The Ten Day Nightmare: Day Five – Freddy’s Nightmares
Today, we take a break from the cinematic Elm Street series to instead revisit Freddy’s foray into the TV world. That’s right, though often an overlooked part of the franchise, everyone’s favorite psychotic dream killer enjoyed a brief stint as the host of his own anthology series in the late eighties. So let’s take a look at three episodes which featured Freddy in a starring role, and see if they add anything of value to the overall franchise.
FREDDY’S NIGHTMARES – A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET: THE SERIES (1988-1990)
After the disappointment that was The Dream Master, I thought it might be nice to take a break from the movie series and instead use today to talk about…*sigh*….the even more disappointing television series. By 1988, full-blown Freddy-mania was at its peak, with the character emblazoned all over a wide array of products ranging from yo-yos to squirt guns to talking dolls (a product that was actually pulled from the shelves after concerned parents justifiably questioned whether a child murderer is an appropriate kids toy). But there’s no better indication of Freddy’s massive mainstream popularity at the time than the fact he was even given his own late-night syndicated TV show.
Freddy’s Nightmares, which lasted two seasons, was a horror anthology series, with Freddy filling the Rod Serling/Cryptkeeper slot. All of the show’s stories took place in Freddy’s fictional hometown of Springwood, Ohio. This is actually sort of fascinating, as it paints the small town as pretty much the worst place in the world to live. Oh, sure, if you’re lucky you’ll avoid Freddy, but you still have to deal with ghosts, curses, demons and other serial killers. Must keep real estate prices pretty low.
Like any other anthology series, the show was a mixed bag in terms of quality, although even the better-written episodes were still considerably hampered by the show’s obviously small production costs (Freddy’s boiler-room, in which his host segments took place, looks particularly low-rent and cheesy, especially when compared to the more elaborate designs seen in the movies). One interesting thing it did have going for it was a unique two-tier story approach. The show was an hour in length, and although it occasionally featured one hour-long story, more often it consisted of two half-hour tales, with the second story frequently focusing on a supporting character from the first – once again just going to show you that everyone is screwed in this town.
Freddy himself was usually nothing more than the host, showing up at the beginning and end to introduce the story and make corny jokes. From time to time, however, Freddy would play a small role in the stories, showing up to influence the course-of-events (or just screw around with the characters). There are a few of these episodes, in particular, that I want to talk about. These are ones that significantly focus on Freddy and his back-story, and therefore might arguably be considered part of the official Nightmare continuity. I figured it might be worth it to take a look and see if they actually add anything of value to the Nightmare canon.
Season 1, Episode 1 – No More Mr. Nice Guy
Obviously wanting to hook Nightmare fans right out of the gate, the pilot episode is actually a prequel story, detailing Krueger’s original release from custody and his murder at the hands of the Springwood parents, events previously only talked about in the films. The episode was written by Rhet Topham and, more significantly, directed by Texas Chainsaw Massacre creator Tobe Hopper. That might sound cool on paper, but anyone who has seen the majority of Hopper’s post-1986 output knows it’s really nothing to get too excited about. Still, it’s a nice bit of trivia, in case anyone ever asks you who is the only person to ever direct both Freddy and Leatherface (he still doesn’t have anything on Ronny Yu, though, who has directed Freddy, Jason, and Chucky).
The episode opens with Freddy’s pre-trial hearing, and viewers’ cheesy-bullshit-radars should be immediately set off by the fact that Freddy is actually sitting in court in his trademark red and green sweater, holding his fedora. It’s as if they didn’t trust us to understand who he was if he was in a suit.
Anyway, we all already know what happens here – a dismayed but honorable judge is forced to release Freddy after it is revealed that he was never read his Miranda rights upon arrest…hey, wait a second. In the original Nightmare film, we were told Freddy was released because somebody forgot to sign a search warrant. I know it’s a small change, but it’s an annoying one. It’s like they couldn’t be bothered to go back and watch that scene in the first movie, just to make sure they were getting the story right.
