Back around Halloween, Chiller aired a marathon of Freddy’s Nightmares, the Nightmare on Elm Street TV show from the late 80’s. My friend Leah, who has better cable than me, was kind enough to DVR it for me. When we went back and looked at all that had recorded, we realized that we have 36 of the 44 episodes. Since I was too young to catch it during its initial run, I’ve only seen a couple of episodes that I’ve found on video. Being the Freddy fan I am, I have decided to go back and watch them all. You, my lucky and wonderful readers, get to go along for the ride.
First, a little background is in order. Freddy’s Nightmares was an anthology series that aired in syndication from October 1988 until March 1990. It told stories of the residents of Springwood, Ohio, the setting of the films. Krueger himself only appears as a character in a couple of episodes. His main role is basically the show’s Crypt Keeper or Rod Sterling. He introduces the stories and comments on them throughout the episodes. Each episode is divided into two stories, with the second loosely centered upon a supporting character or storyline from the first. This series featured directing and acting by quite a few people who would go on to become notable later in their careers. I’ll talk about them when we get there. The series also has a reputation for varying widely in quality. In the documentary Never Sleep Again, Bob Shaye, executive producer of the series (as well as the NOES films) said “...by the tenth one they were pretty miserable, and I stopped paying attention.” Well, I’m five episodes in, so it appears it’s going to be an interesting ride. So, without further ado…
Episode 1: No More Mr. Nice Guy
What a brilliant idea for the pilot episode; tell the story of Freddy’s trial and burning. A Nightmare prequel! Not only that, but it was directed by the great Tobe Hooper. Freddy sits in a confinement box, his face shadowed, cackling as the prosecutor (played by Ian Patrick Williams of Reanimator, Terrorvision, and Dolls) shows pictures of his victims to the jury. It seems, however, that Freddy was never read his rights, and is released on that technicality. A mob consisting of the lawyer, the cop who arrested him (whose daughter was a Freddy victim who got away), and the parents of the other victims track him back to his boiler room home and burn him alive. Pretty familiar story. It was told effectively though, even if it contradicts some of the story from the films. You can definitely tell this was a low budget TV project. It did, however, give us a rare look at Robert Englund in the iconic hat, sweater, and glove without the makeup. This episode made me think about how incredibly cool a Nightmare prequel movie could be given a good budget and without the restrictions of 80’s network TV. I would love to see a flick about Freddy’s pre-dream demon murders, trial, and torching. Hell, those scenes were the only saving grace of that god-awful remake. Alas, I doubt that will ever happen, but this is a great episode and, as far as I know, the only one to actually take place within the lore of the films. Plus, apparently Freddy had an ice cream truck. How cool is that?
Episode 2: It’s A Miserable Life
This is an interesting episode directed by Tom McLoughlin (Friday the 13th 6) that doesn’t go so much for scares as for dark comedy and sheer weirdness. John Cameron Mitchell, yes, Hedwig himself, is Bryan, who wants to leave Springwood but is stuck at his family’s burger joint. He dreams about strange interactions with his parents, who don’t want him to leave the family business, his friends, and his girlfriend Karen, played by Friday the 13th 7’s Lar Park-Lincoln. He also dreams about a mysterious motorcycle riding man who shoots him through the drive through window. When the biker guns Bryan and Karen down in reality, she is taken to a hospital whose treatment methods are, to say the least, bizarre. The plot is disjointed and plays quite a bit with the audience, never really letting us know what is reality and what is a dream. The most frightening thing about this episode is the burger jingle that gets stuck in your head way too easily. You’ll find yourself singing “Chew me, eat me, you can’t beat me” hours later. Overall, this is a more comical episode, but it is definitely a fun one and notable to horror fans for the Friday the 13th connections.
