The 12 Scariest Scenes In A Nightmare On Elm Street Movies

Sleep can literally kill you. That's what makes "A Nightmare on Elm Street" so downright spooky. Upon reading a mind-blowing story about a young Cambodian child, who was terrified to sleep and then died while apparently dreaming, filmmaker Wes Craven conjured up a sleep demon for a screenplay. Freddy Krueger was born out of a real-life wave of similar incidents that swept across America in the 1980s. The 1984 slasher film, produced by New Line's Robert Shaye, saved the company from disaster and put it immovably on the map. It reinvented the slasher genre at a time when the horror subgenre was on its way out. By leaning into the universal human experience of sleep, it brought genuine fear to the surface again.

In the coming years, Freddy Krueger has haunted our dreams across six sequels, a vs. movie with Jason Voorhees, and a 2010 remake, starring Rooney Mara and Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy himself. Looking strictly at the original film series, we comb the franchise's scariest scenes and celebrate the 12 best below. Buckle up, it's a terrifying ride.

Tina's final nightmare (A Nightmare on Elm Street)

There are few terrors that still hold up decades later like Tina's (Amanda Wyss) death in Wes Craven's original 1984 "A Nightmare on Elm Street." The dream and emotional deterioration surrounding the tilting bedroom scene make it even more terrifying. As the first victim, we only get a glimpse into her backstory and character, but we do know she had a potentially rough home life, leading her to run into Rod's arms. She even describes her on-again, off-again boyfriend as a "lunatic" when she pleads for Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) and Glen (Johnny Depp) to spend the night.

Nightmares had been ailing Tina for quite some time. When the film opens, she's caught inside yet another delirious and weird dream state. After another confrontation with Freddy, she, fortunately, wakes up. But that's only the beginning. During a sleepover with Rod, Glen, and Nancy, she finds herself ensnared inside Freddy's clutches once more. In Rod's nightshirt, she hears a voice outside her window and wanders into the alleyway behind her house. Things seem normal but quickly escalate when her dream bleeds into reality, finding Rod awoken with a start as Tina thrashes in the bed. Freddy first slices open her abdomen, leaving blood to splash all around the room, and drags her body to the ceiling. There's no way you watch this without turning all your lights on immediately.

Debbie molts (A Nightmare on Elm Street 4)

With a series based around strange dreams, you expect some body-horror elements thrown into the mix. Renny Harlin's "A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master" serves up a cockroach banquet, and it's not for the faint of heart. Leave it to Freddy Krueger to make things nauseating while also sending fear cascading up our backbone. As the resident bad chick, leather jacket and all, Debbie (Brooke Theiss) exudes confidence and charisma. However, she does have one fatal flaw: a fear of cockroaches.

Alice's (Lisa Wilcox) friends are being picked off one-by-one — Joey (Rodney Eastman), Kincaid (Ken Sagoes), Sheila (Toy Newkirk), and her brother Rick (Andras Jones). Suspecting Debbie to be next, Alice enlists Dan (Danny Hassel), and the two book it to Debbie's place, where she's about to start bench-pressing weights. But they don't make it in time; Freddy manages to trap them inside a sleep-induced time loop.

With Debbie suffering from sleep deprivation as well, Freddy seeps into her dream. Only looking for sweaty exercise, Debbie checks into a cockroach motel with no exit. The sequence grows grosser with each moment. First, Debbie sprouts cockroach tentacles, and then her environment instantly morphs into a sticky bug contraption. She is now only a few inches tall, and as Freddy moves the bug hotel around, she loses balance and face-plants into yellow goo. Debbie unleashes a blood-chilling scream, and the viewer watches in horror as her face peels away to reveal a cockroach underneath.

Freddy possesses Jesse (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2)

The single best practical effects moment in the series comes with the 1985 sequel. In "A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge," director Jack Sholder takes a literal approach to revenge through Freddy's darker and more relentless presence. Courtesy of special makeup effects artist Mark Shostrom, the night demon rips through our protagonist Jesse's body and pops out of his chest. Almost 40 years later, it still manages to send creepy crawlies writhing under the skin.

Jesse turns to his closest friend, Grady (Robert Rusler), with whom he takes gym class, and begs him to watch over him. In case of a life-ending nightmare, he should at least have someone there he knows. Freddy has a far more disturbing plan, however, and uses Jesse's body to wreak havoc in the real world. Once Freddy slices Jesse open, he forces his way into reality and steps into the amber glow of the bedroom lights. Grady only looks on in absolute horror, screaming for his father and unable to free himself. A Freddy-possessed Jesse stabs his friend and leaves a stream of blood sliding down the bedroom door.

Part of what makes the scene so scary is that it is such a deranged and cruel act from Freddy. The emotional wringer through which he shoves Jesse is just as heartbreaking, with Mark Patton knocking his emotionally-electrifying performance right out of the park.

