A machete plunges through a shuddering chest cavity. A quintet of blades slice across a screaming face. A teen’s body withers to the floor, in an ever-increasing pool of blood. These images, emblazoned into my mind, are the remnants of my most recent binge experiment: rewatching every single Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th movie in a month. I decided this would be a most excellent way to celebrate Halloween. It’s been a while since I’ve sauntered all the way down Elm Street, and taken a stroll around the blood-soaked shores of Camp Crystal Lake, so why not revisit them? It sounded like a good idea at the time, but turned into my own personal movie marathon nightmare. In total, I’ve watched 20 movies; 11 Jasons, 8 Freddys, and 1 Freddy and Jason. That’s 31 hours of horror across a span of 28 days. What happened? Read on to find out…
Day 1 – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
Things commence with A Nightmare on Elm Street – a strong start. Wes Craven understands the recipe for what makes a slasher scary. The tale of a child murderer who stalks through the nightmares of the Elm Street children, we are thrown into this world through the experiences of Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) and her teenage pals. Craven knows what makes a horror film effective, and it’s not simply a mass of blood and guts. But let’s not pretend there isn’t a lot of both – don’t forget, this is the film where Johnny Depp gets sucked into a bed, only to reappear seconds later as a crimson geyser.
The sheer quantity of iconic horror visuals is astounding: Freddy’s clawed glove rising in the water as Nancy takes a bath, Freddy, pushing through the wall above Nancy’s bed as she sleeps. This movie makes it clear that Freddy is someone to fear. He’s a terrifying figure, a destroyer of dream worlds, an emblem of everything that disturbs us that we refuse to acknowledge, until it’s pushed into our subconscious, ready to strike out and slaughter us when we least expect it.
It’s a terrific movie that grows better with every viewing. I was, this time around, rather shocked by how poorly lit Elm Street is. I mean, with such a lack of decent street lighting, it’s no wonder everyone’s collapsing into trash cans while trying to escape the boogeyman.
The most enjoyable realisation: Nancy is clearly the inspiration for Home Alone’s Kevin. She is damn resourceful when it comes to trapping Freddy during the finale. Oh, and is anyone else bewildered by what the hell happens to Nancy’s mom at the end? One minute she’s tussling with Freddy, and the next she’s being lowered into the bed, the base all backlit, like bloody Liberace coming on stage. Very odd. And with one Freddy flick down, I’m eagerly pushing onto the next.
Onto A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, and boy, do I like this sequel. As follow-ups go it’s hardly loyal to the mythology laid out expertly by Craven (few of the sequels are) but I can’t help it. I am drawn into its batshit machinations! It’s got a (justified) reputation for flagrant homoerotic agenda, and it’s still a hoot even though these elements fail to gel with the rest of the story. Jesse hunts down his gym teacher for a talk, and casually chats to him whilst he’s kitted out in leathers at a gay S&M bar. Oh, and in case you didn’t realise the gay gym teacher was gay (did I mention he was gay?) he dies by having all the balls thrown at his face – tennis, football, baseball – you name it, he’s pummelled with ‘em. He’s then tied up and gets his ass whipped with a towel until it bleeds. At what point does undertone become overtone?
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Overall, Freddy’s Revenge reeks of cash cow aspirations, a project quickly rushed into production after the success of the first. It throws in a clutch of interesting twists to the rules, wherein the main character Mark actually becomes Freddy, and blacks out while Krueger takes control of his body, like a murderous Tyler Durden.
In that sense, it contradicts Craven’s lore – that Freddy only has power in the dream world – by letting him kill in the real world. But it’s packed with so many ridiculous details I don’t care. Watching Jesse morph into Freddy? Gross. And yet, I can’t take my eyes away! On that front, I’m flabbergasted to learn that Freddy can drive a stick shift. Who knew? If that bizarre revelation wasn’t enough, one character attempts to stop him by, get this, throwing a doily at him. I’m not sure what to think of this at all. I’m assuming it’s comedy genius because it made me laugh my balls off at this so-so sequel.
