So one of the hallmarks of the comic book convention is “that guy selling bootleg DVDs of shit you can’t buy legit”. I love that guy. He’s my homie.
Anyway, while I was at the Alamo City Comic Con a few months back, I picked up a complete series set of Freddy’s Nightmares: A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series. If a title uses two colons then it MUST be good!
Freddy’s Nightmares: A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series
I’ve long known about Freddy’s Nightmares. I caught an episode here and there on You Tube and the Chiller Network. It was a passing fancy; “Wow, this is terrible. What else is on?” That sort of thing. But being met with the opportunity to own the whole series in… coherent video quality, as well as the promise of “new” footage of Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger (now retired from the role), I just couldn’t pass it up.
The series is shit and it is taxing to watch and it took me months to get through the whole ordeal. But I survived Freddy’s Nightmares, and while didn’t give me nightmares, it sure as fuck put me to sleep on more than one occasion.
To talk about Freddy’s Nightmares, let’s split the episodes up into two categories…
The Non-Freddy Episodes
This is the majority of the series; 36 of the 44 episodes. Yes, the majority of a show called Freddy’s Nightmares doesn’t actually focus on Freddy Krueger.
The setup is that Freddy acts as the host of these anthology horror stories, playing Crypt-Keeper with some goofy bookending segments. He introduces the story with a pun-infused quip or two, the story plays out, he sends the audience off with a few more tactless puns and we’re free to go.
All the episodes are set in Springwood, which is represented as sort of a Twilight Zone. A recurring theme is that characters want to leave Springwood, or are just passing through and get stuck there, but some eerie supernatural force won’t let them get out.
Freddy is tied into things by being the cause of these weird happenings that torment the cast, but the connection is pretty tenuous and only serves as the flimsiest of explanations. Basically, we’ll see the setup with the characters as they exposit their deepest fears, Freddy will get his intro where he’ll say something along the lines of “If So-and-So thinks he has it bad now, just wait ‘til I’m finished with him!” and then the character will undergo trials and tribulations without a glimpse of Freddy to be seen (until the departing segment where Freddy makes a dry quip about the outcome).
Sometimes it isn’t clear that Freddy is the one manipulating events and it seems like he’s just a passive observer. Exactly HOW he’s controlling the events he doesn’t appear to be directly involved in is never elaborated upon. It gets even more confusing when certain stories have happy endings. The B story in “School Daze” follows a kid stressed out about failing his SATs. He fails them at the end, but in the final seconds a limo pulls up and a lady tells him she wants to sign his garage band to her record label and make him a millionaire. So… did Freddy do that? That seems uncharacteristically generous of him.
And oh yeah, each episode is an hour long and structured with an A story and a B story. The A story will sloppily segue into the B story, usually by sharing a character or a setting. It doesn’t always work very well, but you’re essentially getting two complete half-hour stories that are more or less independent of one another (the shared character can often just be someone who was in the background during one scene in the A story, for instance).
The hour-long format is the real killer. The episodes often run out of steam by the B story and you just want to go watch something else. The writers usually make the A story the most interesting and exciting to hook you in, only to make the B story something horrendously dull. Take “Judy Miller, Come on Down” for example. The A story sees the title character get thrust into a twisted, demonic game show where she has to save her loved ones from ironic and bizarre traps and games. The B story, though, sees an old woman come back in time and warn her about the pratfalls of financial success. This involves two women sitting at a kitchen table, talking about money for 22 minutes. Jesus Christ, that’s not a nightmare, that’s the excruciating banality of everyday life!
Of the 36 Freddy-less episodes (which, let’s face it, is actually closer to 72 episodes because of the hour-long 2-story format), I’m struggling to think of any that really stood out as not being terrible or forgettable. There are some celebrity guests in these episodes, ranging from familiar horror movie icons (Bill Moseley, Dick Miller, Jeffrey Combs) to “holy shit, they really got Brad Pitt!?”
I hate to focus on the celebrity guest stars, but they’re honestly the only attraction to these episodes. The stories all follow the same format of “nightmares within nightmares” and the structure gets so predictable and asinine after a while that you REALLY start to lose interest.
What I mean is that a character will be afraid of some ho-hum event in their life (getting fired, getting pregnant, getting married, getting old), go to sleep, that fear will manifest as something ironic or existential, they’ll wake up from the nightmare with a “good thing it was only a dream” response, take a few minutes to realize they’re STILL dreaming, wake up again, and repeat the formula until Freddy makes a pun and calls it a day.
God, this shit it boring, luckily, there are a few…
Only 8 of the 44 episodes are actually about Freddy Krueger and star him as the main antagonist. If you ARE going to subject yourself to this show, then I would sincerely recommend that you limit yourself to just these 8 episodes (which, again, feel more like 16 thanks to the format). For the record, these episodes are:
“No More Mr. Nice Guy”
“Freddy’s Tricks and Treats”
“Dream Come True”
“Dreams That Kill”
“It’s My Party and You’ll Die If I Want You To”
Not only are these the only decent episodes of the series, a few of them are actually genuinely GOOD Freddy Krueger stories!