Freddy the puppeteer (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3)

There is one death scene in "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors" that is straight-up barbaric, even by Freddy standards. As the series turning point, the 1987 film sank further into horror/comedy territory, while also balancing the suffocating fear we've come to know and love. This time, the story revolves around a group of troubled, nightmare-afflicted kids who have been committed to Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital by their parents. Freddy pounces and preys on their various weaknesses, from drug addiction to aspiration for TV fame.

One of the poor, unfortunate souls is a young teen named Phillip (Bradley Gregg), a frequent sleepwalker who turns his trauma into making clay puppets. During a late-night slumber, Phillip has a nightmare he's been turned into a morbid puppet, and Freddy cuts into his wrists and ankles, yanking out tendons to use as puppet strings. Freddy proceeds to manipulate Phillip through the hospital's halls and onto the roof of an adjoining building. With the rest of the teens watching in panic, trying to scream and bang against the metal window bars, there seems to be no possible way of escape. Freddy then snaps the tendon-made strings, and Phillip tumbles onto the concrete below. It's a sight that is so arresting, it's easily one of horror's most ungodly images.

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A new and improved glove (Wes Craven's New Nightmare)

In 1994, Wes Craven himself reinvented the franchise he started 10 years prior. "Wes Craven's New Nightmare" stripped the convoluted, outlandish mythos of the Freddy character and made a simpler, more straightforward fright-fest. A sleep demon utilizes Freddy Krueger as a mask to target real-life actor Heather Langenkamp, thus propelling her into a brand new "Nightmare" sequel in the process.

The opening scene features an overlooked moment that never fails to terrorize, especially if you believe in paranormal activity and/or demonic entities. It's a sequence right out of modern-day fare like "The Conjuring." On set filming a new "Nightmare" movie, Freddy's new and improved glove (an animatronic version with an all-metal bone structure) comes to life and carves out the throats of two crew members. It's only a dream for Nancy, but the next morning, those same crew members don't show up on set. Something eerie this way comes. The mere idea that dreams could spill, or even drastically affect, real life is petrifying.

Kill me, Lisa! (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2)

Throughout "A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge," Freddy relentlessly torments Jesse and forces him to do his murderous bidding. Following his complete bodily takeover and murder of Grady, Jesse returns to Lisa's house and confesses that he killed his friend. Or rather that Freddy did it in his body. Jesse is covered in blood, but thankfully, Lisa believes him and encourages him to use his good heart to fight back against the dark powers.

Jesse initially fails, and Freddy once again lays claim over his form and attacks Lisa. The face-off in the kitchen, lit only with the pool lights outside the glass doors, is a quieter, more insidious kind of scary scene. "Kill me, Lisa," Jesse says, his voice slipping out of Freddy's burned lips. Lisa distorts her face in terror and confusion. She wavers holding the knife but is able to get a few good stabs in 一 to know avail. Freddy cackles in response and grabs Lisa. "Jesse, help!" she cries. It's chilling and suggests that his power knows no physical or spiritual bounds, immediately proven after Jesse momentarily overcomes him and Freddy leaps out onto the outside patio.

Even if these sequences go against the Freddy folklore in the original film, it still allows the audience to be truly terrified and feel the fear and intensity coursing through every part of their own body.

Don't fall asleep in class (A Nightmare on Elm Street)

"Whatever you do, don't fall asleep..." Unfortunately, Nancy doesn't heed her own advice. The day after Tina's gruesome death, Nancy decides to head to school. Despite tossing and turning the night before, she tells her alcohol-addled mother that she can "sleep in study hall." Well, she certainly sleeps and comes face-to-face with Freddy Krueger (again). As a student reads a passage from Shakespeare's "Hamlet," Nancy slips into a dream and witnesses her dead friend in a plastic body bag.

In dream logic fashion, Nancy follows her friend's mangled body and a trail of blood through the hallway and down into the boiler room beneath the school. "Who are you?!" she asks when Freddy steps out from the shadows. He slices his chest, allowing a maggot-infested goo to slide down his skin, and unleashes a demonic cackle. Nancy bolts through an elaborate series of water pipes and boiling furnaces. She's desperate to find her way back out, but the nightmare world won't let her.

Nancy becomes trapped in a dead end. With Freddy hot on her heels, she does the only thing she can think of: she slams her left arm into a nearby pipe and burns her arm. She immediately is yanked awake, screaming her lungs out back in the classroom. It's an important moment for Nancy and her journey to conquering Freddy, but it's no less nail-bitingly horrifying how close she came to death.

It's a boy! (A Nightmare on Elm Street 5)

The return of Freddy in "A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child" at least did not involve dog piss. It was far more involved, and dare I say, poetic, than what the previous film attempted. In the 1989 entry, Freddy's rebirth comes to pass through a dream from Alice's baby, effectively infecting her with nightmarish imagery.

In the dream, Alice witnesses Amanda Krueger, Freddy's mother, give birth to him. "Don't let him get away!" Amanda screeches, as a deformed Freddy scampers out through the swinging doors. He seemingly disappears, and Alice soon wanders after him. In this same sequence, we also learn about Amanda's catastrophic backstory. In life, she was a nun and accidentally became locked inside a room with 100 maniacs, who raped her hundreds of times. She then became pregnant and gave birth to Freddy.

