Silent slashers hidden behind expressionless masks, like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, inspire a certain kind of fear. The mystery of not knowing what a horror antagonist really looks or sounds like inspires a fear of the unknown and the powerlessness of not being able to communicate with a threat to reason or negotiate. As this Behind the Monsters episode shows and analyzes, Freddy Krueger is the opposite. While he can certainly lurk in the shadows, he has no qualms about showing his famous face and verbally taunting his targets. And yet, rather than his differences from other slasher killers making him less scary, Freddy Krueger inspired a different kind of fear, which made him explode in popularity.
After the title sequence, we get more insight into what makes Freddy unique as a character and as a horror villain in the age of 1980s slasher films. Kevin Yagher posits that, while masked, silent killers are scary; he believes that having the antagonist be a character with a backstory creates a “better horror icon.” Freddy Krueger certainly has a detailed backstory that’s laid out in the very first film.
After a quick recap of Freddy Krueger’s in-universe backstory, we get the character’s origin story from his creator, Wes Craven. Craven, seeing how many slasher killers were using “edged weapons” at the time, wanted to create something different for Freddy Krueger. The idea for Freddy’s famous glove came from Craven thinking back to one of humankind’s earliest feared weapons: an animal’s claws. Jim Doyle was tasked with designing and building the original Freddy gloves for A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).
Hearing in such detail the story of how the glove came to be in concept and then in construction from the person who made it happen is fascinating. As with so many iconic elements, despite the deep thought and trial and error that went into it, the glove was not created to be itself notable: it was created just to be a tool for the character. Robert Englund incorporated the glove’s weight into his performance as Freddy Krueger and used it as an extension of himself. All of these elements combined with the uniqueness of the weapon itself made it just as remembered and recognizable as Freddy. A kitchen knife may bring a few different killers to mind, but only one has a glove with knives on each finger.
Wes Craven and his son, Jonathan Craven, offer great insight into Freddy’s character and his appeal. As Freddy’s creator, Wes Craven shows how much thought went into developing this character whom no one anticipated becoming not only a multi-movie success but a star in his own right outside his own films.
Jonathan Craven, having inside knowledge of Krueger’s creation but also experience with audiences’ reactions to the character, is a great bridge between the two sides. Jonathan believes that part of Freddy’s appeal comes from his personality: his intelligence and his humor make him more relatable to viewers. He even compares Freddy Krueger directly to Jason Voorhees, discussing how Freddy’s personality even gave him a physicality that, to him, Jason doesn’t have.
This 43-minute episode of Behind the Monsters offers a very deep dive into the Freddy Krueger character: his origins, including his glove, his evolution through the years, whether in his films, in other media, or in general pop culture, and his enduring legacy. As someone who’s seen multiple movies in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, this author was satisfied with how deeply the episode delves into Freddy Krueger.
Heather Langenkamp, who played both Nancy Thompson and a fictionalized version of herself in the film series, offers great insight into what makes Freddy unique as a killer. Rather than killing for no discernible reason or killing to get something specific from his victims, Freddy Krueger kills, in Langenkamp’s words, “with this sense of glee.”
Anya Stanley expands on this: not only does Freddy enjoy it, but he wants his targets to know that he’s enjoying it. Tommy Huston expands on this by getting into how Krueger’s a more psychological killer than many of his contemporaries. A simple stabbing with his glove won’t do: each kill must be carefully crafted and individually designed to maximize the pain, suffering, and terror of each victim.
Robert Englund, Freddy Krueger himself, provides a clear picture of what makes Freddy so uniquely scary in a landscape of slashers: the psychological element. Nightmares that draw out and twist our deepest fears are a universal experience. What knows your deepest fears better than your own subconscious? And if someone can dig into your subconscious and uncover fears you may not even be aware of, what can they do, when given the free reign and blank slate of dreams, to turn that against you?
This episode also tackles how Freddy exploded into the popular consciousness so quickly, that it may have outrun what people knew about the character, noting the differences in Freddy’s personality from A Nightmare on Elm Street to A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985). It even expands to talk about Freddy’s increased presence outside the horror genre, hosting shows on MTV, appearing with rock stars, and making all sorts of other appearances outside his own film series. Not to mention the merchandise galore, from costumes to 1-900 phone numbers, to children’s lunchboxes and thermoses.
Since Behind the Monsters focuses on the monsters, not every film gets talked about in detail, but this episode does discuss how, the course of the film series, Freddy Krueger’s comedy for each kill increased. The episode does give special attention to the first, third, and seventh films in the series. These films were the ones helmed by creator Wes Craven, and the interviewees’ consensus is that those films were the best-received, each bringing a new jolt to rejuvenate the series.
This episode does talk about the 2010 remake; however, none of the interviewees had direct involvement in it. Still, they discuss the differences between that film and the other Nightmare on Elm Street films that may have led to it not kicking off a new branch of the franchise.
Ultimately, the episode’s overwhelming consensus is that Freddy Krueger is here to stay as a pop culture icon. Each generation will discover the character for themselves and start the cycle of love and popularity all over again.
Heather Langenkamp believes that no matter how many comedic appearances Freddy Krueger makes, he will always be scary because of the idea behind him. Tommy Huston muses that the diverse nature of Freddy’s media appearances and portrayals in his own films may be the very thing that helps keep his legacy so strong: everyone remembers Freddy as something different, from a terrifying movie monster to a guest star on The Goldbergs. Because of this, Huston says, “I think it’s what we put into that character that we’re ultimately going to get out.”
Freddy Krueger, years after his debut, is whatever you dream him to be. And with that many dreams to run around in, he won’t be dying out anytime soon.