Day 2 – Friday the 13th (1980) and Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
Hardly a unique premise – it doesn’t have to be, really – Friday the 13th is still a somewhat fun ride. This first foray into the world of the killer Voorhees family steals pieces here and there from slasher pics past, and glues them all together into its own tribute. Most of the sequels follow the formula established here: Camp counsellors are picked off one by one by a mysterious figure stalking them through the empty campsite. There’s nothing complicated about it. It’s more of a classic jump scare slasher than the Freddy films, which feel like grimy monster movies. It’s not scary, but there are certainly some creepy moments. Brenda, in her bed, in her isolated cabin, through the pouring rain, hearing a muffled cry of “Help me!’ off-screen…
What sticks out is how much the killer remains out of shot until the final reveal, concealing their physical appearance – which makes sense, given the twist that it’s Mrs Voorhees committing the murders. Watching a grieving mother in a chunky baby blue knit go berserk wouldn’t have packed the same punch as a looming six-foot maniac in a hockey mask.
I hit play on Friday the 13th Part 2 straight after the first. A mistake? Possibly. The opening ten minutes are a recap of the finale from the first film. As in, it’s the exact same footage replayed. The proper opening sequence takes 35 minutes and it’s only then that we’re introduced to a fresh batch of counsellors to be offed. The movie is almost the same as its predecessor. Great. I find I am already squirming by the beat-by-beat repetition of the plot: will there be a bizarre twist? As it turns out, yes.
Earlier on the film Jason kills Muffin, a white terrier, who then reappears at the end. Is there a Patrick Bateman-esque quality to his kills? Did they not really happen – OR was Muffin merely doing the best ever “play dead” by a dog in the history of cinema? I’m baffled but thankful that my mind had something to ponder during this double feature.
Day 3 – Friday the 13th Part 3 (1982)
I return to the marathon, a couple of days away having reinvigorated me to the point where several Jason movies back-to-back sound like a total riot. On that note, I move onto the third. I’m hoping Friday the 13th Part 3 veers away from the formula of the first two… and I’m splat out of luck. Like Part 2, it begins with, yep, you guessed it, a lengthy recap of the previous film’s ending! However, I am satiated by a quirk to this entry. See, this was filmed in 3D, so it’s not all bad. There are lots of shots with items “popping out” of the screen, including:
- A snake darting from a cage
- A yo-yo going up and down
- A garden fork stabbing into a victim’s stomach and poking through their back
- A speargun jabbing at the screen
- And the best of all: Jason squeezing a guy’s head until his eyeball pops out at the camera
Having sat through three Friday the 13th movies in 24 hours, the part of my brain that enjoys the novelty of horror has gone to sleep, and I suspect I need some Freddy to rouse me from this repetitive slumber. They are formulaic in every way: characters, structure, deaths… apart from the novelty 3D moments from Part 3, everything is identical.
But let’s not be all doom and gloom about it, though. I’d have to say, at this stage, only a few flicks in, I’m now looking forward to the seemingly-random, utterly bizarre choices made throughout these franchises. Forget standard cat scares, this third film boasts a DUCK SCARE. And the opening sequence? Nevermind having a scantily-clad teen, this is the first movie in the rewatch that features a lengthy sequence of a woman in rollers hanging out the laundry. Seriously, it goes on for ages. And with that, I need a lie down….
Day 9 – A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Another few days away (to centre myself, of course!) and I’m returning to the Nightmare franchise for its third instalment. This film starts with a baking montage (opens in new tab) during the credits. Yes, really. Dream Warriors earns the honour of being the most beloved Freddy sequel. Wes Craven worked on the story and co-wrote the script (though his original idea would get backburned until New Nightmare – more on that later), and the ingenuity shows.
A bunch of youngsters from Elm Street, kept at a psychiatric hospital, learn that they are the last remaining children of the parents who originally killed Freddy. Their group sessions become survival practice as Nancy returns as an intern to help them control their dreams and fight off Freddy. Speaking of, Heather Langenkamp’s hair, and its inability to obey the laws of basic physics, is deserving of its own YouTube channel. I never got massively into the Freddy films as a kid, but if I had, I’d likely have been crushing hard on Nancy as she remains a resolute ass-kicker who refuses to take crap from anyone.
