The year was sometime in the late 1980’s, probably 1987 or so. It was before my baby sister was brought into this world. Of course not much earlier but still I am certain she hadn’t come along yet. We were living in this small town so far out of the way in Kansas it could have been the setting of a slasher movie. It was the summer before I started school that much I know. I remember because of the house we lived in. It was the house next door to the video store. My parents had just bought our first VCR.
Now that I have the setting let me dig into the obsession, how it began, where it came from and why it remains so important to me to this day.
Like so many kids of my generation I was a loner right from the start. Going into kindergarten I didn’t make friends easily. I started the school year in the same class as two of my cousins. The situation was basically their parents had married. By the end of the school year they were both making friends, while me, I was still sitting by myself at lunch playing with my Transformers figures my parents probably didn’t even know I was sneaking to class. Well, until the stupid school called them and tattled.
I’ve said numerous times before my best friends growing up were my toys and video games. Many kids also become unnaturally attached to their video players. Mine was a short list of movies that I had to rent over, and over. The big one, the main movie I immediately looked for was Star Wars. In the event it was available for rent I would take it home and enjoy a weekend of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo rescuing Princess Leia week, after week. The other movies I liked to rent, over and over, included Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Beetlejuice, Weird Science, Return of the Killer Tomatoes, Invaders From Mars and any and all Nightmare on Elm Street movies.
The habit of renting the same movies over and over was easy for me. I was the type that once I found something I like I stuck with it. Sometimes I would look for something new, but my obsession was always just holding onto the feeling of once I found something familiar. I never did care much for change.
I distinctly remember my sister going to a slumber party with her friends and instead of going to the kids movie they told our parents they saw, they snuck into the R-rated slasher blockbuster, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: The Dream Warriors. At this point, I was barely 6 when I started kindergarten so I had to be 5 the summer just before, I hadn’t ever seen any of the increasingly popular “Freddy” movies.
Despite seeing Krueger making countless cameos in other movies, commercials and TV shows, I had yet to see anything official featuring the Springwood Slasher. It would be two more years of building up the mystique in my mind before I was finally able to experience my first viewing of the famed serial dream stalker. This was of course around the time my parents let up on allowing us to rent horror movies. The movie was A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 5: The Dream Child. Up to that point I had only seen bits and pieces of the first movie in passing whenever we had a free preview weekend of HBO. How I came onto part 5 was a friend from school, I was now in 2nd grade, his parents owned a video store and he would invite me to his house to watch the new flicks. It just so happened, the Dream Child was one of the new releases they had just picked up. Getting to see a brand-new to video movie before all my friends, and for free, was a treat. The film did not disappoint either. It was the surreal dream world that had me hooked. I hadn’t seen any of the previous movies so learning the lore in passing from one of the teenagers helped keep it all mysterious and intriguing for me.
As luck, or fate would have it I just happened to be flipping the channels right after, it was probably more than a week but in my mind I remembered it as probably the next week or next day even. Anyways I was turning channels and one of the movie channels was showing a free weekend. It was perfect timing because with part 5 just hitting VHS they were showing Part 4: The Dream Master. At first I wasn’t sure it was an Elm Street movie because I missed the opening credits. All I saw was a girl in a white dress talking to a little girl drawing chalk on the side walk. I thought, hey that looks like the house from the Freddy movie. This was before I knew the house was a staple of the series. Still when the girl removed her hand to reveal Freddy my heart began racing. Finally I was going to get to see one of the previous movies. The euphoria was as real as it gets for a kid at that age. I couldn’t believe not only that it was actually on TV, unedited during a free preview, but my dad didn’t even change the channel he let me sit there and become sucked into the nightmare world entirely.
I supposed if you wanted to get down to it, watching the movies at such a young age probably contributed to the development of my interest in the franchise. As I sat there watching Dream Master I fell in love with the fantasy world these movies were creating. For me it wasn’t about the serial killer, the teenagers getting their comeuppance, or the foul language, it was all about the idea that there was an alternate reality we could escape into using our dreams. If you want the truth of it, the idea of the dream world was the allure that kept me coming back. Sure there was the cool factor of Freddy being promoted as an iconic villain of the rising “MTV generation” but it was the dreams that kept me coming back. Over the years I have become more interested with fantasy movies featuring a surreal look and gothic imagery.
Every once in a while you go through a phase. I got onto a weird computer/robot kick for a while in the 80’s. Truth be told, when I first discovered Star Wars my attraction to it was the robots, not the laser swords. In fact, I thought Darth Vader and all his Stormtroopers really were just robots. Keep in mind I was a huge Transformers and Go-Bots fan so my fascination with computers and robots was pretty much a given. My obsession with fantasy worlds probably started before Elm Street. I know I had seen The Neverending Story and Labyrinth at some point in my early childhood, oh and I was also a big fan of that Masters of the Universe movie because it also had a world-travelling fantasy element to it.
When I finally got the opportunity get around to going back to see the other movies, with the help of my video store friend, I didn’t go in numeric order. Since I had already seen 5, then 4 I went ahead and picked up part 3. This was the one where it went from a very strong fascination to a full on obsession. This movie not only became my personal favorite, it was the most like a traditional fantasy film. The whole premise of the Dream Warriors banding together to use their “dream powers” in “the dream world” to fight the monster, it was all very Dungeons and Dragons to me. Oh and it actually featured a scene with a kid playing D&D and using that later in the movie.
I don’t think I will go through each individual movie. What I will say is that my love for The Dream Warriors helped translate into a strong appreciation of the infamous LJN-produced NES game based on the film series. I always enjoyed the game and continue to defend it, to this day. I do so, mostly out of nostalgia but also out of pure joy as it was the closest chance I ever got to escaping into that magical dream world demonstrated in the movies. Yeah, I never seemed to care that entering the dream world inhabited by the Dream Demon also meant facing the monster itself. I guess you could chalk that up to me not really finding him all that scary so for me I thought it would be easy to take him on if I ever did dream him up.
Later the movies would be foundation I would use to co-develop a fantasy game I played with my sisters. It mostly centered on a group of kids hopping from one fantasy world to the next chasing down, or running from, an unstoppable monster we, unoriginally named Killer. Much of the inspiration for those characters and their journey came from the Nightmare series.
Do you want a confession? I watch the movie way more than I should admit. I try to view the entire saga at least once a year, sometimes more. But that’s actually not even close to true. Typically once I do get on a Freddy kick I don’t stop with a single viewing, it typically takes multiple repeats before I can get passed it and move on. Not to mention how often, even today, I continue to replay that NES video game.
This really wasn’t intended to be a look at how I got into the movie; I really just popped The Dream Master DVD into my Playstation and began typing. I suppose I was hoping it might inspire me to write something else entirely.
Needless to say I never saw them as horror movies, or even slasher movies for that matter. To me they were always fantasy movies with a really powerful, really scary monster with supernatural abilities to take people into a magical world only accessible through dreams. I thought of Freddy as an interdimensional being with the power to alter reality, not as a child-murder turned killer ghost.