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The Nightmare on Elm Street Series

A Nightmare on Elm Street (May 9/10)

Written and directed by Wes Craven, A Nightmare on Elm Street follows several teenagers - including Heather Langenkamp's Nancy, Amanda Wyss' Tina, and Johnny Depp's Glen - as they attempt to defeat the mysterious figure (Robert Englund's Freddy Krueger) that's been stalking (and murdering) them in their dreams. Despite its progressively violent and slapsticky sequels, A Nightmare on Elm Street primarily comes off as a low-key horror effort that's ultimately not quite as enthralling as its premise might've indicated - with Craven's ongoing efforts at cultivating an atmosphere of grim terror generally foiled by the less-than-eventful nature of his screenplay (and also by the unusually deliberate pace with which the narrative unfolds). It's consequently not surprising to note that the film is only truly effective in fits and starts, as the rough-around-the-edges vibe - which, though evident in everything from the sets to the special effects, is particularly conspicuous within the earnest yet underwhelming performances - essentially prevents the viewer from connecting with the material on an all-too-frequent basis. Having said that, A Nightmare on Elm Street boasts several impressively conceived and executed dream/kill sequences that ultimately stand as the movie's saving grace - as such moments, along with Englund's expectedly compelling turn as the menacing antagonist, effectively compensate for the almost pervasive sense of unevenness that's been hard-wired into the proceedings. The end result is a passable piece of work that's not entirely able to live up to its iconic reputation, although one admittedly can't help but admire the off-kilter and sporadically avant-garde bent of Craven's visual choices.

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A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge (June 7/10)

A decidedly inferior sequel, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge picks up five years after the events of the first film and follows high schooler Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton) as he's tormented by Freddy Krueger in a series of increasingly vivid nightmares. Rather than just kill Jesse, however, Freddy is determined to possess the progressively frantic teenager's body and resume his killing spree in the real world. It's a rather underwhelming premise that's primarily employed to lackluster effect by director Jack Sholder and screenwriter David Chaskin, as the latter's reliance on an almost oppressively repetitive structure - Jesse has a nightmare, wakes up screaming, goes to school, has another nightmare, etc, etc - results in a lack of momentum that's nothing short of disastrous. The far-from-enthralling atmosphere is compounded by Patton's aggressively bland work as the central character, with the actor's fruitless efforts at turning Jesse into a wholeheartedly sympathetic figure ultimately preventing the viewer from working up much interest in his ongoing battle with Freddy. It's worth noting that even the movie's nightmare sequences manage to disappoint, as they have, for the most part, been infused with a lack of creativity that seems to be par for the course within the entire production (although, to be fair, it's difficult not to get a kick out the interlude in which Jesse violently transforms into Freddy). And while the film is never unwatchable on the level of, say, the original's 2010 remake, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge primarily comes off as a weak retread of its marginally superior predecessor (and this is to say nothing of the hopelessly anticlimactic boiler-room finale).

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A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (June 26/10)

There's little doubt that A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors stands as a distinct improvement over its immediate predecessor, with the film's (almost) consistently entertaining vibe perpetuated by its impressive cast and emphasis on imaginative, appreciatively brutal kill sequences. The movie marks the return of Heather Langenkamp's Nancy to the Freddy franchise, as the character, now a psychiatrist, agrees to help several institutionalized teenagers - including Patricia Arquette's Kristen, Jennifer Rubin's Taryn, and Bradley Gregg's Phillip - mount a defense against Robert Englund's supernatural antagonist. Director Chuck Russell does a superb job of initially drawing the viewer into the proceedings, with the mental-hospital setting certainly a refreshing change from the suburban atmosphere that dominated the first two films. It's also worth noting that Russell, along with fellow screenwriters Bruce Wagner, Wes Craven, and Frank Darabont, has effectively injected new life into the series' nightmare sequences, as the increasingly tiresome boiler-room scenario that was so pervasive in both the original and its sequel has been jettisoned in favor of several impressively creative dreamscapes (ie Phillip is transformed into a human marionette whose movements are controlled by Freddy). The above average feel persists right up until about the film's halfway mark, after which point the lulls within the narrative become more and more difficult to overlook - with the decidedly uneven vibe exacerbated by the inclusion of a few underwhelming subplots (ie one character's ongoing encounters with a nun that may or may not be a ghost). It's a small complaint that is, in the grand scheme of things, easy enough to overlook, as the movie is otherwise far more engaging than it has any right to be and ultimately fares marginally better than Craven's lauded 1984 original.

