Every Town Has an Elm Street: Rejuvenating the ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ Franchise
By Jerry Smith
Wes Craven’s 1984 classic A Nightmare on Elm Street knocked horror fans for a loop when the story of a burned slasher enacting revenge on the children of the people who killed him years prior hit theaters and scared the living hell out of viewers. How easily that film tapped into our nightmares, and what fears worked hard to keep us up at night, was unparalleled. The film’s antagonist, Fred Krueger, the embodiment of evil, relished each murder like a demon hellbent on stealing innocence.
The film gave way to a series of sequels, which, over time, brought Freddy into homes everywhere. The terrifying approach of the first film slowly evolved in later films with the Springwood Slasher turning into something of a wiseacre, a prankster more concerned with elaborate jokes and silliness. The franchise’s fright potential eventually led to slapstick areas in its later films. Through the iconic Robert Englund, Freddy Krueger graced lunchboxes, children’s pajamas, and pull string dolls, losing everything of the terrifying original film and making Krueger a pop culture icon — far from the child abuser who scared an entire generation in 1984’s film. Though the ANOES films are all entertaining in their own way, the potential to bring its viewers’ worst fears into the ether via a nightmare figure slowly lost itself over time, and, if anything, that’s where the series is ripe for rejuvenation.
When Samuel Bayer’s 2010 A Nightmare on Elm Street remake was released, fans were not stoked, and rightfully so; the film felt dull beyond comprehension. While most blame the recasting of Freddy as the major problem, where the film went wrong was more in its desire to make Freddy scary again. A great idea in theory, but once a character becomes something entirely different with Wizard of Oz homages and Nintendo Power Glove gags, it’s almost impossible to see the character as it once was — an absolutely terrifying representation of our darkest nightmares.
Freddy was Wes Craven’s creation taken from a childhood scare involving a creepy man staring at the young boy one night. That same terror filled the 1984 film and even in Freddy’s Revenge, but as time went on, the more comical approach to Krueger cemented that version of the character to horror fans. To go back to the dark approach is impossible for some to accept. So, where can the franchise go to become scary again? Another town.
In Rachel Talalay’s 1991 sequel, Freddy’s Dead, there’s an iconic moment in which Freddy stands over a character and a sign reading Elm St. pops up just as Krueger declares, “Every town has an Elm Street!” This line has stayed with me since experiencing that film as a ten-year-old on opening night. We all have our own demons, our own fears, and in many ways, our own Freddy Kruegers. So, instead of trying to recapture what Englund’s Freddy was or eventually became, the franchise has the opportunity to touch on various monsters, various fears, and various slashers, all of which would allow the series to bring back what made it scary, while also trying not to fill the shoes so brilliantly worn by Robert Englund.
The opportunity to take the idea of a town haunted by its past, destined to punish the children for the sins of their father, and so on, are ripe for revitalization, ready to be taken into the genre and made into stories that will touch on what Freddy truly represented: the hatred of innocence. Freddy was always a figure who was born from Springwood’s parents’ failure to protect their children and that same failure led to the murder of their children. The parents’ vengeance brought on Freddy’s demise but also brought the spirit of evil into their children’s lives, a cycle of failure forever at the forefront of the entire franchise, from Nancy Thompson’s parents in the first film to Kristen’s mother in The Dream Master. The opportunity to take that failure into a different town and a different Elm Street is one that can lead to a never-ending amount of potential terror. Like the TV anthology spin-off, Freddy’s Nightmares, even bringing Englund back as a conduit to different demons and killers would be a great touch and would satisfy die-hard Elm Street fans, while also allowing for something fresh and unique for the series.
It is impossible to recreate what Craven and Englund worked together to create in the first place, so why bother trying? The ANOES series can be what it set out to be right from the start: a look at facing your fears and coming to terms with the failures of those who were meant to protect you. This is a franchise perfect for capturing what scares us, so let’s allow Freddy to stay with Robert Englund and allow Elm Street to live in another town. 🩸
Jerry Smith is a film journalist and composer, hailing from the Central Valley of California. For over a decade now, he has annoyed readers of many sites and magazines with an overabundance of Halloween 4 love and personal essays. Follow him on Twitter @JerryisjustOK and visit his website Rainydaysforghosts.bandcamp.com
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