This is the second of these installments. If you’d like to read my rankings of the Friday the 13th franchise click here and if for some reason you want to read my long-winded prologue as to why/when I started doing these feel free to click here.

I googled “A Nightmare on Elm Street” to check the date on the remake and saw a slew of “Nightmares ranked” posts from Buzzfeed to Nerdist and everything in between. I didn’t read any of them and as far as I know I’ve never read one before but I’ll check some of them out after I post this to see how my picks compare with others. As with Friday, if you disagree with my order that’s cool. I’ll be doing these lists with other horror franchises over the next few months as well as horror directors and certain adaptations, notes, etc.

Re-watching the Elm Street franchise after the Friday films revealed a few things. Though I loved Freddy as a kid/teen (“Freddy’s Dead” was one of the first R-rated horror films I ever saw and I loved it) the series has aged a bit worse than Friday particularly with the effects but also in some of the installments with the villain. Wes Craven came up with one of the most terrifying villain concepts ever—a child-killer with home-made knife gloves who worked as a school janitor that was burnt alive by the town parents only to come back as a dream demon who can kill you in your sleep—good lord, that is the stuff of nightmares)—but the character got more accessible and caricaturist with every installment. That said, there are still some good films in the batch and horror fans who came of age in the 1980s and ’90s will always be Krueger fans (or “ [his] children now”).

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9) A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

I would say it was pointless but I do in fact see the point of trying to update and remake Elm Street for a new generation with modern effects and solid acting. The Friday remake was actually pretty good (in my opinion). However, this one was terrible. It’s possibly the worst horror remake of the last 20 years. What a wasted opportunity.

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8) Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (part 6)

So this introduced me to Freddy and in some ways horror films…but my recent revisit of the film revealed that this did not age particularly wel at all. I find it especially funny that it was set in the future but everything in that future was concretely rooted in early 1990s technology and culture…for example the power-glove super Freddy? You do get some early Goo Goo Dolls on the soundtrack to remind you they were a hard rock act once. The timeless past of the dream demons prior to Freddy are played with a bit but the effects don’t do the concept justice. There are some solid scenes and it’s not a complete waste of a watch as I’ll likely give it additional views in the future, it’s just not the best of the series and Freddy is at his most ridiculous here (“wicked witch of the west”ing it?).

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7) A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
This one is hilarious and unique. You have an over the top male as the final girl and a metric ton of gay-subtext which the writer and director admitted as intentional later. You have some truly weird dream sequences. You have a lot of odd character choices and horrible (yet funny) dialogue. Then there’s the idea of Freddy needing to possess the protagonist and use him to come back, an idea not quite revisited later. You have an ending that just ends without being resolved in the follow-up. But you also have some dark, scary Freddy appearances—scarier than he would be in any of the follow ups other than “New Nightmare”. It is actually a solid movie and I can see how this one has garnered a cult following.

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6) A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child

Alice is perhaps a better protagonist than Nancy and here she makes her second appearance—and she’s tough. She fights back and fights hard. There are some of the best dream sequence effects of the series in this one and it may be the most under-rated film of the series.
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5) A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

Alice makes her first appearance and the story propels nicely forward from the extremely successful (and fan favorite) “Dream Warriors” predecessor. Dream Master and Dream Child fill in some Krueger history and chronology, feature a great protagonist and decent supporting cast and work very well as a double-bill. Solid 1980s horror installments done right.

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4) Freddy vs. Jason

Fans waited so long for this movie. For the most part it always seemed like a pipe dream that wouldn’t ever really come to fruition until it actually did. So after that infamous Freddy glove made its appearance in “Jason Goes to Hell” speculation about what the movie might entail went on for years—as such, nothing would live up to that anticipation. What did come out though was thoroughly entertaining. I didn’t include Freddy vs. Jason in my Friday list because as I said there, it seems much more like a Nightmare movie featuring Jason which it does. This movie basically picks up where “Freddy’s Dead” left off and now that Freddy is “dead” he’s looking to make his entry back into the world via Jason—using Jason to kill and raise the body count and fear on Elm Street so that kids think Freddy is back enough that he can actually come back. The more modern special effects and make-up did wonders for the ultimate battle between these two horror icons and the movie had its share of thrills, laughs, and fun. I still like the idea that at one point they planned two endings to air in different theaters each with a different victor.

