Why A Nightmare on Elm Street is the best horror franchise
You can’t stay awake forever.
It is impossible.
Sleep is a biological imperative.
You’ll be asleep within 18 hours of reading this sentence.
And then you’ll be vulnerable.
One, two, Freddy’s coming for you.
Thank you for reading my essay on why Nightmare on Elm Street is the best horror franchise. The end.
That very simple idea is one of the things that makes Freddy Krueger such an effective horror villain. While I enjoy a good slasher, he isn’t a mute, seemingly unstoppable force like Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees. Instead, Freddy (immortalized by Robert Englund) not only takes his victims lives, but he enjoys toying with their minds as well. Everyone has nightmares, and the only solace from their terror is that they can’t hurt us. Freddy negates that safety.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is exceedingly well-crafted by writer/director Wes Craven. It manages to be a potent slasher film while also being a special effects showcase. Bodies are moved by an unseen force, bathtubs become impossibly deep, and blood gushes in fountains. These images are iconic because they represent primal fears about evil invading our private spaces, like our bedroom and our bathrooms, representing the invasion of the mind that is occurring while the characters fall asleep.
The second film, subtitled Freddy’s Revenge, acts as sort of a one off when it comes to the films’ mythology. While not as strong as most of the other films in the series, I love that it expands Freddy’s influence to the body itself. Freddy also represents the protagonists’ fear of being outed, and is also a great example of psychological issues affecting the body as well as the mind.
Dream Warriors is by far the best sequel, taking ideas from the first film and moving them forward. On the one side, our heroes are kids who attempt to best the killer at his own game, trying to wrestle control of the dreamworld from his clawed glove. But the thing I love most about the film is that each of Freddy’s attacks are intimate because they are based on an aspect of the character being targeted (for example, he kills a girl with dreams of being an actress with a television). It plays to Freddy’s strengths as something that gives the series its unique flavor. Of course, having these shown with a combination of frightening and grotesque practical effects also helps make this a memorable entry.
It also has an epic Dokken song:
There are diminishing returns over the course of the next three films, Dream Master, The Dream Child, and Final Nightmare, especially when it comes to their need to flesh out more of Freddy Krueger's conception and childhood, which is completely unnecessary. Still, each of these films offers something in the way of fun visuals to make them worth watching. Yes, Freddy is just getting sillier and sillier, but there’s fun to be had here, even if there’s little fright.
Wes Craven returned to the series with a seventh entry, titled Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, which is a meta-sequel. It is about the making of a new entry in the series, but Freddy starts attacking Heather Langenkamp, who played Nancy in the first film and Dream Warriors, as well as others working on the new film. Much of the crew plays themselves, and the meta-narrative is really original and fun. But the way it treats Heather’s fears around motherhood, aging, and other adult concerns make this a much scarier entry than any since the original. Much of the terror comes from Nancy’s son in everyday normal situations while we wait for Freddy to show up. A New Nightmare indeed.
The less said about Freddy vs. Jason, the better (I find it mean-spirited and kind of lame), and I’ve never gotten around to the 2010 remake, so New Nightmare seems like the perfect capping off point.
The reason Freddy Krueger became an icon worthy of his own television show, and more than a half dozen music video appearances is because of how universal the experience of falling asleep is, and how the best films in the series are able to tap into our normal anxieties and fears. For me, Freddy would probably drain my blood to pay off my student loans or put me in a coffee shop that never gets my order right and I am forced to ask the barista to remake it over and over.