VHS Revival concludes its countdown of Krueger’s top ten kills.
Welcome back, bitches!
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. So, without further ado, VHS Revival resumes its countdown of the ten best.
5. Taryn – A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors
With more kills on our top ten countdown than any other instalment in the ‘Nightmare’ series, The Dream Warriors is arguably the most creative and visually stunning entry in the franchise, and although it lacks the gruelling morbidity of the original, it is a fantasy-led wonder which introduced us to the endless possibilities of Krueger’s nightmare realm.
Part of the movie’s charm is the fact that each of Krueger’s victims learns how to take control of their dreams, each acquiring a special power that betrays their real world weakness, giving the previously omnipotent Krueger considerable food for thought. One of those kids is troubled teen Taryn, a recovering drug addict with the kind of trust issues that would leave our killer drooling at the possibilities. In Freddy’s ethereal funhouse she is a completely different entity, however. Sporting a Mohawk and armed to the teeth with knives, she is afraid of no one, and thinks nothing of confronting Krueger head-on.
Unfortunately for her, part 3’s version of Freddy is more than just a smart-mouthed show pony, and in one of the most iconic scenes of the series, he does what he does best by getting to the root of her fears and fatefully exploiting them. With fully loaded syringes attached to his fingers, Freddy drives an overdose into the hungry needle marks which suddenly appear on Taryn’s arms, ghastly mouth-like holes which beg like puppies suckling at a teat.
This is Krueger at his sadistic worst, a fact that is only heightened by the symbolic sexual ejaculation he exhibits upon penetration. It is moments like this that make him the most vile of all slasher movie villains.
4. Debbie – A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 – The Dream Master (1988)
Not the most terrifying of deaths, but in terms of visual ingenuity and practical effects prowess, there are perhaps none better than the infamous cockroach scene, which saw bugphobe Debbie bite the dust with a sense of irony which personifies Krueger at his most sadistically playful. Other deaths in The Dream Master were scrapped or altered due to overexpenditure on other set-pieces, but if this particular scene was the reason behind Rick’s ludicrous karate confrontation with an invisible Freddy, it was more than worth it.
After foreshadowing her own fate by squeamishly crushing a cockroach earlier in the movie, our fitness fanatic takes part in a typical bench press workout, only to slip into the realms of the subconscious where gentleman Freddy offers his services as a spotter. Of course, his courtesies are all pretence, and soon he is pushing down on his latest victim so hard that her flesh tears at the elbows and cockroach legs replace her floppy, severed limbs. After Debs has metamorphosed into a full-on roach, a now giant Freddy imprisons her in his omnipotent bug trap, squishing her into a syrup of sallow goo.
The movie would signal the start of Freddy’s wisecracking overindulgence, while acting as the catalyst for the kind of corporate decadence that would drain the franchise of all worth. Still, it was good while it lasted.
3. Jennifer – A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Master
The scene which preempted Freddy as the global celebrity he would inevitably become, while giving us the kind of iconic wisecrack that would dominate later instalments, this was a kill of particular significance. It was also a quite wonderful exercise in special effects gimmickry, one that set the tone not only for the rest of the movie, but the rest of the series.
Jennifer is the self-harming type, the kind who struggles to look another human beings in the eye. She is also a naive young girl who dreams of superstardom. This is the kind of emotional imbalance that old pizza face thrives on, and he would answer his victim’s call in a typically elaborate fashion, taking the form of talk show host Dick Cavett and slashing guest Zsa Zsa Gabor mid-rant in a merciful act that would spare us from her tiresome opulence.
With the ‘Nightmare’ series once again blurring that tenuous line between dreams and reality, Jennifer then approaches the malfunctioning TV set like a lamb to the slaughter, only for mechanical Freddy claws to materialise and grab her as a mould of our killer’s head protrudes from the device. ‘Welcome to prime time, bitch!’ Krueger growls, after spearing her through the screen and leaving her body hanging.
This is the Krueger character at his pinnacle, displaying a winning formula of evil sadism and ironic humour that would perhaps never be equalled. Still, when the workers of a psychiatric hospital find one of its patients protruding from a television set and fail to ask questions about the peculiar nature of her death, you really have to question their credentials.
2. Grady – A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
Freddy’s Revenge was a creative nightmare, a movie so inept in understanding Craven’s opus that it almost killed the series while it was still very much in its infancy. With the exception of the exemplary Dream Warriors two years later, that may have not been the worst thing in the world, but there are other glimpses of artistry that are perhaps worthy of Krueger’s extended and predominately sub-par canon.
One of those moments was Grady’s death in ‘Nightmare’ 2. Granted, the plot developments surrounding his death leave much to be desired. Was Jesse simply possessed by Freddy’s spirit, or was Freddy able to somehow wear his victim’s body like a coat? Was Grady dreaming when he saw Freddy shed his friend’s skin, or was Jesse in fact dreaming when he then discovered Krueger’s claw attached to his replenished body?
Whatever the explanation for this subtext-heavy oddity, Grady’s death at the hands of…whoever killed him, is a visual treat of special effects mastery. After watching Krueger slash his way out of Jessie’s body in a scene that makes John Hurt’s exploding stomach seem positively primitive, Grady is sliced through the gut and pinned to the door by our monster’s perverted, five-finger implement, while his horrified parents play witness to the bloody consequences out in the hallway.
Love Freddy’s Revenge or hate it, this is one of the most impressive kills in the series at a time when Krueger was still more horror than fun, while visually he was arguably at his scariest.
1. Tina – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
For the conclusion of our list we go back to where it all began, and our ethereal monster’s sadistic origins. I tend to use the word Sadistic a lot when it comes to the murderous pervert in the stripey jumper, and Tina’s death, the very first in the series, depicts Freddy the way he was meant to be depicted — the Wes Craven way.
For me, this is the most effective dream sequence in the entire series — not because it is gross or elaborate or pleasing to the eye, but because it incorporates all of those dreamworld elements that make the scene so strangely authentic. I doubt many of us have dreamt of being squished as a giant cockroach, but all of us have dreamt of going in search of something while not being in control of where we wander. We have all experienced dreams in which people from our lives randomly appear, in which we accept the ludicrously surreal, and where one person can be everywhere at once. It is those netherworld components that Craven would exploit so successfully.
Tina’s death was also highly creative, the surreal machinations of Krueger’s funhouse manifesting in visual treats such as Freddy’s long-armed finger scraping, while the monster himself remained largely elusive and breathtakingly ominous. On top of all that, it is easily the most gruesome and excruciating murder in the series. The sight of Tina’s stomach being slashed and her body dragged around the room seems to last forever, and the graphic nature of her death inevitably makes a victim out of misunderstood boyfriend Rod, exhibiting our killer’s particular brand of sadism.
It was this masterful formula that made A Nightmare on Elm Street a unique and terrifying experience, the kind of movie that breathed new life into a stale sub-genre that was in danger of extinction. With all the cynical marketing and lazy embellishments that would follow, it is sometimes hard to recall how fresh and ingenious the original conception actually was. Sometimes I even have to pinch myself, just to make sure I’m not dreaming.
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