Even the first A Nightmare on Elm Street, despite its modest budget, contained a great deal of ambitious makeup FX work. As the money increased and the series went on, the effects sequences became bigger and more elaborate each time. Some of the great makeup/effects artists of the early ‘90’s got their start on the Nightmare franchise.
The movies became more fantastical as they went on and this allowed for greater, more imaginative FX work. These extremely visual nightmare sequences were what set A Nightmare on Elm Street apart from contemporary slasher series. Whatever was possible in dreams could then in turn be dreamed up on the screen. Things got weirder, and gooier, until Wes Craven tried to bring everything back to its roots in New Nightmare.
From the second Elm Street until Freddy’s Dead, however, there was an escalation of incredible FX work, with each one trying to top the last.
The Transformation in Freddy’s Revenge
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is probably the most underrated sequel of the bunch. It’s not just a Freddy movie. It’s a possession story and, in some ways, a bit of a werewolf story too. Both of these elements become obvious in the scene where Jesse transforms into Freddy and kills his friend, Grady. This scene is also an embodiment of the film’s homoerotic subtext. Kevin Yagher’s effects are jaw dropping as Freddy literally tears his way out from inside Jesse.
Debbie likes to work out and is afraid of cockroaches. During the runtime of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, those are the only things we find out about her character. So it comes as a great shock when Freddy attacks her while she’s dreaming about working out and transforms her into a cockroach. It’s a very Kafka-esque sequence as Debbie slowly mutates into a bug and is then squashed in a Roach Motel. Not the most endearing death, but The Dream Master was more of a special effects movie than anything else.
Dan’s death is another strange mutation sequence. This one is much more reminiscent of Tetsuo, as it’s a strange integration of man and machine. Dan is riding a motorcycle, trying to get to Alice as fast as he can, Freddy then merges him with the vehicle creating a weird hybrid. The suit created for Dan in this scene is so elaborate that I felt like it was a bit of a waste, considering it could easily have been the starring monster in a low-budget horror affair instead of appearing for a few seconds in the fifth Nightmare movie.
Taryn’s death is one of the most iconic in the franchise. Even if the effects are relatively simple compared to some of the things that would come later, they’re absolutely cringe-worthy. Particularly if you have any kind of fear of needles. The track marks on her arm turning into little mouths, it’s a very disturbing brief scene. It was also hell to film because they built those mouths on the wrong arm without realizing it and then had to do it all over again while everyone stood around and waited.
Freddy’s Death in The Dream Master
Naturally, the most effects-heavy Elm Street has to give Freddy the biggest sendoff. Dream Warriors introduced the souls on Freddy’s chest, alluding that he is somehow made up of the souls of his victims, who become trapped in his form. The fourth entry took this idea and ran with it, as Freddy is torn apart from the inside out while his victims escape.
Philip’s death is another standout sequence in the franchise . He loves puppets, he sleepwalks, and one night he is turned into a sleepwalking puppet. This one is interesting because it combines practical and VFX shots. There’s Philip with his tendons being used as strings, which is a horrific and impressive practical effect, and then you have visual effects like walking through doors and the enormous Freddy in the sky above him, controlling the helpless teen and causing him to fall to his death.