Roy poses on Elm street in downtown Greensboro, NC

Many therapists analyze dreams, but Dr. Roy Hamilton decided to take a closer look at nightmares. Nightmares of the Elm Street variety.

Hamilton, staff psychologist and training coordinator for UNCG’s Student Health Services, says Freddy Krueger, the shape-shifting killer in the Nightmare on Elm Street horror films, is an archetypal projection of the stresses, fears and anxieties of adolescents.

Some ways of coping help us grow and deal with stress better than others. Yes, negative coping works, just not long-term. In the film, most of the characters who resort to negative coping die.

“A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, Dream Warriors,” can thus be read as a dark fable showing the inadequacies of negative coping methods – drugs, alcohol, escapism, bullying, etc. — to deal with our problems.

“’Dream Warriors’ demonstrates that negative coping is ultimately not helpful,” says Hamilton, who presented his ideas at the Creativity and Madness Conference in Santa Fe, NM, in August. “Some ways of coping help us grow and deal with stress better than others. Yes, negative coping works, just not long-term. In the film, most of the characters who resort to negative coping die.”

The most effective ways of dealing with stress tap into one’s inner resources, he says. “You have to learn to use your abilities to think through a problem, anticipate the future and work with other people collaboratively.”

Screenwriter Wes Craven created Freddy Krueger, a child murderer who kills in dreams, after reading reports of a young person who died while sleeping, Hamilton says. Freddy, with his ability to change form and his sadistic sense of humor, reflects the archetypal Shadow Trickster explicated at length by psychiatrist Carl Jung.

The appeal of horror films like the Nightmare series to teens and pre-teens has long been a subject of discussion.

“The Freudians see horror films as a projection of unconscious, primarily sexual, desires,” Hamilton says. “The existentialists will say they are means of escaping death anxiety or fear of death, because everybody’s invulnerable at that age. If you pick a theory, you can generally explain the attraction of horror through the lens of that theory.”

Photography by David Wilson, University Relations