“No More Mr. Nice Guy” is a retelling of Freddy’s origin, dramatizing all the backstory elements seeded throughout the first four or five Nightmare on Elm Street films. These events were only ever referenced in the films, so it was neat to actually see them played out; everything from Freddy’s capture, to his trial, to his getting let off the hook, to his eventual death at the hands of an angry mob. The episode is directed by Tobe Hooper (of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame) and while it definitely screams “made on a TV budget”, it’s certainly of interest to fans. The scene where Freddy gets burned alive would be contradicted in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, which in itself would get contradicted in Freddy vs. Jason, but the events depicted in the episode were faithful to the continuity of the films up to when it was made.
The sequel, “Sister’s Keeper”, is one of the lesser Freddy episodes, following the twin daughters of one of the cops who led the charge against Freddy. Freddy is targeting them as his next victims and they try to come up with a way to destroy Freddy once and for all. It’s actually one of the few episodes that’s a full-length story and not segmented in two, but the whole thing is an exercise in futility and the acting from the twin sisters is bad even by this program’s standards.
“Freddy’s Tricks and Treats” first follows a college student being tormented by Freddy but protected by her imaginary friend. The B story follows her dream therapy as an unscrupulous student researcher tries to get into her head and accidentally draws Freddy’s attention away from her and onto himself. Another of the lesser Freddy episodes, but the A story has its moments, as the college girl blunders around a nightmare morgue after dark on Halloween, running afoul of Freddy’s gags and traps.
“Safe Sex” is my least favorite of the Freddy episodes and the only one I think is worth skipping. The A story follows a high school poindexter in love with a punk girl, but she won’t give him the time of day because she’s in love with Freddy. Or, as Freddy puts it in the host segment, “Boy meets girl. Girl wants Freddy. Freddy wants blood, ‘cause I never go steady!” The B segment sees the punk girl get her wish as Freddy comes to her in her dreams, but you can guess how well that goes.
“Dream Come True” is alright. The A story is about a therapist trying to help a teenager with his dreams about Freddy, but of course Freddy pays him a visit next. The B story is about a cameraman trying to prove Freddy exists to avenge his girlfriend whom the slasher killed. It’s enjoyable, but not very inventive.
The sequel, “Dreams That Kill”, sees Dick Gautier (voice of Rodimus Prime from Transformers and Serpentor from G.I. Joe) hosting a talk show where he intends to discuss Freddy, only for Freddy to put a stop to his program. The B story is about a boy who receives a brain cell transplant from the dying talk show host, only to get Freddy in his head as a result. There’s a pretty great moment where Freddy enters the kid’s dream, thinking he’s in the dream of the talk show host, only to get confused and shout, “Who the hell are you!? Oh well, as long as I’m here…”
“Photo Finish” is hands down the best Freddy episode, the best episode of the series and one of the best Freddy Krueger stories I’ve seen. The A plot is good, but nothing special: A photographer gets her best work when her models fall asleep and thrash about on set as Freddy kills them in their dreams, but ultimately Freddy does her in. The B plot, though, is fantastic. It takes place after one of Freddy’s crazy murders, as a trio of FBI agents try to piece the crime scene together and figure out what happened. Gradually, they realize how Freddy killed the family in a bizarre gimmick and end up getting the same treatment. It was really cool to see the aftermath of a Freddy crime scene and how investigators would react as they eventually come to realize that there was an insane supernatural element at play. There are some cheats (one of the agents kinda sorta has clairvoyance), but it’s still pretty good.
“It’s My Party and You’ll Die If I Want You To” is the sequel and not as good, but not all terrible, either. The A plot sees the assistant of the dead photographer get a new job with a medium, only for her to get possessed by Freddy and go on a killing spree (kinda like a gender-reversed Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge). The B story is much more interesting, as Freddy crashes his own high school reunion and picks off all the people who gave him a hard time when he was a teenager. There’s a great moment where Freddy cuts off a guy’s hand while he’s dancing at the party and then while he’s screaming bloody murder, Freddy makes these patronizing gestures while staring at the wound. It’s just… really funny, thanks in large part to Robert Englund yucking it up.
Yeah, this show blows.
I mean, it isn’t without its positives. The Freddy episodes are all watchable and a few range from good to great. But if you want to look at the bigger picture…
In the tapestry of the Nightmare on Elm Street film series it actually fills in that narrative gap between Part 5: The Dream Child and Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Part 5 concluded the ongoing story arc that had followed Parts 1, 3 and 4 (Part 2 being this weird non sequitur side-story). Freddy’s Dead was set 10 years after Part 5 and, according to its opening exposition, Freddy had killed off all the children in Springwood and taken complete control of the town’s reality. Freddy becomes so powerful that he can warp time and space, preventing victims from leaving Springwood.
Coming out between Part 5 and Freddy’s Dead, the context of Freddy’s Nightmares actually makes more sense. This is basically Freddy having unchallenged freedom to slaughter everyone in Springwood, becoming so powerful that he can warp reality (many of the stories feature the nightmares bleeding into the real world). It also works with that Twilight Zone theme I talked about, where people can’t escape Springwood because Freddy won’t let them (which was a subplot in Freddy’s Dead).
So even Freddy’s Nightmares serves a purpose in the chronology of the franchise’s ongoing story. It’s rather unsightly and boring, but it does its job. If you’re marathoning the movies, I’d recommend slotting the 8 Freddy episodes of this show in-between Part 5 and Freddy’s Dead and maybe that awkward time-skip between the movies won’t be quite so off-putting.
Or you could continue to ignore this TV show and pretend it doesn’t exist like everyone else has for the past 20-something years. I honestly wouldn’t blame you if you did.