I’m not exactly a student of the three major slasher franchises of the 80s and 90s (Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street), but I’ve seen enough of all three to pretty solidly conclude that the Nightmare films are, on average, my favorite. Nothing in any of the three approaches the solid craftsmanship and storytelling of the first Halloween, but if told I had to pick a random entry from any of the three, I’d go with Nightmare because I know that, at least, there will be some imagination to what happens in the climax.
Not to say that they’re all good, or anything. It’s mostly a passable franchise that became both obsessed with its own lore and rules while discarding half of it at the same time. New Line Cinema really didn’t know what to do with the franchise that built the place or the character of Freddy Krueger that became so popular. At least they threw some decent money at the films so that there could be some interesting sights here and there.
The genesis was Wes Craven’s imaginative but undisciplined first entry, and he was really the only one who seemed to have any desire to take the franchise in new directions. His early drafts for the third one helped to lay the groundwork for one of the most interesting of the sequels, and his seventh entry really did try to do something new and say something interesting. So, while I’m not the biggest fan of Craven’s entire body of work, the realm of dreams was really where he was best the most consistently.
Anyway, here’s the entire franchise ranked, and don’t forget to check out all of the other definitive rankings to bask in the sheer definitiveness of it all.
“Oppressive in tone, confused in storytelling, and obsessed with the worst kind of lore, the sole feature film made by noted commercial director Samuel Bayer is an embarrassment that has no idea what made the original series appealing at any point while offering nothing more than bad rehashes of old ideas inelegantly thrown together with no concept of how stories work.”
“However, they could always be relied on for some level of technical fun in their visions of the hellish dreamscape that Freddy inhabited. Freddy’s Dead doesn’t even have that, and when mixed with the fact that Freddy simply ceases to be anything close to scary, it creates a deadweight that the film can never shrug off, not that it exactly tries.”
“I didn’t hate it, but I’m convinced that there was a more effective and enjoyable way to put the two horror icons into the same slasher film.”
“So, I don’t think the whole package actually comes together. None of the individual elements are thought out well enough to work on their own, but at least the visuals around Krueger, as infrequent as they are, are pretty good.”
“It’s really the dream sequences that force and allow directors to be creative at a level that other slashers really don’t and can’t. Cut those out and most of the franchise becomes really boring. Thankfully, they’re part and parcel of the whole thing and keep showing up to break up the narrative missteps.”
“So, out of all four so far, this is the Nightmare on Elm Street film that most fully rests on the strength of its visuals with nothing else to pull it together. None of the ideas work or extend the narrative capabilities further, and the start and stop nature of the story as the third film’s characters get dumped at the thirty minute mark don’t do it any favors either. However, those visuals are really quite good.”
“There’s real effort here to use the ideas from the previous films and build on them, pushing out from the world and giving it a one versus many approach while expanding on the visuals at the same time.”
“However, the beginning and final half hours are really good, enough to raise the whole film to a messy, but satisfying and ambitious, entry in the franchise.”
“I really do like this film. I think it’s a good slasher with real imagination that takes horror seriously instead of just an excuse for gore, but I also feel like it could have really used another rewrite.
There’s real horror here, but it could have been just a bit more.”