Moronic / Iconic, Part Two: The Laughing Boogeyman
By Desmond Reddick
05 March 2007 — For all intents and purposes he should be cinema's most terrifying figure. He is a sadistic, grotesque pedophile, whose power is only limited by his twisted psychopathic imagination. So why is it that Freddy Krueger is played for laughs?
To understand the true evil that resides in Krueger, one has to look at his past. (It should be noted that most of his back story is contradictory. From film to film much would change. So most of the facts I'll use come from the first two films, and what many consider the last canonical film in the series: Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare.) Krueger's mother was a nun who, while trapped in a ward for the criminally insane, was raped and beaten over the span of several days by 100 madmen confined therein. Left for dead and pregnant, she recovered physically and brought the baby to term. Frederick Krueger was a breech birth who was given up for adoption to an abusive father (portrayed by Alice Cooper in Final Nightmare). Young Freddy lived as a sociopath, torturing animals, being friendless and even coming to enjoy the pain doled out by his father's beatings. As a grown man, he married a woman and had a child with her. Living the façade of a normal like, as many sociopaths do, it only ended when his wife discovered his secret stash of torture devices and other damning evidence. Ever the sadist, Fred killed his wife in front of his young daughter. Police caught up to Fred, having discovered his den of rape and murder in the boiler room of the factory where he worked. The police neglected to sign a search warrant which resulted in the multitude of evidence being inadmissible. Despite the fact that everybody knew he was guilty, Fred Krueger walked away a free man.
While that may seem slightly ridiculous, I am willing to suspend my disbelief to make way for one of the greatest revenge stories ever told. In an understandable rage, the parents of Elm Street confronted Krueger at his boiler room, trapped him within and set fire to the building. As he was dying, and here's where things get all Jason Goes to Hell on us, Dream Demons came to offer him immeasurable power in exchange for using his evil nature against the dreams of the living. Now, in a reversal of the revenge taken on him, Krueger returns to kill the children of Elm Street in their dreams, thus killing them in real life. What's so damn funny about that?
Freddy Krueger has all the makings to be the most tragically twisted character in history. But Krueger has been transformed from the creepy lecher of the first two films to a joke-cracking star due, in part, to the branding of the character. After all, we can't have children dressing up as pederast serial killers can we? Examples of this range from the very creepy activity of the first two films (the tongue coming out of the phone, the razor-gloved hand rising out of the bathtub between Nancy's legs and the various serpentine imagery used throughout) to the kills played for laughs (like the TV kill from Dream Warriors). In this way, Freddy became less of a menace; his kills became a spectacle. One ridiculous kill after another set the stage for films like Final Destination and Idle Hands, which created a subgenre of teen-oriented, PG-13 faux horror films.
Wes Craven made one last attempt to redeem the evil nature of his creation in the non-canonical addendum to the series Wes Craven's New Nightmare. It also happens to be my favorite of the series, as anybody who read my review of Behind the Mask knows how much I enjoy a deconstruction of the conventions of horror cinema. In New Nightmare we are led to believe that we are in the real world with Heather Langenkamp (Nancy from the first and third Nightmare films, and one of cinema's most famous final girls) experiencing a series of strange events: her husband dies in a car accident, weird dreams plague her nightly, Freddy Krueger prank calls her and so on. All of these are reminders of the past. You see, Heather is an actress portraying herself. The film also stars Wes Craven and Robert Englund as themselves.
Heather seeks the aid of Craven who explains, that in a script he is currently writing, Freddy can only be killed by being portrayed in a work of art. Taken at face value, it's silly and somewhat stupid, I know. But when looked at metaphorically we see that Craven himself is saying that the films in the series have been subpar. It's a little hokey but it is at least a comment on the decline of quality in the films, and, for the first time in over a decade, Freddy was back to being creepy instead of funny. Of course, it's not a great Nightmare film, but it is a great deconstruction of the genre.
And as I mentioned in the first installment of this series of articles, they resurrected the canonical Freddy Krueger for a showdown between him and another icon in Freddy vs. Jason, but Freddy was back to his joke-cracking ways and even ended the film with a sight gag!
The rumors of a prequel looming in the distance bring both hope and trepidation for this dead duck of a series. The trial of Freddy Krueger was covered in the pilot episode of the short-lived anthology series Freddy's Nightmares, but rumors say that it will also be the premise of the prequel. This can go two ways: it could bring the creepy back, or it could crash and burn in PG-13 hell. If they are telling Krueger's story framed in the format of a court drama, they would have to flash back and forth through grim and disgusting subject matter. It would have to be a hard R rating and may need to be neutered to hit the big screen. It could even still be just what the franchise needs. Krueger taking the stand could either make for one of the most engrossing cinematic horror experiences in recent memory, or it could be the greatest cinematic train wreck in recent memory. Of course, they'll probably ruin it all with a joke from iconic Freddy at the end in an "it was just a dream" ending.
I'll end by saying that it is very clear what went wrong with Freddy. However subtle it may have been, the transition from creepy uncle to sadistic jester truly ruined the character. Like all diluted antiheroes, the razor-gloved boogeyman needs a shot in the arm if he is to gain my respect back.