Now once again on the loose, Freddy immediately returns to the power plant where he worked, and we discover that all of his murderous tools and souvenirs (his glove, the ice cream truck he used to lure children, even toys belonging to his victims) are still there! This seems to suggest some very shoddy work by the Springwood PD. Hmm, maybe that’s why the episode changed the search warrant story, as it sure as hell doesn’t look like there was ever any sort of search done here. Anyhow, you might expect Freddy to lie low for awhile, but instead he immediately starts planning to go after the family of Lt. Tim Blocker (Ian Patrick Williams), the cop who made the Miranda rights boo-boo in the first place. Freddy’s intended targets are Blocker’s twin teenage daughters, one of whom was apparently abused by Freddy at some point (the episode remains frustratingly vague about this) and now seems to have some sort of psychic link to Krueger – she even warns Blocker not to kill Freddy, because “you’ll just make it worse.” How does she know that?
Although Blocker is initially insistent on doing things by the book, Freddy’s threats regarding his daughters cause Blocker to join the Springwood parents’ lynch-mob when they surround and torch Freddy in the power plant’s boiler room. This is it, the moment that ended Fred Krueger, the child murderer, and made Freddy Krueger, the dream-haunting boogeyman. I wish I could say it lived up to that importance, but the scene (like the whole episode, really) is disappointingly lackluster. Interestingly enough, though, it’s played off as if Freddy knows that he will return – he practically invites Blocker and company to kill him, and assures them he will be back. I do want to quickly point out that, for some reason, the episode oddly keeps the pre-burn Freddy in the shadows, never allowing a good look at Robert Englund’s face. I just don’t understand that decision, seeing as how we’ve already seen the out-of-makeup Englund on a few occasions in the movie series. Oh well.
The second half of the episode concerns Blocker and his apparent mental-breakdown following that night’s events. At first it seems like this is just a result of Blocker’s guilt over what he has done, but not surprisingly it is eventually revealed to be the work of Freddy, who claims Blocker as his first dream victim during a horrific visit to the dentist. This is sort of weird to me, too – if Freddy was already able to infiltrate people’s dreams so soon after his death, why did he then wait another 18 years or so before going after the children of those who killed him?
All in all, I guess it’s nice effort to finally depict Freddy’s origin, but the episode is just too hampered by an obvious low-budget (no effort at all is put into actually making it look like the late ‘60s, when it should be taking place) and frustrating continuity issues. I mean, why didn’t they at least include a young Donald Thompson in the lynch mob? In fact, this episode actually suggests that the only two people who knew Freddy’s remains ended up in the Springwood junkyard were Blocker and his loyal fellow officer, Gene – which of course directly contradicts A Nightmare on Elm Street 3. Like I said, I give them credit for trying, and it’s probably worth seeing once for Freddy enthusiasts, but it’s certainly nothing special, and its version of Freddy’s death would eventually be ignored and re-done in later Nightmare films anyway.
1.5 out of 4 Razor Fingers
Season 1, Episode 7 – Sister’s Keeper
This episode, written by Michael De Luca and Jeff Freilich and directed by Ken Weiderhorn (Shock Waves, Return of the Living Dead Part 2) serves as a direct sequel to “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” It picks up a few years later, with Freddy now coming after Blocker’s twin daughters, Lisa and Merit (Gry and Hili Park). Merit is the one that had some sort of psychic bond to Freddy in the previous tale, and here she is the only person who seems to understand it was actually Freddy that killed her father. Unfortunately, her insistence that he is now haunting her dreams led her to be institutionalized for a short while. She’s out now, but is still introverted and considered a weirdo by her fellow students at Springwood High.
Lisa doesn’t really put much faith in Merit’s theories, either…which is odd, considering she occasionally winds up with inexplicable scratches during the night, wounds that seem to match the ones Merit is supposedly having inflicted upon her in her dreams. That’s right – it’s the old idea of the twins who can experience what each other are feeling, with a twist. Whatever damage Freddy does to one of the sisters in the dream world actually ends up affecting the other sister in the real world. Eventually, Lisa comes to realize Merit is telling the truth, and the two team-up to try and take control of their dreams and finish off Freddy once and for all.
