It’s October 1989, I am walking around my elementary school black top dressed as Superman, in a homemade costume my Mom sewed for me, as part of our annual Halloween parade. There’s a devil in front of me and Fred Flintstone behind, but the true star of this parade is the dream demon in a red and green striped sweater, rubber mask and brown glove full of plastic finger knives. Yes, Freddy Krueger* is marching past the handball courts with undeniable swagger and I will be forever fascinated by his pop culture presence. From this day forward, I stare at his burnt visage on the video store shelf weekly, trying to muster up the courage to see him in action, but never quite taking the plunge.
*Special thanks Tony friend @NLogan77 on Twitter/X for allowing me to use his photo of himself dressed at Freddy Krueger in 1987 as part of the recreation of the my elementary school Halloween parade.
It would be close to 20 years before I got the guts to actually observe Freddy’s antics for myself in the A Nightmare On Elm Street film series, but once I finally pushed play, the fun never stopped. Jason Voorhees is brutal, Michael Myers is relentless, Pinhead doesn’t have much to offer beyond his look, but Freddy Krueger is a star in every sense of the word. I rewatch the films every year and no other movie madman invokes the same fascination within me.
We’re now in the season where I first laid eyes on the Springwood slasher all those years ago and I wonder how many little Freddy’s will come to my door demanding a tiny box of NERDS or a cellophane sleeve of Smarties from me. Probably not many and that’s a shame. In an attempt to boost the profile of this sinful showman, this cut-up with cutlery, I present to you The Life and Times of Freddy Krueger as I have observed them through watching his films.
A Nightmare On Elm Street
Freddy is a rascal in this movie. Just a little troublemaker. He’s harassing the Elm Street kids in their dreams just to get a reaction. If he wanted to wipe them all out quickly it wouldn’t have been hard. In fact, he dispatches Johnny Depp’s Glen character by sucking him into a bed and never even shows his face. Same for Rod, who gets hung by an invisible Freddy forming bed sheets into a makeshift noose. But when he first appears to Tina, this funny guy is giggling as he chops off a finger while making direct eye contact or stretching out his arms to ridiculous lengths just to show off.
Freddy taunts our hero, Nancy, like a confused elementary school boy trying to get the attention of a girl he likes. He pulls her underwater in the bathtub like he’s dunking her in a pool and licks her through the phone receiver while declaring, “I’m your boyfriend now”. Even when he’s pushing himself through the wall above her bed, the guy’s just hoping she’ll wake up and see him, but she never does and he just gives up. This is definitely Freddy’s awkward shy phase.
A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
What do you do when your natural style isn’t getting the attention you want from the world around you? Steal someone else’s look! Freddy is uglier than ever in the sequel, so instead of harassing teenagers in their dreams face to face, he’s literally stealing the body of Jesse to walk the streets for slashin’ incognito. And why wouldn’t he? Have you seen this kid’s dance moves and cute Meryl Streep lookalike girlfriend? Of course he wants to walk a mile in this guy’s tighty whities and play tonsil hockey with Lisa at her pool party.
Speaking of which, you know Freddy is really feeling like a stud when he shows up to the pool party with fiery KISS style stage pyrotechnics and declaring, “You’re all my children now”. It’s like his coming out party (which given the themes of the film you can read into all you want), where he’s letting everybody know that he killed the sadistic gym teacher and is ready for some praise from his peers. Sadly, like the jokester kid who goes too far with a prank, Freddy learns the hard way that the way to true popularity is to be yourself, not making a spectacle of yourself. Luckily by the next film he’s really figured it out.
A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
This is the fully formed Freddy we’ve been waiting for as he has ascends to become a mysterious master of mayhem who embraces the artistry of arterial evacuation (that means he cuts people real good and makes ‘em bleed lots of red stuff). The idea of a group of teens teaming up against their nightmare assassin is what really makes this the best of the series. We care about the kids and feel bad when they die. This is especially true of the sleepwalking human puppet, Philip because I always wished that charismatic actor would have made it to the end instead of Joey.
The continuity of Nancy from the first film returning as a mentor to the kids and expert of “Freddy Fighting” makes it feel like the first official sequel and Heather Langenkamp’s exit from the series is fantastic. The haunted house motif that they return to throughout the film is also one of the strongest visuals of 80’s horror. Bottom line, Freddy is a rock star and he knows it, fully embracing the MTV of it all with his music video cameo for the Dokken song “Dream Warriors”. I listen to the cassette EP all year round because “Back For The Attack” is a fantastic song!
A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
Freddy is the homecoming king of killers as he makes his victory lap, wiping out the kids who beat him last time and tormenting the next set of teens who get roped into their own nightmare situations by the reluctant Dream Master, Alice. The cast is not quite as good this time around, but the film has the most dream-like quality of any of the other entries in the franchise. I originally saw this movie for the first time at midnight screening and when the “dream loop” scene happened, I thought the projector was broken. It was like Freddy was messing with the audience as much as his victims.
Freddy is definitely playing Mr. Cool by wearing sunglasses and having a showdown with Alice (or her stunt double) in a martial arts battle at the climax. By the end though, something feels a little bit unsatisfying when we realize Freddy will be back again to wreak more havoc the following year. After 4 defeats, why is he so cocky? I do have to point out that cast member Tuesday Knight contributes a “synth-tastic” opening song to the soundtrack called “Nightmare” that really deserves a listen this Halloween, but unfortunately the actual soundtrack album for the film is pretty lame. When you’re promoting a single by the Vinnie Vincent Invasion as the highest profile artist, you know you’re in trouble.