I took so many notes watching Dream Warriors. It’s a perfect slasher sequel that adheres to the rules laid out by Randy in Scream (opens in new tab). It deepens the mythology of Freddy, gives us a smidge more of his backstory (without it being an overload), introduces new characters we actually like, brings back an old character we love, and of course, has a slew of inventive kills. What I enjoyed the most was how all of those elements managed to be relayed most often through one-liners. These memorable sound bites are just some of my favourites:
- “Welcome to primetime, bitch!”
- “In my dreams I’m beautiful, and bad!”
- “The bastard son of a hundred maniacs!”
This is how you sequel, folks.
Day 10 – Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Alas, it’s not the final chapter, but the fourth film in a series of eleven. That in itself kind of removes a bit of the ‘sting’ to the finales of the Jason flicks: I know I’ve got another 27 to go, so it’s difficult to get invested in the hero’s battle against him at the end. Oh, and before you ask, yes, this one also starts with another lengthy recap of the previous film’s ending. I’m sensing a pattern here with these films, and it’s a pattern that’s making me want to snort gin. But thankfully, it gets disrupted by the addition of a character who persists over two sequels: Tommy Jarvis, played here by Corey Feldman.
While that’s exciting, The Final Chapter is another retread that barely does anything different. I’m desperate for a new quirk to Jason’s mythology or even a change in location. Anything. The most notable part for me is when Crispin Glover, aka Marty McFly’s dad, dies with a corkscrew to the hand followed by a hatchet to the face. Interestingly, at the climax, Jason receives a knife through the hand, a hammer to the neck, and THEN a knife through the eye all the way through his head. Tommy beats him repeatedly with a machete shouting “Die!” And yet? Jason lives. This is nuts as Jason is, hard to believe I know, still human at this point. What the deuce? I just. I don’t know. I need a lobotomy.
Day 16 – Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
Alright, while I’m not the biggest fan of A New Beginning, I have to take my hat off to those behind its conception. At least it’s a departure from the first four films. And big thanks to whomever decided to lose the lengthy recap at the beginning. Seriously. Thank you.
Jason isn’t the killer this time, it’s a copycat. And if the severe lack of gore in the previous two films were bothersome, then buckle up: this is overflowing with blood, and has more brutal deaths than you can shake a machete at. These changes – along with an uptick in female frontal nudity – while not exactly groundbreaking, are what the series needs at this point to keep things fresh. Another element is the addition of a couple of rednecks, who dispense with such stereotype-destroying one-liners as “You big dildo, eat yer fuckin’ slop.” Nice.
I’m aware at this stage of how the Friday the 13th series designs its plots: chuck in several random people, and tie them loosely together by the fact that they’re gonna get killed by Jason. Okay, I know, I know, what else am I expecting? What about a character or two that perhaps has a plan to stop Jason? Something that gives each film a groove, and not simply a series of arbitrary slayings? Perhaps I am thinking too much about this. I mean, they’re just mindless slashers, right?
Day 19 – Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives (1986)
If I may, I’d like to start this entry with a quotation taken directly from my notes about ten minutes in: “Holy shit, that’s Carl from Ghost!” A highlight for me during this rewatch has been spotting actors who I now know from other (better) films, in small cameos. Seeing Tony Goldwyn playing a random character in Jason 6 brings me much joy!
Is Jason Lives the best Jason sequel? I’d say yes. At this point I’m desperate for something, anything, to change. This follow-up is a glorious return to what made the first film such a blast, with an added splash of knowing winks and nods. This is the Jason flick that Scream writer Kevin Williamson says influenced his game-changing script.
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This is FUN. Jason gets resurrected, so now you know all bets are off. We are finally in the presence of the first proper zombie Jason. Maggots fall from him as he stalks his victims. That’s brilliant and all, and yet, it also brings some logistical queries. Jason’s corpse is remarkably durable for being so decomposed. How can he maintain his stamina to slay when he’s got rigor mortis to contend with? And, considering he’s now supernatural, what chance does anyone have of killing him? I mean, he was already impossible to kill before he was brought back from the dead. They’re in trouble now.
