For numerical ratings of the individual films, please scroll to the bottom of the post.
Last time we ran through the original six films that create Nightmare on Elm Street ending with Freddys Dead, a disappointing final chapter in a otherwise entertaining series. The series could have stopped there, but it has progressed, very slowly, through the intervening years. Three more movies have attempted to capture the feeling of the classics.
Three years after they supposedly killed off Freddy for good Wes Craven had an idea, and he decided to step in and finish the series off in his own way. But he was never a fan of the sequels, so he didn’t want to actually continue the series. Instead he made A New Nightmare which is about Freddy as an idea. It stars Heather Langenkamp as Heather Langenkamp. This movie is set in the real world, and it revolves around Heather and her family. Her husband is a special effects man working on a new project, and her son is a precocious little guy who likes climbing on things and playing with his oatmeal. Heather soon discovers that a new Freddy film is being made and somehow a dark essence has been trapped by it and is using the Freddy mythos to act in the real world.
New Nightmare does a good job of going back to the dark nature of the early films, focusing of fear over pure gruesome effects. But it is not a simple retread; it attempts to do something new with the franchise and succeeds pretty well. It’s a little bit Nightmare and a little bit fairy tale. To further cement this change even Freddy is given an image overhaul, becoming more sinister with a whole new look. He is less burned, but he sports a new coat and seriously demented claws. Robert Englund does a great job here portraying a version of his real self, Freddy from the classic series, and the new demonic Freddy. If I had to list a downside I would say that the film does rely (necessarily so) heavily on the first film. If you haven’t seen the original things might not make sense, and you won’t be able to appreciate this one for all that it is.
Nine years later the unthinkable happened, someone finally managed to sign a deal that let us answer the question: who would win? That’s right, in 2003 we finally got Freddy vs Jason, and it is glorious. Now I know some people don’t like it, I imagine some are not happy with the turnout, and there are the fans of either character who feel that the movie skews too far towards the character they want to lose (for my money this film is far more of a Friday film), but this movie really needs to be taken on its own. Currently we are going to focus on the Freddy aspects. Film wise this movie looks slick, it’s well shot and the dream sequences manage to feel haunting. It may be too slick, but things have to give to accommodate radically differing characters. I also like the work done on the Freddy makeup, here they toy with the notion that he can manipulate how he looks, having pointed teeth in one scene and in another he appears virtually demonic. In fact one of the greatest scenes in movie history occurs as Freddy spies an interloper and the whole dream shifts to red, his visage becomes more evil, and he hurls himself into the air and time slows down. I desperately need a poster of that scene.
The film plays on the contest between Freddy’s more cerebral nature and Jason’s pure muscle and it is the Jason-centric nature of this film that does actually bring about the conflict; Freddy gets pissed at him and has to pull rank. This leads to a rather one sided dream world duel, a near murder deeper in, and then pure fisticuffs in the final. And let me tell you, the fighting here is better than I typically see in an action movie. It’s wonderfully framed and shot, and each character has their own way of doing battle. It’s not a film that managed to bring back the series, but it was a fun ride and quite hilarious. It rests just short of self parody and feels like a loving tribute to both characters. Also, Katharine Isabelle is really hot.
Lastly, but hopefully not finally, we have the remake and reboot, Nightmare on Elm Street. This film is a very loose retelling, and revisioning, of the original film. The immediate downside here is that Robert Englund has been replaced (a movie that does make sense, but is still distressing) by Jackie Earle Haley. I have to say, he is the only actor I feel could have stepped into those shoes, and he does a wonderful job of it. In fact he is the true bright spot I this movie, making Freddy once again a very menacing character. The new makeup works well and the advances in CGI allow them to go for extremes with it helping to dehumanize him further. I’m not sold on the new claw design, and there is one line lifted from an older Freddy film that went too campy for my tastes, but overall the new Freddy works well.
The rest of the movie is a mixed bag. I don’t want to simply retype my old review so I will just touch upon a few points. Most of the characters here are useless; Clancy Brown is wasted, the new Nancy is in no way the strong female the original was, and her boyfriend annoyed the piss out of me. The film also relied upon jump scenes a lot, there was little in the way of pacing and planning, but plenty of loud noises and quick flashes. On the bright side the micro nap concept is pure gold and helps to make Freddy even more menacing. Before he was this dark figure who would wait for you to slumber, but now he feels like a relentless machine that is snapping at the edges of reality.
I really hope they continue the new series, making improvements to certain areas. Times have changed, it used to be that the Jason movies featured hordes of nameless teens and Nightmare was the place for characterization. Now the Friday remake has interesting characters but the ones in Nightmare and as bland as bland can be. If they can pull in a tighter script, and get me to care about the characters we could have a new era of Nightmare films; I wouldn’t even mind a new version of part two.
New Nightmare: because it requires the first movie to function 4/5
Freddy vs Jason: Because it knows what it is and goes all the way 4/5
A Nightmare on Elm Street (remake): because it lost some of the best, but worked in some new greatness 3/5