Today is Wes Craven’s birthday (Happy Birthday Mr. Craven!), so I thought there was no better time to comment on the relationship between Wes Craven and Sigmund Freud! Now, because his movie ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ involves dreams, it’s obvious to interpret the film in a Freudian manner. However, I wondered if this was the right way to go about it. I remembered a line from ‘The Last House of the Left.’ Krug is asked by Weasel about the greatest sex crime of the century. He replies by saying anything the Boston Strangler did. Then, the girl travelling with them shouts out ‘Sigmund Freud!’ and mentions something about the phallus.
Now, if we see Craven as trying to deal with his dreams in a Freudian manner, this gives us ample room for interpretation of his film-making as a whole. He’s certainly an innovator when it comes to the horror genre. His most famous films are ‘The Last House on the Left’, ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’, and ‘Scream.’ His thought and philosophy are at their most basic and brutal in ‘Last House’; it is a true ‘video nasty’ in all senses of the phrase. Cheap and rough, it is Craven exploring how far he can go, how much depth he can plunge from his id. Rape, sexual abuse, murder, and revenge abound in this film. It follows a bunch of degenerates who follow their most basic instincts, and Craven shows what the id is capable of if not controlled. Even the parents of the murdered teenagers fully realise their id by enacting an extremely violent revenge.
Then we have ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’, where Craven tries to temper his own philosophy of film. He’s trying to understand what he did in ‘Last House’, thus plays out all the slasher scenes in teenage dreams. Some of these dreams are likely to be out of Craven’s own sleep, so he’s fleshing them out on screen to try to interpret them. Strip away the dreams and you have ‘Halloween’: mad man kills teenagers. However, the dreams are a vital part of ‘Nightmare’, and they never end. The twist at the end attests to this fact. What is Freddy Krueger, if not a representation of the id? He’s out for revenge, killing the children of the people who murdered him long ago. He comes to life in dreams, full of rage and a thirst for blood. In the battle of the id, the ego and the superego here, there is no outright winner.
Then fast forward to ‘Scream’ (I’ve reviewed and interpreted ‘Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (click here for my review of said film), which is a precursor to Scream) where Craven reinvents the slasher film once again (the genre is now polluted by remakes, especially of Craven’s own horror classics). On the face of it, this is reinvents slasher films by turning them on their head. It is referential and self-referential. Witticisms and sarcasms tremble throughout the film. He acknowledges slasher conventions and then tears them down. Now, dreams have nothing to with this film. Craven has chosen reality to interpret his philosophy of film (and his inner demons). However, he is unsuccessful again, as the slasher scenes overcome any attempt at interpretation. He gives into his id once again, and the blood and gore represses any aim that Craven had in mind. It is a great film, yet Craven fails in his self-therapy. And, by accident, he created the modern horror film, full of wise teenagers who know all the horror rules, yet fail to understand them. Much Hollywood horror is essentially stuck in 1996.
So, Craven’s three most famous films cannot be understood apart from each other. Everything in between is either an evolution of thought or a derivation of his previous films (The Hills Have Eyes, etc). These are also three key films in the evolution of horror, as the ‘Other’ is a mere representation of the repressed ‘soul.’ That’s the key to their effectiveness; what is alien is not terrifying. It’s what’s alien and inherent in all of us that is the key to true horror. We have the total expression of the id in ‘Last House,’ facing the facts of your own dreams in ‘Nightmare’, and reinterpreting everything in ‘Scream’, right down to the final twist.
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