Designing Fear: Freddy Krueger

Sleep is the one place many of us find solace and rest at the end of each day. We’re comforted by the fact that for a few hours, we can leave our cares behind and be unbothered by it and drift into our dreams. Even with the prospect of nightmares tearing us from our rest once awake, we know there is no true threat to our lives, or is there? In this week’s Designing Fear, we are talking about the Freddy Krueger costume.

In the early 80’s the popularity of slasher films and their crazed, masked, killers skyrocketed with many studios trying to recreate the success of Halloween and Friday the 13th. However, writer and director Wes Craven wanted to create a new kind of killer for his next slasher film, one that reminded him of the monster movies and straight-up monsters he’d grown up with.

Inspired by the true story of a young Cambodian refugee who had died in his sleep Inspired by the true story of a young Cambodian refugee who had died in his sleep following a string of nightmares, Craven decided that a killer who haunted the dreams of their victims was the perfect concept for his new film A Nightmare On Elm Street. So with some inspiration from the news and the name of his childhood bully, Craven’s new villain was imagined into existence as Freddy Krueger.

While now a pop culture icon that has inspired many other monsters in movies and tv, Freddy Krueger, played by Robert Englund, was drastically different looking from his slasher contemporaries of Micheal Myers and Jason Voorhees when he first hit the screen in 1982. This was because Craven wanted a new kind of slasher villain. One that didn’t hide their emotions behind a mask but was still terrifying to look at. So Craven enlisted the skills of special effects make-up artist David B. Miller to create the otherworldly burned visage of Krueger. While Miller and Craven worked through many different concepts for Krueger’s look, they ultimately found inspiration in an unusual place.

“The final design for Freddy that went through, and this is a true story, is pepperoni pizza,”

– David B. Miller, Bloody Disgusting
Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

While the inspiration may have been unusual, the result is terrifying to the audience because it causes you to wonder is he real or just a nightmare? With Krueger’s deliciously disgusting prosthetics baked and ready, it was time to decide what he would wear. Dana Lyman was the costume designer on the film, but Freddy’s hat was heavily influenced by an encounter from Cravens childhood.

“The hat was the kind worn by men when I was a kid, and there was a particular man who scared me when I was little. He was a drunk that came down the sidewalk and woke me up when I was sleeping. I went to the window wondering what the hell was there. He just did a mind-fuck on me. He just basically somehow knew I was up there, and he looked right into my eyes. – I literally ran toward the front door and heard, two stories down, the front door open. I woke up my big brother; he went down with a baseball bat—and nobody was there. Probably the guy heard him coming and ran; he was drunk, having a good time. But the idea of an adult who was frightening and enjoyed terrifying a child was the origin of Freddy.”

– Wes Craven, The Take
Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

With this terrifying memory further feeding the lore and look of Freddy, the design of his unsettling sweater not only pulled from Cravens memory but was grounded in science. In 1982 Scientific America published an article about the most abrasive color combination, red and green. With this harsh and upsetting combination in mind, Judy Graham, now known for her sweaters featured on The Big Bang Theory and her popular YouTube channel, was hired to craft her most iconic piece, Freddy’s sweater.

Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

The combo is tough to look at and makes the audience want to look away from Freddy, but you simply can’t because his final accessory is the most terrifying part. With Freddy’s wardrobe shaping up nicely, thoughts of what his signature weapon would be. Craven decided on knives and not just your run-of-mill kitchen knives but a glove of knives that integrated the weapon into his physical appearance to convey a more organic fear.  

“Nature is full of stabbing instruments: claws, teeth, horns. I thought the claws of the cave bear must be buried somewhere in our subconscious, so that claw which is from nature or animals was combined with what is one of the most specifically human parts of our anatomy, which is our hands. – So that became the instrument; rather than anything he would leave someplace and then pick up, it was something that he actually had on him.”

– Wes Craven, The Take

Jim Doyle, the mechanical special effects designer on the film, was tasked with creating Freddy’s glove, which wasn’t only dangerous to the teens of Elm Street.

 I sketched a few gloves, then built a “hero” glove. You know, the sharp one. If you’re actually gonna cut something, then we use the hero. The rest of the time, we had “stunt gloves.” The hero glove was dangerous. Every time someone put it on, they hurt themselves, because if you closed your fist, the blades cut your forearm. Oops.

Jim Doyle, Vulture
Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Original sketch of Freddy Krueger’s glove by Jim Doyle
Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

With Freddy Krueger opening up the possibility of what kind of killers could be in a slasher, the possibilities became endless for this new sub-genre of horror, and Freddy seemed always to be able to pull people back for another nightmare.

Want to know more? Check out my sources.

Miska, Brad. “Here’s What Freddy Krueger Almost Looked like! (Exclusive).” Bloody Disgusting!, 30 Oct. 2015, https://bloody-disgusting.com/exclusives/3368027/heres-what-freddy-krueger-almost-looked-like-exclusive/.

Marchese, David. “Behind-the-Scenes Photos of a Nightmare on Elm Street – Slideshow.” Vulture, 20 Oct. 2014, https://www.vulture.com/2014/10/nightmare-on-elm-street-behind-scenes-photos.html.

Dressler , Jacob. “The Reason Why Freddy Krueger’s Sweater Is Red and Green.” ScreenGeek, 29 Sept. 2021, https://www.screengeek.net/2019/12/21/freddy-krueger-sweater-red-green-reason/.

Craven, Mimi. “Freddy Lives: An Oral History of a Nightmare on Elm Street.” Vulture, 20 Oct. 2014, https://www.vulture.com/2014/10/nightmare-on-elm-street-oral-history.html.

Saporito, Jeff. “What Inspired ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ and Freddy Krueger?: Read: The Take.” What Inspired “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and Freddy Krueger? | Read | The Take, 29 May 2020, https://the-take.com/read/what-inspired-a-nightmare-on-elm-street-and-freddy-krueger.

Robert Englund on the set of A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger(Left) Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson (Right) in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Robert Englund (Left) Heather Langenkamp (RIght)
Jsu Garcia(Top Left) Amanda Wyss (Top Middle) Johnny Depp (Top RIght) Robert Englund (Bottom Right) Heather Langenkamp (Bottom Left) in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

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