My list is slightly different than Dawn’s and Elizabeth’s. Instead of favorite moments I wanted to point out my favorite things from Wes Craven. If you are familiar with our site you might have come across my top ten horror films at some point. You will notice that People Under the Stairs (1991) is listed as one of my favorite horror films. That being said, I want to pay my respect to Wes Craven not only for making one of my favorite horror films, but also for making my favorite movie monster in Freddy Krueger.
I was a young teen when People Under the Stairs was released and for some reason it resonated with me. This film expressed ideas about suburbia, family, and the upper class that I didn’t know how to articulate at the time. I just knew that I felt like those people (suburban, upper class) weren’t all that better than me, they just hid their crazy a little bit better. People Under the Stairs depicted an exaggerated display of this world on the big screen. This world emulated the world in my mind. It was one where the throw away kids mattered, one where good people looked different and were not always from the top of society. The Robesons’ barbarism and callousness is deeply contrasted by the altruism of Fool (Adams), Alice (Langer), and Roach (Whalen).[i] These three kids learned how to survive their surroundings, help those around them, and make meaningful change.
I was critical of the widely accepted perceptions of family even as a child. People Under the Stairs was a beautiful dissection of the suburban family. Other than Bob Balaban’s Parents (1989) People Under the Stairs was one of the best horror films of my generation to pick apart the family. As the Berlin wall crumbled down in 1989 and the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 these films tore down the obsolete Cold War representations of the family.
As People Under the Stairs challenged notions of the family, Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) obliterated our sense of security even within our own homes. Freddy Krueger is like no other movie monster. He was not just a slasher; he was the manifestation of our own mind turning in on itself. His ability to reach you in your dreams, inside your own head, proved that nowhere was safe anymore. No longer could you pull the covers over your head to find safety, no escaping into a careless daydream, Freddy would be coming for you.
Freddy was different from Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees because he had personality. The bastard son of 100 maniacs was a bad seed, a product of many hateful adults yet we were always left wondering more about him.[ii] We wanted to know why he looked the way he did, what made him the way he was, and what slick quip he would make next.[iii] Even though he was both visually and morally reprehensible, we couldn’t get enough of Freddy. This was a genius culmination of Wes Craven’s ability to make us intrigued about the man who stole our safety. This was different than wanting to know what made a serial killer tick because even as viewers, we were never safe. You only learned about serial killers once they were caught, dead, or behind bars and you were safe. Freddy was different, you wanted to learn more about him but you were never safe; he made us all afraid to go to sleep. He permeated the minds of those on and off the screen, and we kept coming back for more.
Wes Craven had an uncanny ability to portray on film the thoughts and fears of the everyday person. A master story teller with an artistic eye for detail, Mr. Craven knew society. He made horror films with a purpose. Just as it has become the purpose of myself, Elizabeth, and Dawn to delve into the rich abyss of horror to ferret out the social commentary, Wes Craven always provided fuel for our fire. Rich with race, class, and gender, Wes Craven’s films aptly reflected back to us the things that scare us. Without his films, I know my experience might have been different. Thank you Wes Craven, you will be missed.
[i] Shout out to A.J. Langer who would become my favorite character on TV: Rayanne Graff on My So Called Life (1994-1995) …Best Show EVER!
[ii] Aside of his mother who was a nun who suffered unspeakable atrocity.
[iii] For some great Freddy one-liners see http://www.ifc.com/fix/2014/03/freddy-krueger-best-one-liners