The Luminary Postgraduate Magazine Lancaster University

'Never Sleep Again' - Horrific Beds in Wes Craven's Nightmares

Katharina Rein


Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street1 is today regarded as an indisputable classic of the horror genre. However, compared to other milestones of modern horror like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre2, Halloween3 or Friday the 13th4, the Nightmare series received relatively little academic attention. The success of the first Nightmare prompted five sequels from various directors, followed by New Nightmare5, Freddy vs. Jason6, and a remake in 2010 (starring Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger - the first of the Nightmare franchise in which Krueger is not portrayed by Robert Englund).7 An incredible amount of various Nightmare-connected merchandising ranging from Freddy’s razor-blade glove for Halloween costumes, to cereals and board as well as computer games, testifies to the cult status it enjoys even today, almost thirty years after the original feature.

Isabel Cristina Pinedo classifies the pictures of the Nightmare on Elm Street series as postmodern – a category which, according to her, displays the following five characteristics:

1. Horror constitutes a violent disruption of the everyday world.

2. Horror transgresses and violates boundaries.

3. Horror throws into question the validity of rationality.

4. Postmodern horror repudiates narrative closure.

5. Horror produces a bounded experience of fear. 8

Although the five sequels from the period between 1985 and 1991 lose many of the elements established in the original feature and stress or introduce others,9 all films of the Nightmare series have the elements named above in common. Furthermore, they introduce and shape an iconic villain, composed of the characteristics of various Gothic and modern horror monsters, and recognizable by his appearance: the garden glove with razors attached to its fingers, his red-and-green-striped sweater, a shabby hat (although in New Nightmare, Freddy’s appearance is awkwardly new and stainless) and scarred face. On an acoustic level, Krueger is accompanied by a characteristic tune as well as a nursery rhyme about him, often sung by girls dressed in white, who are skipping rope or hopscotching.

By featuring heroes and heroines whose only way to fight the supernatural killer is to neglect sound judgement in order to accept the premise that they can be killed by someone in their nightmares, the series also questions ideals of rationality. Further, as has been often noted by others, the series plays with sexual taboos by hinting at (or sometimes bluntly stating) Krueger’s paedophilia, at the same time demarcating him as a dominant father figure to his victims. As I have argued in detail elsewhere,10 part of the Nightmares’ success results from various forms of disruptions reflected and deployed in the pictures, in particular the disruption of the discriminability of dream and reality. This topic touches upon a primordial ontological insecurity, frequently addressed in the history of philosophy from Plato to Zhuanghzi to René Descartes. Associated with this theme is the motif of the bed, whose representation in the two Nightmares directed by Wes Craven in 1984 and 1994 I am going to analyse in this paper. For this purpose, I will first consider scenes in which beds play a central role in A Nightmare on Elm Street, where the bed is turned into a symbol of horror and is established as a possible portal into the world of deadly nightmares. In the second section, I will turn to New Nightmare, where beds constitute an even more central motif as their function as an entry point to a different reality is focussed and emphasized. I will thus show how these two films address various fears connected to beds and sleep, for which the bed becomes a symbol. These range from uncanny bedtime stories to notions of monsters coming after one in the dark, to the dangers of somnambulism as well as the production of horror films themselves out of nightmare contents, respectively as an alternative to the latter.

‘1, 2, Freddy’s coming for you’: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

A Nightmare on Elm Street (hereafter: Nightmare 1) is about a group of teenagers surrounding the main character Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) who are terrorized and slaughtered in their nightmares, by a killer later identified as Fred Krueger. Krueger, a paedophile child molester and murderer, has been torched alive by a mob of enraged parents living on Elm Street.11 Apparently, he managed to somehow live on in their children’s nightmares where he continues to terrorize them, also killing them in real life if he manages to do so in the teenagers’ nightmares. Nancy, who figures as the Final Girl,12 becomes aware of Krueger’s past life as well as of his present dream world-existence and eventually manages to bring him out of her dream into the real world where she first fights him with booby traps she has installed around the house, and then sets him on fire (once again). However, the picture’s open ending leaves it unclear whether Freddy is actually defeated or not, or if Nancy falls victim to him (or perhaps to madness), by presenting another dream sequence featuring Krueger’s return in the very end, after his supposed elimination by Nancy.

