Why 17 days? Because 17 is my favorite number.
At the same time, the effect horror had on me was dramatically shifting. Sure, I still enjoyed horror and jumped at all the right “gotcha” moments, but I stopped carrying that lingering dread out of the theater with me. As a child, horror movies loitered in my consciousness for days, giving me uneasy dreams and forcing me to sleep with the lights on. But by the time the Van Halen Era of Horror kicked in, I was well past that, able to walk my early-morning paper route without fear of being assaulted by creatures I had seen in film. I finally realized the radio spot for Last House on the Left was right--it is only a movie, only a movie, only a movie …
That was before Wes Craven introduced me to Freddy Krueger.
The films of the Van Halen Era--Halloween, Friday the 13th, Dawn of the Dead, etc.--are a lot of fun, but the fear certainly didn't linger for me after. I knew that Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees with their Rasputin-like invincibility could not exist, and if a zombie apocalypse like the one in Dawn of the Dead occurred, I could easily outrun the the walking dead. I had stopped flinching at shadows, stop believing in ghosts, and at some point the horrors of the real world far outweighed what I saw in the movies.
Freddy Krueger is not a real-world horror and is less believable than Michael or Jason. Why, then, did I find him so terrifying?
In A Nightmare On Elm Street, Freddy (Robert Englund) is the spirit of a serial killer who invades the dreams of a quartet of teens. Here in this dreamscape, he is able to brutally murder each one of them, which results in said teen dying violently in his or her sleep. In the early going, Freddy takes out Tina (Amanda Wyss) in her dreams, making her body in the real world thrash and bleed profusely. Later, Tina’s boyfriend Rod (Nick Corri), arrested for Tina’s murder, is visited by Freddy while sleeping in his jail cell, and soon he is hanging by his neck from the bars, an apparent suicide. Realizing that they are next, resourceful Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) and her boyfriend Glen (Johnny Depp in his first film role) fight to keep themselves from falling asleep lest they fall victim to the murderous Freddy.
I was 20 when I saw this film, and I fell in love with it for one reason: it was the first film in eight years to get to me. Much had to do with Freddy himself, an ugly, malevolent fiend who takes as much delight in stalking his prey as he does actually killing them. With his hideous face pulsating with festering burns, his filthy striped sweater, his chest oozing green pus and worms, and those awful knives on his fingers (which he drags across hard surfaces like nails on a chalkboard), Freddy Krueger lives up to the title of Nightmare. In his first film, before being watered down in the sequels, Freddy is both disgusting and terrifying. What’s more, he’s fast (he literally scampers down the alley after Tina while giggling gleefully), and if you manage to outrun him, he just uses his dreamworld powers to reappear in front of you. There is simply no escape from this monster.
I admit it. I fought sleep for a long time. Every time I succumbed to it and subsequently woke up the next morning after Freddy-free dreams, I was silently thankful. I knew it was only a matter of time before I finally saw him, and then … who knows if my fragile mind could take it?
Weeks after the release of A Nightmare On Elm Street, I was in the upper level of Beach Music Hall on the Emporia State campus, playing piano in one of the practice rooms. Suddenly, I heard a screeching sound coming down the hallway, that fingernails-on-chalkboard whine of Freddy Krueger’s knives dragging along some hard surface. I figured it was someone I knew trying to scare me, so I turned to look at the tiny viewing window in the practice room’s door, waiting for the face of one of my goofy friends.
To my shock and surprise, the slimy burnt face of Freddy Krueger appeared!
That was when I knew I was in a dream. What’s more, because it was my dream, I knew I had control over the outcome. I flung open the practice room door and start beating Freddy Krueger senseless, finally dragging him down the hall and dumping him into the stairwell. I still remember his screams as he bounced down two flights of stairs.
I never dreamed of Freddy Krueger again.
Previous Days of Halloween
Day 1 – Baby’s Breath
Day 2 – Phantom of the Paradise
Day 3 – The Shining (miniseries)
Day 4 – 28 Days Later
Day 5 – 28 Weeks Later
Day 6 – Dawn of the Dead (original)
Day 7 – Dawn of the Dead (remake)
Day 8 – The Howling
Day 9 – Saló or the 120 Days of Sodom
Day 10 – Romper Stomper
Day 11 – The Valley of Gwangi
Day 12 – Kolchak: The Night Stalker (entire series)
Day 13 – The Hills Have Eyes (original)
Day 14 – The Hills Have Eyes (remake)
Day 15 – Let the Right One In