The ‘Nightmare On Elm Street’ Series Is Deeper Than You Know
In a genre dominated by Jason Vorhees and his quest to rid the world of topless camp counselors, the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise was a breath of fresh air. Not only was it a little more supernatural than the wave of Michael Myers clones, but it had a neat gimmick: the killer, Freddy Krueger, could only kill you if you were asleep. That sounds old hat now, but in 1984, just the idea of something other than forest axe murders on screen was cause for intense celebration.
But little did viewers realize that, beneath the puns and fantastical dream stabbings, there was an allegory about what it's like to grow up. Tired, horny teenagers might have been getting murdered by a burn victim with a butcher shop for a hand, but in the grander scheme of things, they were just playing out their roles in a larger tale that starts with puberty and ends at death.
A Nightmare On Elm Street: Puberty
Childhood was great. You loved every peace-ridden, blissful moment of that Popsicle-sucking summertime innocence. But hold on to your blossoming privates, because puberty is here to literally tongue kiss you through a phone. That scene is probably the most explicit that the metaphor gets, as the protagonist Nancy reacts exactly how everyone still trying to understand puberty reacts when they first hear about tongue kissing: EW, TONGUE. EW, BOYFRIEND? EW, YOU CAN DO THAT? EW, FREDDY KRUEGER. That last one might just be her, but Freddy Krueger is nothing if not the slasher genre's answer to that weird older dude who keeps telling you how "mature you are for your age" while trying to palm your thigh.
This first date is going terribly.
The movie is full of this. Tina, Nancy's best friend and the movie's obligatory "You ain't cool unless you're MAKING OUT!" character, wakes up with a tattered night gown after dreaming about Freddy Krueger chasing her. Soon, all of the teens realize they've all been dreaming about Freddy Krueger, our little puberty Sandman. And as with puberty, no one is initially equipped to deal with him in the slightest.
As the movie progresses, the looming presence of sex starts to dominate how Freddy menaces the teens. While Nancy is sleeping, we see Freddy appear over her bed, the wall resembling a rubbery condom that a nasty little demon head is trying to poke through.
The viewer is even present for a scene representative of Nancy's first period. As Nancy lays in the bathtub asleep, Freddy's clawed glove breaks through the surface of the water between her open legs. This isn't just one of the most intense scenes in horror history. It's clear foreshadowing of all the trouble that's about to happen between your legs. From periods to wet dreams, they're the first milestones that will take the allegorical teenager down a snowballing Domino Rally of confusion and destruction that'll last anywhere from 10-70 years.
A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge: Sexuality
As Cracked and even the film's director pointed out, there is a ton of homoerotic subtext in A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge. Nancy, from the first film, is gone and in her place is Jesse, a teen stuck in the throes of self-doubt about his sexuality.
Jesse has something inside of him that prevents him from doing the condom-collide with his strikingly hot girlfriend, Lisa. Right off the bat, Jesse gets whacked in the head with a baseball bat while watching a guy shake his ass. Seconds later, he and his new friend Grady are trying to tear each other's clothes off. And the gym coach who seems to be paid a salary to watch boys' hips during push-ups? He is stripped naked in a locker room shower before he's murdered, which must have been quite odd for the people who were used to Freddy just pulling teens through beds and turning them into blood geysers.
"This is, ummm, different."
We start seeing Jesse's nightmares where Freddy tells him that he needs his body. With a touch of the glove, Freddy is officially inside of Jesse and that closet door opens right up. Jesse's parents have numerous conversation about how there's something wrong with him, and they're all too eager to leave him alone in his bedroom with his girlfriend. Note to parents who think their kids might be gay: Not a great thing to do. Be a little more chill about it, dudes.
After a full movie of conflicting feelings, Jesse takes the plunge and tries hooking up with his girlfriend in the cabana during her pool party. But the "thing inside him" comes out and he can't go through with it. He runs away to Grady's house, who is topless in bed and accuses Jesse of wanting to sleep with him. Jesse can't get past the confusion. The only thing left to do is for the movie to break its own rules by allowing Freddy to come into the real world in a burst of fire. A lot of people have tried to explain how this fits in with the series' internal logic, but the best reason for it still remains "It was 1985, man."
Before Freddy Vs. Jason, there was Freddy Vs. Hollywood Executive With Cocaine.
The film ends with Jesse finding himself on the back of Freddy's dream bus, being taken on a ride to his inescapable destiny. It's a pleasant note to end on as the series transitions away from dealing with sexuality and moves onto self-discovery. And by "self-discovery," we mean lots and lots of drugs.
A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors: Self-Discovery (aka DRUGS)
The teens in Dream Warriors aren't the hapless, "I love THE MALL" suburban kids from the first two films. No, this new batch lives in an asylum, which means that they are trapped with their own neuroses, struggling to obtain some kind of self-discovery. And like with some teens, the urge to find out "who you are" on a level deeper than "Well, I like pizza more than hot dogs," means experimentation and some remarkably questionable risk taking.
