When I was about five years old my parents, in an astonishing huge lapse in judgment, decided it would be a good idea to have a night on the town and entrust my sister, eight years my senior, with my mental, physical and emotional well being. It just so happened to be around Halloween time and lucky for her I was too busy getting sugar drunk on pounds of candy corn to obey the simple rules she had set such as, “Don’t be a pain in my ass”. Sometime around hour three of me shrieking and jumping on the couch and telling her she was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen in my life she lost her cool and through gritted teeth issued me an ultimatum. I had better be quiet or else. “Or else what?” I foolishly egged on. “Freddy’s gonna get you.” And that my friends, was the beginning of the end. Those four words are forever etched in my brain, causing me countless sleepless nights and at least three college credits worth of therapy.
Because of course, fool that I was, I needed to know who Freddy was and my sister was more than willing to produce a VHS tape which would provide me with those answers. Two and a half hours later and I was screwed for YEARS. Years. I actively tried not to allow myself to dream. Why? Because Freddy was obviously going to get me. I looked at all burn victims not as people who had survived a physical atrocity, but as minions of Mr. Krueger. And don’t even get me started on people wearing fedoras. You know what people who wore fedoras had? A giant scissor claw for a hand that they would break out if you so much as looked at them sideways. And so my life went for years. For the remainder of my child and young adulthood, I never watched another horror film until college when, in act of bravado I can only attribute to the lethal amounts of vodka I was ingesting, I allowed myself to watch Nightmare on Elm Street at a Halloween party.
And you know what? It was HILARIOUS. That’s right, seventeen years later and I was finally able to LAUGH in the face of Freddy Krueger. How did I miss the ridiculousness of this before? How did I not chuckle at such poignant one-liners such as “I’ll kill ya slow!” and “I’ll split you in two!”. Don’t get me wrong, the film excels at being awful but at the heart of it, it is still downright awful. And though I’m sure being too young to see any kind of horror film played its part in my Nightmare on Elm Street nervous breakdown, I have since had survived the entire Scream serious, The Exorcist, Saw and The Ring without so much as losing of wink of sleep. What was it about this film that dug so deep into the psyche of not only myself but from what I gather speaking to others, an entire generation?
And the answer is simple. Wes Craven is an evil, evil genius that created a film that preyed on every aspect of the psychological makeup of the quintessential 1980′s child. I’m not saying we didn’t deserve it. We were spoiled through and through with our Nintendos and our Teddy Ruxpin and over use of neons– we needed a little Freddy Krueger to bring us back down earth and teach us an important lesson. And that lesson is that no matter how much cool shit you have, no matter how popular you are, it doesn’t matter. Because you will never be entirely safe. Even in your dreams.
Which, in my opinion, is really Craven’s ultimate tool in assaulting any sense of comfort we had. And we had a lot of comfort. We were the generation of possibility. The generation that was told since it was in utero that anything we dreamed was possible. And then Nightmare came along and completely tossed that notion on its head with the flick of a freakish knife hand. All that dreaming and scheming and fantasizing, we realized, could now KILL YOU.
A lot of film critics will wax poetic about the implications of a film like Nightmare on Elm Street, but most only go so far as to say that what the film represented was the frustration of being a teenager and being powerless over everything in the world, even your own thoughts. True, but I think it also goes deeper than that. How does Freddie Krueger fit into this social metaphor? Because if you’ve seen the film you know he’s not just some figment of the imagination or the subject of an ironic plot twist a la the “who done it?” legacy of Scream. He’s his own frightening person with a real story. He’s imposing, he sets the scene and by extension the rules, he preys specifically only on children, he wears an atrocious argyle sweater…he’s obviously a representation of the parental unit. Add on to that the fact that he was in turned into the monster that he was because all the parents in the town foolishly took justice into their own hands and you have an incredibly powerful message: adults screw everything up, and kids are the ones that suffer because of it.
Yes, Freddy was a murderer before they decided to burn him but for all we know once he was let off the hook the terror would have stopped there. Maybe after dodging a legal bullet Freddy, unlike OJ Simpson, would think, “You know what I’m pretty lucky that turned out the way it did. I think I should maybe lay low for now on.” But no…the parents had to get involved and in an asinine fashion only a parent would be capable of, they ruined the lives of their children. All in the name of having their best interest at heart.
That is why the movie was terrifying to watch as a child. Wes Craven took away our dreams, our trust in our parents, and any sentimental value the “One, two, pick up my shoe” nursery rhyme held in our hearts. Add on a gruesome costume, a chilling score, and having to watch the beautiful Johnny Depp be killed and you have the perfect recipe for emotional scarring. Because just like your parents, Freddie knows everything. He has those special eyes in the back of his head. And he’s going to get you.