Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Nightmare on Elm Street, A

Series of six plus one fantasy-Horror Movies, of widely varying quality though often with points of interest, concerning a murderous Spirit, Freddy Krueger – a slouching Serial Killer with a hideously ravaged face and knife-fingered gloves – who has the power to kill people in their Dreams; he is a Shapeshifter and Soul-eater. Like Dracula (> Dracula Movies) he is regularly destroyed at the end of one movie and revived, through some mechanism or another, at the start of the next.

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street US movie (1984). New Line Cinema/Media Home Entertainment/Smart Egg/Elm Street Venture. Pr Robert Shaye. Exec pr Stanley Dudelson, Joseph Wolf. Dir Wes Craven. Spfx Jim Doyle, Theatrical Engines. Mufx David Miller. Screenplay Craven. Starring Ronee Blakley (Marge Thompson), Nick Corri (Rod Lane), Johnny Depp (Glen Lantz), Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger), Heather Langenkamp (Nancy Thompson), John Saxon (Lt Thompson), Amanda Wyss (Tina Gray). 91 mins. Colour.

Teenagers Tina, Don, Nancy and Glen slowly realize they are sharing horrific Dreams of Freddy. Then, in one of Tina's dreams, Freddy attacks her, shredding her flesh – and the gory murder is simultaneously enacted in our waking Reality. Boyfriend Don is arrested for the crime. Nancy, who has had narrow escapes in her own dreams, is convinced the nightmare figure is responsible, but before she can act it has hanged Don in his cell. Taken to a sleep laboratory, Nancy succeeds in dragging the murderer's hat into waking reality. Inside its brim is the name "Fred Krueger". Nancy's alcoholic mother confesses that, years ago, Serial Killer Krueger was caught but released on a technicality, and that she and other parents burnt him alive. Nancy, by now many nights deliberately sleepless, ventures into the dream reality to haul Freddy into ours, where an accomplice can deal with him; but her accomplices let her down. Unknowing, she reifies Freddy, but at last destroys him (she thinks) when, believing he survives only because of the energy he leeches from her, withdraws that energy by refusing to perceive him (> Perception). In an ambiguous finale, Nancy steps into an Otherworld where all seems happy and sunkissed, her friends and mother again alive; but, with an eye to sequels, Freddy strikes here as well ...

This is an extremely intelligent, well made Horror Movie, achieving its effects less through the plentiful gore than through playing on our paranoia by blurring the line between dream and waking realities. [JG]

2. A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge US movie (1985). New Line Cinema/Heron/Smart Egg/Elm Street Two Venture. Pr Robert Shaye. Exec pr Stephen Dieder, Stanley Dudelson. Dir Jack Sholder. Vfx Paul Boyington. Mufx Kevin Yagher. Screenplay David Chaskin. Starring Marshall Bell (Schneider), Robert Englund (Freddy), Clu Gulager (Mr Walsh), Hope Lange (Mrs Walsh), Kim Myers (Lisa Webber), Mark Patton (Jesse Walsh), Robert Rusler (Ron Grady), Sydney Walsh (Kerry). 84 mins. Colour.

The first sequel, set five years later in the old Thompson house at 1428 Elm Street, abandons the style and (occasional) subtlety of 1 in favour of a more straightforward tale of Possession. The implausibility of the mundane aspects of the plot deprives the fantasy of all credibility, leaving the movie reliant solely on gore. [JG]

