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The Original Nightmare on Elm Street Trilogy Is Still Horror Perfection

Let's take a look back at Freddy Krueger's first three adventures, now airing on SYFY.

By Matthew Jackson
Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) holds a baby version of himself for A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child (1989)

In 1984, Wes Craven changed slasher movies forever with the release of A Nightmare on Elm Street and, by extension, the unleashing of Robert Englund's Freddy Krueger upon the world. At a time when the two most famous faces in the genre were two guys behind masks –– Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers –– Freddy was a breath of fresh air, a wild-eyed, wise-cracking monster with a human face and a twisted backstory to go with his remarkable killing prowess. Throw in a supernatural setup that made him the ultimate killer, and you've got a horror classic.

It's been nearly four decades since the first Nightmare, and Craven's original franchise launcher remains as frightening and exhilarating as ever. But it's not alone. Like so many other slashers, Freddy went on to get sequel after sequel, including two immediate follow-ups that stand today as some of the most intriguing and fascinating horror sequels ever made. Though it grew to be much more than a trilogy, those first three films in the original Nightmare on Elm Street run remain terrifying gold, and you can catch them all on SYFY this month. 

Why Now Is a Great Time to Revisit the Original Nightmare on Elm Street Trilogy

So, why do the films hold up so well? It's hard to say anything about the original movie that hasn't already been seen. A Nightmare on Elm Street is a masterclass in designing high concept, crafting the perfect villain for the center of the picture, and then executing everything to perfection. The kills are great, the narrative moves like a freight train and just keeps you guessing, and Craven's ability to merge reality with the nightmarish dreamscapes of Freddy's world means that you can never quite tell what's real and what isn't. That's scary enough, but then Nightmare adds the hook that even the things that aren't "real" can kill you in this story, putting it over the top. 

RELATED: Every Wes Craven Movie, Ranked

Yes, A Nightmare on Elm Street is horror perfection, and the law of diminishing returns sets us up to automatically believe that the sequels can never live up to the original masterpiece. While that's probably true on some level, writing off the sequels as a lesser narrative is selling them short, and it begins with a A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge. Made without Craven's involvement, and long considered an inferior sequel that leaned on camp a little too much, Freddy's Revenge has undergone a reappraisal in recent years as a queer-coded horror cult favorite, and it's easy to see why.

A poster for A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985) featuring Freddy Krueger and a bus.

The film follows Jesse (Mark Patton), a teen boy who moves into Nancy's (Heather Langenkamp) house from the first film, and finds that Freddy isn't quite dead. But beyond just lingering in Jesse's dreams, Freddy reveals in this film that he's actually capable of possessing a human house, pushing Jesse to the brink by putting him in some killer shoes. The metaphors there are quite fruitful, but even if you don't want to dig into all the subtextual weirdness this film has to offer, you can still enjoy its darkly comic tone, its inventive kills, and some of the most potent imagery in the entire franchise. Plus, to enrich your experience, you can go and seek out the documentary Scream, Queen: My Nightmare on Elm Street, about the impact the film had on Patton and how that's evolved over the years.

RELATED: Horror Icon Robert Englund on His 50-Year Career and Being a "Survivor" of Horror History

Which brings us to my personal favorite horror sequel of all time, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Made with Craven's involvement as a producer and story crafter, the film features Langenkamp returning as an adult Nancy to help some troubled kids who are all feeling the pull of their nightmares, as Freddy plagues a mental institution with ties to his rather twisted origins. The hook? Each of these kids has the ability to morph their dreams just like Freddy does, giving them the chance to fight back in ways that previous Nightmare heroes never could. That premise provides plenty of room for exploration, including new kills –– my personal favorite in the entire franchise is in this film, and it involves Freddy controlling a kid like a puppet on strings –– and new wrinkles in the mythology. There's an expansiveness to it, a sense of growing the narrative that makes the film feel both fresh and, in its own way, reverent to the original. It's not trying to repeat anything that's come before, and that makes it loads of fun to watch.

So, if you're looking for a horror marathon to put together, consider the first three Nightmare on Elm Street films. They're a blast, whether you're seeing them for the first time or you're revisiting them as childhood favorites.

A Nightmare on Elm Streets 1-3 are now on SYFY. Check the schedule for more details.