Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman
One, two,A Nightmare on Elm Street opens with innocent children singing this haunting rhyme as they skip rope.
Freddy’s coming for you!
Better lock the door.
Get a crucifix.
Better stay up late.
Never sleep again. . . .
Stephen King’s novel The Tommyknockers is based upon another poignant and horrific verse, the third and fourth lines of King himself wrote:
Late last night and the night before,“Hush,” an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, also features a nursery rhyme-like ditty:
Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers, knocking at the door.
I want to go out, don't know if I can,
'Cause I'm so afraid of the Tommyknocker man.
These songs are eerie and unsettling, disturbing and creepy. One reason that they are distressing is that they are sung by children. In one case, the children are playing; they are skipping rope. Their play is a reminder of their youth. Their voices are high and sweet, pure and natural. However, the lyrics to the ditties they sing are anything but sweet and innocent; they are vile and wicked--or, at least, they refer to wicked acts, to someone who is stalking or hunting a victim, to the need to lock oneself behind a door, the need to seek divine assistance or protection, the need to maintain nightlong vigilance (A Nightmare on Elm Street); to remain at home rather than to go outside (The Tommyknockers); the need to remain silent, to lock oneself inside one’s house, and the need to say nothing even to one’s own mother, possibly lest “The Gentlemen,” who are “coming by,” likewise harm her (“The Gentlemen”). This juxtaposition of innocence and wickedness is itself alone troubling. However the inclusion of nursery rhymes concerning such brutal action as the verses describe is also unsettling for other reasons.
Can't even shout, can't even cry,How is it that the children who sing such songs have an awareness of the atrocious deeds about which they warn their listeners? Were they victims? Do they know others who were victims? Were they eyewitnesses to the attacks and visitations they describe? Since these songs are not traditional nursery rhymes, they seem to imply first-hand or close secondhand knowledge.
The Gentleman are coming by.
Looking in windows, knocking on doors,
They need to take seven and they might take yours.
Can't call mom, can't say the word,
You're going to die screaming but you won't be heard.
The sings are creepy, too, because they seem to imply a deadly inevitability. Whether it’s Freddy who’s “coming for you” or the Tommyknockers who are “knocking at the door” or The Gentlemen who “need to take seven,” it seems that they are relentless, that they will keep coming, no matter what, and that, sooner or later (probably sooner), they will succeed. They will kill, mutilate, eviscerate. Nothing, these songs suggest, can stop them, whether it’s locking one’s windows and doors, arming oneself with a crucifix, staying awake all night, remaining home rather than venturing out, shouting, crying out, or calling one’s mother. Freddy, the Tommyknockers, and the Gentlemen will succeed in carrying out their violence and murder no matter what one does to thwart them.
Moreover, the words of these rhymes threaten the listener (and, therefore, the moviegoer or the reader him- or herself) directly, employing the second person: “Freddy’s coming for you” and “They need to take seven, and they may take yours.”
Almost as an afterthought, one realizes that these ditties also function on a practical level, advising the moviegoer of the movies’ basic storylines as the songs, at the same time, acquaint viewers with the film’s genre.