The success of 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street led to its antagonist becoming one of the most ubiquitous pop culture figures in film history. Considering the merchandising bonanza that Freddy Krueger spawned (not to mention the beaucoup bucks his cinematic exploits generated for New Line Cinema), it’s not surprising that many, many filmmakers sought to capture lightning in a bottle twice. In the wake of Elm Street, many characters obviously inspired by Kruger–that being, wisecracking slashers with sometimes obtuse supernatural abilities and a proclivity for bad puns–hit cineplexes and video stores coast-to-coast. Although some of the “slasher mascot” creations were rousing successes (most notably, Chucky of Child’s Play fame), the bulk of the horror antagonists modeled after Freddy Krueger over the years remain largely forgotten–that is, if anybody noticed them in the first place. Here’s a look back at several films that tried to create the next Freddy Krueger-like crossover horror sensation–only to come up considerably short of the lofty standards established by the Springwood Slasher.
Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night 2 (1987)
For starters, this Canadian supernatural slasher wasn’t even meant to be a Prom Night sequel–it was originally titled The Haunting of Hamilton High and has virtually nothing to do with the Jamie Lee Curtis flick from 1980. The premise is interesting enough; a demonic prom queen exacts revenge for her freak accident death 30 years earlier by possessing a goody-two-shoes high schooler and embarking on a stealthy murder spree. Alas, the execution leaves a lot to be desired, especially the rather unremarkable kills (A crucifix through the chest? Crushing the senior queen bee underneath a locker? Yawn.) Still, the movie was profitable enough to resurrect the Mary Lou character for one more sequel, the more comedic Prom Night III: The Last Kiss in 1990.
Bad Dreams (1988)
Here’s a flick that bares such an uncanny resemblance to A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 that I’m shocked New Line Cinema didn’t file a copyright infringement suit. Heck, it even stars one of the iconic Dream Warriors – Jennifer “Taryn” Rubin – as its leading lady! The plot is quite familiar: a young woman, who has been in a coma for more than a decade, wakes up in a psychiatric hospital, haunted by visions of a horrifically burned cult leader she’s convinced is behind a mysterious rash of patient suicides. Without giving it away, there is a pretty novel twist ending, but by then, the damage has already been done. Factor in the boring kills (although the seppuku scene is pretty icky), and you have all the makings of an instantly regrettable weekend VHS rental.
Wes Craven himself said this movie was hardly anything more than a brazen attempt to create another Freddy Krueger-esque franchise cash cow, but unfortunately, Craven’s second go-at-it was nowhere near as successful. Meet Horace Pinker (played by Mitch Pileggi from The X-Files) – a psycho serial killer who is so evil, getting deep fried in an electric chair only made him angrier. Whereas Freddy Krueger haunted his victims’ dreams, Pinker makes do by traveling through people’s television sets and periodically hopping from body to body. Ultimately, this culminates with a self-parodying denouement so ridiculous, it has to be seen to be believed (and made fun of.) And with such stellar catch phrases as “how about a ride in my volts-wagon?” I’m as shocked as you are Shocker never spawned an armada of sequels.
Now this one is a bit of a bummer. Released in 1992 – one year after Freddy’s Dead supposedly killed off the character once and for all – Universal tried to fill the Krueger void with Dr. Giggles, a slasher flick about a maniac who escapes from the local insane asylum while dressed as a surgeon … and he can’t wait to makes some unannounced house calls. The end result is a pretty fun little movie, with the late Larry Drake having a ball as the titular villain. We’ve got people getting done in with humongous syringes, adhesive bandages and rectal thermometers, with one unlucky victim getting her guts yanked inside out with a stomach pump. Tis a pity the film faltered at the box office – the concept had enough juice in it for at least one more movie.
