My first memory of Wes Craven is watching A Nightmare on Elm St (1984), at the age of six or seven. Thankfully, my liberal, hippy parents let me watch every Nightmare because they saw how happy they made me. I remember Freddy Krueger first appearing on screen, his burned face, striped sweater, and sinister smile. As a kid, I didn’t understand the underlying mythology of horror, its overt feminist plot-lines, or that Wes Craven had a Ph.D. in Literature from Johns Hopkins University. I didn’t think that one day I’d have my very own slasher column, based on the heroic Final Girls crafted by Wes. At that age, I knew one thing: Wes Craven was the king of horror. In 1996, at age 14, I watched Wes Craven’s Scream and became obsessed. And I’ve never looked at horror the same way. Scream pioneered the field of meta-horror (when characters know they’re in a horror film) with innovative kill scenes, witty dialogue, and a Wes Craven cameo. Sometimes I watch that part of Scream when Wes pops up as “Fred” the school janitor, wearing Freddy’s Krueger’s trademark sweater and fedora. In high school, my parents let me decorate their entire house, using corn syrup and red food dye to write Wes film lines all over the house. Across the kitchen cupboards I wrote, “1, 2 Freddy’s coming for you. 3, 4 better lock your door. 5, 6 grab your crucifix. 7, 8 gonna stay up late. 9, 10, never sleep again” You may remember this nursery rhyme from the children jumping rope in the original Nightmare. I also got a Scream voice changer and called my mom asking, “Do you wanna die tonight, Sidney?” Then I’d drop a fake severed leg off the balcony, from one of the Hollywood horror props stores. My friends would even wear Scream masks and hide in the bushes, calling my landline with fake threats. Is there a stronger word for obsessed? Later on in college, I got one of my Scream masks signed. I went to Johns Hopkins to see Wes speak, following a screening of The Hills Have Eyes (1977). Some jackass in the audience asked the father of horror, “how can you dare make violent films in the wake of 9/11?” Wes responded, “Have you seen the news? My kill scenes are nothing compared to their shock and awe. Horror is the purest form of satire, attacking immorality, not praising it. Have you paid attention to who survived? Horror is not about the kills, it’s about the survivors. Look at the survivors and what they stand for, equality, justice, perseverance. A better question would be, how could I not make these films?” I didn’t know it at the time, but this answer would eventually turn into my horror column, The Final Girl. In my column, I review slashers with a Final Girl (the chick who survives to kill the killer) looking at gender identity through a psychoanalytic/cognitive lens. For every mainstream critic who bashes horror for promoting violence against women, there are countless other feminist critics who see horror for what it truly is. Carol Glover, creator of the Final Girl theory, has worked with other scholars to discuss the feminist aspect of slashers in her text, Men, Women and Chainsaws. In what other genre do we see women grab chainsaws, axes, and knives, taking control of their own destinies? In what genre are overly sexualized and immoral women brutally murdered alongside hypermasculine douchebags? Horror has always turned traditional gender roles into a sin factor. The characters who are rewarded with survival are good, kind, brave, and genderless. As Wes said, “look at who survives and why.” After I heard Wes speak, I remember getting in line for autographs. I was in awe, and couldn’t speak. I handed him my Scream mask and a Sharpie. “You’re that fan, eh?” he said to me. I laughed because it sounded like something Scream’s Randy would say. That was over ten years ago. I had no idea that would be the last time I’d ever see him. Wes Craven died August 30, 2015. I had just started my Ph.D. program and was on the way to class. Checking twitter on the ride to school, I saw #RIPWESCRAVEN trending. My heart dropped, and I hoped like hell it was Kevin Williamson (Scream writer) playing a joke. Then I clicked through to obituaries, posts, and news articles confirming his death. I ducked into the girl’s room and cried in a bathroom stall, before heading over to my 8:30am class. When I finally got home, I hid in my closet, holding the signed Scream masking, and sobbing. I cried for every Scream party we had, all the horror screenplays and stories my friends and I wrote, every speech he gave on horror, all the characters he created. I cried for Billy Loomis, Freddy Krueger, Sydney Prescott, and for all the films he’d never get to make. As a tribute to Wes, for the anniversary of his death, I re-watched the original Nightmare. Firstly, Freddy Krueger was really the beginning of my obsession with Wes. And secondly, I still can’t bring myself to watch Scream, not even the watered-down MTV version. I’ve seen Scream over a thousand times. I am so grateful another member of our horror team is reviewing it for this tribute. A Nightmare on Elm St, written and directed by Wes Craven is one of the best horror films ever made. Period. In the opening credits, we see Freddy Krueger, the infamous serial killers sharpening knives, one for each finger. As Freddy prepares for revenge we see the opening credits: “A Wes Craven film” and the always hilarious, “Introducing Johnny Depp.” And of course, that cheesy 80s horror music. We open to Tina (Amanda Wyss, Dexter), a blonde high school student in a virginal white nightgown. She wanders through Freddy’s tetanus-filled boiler room, where he used to murder children. Before the start of the first Nightmare, Freddy had