Welcome To Prime Time Bitch: How The Nightmare On Elm Street TV Series Gave Horror An Origin
Freddy has his head well and truly smashed into the television – the real "nightmare" on Elm Street was Freddy's short-lived move out of feature films.
If you are hungry for the melted pizza face of Freddy Krueger, have exhausted your Elm Street DVD collection, and watching the 2010 remake of #ANightmareOnElmStreet doesn't appeal to you, we have a way for get your Freddy fix.
Fans of the Elm Street series may know that October 1988 brought with it spin-off series Freddy's Nightmares: A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series. Just like the poor Jennifer in A Nightmare on Elm Street Part III, Freddy has his head well and truly smashed into the television – the real "nightmare" on Elm Street was Freddy's short-lived move out of feature films.
The nightmare was just beginning.
It was 1988 and Freddy already had four films under his belt, a rock song dedicated to him, and the obligatory cuddly toy – but still New Line Cinema wanted more. Under the direction of New Line's founder Bob Shaye, Freddy's Nightmares was born from hell itself, before limping on to two seasons and a run of 44 episodes.
The show set itself up as a dark Twilight Zone, with Robert Englund reprising his role as Freddy to bookend each episode as a host. Thankfully Freddy's Nightmares were more connected to the source material than the Friday the 13th TV show, but most people were only tuning in for Freddy himself.
Having Freddy's in a smaller role was the show's biggest problem, and one they would never fix. That being said, the gloved menace did appear in several tales, including the (unofficial) finale "It's My Party and You'll Die If I Want You To," and the opening episode "No More Mr. Nice Guy." Sadly it was the opener that showcased the show, and Freddy, at its peak!
'No more Mr. Nice Guy.'
The mini-episodes were supposed to be two half-hours that were vaguely linked, but by the end of its two season run, the reality couldn't be more different if they tried. However, the first episode opened as a singular storyline – heralded as the "true" origin of Freddy. As early as the first Elm Street film, Freddy's past had been alluded to, but the child molestation scandal of the McMartin preschool trial had resigned that to a subtext.
Now, with the reign of network television, special director Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) could do what he wanted with Freddy. We open in a courthouse at the trial of child molester/murderer Fred Krueger and focus in on Ian Patrick Williams's Lt. Tim Blocker, the man who brought Freddy in, but ultimately freed him as well. A legal loophole sees Freddy walk free and Blocker takes the burden on himself. We also meet Blocker's two daughters Lisa and Merit, and the trio formed part of the show's title card. A law-abiding officer, one night Blocker snaps, and along with a mob of locals, torches Krueger at the factory he worked.
Cue Robert Englund's usual "you've made me stronger" spiel, and the nightmares begin. The characters were flat, the acting was wooden, but we finally got an actual origin to Freddy!
'My Sister's Kepper'
Bob Shaye himself admits that the first four or five episodes of the show were pretty good, but soon trailed off after that. "No More Mr. Nice Guy" gave Freddy a firm origin, but for some reason we got a sequel (of sorts) in the seventh episode. Dubbed "My Sister's Keeper" (not that one), it chronologically pre-dated original Elm Street final girl Nancy, although Grey and Hili Park (that really is their names) were no Heather Langenkamp in the acting department.
We pick up the tale of Blocker's twin daughters following his death. Obviously it was palmed off that "Daddy couldn't handle it," but Merit Blocker still sees visions of Freddy. There is a Parent Trap places swap and an OK scene of a Freddy colored blanket strangling one of the girls, but apart from that it, it's a laborious stretch to make it through the episode.
Given the right budget and acting, "My Sister's Keeper" could have bean a real Freddy sequel, which is what kept the movie franchise running. Instead it was a lacklustre hour of TV with atrocious acting and a paper-thin script. Only seven episodes in and Nightmares had dropped the ball; however, it still limped on for another 37 episodes.
The good, the bad, and the burnt.
For all its faults, the series had started reasonably strong, it should probably have just ended their too. After four films of piecing together the fragments of Freddy, Tobe Hooper finally gave the Springwood Slasher a proper origin. As Freddy first says:
"Don’t be afraid... This time, it isn’t one of your nightmares. This one… was mine.”
Hooper excelled at keeping the tension reserving Englund to lurking in the shadows. Freddy was at his scariest when we saw him in the first film, taunting Tina from the back garden. Wes Craven said his idea for Freddy came from a man in a fedora who he saw staring through his window when he was younger.
We barely saw or heard the Freddy of "No More Mr. Nice Guy," before an angry mob of parents torched him to the ground. From there on out it was the Freddy we had spent the past four years getting to know hiding in the bushes – his red eyes, flashes of that razored glove.
So, what did we learn from Freddy's Nightmares? It may have been one of the weakest member of the franchise, but the sixth film, Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, gave us its own origin, including a superb turn from Alice Cooper as Freddy's abusive father. It came three years after "No More Mr. Nice Guy," but it always felt like Freddy's Dead was director Rachel Talalay's homage to "No More Mr. Nice Guy." Talalay had served New Line for many years, and had effectively grown up with Freddy.
The only mistake of Freddy's Dead's origin was that it also gave the character too much of a human voice. Despite Robert Englund being a great actor, take him out of the prosthetics and he just isn't Freddy. Being told from the POV of Lisa Zane's character, who was Freddy's daughter, the illusion was shattered.
Waking up from the nightmare.
The real trouble was that Nightmares struggled to keep up with the premise after the first episode. They had this amazing creation which everyone wanted to see butcher innocent bystanders, but instead he was resigned to being a Rod Sterling of horror. Freddy definitely had a story to tell, and for years we had wondered what made the man a monster. Freddy's Nightmares gave us an origin of the burnt Freddy we had always known, but failed to tell us what made him tick. A real Freddy's Nightmares should have pre-dated even that, working as a #BatesMotel prequel.
It makes you think whether a Krueger origin would work nowadays – in short, probably not. You need the elaborate dream sequences, but even then, the story of Freddy is over in two hours. Freddy's Nightmares suffered in becoming a parody of itself, and Englund became a one-line-pony that was little more than an Easter egg.
If you insist on watching the show then put on "No More Mr. Nice Guy," other than that, Freddy's Nightmares should probably remain consigned to the dusty VHS sleeves it currently resides in. Sweet dreams, and don't have too many nightmares!