Welcome back everyone to Shocktoberfest, and as we hit our half-way point, we shall examine another monster who celebrates his 30th anniversary in 2014 and has become a horror icon: Freddy Krueger.
For those of you not familiar with the A Nightmare on Elm Street series, a quick back story may be in order. Written by director WEs Craven, Freddy Krueger is introduced as a child murderer who escapes incarceration due to a legal technicality. Unsatisfied with Freddy not receiving justice, a mob of angry parents hunt him down and chase him into the same boiler room where he used to take his victims where they lock him in and burn him alive. While Freddy dies physically, his spirit survives the fire and decides to take vengeance on the parents who killed him by murdering their children in the one place they cannot be protected: their dreams. The more afraid you are of him, the more powerful he becomes, and with the laws of the dreamworld, he’s able to bend reality in any way he wants to make his kill more amusing to himself, spouting one liners throughout. Nancy Thompson, the first film’s protagonist, discovers that if she can make physical contact with Freddy and wake up while still holding him, he can be pulled into the waking world where he can be killed…temporarily.
Even though he’s technically a ghost, he still bears the scars from his attack as well as his clothes and weapon: a brown fedora, a red and green striped sweater and a leather glove on his right hand with metal claws on each finger.
In later films in the series, we learn more about how Freddy came to be the way he is. In A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, we learn that Freddy’s mother, Amanda Krueger, was a nun who worked in the town asylum where all of the most dangerous and violent criminals were kept. One day she accidentally got locked in the room where they were all kept, and after she was freed, they found that she had been raped hundreds of times by the inmates and consequently gave birth to Freddy, presumably making him a bastard son of 100 insane men. In the sixth film, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, we learn that even from an early age, Freddy displayed antisocial behavior and was sent to live in a foster home. To make a bad situation worse, Freddy’s foster father was an abusive alcoholic who taught him how to torture animals and inflict pain on himself. Eventually Freddy murders him without consequence and finalizes himself as a killer.
Since 1984, there have been nine movies with Freddy Krueger, and the first eight all starred Robert Englund as the vengeful spirit of our nightmares. In his final performance in 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason, Krueger uses Jason Vorhees from the Friday the 13th series to commit some murders to begin starting rumors of himself to circulate in order to give himself enough strength to return to full capacity, but when Jason starts stealing Freddy’s thunder, the two of them begin to bonk heads. While not a hit with critics and general moviegoers, it was a fun slashfest for fans of both series.
In 2010, reboot of the original film was released under the same name, this time with Jackie Earle Haley starring as Freddy Krueger. While it basically tells the same story as the first film, there was one slight difference that harkened back to an element that Wes Craven originally wanted for his film but made a change at the last minute. In the 2010 film, Freddy is introduced as a pedophile instead of a child murderer, and rather than getting off on a technicality in court, he skips town before he can be arrested. It’s not until he comes back as a phantom that he begins murdering people. I think that’s part of the reason why this film did not do well. Not only was it a rinse-and-repeat, by-the-numbers slasher movie, but in spite of Haley’s engaging performance both as live and dead Freddy, the film portrays him more as a sick man who knew what he was doing was wrong but couldn’t help himself and begs for his life when the angry mob of parents track him down. In other words, the film tried to evoke sympathy for Freddy Krueger.
Freddy doesn’t work as a sympathetic character because he isn’t supposed to be. He’s a predator to children, and even if it’s beyond his ability to control it, you can’t have him be a victim of his own illness while also being a malevolent spirit of death in the same story. When Jackie Earle Haley played a sex offender in Little Children, it was able to work because the story was at least grounded in reality and portrayed the characters as everyday people with their own inner demons. A Nightmare on Elm Street is not grounded in any sense of reality, so if you’ve got a character that is able to murder people in their dreams from beyond the grave, there’s no point in trying to make your character relatable. That’s why Robert Englund’s portrayal of Freddy was able to win audiences over because if the premise is already far-fetched, you might as well go all-out with it.
Since 1984, Freddy Krueger has transcended beyond the silver screen to a 1988 television series called Freddy’s Nightmares, novelizations, video games (including a DLC character in the 2011 Mortal Kombat) and even comic books–some in which Jason is also featured.
As sick and twisted as he is, we can’t help but love Freddy Krueger because he’s a powerful revenant who loves being evil, and the more messy the kill, the happier he is. And in spite of it all, there’s something admirable about a malicious character who knows how to have fun with himself and turn his mental illness into a game. As time goes on, we can expect to see his disfigured face popping back up again and again.