There are certain horror movies and franchises that tend to set the standard for their era. In the ‘70s, there were a lot of isolated exploitation pictures inspired by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. For the first half of the 1980s, we saw tons of slashers influenced by Halloween and Friday the 13th. In the ‘90s, we had the movement of meta slashers influenced by Scream.
But during the late ‘80s and into the early ‘90s, especially, Freddy Krueger was the face of horror. Once A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 had hit theaters, he’d officially become a pop culture icon with his own rap song and 900-number. Freddy’s popularity led many horror movies to become a little funnier, going less for stark gore and more for outlandish, creative death scenes.
Both a lot of bad and a lot of good came from this period, and the ones we’re going to focus on often have a little bit of both. No matter what the franchise was, there was a need for everything to have a central, memorable, entertaining villain. One that really stood out as the star.
It didn’t always work. But it often yielded entertaining results, even when those movies never went on to become the franchise they’d hoped.
976-EVIL 2: The Astral Factor
Jim Wynorski’s sequel to 976-EVIL—which was directed by Robert Englund himself—is not as good as the original, although some people prefer it. It’s got one of the most obvious Freddy rip-offs, which is weird, because he’s one of the most visually uninspired villains ever. He’s the dean of students at the college the film’s set at and, well, he looks like it. For some reason he’s even making appearances in dreams. The standout sequence of the flick, though, is a mashup between It’s a Wonderful Life and Night of the Living Dead.
Plot-wise, Dr. Giggles shares nothing in common with A Nightmare on Elm Street. But, he’s very much a product of that era of killers needing to be as central and punny as possible. He’s got just as much screen time as Freddy gets in The Dream Master, and this is Giggles’ first—and only—movie. This actually feels like it should be the third or fourth Dr. Giggles movie. And that’s where the Freddy influence is clear.
Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers
You can clearly divide the Sleepaway Camp franchise between pre- and post-Freddy. The first film is clearly influenced by Friday the 13th. The killer is in the shadows until the very end of the movie, it’s more focused on character hijinx and setting up atmosphere. Between the first and second in the series, Nightmare on Elm Street takes off as a franchise and Angela becomes front-and-center, pretty much the main character. Now she’s making jokes and she’s killing counselors in more and more outlandish ways. And for the first sequel, I’ll be honest, it really works.
I had to put both movies on the list because they’re so different. This one, directed by Freddy himself, is a personal fave. It plays like a male version of Carrie until it just gets more and more outrageous as Stephen Geoffreys comes into his own as the villain in the third act. Favorite sequence involves Hoax killing his pet bird who keeps repeating “Not on the couch,” insisting “That’s what the plastic’s for, asshole.”
Hello, Mary Lou: Prom Night II
Though she too has Carrie roots, Mary Lou Mahoney is pretty much the female Freddy Krueger, right down to the burn scars. She’s explicitly supernatural, she’s witty and she gets to dispatch teenagers via increasingly imaginative death scenes. This is a sequel that I think even surpasses the original.
It wouldn’t be right not to mention Nightmare’s extremely entertaining Bollywood rip-off, Mahakaal—or, The Monster—this is about as blatant as it can get, right down to the glove. But while it takes just about everything from the early Elm Street movies, it adds something those films didn’t have: elaborate musical sequences. It’s insane, bizarre, devoid of budget and honestly something I feel like people have to see at least once.
The need to create a new Freddy was so strong in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s that even Krueger’s original creator, Wes Craven, got in on the action. Shocker was not nearly as successful and definitely has some narrative problems, but it’s kind of a blast. It’s a really, really fun flick. Craven never got to direct the Freddy who made a pun a minute, but he basically gets to do that here. Horace Pinker is a sleazy, gross yet often hilarious villain and Mitch Paleggi clearly had the time of his life with the character.