We all have that moment when the right fandom property at the right time changes our course, and we go on to dedicate our life to something. The Catalyst to My Fandom is a place for all of us to share those life-altering moments in fandom. For me, Freddy Krueger had an incredible impact on my life, and I never looked back.
Before we begin, say hello to five-year-old me:
Man, That Soup is Hot!
The year was 1987, and like most five-year-olds in those foregone days, I followed the pack when it came to popular culture. I watched Transformers. Ninja Turtles were becoming a thing, so naturally, I was into that. I wanted every comic book on the rack even though I was just learning to read. A Nintendo popped up in the home a few years past and, like my fellow scribe Bob Aquavia, I was glued to my NES on weekends. Most importantly, at least as far as this story goes, I collected trading cards. I wasn’t into sports cards. I collected cards based on the Tim Burton Batman movie, or that forgettable Dick Tracy movie than anything with an NHL All-Star on it. It was through trading cards that I learned how to never sleep again.
One weekend my older brother and I went to the local convenience store. Our pockets full of change burning holes in our pockets. The usual routine was to buy some candy, ogle the comic books, and buy some Wacky Packs.
This time was different because among the trading cards was a new offering. The box featured a burn victim with razor fingers, each claw had a trading card impaled through it. “Hi’ya Kids!” This ghoulish figure called out “Do you want to see something gross?”
That was our first brush with Freddy Krueger, the boogie man from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. The trading cards in question were a brand called Fright Flicks, released by Topps. Each card featured a still from a horror movie with a “funny” caption underneath it. I remember opening up my first pack and inhaling that stale bubble gum smell from the stick of bubble gum flavored concrete that came with each pack. On the top of the deck was Amy Peterson from Fright Night in full vampire glory, proclaiming “Man that soup is hot!”
After flipping through a strange combination of gory horror pictures and hacky jokes (that my brother usually had to read for me), I fell in love immediately. Particularly, I really enjoyed the cards with Freddy Krueger on them. I thought they were the funniest.
Everyone’s Favorite Burn Victim
I want to pause for a moment and explain how strange the late 1980’s were. Michael Jackson‘s Bad had just recently come out. People are listening to Bananarama and Los Lobos. Popular movies at the time are Lethal Weapon and Robocop. Oh, let’s not forget this was about the time that crack became a thing.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that a fictional child killer like Freddy Krueger could become a pop-culture icon. With the runaway success of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, Freddy was everywhere. His movies were smashing the box office. He was making appearances on MTV. He had his own TV Show. In 1989, Matchbox released a talking Freddy Krueger doll. Hey, they did the same thing with Pee-Wee Herman, who around that time was much more frightening, why not Freddy?
I hope it all makes sense now.
The Best/Worst Video Store Ever
Like many kids of the era, a highlight of the week was a trip to the local video store to rent some VHS tapes. There were no Blockbusters in my town, just a small mom and pop video store. My mother worked overnights at a retirement home, and often she rented us movies while being babysat. Movie rentals were limited to the children’s section. My brother and I usually rented G.I. Joe: The Movie or Transformers: The Movie, for the millionth time that year.
The owners of this video store placed the horror movies directly across from the kids movies for some reason. Either they had a sick sense of humor, or they were terrible at product placement. Whatever the case may be, it was only a matter of time before I noticed. One day, I looked over at the opposite shelf and that’s when I saw Freddy Krueger was looking right at me. It was the video box for Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge.
My brother and I hounded our mother to let us rent that and its sequel Dream Warriors. My mother eventually broke down and agreed to rent them. I don’t know what she was thinking when she cracked, whenever I bring up this story with her she denies it ever happened. However, I think I could make some educated guesses on the subject. First of all, my mother hates horror movies with a passion. The only scary movie she ever liked was Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Her master plan must have been to allow us to watch these movies so we’d get scared out of our wits and never ask to rent a horror movie again.
Her plan backfired spectacularly.
Everything’s Coming Up Freddy
Other than being pulled out of the room during a nude scene, our babysitter allowed us to watch both movies. Consequently, we were hooked. What interested me was Freddy’s ability to change into whatever he wanted, do whatever he wanted and that he made jokes about it while doing it.
My mother was against renting horror movies after this failed experiment, but we soon grew to an age where that didn’t stop us from seeing them. I became a huge fan of horror films, and while there were a lot of great films to be seen, I still have a soft spot for the bastard son of 1000 maniacs.
With a hammer.
Each successive movie wasn’t as great as the last, but they were always fun to watch.
One year as a teenager I dressed up as Freddy for Halloween. Unfortunately for me, this was the mid-90s, and the accouterment was difficult to come by. My costume consisted of a striped Bugle Boy long sleeve, a leather glove with toothpicks sticking out of it, and make up that looked like…. how do I phrase this?… I looked like a glazed donut.
While most people were re-buying Star Wars movies with every new format, I was doing it with Nightmare on Elm Street. In the fall, I wear a Freddy sweater to keep warm.
Nightmares Do Come True
Two of my fandom dreams came true over the years since those early days: I remember in 1995 how exciting it was to hear that New Line Cinema was working on a Freddy vs. Jason film that pitted Krueger against Friday the 13th‘s Jason Voorhees. It took until 2003 for a film to hit the silver screens, but it happened. I remember seeing the movie on opening night and openly weeping over the beauty of it all.
The second was actually meeting the man himself, Robert Englund. This was in 2014 at Ottawa Comiccon. A fan asked Robert what his favorite Freddy death scene was. Englund explained that it was the scene in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare where Freddy causes a deaf kid’s head to explode with claws on a chalkboard. Without skipping a beat and in my best Freddy voice I said, “Nice hearing from you Carlos!”. Hearing the line from the film out of my mouth, Englund turned to me and said “You do that better than I do.”
While Englund has retired from the role, and after a dismal remake, yet you can bet I will have my butt in a theater seat the next time an Elm Street graces the silver screen.
To close, this is me now:
Fandom is built on a foundation of passionate people with deep and unshakable knowledge spread across the entire pop culture landscape. The only way for that to manifest is timing: the right fan with the right property at the right time. Luminaries of film, music, television, games, and comics have all had that watershed moment where something infected them, and the impulse was too strong to ignore. We have shared some of those moments, and hopefully, you will join us in doing so as well.