I love the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, wildly inconsistent as it may be, but I was too young to see any of the originals in theaters. I finally got to experience them the way they were meant to be seen when the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, MA hosted Don’t Fall Asleep: A Nightmare on Elm Street Marathon, an aptly named event featuring all seven films back-to-back from midnight to noon.
Sure, I’ve watched them all countless times, and I’m too old for an all-nighter, but the allure of seeing them on the big screen in 35mm surrounded by fellow dream warriors was impossible to pass up. Allow me to run through my 12+ hour dream journal….
11:25 P.M. – The Nightmare Begins
Fans — many decked out in Freddy Krueger apparel, others sensibly clad in comfortable pajamas, some with pillows and blankets in tow — were lined up around the building by the time doors opened, eager to claim a good seat to post up for the night. Upon entry, all attendees received a commemorative thermos that could be used for free coffee, courtesy of Boston’s favorite ice creamery J.P. Licks, throughout the night.
The mood was set with a playlist of songs related to dreams — from Eurythmics’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and The Chordettes’s “Mr. Sandman” to Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” — playing over the theater’s speakers. The Coolidge’s Director of Special Programming, Mark Anastasio, briefly took the stage to welcome everyone and explain that, other than 5-10 minute intermissions between each film, we were in for nothing but Freddy for the next 12 hours.
Over 200 people were in attendance as the first movie started, some of whom were newcomers to the franchise. That number would dwindle with each passing movie until only the most dedicated (and sleep deprived) FredHeads remained.
12:15 A.M. – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
There’s not much to say about A Nightmare on Elm Street that hasn’t already been said many times over. It’s a horror masterpiece for a myriad of reasons: Wes Craven’s ingenious concept of an inescapable slasher coupled with his careful direction, Robert Englund’s fearless embodiment of Freddy as he toes the line between menacing and playful, David B. Miller’s Freddy makeup and gory effects, Charles Bernstein’s synthesizer score, and the haunting nursery rhyme.
It was my first time watching a Johnny Depp (who receives an “introducing” credit for his film debut) movie since his personal issues were publicly aired, and of course someone made an off-color Amber Heard joke. Even at the age of 21, he exudes a natural charisma as Glen, right up until his bloody end. Heather Langenkamp — on whose birthday this event coincidentally fell — brings a girl-next-door naivety to her role as final girl Nancy Thompson, although Amanda Wyss as Tina is perhaps the best actor among the main cast. The ever-reliable John Saxon does great work as Nancy’s father.
One thing I appreciate about the original movie is how Freddy toyed with his victims; an element that was largely lost as the series progressed and a formula was established with sequels. He always uses victims’ fears against them in their nightmares, but in his first go he took pleasure in taunting them by cutting off his own fingers, allowing his face to be ripped off, and showing his clunky extendo-arms. Anything goes in the dream world, so Craven was able to lean into the weirdness.
The screening elicited a few unintentional laughs — Nancy’s mother’s seemingly never ending supply of hidden alcohol chief among them — but on the whole it’s less dated than its slasher contemporaries. Halloween may be the better movie (it’s my personal favorite film), but I would argue that Elm Street plays more effectively to a modern audience.
2:05 A.M. – A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
I’m pleased that Freddy’s Revenge seems to be receiving a reappraisal among horror fans after many years of being maligned, similar to Halloween III: Season of the Witch. The unintended humor stemming from its homoerotic subtext (if you can even call it that) made it a lot of fun to watch with an audience, but now it’s celebrated for those queer themes, and its other positives are no longer overlooked.
Some fans bemoan that the film changes Freddy’s modus operandi from its predecessor, but I appreciate its attempts to do something different with the material. The body-horror angle is a delightful twist on the mythology, even if it’s never addressed in future installments, with gnarly transformation effects by Mark Shostrom. I also think Christopher Young’s score is one of the most effective in the franchise. Even more importantly, Freddy is still dark and scary.
Director Jack Sholder proved his horror prowess with three underrated efforts — Alone in the Dark, Freddy’s Revenge, and The Hidden — right out of the gate. Some questionable choices are made along the way, but Freddy’s Revenge has a rock-solid final act. The pool sequence is particularly memorable, as it’s a rare instance in which Freddy wreaks havoc on a group of people in the real world.
3:36 A.M. – A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Dream Warriors has long since been a fan favorite, and it’s easy to see why when viewing it with an audience. Even at this ungodly hour, it earned cheers from the audience. To me, this is the movie where Freddy Krueger achieved horror icon status. Englund is at his peak, chewing the scenery but not yet allowing Freddy to slip into a parody of himself.
After sitting out the first sequel, Craven returned to the fold, co-writing the script with director Chuck Russell (in his directorial debut, before going off to make the likes of The Blob, The Mask, and The Scorpion King), Bruce Wagner, and the great Frank Darabont (his first produced screenplay). Together, they craft several of the franchise’s highlights, including “Welcome to prime time, bitch,” the squirm-inducing puppet death, the overdose via Freddy’s syringe-glove, and Freddy’s chest of souls.
It’s great to have Langenkamp and Saxon back, joining an ensemble led by future Academy Award winner Patricia Arquette in her feature debut as Kristen Parker. Nancy’s demise is an impactful one; she goes out as a hero and passes the torch to Kristen as the franchise’s new final girl. Ken Sagoes’ quips as Kincaid still land (“Oh, great. Now it’s my dick that’s killing me.” is a personal favorite), and it’s fun to see Laurence Fishburne back when he was still being credited as Larry. Dokken’s “Dream Warriors” end credit theme is the bloody icing on the cake.