The very beginning of Nightmare 1 is a sequence which is later revealed as a dream: After being chased by Freddy through his characteristic boiler room (or rather hall), we see Tina (Amanda Wyss) wake up in her bed, sweaty and scared, behind her a shadow reminiscing the Gothic horror of German expressionism, which will be referenced again in New Nightmare, when Freddy’s razor-blade glove casts a long-fingered shadow similar to Graf Orlok’s in Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror.13 Tina’s mother enters to check on her daughter but fails to be of any assistance, instead pointing out that Tina’s nightdress displays four slits across the stomach. However, Tina’s mother instructs her to ‘either cut your fingernails or [...] stop that kind o’dreaming’ (00:04), immediately finding a rational explanation for the slit nightdress, namely her daughter clawing herself in her sleep. After her mother leaves, we see Tina somewhat superstitiously grabbing the crucifix from the wall and lying down again. She thus follows the advice given in a verse from the nursery rhyme accompanying Freddy Krueger: ‘5, 6, grab your crucifix’, which we subsequently hear when Tina’s bedroom cross-fades into the characteristic white-clad girls skipping rope.

The second attack on Tina also occurs in a bed, but this time she and her boyfriend Rod sleep in her mother’s bedroom when she is out of the house overnight. After having had intercourse and fallen asleep, the girl awakes from the sound of pebbles being tossed against the bedroom window, and gets up to look out. In the following sequence, she goes out into the garden and onto the street where she finally meets Krueger. Chased by him, she makes her way back to the house, and the two of them crash on a garden table when he attacks her right before she can enter the house. Then suddenly, we see Tina wrestling with her bed sheets from her bed that serve as mediators between this scene (which is only revealed as Tina’s dream when Freddy appears) and reality. As we now see Rod waking up in the bed next to her, Tina screams and kicks in her sleep, struggling with Krueger under the sheets, who is visible only in Tina’s nightmare but invisible to Rod when he jumps out of the bed and pulls the cover off Tina (00:16). However, we soon learn that Freddy’s nightmarish actions affect reality too, as he slashes open Tina’s stomach – reproducing her slit nightdress from the scene discussed above, one level deeper, if one will. Finally, the girl is impaled by his claws and dragged up along the wall and to the ceiling, leaving a trail of blood before dropping down on the bed again and off it, on the floor, while her boyfriend is watching, paralyzed with fear.

Following Robin Wood’s ‘simple and obvious basic formula for the horror film: normality is threatened by the Monster’,14 this sequence starts out with a notion of the bed as where teenagers have sex when their parents are not at home, and ends up representing the same bed as a place of violent slaughter and horror. Through Freddy’s actions, the intimate retreat turns into a crime scene and the setting of Tina’s dramatic death, while her boyfriend Rod turns from a lover into a murder suspect. Indeed, he gets arrested later and finds his own dramatic death in a prison cell, where a bed sheet animated by Krueger wraps itself around his neck, pulls him out of bed and hangs him, staging a suicide. Somewhat similar to Tina, Rod is thus killed by Freddy after going to sleep in a bed that is not his own, is violently dragged out of it and to the ceiling in his death throes (00:38).

While these beds are first shown as being common in the sense that they are used for repose and sleep, Nancy’s beds seem to be haunted from the very beginning. When she stays over at Tina’s house in the night of her murder, sleeping in her friend’s bed, immediately after everybody goes to sleep, the crucifix, which has offered some kind of solace to the nightmare-plagued Tina before, falls off the wall. After that the wall above Nancy’s bed (it is actually Tina’s bed but Nancy sleeps in it in this scene) seems to turn into a membrane, through which Freddy tries to make his way into the bedroom: His head and hands press through it, stretching it like a rubber sheet (00:13). Nancy wakes up and knocks on the wall that has suddenly turned solid again under her scrutiny. After finding it on the floor, she replaces the crucifix – a gesture that apparently stops Freddy’s attack, or rather directs him toward Tina. This scene suggests, however, (and this is elaborated later in the picture) that Freddy can penetrate the real world during someone’s nightmare, the bed, or the space around it functioning as a gateway for him. Apparently his entrance can be prevented, the gate shut, so to speak, by a symbol of faith such as the crucifix.

