By KJ Hamilton
Dreams do become reality. But, whatever you do, don’t fall asleep. A Nightmare on Elm Street, in my opinion, is one of the scariest horror films of all time. I tried to figure out why as I screened the film for about the fiftieth time.
I think I have figured it out. It is one thing to be chased by a machete-wielding psychopath when you’re awake. You might have half a chance to escape, depending upon your role in the plot. But, when we sleep, our subconscious reigns; anything is possible. It is in this state that we are at our most open, most vulnerable. There are only two options: be asleep and dream or wake up. It is during sleep that the body replenishes itself; with the goal of awaking refreshed and renewed.
This film takes that option away. There is no chance for renewal. The choices change: stay awake or die. In Freddy Krueger’s world, if you die while you’re asleep, the nightmare becomes reality. Can it really get more terrifying than that?
For the teenagers in this film, the answer is a resounding no. Tina (Amanda Wyss), Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), Rod (Jsu Garcia) and Glenn (Johnny Depp, in his first film role) are ordinary high school students with one thing in common: they all have the same nightmare about a burned man, in a brown hat, a dirty red and green sweater, with “finger knives.” They are haunted by the disfigured spirit of a demented child killer named Fred Krueger (Robert Englund); who continues his killing spree while the teens sleep. This is the ultimate revenge—both consciously and unconsciously—for Freddy’s targets are the children of the people who brought him to his earthly demise.
The back story: A serial child molester and killer is discovered; arrested; released on a technicality; hunted down and burned alive by a group of angry parents. Yet, he is so demented, so horrible, so utterly deranged that not even death can stop him from killing.
That is utterly terrifying when you stop to think about it for a moment. Wes Craven certainly managed to hit at the very core of us. If we’re inclined to believe that we are immortal, that our energy and spirit go on to exist forever, then not even death can stop someone who embodies such evil. Even if we’re not inclined to believe in a heaven or hell, the very idea that someone can not only come back from the grave, but also attack us at our most vulnerable is enough to send shivers up and down our spines.
We have no choice; we need sleep. The series goes on to invent a drug that prevents dreaming (Hypnocil), but there is still the opportunity for the unconscious and the conscious to blend and wreak havoc.That is the world in which Freddy Krueger lives; he is the master of that domain.
No matter what drug they invent—and the series even goes so far as to erase Mr. Krueger from existence in newsprint and historical record—there is no escaping the reality of the fact that the body needs to recharge itself.
Freddy stalks his victims, both awake and asleep, and waits for the perfect moment to pounce. His mode of operation is as unique as the realm in which he lives. The film begins by showing us the creation of Freddy’s famous glove; the painstaking lengths to which Krueger went to sharpen, weld and create his weapon of choice.This is indicative of his persona: he is clever, creative. He stalks his prey, learns their weaknesses, and strikes at will.
At least, this is true of him in the first film. Later in the series, Freddy gets to have a lot more laughs at the expense of (innocent) others.
Freddy is the face of death knocking at the door of your subconscious. There is no alternative. Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep.
So, if we cannot escape the inevitable battle with Mr. Krueger, how do we deal with the nightmare? Glenn’s theory:
“They turn their back on it. Take away its energy and it disappears.”
Fred Krueger is the exception. After Freddy is pulled from Nancy’s dream into reality, he still manages to wreak havoc even after Nancy turns her back on him. He gets the final laugh.
Not exactly fair, is it? Then again, that’s Freddy’s M.O. No matter what happens (and if you’re a follower of the series like I am, you know that Fred has quite a bit of “fun” with the children in Springwood and beyond), the spirit that is Freddy Krueger just will not die.
Perhaps that is the most outlandish irony of all. Despite the fact that his favorite pastime is murder, Freddy became an icon. He represented the spirit of a generation of movie monsters, and movie goers alike, whose need for self expression translated into the idolization of a serial killer who preyed on the defenseless. For not even our heroine Nancy could defeat him.
“One, two, Freddy’s coming for you. Three, Four, lock your door…” That is the anthem of this generation; the generation that hasn’t slept in decades.