 

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3) Wes Craven’s “New Nightmare”

Craven played around with meta-narratives quite a bit, most strongly here and later in Scream. New Nightmare is a blast—audiences get to see most of their favorites from the first film back playing themselves (including/introducing director Craven). Let’s face it, Heather Lagenkamp wasn’t the world’s strongest actress back in the day or later in this one playing herself but it’s still nice to see her back. The visuals were the best they had yet been when this one showed Freddy and he was certainly more frightening than he’d been in almost a decade. Good story through and through.

 

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2) A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Probably the best cast (Laurence Fishburne), best lines (“Welcome to prime time…”), and some of the best visuals (Freddy the puppeteer) the series had. The soundtrack was solid as well, so there’s little wonder why this is many fans favorite of them all. Freddy also made a definite move to wiseass mischief maker who dished out comic relief and one-liners though which set the tone for every appearance he made afterwards (until New Nightmare). But this one works by pretty much every count: bringing back Nancy for a bit, expanding on the mythology, and squaring Freddy off against a group of quality adversaries.

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1) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

In this instance (contrary to Friday) the original is by far the best of the batch. Wes Craven came up with a truly terrifying concept that was original and provided a twist on the slasher genre much different than what anyone else was doing. He assembled a mostly top-notch cast, shot it with the best effects he could muster (and there are really only 1-2 instances where said effects are overly dated), and gave horror fans a creative, unique, and original experience. The bath tub scene, the ceiling drag, the blurring of waking and dreaming life, this one is a true horror classic was truly unmatched by every successive film regardless of how fun those sequels were.

First off—Friday the 13th isn’t high-brow art just in case you’ve never seen it and were wondering. Let’s go ahead and acknowledge that this franchise isn’t about creativity or originality so much either while we’re at it. Watch any of the panel discussions and behind-the-scenes pieces on the first film and you’ll hear that producer Sean Cunningham simply saw that Halloween was doing big things at the box office and he wanted to rip it off and rush a film to theaters to strike while the iron was hot. Like Halloween (and all other 1980s slasher films) Friday the 13th stylistically and thematically owes a great deal to “higher” art of previous Italian horror and giallo pictures. But Friday was huge—it printed money and brought in crowds in droves for what was a modestly produced work yielding tons of cash. So then you had a string of sequels, some of which (to outsiders) seem to just rehash previous entries and others which do truly bizarre things (Jason in space, Jason in Manhattan). Despite it all, if you were young in the 1980s or ‘90s chances are you saw a Jason film or two fairly early in your horror exploration. If you’re a horror fan, even one with a preference for more “serious” horror films, chances are you have a soft spot for this franchise. It’s fun, it’s over the top, and it still has what it takes to surprise you with a scare. I recently watched the whole franchise from front to back over the span of a month or two. Some I’d seen before, some not for years, some never at all. Kicking off my series of horror film lists and articles I begin here by ranking the Friday films in order of my least favorite to my most favorite. Some observations I made while watching these about horror in general and cultural changes over decades made evident by genre films will be revisited in later articles.

Note—not listed in this ranking is “Freddy vs. Jason” as I view it more as an Elm Street movie featuring Jason than I do a true Friday film. I have included the 2009 remake, however.  Lots of folks have ranked these films prior to me and there are often serious horror-nerd arguments over differences of opinion on order. This is just my personal opinion and taste. If your opinion is different, that’s cool.

 

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11) Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

This is the worst entry in the franchise, period. There are a few entertaining moments, a couple of okay characters, and a few laughs but it’s the most boring of the batch and the problem contrary to what you might think if you haven’t seen it is not that they pull Jason out of his natural environment and throw him in one of the busiest sections of city in the world—it’s that in contrast to the title itself he’s not really in Manhattan! Well, at least not for long. The first 3/ 4 of the movie takes place on a cruise ship between Crystal Lake and Manhattan. Even after the ship docks in NY it takes even more time to actually make it to Manhattan so in total Jason spends about 10 minutes in Manhattan. There could actually be some good (if silly) story there but it was an opportunity wasted. Don’t even get me started on the “Jason reverts to childhood” effect. But—the heads-off KO was pretty cool.