At her first shown encounter with Freddy, Nancy falls asleep in school, and not in a bed at all (00:22-00:28) – which further suggests that her bed is not a singular space of relaxation but just one of many places in which she can (and does) sleep. She also falls asleep in the bathtub, which is subsequently turned into a deep lake by Freddy’s dream-shaping powers (00:31-00:33). When we finally do see Nancy sleeping in her own bed, she has already gotten a sense of what is going on and uses the bed as a transitional space to deliberately enter Freddy’s realm and look for him (00:36-00:40), instead of falling asleep because she cannot fight it and being surprised by the killer. Later, she does that again, this time succeeding in pulling him over into her real world-bed, which now serves as the starting point of a chase through the booby-trapped house (01:10-01:20). Here, the bed is first represented as a sort of portal to Freddy’s world, which can at least be entered knowingly – though not necessarily exited by one’s own will. Nancy experiences this in her first nightmare at school where she only manages to escape Freddy by making herself wake up by burning her arm on a hot pipe in his boiler room. Having considered the problem, Nancy finds a way to deliberately leave the dream world by setting an alarm clock. She has to synchronize it with her dream experience of finding Freddy until the alarm rings and to grab him at exactly the right moment without him getting her first. Curiously, this seems to imply that time runs at the same pace within someone’s dream as in reality: Nancy’s wristwatch in her dream is synchronised with the alarm clock in her real bedroom. Thus, dreams in Nightmare appear very reality-like: without a distortion of time (at least not for the dreamers), without surrealist landscapes etc. Once she has brought the killer over to her world and attacked him, Krueger seeks revenge, setting Nancy’s sleeping mother on fire (we remember that she was part of the mob who killed him, turning him into an undead dream phantom in the first place) who subsequently sinks into her bed, thus entering Freddy’s world for good (and somewhat grotesquely waving goodbye to Nancy and her father as she does so). After her disappearance in the bed-portal, Freddy himself emerges out of the same bed, first stretching the sheet into Freddy-shape, similar to the wall above the bed in the scene mentioned above, then cutting through it and going after Nancy (00:82-00:84). Thus, the bed is once more identified with a gate into Krueger’s world of nightmares: it is an entry as well as an exit point for the dreamer/victim and the killer alike – Freddy now explicitly coming out of the bed (without Nancy’s mediation), and finding the sheet as his first obstacle.

Another interesting as well as iconic scene in which the bed is depicted in this function, is the one rendering Glen’s (Johnny Depp) death (00:65) – though the passage works only one way for Glen who does not try to consciously enter or exit the dream world. As Pinedo writes, he ‘lulls himself into a false sense of security. After all, he is home in bed, his parents are downstairs, and he is surrounded by stereo and television.’ (Pinedo, p. 95). We find the teenager in his bed, falling asleep – despite Nancy’s vehement warning ‘Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep!’ (00:58), which she repeats ten years later to her son in New Nightmare (00:73) –, the TV set on his lap, which plays the US national anthem and announces the time before its picture and sound collapse into white noise after midnight. Similar to the idea staged in Poltergeist, 15 where ghosts emerge from the television set’s white noise, as they seem to be transported through a canal in which there is no longer any information submitted, here, Fred Krueger emerges as soon as the white noise enters Glen’s room at midnight. His red-and-green-striped arm reaches out of Glen’s bed and violently pulls him into it. As soon as the boy can no longer be seen, the hole in his bed spouts a huge blood fountain up to the ceiling. Glen’s body is thus dematerialized and turned into the equivalent of the television’s white noise: a stream of blur which is yet, somehow, the essence of what was there before. Although there is no violence shown, this scene sticks to a viewer’s memory as especially gruesome – perhaps in part because the sense of security and comfort suggested by the bed is so brutally disrupted.

In this scene, as well as in the scenes discussed above, the bed is, first, established as a direct gateway connecting waking reality and dream experience. In Nightmare 1’s horrific context it is definitively detached from positive connotations of repose and refuge as the bed as a safe space turns into a place of sudden and violent death. By blurring the boundaries between reality and dream, which is done by aesthetic and narrative means, as well by the fact that harm experienced in a dream affects the real person, Nightmare 1 further draws our attention to the circumstance that the bed is where a profound ontological insecurity is established as dream and reality merge into one. We encounter this phenomenon in our everyday lives when an element out of the real world gets implemented into a dream, for example the buzzer being transformed into a distant telephone that is not being picked up, or vice versa: When the dream reaches into reality it leaves a strong impression on the dreamer even after he or she has woken up. In any case, the bed is where the border between dream and reality becomes permeable, causing a profound Cartesian metaphysical problem. Finally, the concept of a hole in the bed acting as the gate to Freddy’s world that is elaborated in New Nightmare is established here.

