The Deaths of Elm Street: Blow by Blow

Let’s take a grim trip down memory lane and examine some of the standout death scenes from one of the best horror/slasher franchises ever, A Nightmare on Elm Street, may they rest in peace...

Best Death - Tina Gray (A Nightmare on Elm Street)

Most Elm Street fans agree the death of Tina Gray is Freddy’s finest kill.  Tina is not only Freddy’s first kill, but we as a collective audience are introduced to one of the greatest characters in horror cinema, through Tina Gray.  It’s her nightmare that opens the series and her thoughts that invite us into the nightmare world of Freddy Krueger, a violent force to be reckoned with.  Unfortunately for Tina, she is the vessel for which we see firsthand just how violent a force Freddy is.  No one really knew where this movie was headed, who this Freddy guy was, or how he was going to end this innocent girl’s life.  In my opinion, this is one of the most violent and disturbing deaths in film history, not just for a horror film, but for any film.  

By 1984, slasher films had already become a caricature of themselves, with dumb, uninspired death scenes that made more people laugh than scream.  Why would this be any different, it is just a slasher film, right?  Initially thrown off by the fact we can’t actually see Freddy in the room killing her, four single slash marks appear down Tina’s chest, an obvious infliction of the weapon Krueger wears on his hand, and immediately bleeds profusely.  Before we even have a chance to cover our mouths and bid this girl farewell, she is ripped from the mattress and violently thrown around the room like a ragdoll, blood splattering the surrounding walls and ceiling.  To make matters worse, Tina isn’t quite dead yet, and if the sights are too much to bear and you planned on covering your eyes, plan on bringing some earplugs too because the sounds may be even worse.  Tina does nothing but beg for her life, a life she’s already lost, based on the amount of blood on the floor, and we can only imagine what’s going through her mind as her body is dragged up and down the walls.  Moments before finally plummeting to the mattress below, she reaches for her semi-conscience boyfriend who's witnessed the whole thing, unable to defend her from this unseeable force.  Tina dies, and this is a scene I can’t imagine made anyone laugh.  End act one, and don’t even get me started on how the deleted footage on the Infinifilm DVD managed to make this scene even more frightening.

Tina’s Death also wins the award for “Scariest Death” and “Most Violent Death.

Worst Death - “John Doe” (Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare)

Freddy’s Dead sucked, and so did the “John Doe” character and the way in which his character is killed.  Basically, John thinks since he is the last surviving child (now a grown man) of Springwood, he must be a spared offspring of Freddy.  He’s wrong, and Freddy wastes no time disposing of him.  Freddy seems as bored with this guy as the audience is, thus, what is probably the weakest, most unfulfilling death of the series.  As John dangles from a parachute way up in the clouds, Freddy cuts the straps, sending him falling to his death.  We then see Freddy on ground level positioning what can only be described as a bed of spikes, for John to land on.  He does, and that’s that.  It’s a real Wile E. Coyote moment for Freddy, except in this case, he successfully catches his roadrunner.

Most Climactic Death - Glen Lantz (A Nightmare on Elm Street)

By “most climactic” death, I am referring to a death that everyone saw coming, knew would be glorious, and despite this, still shocked the hell outta us and lived up to our own built-in hype.  Johnny Depp’s onscreen debut is that moment.  Glen is a surprisingly likable boyfriend to lead heroine Nancy Thompson, and because of this, you know he’s doomed.  Foreshadowed quite heavily, Glen is urged by his girlfriend not to fall asleep, or else Freddy will get him.  Fully aware that his closest friends are mysteriously dying around him, he still isn’t completely convinced by Nancy’s claims of a dream stalking dead killer, so he doesn’t heed her warnings as best he should and ends up dead because of it.  In a very well edited sequence, as we go back and forth between what’s happening in Nancy and Glen’s bedrooms, Freddy informs Nancy he is about to kill her boyfriend, as Glen passes out with his headphones on.  As she scrambles to save him, we cut to Glen’s bed literally chewing him up then spitting him right back out in a geyser of dark blood.  It’s an amazing moment in horror cinema and has become quite the iconic Elm Street moment.  Only one question really remains: what did Freddy do to him down there?

