13 Scariest Nightmares on Elm Street
Article By: Tony Timpone
When A Nightmare on Elm Street opened 30 years ago this month, the silver scream gave birth to one of horror’s most popular horror movie icons ever, the teen-slaying dream maniac Freddy Krueger. To create his scary story, Wes Craven drew on his own late-night childhood memories of a seedy hobo peering up at his bedroom window and actual newspaper headlines of people who, suffering crippling nightmares, mysteriously died in their sleep.
Produced by nascent distributor New Line Cinema, A Nightmare on Elm Street emerged as, ahem, a sleeper hit, spawned a series of even more successful sequels (plus a TV show and remake), became a cultural phenomenon and rocketed Freddy star Robert Englund to scardom. Today Chiller lurks back at Freddy’s greatest kills by choosing at least one scene from each movie and ranking them in descending order, #13 rating as our top choice. (Special thanks to Freddy fan extraordinaire Shane Tea French.)
1. "I Wanna Be Jesse's Girl"
Not only did the creators of 1985’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge bring killer Krueger into the real world for extended mayhem, but they also infused the film with a surprising gay subtext. The conflicted Jesse (Mark Patton) runs to the bedroom of best buddy/secret crush Grady (hunky Robert Rusler). He pleads with him to watch him as he sleeps, but when Grady dozes off, he awakens to witness Freddy bursting through Jesse’s body. The resuscitated maniac then eviscerates the shirtless teen. This never happened in Brokeback Mountain.
2. Mirror, Mirror
We hate remakes as much as the next person, and few met as much derision as the totally unnecessary and poorly executed 2010 A Nightmare on Elm Street redux. In a movie where nothing works (not even former Oscar nominee Jackie Earl Haley as a diminutive Freddy), only one scene improves on anything in the original film, and it’s the ending. Just when you think evil has been vanquished, Freddy pops out of a mirror in Nancy’s (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Rooney Mara) house, his claws going through the back of Mom Gwen’s (Nashville’s Connie Britton) head and out the front of her face, then drags her backward into the mirror.
3. Hold the Anchovies
In this gustatory gross-out from director Renny (Die Hard 2) Harlin’s brightly colored A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988), Freddy fighter Alice (Lisa Wilcox) goes to the movies and catches a few Z’s. Before long, she gets yanked into the screen, where a creepy chef (i.e. you know who) serves up a pizza with extra cheese and the pleading meatball-sized faces of her dead friends. Freddy pierces one of the gooey heads with a finger blade and flicks the terrible treat into his gaping maw. We’ll pass on seconds.
4. Hear Ye, Hear Ye
The Springwood Slasher’s at his most sadistic when he torments the deaf Carlos (Ricky Dean Logan) in 1991’s otherwise dreary Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Freddy slices one of the disabled kid’s ears off, then substitutes a freakish hearing aid that grossly amplifies the slightest sound. The burned fiend then tortures Carlos by scratching at a chalkboard with his finger knives, Carlos’ head eventually exploding in an icky mess.
5. Driving Impaired
Freddy’s daddy returned to the series he launched with the unjustly overlooked Wes Craven’s New Nightmare in 1994. In the clever conceit, the actors and filmmakers from the original film (Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Craven, studio chief Robert Shaye and bogeyman Englund, of course) play themselves. Years ago Craven and company had inadvertently awakened an ancient evil by documenting Freddy’s fictional exploits, and the only way to keep the fearsome spirit out of the real world is to keep making more Nightmare movies! In this suspenseful sequence, Heather’s husband, an FX artist named Chase (David Newsom, wearing a Fangoria T-shirt), makes the gaffe of nodding off behind the wheel of his pickup. Freddy’s “superglove” tears up through the driver’s seat and fatally digs deep into his chest.
