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 Kruger was created 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 have 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.
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.
1987: The Series Killed Off Nancy, The First Film's ProtagonistVideo: YouTube
Much like Jamie Lee Curtis's Laurie Strode in the Halloween series, Heather Langenkamp's Nancy Thompson (the final girl of the first film) became a beloved and recognizable character almost immediately in the Elm Street series. To fans, she was someone who could have been steadily teased out over the course of the films, perhaps to return in a future sequel to face down Freddy Krueger once and for all. Alas, that never happened.
Instead, Nancy returns in A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors as an intern at Westin Hills Asylum, where much of the film takes place. By now, Freddy's changed into a cartoonish caricature of his former self, which only serves to cheapen the impact of Nancy's return and, consequently, her death at the end of the movie.
1987: Freddy Started TransformingVideo: YouTube
By 1987, the series hit critical mass when it came to sheer ridiculousness. No longer was Freddy Krueger simply killing his victims in creative ways - he was actually transforming into different objects or creatures in order to eviscerate them. Take Kristen in A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, for example. Her dream begins with her wandering through the old Elm Street house, which seems eerily normal until it suddenly explodes around her in a hail of debris before Freddy ultimately reveals himself as a massive snake.
Freddy then proceeds to gulp Kristen feet-first, body-slam her to the ground, and slowly devour her. Tension is thrown out the window for shock value, which kills the immersion and weakens the film overall.
1987: Freddy Got An Unnecessary Backstory
Part of what makes many great horror films scary is what isn't shown to the audience. The more we're kept in the dark about what the threat is, the scarier it feels. Take Jaws, for instance. In Steven Spielberg's classic film, the audience rarely sees the shark for most of the movie, save for the end. The result? Our imaginations provide real weight to the physical threat, and we're left on the edge of our seats throughout the film's runtime.
By the same token, Freddy Krueger is much more terrifying when we know as little about him as possible. The mystique of the character is part of what makes him a threat - he's truly unpredictable. That is, until Dream Warriors came along in 1987, and audiences were treated to a backstory that informed us about Freddy's daughter and how he came to have his magical nightmare-hunting powers. Some fans argued this gave too much information about the villain, ultimately diminishing his character as absolute evil.
1988: Freddy Became Invisible
When it comes to Freddy-headed snake monsters or TV-Freddy hybrids, it's hard to tell how much crazier things can get. Luckily, The Dream Master added another insane visual milestone to the series in 1988. That milestone came in the form of Rick fighting an invisible Freddy Krueger after the production's budget ran out. The series finally hit rock bottom and ignored the ridiculous set pieces it was once known for.
A teenager is actually seen punching the air before Freddy's hand stabs him through the gut. The scene was a precursor to the run-and-gun production that would haunt the rest of the series.