Episode 3: Killer Instinct
Pretty good episode directed my Mick Garris (Psycho 4, The Sand, Quicksilver Highway) and starring Lori Petty, star of Tank Girl, Route 666 and, yes Leah, A League Of Their Own. Lori is a track star who recently lost her mother and is being eclipsed by a new girl, who also wants her man. The coach gives her a good luck gem that belonged to her mother. When she stares at it and envisions something, it happens. This allows her to win the race, as well as accidentally maim some people in the process. Her rival steals the gem, uses it to kill Lori mid race (hilarious flying head alert) and later realizes that the gem is much more than she bargained for. The plot of this one is decent, though this type of story has been done before many times. This episode features a deli slicer finger chopping that is surprisingly gory for 80’s TV, as well as a couple of zombies. Watch for Bob Shaye’s cameo in the funeral scene. There is a shot at the end of the episode of Freddy licking the gem as he dangles it from one claw that is vaguely sexual and somewhat disturbing. I enjoyed this one.
Episode 4: Freddy’s Tricks and Treats
The parade of horror heavyweight directors continues as Ken Wiederhorn (Shock Waves, Return of the Living Dead 2) directs my favorite episode so far. It’s Halloween in Springwood, and Marsha, played by a very young Mariska Hargitay of Law and Order SVU fame, is a medical student cramming for her anatomy test. When she retires to the autopsy room to do a little hands on studying, Freddy starts to torment her, driving her nearly insane with visions of her overbearing, deceased grandmother and awakening cadavers. She begins some experimental therapy involving recording her dreams onto videotape (yeah, I know, just go with it) led by Zach, another student. Freddy continues to stalk her dreams as she draws Zach into her nightmare world. This episode is outstanding. Mariska does an excellent job, making me wish that she had done more horror work. This is the first episode since the pilot to actually use Freddy as a character, making this episode feel much closer to the films than the other episodes. There are some pretty good splashes of gore in the autopsy room scene. It all ends with Freddy delivering the immortal, brilliantly ridiculous line “Stick that in your VCR and suck on it.” Um, what? It doesn’t get any better than that. All in all, this is the best episode so far and it’s gonna be tough to top this one.
Episode 13: Deadline
Carson Daly. Fred Durst. Regis Philbin. John Cena. M. Night Shamwow. These are some of the names on my “I want your head on a silver platter” list. I now have a new one to add, Jill Donner. Who is Jill Donner you ask? She was the writer of this trainwreck of an episode. Jill Donner is responsible for making my brain hurt. Jill Donner must die. Anyway, it looks like episodes 5-12 didn’t record. It also looks like Mr. Shaye was right, this is pretty miserable. Part one of the episode involves a high school kid who has a summer job writing obituaries for the local newspaper, but gets trapped in dreams placing him in each of the deceased’s places. It includes the removal of the worst fake tattoo I’ve ever seen, a stupid board game come to life, and some of the worst integration of stock footage in history. That stuff may not be Jill Donner’s fault, but I’m still pinning it on her. The second half is about…well…I don’t have the slightest idea. Apparently one of the girls who was friends with the boy from the first half has a new boyfriend who may or may not exist, her two best friends may or may not have died in a car crash, she may or may not be dead, her parents may or may not be trying to kill her, etc. Usually Nightmare stories don’t have much logic, but they at least have a certain “dream logic.” This just makes no sense whatsoever. It looks like they shot about 5 different episodes with different stories and just cut them together randomly. Add the migraine inducing incoherence of the story to the awful acting (the lead actress can’t even stop twitching when she’s supposed to be dead) and you have quite possibly the worst episode of ANY TV series. To paraphrase Dave Chappelle’s Rick James “I wish I had two more hands, so I could give this episode four severed thumbs down.” At least there’s no way the episodes can go downhill from here. I hope. Damn you Jill Donner!
That’s the first 5 episodes of my Odyssey through Springwood. Two excellent episodes, two good episodes, and one steaming pile of crap. With the exception of Deadline, Nathan definitely says check ‘em out. What will the future hold for this series and your favorite reviewer? You’re just going to have to stay tuned to find out. I know, I hate cliffhanger endings too.