculated and tightly controlled. We still don’t know all that much about dreams; what they are or what they mean, and Craven uses our fear of the power of nightmares to the full.
The introduction of demonic murderer Freddy Krueger who turns your peaceful place of rest into a kill floor makes the very most of that concept, and using dreams as a location for exciting reality-bending set pieces has influenced genre filmmaking to this day (just look at Inception).
Original ghastly imagery that sticks in the mind is present throughout, from Freddy morphing through a bedroom wall to Nancy’s dead classmate appearing next to her in a body bag and Johnny Depp’s blood geyser demise. There’s palpable, creeping dread that has earned Nightmare its reputation too, and made it the movie that built New Line Cinema from the ground up.
As scary as a nightmare where: You’re naked in school.
1. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
Freddy Krueger breaks from his fictional confines to hunt Heather Langenkamp, Wes Craven and even Robert Englund as they prepare to make a new Nightmare movie, or; is the movie making them?
This was very nearly the plot of Part 3, but we’re all lucky it was saved until Craven could do it real justice.
Freddy is finally terrifying again.
New Nightmare is a whole other thing. The return of Wes Craven to a franchise he grew to despise (when he wasn’t doing it), and a whole two years before Scream, this was the start of the horror maestro’s meta phase. From the opening scene that plays with Freddy’s glove forging – “that makes his old glove look like Mother Theresa’s mitten” Wes Craven quips – we know this isn’t going to go the same as last time. The real people playing exaggerated versions of themselves all do a fine job: Langenkamp is still haunted by her most famous role and keen to move on with life, Craven is a decent guy using his art to do good and Englund, quite unlike Freddy, is lovely. Really lovely.
It’s pretty self-aggrandising stuff admittedly, suggesting that Craven was keeping a real evil in check through the power of movies, and that only he can restrain said evil because other filmmakers “water it down to make it an easier sell”. Slightly smug as it may be, New Nightmare is endlessly clever and relentlessly scary; the effects and variety of nasty imagery hold up even today.
As scary as a nightmare where: Freddy’s coming for you!
Agree with my ranking? Violently disagree? What’s your favourite Nightmare on Elm Street? Let us know in the comments.