Words by Megan Jacobson
‘Tis the season for tricking and treating. Children all over are doubling, bubbling, toiling, and troubling in preparation for the spookiest night of the year – Halloween. For those who are too old to trick-or-treat yet too young to completely disregard this ghastly holiday, the ideal night consists of store-bought candy, comfortable clothes, and a lengthy horror-movie marathon conducted safely from the confines of a blanket. The inexplicable fascination that individuals have with watching others fall to their peril may seem marginally sociopathic, but fear not, it is natural to be enthralled with taboo story lines and grisly violence. This terrifying genre of movies may outwardly seem to be unrealistic, but viewers tend to develop a sense of familiarity from them, as if they have once heard a story broadcast that corresponds with the plots of their favorite fright-filled flick. Indeed, many horror movies are based off of true, bloodcurdling tales that have been highlighted in the news. There are also conversant philosophies that can be identified once a film has been thoroughly analyzed. Two of the most acclaimed horror movies, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Dawn of the Dead (1978), detail metaphorical renditions of macabre realities and underlying ideologies that will astonish even the most indifferent person.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Nearly 31 years after its November 9th, 1984 release date, America still finds itself enthralled with the late Wes Craven’s boundary-pushing slasher film, A Nightmare on Elm Street. The film surrounds the lives of a ragtag team of teenagers suffering from morbidly vivid nightmares, which cause forced insomnia, scarring, and, most prominently witnessed, death. A Nightmare on Elm Street depicts the gruesome consequence of a murderous phantom haunting the dreams of his victims, which leads to the victims’ ensuing slaughter. The renowned killer, known as Freddy Krueger, was once a living human being, notorious for his sinister string of adolescent slayings that terrified the surrounding community. Eventually, the killings caught up with Freddy Krueger, who was finally burned alive at the hands of an angry communal mob. The town of Springwood, Ohio thought Krueger was no more, until years later teenagers began to witness his wrath in their very own dreams.
What many are not aware of is the inspiration that sparked this insidious flame in Wes Craven’s dark mind. Shockingly, A Nightmare on Elm Street is based off of a true story. Craven developed the idea of lethal nightmares from the devastating effects of the Killing Fields in Cambodia. The Killing Fields were a number of sites infamous for the mass murder of over one million people. This genocide, led by the Cambodian communist regime referred to as Khmer Rouge, led to the subsequent fleeing of thousands of Khmer refugees to America. While the refugees thought the worst was over, that was unfortunately not the case for all.
Due to the intense trauma caused by incessant bombings and the threat of impending death, several Khmer evacuees found themselves having such garish nightmares that they prompted the sufferers to refuse sleep. These nightmares, while extremely debilitating, could not keep the Khmer people from slumbering indefinitely, and they would soon fall back asleep. However, according to an article printed in the LA Times in the 1970’s, the nightmares would continue until one night a piercing scream would be heard and the victim would be found dead.
Freddy Krueger was not based off of any particular person, but rather a disturbing event in history. Freddy is the personified version of what came to be known as Asian Death Syndrome, a phenomenon for which there is no warning and no cure.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Dawn of the Dead is a timeless picture that can be considered the spark that lit the flame that is contemporary zombie culture. On the exterior, Dawn of the Dead appears as nothing more than a theatrical gore fiasco of the living dead. Conversely, once that shell of typicality is cracked open, George A. Romero (director of this legendary movie) delivers a much more profound denotation.
Romero molded Dawn of the Dead into an almost satirical analogy of American consumer culture. The first dead giveaway of this comparison involves the predominant setting of the movie. The majority of the film was shot in a shopping mall where the throng of main characters seek haven from the ongoing zombie outbreak. This shopping mall is an allegory for the overindulgences and spoils of society’s consumerist philosophy. While the apocalypse survivors feel protected in this extravagant spending hub, the stampede of zombies nevertheless breaks through the barricade and begins to wreak havoc on the petrified group.
The zombies, considered to be the movie’s antagonist group, had ganged up at the front door of the mall in order to force their way through. This scene in particular illustrates how the zombies are eerily comparable to the hoards of customers who characteristically cluster around every entry of a mall during holidays such as Black Friday. Mindlessly hobbling through the boundless mall, the undead are representative of the consumers who wander around aimlessly shopping for anything and everything they can possibly purchase.
In the end, not only is Dawn of the Dead recognized as an undying exhibition of bloodstained brutality, it is also a flawless depiction of American consumerism and the unquenchable thirst the populous has for wanting new things.
Horror is such a powerful movie genre. It paves the viewer’s way into transcendence beyond rational fear. Freddy Krueger, one may reason, could be hiding in the closet at this very moment. He could be anticipating the ideal time to emerge, to rip apart the throats of his unmindful victims in a fire-filled frenzy. Terrified adults and children alike will sprint to their bedroom light switch in order to assure that all dark entities are banished from the eternal radiance. Films such as Dawn of the Dead are capable of providing significant moments of introspection – “Am I like a zombie walking around a mall with hollow eyes? Could it be that I spend too much time shopping and not enough time living?” The fact that a movie is able to excrete these raw, innocent emotions and paranoid thoughts is quite a triumphant feat. However, sometimes the mental manipulations produced by horror movies go unappreciated, overshadowed by the sheer intensity of the action displayed on screen. And yet, it is impossible to extract Freddy Krueger’s mangled face and sharpened claws from the psyche. Moral of the story: Always look under the bed.