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A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (July 5/10)

A tremendous step backwards from its appealing predecessor, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master follows Lisa Wilcox's Alice Johnson as she attempts to prevent Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) from slaughtering all of her friends (including Andras Jones' Rick and Brooke Theiss' Debbie). It's clear almost immediately that the Nightmare on Elm Street series has run out of steam with this hopelessly lackluster entry, as the film's dearth of compelling elements ensures that the viewer is simply unable to work up any enthusiasm or interest in the protagonists' ongoing efforts at defeating Freddy. The less-than-enthralling atmosphere is compounded by the assortment of bland characters offered up by screenwriters William Kotzwinkle and Brian Helgeland, while director Renny Harlin infuses the dream sequences, generally the highlight in these movies, with as routine and utterly tedious a sensibility as one could envision (and this is to say nothing of the filmmaker's reliance on hopelessly dated stylistic elements). It's consequently not surprising to note that although it remains relatively watchable from start to finish, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master marks an obvious low point within this incredibly uneven series.

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A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child (July 7/10)

Though perhaps not quite as awful as its immediate predecessor, A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child suffers from a seriously underwhelming atmosphere that grows increasingly difficult to stomach as the film unfolds - with the downright interminable third act ensuring that the production ends on as anticlimactic note as one could possibly envision. The storyline, which picks up shortly after the events of The Dream Master, follows Lisa Wilcox's Alice Johnson as she's forced to once again face off against diabolical madman Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently revolving around Alice and Freddy's ongoing battle for the soul of her unborn child. The progressively convoluted nature of its storyline ultimately stands as A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child's most egregious failing, as scripter Leslie Bohem places an all-too-consistent emphasis on elements designed to flesh out Freddy's backstory - with Alice's investigation into the mysterious death of his mother, Amanda (Beatrice Boepple), certainly ranking high on the film's list of hopelessly dull attributes. Were it not for the inclusion of a few admittedly creative (and appreciatively brutal) dream sequences - ie Alice's boyfriend, Danny Hassel's Dan, is violently fused with his motorcycle - there's little doubt that the film would ultimately fare even worse than the previous installment (which was, in itself, surprisingly unwatchable).

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Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (October 17/10)

Undoubtedly the nadir of the Elm Street series, Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare follows a therapist (Lisa Zane's Maggie) as she and several troubled teens head into Freddy's domain to disprove his existence. Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare opens with a series of aggressively dull dream sequences and just gets worse and worse from there, as filmmaker Rachel Talalay places an all-too-prominent emphasis on increasingly surreal (and hopelessly uninvolving) set pieces - with the decidedly underwhelming nature of such moments exacerbated by an unreasonably deliberate pace (ie the first kill doesn't come until about the 35-minute mark!) and the presence of characters that are uniformly bland and underdeveloped. Talalay's ill-fated efforts at trying something different within the context of the series' well-established formula are admirable, certainly, but the filmmaker is simply unable to give the viewer a good reason to care about any of this - which is a shame, really, as Michael De Luca's screenplay posits the intriguing idea that Freddy's hometown has essentially banned children (yet the concept, like everything else within the proceedings, inevitably goes nowhere and is left frustratingly unexplored). The larger-than-life, 3D-enhanced finale is as anticlimactic as one might've anticipated, and it's ultimately impossible to label Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare as anything more than a desperate, relentlessly tedious cashgrab that bears little in common with its comparatively masterful progenitor.

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Wes Craven's New Nightmare (October 17/10)

Wes Craven returns to the series that he started with what is undoubtedly its strongest entry, as the filmmaker eschews the silliness and thinly-developed characters that came to define the almost uniformly underwhelming sequels. The storyline, which follows a fictionalized version of Heather Langenkamp as she becomes convinced that Freddy (Robert Englund) is breaking through into the real world, is certainly far more interesting than anything the franchise has otherwise offered, although it's hard to deny that the almost absurdly deliberate pace does require a fair amount of patience from the viewer. (The movie almost feels like a low-key drama for much of the opening hour, as Freddy doesn't make his first real appearance until the 68-minute mark.) It's the inherently compelling nature of the premise that generally keeps things interesting, and although Langenkamp's performance isn't exactly Oscar worthy, the actress does a nice job of transforming her "character" into a sympathetic and likeable figure. There's little doubt, of course, that the film improves immeasurably once Freddy, now beefed up and more vicious than ever, arrives on the scene, with the highlight undoubtedly a sequence in which the disfigured killer attacks Heather's babysitter (Tracy Middendorf's Julie) in a brightly-lit hospital room. (This scene is so strong and so stirring, in fact, that it effectively stands as a high point within the entire series.) And while the climax is admittedly rather typical of the franchise - ie there's lots of running and screaming within a dark, boiler-room-like locale - Wes Craven's New Nightmare is a solid (yet undeniably uneven) horror effort that closes the book on the Freddy Krueger saga in better-than-expected style.

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© David Nusair