Kristen and her fellow inmate friends are seeing Freddy in their dreams. But no one in the hospital believes them, until, like an ethereal goddess, Nancy, our hero from the first Nightmare, emerges. She not only identifies with the teens, she is an interning counselor who wants to help the kids murder Freddy when she realizes he's back. And while the movie makes it seem like she's pretty solid, the overall well-being of the asylum's residents doesn't necessarily benefit from her presence.
In a world of drug addicts and delusion, Nancy is a drug dealer. She feeds into these teenagers' fears and continuously draws them back into the dream world, where Freddy is waiting to off them in an endless array of ironic ways. Addicted to TV? "Welcome to prime time, bitch." Hooked on Dungeons & Dragons? Freddy literally tries run you over with a magic wheelchair. And whereas Nancy in the first movie was symbolic of puberty and hormonal awakening, here she is murdered by Freddy, swiftly and with hardly a moment of recognition. Don't do drugs, kids.
This moment might as well have been accompanied by the sad "Womp WOMP" of a tuba.
A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master: College
It's easy to end high school full of confidence, and then start college suddenly realizing that everything you formerly loved is lame and now your entire personality is up for grabs. When college begins, we often transform into a sponge, this mass Katamari conglomerate consisting of cheap beer, hacky sacks, and the thoughts and opinions of everybody around you.
As characters are killed off one by one, the protagonist Alice manages to absorb some kind of personality trait or physical ability from each of them, such as Kristen's ability to pull people into dreams, Rick's mean karate skills, and Sheila's ability to rock a killer sweatband. That is a huge part of college: finding yourself ... your style, personality, friends. Most of who you will become as an adult is built around college experimentation, allowing yourself to try on new personalities like hats until you find the one that makes you ... well, you.
If she'd gotten Freddy's sweet sunglasses, there would be no stopping her.
College is also a time of increased and liberated sexuality for many people. When Sheila succumbs to Freddy in her nightmare, she dies when he sucks face with her, which really pushes the "You should date around!" advice that most young people get. But sexy Freddy doesn't stop there. From climbing into bed with Alice to whispering "I believe in you" in Debbie's ears while she's jerking off some free weights, liberated pleasure rolls off Freddy's face right up until the final battle where Alice is kicking his ass and he seems pretty excited about it. But don't stand too close to Freddy when he's that excited. You just might roll over in his wet dream and find yourself stuck with a baby.
If you're wondering where the series is at, quality-wise, at one point in Dream Master, a kid fights an invisible Freddy for three straight minutes.
A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child: Parenthood
In a rare move for slasher sequels, The Dream Child finds us still hanging with Alice. But while she didn't get slaughtered, she did get pregnant. And Alice isn't the only one in this movie with baby fever. We learn the story of Amanda Krueger, a nun who worked in an asylum and was raped by "a hundred maniacs." She became pregnant and because this series is dead set on removing joy at any cost, Fred Krueger was born.
As you'd expect, Alice's pregnancy is not one of hope, but one of angst and impending doom. We're barely into our twenties at this point in the life cycle. For the first time since puberty, your Freddy dreams are unreliable, since a common pregnancy symptom is, in fact, weird dreams. Alice's baby-daddy, Dan, is seen hanging out with his friends, just drinking and having a great time, when Alice calls to tell him that Freddy's come back, which is only a little more sobering than "Could you pick up something from the grocery store?" With that, we're sent into a downward spiral of adult responsibilities. Kiss your friends goodbye -- it's just you and your pregnant girlfriend forever. Just not for Dan, because Freddy kills him. And then possesses his body. And then asks Alice "Wanna make babies?"
Freddy also becomes a talking bike. Nothing to do with parenthood, but important, nonetheless.
Freddy's baby obsession reaches its peak when he kills a girl named Greta by stuffing her with food while she's seated in a highchair. He then drapes her over his shoulder and burps her TO DEATH.
Writing picture captions when there's so many good Freddy puns almost feels wasteful.
Alice physically forces Freddy out of her and Freddy is torn apart by his infinity-trillion crazy daddies, and his evil spirit goes inside the ghost of his mommy, Amanda. In a final act of baby defiance, Freddy gives his mom an automatic C-section by tearing his glove through her stomach. Childbirth. Truly a miracle.
Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare: Adulthood
College is over. You're leaving your twenties. You've had some kids. You dabbled in strange careers that you thought would stick and define you, but by god, Robert's Anime And Taco Shop closed in three weeks. The Final Nightmare represents all of your choices falling apart. It opens with an airplane crumbling mid-flight while Freddy flies by on a broomstick shouting, "I'll get you my pretty, and your little soul too!," which is about as life fall-ey apart-ey as it can get.