‘9, 10, never sleep again’: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

Ten years and five sequels (which were produced without Craven’s participation except for Nightmare 3 – Dream Warriors,16 which he co-scripted) after Nightmare 1, Wes Craven sets off to write another Nightmare and to add a final feature to the franchise. It turns out to be as much a remake of Nightmare 1 as it is – or at least appears to be in hindsight – in many ways a preliminary study to the Scream series, which started two years later. Many of the iconic scenes from Nightmare 1, such as, among others, Freddy’s tongue emerging out of Nancy’s/Heather Langenkamp’s telephone and licking her mouth, or her blonde friend/babysitter being dragged up along the wall and to the ceiling recur in this film along with various quotes from Nightmare 1. Moreover, the original Nightmare is often referred to as members of the original cast and crew now play themselves: for instance, Heather Langenkamp appearing as herself, a now mature actress who starred in a scary movie as a teenager, ten years earlier. Nightmare 1 haunts the actress who does not want to have anything to do with the horror genre anymore and tries to keep her son Dylan (Miko Hughes) from watching her movie. Wes Craven plays the director of this horror film, who is now turning a series of nightmares he had into a movie script for a definitive film in the Nightmare series. Thus, the distinctive self-reflexivity later elaborated in the Scream series is anticipated as New Nightmare proves to be a scary movie about making scary movies (it also features telephone calls from a stalker with a Krueger-like voice who pretends to be – or perhaps really is – Freddy). In many ways, restaging the plot of the Nightmare 1, it is now Heather Langenkamp who has to face a Freddy-turned-real, striving to leave the realm of film and fantasy and to enter the real world.

Self-reflexively, New Nightmare foregrounds nightmares as a recurring motif: Dylan and Heather Langenkamp have them; Dylan’s babysitter has nightmares about Freddy Krueger as well. While Heather turns her nightmares into fears that plague her everyday existence, Robert Englund expresses his nightmares in his oil paintings, one of which represents a ‘darker, scarier’ Fred Krueger than he himself was (00:46-00:48), and Wes Craven writes another horror script. In contrast to the other Nightmare films, which are mostly comprised of the characters’ nightmares, New Nightmare shows us only several of the nightmares mentioned throughout the film (and only Heather’s). Yet, the feature implies that they all dream about Freddy trying to get into the real world – a collective nightmare catalysed and written down by Wes, who thus fulfils Robin Wood’s dictum about horror films being ‘our collective nightmares’ (Wood, p. 117). The bed is thus not only the place where nightmares are experienced but also where the stuff that horror films are made of originates. Eventually, that script turns into reality as John Saxon suddenly assumes the role of Nancy’s father, which he played in the Nightmare 1, and leaves Heather Langenkamp no other choice than to play her own role, that of Nancy, and to face Freddy once again (01:23).

Although they all deal with the same horrors surrounding sleep and nightmares, neither the original Nightmare nor any of the sequels in between, stresses the motif of the bed as much as New Nightmare does. We frequently see the characters in their beds, whose function as a gate into Freddy’s world is now emphasized and made more explicit. While in Nightmare 1, Nancy enters various basements to access Freddy’s realm, in New Nightmare, the way there is almost always through beds, preferably those her son Dylan sleeps in.

Furthermore, this film introduces a new kind of dream-connected dread: sleepwalking. A motive very popular in gothic novels and Romantic narratives, it is represented here as dangerous and uncanny. It is Heather’s son Dylan whose eerie somnambulistic experiences culminate in his crossing a heavily trafficked motorway in his sleep (01:21-01:22). Sometimes, the boy seems to be possessed by Krueger in his sleepwalking episodes, when he speaks with a deep and husky voice (01:10) or attaches kitchen knives to his fingers in imitation of Freddy’s glove, with which he attacks his mother (00:50). He even watches Nightmare 1 while sleepwalking, which is broadcast on a television set come to life, turning itself on without being plugged in (00:37-00:39, 01:25). In his essay ‘Nightmare and the Horror Film: The Symbolic Biology of Fantastic Beings’, Noël Carroll argues that horror films ‘may release some part of the tensions that would otherwise erupt in nightmares’ and thus fulfil a valve function that prevents psychological tensions.17 Carroll thus provides another link between the bed as the place of nightmares and horror film, introducing the idea that both might perform a similar function for the human psyche, whereas watching horror films might prevent one from having nightmares. Thus, it might be argued, it is a mistake of Heather’s to not let her son watch Nightmare 1, which might have catalysed his fears before they turned into nightmares. By suppressing her past, she, moreover repeats the behaviour of Nancy’s parents in Nightmare 1, who are reluctant to tell their children about their murderous raid on Krueger, even when Nancy asks about him and names him as her friends’ murderer (00:44-00:45). Starring in Nightmare 1, thus appears as a kind of trauma of Heather’s (also following her in the shape of the stalker who pretends to be Freddy) which she strives to conceal from her son but indirectly traumatises him through her silence instead – just as the parents in Nightmare 1 let their children come to harm by not telling them about Krueger.

