When I originally begun to think about looking into horror movies from a psychological perspective, it was because of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street.
The story is considered one of the best slasher flicks of all time. The movie revolves around Freddy Krueger, a child murderer who was eventually killed by the town’s parents after the court system released Krueger on a technicality. In an effort to get revenge, Krueger comes back from the dead to kill his killer’s children from within the children’s dreams.
The reason I love A Nightmare on Elm Street is that there are psychological concepts in the movie that have nothing to do with each other yet still mesh together to make this movie work.
The first is Krueger’s need to kill children. Killing a child is one of those things that shock our society to the core, particularly because it is such an inhumane action. In most cases, child murderers kill children that they are put in care of. The children are usually put through intense abuse, whether it be physical, mental and/or sexual, before they are killed.
Famous serial child killers include John Wayne Gacy, who murdered at least thirty-three teenage boys and young men between 1972 and 1978. Gacy’s case has been used to try to figure out what would drive a man to do such unspeakable things. Another important case is Andrea Yates, a Texas woman who, in 2001, drowned her five children in a bathtub.
Both the Gacy case and Yates case showed the extremes to which someone can go when their mind decides it’s right to kill children. It’s important to know where the extremes are before you even tackle Krueger.
In Krueger’s case, Freddy leans more towards the Gacy side of the scale than the Yates side. The strange thing is that, in the original movies, Krueger is just a mindless killer without a psychological reason for the murders. The remake added a wrinkle of child molester, because statistically that’s what happens. A child killer is also usually a child molester. But the original Krueger was a murderer first and foremost.
Does that make the original Krueger more or less of a monster then the remake? No. It just makes them different. Both get gratification from killing children. The remake’s Krueger just is a different kind of bad.
The other thing that interests me is how Freddy Krueger kills his victims. In the movies, Freddy kills children by torturing them in their own dreams. This power, from both a supernatural and psychological perspective, is insane. Logic dictates that his victims die from the fear that comes from their bad dreams, but along with the mental torture of the dreams, physical wounds also exist postmortem. It is a horror movie, after all.
So Freddy, in a way, kills his victims in two different ways. He both tortures his prey mentally and kills them physically. There is an uncomfortable feeling that comes from a killer that can hurt you anywhere. It’s psychologically draining to the victims.
I think that’s what makes Freddy Krueger such an iconic slasher killer. His victims are never safe. It keeps both the characters and the audience on edge.