3. A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors US movie (1987). New Line/Heron/Smart Egg. Pr Robert Shaye. Exec pr Wes Craven, Stephen Diener. Dir Chuck Russell. Spfx Thomas Bellissimo, Doug Beswick Productions, Peter Chesney, Image Engineering, Bryan Moore. Mufx Greg Cannom, Mathew Mungel, Mark Shostrum, Kevin Yagher. Vfx Dream Quest Images, Hoyt Yeatman. Anim fx Jeff Burks. Screenplay Craven, Frank Darabont, Russell, Bruce Wagner. Starring Patricia Arquette (Kristen Parker), Brooke Bundy (Elaine Parker), Kristen Clayton (Little Girl), Rodney Eastman (Joey), Robert Englund (Freddy), Larry Fishburne (Max), Ira Heiden (Will), Heather Langenkamp (Nancy Thompson), Nan Martin (Sister Mary Helena/Amanda Krueger), Priscilla Pointer (Dr Elizabeth Simms), Jennifer Rubin (Taryn), Ken Sagoes (Roland Kincaid), John Saxon (Lt Thompson), Penelope Sudrow (Jennifer), Craig Wasson (Dr Neil Gordon). 96 mins. Colour.

Defying the rule that series always deteriorate, this is substantially better and more imaginative than 2. A group of teenagers suffering sleep-related mental deterioration are isolated in a psychiatric hospital; it proves they are the last of the children of the parents who burnt Freddy alive (> 1). Nancy (from 1) is brought in as a psychiatric assistant, and knows the truth: she finds psychiatrist Gordon open-minded but others less so. Freddy picks off the teenagers one by one, assailing them whenever they sleep. Enigmatic Ghost nun Sister Mary Helena appears repeatedly to Gordon, explaining that Freddy was her child through gang rape by criminally insane men; she tells him Freddy's remains must be buried if the unquiet Spirit is to be laid to rest. He sets about this with Nancy's estranged, now-alcoholic father – duelling a skeleton in a deserted car dump – while Nancy and the surviving teenagers plunge together into the Dream reality to battle Freddy there; their advantage in that Reality is that they can act in their (more powerful) dream personas. At last, of course, Freddy is defeated – for now.

The movie is stuffed with fantasy images – people are pulled into their own Mirror reflections, a door in midair leads downwards to a Hell, a Doll house encapsulates and represents the original house on Elm Street, etc. – as well as some from Science Fiction: a significant strand of Technofantasy runs throughout. Despite Langenkamp's star billing, Arquette and Wasson make this movie theirs. The movie is something of an spfx-fest. [JG]

4. A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master US movie (1988). New Line/Heron/Smart Egg. Pr Robert Shaye, Rachel Talalay. Exec pr Stephen Diener, Sara Risher. Dir Renny Harlin. Spfx Image Engineering. Vfx Dream Quest Images. Mufx R Christopher Biggs, Steve Johnson, Magical Media Industries, Screaming Mad George, Kevin Yagher. Screenplay Brian Helgeland, William Kotzwinkle, Scott Pierce. Starring Brooke Bundy (Elaine Parker), Kristen Clayton (Little Girl), Robert Englund (Freddy), Danny Hassel (Dan Jordan), Tuesday Knight (Kristen Parker), Lisa Wilcox (Alice Johnson). 93 mins. Colour.

Freddy is, of course, not dead. Escaping his grave, he hunts down the survivors from 3. Last to go is Kristen, who by now has confided all in friends Rick, Dan and notably the dreamy Alice. Although Kristen was the final child of the people who burnt Freddy alive, his appetite is not satiated, and Alice comes to realize that, through her dreams, she is "collecting" further teenagers to be killed by him. As each dies, Freddy takes their Souls but Alice gains certain of their abilities. At last, with boyfriend Dan near death, she confronts Freddy in the dream Reality with these powers, calling also on the mythological figure of the Dream Master – who guards the souls of sleepers – to help destroy him. Much of this movie is an incoherent excuse to create ever gorier spfx. Yet there are some good moments: a sequence in which Alice is sucked through a cinema screen to the world behind it is strikingly managed; and there is an excellent rendition of an anxiety Dream. [JG]

5. A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 5: The Dream Child US movie (1989). New Line/Heron/Smart Egg. Pr Rupert Harvey, Robert Shaye. Exec pr Sara Risher, Jon Turtle. Dir Stephen Hopkins. Spfx Amorie G Ellingson, Gary Sivertson. Vfx Alan Munro, Visual Concept Engineering. Mufx David Miller. Miniature fx Jim Aupperle. Screenplay Leslie Bohem. Starring Erika Anderson (Greta), Robert Englund (Freddy), Danny Hassel (Dan Jordan), Whitby Hertford (Jacob), Kelly Jo Minter (Yvonne), Joe Seely (Mark), Lisa Wilcox (Alice Johnson). 89 mins. Colour.