Dylan also screams and seems to have fits in his sleep, apparently resulting from terrible nightmares in which he is chased by Freddy. In 00:21 he repeatedly says ‘Never sleep again’, the last line of the characteristic nursery rhyme established in the first Nightmare and recurring as a signifier of Freddy Krueger’s presence throughout the series. Moreover, Dylan also – typically for a somnambulist – apparently gets frightened or in some way shocked when he is awoken from his sleepwalking by his mother and starts screaming each time this happens (00:38, 00:51). During the telephone scene, a homage to the famous scene from Nightmare 1, the child even seems to be mysteriously connected to the telephone out of which Freddy’s tongue emerges, when the same vesicating saliva emerges from his mouth and from the telephone at the same time. Even before that, the technical medium merges with a spiritualistic one when Dylan writes the words ‘answer the phone’, puzzled together from single letters Heather received from her terrorizing stalker, right before the phone rings. When she picks it up, Heather finds that it is Freddy – or her stalker pretending to be him, if he indeed exists – on the phone. Here, telephone and child turn into spiritualistic media, the former establishing contact to another world instead of another phone set, and the latter mimicking the phone’s supernatural behaviour by spitting Freddy-saliva (in the place of ectoplasm), which has supposedly emerged from this very other world that was contacted by the phone. The uncanny state of somnambulism, which is of course linked to sleep, is thus staged in its most eerie and shocking way, presenting the boy mysteriously connected to the supernatural force, the realm of the dead and displaying a behaviour which is dangerous for him as well as for others.

However important technical media such as the telephone and the television set might be in serving Freddy’s entry into the ‘real’ world, Dylan’s bed figures more prominently in this regard. In the very first sequence, apparently a remake of Nightmare 1 is being shot on a film set (the scene replays exactly the beginning of Nightmare 1: Freddy manufacturing his murder weapon), when a special effect, a mechanical Freddy claw, goes wild and starts attacking the crew. Dylan runs off and sits on a prop bed, only then to immediately disappear from it when his mother’s view on him is blocked (00:04). Similar to Nightmare 1, these events are subsequently revealed as taking place in a nightmare of Heather Langenkamp’s when we see her awakening from it. Moreover, we are immediately placed in her and her husband’s as well as their son’s beds, where all of them wake up during an earthquake and his parents then rush over to Dylan to shield him with their bodies (00:05). Thus, already in the very beginning, the bed is introduced as a central motif as well as a place in which the film’s action is set, at the same time being marked as uncanny: it is where you wake up from nightmares only to find yourself and/or your loved ones in danger.

In contrast, we see the bed represented as a place of familial togetherness, in another scene, when Heather Langenkamp reads a fairy tale – the Grimm brothers’ Hansel and Gretel, which will be referenced several times throughout the picture – to Dylan in his bed, accompanied by another optical medium which, unlike the television set, receives a positive connotation: a magic lantern displaying rotating, colourful dinosaurs (00:24-00:25). The fairy tale’s brutality and the mother’s resulting reluctance to finish its reading, point to inappropriate bedtime stories leaving children scared and unable to go to sleep, and quickly overshadow the intimate familial situation. Dylan eventually reveals to his mother that ‘the mean old man with the claws’ tries to come out of his bed and that his plush dinosaur, Rex, ‘keeps him down there’, in his function of Dylan’s ‘guard’ (00:26-00:27). It thus becomes explicit that the bed again figures as a direct gate into another world, into Freddy Krueger’s world of nightmares, who, as it turns out, and as Wes Craven himself explains (00:59-00:61), never was merely a fictive character but is an archetype of evil itself that can be temporarily captured if shaped into various fictive incorporations such as Freddy Krueger or the wicked witch from the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales. As Joseph Maddrey pointed out, ‘fictional films, New Nightmare suggests, allow us to cope with the existence of such monsters.’18 It is this primal fear turned into an archetype that is strongly linked to the bed in New Nightmare; the evil monster hiding under the bed, or emerging from it, cutting through Heather’s bed sheet (00:49), or crawling out of a hole which appears in Dylan’s bed after his mother has left the room. In another scene, the archetypal Freddy literally comes out of the closet and subsequently lands on Heather Langenkamp’s bed to wrestle with her (00:65), reminding us of his dubious sexual connotation established in Nightmare 1 and preserved throughout the series.