Most Anticlimactic Death - Donald Thompson (Part 3: Dream Warriors)

Estranged for years, Nancy reunites with her policeman father when the kids of Elm Street begin dying again.  He’s now quite disgraced, drowning the sorrows of his past, a past that involves vigilante justice and the death of many children.  He unkindly aids Dr. Neil Gordon on his quest to defeat Freddy once and for all, at the site of his original junkyard burial.  In the end, Freddy’s bones emerge into a fully functional Freddy skeleton (reminiscent of Ray Harryhausen’s work) and impales Thompson with the rear of a pink Cadillac.  Aside from the ridiculous use of weaponry, it’s just a pointless extra piece of gore.  There is no glory whatsoever in the death of what is essentially a pivotal character in the series.  I personally thought he should have died in a more honorable way.  Sure, he was a sourpuss, but who wouldn’t be in his position.

Best Personal Death - Debbie Stevens (Part 4: Dream Master)

When Freddy’s feeling extra cruel, he likes to get personal.  He likes to deliver that last fatal blow in a manner that hits way too close to home.  He’s used many personal feelings, ideas, and objects against his victims; everything from hard drugs to naked swimsuit models.  In the case of Debbie Stevens, a girl terrified of cockroaches, Freddy has her turned into a cockroach, literally.  But Freddy takes things even further by not just turning Debbie into a cockroach but making it, so Debbie is torn apart from the inside out by a cockroach.  He actually doesn’t even lay a hand on her, except the initial barbell he pins Debbie’s arms down with, tearing them wide open at the elbows, unleashing the horrific monstrous insect within.  The arms, legs, and eventual face of the cockroach emerge, tearing off Debbie’s face with it.  As though all of this isn’t bad enough already, this particular cockroach isn’t free and happy to be alive, but trapped inside a roach motel, fighting for its new life.  So not only has Freddy murdered Debbie, but he’s also even torturing the cockroach he killed her with.  Freddy then squashes it.

Best Quick Death - Roland Kincaid (Part 4: Dream Master)

Sometimes Freddy just means business and doesn’t have time to screw around with flashy set pieces.  Sometimes he needs to get in, get out, and move on to the next victim.  On occasion, Freddy has been known to simply stab his razor blades somewhere into someone’s torso and be done with them, and I’d say the best occurrence of this has to be fan favorite, Kincaid.  Always a force of entertaining energy, Kincaid was a character most fans enjoyed and did not want to see killed.  The fact that he’s Freddy’s first order of business in Dream Master, tying up loose ends from Dream Warriors, makes you really feel for Kincaid.  It still comes as a bit of a shock; assuming the writers let Kristen, Joey, and Kincaid survive the previous film, they wouldn’t just kill them in the first reel of the following film, would they?  Well, yes, they do.  Overall, it’s a pretty tense scene, and one of the series’ best.  Freddy is resurrected through burning dog piss, climbs from his grave, and after some hide and seek, finds Kincaid, sticks his razor glove into his stomach and bids farewell.  Honestly, if Freddy’s gonna kill you, I think this may be the best option, one quick swipe and hope it’s over.  For Kincaid fans it’s a sad moment, even Freddy seems kinda touched as he cradles Kincaid’s lifeless head on his shoulder.  They also exchange some final parting words which help break the tension and make this the most entertaining “quick death” of the series.

Most Creative/Unique Death - Phillip Anderson (Part 3: Dream Warriors)

Phillip is the first to die in one of the greatest sequels of all time, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.  He’s a nice, laid-back kid, talks like Corey Feldman and has a collection of marionettes he makes himself.  None of this foreshadows Phillip’s death, but we do wonder why we’re even made aware that the kid collects puppets, until one night a puppet morphs into Freddy and murders him.  In one of the series’ most memorable moments, Freddy literally turns Phillip into a human marionette, complete with strings and everything.  The only thing is those strings are Phillip’s own veins and tendons.  In what can only be described as torture, Freddy uses Phillip’s insides and “walks” him to the roof of the hospital he’s admitted to, brings him to the edge, cuts his strings and laughs as he falls.