The entire flick has a feel of what I love about the horror genre; visual flair, well-drawn characters, a twist to what we already know, and an awareness that we’re watching a horror film without it being overt. And there are a number of characters who work together to try and stop Jason. The best moment – the moment which brought forth a hearty BNS (brief nasal snort) from me – has to be the opening title sequence, which is basically Jason Voorhees doing a James Bond impression (opens in new tab).
Day 20 – Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood (1988)
My fourth Jason movie in a row. After the pleasant surprise of the sixth entry, I’m hoping for a continuation of that flick’s creativity. The New Blood is an interesting sequel due to its origins. Originally planned as a Jason vs. Carrie crossover (!) the powers-that-be decided to retain some elements of that story… well, most of them, apart from Carrie White’s name. Jason isn’t just hackin’ and slashin’ in this one. Nope, he’s up against Tina, a woman with telekinetic abilities, who is friends with loads of teenagers and they’re at a camp and *snore*… Sorry. Nodded off there for a moment!
Alright, alright, so it’s not as boring as the earlier sequels, but it’s hardly breaking new ground. It does raise some questions for me, though. Namely, now that we’re onto the second film with Jason as a proper zombie, surely the campers would be able to smell him? At this point he’s a walking, rotting corpse that’s had one too many dips into a fetid old pond.
Second: where does Jason get all of his tools from? Axes, scythes, chainsaws are but three of his chosen implements. I’d hazard a guess and say they’re likely from the toolshed on site at the camp. BUT! Most of these unique instruments we simply haven’t seen before. This leads me to believe that in between slayings, Jason takes regular trips to Home Depot. That’s what my mind is telling me at this point as I’ve lost the will to try and conjure up better explanations for plot holes.
Day 21 – Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) and Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
My eyes! At this point, I’m growing increasingly desensitised to Jason’s exploits. Now onto his eighth killing spree and I’ve got to wonder, what does this all mean? Does the fact that each sequel is referred to as a “part” point toward it being a larger story, simply divided into chapters? Does the fact that I’m trying to make sense of a nonsensical franchise by its method of classification mean anything? Does anything mean anything anymore? WHO AM I?!
Bored of murdering camp counsellors, Jason hightails it for Manhattan. Sort of. Catching a ride to the city on a cruise headed for New York – full of high schoolers, of course – most of the film takes place on a boat. The final twenty minutes occur in New York, which makes for a change of scenery, allowing for some amusing moments.
Striding past a bunch of street punks, Jason kicks their boombox. After they shout after him, he faces them and lifts his mask, scaring them. I quite like this as it does suggest that Jason evolves. Not loads, it’s not like he’s realised that senseless butchery isn’t okay. I just mean he’s learned that his face is enough to empty the most constipated of bowels.
A rooftop fight plays out just like the T-1000 vs. Sarah moment in Terminator 2, where she very nearly blasts him into the molten steel. In this instance, Jason takes punch after punch from a kid who almost knocks him from the roof (opens in new tab). By far the one thing that made me somehow agree to keep going with this marathon, was the fact that Jason roars like an elephant when toxic waste is thrown at him. But to be fair, who wouldn’t?
Moving along…. Jason Goes To Hell. Damn. The only Jason flick from the 1990s reinvigorates the gasping franchise through utter insanity. Forget everything you know about the series. Hell, forget everything you know about life. This is Jason channeled through Cronenberg with a giant helping of soul slugs. Starting at Camp Crystal Lake, a fake-out opening sequence murder turns out to be a ploy: the FBI captures Jason, blows him up and carts his corpse off to the morgue. *record scratch* WHAT? How is Jason back at Camp Crystal Lake? Didn’t he die in a sewer? And why does Jason now have a mullet now? WHAT DOES ANY OF THIS MEAN ANYMORE?
