Our ultimate guide to Nightmare on Elm Street

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Dec 14, 2012, 4:09 PM EST

This Friday a new version of the classic horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street slashes its way into theaters, proving once again the enduring power of the franchise that filmmaker Wes Craven created 26 years ago.

As a new actor, Jackie Earle Haley, prepares to take up Freddy Krueger's razor glove and fedora, we take a look back at the best and worst of the eight previous films that gave new meaning to the term "recurring nightmare."

What is it about these movies that we all love? What do we hate? (You may be surprised by some of the behind-the-scenes talent as well: Frank Darabont??)

Take a look. But don't fall asleep ...

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

A mysterious man in a red-and-green sweater targets Springwood's teenagers in their dreams. Written and directed by Wes Craven, starring Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, John Saxon.
Why It Works: Craven targets teen insecurities and combines them with familiar dream scenarios to create a compelling, creepy film.
Why It Sucks: Craven doesn't quite define Freddy's mythology, creating enough ambiguity in the final scenes to allow lesser filmmakers the chance to change it over and over again in the sequels.
Why It Matters: Created one of the '80s most iconic movie monsters and took slasher films into a new realm—the subconscious. Also established Englund as the definitive Freddy Krueger.

A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)

Freddy returns to haunt the next family that moves into the house from the original film. Written by David Chaskin, directed by Jack Sholder, starring Jesse Walsh, Clu Gulager, Englund.
Why It Works: In addition to crafting one of the most homoerotic horror movies of all time, the film showed how Freddy could extend his influence outside the world of dreams.
Why It Sucks: Other than the location, it has nothing to do with any of the other installments in the series.
Why It Matters: It proved that Freddy was a viable franchise, no matter the quality of the film, and encouraged distributor New Line to pour more resources into resurrecting the character for additional episodes.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

Nancy returns to tussle with Freddy after he aims to expire the last children of the Elm Street parents, all of whom have been institutionalized. Written by Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell from a story by Craven and Wagner, directed by Russell, starring Langenkamp, Craig Wasson, Patricia Arquette, Englund.
Why It Works: Connecting parts 1 and 3, the film offers a cathartic payoff for Nancy while creating a larger world for Freddy to play in.
Why It Sucks: In killing Nancy off in this film, it allowed future films to throw new, random people into the mix, requiring constant retroactive continuity from here on out.
Why It Matters: It set the stage for Freddy's eventual transformation into more of a jokester than a deadly killer, which created some interesting kills but made him more of a metaphorical than literal cut-up.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)

Alice becomes the guardian of "good dreams" after Freddy is resurrected for more dreamtime mayhem. Written by Brian Helgeland, Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat, directed by Renny Harlin, starring Lisa Wilcox, Englund.
Why It Works: There's an interesting coming-of-age story in Alice's trajectory as she adopts the powers of her fallen friends, and the finale features a dream-reality loop that hints at the series' possible deeper exploration of its themes.
Why It Sucks: It only hints at those deeper themes, instead opting for a more glib and gross series of deaths that have less than ever to do with the original ideas behind the films.
Why It Matters: Although it received only mixed reviews, this was the second-highest-grossing film in the series after Freddy vs. Jason and ensured that Freddy would live on for several more years.

A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child (1989)

Alice's baby becomes the vessel for Freddy to resurrect himself one more time. Written by Leslie Bohem from a story by John Skipp, Craig Spector and Bohem, directed by Stephen Hopkins, starring Wilcox and Englund.
Why It Works: There's an actual interesting conversation about abortion (of all things) in the film; meanwhile, Freddy enjoys some of the series' most memorable kills.
Why It Sucks: What the film spent in set design it saved in acting salaries, producing unconvincing performances in a story that essentially existed for the gore.
Why It Matters: This was the official point at which the films gave up on the idea of Freddy's victims needing to sleep, producing installments that were all about the aggressive set pieces and Freddy's "imagination" rather than anything resembling a real movie.

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)

Freddy returns for seemingly no reason to wreak havoc and reunite with his long-lost daughter. Written by Michael De Luca from a story by Rachel Talalay, directed by Talalay, starring Lisa Zane and Englund.
Why It Works: Exploring Freddy's motivation is an interesting idea—the concept that he's taking revenge on the people who took away his own child.
Why It Sucks: The film's hamfisted acting, directing and storytelling create sympathy for Freddy's plight and then undermine it, over and over again; also, the finale is literally a scuffle where Freddy and a potential victim roll around on the floor arguing over the fate of his glove.
Why It Matters: The film provided the final nail in Freddy's coffin, at least in terms of the jokey, unscary iteration that strayed so far from the character in the original film.

Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)

The original cast and crew return after Freddy's spirit revives itself in the real world. Written and directed by Craven, starring Englund, Langenkamp, Miko Hughes, Tracy Middendorf.
Why It Works: A meta-movie predecessor to the Scream series, it merges mythmaking and monster movies with startling effectiveness.
Why It Sucks: How are you going to have a movie like this where Robert Englund and Freddy never come face to face?
Why It Matters: A fitting and fascinating completion to Wes Craven's collaborations on the franchise and a satisfying refinement to the mythology that essentially allowed for future interpretations to exist.

Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

Freddy Krueger brings Jason back from hell to wreak havoc on the teenagers of Elm Street. Written by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, directed by Ronny Yu, starring Englund, Ken Kirzinger, Monica Keena, Jason Ritter.
Why It Works: Yu turns the title bout into a MMA spectacular thanks to wire work and a terrifically agile sense of humor.
Why It Sucks: Too much of both monsters together, but not enough of either one alone.
Why It Matters: Using a few small cues from previous films, including the sleep-drug Hypnocil, the filmmakers tenuously connect this to the rest of the installments and establish—if nothing else—that people still want to see Freddy haunt their dreams.

What's your favorite?

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