Halloween Horrors: Coming of Age and Little Monsters in ‘Der Nachtmahr’

This piece was initially published on Much Ado About Cinema in October 2018.

Coming-of-age stories are no stranger to the horror genre. The emotional turmoil, bodily transformations, and anxieties that come with teenage years are ripe for the horror picking, from Ginger Snaps to Raw. Sometimes, you think you’ve seen all the different variations of these stories. Then you see something new and exciting, something that blows your mind using a strange little puppet monster. My next recommendation for this month of horror is The Nightmare, or Der Nachtmahr.

The 2015 German film follows party girl Tina (Carolyn Genzkow) as she navigates a life of house music, drugs, boys, and anxiety. As the bass pumps ever louder and the lights never stop flashing, Tina loses herself in the music, a momentary reprieve from the pressures of being 17. However, she can’t escape for too long, because her fears take a physical form: a little gremlin creature with which she is mentally linked.

Genzkow is absolutely phenomenal in this film, capturing the depression and anxiety that comes with growing up and trying to impress your friends. How many drugs can you take, how many parties can you goto to prove that you’re cool? Genzkow captures the contrast between the party girl at the club and the kid she reverts back to when she goes home to her parents. No matter how hard you party, you still sometimes need your parents to fight away the gremlin decimating your fridge.

I would be remiss to not talk about our little gremlin friend who Tina gets to know and love throughout the film. The grey creature is so strange, but you can’t help falling in love with it. It’s like a demented Henson puppet, one that makes you both recoil and coo with adoration. This little creature is a physical manifestation of anxiety and depression, and while it is cute, it is also ugly and hungry. It something that needs to be carried around and taken care of. It keeps Tina awake and weighs on her every thought.

Der Nachtmahr does rely on a lot of the tropes seen in typical coming-of-age horror films. Tina is taken to therapy and given strange pills to ‘fix’ her delusions. Her parents want to institutionalize her. Her friends all think she’s crazy. But, director Akiz uses these tropes and twists them into something original. Der Nachtmahr has such a feeling of liberation, one that shows Tina removing the restrictions imposed on her, freeing herself, and embracing who she is.

Watch if you like: E.T., It Follows, Raw, Thelma, any film where a girl is growing up and everyone thinks she’s crazy when really it’s just her reacting to the oppression of the patriarchy on her ability to think and act for herself

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