Freddy ain't dead yet. Alice is pregnant by Dan, and Freddy is able to reinvade her life and slaughter a few teenagers (starting with Dan) via the foetus's dreaming mind. Alice has several encounters with her unborn child, who appears as a little boy called Jacob. There seems no way to stop Freddy except by, in either the Dream or the mundane Reality, discovering the bones of his dead mother Amanda so her Soul may be released to take back her child. This is effected, and Alice's baby is born normally.

This movie is full of ideas, many interesting and most gruesome, but lacks any overall, driving idea. It is also full of spfx: there is insufficient space above for anything like a complete credits listing. One sequence exhibits both features at their best: the character Mark, an amateur illustrator, opens a Comic book and discovers its story (about Freddy and the rest) is unfinished; he is drawn (pun intended) into the next empty frame, where he confronts Freddy in the dream reality; Mark transmutes into his own comic-book creation, The Phantom Prowler, and as such apparently defeats Freddy; but Freddy revives, converts the Prowler into a mere Toon, and rips him into paper tatters. [JG]

6. Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare US movie (1991). New Line. Pr Robert Shaye, Aron Warner. Exec pr Michael De Luca. Dir Rachel Talalay. Vfx Don Baker, Chandler Group, Dream Quest Images, John Scheele, Michael Shea. Mufx Magical Media Industries. Screenplay De Luca, Talalay. Starring Lezlie Deane (Tracy), Robert Englund (Freddy), Shon Greenblatt ("John"), Yaphet Kotto (Doc), Ricky Dean Logan (Carlos), Breckin Meyer (Spencer), Lisa Zane (Maggie). 90 mins. Colour.

Of course, Freddy is still "alive"; no explanation is offered. Ten years on, Springwood, Ohio, is devoid of children and teenagers, the adult residents living a curious Carnival-like fantasy existence. The first half of this movie is standard for the series: a gory incoherence shot with some interesting ideas – as when a character becomes part of an arcade Game, obeying its rules both within the game and in "real life". The second half more interestingly provides some sort of rationale and conclusion to the series. Social worker Maggie is Freddy's child, adopted elsewhere when his crimes were discovered and through trauma amnesiac of her childhood; she, we discover, is the little girl (really named Catherine) who has so often acted as Guardian of the Threshold at the house on Elm Street. Travelling through an array of Freddy's memories, she discovers how childhood persecution and physical abuse moulded the sadistic Serial Killer; how at the time of his incineration the Dream demons came to him, promising Immortality in the dream Reality if he allowed them to possess him (> Possession); and how his Vengeance on successive teenagers was sparked less by his death than by the forcible removal of his daughter. He is indeed immortal (> Immortality) in the dream reality, but Maggie drags him into the mundane one and kills him. The second half justifies the movie. [JG]

7. Wes Craven's New Nightmare US movie (1994). Rank/New Line. Pr Marianne Maddalena. Exec pr Wes Craven, Robert Shaye. Dir Craven. Spfx John C Carlucci, Michael W Menzel, Charles Schmitz and others. Mechanical fx Lou Carlucci. Vfx Flash Film Works, William Mesa. Mufx Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman, David Miller Creations, Gregory Nicotero. Screenplay Craven. Starring Fran Bennett (Dr Heffner), Nick Corri (himself), Craven (himself), Robert Englund (Freddy/himself), Miko Hughes (Dylan Porter), Tuesday Knight (herself), Heather Langenkamp (herself), Maddalena (herself), Tracy Middendorf (Julie), David Newsom (Chase Porter), Sara Risher (herself), Sam Rubin (himself), John Saxon (himself), Shaye (himself). 112 mins. Colour.

