VHS Revival begins its countdown of Krueger’s top ten kills.
Welcome to the first of a two-part series as VHS Revival ventures into the ethereal netherworld of Fred Krueger, one of horror‘s most iconic and enduring characters. Back in 1984, Old Pizza Face revitalised the slasher genre as a razor-fingered child killer with the unprecedented advantage of being able to inhabit one’s dreams, offering fans of the macabre a potentially unlimited canvas of death and destruction in a sub-genre dry on ideas.
Unlike his blank-faced, seek-and-destroy counterparts, Krueger was a different kind of entity, sly and sadistic and concerned more with the thrill of the chase than the act of the kill. Portrayed for almost two decades by the wonderfully perverted Robert Englund, Freddy was a larger-than-life personality of gunslinger exuberance, a character of an ever developing persona who would evolve from a cruel and terrifying child killer into a walking self-parody.
Quite the career — one of dizzying highs and tragic lows — but in spite of the insidious MTV marketing machine that left us all just a little bit weary of the Elm Street formula, one element of the franchise that remained constant was the creativity of its kills, and here VHS Revival begins its countdown of the ten best.
10. Mark – A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)
Part of me resents having to include this particular kill, and there are a plethora of reasons why. The most pertinent is that this is one of those instances that sums up what the franchise would ultimately be reduced to: a gimmick-laden marketing machine which drained the series of all value.
Incredibly, matters would grow worse before the studio was finally forced to put the original series out of its misery, but by the time The Dream Child was released audiences were already drowning in the mire of Krueger’s hackneyed wisecracks, with only the brilliance of Englund’s portrayal keeping the series afloat. While 1988‘s The Dream Master was the movie in which the formula lost its way, at least the set pieces for which that particular instalment was conceived were somewhat groundbreaking, while audiences only had to endure one wisecrack per kill instead of four or five.
While Mark’s murder was essentially nothing more than an elaborate plug for the comic book series the franchise would spawn, at least the movie approached its shameless content-orientated marketing with a modicum of creativity. Sucked into a copy of a ‘Nightmare’ comic, Mark adopts the persona of a gun-slinging hero in an attempt to end the sleepless woes of the long-oppressed teenage residents of Elm Street.
Unfortunately for Mark, he didn’t count on the emergence of ‘Super Freddy’, a pumped up version of our fritter-faced antagonist who quickly turns his victim into a paper cut-out, draining him of all colour and slashing him to ribbons. Gruesome? No. Scary? Not one bit. But visually it was something quite novel, and somewhat impressive for the time of its conception.
9. Carlos – Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
By the time Freddy’s Dead rolled around, Krueger had spanned two decades, and it was almost a relief to see the words The Final Nightmare tacked onto the title. Even with the added novelty of a 15 minute 3-D finale — a sign of desperation in any waning franchise — this was the creative nadir of a series which had lost its way in the hands of corporate aspirations.
The movie consisted of some of the dreariest, most cynical set-pieces in the series, including a Nintendo-orientated death in which Krueger led one of his victim’s to his doom using a joystick, while another gave us an ACME-style Road Runner death with Freddy playing the role of a successful Wile E. Coyote. In hindsight, all of this seems unimaginable for a horror movie franchise, but bear in mind, by 1991 Freddy had performed his own rap song, while parents were rushing to department stores in search of pint-sized Krueger pyjamas in time for Christmas.
The movie’s one saving grace is the murder of Carlos, a deaf kid who Freddy skewers through the ears before attaching a makeshift hearing aid, a seemingly organic contraption which attaches itself to his skull and amplifies sound to a combustible level. Of course, this being The Final Nightmare, the set-piece was almost ruined by the screenplay’s jocular antics, but if you can find it in yourself to stomach the sight of our once demonic killer dancing around while running his razor fingers along a blackboard, the image of his victim’s pulsating head and subsequent explosion is almost worth sticking around for.
8. Shelia – A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
Light on story and characterisation and generally making little sense whatsoever, The Dream Master took the ingenious formula of its predecessor and deprived it of balance, leaning more towards gimmicky quips and eye-catching set-pieces. But for all the harm it did in regards to the direction of the franchise, the practical effects on display were some of the finest in the series, with the dreamworld formula still very much intact.
