How A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET formed a Child's Understanding of Art
At seven years old, I sat in my sister’s bedroom in front of a giant CRT television, opened a Blockbuster case, and inserted a rickety VHS. The age rating filled the screen as the opening credits of A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) lit up the dark room. For the following 91 minutes, I was subjected to the horrors of the teenagers on Elm Street. Sitting beside my siblings, I made sure not to hide behind my hands like a baby, staring straight at the screen until the end. In my shaky adolescent voice, I said it wasn’t that scary, but they didn’t believe me.
The truth is everything about Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) terrified me. The knife-fingered glove, how he ran after people, and his monstrous face. Still, it was his ability to creep through nightmares that affected me most. The horrors inside his victim's unconscious minds seeped out into reality, blurring the line between fact and fiction. When the credits rolled, I was unable to discern whether they were still in a dream or not, and that clung to me like a bad taste in my mouth. As a child, the idea that the monsters inside your dreams actually exist and they can hurt you is a complicated concept to wrap your head around. When my parents told me my fear of Freddy being in my room was all in my head, it was more terrifying than comforting. Sometimes I could calm myself, but at others, I’d be up for most of the night squeezing my eyes shut. Monsters didn’t just exist in the dark anymore — they existed the moment I thought them up.
Once I realized the amalgamation of horrific things cooked up on sleepless nights wasn’t going to spill into the real world, I became curious about what other monsters people had created. I started with a definitive gateway into horror, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997). Then came Saw (2004), Final Destination (2000), Paranormal Activity (2007), and The Conjuring (2013). Did I continue to have countless nightmares about Freddy and these new terrors? Yes, but I started to understand that these monsters were bigger than themselves. They tapped into universal fears that join humanity together.
Everyone can relate to being terrified. In a way, fear is this unique shared emotion. To me, everything we consume is connected to fear. The fear of being alone, of not achieving our dreams, of losing a loved one, becoming a victim of a gruesome crime, or a serial killer. These fears satisfy the purpose of art across every single medium and genre, and rather than scaring us further beneath our blankets; it joins us. It’s as simple as the masses running to the cinema to watch a horror movie. Everyone gets scared together without a question of how to interpret the films. It connects us all in that one space and time, as art should. The thing with fear is — it stays with us longer than anything else.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is the most terrifying film I've ever watched. Freddy was my first exposure to monsters beyond the made-up ones under my bed. It scared me so much that when the remake was released in 2010, I couldn’t even look at the movie posters. As a child, I didn’t understand the deeper meaning of Freddy’s journey, but I was terrified. To me, truly effective art is when you don’t have to understand all of the ins and outs to be affected by it. Whether an emotional reaction, a personal revelation, or spending years plagued by nightmares, horror exposed me to art, and I was profoundly affected and influenced.
I shouldn’t have watched A Nightmare on Elm Street when I was seven, but it sparked my love of horror and taught me a lot about how impactful art can be. To me, the core of art is human connection, and when we are afraid, we find we have more in common with one another than we once believed. Horror isn’t highbrow art shutting people out. It's a welcoming blanket, and you only need to be open to facing your greatest fears through the safety of a screen.
Ellie Sivins is an Edinburgh-based writer with experience writing about lifestyle, horror, and feminism. She loves writing about anything strange and macabre but also lifestyle pieces that could help people.