An Ode To “A Nightmare On Elm Street” After Wes Craven’s Death

Horror fans everywhere are mourning the death of Wes Craven, who passed away yesterday at the age of 76 after a fight with brain cancer.

Even if you don’t much like horror movies, you probably liked Wes Craven’s films, let’s be honest. “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Scream” were both entrées into horror for my oldest sister’s generation and for mine, respectively, and I’d bet that Wes Craven is precisely exactly where many mainstream movie fans both started and stopped watching slasher films.

I have heard complaints that in comparison to Michael Myers of the “Halloween” franchise and Jason Vorhees of the “Friday the 13th” franchise, Craven’s Freddy Krueger comes off as too cartoonish to be actually scary. I beg to differ for two reasons. First of all, Myers and Voorhees were either sociopaths from the get-go or traumatized as children, and consequently became, for some reason, immortal. Freddy Krueger’s backstory is way more frightening: He was a pedophile, the parents in the neighborhood burned him alive, and years later, he came back to haunt, hunt, and kill the children he was preying on in their dreams. The whole premise of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” hinges on digging into our deepest fears and insecurities about things we can’t really control, like whether or not someone wants to hurt us, the safety of our children, or what happens when we sleep. It also digs into our confidence about our safety, piercing holes especially in teenagers’ self-perceived invincibility. Freddy Krueger was a predator who truly removed all of his victims’ vestiges of autonomy. It’s scarier to think that you could be killed in your dreams than it is to imagine that there’s a creepy guy in the woods, because in the modern world, you could avoid the woods your whole life, but you have to sleep eventually. Wes Craven boxed his audience into their fear. And that is why Wes Craven was a genius.

And, second of all, Craven made just astonishingly terrifying visual statements in “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” He paired up a villain who was meant to be charismatic and funny with more subtle shots that revealed what was lurking under that charismatic surface:


Which isn’t to say, of course, that he didn’t also take extraordinary joy in creating legendary bloodbaths, à la Johnny Depp’s death scene:


Wes Craven changed the horror genre three times, with the realism of “The Last House on the Left” in the ’70s, the wit and psychology of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” in the ’80s, and the mainstream flash, meta-horror and irony of “Scream” in the ’90s. He was an absolute giant. Let’s hope we don’t see him in our dreams.

[New York Times]
[The Guardian]

[Image via Getty]

Send me a line at [email protected].