6. You Are What You Eat
Jamaican-born director Stephen Hopkins (now a producer/director on Showtime’s House of Lies) wanted a darker, less jokey Freddy for 1989’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. No one could laugh at anorexia, certainly, except the cruel Krueger, who persecutes aspiring model Greta (Erika Anderson) during her mother’s swank dinner party. Caterer “Frederick” force feeds the girl her own guts, the bloated victim later appearing in the refrigerator of Dream Master Alice.
7. Dancing on the Ceiling
In Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, the series’ originator paid homage to many of the much-loved bits from his 1984 trendsetter. These included topping the opening murder from the first Nightmare, where Tina (Amanda Wyss) decorates the bedroom’s walls and ceiling with her out of control body. In New Nightmare, it’s Julie (Tracy Middendorf) who does the fatal Fred Astaire-style dance of death in an effectively frightening and brutal segment.
8. Don't Go in the Bathroom
Saving his strength for the ultimate slasher smackdown in Freddy vs. Jason, the dream stalker only snuffed one teen in this 2003 smash, but it’s a doozy. Mark (Brendan Fletcher) walks into the bathroom to discover his late brother (Christmas Story bully Zack Ward) soaking in a crimson tub with his wrists slashed. The overflowing blood pools at Mark’s feet, then ambulatory veins hold him in place until Freddy (Englund crueler than ever) appears and cuts him down. For good measure, he sets the youth on fire and carves up his flesh with the words “Freddy’s Back.” FVJ earns further kudos for Ronny Yu’s inventive and slick direction.
9. Fast and Furious
In The Dream Child, the “bastard son of 100 maniacs” displays a need for speed by victimizing the heroic Dan (Danny Hassel). When Dan takes off on his motorcycle to the rescue, his flesh peels back and cables fly out from beneath. With apologies to H.R. Giger, Dan transforms into a biomechanical monstrosity—the Freddy Cycle—and breaks every traffic law in the county before expiring in an explosive wreck.
10. Boob Tube
Co-scripted by Frank Darabont (future Shawshank Redemption director and Walking Dead producer), 1987’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors sent the series’ box office grosses soaring. Darabont’s effective template would be copied over the next few entrees. In this highlight, Freddy mutates into a wall-mounted TV set, sprouts mechanical arms to grab his prey and plunge budding actress Jennifer (Penelope Sudrow) into the glass screen. Freddy’s immortal bon mot: “Welcome to prime time, bitch!”
11. Puppet Master
In Dream Warrior’s most gruesome moment—and one of the franchise’s most vicious—Freddy turns suicidal youth Phillip (Bradley Gregg) into a humans puppet; the boy’s feet and arms split open, his veins shoot out becoming strings, with puppeteer Freddy forcibly pulling the once-suicidal kid along until he drops him to his death from a rooftop.
12. How Depp Is Your Blood?
Movie superstar Johnny Depp made his motion picture debut in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. He plays Glen, sort-of boyfriend to the movie’s heroine, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp). The sleep-deprived kid makes the mistake of falling asleep in bed, earphones on his head and TV perched at his feed. Suddenly, Glen gets sucked into a vortex that opens in the center of the mattress, pulling him and everything else nearby down inside. After a pause, a geyser of blood explodes like an infernal Old Faithful from the bed and splashes the ceiling and wall. The audience: left breathless.
13. Franz Kafka Revisited
Our all-time favorite Freddy kill (from 1988’s Dream Master), both ingenious and gory, begins with bug-phobic Debbie (Brooke Theiss) working out in the gym. Freddy spots her on the bench press, forcibly pushing the barbell down and ripping open her forearms. Next her ruined flesh reveals the appendages of a giant cockroach breaking free, sending Debbie into a thrashing panic. Before long, she realizes that she’s trapped inside a roach motel and completes her metamorphosis (superb practical FX by the aptly named Screaming Mad George). Freddy finally crushes the now miniature insect box in his hand. You won’t be bugged at all by this Krueger classic.
FANGORIA editor emeritus Tony Timpone serves as Associate Programmer to this month’s New York City Horror Film Festival. Come on down!