If done properly, in that sing-song, little-kid-nursery-rhyme-double-Dutch kind of way, that’s all you have to say and immediately, horror fans will know what you’re talking about.
And grown men may shudder.
Those words (and the remaining twenty-two that finish out the mythic urban-legendary poem) and a few wordless boiler room shots of a two-toned red sweater, a weathered fedora and a razor-tipped glove introduced the world to the wise-cracking Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), the patron sinner of A Nightmare On Elm Street.
And created a whole new generation of teenage insomniacs.
Freddy (and the entire concept of Elm Street) was so unique, so refreshingly different, from all the other single-dimension slashers, demonic drudgery and disgruntled ghosts that had bottlenecked the horror circuit for so long. It was bound to be a hit. Released in November of 1984, Nightmare took the nation by storm, wowwing both fans and critics alike. It would go on to become one of the most lucrative and well-known horror properties ever, spawning five sequels and winning world-wide notoriety.
Like so many other Wes Craven chillers, Nightmare used fearsome fantasy to prey upon genuine, palpable fears. The teen victims/protagonist in Nightmare are cut from middle-class, suburban America’s white bread. They’re all neighbors and friends, none quite ready for prom, but all on the far edge of adolescence, dancing the dangerous two-step toward adulthood too quickly. When perky blonde Tina (Amanda Wyss) dreams that a hideously burned creature of a man with knives for a hand chases her through a boiler room and then wakes up to find her nightgown slashed, she gets so frightened that she begs her friend Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) and her boyfriend, Glen (Johnny Depp–yes, that Johnny Depp), to spend the next night at her house.
Once they arrive and the girls start talking, Nancy reveals that she had a similar dream. Just as everyone is getting good and freaked out, Tina’s overly-macho boyfriend, Rod (Jsu Garcia), shows up. Tina gives Nancy and Glen the friendly shove to other rooms so she and Rod can sneak into her absent parents’ bedroom to have sex.(Haven’t these kids ever watched a Wes Craven movie? Everybody knows what happens when you have unmarried sex in a horror film right?)
Afterward Tina falls asleep and dreams of the creepy man again. This time, he chases her down and when she begins screaming during her dream, Rod awakens just in time to watch her ripped to pieces by an invisible predator that tosses her around like a sack of potatoes. Nancy and Glen try to intervene, but the door to the bedroom won’t open. Rod flees, terrified and certain that he will be charged with the murder. Nancy’s goes to the police and tells her police officer father (Jon Saxon) about Tina’s dreams. Her father dismisses her report, eventually nabbing Rod for the killing.
The next day an exhausted Nancy returns to school. When she falls asleep in class, the creepy man stalks her in her dream, which finds her back in the same boiler room. To wake herself, Nancy sticks her arm on one of the steam pipes. It burns her in the dream and–as she wakes up screaming in class–she sees that it has burned her in reality as well. Thus begins the beauty of the cat and mouse/imaginary-blurring-reality madness of Nightmare.
Freddy is doubly dangerous because not only can he kill you in reality (as is revealed later in the film), he can just as easily off you in the one place you usually feel safe, slumber. It’s that xenophobic paranoia that makes Nightmare so brilliant; the invader is desecrating the sanctity of the perfect little utopia you’ve carved out for your and your 1.5 kids, and the overnight bliss of the once place where you can escape the rat race that wants to devour that utopia just as much. There is no escape from Freddy. And, thus, there is no escape from our own reality.
During one of these dream/reality warping sequences, Nancy is able to pull Freddy’s hat back into her real world. Her mother (Ronee Blakley) immediately recognizes that it belongs to Freddy, finally revealing that he murdered several local children but was never convicted due to a technicality. Together, Nancy’s folks and a group of other parents got together and burned Freddy to death to make him pay for what he’d done. Talk about ” he who is without sin cast the first stone”…
Scripture tells us time and again how the sins of the father will be reckoned upon his sons and daughters (usually for idolatry), sometimes even to the third and fourth generation. And Freddy seems to be Craven’s living personification of such vengeance. One–even if that one were a Christian–would be hard-pressed not to seek the same justice as the Elm Street parents, but was that the right thing to do? Nightmare reminds us to be wary of dealing out eyes for eyes; sometimes the after effects are even more horrific than the original offense.
Occasionally, the news is peppered with true stories of such forgiveness and, most often, the victim reports that because of his belief in Christ, he has forgiven his offender. Could you do the same? Could I?
Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.…” (Matthew 18: 21-22, NIV)
Could you do the same?
Maybe we’d both better sleep on that.