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10) Jason X

This is the Jason in space movie and you know what? There are some fun things going on in this one. Uber-Jason, the flash-freeze kill scene, and the guest spot by David Cronenberg in particular. The plot is ridiculous and over the top but so what, it (mostly) works. There are some slow segments, several weak characters, and a complete disconnect with every other Friday movie to its fault though.

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9) Friday the 13th Part III

Some hold the first 4 films as the cream of the crop, even as horror classics. They are the “human” era Jason movies and all of the major ingredients are in place by III: stalking killer Jason, Camp Crystal Lake, counsellors, mayhem. This is also the one where Jason grabs his famous hockey mask and adorns it for the first time. All that said, this one had some of the weakest characters, silliest gags, and slowest parts. It was also “3D” in the old-school sense. It doesn’t work quite as well as the films surrounding it.

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8) Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning

Spoiler alert—the one without Jason. Who knows if this was to signal an entirely new direction or not but after the fact Jason was back in the follow-up. Despite no “real” Jason, this movie has its fair share of shocks, scares, and other such ‘80s slasher fare. Commentary from the director suggests the sexuality was much more troubling to the MPAA censors than the violence and as such it’s probably the goriest of the Friday movies until the censors stopped caring in “Jason Goes to Hell”.

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7) Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (pt. IX)

So a lot of people hate this one as it does mess with the mythology of Jason in ways never hinted at (or revisited) elsewhere. Some like it only for the exploding Jason at the beginning or the Freddy glove reveal at the end. The entire thing is entertaining though if you just roll with it and it has some of the best effects of the entire franchise. Jason possessing others as a force of evil is entertaining.

 

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6) Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood

This one is the “Jason versus the teen psychic who can raise her surprisingly un-rotted long dead father” one. There are funny moments in this one, a solid cast, and a surprisingly tense showdown with a final girl that fights back. Not to mention a rotten mask-less Jason in full-on battle mode.

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5) Friday the 13th (2009)

Largely hated by the hardcore fans of the original franchise, I say the 2009 remake worked surprisingly well, better by far than most of the ‘00s remakes (Nightmare, Last House, etc.). This one is basically a cliffs note version of the first 3 films updated for a new generation. Sure most of the characters are annoying though I think the final girl and the older brother looking for his lost sister both work just fine.

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4) Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives

 Jason lives–that he does I guess. This one is a fan favorite for good reasons. Jason brought back to life by lightning—bigger, rotting, tougher, cooler looking than ever—facing off with the only major adversary he ever had (Tommy Jarvis). Great shots, music, and solid acting with cool effects make this one of the best Friday movies in the canon. 

 

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3) Friday the 13th IV: The Final Chapter

They really meant to kill Jason in this one (maybe). This is with Corey Feldman as a (surprisingly un-annoying) child adversary fighting off (and ultimately “killing”) Jason.

What Friday fan can forget the gruesome eye socket slide of Jason to his “death” or Tommy’s psycho gaze in the hospital?

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2) Friday the 13th (1980)

So the original is not listed as my favorite. This is very rare for any series as you quite often get diminishing returns with each successive film in any series no matter how entertaining but for Friday I actually prefer the first sequel to the original (more on that below). The first one though—this is a genuinely entertaining slasher that was also a mystery of sorts in its time as the killer reveal wasn’t made until the end. There’s some acting chops on full display with Mrs. Vorhees in particular as she seeks her psychotic revenge. Not the best slasher of all time but one well worth watching a few times. The atmosphere of the entire series is at its best in the original and the final 10-12 minutes are among the most entertaining in slasher horror history.

 

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1) Friday the 13th Part Two

 What else can I say? Potato-sack masked Jason is the scariest of the bunch for me. This movie has everything an ‘80s slasher film needs. Jason is legitimately scary in this movie making his first adult (or arguably “real”) appearance. He’s a bit crafty, plotting, agile, and human. What’s not to love? There’s the revenge on the first movie’s final girl in the opening sequence. There’s Jason lying in wait and creepily rising off the bed to stalk his unsuspecting victim. Creepiest of all, there’s Jason with his macabre alter to his late mother. This is the best film of the franchise and the most traditionally “horror” of the batch. Jason would never be as scary as he was in this one and the story would never get better no matter how much more complex the successive scripts strove to be.