The first thing I noticed about this episode is that it once again didn’t seem to be making any attempt to get the time-period right. At first, I just assumed it was again a case of not having enough money to properly recreate the late ‘60s or early ‘70s, and so they just hoped nobody would pay too much attention to the obvious late ‘80s hairstyles, fashions and music. But then one of the sisters actually refers to her free-thinking guidance counselor as being “from the ‘60s.” Obviously, this isn’t something you would hear someone say in the early ‘70s. So, that means this episode is taking place in the late ‘80s…which also means that “No More Mr. Nice Guy” (which concerned Freddy’s original death by burning, remember) was also taking in the ‘80s. So, OK, it’s official – Freddy’s Nightmares doesn’t give a damn about the established Nightmare timeline.
If you can overlook that, though, this is actually a very cool episode – probably the best of the series. Yes, it’s still plagued by the same cheap look as the rest of the series (the “dream world” never looks like anything more than an obvious set with some purple lights and a fog machine), but this one makes up for it thanks to some surprisingly good storytelling. The whole twin angle really works, with the idea of the sisters receiving damage meant for the other giving the story a unique spin. The episode also craftily plays around with their identical looks, occasionally staging scenes where you’re not exactly sure which sister you’re following at the moment. It’s an effective gag, but it’s also part of the story, so it doesn’t just feel like a cheap trick to pull the rug out from under the audience.
The relationship between the two sisters is strongly written. There’s a bit in the middle where the two sisters agree to “switch places” for the day, so that Lisa can see how hard it is to be looked at as a freak, while Merit can finally experience at least a taste of the freedom that comes with being “normal.” The episode could have technically left this whole segment out without really affecting the overall story, but it’s a nice character-building moment. There are also some well-done scenes depicting both sister’s frustrations with each other (including their subconscious desires to be rid of the other and be the only sister) that are not only understandable and believable, but also make it that much more satisfying when the two finally start to trust one another and begin working together to take Freddy out. All in all, there’s a lot more depth to these two characters then you would expect from a show like this. While I would never say that Gry and Hili Park are the best actresses I’ve ever seen, they’re both certainly competent enough, and do a good job making the Blocker sisters sympathetic and easy to root for.
The other thing I liked about this episode is that it has just the right amount of Freddy. By this point, Freddy was officially the most overexposed monster in the entire horror world (hence hosting this TV show), and the movies had already started to show more interest in his character than in the heroes fighting him. But this episode appropriately keeps the focus on Merit and Lisa, limiting Freddy’s appearances to a necessary minimum. Sure, he’s still a little cornball on a couple occasions when he does show up….
…but for the most part, he’s still presented as a character to be feared, thanks to the sisters’ abject terror at their situation. The later movies could have taken a lesson from this episode – you can have Freddy make the occasional joke; that’s fine. But if you actually limit it to just those sporadic one-liners and mostly avoid the more outrageous mannerisms and costumes, then Freddy can still be sort of scary and intimidating, as well.
Personally, I would have loved for the script to this episode to have been further developed and expanded, and turned into an actual Nightmare movie. It’s certainly a much more interesting story than some of the later films we did get, and I think that – as good as it is when judged by the standards of a low-budget syndicated television series – it really could have benefited from a bigger budget and some more time to flesh everything out and build to a stronger climax. Still, it’s pretty decent as is, especially when compared to a lot of other episodes in the series’ run.
3 out of 4 Razor Fingers
Season 2, Episode 22 – It’s My Party, and You’ll Die If I Want You To
Following “Sister’s Keeper,” Freddy went back to just hosting and occasionally popping into the stories. It wasn’t until the series finale that they once again dove into his as-of-yet unseen past for story material. This is an example of the two-tier structure I mentioned earlier, the linking factor here being both halves taking place at a Springwood hotel. The first half concerns Marla Ruleen, a con-artist posing as a spiritual medium. While in town for a New Age expo, Ruleen finds herself on the business end of an all-too-real possession courtesy of none other than Freddy. It’s fairly dumb, but it is oddly entertaining, thanks mostly to Gwen Banta’s admirably over-the-top performance as the Freddy-possessed Ruleen.