The bed thus turns into a place of horror; Dylan’s bed in the hospital appears as a trap, when he is first encased inside a latticed bedstead, and later under an oxygen tent, literally wrapped in plastic. It is a recurring theme in the Nightmare series that Freddy-fearing children do their best to stay awake as long as possible, while adults sabotage their efforts. Occasionally, parents even facilitate their children’s death by secretly administering sleeping pills. (for instance, Kristen’s mother gets her killed by this procedure in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 – The Dream Master)19 In contrast, in New Nightmare, it is Heather Langenkamp/Nancy – the exceptional mother who knows what kind of evil is after her child – who keeps drinking coffee (as opposed to the alcohol Nancy’s mother is constantly drinking in Nightmare 1, which has a sleep-inducing instead of a stimulating effect) and at some point strives to keep her son awake, while the nurses in the hospital endanger Dylan by trying to put him to sleep at all costs. However, considering that sleep is potentially deadly in a world inhabited by Krueger, the hospital bed quickly loses its comforting function as a space where one can recover and get well again and is further charged with negative connotations.

Down the Rabbit Hole

During her husband’s funeral in New Nightmare, Heather apparently passes out and experiences a dream/vision in which the casket falls open due to an earthquake taking place (or possibly being part of Heather’s subjective experience as well) and she sees Dylan being dragged into a hole in the casket by Freddy. When she jumps after him and gets him out, her husband’s corpse suddenly comes to life and – as an agent of Freddy’s – tells her to stay with him, i.e. to die (00:36-00:38). Here, the entrance to Freddy’s realm leads past the place of the dead father’s eternal sleep (which is what Freddy always aims to give to his victims) and apparently into the earth below. As mentioned above, children’s literature, especially fairy tales are referenced in New Nightmare, for instance in the scene after Dylan’s disappearance when his mother discovers that he, re-enacting Hansel and Gretel, left her a trail to follow – one of sleeping pills instead of bread crumbs (01:26-01:28). After swallowing these, Heather discovers a tunnel in Dylan’s bed, under the covers, similar to the one in her husband’s casket. She climbs inside it and soon finds herself sliding and then falling until she lands inside a water basin (01:29). Moreover, Heather’s journey through the hole in the bed to a fantastic as well as eerie land is reminiscent of another piece of children’s literature, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:

In another moment down went Alice after it [the rabbit], never once considering how in the world she was to get out again. The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well. 20

Like Carroll’s Alice, Heather climbs into a bed, here figuring as an equivalent to the rabbit hole which then turns out to contain a long tunnel. Furthermore, she, too, has to digest something to get into the right condition for that journey, just as Alice often eats or drinks something in Wonderland in order to change her size, for instance when she eats a cake to become smaller and subsequently find herself in the pool of tears, similar to Heather’s rough landing in a pool of water. Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland as well as its inhabitants often appear rather nightmarish, disconcerting and uncanny – a quality which is stressed in several of its adaptations, for instance in Jan Švankmajer’s Alice, and others.21 Finally, at the end of the narrative, we see Alice wake up, without her explicitly having falling asleep in the beginning. It is only this later event that reveals her adventures in Wonderland to have been a dream – a narrative device which is often applied in the Nightmare series as well, and which causes the ontological uncertainty it confronts us with:

‘He’s dreaming now,’ said Tweedledee: ‘and what do you think he’s dreaming about?’

Alice said ‘Nobody can guess that.’

‘Why, about YOU!’ Tweedledee exclaimed, clapping his hands triumphantly.

‘And if he left off dreaming about you, where do you suppose you’d be?’

‘Where I am now, of course’, said Alice.

‘Not you!’ Tweedledee retorted contemptuously.

‘You’d be nowhere. Why, you’re only a sort of thing in his dream!’

