While Friday the 13th: The Series was a show akin to Halloween III in that it was hated by fans for being different from the rest of the franchise but actually pretty good on its own, Freddy’s Nightmares was a show that by and large deserved its reputation. It was made in the height of Freddy Mania in the late ‘80’s, which was probably the only reason it even got greenlit in the first place. There were three Freddy films produced while this show was on the air, as evidenced by the recycled makeup, which left almost no room for quality control. The series had numerous problems, not the least of which were budgetary.
More than the money, it couldn’t figure out what it wanted to be. It was anthology with Freddy acting as a sort of goofy Rod Serling, sometimes introducing the stories and sometimes just appearing to the camera to say a single pun to remind you that he was there. A lot of the stories had nothing to do with Freddy whatsoever, but some of them did, which kind of just makes for an awkward tone. It couldn’t decide if it wanted to follow in the footsteps of Friday the 13th: The Series, so it’s both too different and too similar at the same time.
And yet, a lot of great horror talent got involved on this show. If there’s ever an episode that transcends the inherent cheesiness, these people are the reason. Mick Garris directed an episode, as did Tom McLoughlin and late horror maestro Tobe Hooper helmed the pilot. Hell, Brad Pitt even appeared in an episode. Not to mention Robert Englund, who always showed up and did whatever was asked of him, no matter how absurd it was. He even directed a few episodes himself.
It might be because of this lack of total structure and oversight that there are any decent episodes at all, or at least episodes that have some pretty good ideas, whatever their focus.
“The End of the World”
This episode is about exactly what the title describes, surprisingly enough. It’s more ambitious than you’d expect a show hosted by Freddy Krueger to get. In it, a woman discovers she has the unique ability to alter the past and therefore dictate the future. She gets discovered by the CIA, who use her to try and prevent a major nuclear disaster. It’s probably the most heavily sci-fi infused episode of the series, but I think that really helps it to stand out.
This one almost starts off by feeling like a mini Nightmare on Elm Street movie, as it’s actually about a kid having nightmares about Freddy. The doctor who comes to help him get over his dreams actually believes his story, for no real given reason. Unlike most of the episodes, this one gets more interesting in the second half as Freddy goes up against a man who’s trying to prove Krueger’s existence by attempting to capture him on film. Instead, he plays right into Freddy’s hand and his filming of every crime scene only leads to him taking the blame for Krueger’s crimes.
I’ll admit, everything about this one feels like a middle-of-the-road Tales from the Crypt episode, but it kind of works. It’s about a woman who learns that her late husband had purchased a winning lottery ticket, so she and her new lover dig him up to try and get it back. Of course, she plans to keep the winnings for herself. This episode gets bonus points for the fact that the first half and the second half are actually pretty connected.
While the story is kind of iffy and is the same generalized tale of a kid trapped in a dead end job in a dead end town that make up at least a third of the series, it’s elevated out of those ranks due to a wonderful performance by Jeffrey Combs. A legitimately great actor, Combs knows exactly when to get hammy and certainly does so here, as the owner of a pizza place where the special topping is human flesh. And it’s the only cannibalistic pizzeria story I can think of, so there’s that.
It’s the Freddy’s Nightmares Halloween special and Freddy is actually integral to the plot this time. More than that, it stars Mariska Hargitay, who would go onto a much bigger career. She plays a college student tormented by Freddy when, in a Candyman-ish twist, he feels the need to appear to her simply because of her unwillingness to believe in him. On top of that, it really has the feel of your average TV Halloween episode from the era.
The first half of this episode sees Freddy target a fraudulent psychic by taking over her body and using her to commit a string of new murders. It’s a fun concept and I like that it returns to the possession elements of Nightmare on Elm Street 2. The second half of the episode is much more interesting, though, as it centers on Freddy crashing his own high school reunion. Campy or not, it makes you wonder what the reunions must be like of people who went to high school with someone like Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer. How much should you talk about it, or should you try not to? It also shows us the only friend Krueger had in high school, and it’s very much in character for Freddy to return simply to exact revenge on the girl who stood him up at the prom.
Fans have been clamoring for a Nightmare on Elm Street prequel about Freddy’s capture, trial and the vigilante mob that burned him alive—things that were only talked about or shown in brief flashbacks in the movies. What they don’t realize, generally, is that we already have it. We got it with Robert Englund as pre-and-post-burned Freddy and directed by Tobe Hooper, the man who directed Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist and Salem’s Lot. It’s not as drawn out or in-depth as it could have been, but I would definitely call it better than nothing.
“Safe Sex” is easily my favorite episode of Freddy’s Nightmares. It’s a legitimately powerful hour of horror TV, with a solid script by David J. Schow. This one shines a light on serial killer fan culture, which was hugely prevalent at the time. It’s about a guy who wants to impress a goth girl in his class, but she’s in love with Freddy. All the traditional remarks of women who write letters to killers in prison, saying that they are misunderstood or just needed someone to love them, all of that is present here in an episode that’s maybe even too strong for its own good.