There are so many memorable figures in the slasher film world: the hockey-mask-wearing Jason Voorhees of the Friday the 13th franchise; the ominous, silent "Shape" Michael Myers from Halloween; the twisted Ghostface killer from Scream; and of course, the horrifically burned Freddy Krueger, the razor-claw-wielding stalker of teenage dreams in the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise.
When Freddy first came onto the horror scene in 1984, audiences were terrified by his very presence. This was a man who was burned alive in our world, only to survive and exact his revenge in the next. While Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Ghostface could stalk any of the unsuspecting teens in their films, they still the ability to run and hide when trying to evade these killers. Not so much with Freddy Krueger. Instead, Freddy came to them in their nightmares the moment they fell asleep. Shut your eyes, and there was nowhere to hide.
But, as time went on, Freddy lost his edge (so to speak). The once-wonderful villain became saddled with slapstick-grade quirks and was known to let a few quips fly before cartoonishly slaughtering his victims in the sequels. One girl was turned into a bug before Freddy squished her. Another movie featured Freddy taking control of a TV and smashing someone's face into it. Granted, the Elm Street series remains one of the most successful horror franchises in history, alongside the hard-to-resurrect Friday the 13th and Halloween, but it's certainly had its fair share of bumps along the way.
In the first film, A Nightmare On Elm Street, there are some extremely memorable moments, from the first appearance of Freddy Krueger (arms monstrously outstretched and chasing Tina down an empty alley) to the death of Johnny Depp's character (who's laid to waste in an epic fashion, with an eruption of blood flowing up toward the ceiling of his room). The film nailed its horror moments left and right, until its very last scene. This finale saw final girl Nancy exit her home to join her once-dead friends as they drive off in a convertible. The moment is soured, however, when it's revealed that the top of the convertible matches the design of Freddy's green-and-red striped sweater, and these teens are about to embark on a hellish joyride in the film's final seconds.
Prior to this scene, each of the film's deaths was notably darker in tone: hanging, slashing, being devoured by a bed (twice, technically). But it was this moment that signaled the series might be heading in a slightly goofier direction. It meant Freddy's supernatural abilities weren't limited to just killing his victims in creative ways, but that he himself could somehow shape-shift and transform into, say, the soft-top of a 1958 Series 62 Cadillac. From there, things only got sillier.
Let's pretend Freddy Krueger isn't one of the most famous characters in horror-movie culture. Now, say you're in the middle of the worst nightmare you've ever had. A man with burned skin and razors on his fingers is chasing you through a dark alley. No matter where you turn, he's always there, hunting you down. And no matter how hard you try, you just can't seem to wake up. Finally, you get to your bedroom, safe and sound. But then, the man with the burned skin suddenly appears from inside your waterbed. He bursts through the plastic, violently grabbing you, about to pull you under. But just before he does he asks, "How's this for a wet dream?"
Suddenly, that man with the burned skin and razor claws doesn't exactly seem so scary, does he? You may be wondering if he had the quip the entire time, and was just waiting for the right time to use it. Such is the case with most of Freddy's kills. Following the first film, Freddy seems to take a comical turn, often adding a zinger or two before claiming his next victim.
"This is it, Jennifer - your big break on TV!" he says before killing a young woman by driving her into a TV set. In another, he kills a man by appearing as a comic book villain, proclaiming, "Faster than a bastard maniac! Stronger than a local madman! It's Super Freddy!" You may be in the last moments of your life when Freddy comes for you, but it might be hard to take him seriously when he's cracking lines like these.
What made A Nightmare On Elm Street so unique was that its antagonist simply didn't exist in the real world. It was one of the film's hard-and-fast rules that set it apart from any other horror film on the market, and it helped the movie sink its claws (so to speak) into audiences by making them afraid to fall asleep at night. In fact, it was a real-life article on this idea that led Wes Craven to create Elm Street in the first place. The film created a world in which victims could run, but could never hide.
At least that was the case until the sequel, Freddy's Revenge, hit theaters in 1985. That's when the series broke its cardinal rule of keeping Freddy relegated to his victims' dreams, with Freddy suddenly appearing at a pool party and slashing his way though guests. The scene is infamous for bringing Elm Street in a new direction, and for ignoring the original concept of singling out each victim and torturing them in their own distinctive way.
Slasher villains are hard to keep around. When they first arrive on the scene, they're downright terrifying. Take Friday the 13th's Jason Voorhees, Hellraiser's Pinhead, or Freddy Krueger himself. These villains are all horrifying, but when they keep coming back they tend to lose what makes them so frightening in the first place.
For most of the Elm Street films, the plot is predictable: start with a group of plucky teens, have Freddy make his epic but inevitable return, and soon, kill the kids one-by-one in unique ways before the final girl of the film is the only one left. Granted, it's best not to mess with success when it comes to slasher movies, but as the series went on fans grew tired of the same basic concept.