Pictured is a still from the upcoming Nightmare on Elm Street, a film being remade as part of whatever evil bargain was struck wherein every cartoon, game, clothing trend and entertainment property from the 1980s is being developed by one Hollywood studio or another. (I think we’ll all be quite excited for Ellen Page’s 2011 Golden Globe nomination for the role of “Vicky” in Small Wonder: The Movie.) It is disappointing that like so many other touchstones of an era, “Nightmare” cannot be left solely as an artifact of the decade of parachute pants and Wham! videos, but must be re-jiggered and re-introduced to the gooey-fingered hordes at the multiplex, which means, given the success of the Saw franchise and its progeny, the new version will be all that more torture-porny and skin-flayingly graphic. Needlessly.
As a kid that movie scared the crap out of me. So did the sequel. Then the franchise veered into campy theatrics, with Freddy Krueger cavorting and yukking it up like a third-rate Carnival Cruise Line performer. (Ack! Remember if you dare the hair-larious theme song for the third film by Dokken. “We’re the dream warriors!”) I never cared for single-minded Jason Voorhees and his dumb hockey mask, but Freddy Krueger was a perfect and terrifying manifestation of evil, so much of the terror of Nightmare on Elm Street being the implication of a threat, the psychological menace, the rising dread, the subconscious terror. He was the boogeyman and the monster in the closet and the thing under your bed. Oh also the spooky nursery rhyme –“One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…”– gave me chills when recited on the playground.
Speaking of playgrounds (if you will indulge my inelegant segue), there was a kid in my third grade class who loved nothing more than recite that little ditty while wearing the plastic Freddy Krueger glove he’d purchased from Toys ‘R’ Us, as he terrorized girls at recess. Luke, we’ll call him, was one of those mischievous and untameable sorts, too smart for his own good, always with a glint in his eye, a twinkle that suggested either brilliance or psychosis. As such, he’s either now a mega-rich captain of industry, or spends his days in his hunting shack in the Everglades, modeling for himself the frock coats he’s fashioned from the skins of his female victims. Either way.
My problem with Luke arose, you see, because he’d sussed out my infatuation with our classmate Allison. I don’t think I’d confided in him, so perhaps he’d seen her name doodled in my Trapper Keeper, surrounded by hearts and shooting stars? (Somewhere in L.A. there is a writer banging out a treatment for a Trapper Keeper movie right this minute I’m willing to wager.) Allison was a button-cute redhead in the Jenny Lewis vein, who it seemed glided across the sandy playground to alight upon the aluminum bleachers, where all could not help but bask in her luminous essence. I took great pleasure when being chosen from among her retinue to push her on the swing. She also happened to be the Principal’s daughter, which lent to her another layer of untouchability and status. She had the keys to our elementary school kingdom. And I was smitten. But of course she couldn’t find out. I was already developing my unhealthy fear of rejection even at that young age. So Luke began to taunt me with his new found knowledge, insisting that when he had the chance, be it in the hot lunch line, or during kickball, he would let Allison know of my little secret crush on her. I was mortified and of course pleaded for him not to, which sent the sharp gears of the creep’s malevolent little mind a-spinning. (I don’t know what I was worried would happen should she be told? Public humiliation? Social ostracization? Whatever I was feared might happen, it felt as viscerally terrifying, if not more so, than a knife-fingered burn victim who skulked around the boiler room.) I was a shy and intensely private child, and the fact that he had attained a glimpse into my inner life unnerved my tiny sense of self.
So: Luke blackmailed me. I paid him for his silence. An eraser to start. Snack money the next day. My new pencil case. My head became so warped by the give and take of this sick schoolyard power game that I had begun to lose sight of how the whole thing started.
The stress of the situation must’ve become apparent to any outside observer, maybe my school work had begun to suffer, because I’m pretty sure one afternoon my tender, bosomy teacher confronted me as to why I was acting differently and I spilled the whole sordid mess to her right there in her air-conditioned, portable classroom. At least that’s what I think happened. I know that Luke was spoken to, (though he was not, ironically, sent to Principal’s office). My possessions were returned to me. My secret crush remained secret. (If you are searching this tale for a moral, well, I guess it would be that telling the truth, painful though you may perceive it to be, allows you to keep the power. Otherwise shots get called without your input, to your detriment. Or something. )
So here I am, clearly unscathed by the minor incident lo these many years hence, yet reminded of it by a shadowy shot of a cinematic character — one now to be played by the guy who cut off his own wang in the film Little Children — who I have managed to interpolate with an adolescent tormentor, and compelled to relate the embarrassing incident in a (over-long) blog post. As for Luke, he’s either busy merging and acquiring or stalking his latest victim through the swamps with a crossbow. Either way.