already killed over 20 children, earning the name The Springwood Slasher. As Tina wakes, we realize it was just a nightmare. Or was it? Freddy Krueger is a nightmare-demon who kills teens in their sleep. He cannot be stopped unless you pull him out of dream world into reality. Robert Englund who played Freddy throughout the franchise (not counting the Michael Bay remake), said the film was about neglect. Neglect suffered by children, as many of the kills reveal subconscious childhood fears, and he was not wrong. Freddy’s origin story is also the most fucked up of any killer, ever. Mr. Underwood, Freddy’s guardian, was a sociopathic killer who physically abused Freddy and make him torture animals. Freddy killed his “father” and turned into a serial killer. And oh yeah, he’s also the son of psychopathic rapists. His mother, Amanda Krueger, was sexually assaulted in an insane asylum by over 100 inmates. After Freddy killed his father, he was burned alive by the town’s parents, when it was discovered he was a child murderer. He then got off with some dope lawyers, made a deal with Dream Demons, and became the demon serial killer we know today. The idea of justice belonging in the hands of the avenger is a common trope in teen slashers. Films like I Spit on Your Grave (1978) and Scream (1996) exemplify the truth that violence against women is so socially acceptable—there is no consequence for the killer. Violence against women can only be avenged by the women themselves. Just like in Nightmare, “the lawyers got fat, and Freddy went free.” Final Girl Theorist, Carol Glover affirms this theme stating that the Final Girl must kill the killer, for there is no justice in the courts. To this day, it’s still a felony for a woman to report sexual or physical assault in several states in the U.S. Horror is one of the few genres of film that will admit that, and change the narrative. In the OG Nightmare, Tina is obviously going to die first. She’s blonde, busty, and dating the popular douchebag, Rod (Jsu Garcia). Rod says charming things like, “Hey Tina, I woke up with a hard on—it had your name on it.” Tina responds beautifully with, “My name has four letters. There’s no way it would fit.” Tina doesn’t seem to mind that Rod looks like a walking casting call for Danny Zuko (Grease).We then meet the smart kids in the group, Glen (Johnny Depp) and his girlfriend, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp). Glen is basically 1980’s Billy Loomis, complete with polo shirt, jeans, and sexy black hair. And since it’s 1984, he carries a big-ass boombox with tapes. The group starts to think something’s up when they realize they’ve all had the same dream. A guy with knives for fingers and a burned face. But what does it all mean? Nancy, being the Final Girl, is determined to find the truth. Nancy is one of the original Final Girls, intelligent, tough, and “sexually anorexic” as Sidney Prescott would say (Scream). Nancy even manages to thwart the advances of 1984 Johnny Depp, so she can be on alert for the nightmare killer. Even though Nancy and Glen try to save Tina, Freddy’s already killed her. Tina’s death is one of the most shocking and memorable scenes in horror history. It really redefined the slasher genre, that a person could be killed in their sleep. The idea was based on a real news article Wes Craven read about a man who died in his sleep, covered in knife wounds with no weapon in sight. There is only one rule to surviving NOE, don’t fall asleep. Tina begs, “Please, God” to which Freddy brandishes his knives and says, “This is God.” Tina gets pulled to the ceiling and stabbed to death, a river of blood gushing from the ceiling. Douchebag Rod, watches on in horror, unable to stop Freddy from killing his girlfriend. Covered in Tina’s blood, and known for his violent tendencies, Rod is locked up immediately. We know Rod didn’t kill Tina, and that the truth doesn’t matter. Nancy’s a Final Girl so no one believes her. Especially not with that gray streak in her dark brown, curly hair. Rod doesn’t last long, as Freddy kills him in his cell, framing it as a suicide. This gruesome kill scene is juxtaposed against the next scene, where an English class discusses the gravediggers in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. As a commentary on the hack, would-be poet that Shakespeare is, Nancy falls asleep as the teacher switches subjects to Julius Caesar. Wes Craven is known for incorporating literature and education in his films (he has to use that Ph.D.). It gives the film that meta-feel, as the students learn of gravediggers, while Freddy plans their deaths. Wes Craven created an amazing character with Nancy. She is smart enough to only fall asleep around her loved ones. As she drifts off in the tub, we see Freddy’s knife-glove appear from the water. But her alcoholic mother is good for one thing, knocking on Nancy’s door to say “don’t drown,” waking her from the nightmare, saving her life. After horrendous nightmares of Tina in a body bag, flashes of Rod’s brutal death, Nancy is sent to a sleep clinic. The 1984 scientists actually say, “we don’t know what dreams are.” This cracks me up every time, since we’ve known what dreams are for quite some time now. Psychoanalysts Freud and Jung liked to argue that dreams had this great deeper meaning and value. But Freud did mountains of coke, performed no experiments, and didn’t take notes. Thankfully, most dream-related Freudian theories have been replaced by cognitive neuroscience, and we know dreams mean nothing. Dreams are merely leftover data from your day. Anything your brain didn’t process, shows up in your dream. Most people remember their dreams, unlike