The second half is where we once again get into a little bit of Krueger’s back-story, as it focuses on the 20-year reunion of Freddy’s high-school graduating class. Now, given that this episode aired in 1990, let’s assume it’s also taking place in that same year, alright? So that would mean Freddy graduated high school in 1970, which is a pretty impressive feat, considering at that point he should have been A) an adult man, and B) dead. Once again, this show just doesn’t care.
But, back to the story. So, yeah, it’s the 20-year reunion, but out of a graduating class of 300, only 19 have even RSVP’d to the event. It turns out most of Freddy’s former classmates have died of mysterious circumstances. Hmmmm. So, Freddy ends up using the gathering to finally get revenge on the girl who stood him up at prom. Now, let me stop here for a second…is this really what we want from Freddy? I guess I get that they’re just trying to hint at his once somewhat-normal life, but to see the boogeyman of the Nightmare on Elm Street series using his powers to make up for a girl being a bitch to him back in high school…I don’t know, maybe it’s me, but the whole idea just seems stupid.
After finishing her off, though, Freddy turns his attention to another former classmate, and this is where it gets weird. It turns out this guy has become a successful Hollywood screenwriter since his days at Springwood High, and after hearing talk of the Freddy legend (not to mention seeing it firsthand), he decides he knows a story too good to be true when he sees one, so he begins hurriedly writing a script based on the tale. This doesn’t sit too well with Freddy, who is apparently well-versed in copyright-law and likeness-rights. After the would-be Freddy biographer is dispatched, the episode ends with the script in the hands of a dweeb by the name of Howard Nehamkin, who we know from earlier in the episode was Freddy’s only friend back in the day. The series ends with Freddy explaining that Howard took that script to Hollywood and made it into a movie called…you guessed it, A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Wait, what? Do I even have to talk about why this is so stupid? I guess I’ll give them some credit for beating Wes Craven’s New Nightmare to the “meta” punch. But, still…if you’re gonna be meta, then why not go the whole distance with it? Why act like some guy named Howard Nehamkin wrote the first movie? Why not just have that character be named Wes Craven? OK, maybe it had something to do with not wanting to use Craven’s name in order to avoid having to pay him…I don’t know. But even if we overlook that, the idea that Freddy kills one guy trying to profit off of him, but allows another guy to do so because it’s his old buddy…Freddy doesn’t have friends! It’s easily one of the most out-of-character moments the franchise ever delivered. To be fair, it’s not really as annoying as I’m making it sound. The episode as a whole is actually kind of fun, and I know the final scene isn’t meant to be taken all that seriously – I assume the show-runners knew they were wrapping up, and decided to be a little more tongue-in-cheek than usual. But still, it goes a long way towards explaining why this show will probably never be looked at with the same level of reverence as even the weakest movie installments.
2 out of 4 Razor Fingers
All in all, Freddy’s Nightmares was a flawed but occasionally amusing experiment. There’s some fun to be had in seeing some of its then-unknown guest stars (like Lori Petty, Mariska Hargitay and even Brad Pitt!), not to mention the undeniable kitsch appeal of just watching Freddy as a wise-ass TV host. But, overall, its apparent disregard for the established Nightmare timeline makes it pretty much impossible to consider an official part of the continuity. It’s probably best to view it as a sort of “alternate-Freddy” universe. The fact that I’m reviewing these episodes prove it’s not impossible to see the series if you’re so motivated, but still – I’m surprised and a little disappointed the entire run hasn’t seen a proper DVD release. I’ll keep dreaming, as it were.
Posted on December 5, 2014, in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Franchise Post-Mortems, Reviews and tagged A Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy Krueger, Horror Movies, Robert Englund, Slashers, Wes Craven. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.