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The bizarre Elm Street spin-off novels: ‘Ripped from a Dream’

If you’re a horror fan, as am I, you’ll probably have heard of Freddy Krueger. He’s the villainous killer of the Nightmare of Elm Street film series, who invades the dreams of his victims to murder them as they sleep. But I bet you didn’t know that he was also the star of a series of five spin-off books, continuing his murderous adventures. These emerged in 2005 and 2006, riding on the success of Freddy vs Jason, but they clearly didn’t make much of an impact.

This was news to me, until I stumbled across a very interesting curio at a charity shop – Ripped from a Dream, an omnibus of the first three Freddy Krueger original novels. In many ways, the series makes sense to explore in literary form, as Krueger’s dream powers are limited only by the author’s imagination, and the later pun-cracking Krueger should be great fun to write. This is in theory, but does Elm Street work as a book series? As Halloween approaches, here’s a look at these literary horrors – are they worth seeking out, or should they have remained confined to the charity shop?

It reads like a poor high school drama, full of caricatures of teenagers

The collection opens with a book called Suffer the Children, which is the closest in spirit to the Elm Street films. It follows six volunteers who test an anti-insomnia drug, which leaves them trapped in Krueger’s dream realm. There, however, they discover that they have special powers to fight back (much like in the third film). The characterisation is generally good, and I thought that Freddy was well-written (even if it made him much more of a creep than I thought the films implied), even if some of the kills were very predictable. Frustratingly, too, it ends on a cliff-hanger that, as far as I can see, was never picked up again. But, that’s a minor flaw in a generally solid read.

Things get somewhat more bizarre in the second and weakest of the collection, Dreamspawn. After Suffer the Children, I was really interested to see what would happen in the next story – that excitement did not last after the excellent prologue was over. Freddy doesn’t turn up until 200 pages in, and that wouldn’t be an issue if the other characters weren’t so boring. It reads like a poor high school drama, full of caricatures of teenagers, and the story sees them use Freddy’s glove to control him to get revenge. His late inclusion doesn’t improve things – this story feels like two halves of two very different stories awkwardly stapled together.

The characters are largely boring… they’re not particularly scary, even with a generally darker version of Freddy more in line with the early films

We wrap up with a story called Protégé, which has a really interesting premise. Freddy implants some of his evil into an unborn child before he kills the mother. The child, Jerome, lives and grows up, and Freddy attempts to turn the child evil and use him to wreak havoc in the real world. But he turns on Freddy, and seeks to defeat him. It is fairly reminiscent of the second film at points, but it boasts a really interesting main character and some solid horror. In terms of originality, this is certainly the best book in the collection.

This collection encompassed the 2005 books, and two more came out in 2006. I haven’t read either of them but, from what I gather, Perchance to Dream pitted Freddy against a young boy with the power to prevent the dreams of others. The final book, The Dream Dealers, sounds the most unusual – there appears to be a software allowing people to record their dreams, and experience the dreams of others, and the reach this would give Freddy is obviously a source of horror.

If you’re a Nightmare on Elm Street fan, you may enjoy these books: they generally capture Freddy well, and they try to do new things with the series in narrative terms. But, of the three I’ve read, they suffer some of the same issues too – the characters are largely boring, and many of the set-ups far too obvious. Worst of all, they’re not particularly scary, even with a generally darker version of Freddy more in line with the early films. I read them before I went to sleep, and Freddy didn’t trouble my dreams once.

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