So You Like to Watch People Die?: The Appeal of Freddy Krueger

In honor of the launch of Under Worlds Austin (a Horror Sidebar to Other Worlds Austin) each OWA staff member has written about the Horror movie moment that had the biggest effect on them. Write us a comment with your own Horror movie moment! And if you’ve made a Horror film, submit it now to Under Worlds Austin!

 

Horror Movie Moment
by Michael Thielvoldt, Programmer & Tour Director


Unlike some of my fellow programmers, I never had that epiphany moment with Horror. I never saw that film that would unlock the genre for me, open me up to a new means of movie-going or redefined the oft schlocky image of so many horror subgenres. And that is because Horror has always been there for me. It is literally the genre that I always knew. 

Growing up the son of a Brazilian mother, I was given the opportunity as a wee tot to learn Portuguese or not. Small and stupid and concerned more with playing with my collection of action figures, I opted in the negative. Why was this four-year-old given a choice in the matter, I will never know, but there you have it: a half-Brazilian without a comprehensive understanding of the mother tongue. Thus, when I would travel to my familial city of Fortaleza, I was limited in my communication. This was particularly evident when we would frequent the local video store. So many titles...so many Portuguese-dubbed titles. 

My angloasis in this world came in the form of an extensive Horror section. These films, for reasons still unknown to me, were the few non-Portuguese language or Portuguese-dubbed American videos on their shelves, which translated to many many many hours spent burning my way through the great (and, admittedly not so great) series of Horror--and specifically slasher--titles cropping up amidst the onslaught of Horror film hysteria of the 80’s and 90s. 

BASKETCASE’s Belial became my second brother, the PUPPETMASTER gang: a slew of new playmates, Chucky and Jason: two more cousins, and Michael Myers: my mentally stunted, Boo Radley-esque neighbor? But no new family member was more beloved than my flamboyant, filthy-mouthed Uncle Freddy. I, like the rest of the nation, was lured under Krueger’s spell, and I had it bad...bitch. I watched all of his films over and over again. I watched his short-lived television series, FREDDY’S NIGHTMARES. I read his limited comic book series and collected his trading cards (not sure if these were official or copyright-infringing Brazilian fabrications, but I bought them nonetheless and used the stickers that came in each pack to decorate my desk, mirrors, and Trapper Keeper). 

I “made up” an illustrated character that would have surely got me in hot water with New Line’s lawyers over issues of trademark infringement, as he was pretty much just Super Freddy (from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET FIVE: THE DREAM CHILD) but with no lightning bolt chest symbol and the addition of a Zorro mask; and, I drew this character over and over again. One year I even went trick-or-treating as him, which--admittedly, was an effective excuse to get my parents to buy me the surprisingly well-crafted Freddy Krueger Halloween costume glove that I dawned countless times throughout the years that followed. 

To this day, the visage of Freddy Krueger peers down at me while I sleep. A poster of the original A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET signed by Wes Craven himself adorns the wall space above my bed, a meta-reconstruction of the famous scene from the film in which Freddy presses his face through the back Nancy’s bedroom wall. Yes, if I had to pick one of the many horror personalities and series that I devoured in my youth, Freddy and his nightmares on Elm Street would be hands-down my number one choice.

What was it about Freddy that made him stand out from the crowd? Simple: he broke with convention in nearly every way when it came to defining the slasher movie stalker. Whereas Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees (undoubtedly the prototypical and most famous slasher personalities prior to the rise of Freddy) were lumbering mutes, Freddy wouldn’t shut the fuck up, and he moved with ease and a cartoony floppiness that made him all the more unpredictable and self-confident. He didn’t need to move like a badass. He just was a badass. Because he stalked mostly in dreams, his speed is instantaneous. There was literally no running from him. He was not simply a visitor to your dreams; he was your dreams. He was specter and world alike. When you ran from him, you ran on him, in him, through him. This is a much more frightening prospect than the unrelenting walking forces of old from whom a victim could always run, even if it rarely helped. 

Freddy also relished the hunt to an extent beyond that of his predecessors. He earnestly enjoyed the playing with his victims more than their inevitable demise and out of this joy came endless creativity of terminal technique and an equally prolific number of one-liners. Freddy’s incessant tauntings have become the stuff of legend, even inspiring one of the greatest homage characters to date in Rick and Morty’s ball-chinned Scary Terry who takes up where Freddy left off: torturing his victims by way of their dreams and dropping the word “bitch” at the end of every other sentence. A few of my favorite Krueger zingers: 

“The only thing to fear is fear himself”

“I want to draw some blood”
(with a syringe in his hand)

“I’ll get you my pretty and your little soul too”
(while dressed as the Wicked Witch of the West, flying broomstick and all)

“Now I’m playing with power” 
(when killing a victim by way of a Donkey Kong-style side scroller and sporting a Freddy-stylized Power Glove)

“How’s this for a wet dream?” 
(following his disguise as a swimsuit model who surfaces from within a waterbed)

“What’s wrong, Joey, feeling tongue tied?”
(to a guy with a speech impediment)

“How sweet, fresh meat”
(not a pun, but still pretty great)

And, of course:
“Bon appétit, bitch!”
“Welcome to my world, bitch!”
and
“Kung Fu this, bitch!”
(none of which need explanation)

To revel along with any killer as they take a life is sick, no doubt, but anyone who admits to a fanship alliance with the slasher film must recognize at least some sadistic affinity for the various deaths the genre so abundantly showcases. And hey, if you’re going to do a job, you might as well enjoy yourself while you do it. Like his one-liners, Freddy’s comical gate highlights the fact that his victims’ torture was not a means to their deaths, but rather the whole point. Michael and Jason are quick, efficient killers. Freddy, on the other hand, is in it for the pure sadistic fun of stringing along his victims, feeding off of their fear rather than their blood. 

The opportunities available to a dream stalker are endless in comparison to those afforded by the real world. While David Cronenberg would be quite at home fusing a man to his motorcycle, if given the task, Jason would be at a loss for what to do. The same goes for Michael Myers, if his oversized butchers knife were replayed with--say--a cockroach motel or hearing aid. Cut down a victim while inside a comic book or video game? Feed them until they burst? How about death by overdose? Given these scenarios, Jason and Michael would return the offer with no more than their patented puppy-esque head tilts. Yet these examples are just the tip of the iceberg for the most creative killer in the game who not only found fun, new ways to end his victims lives, but often did so by fishing out their deepest darkest fears and making them face their phobias in their final moments. Freddy is literally the definition of fear, customized to the individual’s distaste. And we, the equally sick viewers of this slash smut, savor every twisted new torture. 

Surely there are more reasons to draw a twisted soul to Freddy’s unique brand of slapstick slashery than I have outlined here. There is the mythos surrounding him that draws from biblical axioms and iconography and taps into the dogmatic anxieties embedded in anyone raised in the teachings of the church. There are also nods to the dichotomous discourse of nature versus nurture that questions whether Freddy’s evilness it is innate (a rape baby: “the bastard son of a thousand maniacs”) or the product of his environment (a bullied and brutalized youth who cycled endlessly from foster home to foster home). Regardless of what specifically it is that draws you and me to Freddy, his allure is undeniable and his impact lasting. Whether you recently caught up on his entire oeuvre or it’s been decades since you dusted off your old A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET VHS, once thing is for sure: sooner or later he’ll surface in your nightmares, bitch!

© 2014 OWA SciFi Film Fest, LLC