A few years ago at Halloweentime, I posted a blog with my 10 Favorite Horror Films. This year I have 2 new posts for the season, starting with this, 10 (of the) best horror novels. I’m stressing the “of the,” here, because there are several newer titles (past 10-15 years) that certainly would be outranked by certain classic horror works (some of which are also found here); this list is not “authoritative” or all-encompassing, it just consists of 10 novels that are pretty terrifying in different ways, most of which are pretty literate to boot.

10) The Store – Bentley Little

Little’s books are a bit preposterous. He takes everyday concepts–moving into a gated community, getting an insurance policy, and in this case, shopping at the newly opened mega-mart in town–and blankets them with creeping horror that becomes exceedingly worse until it reaches epic proportions. The build-up in such tales make these books page-turners, but with such constant “one-ups” in the narrative process, Little is never quite able to deliver an ending worthy of all that has come before it. I always close his novels feeling a bit let down because of that; but the process leading up to that ending usually makes it worth the read. That being said, “The Store” is my favorite work of his, probably because I hate Wal-Mart so much. The citizens of a small Arizona town are at first ecstatic over the newly opened “The Store” mega-mart, but as it begins to push out all of the local businesses and recruit all of the thus-unemployed workers, things get increasingly dark. The Store begins to ask odd demands of its workers and to provide dangerous products for its customers.

9) Endless Night – Richard Laymon

First off, I have to issue a warning– Laymon’s books are not for everyone. Despite a seemingly general consensus of support and acclaim from within the horror-writers community (from indie writers to King and Koontz), there’s a reason some critics labeled the work Laymon did as “churning porno-violence,” (as one memorable reviewer put it). At his worst, Laymon is not worth your time and probably not good for your soul (skip his short stories, most of which remove all wit to leave only mindless gore). At his best, though, as “Endless Night” showcases, Laymon can truly terrify you more than any other writer. “Endless Night” opens with a home invasion–a group of teenage boys armed with hatchets and spears, dressed in clothes made out of flesh break into a house for the sole purpose of murder. Teenage Jody, who is sleeping over with the daughter of the family, escapes with the family’s 12 year old son. From there, the story races along at practically break-neck speed, pausing only to focus on the back-story of the murder club and how they began (scenes which rank with the scariest of the book). “Endless Night” works where other Laymon books do not, partly because the protagonist is likable. Many of his works focus on leads that are so corruptible that you cease to want to root for them–when they turn out to be like their opponents, it’s simply too nihilistic. Granted, he wasn’t usually gifted in full character development, but it works well enough here to propel the story along. Another worthwhile book of his is “In the Dark,” a great mystery like scavenger hunt with a charming lady librarian as protagonist.

8. Horns – Joe Hill

I reviewed this book here earlier this year when it first came out. It’s a bit new to add to a “best of list,” but it’s so good and Hill is such a fresh talent that I can’t help myself. His characters work wonderfully, his setting seems real, the suspense keeps the pages turning, but the substance of the story is what sticks with you and keeps you pondering it afterward. A dark love story and fantasy, a Shakespearean drama in many ways–a really excellent horror novel that bursts out of the genre in the right ways but stays within in the right ways as well.


7) Off Season – Jack Ketchum

Ketchum’s “Off Season” and Laymon’s “The Woods are Dark” have a very similar history–both focused on a surviving tribe of cannibals that time forgot, living in America and encountering vacationers. Both books received cult praise but were faced with publishing difficulties resulting in edited and misshaped versions hitting the shelves in the states to lackluster reviews while the full versions (or closer approximations to them) hit in the UK and Europe, resulting in a bigger fanbase abroad for the authors while they were unknown at home. Both novels were eventually pieced back together and published as originally intended this past decade. Ketchum’s is  a much more fulfilling and terrifying work. Ketchum is a real writer, which makes his scares all the more scary. He works at the reader both viscerally and psychologically, getting into the inner workings of his characters.  I think more than any horror writer, Ketchum shares much more with classic noir and pulp writers like Raymond Chandler in that you get the sense that a literary writer is “slumming it” in the “lower” genres. His attention to detail sends each jolt over the top but not in a forced or non-genuine manner. “Off Season” presents us with a survival race from a group of people who should be unbelievable but who are painted so well that we feel they could very well exist. (I also recommend Ketchum’s “The Girl Next Door,” a book that will stick with you longer than you wish it to. Its tale of hideous evil done by “ordinary” people, mostly youth, would be hideous were it played for exploitation value, especially since the story is based on fact. Yet Ketchum works it into a non-glorifying meditation on evil–which is worse, that which is done or that which is allowed to happen without an effort to halt it? And what does that do that type of evil do to the community, those goaded into it, those victimized by it, and those that survive it?