After the previous instalment’s surviving characters are disposed of in the opening five minutes, laying waste to part 3’s herculean efforts to rescue the franchise, our latest paper-thin cast are lined up for the slaughter after the last remaining member of The Dream Warriors, Kristen — who in a classic soap opera switch is no longer played by Patricia Arquette — gives our new protagonist the dubious gift of being able to bring others into her dreams, which proves detrimental to what was Elm Street’s lamest cast to date.
Ripe for the picking is asthmatic super nerd, Shelia. After falling asleep in class, the movie’s protagonist, Alice, can only watch in horror as her friend is dragged into her latest nightmare. Already the action movie equivalent of Roger Moore‘s James Bond, substitute teacher Freddy then takes great delight in sucking the air out of his geeky victim in the kind of ironic scene that would soon make a mockery of Wes Craven‘s finest creation. That being said, the sight of Shelia falling to the classroom floor as little more than a bag of skin is quite the creative spectacle, while Krueger still clings to the sadistic remnants that once made his character so unique.
7. Glen – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Back in 1984, Fred Krueger was a very different entity. A sadistic child killer who clung largely to the shadows, he would remain a mystery for much of the original movie’s running time, haunting the periphery of his victims’ subconscious with a devilish glee that made him one of the most terrifying figures in horror movie history.
A far cry from the box fresh ornamentals who would litter future instalments, the original cast of fugue state victims were worthy characters grounded in reality, and their deaths meant something, elevating the original ‘Nightmare’ above the majority of stalk-and-slash fodder. We had a resourceful final girl in series mainstay Heather Langenkamp; a troubled delinquent and his impressionable girlfriend who proved the perfect foils for Krueger’s real world blame game; and then you have naive pretty boy Glen, a Freddy nonbeliever played by an exceedingly young Johnny Depp, whose inability to take his predicament seriously could only lead to one outcome.
Glen’s fateful bloodbath is a visceral exercise in grand guignol, and is symbolic of Krueger’s penchant for elaborate displays of vindictive slaughter. Here the lines between dreams and reality are blurred, and instead of hiding his acts of sadistic vengeance behind a convenient victim as he does for much of the movie, here he lets his evil pour out into the realms of the confused, sucking Glen into his bed and spitting him out in a ferocious deluge of crimson.
On the budget available to Craven and the movie’s producer Robert Shaye, the scene is a technical masterstroke, and even robbed of the later embellishments of Krueger’s evolving circus, it proves to be one of the most striking deaths in the series.
6. Phillip – A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Master (1987)
Phillip’s death was a landmark in the Elm Street series, as it was the first to truly elaborate on the dream concept that Craven had so imaginatively introduced three years earlier. In 1985, Freddy’s Revenge had underwhelmed on just about every level, particularly with its decision to extricate Krueger from the dream world that made his character so unique, a choice that almost killed the series in its infancy.
1987‘s The Dream Warriors — considered by some to be the best in the series — worked wonders in salvaging the franchise by expanding on the whole dream concept, and is in many ways as influential as the original movie in allowing Krueger to truly blossom, for better and for worse. It was arguably the infamous ‘puppet death’ which set the ball rolling, with a visual treat as stunning in its conception as it is grotesque in its execution.
After falling asleep at Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital, puppet enthusiast Phillip is awoken by Freddy, who first takes the form of his victim’s favourite puppet before growing into a life-size entity. Using his claws to strip the veins from Phillip’s arms and feet, Krueger becomes the omnipotent puppeteer to his sleepwalking patient, guiding him through the hospital’s corridors to a ledge, where he is thrown a hundred feet to his death.
This particular kill had all the hallmarks of what made the franchise so special: stunning special effects, the utilising of the dreamworld concept, Krueger’s character-defining cruelty, and the kind of elaborate death that puts most other horror to shame. It also shows Freddy as a vindictive manipulator who takes great joy in playing on his victim’s fears, isolating them from those who may otherwise help in their hour of need. A fine example of the series at its very best.
Cedric Smarts: Editor-in-Chief and Art Director
Science fiction author, horror enthusiast, scourge of plutocracy, shortlisted for the H. G. Wells Award, creator of vhsrevival.com
Likes: 80s poster art, Vangelis, classical liberalism, dystopian allegories, dissident political activism, Noam Chomsky, George Orwell, George Saunders, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut