Take a moment. Pick a year from the last decade and Google “horror movies”. What you will find are plenty of remakes, some original gems that I hope never ever get sequels, some universe building type movies, and a wealth of harmless PG-13 garbage. By no means is this a bad time for horror movies, and thanks to streaming services, access to this art form is easier and deeper than ever. There is however one thing missing, something that hasn’t truly been around the way it was in the glorious 80s: the horror movie hero. This article is dedicated to a time when we had heroes in horror. The 80s gave rise to the franchise and the ascent of the icon, two in particular. Those franchises are A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th and those icons are the greatest of all time, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees.

In the 1970s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween gave us a glimpse of what could be, by gracing an unknowing audience with the earliest icons of the slasher subgenre. Horror film franchises until this point were reserved for the Universal and Hammer films, the latter only gently beginning to broach the subject of graphic violence, darker subject matter, and sexuality. Leatherface and Michael Myers’ future exploits and progress greatly benefited from the massive successes of Freddy and Jason.

As icons, Freddy and Jason elevated horror movies, the franchise, and popular culture to a level we haven’t seen since. The closest thing to having an icon in the last decade has been Jigsaw from the Saw movies. Now there is nothing wrong with torture porn, but the concept was not entirely new. Italian director, Lucio Fulci, and movies like J.P. Simon’s Pieces imported some wonderful gore, but these movies will never touch the glory of Elm Street and Crystal Lake, nor did they give us lasting characters. Those movies pushed the kill, not so much the killer. It doesn’t last the same way as having such an inimitable symbol, like that glove or that machete.  To this day, hockey masks and fedoras are still synonymous with the greatest holiday, and the greatest decade for horror movies. Even those who don’t really know who Freddy and Jason are (losers) can still feel who Freddy and Jason are. Their popularity has and will stand the test of time.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter mark the pinnacles of these respective characters’ powers. It also marks the last time they were the scariest. The immense popularity of these two great characters was a curse and a blessing. More eyes than ever were drawn to the horror, but at what cost? Freddy Krueger became over-exposed. A TV show and a vociferous marketing machine watered down his remaining movies after which the content suffered more harm than good comedic fate and our child killer became child friendly. Jason Voorhees’ methods for dispatch did no favors for the MPAA. His later kills were drastically altered to appease the PTA crowd making the movies almost unwatchable (of course we still watched them). The appetite for the further adventures of Jason only led to the films being rushed and the quality suffered, (a fight with a Carrie poser and a long boat ride to Manhattan did more to inspire exasperated head shakes than fear). While there were plenty of bright bloody spots in these films which still deserve to be enjoyed as much as the rest – they were still effects driven and still had those glorious heroes I write about today – but they’re just not as scary as they were in these two films.

“A hyper violent and rather stupid series of thrillers about an adult child killer… it just may be bad enough to kill off the series”.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is the best Freddy movie, period. Without measure it has the best kills, the best visuals, the best writing “and bad!” This movie also marks the last time Freddy Krueger was truly scary. His inevitable descent into humor started here, but before that humor was at the cringe inducing forefront and before the mass marketing engine got its claws in him, the Dream Warriors stood no chance against the legit badassery of the bastard son of a hundred maniacs.

The 2014 Academy Award winner for best supporting actress, Patricia Arquette, began her career and our movie as Kristen, and with the best intro and set piece of all Nightmares. The production design is fantastic throughout the movie, but truly shines here. Freddy’s iconic house, hanging bodies, purple goo, the boiler room where we are reminded that Freddy brought children here to murder them. This is a character who became so popular and charismatic that we all just kinda looked the other way and ignored the fact that he murdered kids! We even root for the burned-up bastard. Dream Warriors is one of my earliest memories of being terrified by a movie. I had seen a wealth of scary movies before and been scared an abundant share of times before. But when Kristen “wakes up” from this dream, goes to the bathroom, and turns the faucet on, when that handle grabs her hand and we see Freddy in the mirror and knives spout from the other faucet. My five-year-old self was unable to move and never wanted to venture into a bathroom. I’ve been chasing that dragon ever since.

The remainder of the movie leaves Elm Street and takes place at Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital where the last of the Elm Street kids are holed up and supervised round the clock on suicide watch. Foolish adults are positive it’s a mass psychosis brought on by guilt, sex, and drugs. Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) survived that last car ride in Part One and has spent her college years specializing in pattern nightmares. She is also the new staff member sent to help Dr. Gordon (Craig Wasson). Nancy’s history on Elm Street puts her in the good graces of the survivors and we expand the rules of the series when Kristen is able to pull Nancy into her nightmare. Before Freddy would become a quip machine, he doesn’t say a word here until twenty minutes in, and even then, it’s only a word. It’s refreshing how little Freddy we actually get, and the movie is better for it. The effect Freddy has on people is what is genuinely scary. Sadly, his presence would become over-saturated in subsequent films diluting his powers, taking away from the audience the personification of horror: what we imagine in our minds will always be scarier than what we are shown.

What sets horror movies apart from every other movie and what makes movies so very special is seeing something your eyes have never seen before. Magic. At first it was a train coming straight at the screen. Yesterday it was when the Avengers assembled. But back in 1987 Freddy Krueger did something that was never seen before in the history of cinema.  It wasn’t until half an hour into Dream Warriors when we get the first kill, and no subsequent kill in five sequels and a remake would reach the majesty of this one. Philip likes to make toy figures and the minute he drifts off to sleep… Freddy Krueger CUT THIS KID’S TENDONS OUT AND USED THEM TO WALK HIS ASS TO HIS DEATH LIKE A FUCKING MARIONETTE!!! But he didn’t make him jump off the roof right away, he waited for his friends to gather so they could watch! Here was a villain! When will we get such another?!? Horror movies simply don’t get credit for being the consistent source of showing us these wonderful sights and it’s a grand miscarriage of justice.

The writers of the second film, Freddy’s Revenge, didn’t have the same reverence for the source material that Wes Craven had, and it was set off-course. Wes Craven returns to aid in writing duties in Dream Warriors and the mythology of Freddy Krueger is expanded. We learn of his origins, of how his nun mother was inadvertently locked in an asylum for the most violent of the criminally insane leaving her to uncounted violations, his father unknown, and giving us the fantastic nickname, “The Bastard Son of a Hundred Maniacs.” This writing gave us a great background that other iconic slashers of the decade and hereafter would never get.

The wonderful imagery continues with the second kill. Poor Jennifer (Penelope Sudrow) wants to move to Hollywood to be an actress. Nancy had a coffee maker in her bedroom to stay awake, but Jennifer prefers cigarette burns. Freddy was a real threat that had to be avoided, whatever it takes – something the filmmakers lost sight of in later films. These minor chars and late night TV fail to keep her awake. It’s a great jump scare when Freddy breaks out of the TV, mechanical arms holding Jennifer off the ground. And this, of all of Freddy’s lines in all nine movies, is the best one (and Robert Englund’s own writing contribution). Before slamming her head into the TV, we are graced with: “Welcome to prime time, Bitch!” Fantastic!

Only two kills in and with considerable ease, the most iconic of the series. But we aren’t done. We have arrived at the point of major 80s wince-inducing cheese, when our main characters come to their titular point. The Elm Street kids learn of Kristin’s power to pull in others to her dreams and find they have some of their own. Crippled dungeon master nerd, Will (Ira Heiden), gets wizard walking powers, former dope fiend, Taryn (Jennifer Rubin), gets some makeup, a leather outfit, a mohawk and little switchblades, tough guy, Kincaid (Ken Sagoes), gets tougher, Kristin also gets some gymnastic skills. I cannot wait to see these nerds get killed. Among them, horn-dog mute Joey (Rodney Eastman) has a thing for the hot blonde nurse. He doesn’t find it strange when she takes an aggressive interest in him with her tits out and tongue all the way down his throat. He is too preoccupied by being tongue tied to the bed posts over a fiery pit, to discover his power. The gruesome imagery of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 is potent: Phil hanging by his tendons, Jennifer’s head in the TV, Joey tied to a bed with tongues over hell. And maybe the best of the series with Taryn… With Joey in a coma, the hospital stiffs won’t hear of these radical dream therapy sessions with some half assed young intern. Nancy is fired and the group is split up and on mandatory sedation. Freddy’s bones have to be found and buried properly, on consecrated ground and the only man who knows where they are is Nancy’s father.

John Saxon returns to the role, marking one of the last appearances by an established actor to the series. A broken man, busted down to a security guard, takes Dr. Gordon to the junkyard for the remains while Nancy facilitates one final session in the last stand to save Kristin. A great hunter separates his prey and Will is the first to go. His nerd dungeon wizard powers fail miserably. Taryn is brought to a familiar setting when she was a junkie and before she goes, we get one of the great lasting images of Freddy Krueger. His fingers gone, replaced by syringes, her arms suckling for a hit. A great special effect in a film full of great special effects, brought to life by Kevin Yagher, enhanced by the immortal performance of Robert Englund, treasured and appreciated endlessly by yours truly.

In the end Nancy falls victim to the glove, dying in Kristin’s arms and Catholicism saves the day when some holy water and a crucifix lay Freddy to rest, until next time. Along the way, the imagery, special effects, acting, production design, and writing make this the greatest Nightmare on Elm Street. Of course Freddy makes puns here, but they aren’t with a wink to the audience nor are they rapid fire. He was scary here, a monster with a chest full of souls who tortured these kids to make them suffer the sins of their parents. Where other horror movies would punish the victims for the usual conservative rule breaking of premarital sex, or drug and alcohol use, that isn’t evident here. These kids aren’t the partying type; they are just the terrified type. Freddy kills them because he enjoys it.

I’m thankful that despite the sequels and all they attempted, for better or worse, Freddy always enjoyed what he did. But here was the last time he was scary while doing it.

“An immoral and reprehensible piece of trash… the people who made this movie ought to be ashamed of themselves.”

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is the greatest Jason movie. Period. Yes, there may be better kills in other movies. Yes, Kane Hodder is the best Jason. But his movies can’t touch 1984. The Final Chapter kicks maximum ass! Opening minutes after the conclusion of Jason’s 3D adventure, bodies strewn everywhere and the axe just removed from Jason’s skull. The cops are cleaning up the mess. “This time they got him.” Ummm, what the shit are you talking about? Everyone is literally dead! Except the brunette who is taking a boat ride to be dragged down under by Mrs. Voorhees the following morning. (We can ignore that.)

Jason leaves camp for a nap at the hospital to visit some horny nurses. I wish I could explain the relationship between Coroner Axel and Nurse Morgan. The recent massacre has her interested in their newest recipient, and Axel is interested in what dudes named Axel tend to be interested in and aerobics. Axel’s pervy moves disgust Nurse Morgan until he says some magic words which appear to do the trick and make her stay temporarily (it’s a bizarre relationship, I can’t explain). Alone with his aerobics, Axel does a poor job of locking up Jason in the fridge. Tom Savini’s makeup effects make a glorious return to the franchise with a surgical saw, some quick editing, and the only kind of kills we saw in the 80s. Jason is back.

The Final Chapter introduces us to the Jarvis family and the second longest surviving character in the franchise, Tommy Jarvis, played by another icon of the 80s Corey Feldman. We are then introduced to the machete fodder and I swear there has never been a hornier group of people to walk the face of the earth. It’s amazing how horny this entire movie is. That sicko, Axel, was a total necrophiliac! Mrs. Jarvis tells her daughter, “She’s probably horny,” and dead-fuck Jimmy, laments at his own unbearable horniness at blowing his chances with (and I shit you not) B.J Betty. Our station wagon full of horny fucks runs into goddamn identical sisters, Terri and Tina (no shit), who can’t wait to skinny dip with this random group of strangers! Shower sex! Vintage porn! Naked twins! Aerobics! Now I ask you, what was the last horror movie of the last five years, ten years, to have any horniness at all? It is missing from not only horror movies today, but most movies in general. THE 80S! At least Friday the 13th films were consistent in this regard.

The primary consistency of a Friday the 13th film is of course the effective slaughter of unsuspecting victims in violent and shocking fashion. Sleeping bag annihilated against the tree? Second best. Head crushed through the RV? Awesome. Sauna rock up the innards? YES. However, in this humbled enthusiast’s opinion, nothing touches the double tap of corkscrew to the hand and meat cleaver to the face! The poor dead fuck and his sick dance moves just got his mojo back with one of the twins only to have blood gushing from his agonized face to grace us with, and I quote, “The best kill of the Friday the 13th franchise.”

After extensive horniness and an appropriate body count of 13 (and possibly a dog), the last fifteen minutes of The Final Chapter is pure Jason, and truly scary. Rob the hitchhiker’s body is thrown through the window with a spike in his head, Jason erupts through the window grabbing Tommy, Jason shatters through the front door, Jason runs! It’s entirely refreshing to see Jason run and witness a brief moment of decision making to go after Trish or Tommy. In time we would all just kinda look the other way when Jason would seemingly teleport all over the place. I am the firmest of firm believers in the suspension of disbelief; but it’s welcomed and scary to see a killer moving at you with expediency, and he would never move as quick as he does here. He isn’t supernatural yet and the movie is scarier for it.