Most Undeserving Death - Sheila Kopecky (Part 4: Dream Master)

Sheila, the meek, nerdy girl with huge glasses and serious case of asthma, really didn’t deserve the “kiss of death” Mr. Krueger indulged her in.  That isn’t to say anyone in the Elm Street universe deserves to die, but Sheila, for one thing, was not an Elm Street child.  Kristen Parker was the last of the original (the real) Elm Street children, so anyone killed thereafter is simply a greedy extra point for ‘ol Freddy.  Maybe this is exactly why as soon as Freddy eliminates Kristen in a fiery inferno, his kills get zanier and more comedic for the duration of the series.  Perhaps with Freddy, knowing he’s achieved his goal of killing every offspring of his vigilante killers, he’s now able to enjoy himself more and have fun with his kills.  Enter Sheila, the first “bonus kill” of Freddy’s career.  Semi-long story short:  Kristen’s ability to pull people into her dreams is transferred to new series heroine, Alice, and Sheila is the unfortunate guinea pig in this unplanned experiment.  While taking a test at school, Sheila is confronted by Freddy, who slowly slithers to her desk and literally sucks the life out of her.  It’s a perfect cover for Freddy, not that he really needs one; but with Sheila’s medical problem, and since Freddy made it appear as though she died by loss of breath, her death is still not enough to convince many that she was murdered by an invisible force.

Saddest Death - Ron Grady (Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge)

Grady’s death is a perfect example of wrong place at the wrong time.  Had Jesse simply not shown up at Grady’s house that night, Grady would most likely still be alive.  He already avoided being a victim of the pool party massacre earlier that evening, content to spend a grounded night in his room watching tv and hitting the sack early.  However, awkward friend Jesse shows up with claims of possession, and just like a good friend does, Grady lets the kid crash at his place for the night.  Obviously, Grady doesn’t take Jesse’s warnings seriously, otherwise he’d have told him to get the fuck out.  But Grady was a good dude, despite his moronic bully nature in the film’s first act and remained loyal to his friend.  A loyalty which unfortunately gets him killed moments later.  As soon as Jesse dozes off, a relieved Grady bids goodnight, only to be confronted by Freddy himself, literally tearing through Jesse’s body from the inside out.  Grady also wins the award for most realistic reaction to a charred killer emerging from your friend’s stomach.  He, like most other level-headed human beings, immediately heads for the door, then upon realizing he’s locked in, screams at the top of his lungs and pounds on the door as loud as he can for help.  Perhaps we only get this reaction from Grady because his death, unlike most Elm Street deaths, actually occurs in reality, thus making screaming for help a viable option.  Regardless, the realistic, non-comedic nature of this scene (like Tina’s death) leaves you in a stunned state of silence once Grady is dead.  It’s almost too realistic for its own good, leaving many with a bad taste in their mouths, and think what you will about lead character Jesse, or the now infamous reputation this film has on alleged/confirmed homosexual themes, but Jesse’s guilt-soaked reaction to his friend’s death is heartbreaking and one of the most surprisingly poignant moments of the series.

Best Freddy “Death” A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: Dream Master

Last but not least, the many deaths of Fred Krueger.  Being that he’s already dead, Freddy is never “killed," just defeated, which probably deserves to be in quotations just the same.  But the best instance of this has to be the finale of Dream Master, as Alice helps the souls of Freddy’s victims fight back and take their killer down once and for all, or at least until next time.  Accompanied by some pretty gnarly effects, Freddy’s chest of souls (first introduced in Dream Warriors) comes alive as the heads, hands, and bare breasts attempt to escape the confines of Freddy’s twisted cauldron, busting through his burned skin with everything they’ve got.  In a somewhat bland maneuver, they basically tear his jaw apart, which then instantly releases their souls to continue peacefully into the afterlife, as Freddy’s carcass drops to the floor.  Alice then caps the scene nicely by kicking Freddy’s glove like it’s nothing.  No surprise he’s reflected in the fountain a minute or so later, but that’s their problem to figure out in the sequel.

- Peter DiGiovanni

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