Oh well, there are far more bonkers things to come. Where was I? Oh yes. A gigantic slug-worm turd emerges from Jason which then enters a morgue attendant, turning him into a zombie of sorts. It’s a bit like Shivers, except no-one is having insane sex. Whomever has the slug-worm turd inside them turns into Jason. His “essence” inhabits their bodies. And that’s just for starters.
I’m so enthralled by how different this sequel is to the rest, that I’m less concerned with whether or not it’s actually any good. Duke, a bounty hunter pursuing Jason, continues to spew out exposition at anyone who will listen, telling them that “only through a Voorhees can he be reborn.” In short this means the Jason-turd-worm has to find someone he’s related to in order to properly come back to life.
There’s a lot of this previously-unknown lore that conveniently wends its way into dialogue. It’s clunky, it’s daft, but (thank God) it’s entertaining. I mostly dug picking out the nods to other movies. The Necronomicon from Evil Dead is in the Voorhees house, hinting at how Jason may have been brought back. We see Freddy’s glove at the end, sowing the seeds for the crossover to come. Someone references “the old Myers place” as a nice reference to Halloween. It goes to show that while Scream does self-referentiality far better than any other horror, it wasn’t the first to name drop.
Day 23 – A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
23 days in and I’m longing for change. I’m bored of the same old deaths, the same old snippy one-liners. I need novelty. Creativity. I need a film with a vaguely coherent plot.
While The Dream Master fails on that last point, it does at least deliver on the novelty front. The sole survivor of the previous sequel, Dream Warriors dies early on, transferring her power to the new final girl, Alice. That also means that Alice is able to acquire the skills and talents of her friends as they die. I find myself thinking about what new talents I’d like to acquire and when I look up there’s a character being turned into a cockroach, put into a miniature roach motel, and then stamped on. I’m so emotionally drained by now, I can see how being turned into a cockroach and squished to death might be a blessed relief.
It is neither scary or gory, and I’m at a loss as to who thought this was a worthwhile avenue for a once-horrific figure like Freddy.
Day 24 – A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989), Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991), and Jason X (2002)
Starting the day with The Dream Child, the fifth Freddy flick picks up with Alice, who is now pregnant, and surrounded by friends. I don’t get it – didn’t they all just die? Well, I’ve no time to waste wondering about how a character has gained loads of new really close friends, as there are far weirder things happening. Such as Freddy being reborn through a dream of his mother giving birth to him. I think? At this point, the backstory and desire to change the rules of the series trump any desire for quality. It all feels so convoluted, so fractured, I’m making notes like “00:53 – fucked-up plant pot.” I don’t even know what my notes mean. Freddy then attacks Alice through her baby’s dreams. I think?
Ah well. I’m onto the last of Freddy’s solo movies in the main series continuity, The Final Nightmare. I don’t know what the hell is happening. Freddy has killed every kid in Springwood, and a batch of new teenagers wind up heading back there with a doctor in tow. It quickly twists and turns, throwing in – as most of these later sequels do – a lot of extra backstory and changes to the series’ lore. We now learn that when Freddy kills someone, they no longer exist. As in, they’ve never existed. And we also discover that Freddy is kept going by “dream demons” and the only way to kill him is to drag him from that world into the real world. Great. I’m so exhausted now that it could turn out Freddy makes sandwiches for the U.S. Olympic ski team and I wouldn’t bat an eyelid.
Rounding out this day with Jason X was a terrible idea. The 10th entry into the Friday the 13th canon… it’s just… bloody awful. It begins with Jason at a Crystal Lake facility. Huh? I thought Jason was in hell? I’ve learned to stop worrying about timelines or continuity and just go with the flow during this marathon. I mean, sure, this flick at least tries to do something new by sending Jason not only into the future but also into space, but different doesn’t always mean better. I am impressed by its ambition, however. Aliens crossed with Halloween, is what it feels like it’s going for without coming close to either. At this stage in the rewatch, I too am like this franchise, desperate for anything at all to revive me. Someone pass me the oxygen. Please.
Day 25 – Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
New Nightmare scared me as a kid and it scares me now. This version of Freddy, redesigned by Craven to resemble his original vision for the character, truly terrifies me. He exists in the real world, he stalks the actors from the movie… what’s to say he can’t launch from my closet, a bustle of blades and bloodlust (opens in new tab)?
