When Men Don’t Listen: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – Retro Review

The way to put an end to Fred Krueger is simple: just stop giving him your energy. Stop thinking about him. Stop worrying about him. Stop being afraid of him, and maybe he’ll stop haunting you in your dreams, and maybe he’ll stop murdering you and your friends.

Of course, that’s impossible. I had never seen A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) before I watched it yesterday, but, even so, Fred Krueger took up at least some space in my brain. From Freddy Halloween costumes to Freddy merchandise to that really great parody on The Simpsons, I was already aware of — and afraid of — this villain who could supposedly reach me where I’m most vulnerable. I was familiar with him, so I didn’t expect to be scared of him.

But I was scared of him — very scared of him. That’s part of the genius of Elm Street, isn’t it? You can never fully let go of your fear of Freddy, because there’s a chance that he could show up in your real life-dreams, because you can’t control what happens in your real life-dreams. The movie’s impressive stockpile of practical effects — and quick face-switching, and quick location changes — makes you feel like you’re in that dream already. So, sure. You can turn off the movie. But you can’t actually ever put Freddy Krueger out of your mind.

Heathers vs. Freddy Krueger

I found myself thinking about Heathers (1989) a lot while watching Elm Street — not just because of the teenage leads and the fateful boiler rooms, but because Heathers is about the devil you know. The scary thing about Heathers is the idea that people you trust can disappoint you — that your boyfriend who you love can lead you down a path of destruction. On the surface, it seems like Elm Street is concerned with the opposite take; that what’s scariest is a distant evil, a dehumanized child murderer with a terrifying face and maggots and green blood coursing through his veins. But I think Elm Street is also a cautionary tale about real men and inattention.

According to horror rules, Tina has to die at the beginning of the movie because she has sex. Though, something that haunts me — maybe as much as the spectre of Fred Krueger — is she asks her friends Nancy and Crop Top Johnny Depp not to leave her alone with her boyfriend, Stretched Out Ralph Macchio. Until they were having sex, I had no idea that Tina and Stretched Out Ralph Macchio were even dating; she entirely rebuffs his advances before that scene, and he showed up uninvited to her house that night.

Beware Stretched Out Ralph Macchio

Stretched Out Ralph Macchio is not a good guy! We know that because he wears a leather jacket and has a juvenile record. But we also see it the day after Tina’s murder, when Nancy is walking to school and Stretched Out Ralph Macchio (now on the lam) grabs her from behind and covers her mouth so she can’t scream. Being grabbed on the street by a man I can’t see is a fear I live with, a very immediate stress that feeds the same fear-of-the-unknown that Freddy taps into. But Nancy knows Stretched Out Ralph Macchio — what does it mean for men we don’t know if men we DO still violate our boundaries and abuse our vulnerabilities?

The other men in the movie aren’t much better at listening. Nancy dates Crop Top Johnny Depp, who proves to be unreliable in any situation that matters. Once Nancy realizes she’s being hunted in her dreams, she asks Crop Top Johnny Depp to stay awake while she sleeps to make sure nothing happens to her. He can’t do that; he falls asleep every time Nancy needs him, and he ends up murdered because he did not trust her testimony enough to stay awake.

On the night of Crop Top Johnny Depp’s murder, an exhausted, delirious Nancy calls her Cop Dad and asks him to make sure he comes to her house to stop Freddy at exactly midnight. He ultimately agrees to show up — but he doesn’t, at least not in time.

Listening and showing up

He was too preoccupied with the horrible things Freddy had already done to focus on what Freddy would continue to do. He didn’t listen to Nancy because he didn’t think she was a reliable source. And, yeah, Nancy hadn’t slept in a week, and Nancy kept showing up with new, unexplainable injuries, and Nancy was complaining that a dead man was harassing her in her dreams. But it was Nancy’s friends who kept dying brutally and mysteriously, and only Nancy who was certain she knew why they were dying. Cop Dad’s inattention killed.

Freddy Kruger is indisputably the most terrifying thing lurking on Elm Street — but maybe he wouldn’t have become as powerful if men had taken women’s fears more seriously.

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