World's Greatest Dad.
By now, Freddy is a caricature of himself, as seen when the trademark '90s teen stoner falls asleep and dreams he's in a video game. There he's controlled and killed by Freddy who is using a Nintendo Power Glove. This movie is a nostalgic 30-year-old trying to prove to 15-year-olds that, yeah, he's still hip. He knows the video games. "Nintendo" is the name of that little plumber, right?
"Nothing better than a round of Mario Cars, eh, kids?"
The female lead, Maggie, is Freddy's long-lost daughter. And she hates him, probably as she should. In time, your kids will resent you, too. Your life's a mess and you're driving in circles, just like in the character Carlos' dream about the never-ending nightmare map. There's seemingly no escape.
Wes Craven's New Nightmare: Middle Age
New Nightmare isn't necessarily a sequel to the the previous Nightmare films. Instead, it exists in a world where the other films are, well, films, and Freddy is a pop-culture icon. The years have rolled by and Freddy movie after Freddy movie has come out, throwing us headlong into a world where it feels like you're stuck doing the same thing over and over again.
Resurrected child killer attacks you in public? Same. Old. Shit.
The actress that played Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) plays herself, and she's pretty sick of the Freddy character, too. She gets even sicker of him when she finds out that Freddy has leaked out into the "real world" and is now an actual detriment to the life of her and her son. You do your job for years, it provides for you, and it's seemingly only beneficial. And then you arrive at middle age and realize that it's made you a nervous wreck of a person. Also, it's unleashed a burn-faced dream goblin that's out to off your child. The 401k is pretty handy, though.
At the last second, Heather ends up finally slaying Krueger and returning him to his fictitious world. She refuses to let a piece-of-shit job/dream goblin define her and overtake her life and ruin her relationship with her son. Unlike the earlier films which ended with the theme of "Freddy's still around, life is hopeless, and enjoy the suck!," New Nightmare ends with the message that even when you're deep in the butthole of adulthood, you can still swim out of the shit.
You'll recognize the butthole of adulthood because it never fails to wear a hat that only looks cool to it.
Freddy Vs. Jason: Late Middle Age And Your High School Reunion
You're invited to the party of near-elderly irrelevance by Freddy himself with an opening monologue that puts others to shame, giving us a history of his murder sprees and complaining that he can't come back if no one remembers him. Being forgotten blows, so let's all get together for old time's sake.
The protagonist, Lori, is the first one smart enough to remember Freddy's name. At first, Freddy tries to use Jason's lumbering death corpse to give him power to come back, but when Jason starts stealing Freddy's targets, it gets him real pissed. Jason wasn't supposed to be the guy that could still break dance at the reunion! Freddy was supposed to bust a move.
If this movie had been made a decade earlier, they ABSOLUTELY would've had a dance-off at this moment.
But the proof that this movie knows you're old and lame is in its need to spell everything out for you. Like the scene at the table where they're talking about how Freddy brought Jason back, how Freddy is afraid of fire and Jason fears water, so how can we use that? They might as well have been shouting into your hearing aid. "Back in my day, the Nightmare films were 'The Dream Something' and Reagan was Jesus!"
The final battle really feels like closure on our pasts, even if we can all see it for what it really is: two old men fighting. It makes you remember how you got here. You feel at peace.
Crystal Lake High School: Class of the mid-'80s
A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010 Remake): Old Age And Death
At long last, you've made it to the end. And this remake is the tumbling demise of someone nearing the end of existence. You're about to die, but you're just grasping onto that final financial breath. Some kind of strange attempt to prove to everyone that you can be something more or something different. But by now, you don't need reinventing or fixing. You need to look back at your life and celebrate the best parts. Like all those glorious practical effects that have been buried here to make room for shitty CGI.
They stole the plot from the original, but they stole the effects from 1998.
In typical "gritty reboot" fashion, Freddy's "realistic" burn makeup is so thick that it renders him expressionless. Yet, he sure is a chatty dream murderer this time around. Reboot Freddy just talks too damn much. Like he didn't expect anyone to actually come over, and he's taking advantage of the company. He's trying to get it all out before he can't do it anymore.
The adults are too nice, and the teens in this movie are all bored drug addicts, which is the general world view of anyone who's retired to watch a constant stream of TV Land and Fox News. In the final battle, when Nancy screams to Freddy, "You're in my world now, bitch," we realize that we're probably already dead. And in Hell. Because never has there been a more flat and apathetic delivery in a Nightmare On Elm Street movie.
Indifferent Blah, starring Oscar-nominated performer Jackie Earle Haley.
With that line, the series dies, and we're ready to leave it and its allegory for life behind. We've been through nine movies that have guided us from puberty through death, and we've killed a lot of teenagers in between. Thanks, Freddy, for showing us the way.
You can find Loryn haunting Twitter.
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