Network: Syndication (1988-1990)
Producer: Gilbert Adler
Cast: Robert Englund
With studios delving into increasingly obscure fair to pad out their BluRay and DVD catalog, I’m surprised that no one has thought of dusting off the old Freddy’s Nightmares television show, officially titled Freddy’s Nightmares: A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series because Freddy Krueger loves colons. Granted, even hardcore fans appear to have forgotten about the short-lived anthology, eliminating nostalgia as a viable marketing tool, but I bet dedicated gore hounds would flock to a full-series collector set just out of curiosity.
Broadcast in late-night syndication from March 1988 to October 1990, Freddy’s Nightmares: A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series: Curse of the Black Pearl is far from perfect, but it fits rather snuggly in the overall myth, filling the ten-year gap between Freddy’s apparent defeat in A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child (1989) and his dominion of Springwood in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991). It seems unlikely that the producers would’ve paid this close attention to continuity, but I like the idea of our villain using his newfound freedom from Alice’s subconscious to exact vengeance on the whole town.
Every episode of Freddy’s Nightmares: A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire features two interconnected tales set in the same part of Springwood. These stories are presented as one so that a supporting character in the first half-hour will become the star of the second, or what may seem like a fitting, open-ended conclusion will suddenly be negated in order for the plot to veer into an unrelated direction. These transitions make for an amusing storytelling curio, but I find each segment works best as a separate piece, delineated of course by Freddy’s trademarked puns and gross-out gags. It speaks to Robert Englund’s boundless charisma that I never tired of those cheesy intro sequences à la Tales from the Crypt.
Unfortunately, Freddy only plays an active role in eight of the forty-four episodes, slashing his way through just a handful of Springwood residents. These chapters constitute the highlight of Freddy’s Nightmares: A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series: Episode I: The Phantom Menace, finding new variations on a bleak but surprisingly enduring formula. I particularly like the pilot, which finally depicts our baddie’s botched trial and subsequent murder by the Elm Street parents. Director Tobe Hooper may lack Wes Craven’s sense of timing, but he does wonders with the budget allotted, giving “No More Mr Nice Guy” the pulpy feel and scope of a Stephen King yarn.
The rest of the episodes draw more from The Twilight Zone or The Hitchhiker, the implication being that Freddy’s presence is somehow blurring the line between Springwood and the nightmare world. It’s a neat concept ripe with lurid possibilities, such as the magic necklace in “Killer Instinct”, which can make violent daydreams come true. Alas, the first season of Freddy’s Nightmares: A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series: Port of Call: New Orleans takes the dream motif a bit literally, resulting in the same predictable plot cropping up again and again: regular Joe (or Jane) gets stressed about life; weird things start to happen; the poor sap realises it’s a nightmare and wakes up, but then dies immediately after because horror. Yawn.
Season two remedies this by extending the scope of Freddy’s Nightmares: A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series: Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar to include recurrent storylines about a new Springwood Slasher, a farcical bunch of cannibals, and various morbid occurrences that have less to do with dreams than Springwood’s slow descent into madness. All over the place tonally, these subplots live and die by the boldness of their concepts. As such, the worst thread involves a cursed loft where rejected scripts from Alfred Hitchcock Presents keep playing out, whereas my favourite centers on Freddy’s younger half-sister, who shares both his psychic aptitude and penchant for bloody murder. I wish more had been done with the girl.
However, my real complaint lies in the writers’ cynical approach to horror. A Nightmare on Elm Street stands out as a slasher franchise not just for its kooky villain and outlandish kills but also for its strong heroes. Sadly, no one ever makes it past the credits in Freddy’s Nightmares: A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, save for the monsters and psychopaths. This makes binge watching every episode a somewhat nihilistic chore, especially since most of the stories feel stretched by the halfway mark. Still, the anthology has its gems and may be worth checking out just to see Brad Pitt fighting off a demon Cupid near a piranha-infested Jacuzzi… As I mentioned, this one’s commercial appeal largely rests on our morbid curiosity.