A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
From the opening credits this movie makes me imagine that after graduation, Freddy went off to college and changed his persona from party man to artsy-fartsy intellectual. The MPAA made the filmmakers cut out a lot of the gore from the film, but what it really needed was a complete rewrite. Watching The Dream Child is like flipping to a movie of the week about teen pregnancy every time your parents walk into the room, almost catching you watching the horror movie on the cable they forbid you from seeing. It’s disjointed and not because Freddy set-up a chiropractor torture nightmare for one of the teens. If only.
As a comics fan, I of course get a kick out of the kid being sucked onto the comic book page to battle “Super Freddy”, but it’s more visually interesting, than actually scary. Freddy looks like he’s just there collecting a paycheck without any enthusiasm for his work. I’ve only seen this movie twice because it was so disappointing both times. I would much rather be watching the Freddy’s Nightmares TV series (so cheesy and cheap that it was hilarious), listening to the Freddy’s Greatest Hits (“Obsession” and “Don’t Sleep” are genuinely haunting tracks) or opening a pack of Fright Flicks trading cards.
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
Are you ready for Freddy…the comedian? Freddy Krueger has displayed a sick sense of humor throughout his adventures on the silver screen, but now he’s gotten into doing wacky sketch comedy but finds he’s only able to get booked at the local home for wayward children. I remember hearing descriptions of the kills from Freddy’s Dead on the playground in elementary school where I first learned of the character. Even then, tales of horror icon jamming a giant cue tip through a guy’s ear and killing a kid in a video game while wearing the Power Glove made him sound a lot less terrifying than I had been led to believe. The edges of his razor-tipped fingers had definitely been dulled by time and a desire for acceptance from pop culture at large. Including Roseanne and Tom Arnold as cameos was definitely a desperate attempt at mainstream appeal.
It used to be the gimmick was how inventive and gruesome the kills were, but now they added 3-D glasses to the mix and even included them as part of the action on-screen. I will say the cartoonish traps and taunts of the nightmare segments look great, but they feel out of sync with the actually disturbing flashback scenes where we see the tortured young Fred Krueger and what lead to his serial killing spree. It worth pointing out that this movie actually had a sequel comic that was published at the time of the movie’s release, in which the survivors and past victims of Freddy Krueger all teamed-up to battle their tormentor. The art is not great, but the storytelling takes into account all of the A Nightmare On Elm Street lore with the exception of the second film.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Freddy apparently decided that being a jokester was kid’s stuff and this late in his cinematic life, it was time to get serious. Gone are the quips and clever methods of torturing his sleeping prey, now he was letting his actions speak louder than words. The meta nature of the film is fun, seeing all the fictionalized versions of the actors and even director, Wes Craven himself reacting to a world where frightening Freddy had been reduced to a pop culture punchline. This is the best performance that Heather Langenkamp gives in any of the movies, as a concerned mother trying to protect her child from an evil she may have invited into the real world.
To be fair, New Nightmare is more clever than fun and requires a buy-in to the behind the scenes world of the Freddy phenomenon. If this was someone’s first introduction to Freddy Krueger, it would be a confusing experience, to say the least. As someone who can’t just watch a movie, but has to read/watch/listen to everything about how it was made, it’s a real treat for me. Your mileage may vary on Freddy’s leather pants, trench coat and bone-finger claw look, but I always go back to this Nightmare, even if it isn’t that “new” anymore.
Freddy vs Jason
In his twilight years, Freddy was finally ready to share the spotlight with a former competitor for monster movie superiority. The same way Stallone and Schwarzenegger finally buried their 80’s and 90’s box office rivalry to appear in The Expendables (and to a lesser extent Escape Plan) together, these two movie maniacs gave the fans what they had always wanted, a bloody brawl using all of the tools in their arsenals. It’s got teen angst and murder, supernatural slayings and plenty of nightmare action. Plus, Freddy and Jason actually throw down multiple times during what is more of an Elm Street sequel than anything related to the by-the-numbers Friday The 13th type plots.
I think what I enjoy most about this movie is that for the first time since The Dream Master, Freddy feels like he’s achieved balanced between being an imposing figure of evil and a charismatic killer. Krueger is dangerous again, but still manages to have an enthusiasm for his “work” and shows genuine frustration when Jason interrupts his plans. Freddy vs Jason was the perfect send-off for Robert Englund in his signature role, leaving us with an iconic image to haunt our nightmares in the years to come.
Just like all of us, Freddy Krueger has had many seasons of his life, some more successful than others, but all of them entertaining in their own way. What’s funny is, just as Freddy Krueger was introduced to me in my youth, my kids have grown up seeing me transform a Teddy Ruxpin into Teddy Krueger/Freddy Ruxpin every Halloween, so who knows what space he occupies in their subconscious.
Even though he’s not a regular draw at the box office these days, Freddy still lives on as Halloween decor alongside the classic Universal movie monsters and for those who know, seeing his deep fried face still brings a smile to their own. As for me, I’m always ready for Freddy.