How Nightmare On Elm Street (Unintentionally) Ruined The Slasher Movies

Adding fantastic elements to the slasher formula made A Nightmare On Elm Street a huge hit, but also doomed the many Freddy Krueger imitators.

Despite (or because of) its disproportionate critical and commercial success, director Wes Craven’s film Nightmare on Elm Street was the slasher movie that essentially doomed the subgenre for a decade after its release. When the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise began in 1984, few viewers would have guessed how much of an impact Robert Englund’s irreplaceable Freddy Krueger would have on horror movie history. Sadly, while the original film remains a classic, Freddy also ended up unwittingly responsible for a series of cringe-worthy slashers that nearly doomed the entire subgenre.


In the early ’80s, most films in the slasher subgenre kept the paranormal elements of their stories in the background and explicitly left supernatural horror to Stephen King. There were slasher villains with supernatural abilities before Freddy Krueger, but more often than not their paranormal powers were limited to being absolutely impossible to kill. This was handy for producers who wanted the same knife-wielding villain to be cathartically killed at the end of every franchise installment, but always reappear in the sequel without any real explanation.

Related: Nightmare On Elm Street Movies Spoiled Freddy Krueger’s Backstory

However, Freddy Krueger mixed the fantastical reality-warping powers of Pennywise with the brutal and bloody efficiency of a standard slasher killer, and soon the subgenre was never the same again. The simple villains armed with machetes had come out as slasher throwers to produce more and more absurd and inventive monsters with magical origins and all kinds of powers. However, while Freddythe influence of has contributed to beloved genre villains like Candy and Chucky from Child’s play fame, it was also the conduit that led to some seriously silly additions to the subgenre. From Man ice cream to the years 1997 Jack frost (the horror of the killer snowman) to Rumpelstiltskin, the combination of fantasy elements and slasher horror made the Craven film such a success and also spawned some of the less scary entries of the subgenre in the decade that followed.

The Pre-Nightmare On Elm Street Slasher formula was simpler

Halloween 1978 Michael Myers Bannister Knife

From director John Carpenter’s classic Halloween in imitation of the 1980s Friday 13 even to the first proto-slashers like Bob Clark’s Black christmas and Chainsaw Massacre, all of the early films in the subgenre followed the same simple formula influenced by Giallo. The killer was invisible and barely spoke (if at all), making him more of a ghostly presence than a personality. They were very bodily when it came to ripping and chopping heads, but the villains’ mute and masked status meant their personalities and origin story largely remained a mystery. With the arrival of Freddy Krueger, the Nightmare on Elm Street the series changed that – but not necessarily for the better.

Nightmare On Elm Street presented the “Fantasy Slasher”

A Nightmare on Elm Street - Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger

Freddy was the huge hit that proved that fantasy can be combined effectively with the slasher horror subgenre. However, few of the many Nightmare on Elm Street the scams that quickly followed the success of the original and its sequels managed to capture the balance between silliness and fears that Craven nailed down. A dream-invading killer required much more suspension of disbelief than the standard towering, knife-wielding slasher, and while some slashers featured supernatural elements, hardly any of them were as explicitly paranormal as Krueger. This was because Englund’s villain had to be truly vile for his powers to seem scarier than stupid – something few of his imitators realized.

Nightmare On Elm Street brings its killer to the fore

nightmare on elm street 4 beach scene

Freddy was at the center of the original Nightmare on Elm Street as much as Final Girl Nancy (although this is even more true in the sequels) and, while this approach did wonders for the Craven movie, it didn’t have as much success for the many other slasher fantasy films that have followed the lead of franchising. While Robert Englund’s next Strange things The Season 4 role proves his performance has earned its center stage, and the actor remains a horror icon even decades later, the film’s focus on Krueger gave rise to an unfortunate slasher tendency. . Soon, films attempting to ape FreddyThe success of tried to replicate his memorable paranormal killer and not his pace, set pieces, or fears.

Related: Nightmare’s New Entity Could Fix The Nightmare On The Elm Street Franchise

What the subsequent fantastic slashers went wrong

Man ice cream

Man ice cream, Elf, Dr Laugh, Jack frost, and Rumpelstiltskin (along with many other minor slashers released between the late ’80s and late’ 90s) all pointed out the biggest problem with most fantastic slashers. Unlike Freddy Krueger, their killers were more stupid than scary. Even Freddy became laughable in the Nightmare on Elm Street sequel and he was presented as a sadistic child murderer, so killers who started out as snow villains or sentient fairy tales from childhood had no chance of scaring the public accustomed to the antics of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees. that of Robert Englund Goldberg cameo proves that even a character portrayed as an unrecoverable monster could become a pop culture punchline, meaning that characters portrayed as snowmen had nowhere to go but on a comedic path.

This has led to films like Rumpelstiltskin and the Jack frost franchise attempting to replicate the nerdy comedy of later Nightmare on Elm Street films without ever gaining this humor via powerful scares. The most absurd moments of Freddy’s minor outings are easily forgiven (for some fans) thanks to the terrifying bloody settings of the original film, New nightmare, and Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. However, new series in the subgenre that started with wacky fantasy elements and attempted to revert to fear were doomed to fail.

The (rare) fantastic slashers that worked

Candyman 2021 proves Robert Englund can always return as Freddy Krueger's nightmare on elm street

One of the slasher villains who received as much critical acclaim as Freddy Krueger, Candyman, has proven this hypothesis again. Unlike a killer ice cream vendor and the medieval monster of Rumpelstiltskin, Candyman’s character had a tragic history and committed monstrous acts of cruelty (such as maiming a child) during his first film appearance. As such, he struck the right balance between incorporating fantasy elements and still being a vicious, terrifying horror villain. In contrast, most Nightmare on Elm Street-The fantasy slashers inspired by the 80s and 90s prioritized inventing a villain with novelty value and therefore found nothing scary about their absurd antagonists.

More: Explanation Of Wes Craven’s Canceled Nightmare Over Elm Street Sequels

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