Long ago, in a town not too far away, our family attended church with another family who were friends with my parents for a short time. One day in late Spring/early Summer of 1991 (going by its VHS release date), the kids of this family, my brother, and I checked out 'Freddy's Dead' after church (which is kinda interesting). This marked my first horror movie, and Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) was my first real exposure to one of the several 80s pop culture horror icons. And being 9 at the time, he was effective.
I've said it in several reviews before, but I was not good with handling horror like a lot of my peers could, so even a movie as corny as 'Freddy's Dead' got to me in a big way at the time. However, as time passed, and with certain things parodying it over the years like 'The Simpsons' and even 'Tiny Toon Adventures,' I eventually overcame my silly fears. I became ultimately curious about all the horror I missed over the years. But it had to start with Freddy's series because he was the one I was most curious about, especially since he was my introduction to the genre as a whole... even if 'Freddy's Dead' is more of a comedy.
The film starts with Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss) having a nightmare about a gross-looking dude in a dirty red and green sweater who wears a set of finger knives on a glove and a funky fedora. When she awakens from the nightmare, she finds four slash marks on her nightgown, which is our first indication that something crazy is happening. It actually kinda hits the ground running weirdly. Home alone the following night, she invites her friend Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) and Nancy's boyfriend, Glen Lantz (the great Johnny Depp in his debut role), to spend the night.
Tina's boyfriend, Rod Lane (Jsu Garcia), eventually crashes the party. But here, it's revealed that the group (at least Nancy and Tina, although it hints at Glen and Rod) also dreams of the same creepy character. It's not long before Freddy makes his first kill of this great series. While the adults of Springwood, CA (eventually retconned to Springwood, OH) try to use a whole lot of rationality when it comes to the mysterious deaths of a few teens in town, Nancy knows there's something much more sinister and mysterious at work, attacking them in their dreams, whether it makes any rational sense or not.
I'll be the first to admit that anyone watching this with fresh eyes today might have difficulty latching on due to bad dialogue, cheesy acting, and all-around confusion about how things work in Freddy's dream world. But there is a bigger picture to it all in that it not only provides an allegory about listening to your children (or whoever else) when something is troubling them, even if it sounds outlandish. Further analysis of the film has unveiled a lot of symbolism about growing up, puberty, and all the horror that comes with that. The term "violation" comes up a lot, the ultimate violation being someone who can get to you through your dreams while you're completely defenceless to stop him.
While that's all well and good, and I understand where it all comes from, this movie has an added element that stands out about facing one's fear that resonates with me more than anything else. That's mostly because that's what I did when I first watched this. I was mentally going head to head with a horror icon that scared the crap out of me in what was probably his tamest film, but actually seeing him at his scariest. I soon became absolutely fascinated by this movie because of my budding interest in film and the added interest in dreams and how they work (I've always been fascinated by dreams).
Over time, this has become a significant nostalgic link for me, as it marks the time I went from dipping my toes into horror to fully submerging myself in the genre. It has since become one of my favourite films of all time and is my favourite horror film due to what it represents for me in facing my fears and essentially opening the door to the genre for me (although an edited-for-TV 'Exorcist' did a lot to unlock that door). And to solidify it as my "favourite," is a mind-blowing factoid that this is all taken from a true story about people mysteriously dying in their sleep for unknown reasons. So, next time your kid comes running to you about a horrible nightmare, listen and be supportive because you never know what it was they went through.