Rewatching it now, after some years, it’s still the best sequel following Dream Warriors. Well, except it’s not technically a sequel as it exists outside of the series’ official continuity. But who cares? Sequel, reboot, standalone; whatever you want to call it, it’s a breath of fresh air. Considering we don’t see Freddy until well over an hour into the film, I don’t really care, as the entire time before that, Craven is slowly building tension, letting it simmer away until your nerves are shot.
One thing is for certain: I remain a Langenkamp fan and after this, I want to see her play Nancy one last time.
Day 26 – Freddy vs. Jason (2004)
A solid story, a decent plot, and an epic fight scene between two horror icons. What more could you want from a film called Freddy vs. Jason (opens in new tab)? I loved this at the time of release, and guess what? I love it now. Perfect to break the monotony of all those Jason sequels, perfect to round out the main continuity portion of this marathon. Yep, it’s reboots after this, so I soak it all up: the over-the-top death scenes, the cheesier-than-Roquefort dialogue… the lot.
This entire movie marathon slog has made me realise that I don’t want much from a slasher. A dash of originality (the way Freddy brings Jason back so the Springwood kids will become scared of him), some unusual death scenes (the bedfold!), a believable cast, and a villain that provides genuine terror and mayhem. This feels like a good way to wave goodbye to the main chunk of this madcap marathon, this test of my stomach and sanity. I find I’m rather sad to say goodbye to Robert Englund’s Freddy.
Day 28 – A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) and Friday the 13th (2009)
A double reboot final day and I’m done. Four hours or thereabouts and this entire thing is over. First up is the 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street (opens in new tab), which I’d forgotten about, and it’s easy to see why. From the opening credits, the intention is crystal clear: this is a serious film. But who wants that?
The later Freddy sequels veered too far into self-parody and campy riffs that diluted what made Krueger so fear-inducing, so I get the desire to reinstate him as the dream demon. But this? It’s too earnest. The biggest problem I have is with Krueger himself. He’s not played by Robert Englund, he’s played by Jackie Earle Haley. And while his performance isn’t bad, per se, he’s simply not Freddy. His voice, his register, his cadence… None of it lands quite right. Topped off with a backstory that’s more harrowing than scary, this is the only film in this entire rewatch that has made me feel like I need a chemical scrub… of the soul.
Honestly, the best moments are pure pastiche. Stolen from the first film we have:
- The glove rising from the water
- Freddy stretching the wall above Nancy’s bed
- A corpse being dragged along the floor in a body bag
The only memorable visuals are Craven’s, which makes me miss him all the more. We may get a Scream 5 but it won’t be his. Anyway, before I get too misty-eyed, I’ve got one more to go…
The Friday the 13th (opens in new tab) reboot. It continues the story and exists in the same world as the original film, yet it’s described as a remake of the first four outings. I refuse to be bothered by specificities at this point. 90 minutes and I’m going for a walk (albeit, probably not in the woods). This is a slicker, more resourceful Jason than we’ve seen in previous entries. He’s almost a survivalist, creating a perimeter safety system that sounds whenever someone enters his space. I like this aspect, and the fact that this Jason can move. No bumbling around, this guy runs. Jason himself receives a terrific makeover, but the interchangeable cast of gorgeous twenty-somethings, all lined up to get sliced and diced, don’t receive the same treatment. It’s an okay reboot, but I’m just so grateful that all of the screaming has come to an end.
After 28 days, it’s over. I’m not sure what to make of either franchise now. Condensed into such a short space of time, my mind is a clatter of death cries and pained expressions. What stands out the most surprises me; how tiresome it all became. Watching the same plot again and again, day after day, with little variation – that’s what wore me out, making me feel less excited and more exhausted. I’m eager to see either Freddy or Jason return in the same vein as Michael Myers with this year’s Halloween (opens in new tab) – a new, reinvented sequel flooded with that creativity the originals had. Right now, I find myself yearning for something altogether different. Something less stabby. So excuse me while I binge the hell out of Gilmore Girls.