The boogeyman exists, and it exists for just one purpose: to scare the bejeezus out of you. That’s why I spent a significant portion of my childhood cowering under my bedsheets, hoping that Freddy Krueger wouldn’t kill me in my sleep. Because say what you will about the disfigured child murderer who became an all-powerful dream deity… he was good at his job.
But familiarity breeds contempt, and it sure is hard to be scared of the same thing for decades at a time, especially after the Halloween industrial complex gets a hold of it and uses your favorite boogeyman to sell t-shirts, rap songs and toasters. It’s been more than half a decade now since the last serious attempt to make an A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movie, and as of this writing, there doesn’t seem to be another sequel, reboot or re-imagining on the immediate horizon. Audiences have moved on to new nightmares, and Freddy Krueger’s reign of terror is — apparently — quite over.
Or is it…?
Let’s take a trip down canon lane, and remember that Freddy Krueger isn’t just one boogeyman… he’s the boogeyman. In fact, according to filmmaker Wes Craven in the 1996 horror classic WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE, “Whatever you want to call it. It’s old, very old, and it’s taken different forms in different times.” Craven adds, “It can be captured, sometimes… by storytellers, of all things. Every so often, they imagine a story good enough to catch its essence. Then it’s held prisoner for a while. In the story.”
That means that if a boogeyman captures the public consciousness, any boogeyman, then that boogeyman is also Freddy Krueger. Or at least, it is the immortal entity that became Freddy Krueger in the first place. And that means that if “Freddy Krueger” isn’t doing his job, another boogeyman has to rise to take his place in the world of fiction or we are all completely screwed. Fortunately, we know for a fact that the boogeyman is still contained, because as we learned in NEW NIGHTMARE, if the entity that was Freddy Krueger isn’t trapped in a story, it gets out into the real world. And — as far as we know — everyone isn’t currently getting murdered in their dreams (thank goodness).
So if Freddy Krueger isn’t the face of the boogeyman anymore, who is? Where did the monster go? There aren’t as many suspects as you might think. Our horror movies lately don’t have an abundance of distinct, individual monsters that linger over time and meet Wes Craven’s criteria. For example, we may admire SAW’s Jigsaw for his gruesome ingenuity, but let’s not forget what Craven said, that “The only thing that stays the same about it is what it lives for… Killing innocence, one way or the other.” And Jigsaw’s victims were, pretty much by definition, not innocent.
Freddy Krueger didn’t kill sinners, he killed children. Even the teenagers he eventually moved on to slaughtering weren’t, as a rule, bad people. The majority were likable characters with recognizably human anxieties that Krueger would exploit to terrify and eventually murder them. He was a sadistic bully who preyed on the powerless, like the witch in HANSEL & GRETEL, and I would argue that there is only one contemporary horror icon who has had the same impact, and who has sent kids into a screaming panic at the sound of his name…
A gaunt, faceless being in a nondescript business suit, stalking schoolyards and playgrounds. The ultimate stranger. Slender Man is every mysterious adult with an ineffable air of authority about him, who might conceivably trick children into walking away with him. He is a demon in nice clothes, who can explode into squirming, touching tentacles at any moment. He is the monster that is always in the background, right there in public, out of sight yet inescapable.
And what’s more, he is a demon who was “created” in 2009, just one year before the release of the failed A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET remake. Do you think it’s a coincidence that Freddy Krueger, the host of the original boogeyman, lost his power immediately after the creation of an all-new monster that terrifies us ever more? I think not.
That demon is real, and it would seem that for the moment, at least, it lives inside of a creepypasta. That’s the 21st century for you. One nightmare begets another but the fundamental fear remains unchanged. So keep an eye on Slender Man and remember: keep him scary. Don’t make him a merry quipster, don’t put him on too many novelty products, and don’t let him die until we come up with something scarier… or we’re all doomed.