Let’s not forget that one of the reasons that ranks this Friday higher than the rest is the “death” of Jason: BRUTAL. It was fitting when Tommy trapped him at the bottom of a lake but not spectacular. It was fucking stupid when that Carrie poser’s dead, undecomposed dumbass dad dragged him back into the lake. And I don’t know what the hell happened in Manhattan when some sewage turned him into a kid again. (Jesus H!) Then he gets stabbed in the heart to go to hell and burned up on reentry on another planet (yes, you read that right). An iconic villain deserves the respect of an iconic death, and Corey Feldman gives it to him! We’ve reached the end of the bodies and only two remain. Trish knocks off the hockey mask and we get a look at the most grotesque Jason of all twelve movies. Tom Savini wasn’t just a great hitman throughout the 80s; his creature work is highly underrated. Before Jason would go on to the full-on rotting zombie look, he looks absolutely fantastic in The Final Chapter. Mangled misshapen teeth, tufts of hair on a bulbous skull, a droopy face complete with the graphic axe injury from Part 3. Gorgeous, terrifying work.

After Trish knocks off the hockey mask, Tommy slams the machete in the side of Jason’s head nearly cleaving it in half and as he falls it slowly separates his skull. BADASS! And for further measure Jason gets hacked up too! I love the sequels, but I love the shred of finality we get here. Jason isn’t supernatural yet, no lightning to make him rise from the grave, leaving us to wonder, “Well he definitely will never die now.” Sure, he’s had a machete down his shoulder, but you can’t die from that, can you? Sure, he’s been cracked in the head with an axe, but he did have a hockey mask on, and he has a misshapen skull. Lawyers might call that reasonable doubt. Look, I know at my age now this is all bullshit, but when you’re a kid in the 80s, these were the conversations I had to quantify as to why I watched this glorious garbage. And it is glorious. Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives makes a strong case for best of the series but the addition of a supernatural Jason moves the series in a different direction than its simple origins. It also has a meta sense of humor about it, which while highly entertaining, comes at the cost of scariness.

Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood introduces audiences to the true Jason, Kane Hodder. His way of movement made Jason scary again for four films and moved the series in a positive direction. Unfortunately, the PTA and MPAA would only hinder his exploits drastically, shortening his kills to a blink-and-miss-it quality. Future writers of the series got away from the simplicity of the equation of killing annoying horny victims. Trips to Manhattan, hell, and space were not scary, and saved by the quality of special effects and the performance of Kane Hodder.

We get our first kill in The Final Chapter in less than fifteen minutes. There is no depth to any of the casualties and by the end of the movie we don’t learn any more about the character of Jason Voorhees. And I love it! The makeup effects by Tom Savini are an example of some of his best work. Ted White’s performance of Jason brings an added layer of subtle brutality. For a large portion of the movie we don’t see much of Jason. When he moves in for the kill, we only briefly see him from the side and the movie is scarier for it. It makes last minutes of the movie and the payoff of seeing him unmasked, that much stronger. Regardless of his surroundings, Jason is always scary because of the simplemindedness of his character, which for better or worse has never wavered. The simple conditions that exist in The Final Chapter, that don’t in the future films, make this the last purely scary installment of the Friday the 13th franchise.

So I ask that you seek out Dream Warriors and The Final Chapter, and put out of your mind what came after. Disregard when Freddy became a father or when Jason took a trip to space, before there was a need to kill them off, before their eventual meeting and subsequent fight we all prayed would happen. It’s impossible to get past a sixth sequel and resist the urge to be comedic, to lose sight of a character and have ideas that may be too big for their own good. In time, James Bond would travel to space, and Rocky’s one-time opponent’s son would fight his father’s killer’s son. Even The Avengers would time travel. This was a time when we were warned that watching these movies would be too frightening for our fragile minds. We were warned seeing these naked bodies would result in punishments unmatched at our young age. It was when they were at their beautiful bloody best, and horror movies had heroes. How many icons do we have today that are born from movies? Plenty of gems from action and sci-fi movies, but horror is where the gold was. The 80s was the era in which we were given characters we admire, love, fear, and ultimately, in this fanatic’s case… miss.

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