me, who hasn’t remembered a dream since I was a kid. What would Freud have to say about that? Probably, “more coke!” Waking from a nightmare at the sleep clinic, Nancy emerges with a brown fedora. On the inside, it has a name. Fred Krueger. Back at 1428 Elm St, Nancy accosts her mother, Marge (Ronee Blakely), determined to learn the truth. “Mom,” Nancy implores, “Who is Fred Krueger?” Alcoholic mom is big on repression and refuses to answer. Then Nancy goes all Jack Bauer (24) and screams, “WHO IS HE?” until she learns the truth. Nancy’s mother takes her down to the cellar to show her Freddy’s glove of knives. “He’s dead,” she tells a bewildered and scared Nancy, “we killed him.” Her mother has repressed the memories, gaslighting Nancy the entire time. It has taken an hour of a 90-minute film for Mom to come forward. Nancy’s pissed. She screams, “SCREW SLEEP” and smashes her mother’s vodka bottle on the ground. At the time Freddy Krueger was only allowed to be called a “child murderer” as the MPAA would not approve a character being a child molester. There are several allusions, such as the fact that Freddy was a janitor who took the children, wearing all white to a boiler room. Grown up, the children only wear white in their nightmares, because in reality, their innocence was lost. I will never understand the censorship around American film. Wes Craven was not glorifying a child molester, he had him burned alive and killed in every single film. Though the 1980’s scientists, Nancy’s father the sheriff (John Saxon, Enter the Dragon), and mother don’t believe Nancy, there is some hope. Glen (Johnny Depp), is a sweet and wonderful boyfriend. He checks out a book from the library on “dream skills” and teaches Nancy how to bring Freddy into reality. Nancy looks at Glen with love, “I’m into survival” she says, wandering back to 1428 Elm St, where she lives. The actual numbers 1428 were stolen from that house in California by some die-hard Freddy fans. They are sitting in someone’s living room right now. Before Glen dies, we see him rocking the infamous #10 jersey. A jersey that is later worn in Scream and the 2010 Michael Bay remake. Nancy just needs Glen to stay awake, to keep her awake, so she can bring Freddy into reality and kill him. “Wake up me and whack the fucker!” she tells Glen. But Glen is Johnny Depp, so he falls asleep and gets brutally murdered by an invisible Freddy. Rivers of blood shoot up from Glen’s bed as Nancy watches from across the street. Then Nancy falls asleep, and Freddy’s tongue juts through the phone, “I’m your boyfriend, now” he says. This is my all-time favorite Freddy line. And not because it’s an allusion to sexual abuse, but because it reveals the shifting power structure. Cops, parents, teachers, no one can stop Freddy. He is God; he is Nancy’s new boyfriend; Freddy is all. It’s no wonder the cops can’t save anyone, the same dumbass sheriff here appears again in Scream. Don’t worry, though, Nancy’s got an Assassin’s Creed amount of trip wire, gunpowder, and weapons. Freddy falls into the traps, and Nancy tackles him like a football player (the ones who tackle, linemen? I don’t know). She finally brings him out of dream world into reality, exposing his vulnerabilities. Here there’s a commentary on the danger of repression. When Freddy stays repressed in one’s dreams, he has all the power. But in reality, when characters face their fears, Freddy can’t hurt them. Nancy locks Freddy in the basement and burns him alive. Like mother, like daughter. Because no one owns guns in this town, they just have a shitload of gasoline and matches. Sherriff is too late and Nancy’s mom gets slashed. Then Nancy turns to Freddy and emasculates him, stating, “You’re nothing.” Freddy disappears and the nightmare ends. Mom is alive and well and even vows to give up the bottle. Then boom! With a jump scare, Freddy kills the mom after all, then turns into a striped convertible. As Glen and Nancy drive off to “safety” Freddy is revealed to be the striped convertible, meaning the nightmare hasn’t ended. We see Nancy again in the sequel, so we know she survived at least. With an insane killer, hilarious dialogue, and that special Wes Craven style, A Nightmare on Elm St is an amazing film. I will never get the chance to see Wes again, but I’ll always have his films. And hopefully one day soon I can rewatch Scream. It’s been over a year since I’ve seen it, the longest I’ve ever gone. So thank you, Wes Craven, for giving me a childhood alternative to Disney. Thank you for inspiring me and challenging me to look at horror in new ways. There will always be a hole in my heart. I just hope you know how many lives you touched. And I want to thank the rest of the horror team for writing your Wes tributes. I leave you now, with my favorite Wes Craven dialogue. No surprise, it’s from Scream (written by Kevin Williamson): Killer: “Do you like scary movies?” Sidney: “What’s the point? They’re all the same. Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door. It’s insulting.” See larger image A Nightmare on Elm Street Collection (All 7 Original Nightmare Films + Bonus Disc) [Blu-ray] Nightmare on Elm Street Collection (1-7)(BD) New From: $34.49 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related One Response John E. Meredith August 31, 2016 Great analysis and perspective here. We need intelligent, educated people like you defending our reasons to watch horrific things. Well, I would anyway, but it’s still good to have back-up. I love Craven’s response to the obviously uninformed douche-bag . . . and equally love MEN WOMEN AND CHAINSAWS. Thank you, Dory. 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