Could nightmares literally scare us to death?
Film director Wes Craven was inspired by stories he read in a newspaper about SUNDS — sudden unexplained nocturnal death syndrome. This condition involved stressed victims, particularly of Southeast Asian descent, who supposedly felt that their dreams would kill them. They were correct, as their deaths were preceded by nightmares.
While this frightening phenomenon is thought to have a scientific explanation, Craven decided to use it as the basis for a supernatural horror film. What resulted is one of the greatest horror franchises of all time: A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Freddy Krueger (played by Robert Englund) is an absolutely horrifying representation of all of our fears. The character is evil incarnate, and he reminds us of the absolute cruelty of reality. While love and hope are certainly stronger, there’s no denying that existence itself is tinged with suffering and punctuated by death.
“Please, God,” says one of Freddy’s victims in the original film.
“This is God,” Freddy replies as he holds up his clawed hand.
That’s pretty damn deep and twisted. There are all kinds of other themes thrown in there as well, such as innocence, corruption, neglect. And the idea that a being has power in your dreams but becomes weak upon entering the waking realm — that definitely means something metaphysical, even if we don’t quite know what it is. Freddy also tends to use his victims’ most personal fears and psychology against them.
While celebrating all things creepy during Spooktacular, let’s reflect on the history of Freddy Krueger. Maybe you forgot how twisted and delightfully freaky these films were.
We promise to make it interesting. We wouldn’t want you to fall asleep now, would we?
Frederick Charles Krueger had it bad from the beginning. No one can say who his real father was since his mother, Amanda, had been locked in a room and then violently assaulted by many psychopaths in a mental institution. That was the first bit of unfairness — she was a compassionate nun, yet she suffered a fate no one deserves.
The second injustice was when Frederick was placed in the care of an abusive “father.” Evil begets evil, and the twist in Freddy’s soul constricted further with every beating. He was also bullied by his peers. Over time, Krueger became a sociopath and, eventually, a psychopath.
Freddy’s first kill was his foster father. Then, when he grew up, he started targeting the children of Springwood. He just couldn’t shake his desire for revenge — he decided he would hurt the kids of all those who had hurt him.
Strangely enough, Freddy had a wife and daughter at this time. He seemed like a decent, happy man on the surface. But demons were always just under the skin.
He would murder children in the boiler room of his place of work, the Springwood power plant. The townspeople called the murderer “The Springwood Slasher,” and they longed to unmask his identity and bring him to justice.
Eventually, Krueger was arrested. Bizarrely, he was released on a technicality — a misplaced signature. This didn’t sit well with the parents of Springwood. They poured gasoline on their children’s killer, lighting him on fire and letting him burn to death in his unholy boiler room.
But Freddy wasn’t finished. Beings even more evil than he, the Dream Demons, came to him at death and offered him a horrific gift. He could survive in the realm of dreams, attacking sleepers at will. And when you die in the dream world, you die for real.
Victims Fight Back
Freddy vowed to kill the children of all who helped burn him. He continued a reign of terror in Springwood for years, but it was stopped intermittently by a succession of brave kids.
At the beginning, there was Nancy Thompson, the first we see in the films who really fights back. She figures out Freddy’s weakness, successfully bringing him into the waking world where he is mortal. Unfortunately, she doesn’t completely defeat him, and he comes back in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.
He then possesses a boy named Jesse Walsh, who had moved into Nancy’s old house years later. In some pretty awesome and grotesque scenes, the teenager is transformed into a body like Freddy’s, which Freddy’s soul uses to kill more kids.
A few years later, in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, the surviving children of Freddy’s original killers are grouped together in a mental hospital. Nancy Thompson, now a researcher, is attempting to heal their trauma. The hospital prescribes them medicine and gives them therapy, but none of it keeps Freddy at bay for long. He returns and kills several people.
The patients band together and call themselves the Dream Warriors, all possessing powers in their dreams which enable them to fight Krueger. One patient, Kristen, can actually pull people into her dreams. Nancy and Kristen learn 0f Krueger’s origins, and they also discover that Freddy gains power by stealing souls.
Nancy is killed in battle, but Freddy is seemingly defeated when his bones are buried and the grave is sanctified.
Like any powerful fear, Freddy gets resurrected a lot. In The Dream Master, a dog pisses fire on his grave (no, really — and within someone’s dream), and once again he embarks on a reign of carnage. This time, he uses Alice Johnson, who soon gets the deceased Kristen’s power to bring people to the dream world.
Freddy’s reflection in a shard of stained glass allows the souls of his victims to defeat him. In the The Dream Child, Freddy is reborn as an evil fetus through the spirit of his mother. He then tries to use the dream world of Alice’s unborn child to get more victims.
Later, in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, Freddy fights with his daughter, Maggie Burroughs, who eventually kills him. But it doesn’t last.
The next film, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, treats all the previous Elm Street events as fictional movies. But an evil being is released from the confines of the films and, using the image of the Freddy character, he terrorizes the actress who portrayed Nancy, Heather Langenkamp. She and Englund play versions of themselves alongside director Wes Craven in this meta-revisiting of the original film’s darker themes.
The Nightmare Lives On
In the 2003 horror crossover film Freddy vs. Jason, the town of Springwood has forgotten about Krueger. He needs their fear in order to return. Ingeniously, he leads immortal killer Jason Voorhees to Springwood, letting him kill teenagers so it can be blamed on Freddy.
A few clever teens decide to pull Freddy out of the dream world and pit him against Jason. During a fierce battle, an explosion appears to kill Freddy, and Jason is seen walking away with his severed head — which then winks at the audience.
Freddy later fought Jason again along with Evil Dead’s Ash Williams in the Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash comic. It would appear that as long as dreams and nightmares exist, there will always be a place for Freddy to visit.
Which of the Freddy Krueger films is your favorite? Let us know in the comments and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow.
There’s a chill in the air. The leaves tremble in a skeleton dance and shadows seem just a little darker. Channel the spirits and revel in Sideshow’s Spooktacular 2021 — a celebration of all things sinister, scary, and downright spooky.
Join us from October 25-31 by visiting side.show/spooktacular and don’t forget — Sleep is for the weak!