The dream world quickly shifts to the derelict church where Alice had defeated Freddy in "Dream Master." But this time, it's not a moment of triumph but rather of horror. Baby Freddy crawls inside his tattered clothes, still somehow left on the scene, and he regains his adult form. "It's a boy!" he howls into the rafters. It's both a clever quip about his own rebirth and a reference to Alice's unborn child Jacob, who only appears to Alice in her dreams. Freddy sure does know how to make a flashy entrance while also sending chills down your back in the process.

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Dan has a need for speed (A Nightmare on Elm Street 5)

Even as "A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child" cannonballs into absurd territory, there is still much to enjoy about the 1989 installment, directed by Stephen Hopkins. Lisa Wilcox returns to continue her arc as Alice, and her boyfriend Dan is once again played by Danny Hassel. Freddy Krueger has a renewed hunger for vengeance, but this time, he targets Alice's unborn child Jacob (Whit Hertford) as a way to invade her dreams.

Following the opening sequence, in which Freddy is reborn and Alice sees a vision of his mother Amanda, Alice calls up Dan and expresses fear that Freddy has found a way to come back for them. Dan hops in his truck, but severe sleep deprivation leads to one of the most wicked moments of the entire franchise. Dan falls asleep and imagines himself crashing at the local pool. He spots his motorcycle and burns rubber into the night. Freddy already has him, however, and morphs into a robot motorcycle. Freddy manipulates wires to burrow into Dan's skin, quickly electrifying him and casting him into some macabre version of Skeletor from "He-Man." When you think of brutally-paralyzing nightmares, this is the cream of the crop.

Nancy goes hunting (A Nightmare on Elm Street)

Glen (Johnny Depp) may be the most unreliable boyfriend in the entire franchise. He is handsome and charming, yet when the chips are down, he fails to show up for Nancy not once, but twice. The first time comes when Nancy has made a weird request of her boyfriend: to keep watch while she sleeps. In her cat nap, she ventures into a dreamy version of Springwood to track down Freddy. She wants to test a theory that she can check up on her friends while dreaming.

Well, things go sideways really fast. Nancy first makes her way to the police station for Rod and witnesses Freddy maneuvering into Rod's cell. She bangs on the window to no avail. Tina's deadly moan wafts over to her, and before she realizes it, Freddy springs out of the bushes behind her. In a life-or-death chase, Nancy dashes back to her house and races up the stairs, until oatmeal steps impede her ability. She struggles but breaks free, darting to her room. Finding a sleeping Glen, she looks into her mirror and pleads, "It's just a dream. He isn't real."

Nancy learns that he is very real. The thing about Nancy is she always comes prepared with backup plans. Glen might have dropped the ball, but she had set her bedside alarm clock, which awakens her right as Freddy nearly slices her open. It's way too close for comfort.

Poor Julie (New Nightmare)

"Wes Craven's New Nightmare" is a reboot before reboots were cool. In terms of kill sequences, the 1994 film loosely reads as a reimagining of the first film, rather than anything truly original. However, babysitter Julie's (Tracy Middendorf) death scene remains unexpectedly tragic and unnerving. A clear nod to Tina's death from the first movie, the reworked concept packs its own sort of grisly punch.

In the third act, Heather rushes her son Dylan to the hospital after yet another earthquake rattles their house. Hospital personnel suspects Heather of abusing her son, but we know better. As such, the doctor on-call recommends Dylan be put under strict observation until they get to the bottom of what is going on. Heather drives home to retrieve Dylan's favorite stuffed dinosaur, Rex. Meanwhile, the nurses inject Dylan with a sedative, against Julie's objections.

Dylan swiftly falls into a dream. Borrowing a trick from "A Nightmare on Elm Street 5," Freddy invades Dylan's nightmare to viciously slaughter Julie. "Hey, Dylan, ever play skin the cat?" Freddy taunts, pulling Julie further up the hospital wall. A blood trail is the least of the terror here as Julie's screams are chilling. Justice for Julie.

Body and the brains (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2)

"A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge" is an overt text on the queer experience. In the documentary, "Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street," the filmmakers alleged not realizing they were making a gay slasher. Regardless of their obvious ill-intent, there's a clear reason it has become such a cult classic and meant so much to the LGBTQ+ community. Helmed by director Jack Sholder, the 1985 film uses the original as a jumping-off point to expand the Freddy Krueger mythos and unwittingly capture the struggle for queer youth to accept themselves and come out to loved ones.

In one of Jesse's (Mark Patton) early nightmares, he meets Freddy outside the basement door. "I need you, Jesse," Freddy says. "You've got the body, and I've got the brains." Freddy peels back his skin to expose throbbing brain matter beneath. As one of the villain's most iconic lines, it's both erotic and frightening in the same breath. Freddy also takes one of his finger blades and caresses Jesse's lips, a creative decision that fully embraces its super queerness. The gay overtones of Jesse's possible sexuality, as well as the real-world horrors that led this film (in part) ending Patton's Hollywood career before it really started, make the moment a skin-crawling encounter.