5:21 A.M. – A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
While the previous prints didn’t have any previews, The Dream Master had trailers for two other New Line movies — Lucky Stiff and Run DMC’s Tougher Than Leather — attached to it, providing an unexpected little window into 1988 cinema. As for the movie itself, there’s plenty to like about it, although ultimately I find it to be a pale imitation of Dream Warriors. I nearly dozed off, but there’s nothing like a vigorous ’80s montage to wake you up.
New Line founder Robert Shaye was always willing to take chances on up-and-coming talent, and perhaps no film better exemplifies that better than The Dream Master. Director Renny Harlin’s next film would be Die Hard 2, and he’d go on to make Deep Blue Sea, Cliffhanger, and The Long Kiss Goodnight. Co-writer Brian Helgeland went on to win an Academy Award a decade later for L.A. Confidential. Brothers Ken and Jim Wheat, who also worked on the script, later created the Riddick franchise with Pitch Black.
Tuesday Knight replaces Arquette as Kristen; a tall order for an inexperienced actress. It’s ultimately a moot point, as Lisa Wilcox becomes the new leading lady as Kristen’s friend, Alice. The most interesting element is that Alice gains the abilities and personalities of her friends when they die; a clever progression from Kristen’s power to pull people into her dreams from Dream Warriors.
With Freddy becoming more of a pop culture character than a villain, the franchise started to lean into the silliness here. Sometimes it works (“How’s this for a wet dream?” is one of Freddy’s best one-liners), other times not so much (a dog named Jason pees fire to resurrect Freddy). But it also has one of the franchise’s best kills, in which a character transforms into a cockroach before being crushed in a roach motel, with gruesomely fleshy effects by Screaming Mad George.
7:05 A.M. – A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)
The Dream Child kicked off with a trailer for Heart Condition, another New Line obscurity. The crowd thinned out and quieted down with each passing movie, but The Dream Child received the least animated reaction of the night. Allowing Freddy to haunt a now-pregnant Alice through her unborn baby’s dreams is an intriguing angle, but the movie is too bogged down by Freddy’s flaccid backstory.
The marathon cemented The Dream Child as my least favorite entry in the franchise. Freddy’s Dead is close, but at least that one offers some entertainment value. The Dream Child is not without its merits; several of the death scenes are inspired, particularly one involving a motorcycle. C.J. Strawn’s vividly stylized production design is a highlight throughout, from the asylum where Freddy is conceived to the comic book-style dream sequence and the M.C. Escher-esque church.
8:42 A.M. – Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
Freddy grew increasingly cartoonish over the course of the series, but Freddy’s Dead sees him go full Looney Tunes. I’m grateful his death was short lived, as this movie was an unceremonious way to end an icon that haunted a generation. That said — and perhaps this is the slap-happy delirium talking — I had fun with it this time around. I wouldn’t consider it a good Elm Street entry, but director Rachel Talalay puts a lot of spirit into it.
In addition to a cast that includes Yaphet Kotto and Breckin Meyer, the movie boasts cameos from Depp (credited as Oprah Noodlemantra), Tom Arnold, and Roseanne Barr (credited as Mrs. Tom Arnold) — all quite famous at this point — and gives Alice Cooper the role of Freddy’s abusive father. It also features an end title song by Iggy Pop, playing over a montage of scenes from throughout the franchise.
Being that this was an original 35mm print, the 3D finale was intact. The Coolidge provided a limited number of vintage Freddy’s Dead 3D glasses — complete with an ad for Freddy’s 1-900 hotline and a long-expired Barq’s Root Beer coupon — to enjoy the 13 goofy minutes. (Those who missed out on them received Sharkboy and Lavagirl glasses as a consolation). The 3D isn’t particularly good, and the print was starting to show its age, but there was a smile on every face in the theater when we put our glasses on after being not-so-subtly prompted by the movie.
10:17 A.M. – Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
Having struggled to make it through The Dream Master — much later than I anticipated making it, to be honest — I took semi-planned naps during The Dream Child and Freddy’s Dead to ensure I was awake for New Nightmare, as it’s my favorite sequel in the franchise. As an added precaution, I also poured an energy drink into my commemorative cup.
A decade after creating Freddy, Craven returned to helm a clever evolution of the character. New Nightmare plays like a dry run for the meta elements he would perfect with Scream. Although he doesn’t quite stick the landing on the first run, the concept brilliantly blurs the lines between fiction and reality. Moreover, Craven successfully returns Freddy back to his sinister origins.
It’s a treat to see Langenkamp, Englund, Saxon, and Craven not only together again but playing fictionalized versions of themselves. Several other franchise alumni make cameos as well. I appreciate the film’s parallels to Hansel and Gretel — it’s as if Craven wanted to one-up The Dream Master‘s Alice in Wonderland influence — but the fairy tale finale doesn’t quite live up to the grandeur that precedes it.
Nevertheless, it’s an immeasurably more satisfying closing chapter (for a while, at least) to the Elm Street saga than Freddy’s Dead. As much as I would have loved for the marathon to continue and see Freddy vs. Jason with an audience, I can’t complain about capping off the event with the high of New Nightmare.
12:08 P.M. – The Nightmare Is Over
As the seventh film’s credits rolled, the few dozen survivors of the night groggily strolled out of the theater in pursuit of sleep, shielding their eyes from the sun like vampires. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a repertory theater like the Coolidge in their area, but I encourage you to attempt your own all-night marathon to give yourself a fresh perspective on the franchise.
Don’t Fall Asleep: A Nightmare on Elm Street Marathon solidified my Elm Street ranking: 1, 7, 3, 2, 4, 6, 5. We’d love to hear yours in the comments section below!