6) The Hellbound Heart – Clive Barker

Barker was the standout talent to emerge from the aftermath of the “splatterpunk” movement of horror writers–those balls-to-the-wall, in your face, shocking, blood dripping writers. Barker has a mind built for dark fantasy and a talent that is equal parts literate and obscene. “The Hellbound Heart” at it’s 130 some odd pages was the inspiration for countless “Hellraiser” films due to the gripping imagery of the main baddies present here, the cenobites (of which “Pinhead” is one). “The Hellbound” heart is a great short novel with truly great (but horrific) prose. It’s about desire that knows no bounds, about betrayal, sin, corruption and violence. It’s a warning to those that chase the “highest pleasures” without grounding a foot in reality, and it’s a modern day Faustian fable of (practically) unequaled parallel.

5) Ghost Story – Peter Straub

I’ve babbled about “literate” qualities in quite a few of these entries, but Straub takes the cake in that regard–he’s truly like the old generation of horror writers, those who worked squarely in “literature,” whose work probed terror areas yet delivered artistic work and prose, developed characters, and cemented immaculate settings. This isn’t quick, flashy, or violent horror. This is creeping, supernatural revenge horror. It’s much more like Hawthorne than Koontz or Laymon. It’s a modern classic novel that just happens to be a horror novel that takes its time to settle into you for scares that come with thought.

4) Pet Sematary -Stephen King

I’ve argued for King’s literary respect before; I’ve always felt that, despite his glowing popular reviews and massive sells (and somewhat because of those factors), King has often been slighted by the more “upper-end” literary critics. “Pet Sematary” is not his absolute best work–that honor could belong to “The Stand,” “The Dark Tower” series, or “Bag of Bones,” among others–but it is his scariest tale, his most stream-lined horror story. The only competition in that area would be his massive “It” tome, but what “Sematary” lacks in epic scale against “It,” it makes up in morbid yet oddly sentimental meditations on subject matter often swept under the rug in modern Western society. “Pet Sematary” is about death, and the statement made by a character in it (Jud) that “sometimes dead is better” is its theme. King’s own fear of losing his son (which didn’t happen) inspired this close look at what could have happened (well, until the part where the resurrected Gage comes back in worse shape).

3) Lord of the Flies – William Goulding

You might try and say that “Lord of the Flies” isn’t horror, that it’s literature…but you’re kidding yourself. This tale of “civilized” private school children resorting to ruthlessness in their own constructed society when marooned on a desert island is a horror classic.

2) Dracula – Bram Stoker

“Dracula” may not bet the best vampire story of all time, but in Stoker’s original presentation of it, it’s certainly on the short list and every vampire tale to come after owes a nod to it whether it follows from it or reacts back on it. It’s epistle style narration works very well for the story and learning of the neurosis that Stoker had and the history behind the real “Vlad” only adds to the reading of the work itself.

1) Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

Shelley’s novel is a milestone even if the distortions and over-use of the “Frankenstein” monster character inadvertently attempt to dilute the importance and artistry of the original story. So, forget everything you’ve ever read or seen regarding this myth and pick up the original novel. It’s deeply literate and gothically romantic–not in the love story sense but in the passion-more-than-intellect, feel-more-than-think trajectory of events. This is a sad book; a heartbreaking terror story, each moment of scares is tempered with the overall tragedy of affairs. Yet it’s so nicely written that it’s joyful, in a dark way. The depth of this work really comes in the philosophical realm–is this man creates monster a dark mirrored version of the Creation myth in Genesis? No doubt that’s a blasphemous thought for many to entertain, but in a more “positive” religious sense, is this what happens when humanity plays at being Godlike? Yet the monster is the tragic hero, despite the violence he gives to the world in “Frankenstein”–he wanted only love and did not receive it even from his creator–he wanted a companion and was denied it. He lashed out in violence and his story became the best modern monster tale and the blueprint for every good horror story to follow it.