Langenkamp (from 1 and 3) is married to Porter, an spfx man among Craven's crew; they have a young son, Dylan. She is being tormented by phonecalls from a Freddy Krueger soundalike, by her terror of a series of earthquakes rocking the Los Angeles area, and by Dreams relating to Freddy. Dylan is suffering from somnambulism – during which he watches 1 on an unplugged tv set and sings snatches of the series' recurrent nursery rhyme – and from fit-like attacks; he claims there is a man with claws at the foot of his bed who can be kept away only by the stuffed Toy Dinosaur Rex. Langenkamp is told Craven has been writing a fresh NOES script, and wishes her to play Nancy once more. She declines: now she has a child, Horror Movies no longer seem such a good idea. Porter is killed in an apparent road accident; but his chest bears claw-marks. At his funeral Langenkamp has an Hallucination (or a view into a divergent Reality) that Freddy is in the coffin as well, and that both he and Porter are trying to drag Dylan with them. Actors from the series – notably Englund and Saxon – try to comfort her, but neither seems to believe her claim that Freddy is somehow emerging into "real life". Craven, however, does: his new script, he says, portrays Freddy as an ancient Evil being who can be at least temporarily captured by storytellers and forced to take on the shape the storytellers decree; when the Story is ended, however – as the NOES series has been – the Spirit is freed to act on the "real world" again. Craven believes that only through making one last movie, with Langenkamp as Nancy, can both the story and the reality of the being be terminated; she is the keeper of the Portal through which Freddy is trying to enter this world; Freddy is trying to bypass her through Dylan. Dylan is taken into hospital, where he is visited by babysitter Julie, whom Freddy dramatically slaughters. Dylan escapes hospital and, pursued by his mother, staggers home to find Dinosaur Rex. There, too, is Saxon; but he now has become Lt Thompson (from 1 and 3), Nancy's father, and addresses her as his daughter. Langenkamp finds a trail of sleeping pills leading to Dylan's bed; recalling how the children at the end of Hansel and Gretel, his favourite Fairytale, followed the trail of breadcrumbs home to safety, she swallows some of the pills and burrows to the foot of his bed, where she discovers the nightmare world. In that world she finds Craven's script, and reads from it that "There was no movie. There was only ... her ... life ..." Then she and Dylan battle Freddy directly, at last stuffing him into an oven (like the witch in Hansel and Gretel). As the flames consume him, he reverts (> Shapeshifter) to his Demon form and is plunged back to Hell.

This is an astonishing exercise in Recursive Fantasy and an act of reverence to the power of Story. It is also a contribution to the debate about the ill-effects of Horror Movies on Children: its conclusion seems to be that, so long as there is resolution (as in Hansel and Gretel), no harm can ensue (a point it doesn't quite make). The most frightening of the series, this is probably the least gory; also to its credit, it portrays frankly the pain of bereavement, while parodying the shallowness of Hollywood society (Shaye, in particular, is either a brilliant self-parodist or did not realize what Craven was doing to him). There are reprises of scenes from 1, notably in the butchery of Julie, which recalls that of 1's Tina; but they are more skilfully staged and timed, while Freddy himself has been redesigned to be less of a figure of fun. This is a noteworthy fantasy movie by any standard. [JG]

Novelizations: The Nightmares on Elm Street, Parts 1, 2 and 3 * (1987) by Jeffrey Cooper; The Nightmares on Elm Street, Parts 4 & 5 * (1989) by Joseph Locke (Ray Garton); Wes Craven's New Nightmare * (1994) by David Bergantino.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.