Although the film may have inspired six sequels, you won’t find too many hardcore horror fans who consider the long-running franchise anything more than a shameless Elm Street clone. A hideously deformed main character? Check. An antagonist with opaquely defined, almost God-like supernatural abilities? You betcha. A central villain with a knack for corny jokes and ham-fisted one-liners every time he kills somebody with a cappuccino maker or makes their buttocks literally explode? Circle takes the freakin’ square. As lame as the later Elm Street movies may have been, they never reached the dizzying lows of the Leprechaun mythos. I mean, at least Freddy Krueger had the good sense to stay out of outer space … and avoid the hood. Twice.
In this early-1990s horror-thriller, T. Ryder Smith plays a video game-spawned imp named The Trickster, who lives up to his namesake by cajoling Edward Furlong into committing real life homicides under the guise of virtual reality. Granted, I’m pretty sure the guys who dreamed up the screenplay weren’t intentionally trying to remake the second Elm Street movie, but there are many odd parallels between the premise of this flick and Freddy’s Revenge. Alas, I think we all much prefer Mr. Krueger’s antics to the tomfoolery of some Christopher Lloyd-looking computer demon with a humongous red mullet, don’t we?
The Fear (1995)
Well, you have to give the people behind The Fear credit for a halfway original premise. The movie revolves around this wooden dummy named Morty, who unsurprisingly, is haunted by an evil spirit with the ability to turn people’s worst fears into real life. And wouldn’t you know it, old Morty finds himself smack dab in the middle of a group retreat for individuals with severe phobias. What are the odds? From there, it’s your usual assortment of Elm Street-esque fantasy kills (including one character who is rapidly aged to death), only the microscopic budget doesn’t exactly allow for the most convincing of special effects. But it does have a great cameo appearance from Wes Craven, which I suppose is something of a meta-reference to the flick’s obvious thematic inspirations. Amazingly, the movie made enough moolah to inspire a sequel, 1999’s The Fear: The Resurrection, which to date, remains Morty’s last cinematic appearance.
Ice Cream Man (1995)
Cult character actor Clint Howard is one of the most beloved B-horror thespians of all-time for a reason. Even in a movie as ridiculous as The Ice Cream Man, he’s able to bring a bizarre, demented glee to the role that makes the whole thing far more enjoyable than it probably has any right to be. While the traditional Freddy Krueger supernatural hokum is kept to a minimum, rest assured Clint drops plenty of groan-inducing puns as the titular psycho killer, whose entire shtick revolves around murdering people with miscellaneous kitchen utensils (including one character who even gets waffle-ironed to death, somehow.) And just wait until Clint performs the puppet show–with a pair of severed heads, naturally.
Sleepstalker: The Sandman’s Last Rites (1995)
And here’s a movie that brazenly swipes the Elm Street formula and doesn’t even attempt to cover it up. Once again we find ourselves with a mass murdering antagonist earmarked for the electric chair, and once again he manages to escape the sepulcher through some sort of mystic means. Only this time around, the big, bad Krueger wannabe is resurrected as a literal mound of sentient supernatural sand, which somehow has the ability to invade people’s bedrooms and… well, I suppose you know the drill on this one. Sill, some of the hyper-low budget kills are fairly decent (ever seen a person get turned into concrete while they’re taking a nap?) and you have got to hear the “Enter Sandman” ripoff when the titular monster is reborn …
Jack Frost (1997)
With Scream ushering in the age of the ironic, self-reflexive slasher in 1996, jokester Freddy Krueger wannabes were about as hip as Pogs by the time Jack Frost hit video store shelves. Still, the campy straight-to-video release (not to be confused with the Michael Keaton family-friendly flick that came out a year later) isn’t without its merits–the least of which being its awesome lenticular box art. Since the movie revolves around a homicidal snowman, it naturally hits you with just about every ice-related pun you can think of, complete with an amazingly distasteful sequence in which the eponymous character rapes a pre-famous Shanon Elizabeth with his carrot–uh, nose? Despite its shortcomings, it’s pretty hard to hate any movie that ends with villagers arming themselves with hairdryers and antifreeze, and if nothing else, it’s WAY better than its 2000 sequel – not that you need me to tell you to steer clear of a movie subtitled Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman.