Even if it has one of the most derided remakes of recent memory, A Nightmare On Elm Street remains one of the most influential horror franchises ever made. Beginning in 1984 and making its way all the way to the 2010s, Freddy Krueger’s signature series told one cohesive story while making some adjustments along the way.
As is the case with any movie franchise built on multiple parts, some new ideas worked while others had to be backtracked. Whatever the case, one thing remains true: Freddy is and will always be the living embodiment of our nightmares.
10 KEPT CHANGING: The Dream Worlds
What sets Elm Street apart from other slasher franchises is how creative the kills are. Because Freddy killed his victims in their personal dreams, no two kills were alike. Rather than just stab or decapitate, Freddy warped the teens’ dreams into the most terrifying nightmares possible; every kill was specially personalized for each victim.
That being said, the customized kills started in part three, Dream Warriors. Originally, Freddy’s dreamscapes were familiar but nightmarish locations (like the boiler room or a school) with no internal logic; basically, they were regular nightmares. From Dream Warriors onwards, Freddy twisted dreams into sadistic parodies that always ended with the dreamer’s death at the hands of their fantasies.
9 STAYED THE SAME: Freddy’s Origins
The most well-known story about Freddy is that he was a child-killer who got off on a technicality, which led to his first death by vigilante mob. Additionally, the myths are true since Freddy is indeed the son of a hundred maniacs, as his mother – a nun – was raped by the asylum’s patients when she was trapped inside.
Freddy’s Dead built off of these by showing what happened to Freddy in between. The then-final Elm Street movie reveals that Freddy is the victim of an abusive household and school bullying. Additionally, he even started a family, though his daughter was lost to the adoption system when he was charged with murder and burned alive following his acquittal. He tries using these as justification for his mass murder, but his estranged daughter Maggie (rightfully) doesn’t buy it.
8 KEPT CHANGING: Freddy’s Sense Of Humor
Freddy is known for his wicked sense of humor, but he wasn’t always the wisecracking, pop-culture-referencing slasher people remember him as today. In his first two movies, Freddy wasn’t immune to the occasional one-liner but he’d use them to taunt his victims, not give the audiences a laugh.
Come Dream Warriors where Freddy’s mainstream appeal skyrocketed, and Freddy had jokes and comebacks for just every situation he was in. This helped him get more popular as seen in his TV show, rap albums, and toylines but these diminished his terror, turning him from a boogeyman to a campy icon. New Nightmare and the remake remedied this by excising Freddy’s wit, though a balance between dread and black humor was struck for Freddy Vs. Jason.
7 STAYED THE SAME: The Mainline Continuity
Despite New Nightmare implying that, in-universe, the entire franchise is just a bunch of movies, the mythology of Elm Street is mostly consistent. This may not sound like such a big deal in today’s franchise-crazy movie landscape but back then, slasher movies were infamous for their loose continuities.
The passage of time is clear between sequels, with Freddy and recurring characters building off of their past encounters. In contrast, Friday the 13th stopped and restarted more than once while Halloween’s loosely connected mess of sequels/soft reboots/remakes has a chronology somehow more confusing than that of X-Men’s.
6 KEPT CHANGING: Freddy’s Weaknesses
Freddy may be a god in dreams, but the truth is he’s really weak. For every time he comes back through convoluted means, he has a new weakness for the heroes to exploit. Examples include: holy objects and burning his skeletal remains (Dream Warriors), drugs and a disinformation campaign (Freddy Vs. Jason), his ghost mom (The Dream Child), true love (Freddy’ Revenge), and a mirror (The Dream Master). Springwood itself turns out to be a weakness in Freddy’s Dead, where he has to figure a way to escape the county’s grasp.
There are two constants, though. The first is Freddy’s natural fear of fire. Next is the fact that Freddy is powerless in the waking world, where he’s just a burned up sex pervert with a bladed glove.
5 STAYED THE SAME: Freddy’s Ever-Increasing Power Scale
A Freddy inside joke is that in each installment, he has new powers. All of a sudden, he can possess and/or control people, teleport, alter reality, and more. He never comes back the same way twice, always having a newfound explanation for his resurrection that could include the afterlife’s wonky rules or talking ghost slugs that can only be seen with 3D glasses.
While this may sound inconsistent, Freddy’s constantly shifting powers fit into the logic of him being a dream demon. The rules and limits of reality don’t apply to dreams, which is where Freddy is strongest. This means that his true powers and reach are only limited by his imagination, allowing him to conjure something new for each comeback.
4 KEPT CHANGING: Freddy’s Motives
Originally, Freddy targeted the children of the people who killed him. This was his sick way of avenging himself from the grave but when Nancy died in Dream Warriors, Freddy moved on to other prey and reasons. His new motive was to collect his victims’ souls to increase his dream powers and break into the physical world.
Freddy’s Dead kicks this up a notch, as Freddy’s new goal is to spread his reign of terror across the globe. This escalation hit a logical extreme in the meta New Nightmare, where an ancient supernatural evil only known as “The Entity” took the form of the famous movie killer Freddy Krueger and is intent on breaking into reality itself.
3 STAYED THE SAME: Never Sleep Again
While there are countless ways to (temporarily) stop Freddy and though his powers’ specifics are always in flux, one rule remains constant: don’t fall asleep. Freddy is first and foremost a dream killer, and falling asleep is the first step to letting him win.
Survivors always desperately tried to stay awake, whether it was through ordinary means like drinking coffee or extreme measures such as cutting off their eyelids. Workarounds included lucid dreaming or using Hypnocil to stop dreaming altogether but since these still involve sleeping, they’re more dangerous last resorts than final solutions.
2 KEPT CHANGING: Freddy’s Notoriety
While not explicitly shown, it’s heavily implied that Freddy is both a child-killer and a pedophile. This is the very reason why he’s killed in the first place, and was actually something Wes Craven initially wanted to double down in the original movie before realizing how tasteless it would be. But for most of his movies, Freddy was just like any teen-killing slasher of the time, but now with quips.
As Elm Street grew more popular, Freddy had to appeal to a broader audience. To help him get over, Freddy’s more despicable behavior was toned down. He was reworked into something of an anti-hero who killed annoying characters for a morbid laugh, not a sick urge. Arguably, Freddy’s depravity and sadism were always present but if some entries really delved into it, others focused more on his penchant for creative murder.
1 STAYED THE SAME: Nancy Always Wins
The closest Freddy has to a rival is Nancy Thompson, the original survivor and a constant thorn on his side ever since. It was she who first stopped him when he was a relatively new threat and without her, future survivors wouldn’t know what to do. Even when she died in Dream Warriors, Nancy didn’t go down alone and landed the killing blow on Freddy.
This hit a meta extreme in New Nightmare, where The Entity (in Freddy’s form) makes true a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Entity can only enter reality if it beats its form’s nemesis, Nancy (or in the movie’s case, her actress Heather Langenkamp reprising the role), but since she won in the original Elm Street that The Entity is reenacting, The Entity/Freddy was fated to lose no matter what.
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