On Nightmares & Memory

The shocking discovery that you wake from a bad dream and your body is still, unmovable.

The frightening realization that even in your forties you still experience a recurring horror from your childhood, a representation of the boogeyman.

Sometimes it is just a voice, a cajoling, indecipherable vociferation; it startles you awake, forcing your body to lunge forward, your breath heavy and death. You clench your chest with dramatic fury as awareness settles in. The mind is empty of reason; there is no memory of the dream.

Like many teenagers growing up in the 1980’s I was an avid watcher of horror films and Wes Craven was by far a creator of the most chilling childhood fears: the boogeyman. Many of us grew up with the frightening equation that if you don’t go to sleep the boogeyman will get you. Or if you don’t behave the boogeyman will get you. Craven brought the invisible unknown to fruition in his film series Nightmare on Elm Street. His name is Freddy Krueger.

What I remember most about Freddy Krueger are the long, sharp blades for fingers that he casually fanned one by one in order to intimidate victims and instill a most serious unease with how easy it would be for him to cut through your flesh, break into the body to tear out your heart. Trepidation is further increased by his slow walk while grazing those blades against a hard surface to create an ear-splitting screech that forces your shoulders to rise. But this attempt to cover your ears is impossible to accomplish; the anticipation, the will he or won’t he. As viewers we are too tempted by wonder. We cannot look completely away because we must see what happens. Will the teenager escape? Will he or she fall victim to those God-awful fingers?

We went to the video store and rented them one by one. Sleep-overs were never the same. No sooner did we pop open the case, slide the clunky tape into the VCR and press play, the lights were out. When watching a horror film you want to feel the fear in your being. Part of the fun is getting scared, clutching your friends arm, looking away. But you always look back. He was a damn good storyteller.

When Craven passed away a few weeks ago from his battle with brain cancer, I immediately felt a layering of emotions as I recalled favorite moments from his films and how brilliant he was to continue to invoke fear in a woman now in her forties. For those of us who are fans of his work, I hope we can continue to embrace these memories that frightened us as kids and perhaps still do today.

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