‘If that there King was to wake’, added Tweedledum, ‘you’d go out – bang! – just like a candle!’22

In this essay, I have shown how the bed is given a new interpretation in Wes Craven’s horror films, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and New Nightmare, where it is detached from positive connotations as a place of repose and safety and charged with images of horror and violence. As the entry point into the realm of dreams, or in this case, nightmares, it is connected to a mortal danger for its occupants, who are chased and killed in their nightmares by Fred Krueger. Moreover, he can even use the bed to exit the world of dreams and enter reality, while at the same time, the dreamers can learn to willingly enter his world (and even to bring him out of it). The bed thus also turns into the starting point of an adventure, during which the dreamers can defeat the killer, or possibly turn into his victims. While the idea of the bed functioning as a gateway into Krueger’s land of horrors is only hinted at in Nightmare 1, New Nightmare elaborates on it, literally revealing a tunnel under the bedcovers, thus in a way aligning Nightmare with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In the Nightmare series, dream and reality are often difficult or impossible to tell apart – for the viewers as well as for the characters inside the diegesis. The films thus hint at a problem philosophy has been linking to dreaming for centuries – the difficulty to distinguish the two states of existence and to decide which of the two is ‘real’, or perhaps ‘more real’ than the other. In the Nightmare series, this border is often blurred as the teenagers’ nightmares often appear to be no less ‘real’ than their waking existence, sometimes the former are even more exciting and adventurous than the latter (especially in the sequels). New Nightmare in particular reflects on the production of horror films themselves, as it, first, revolves around characters involved in film production and, second, depicts horror plots as (at least sometimes) originating from nightmares.

References / Notes

1 Dir. by Wes Craven, New Line Cinema (1984)

2 Dir. by Tobe Hooper, Vortex (1974)

3 Dir. by John Carpenter, Compass International Pictures and Falcon International Productions (1978)

4 Dir. by Sean S. Cunningham, Paramount Pictures et al., (1980)

5 Dir. by Wes Craven, New Line Cinema (1994)

6 Dir. by Ronny Yu, New Line Cinema et al. (2003)

7 Dir. by Samuel Bayer, New Line Cinema et al. (2010)

8 Isabel Cristina Pinedo, ‘Postmodern Elements of the Contemporary Horror Film’, in: The Horror Film, ed. by Stephen Prince (New Brunswick: Rutgers, 2004), 85–117 (pp. 90-91).

9 Especially striking is the circumstance that from A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 – The Dream Master (dir. by Renny Harlin, New Line Cinema, 1988) on, Freddy Krueger turns into a blabbing, tough-talking trickster.

10 In Gestörter Film. Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (Darmstadt: Büchner, 2012).

11 The Elm Street references the great US trauma of the 60s: President John F. Kennedy being assassinated on Elm Street in Dallas, Texas on November 22nd 1963.

12 The Final Girl, a concept elaborated by Carol J. Clover, is the last survivor in the slasher genre, usually a sexually inactive, somewhat masculinized girl who fights the killer with resourceful wit, not being afraid to use violence against him. See for instance Carol J. Clover,’ Her Body Himself. Gender in the Slasher Film’, Representations 20 (1987), 187–228.

13 Original title: Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, dir. by F. W. Murnau, Jofa-Atelier Berlin-Johannisthal and Prana-Film GmbH (1922)

14 Robin Wood, ‘An Introduction to the American Horror Film’, in: Planks of Reason. Essays on the Horror Film, ed. by. Barry Keith Grant and Christopher Sharrett (Lanham et al.: Scarecrow Press, 2004), 107-141 (p. 117).

15 Dir. by Tobe Hooper, MGM et al. (1982)

16 Dir. by Chuck Russell, New Line Cinema (1987)

17 Noël Carroll, ‘Nightmare and the Horror Film: The Symbolic Biology of Fantastic Beings’, in: Film Quarterly 34/3 (1981), 16-25, p. 24.

18 Joseph Maddrey, Nightmares in Red, White and Blue. The Evolution of the American Horror Film. (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2005), p. 85.

19 Dir. by Renny Harlin, New Line Cinema (1988)

20 Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (London: Penguin, 1994), p. 12.

21 Original title: Něco z Alenky, dir. by Jan Švankmajer, Channel Four Films et al. (1988)

22 Lewis Carroll, ‘Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There’, in The Annotated Alice, ed. by Martin Gardner (London: Penguin, 2001), 133-288 (pp. 197-198).

Back to Issue 3>>

Journal Home | Department Home | Editorial Board | Open Access Statement