Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, 1994.
Directed by Wes Craven.
Starring Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Miko Huges and John Saxon.
When tragedy strikes, actress Heather Langenkamp is reluctantly forced to confront the legacy of her most famous role; Nancy Thompson to defeat an entity that has taken on the form of her former on-screen nemesis; Freddy Krueger.
During the first week of this year’s October Horrors we took a look at the original classic A Nightmare on Elm Street. And by “take a look at” I, of course, mean I spent nearly 1000 words heaping praise upon a film that really doesn’t need any more of it. Seriously go and watch the original Elm Street. It’s great.
With this being the final week, we’re jumping ahead to a film that, after the deluge of increasingly silly Elm Street sequels, took Freddy Krueger back to basics while also taking a step back to offer an introspective look at the franchise as a whole. This is Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
Despite the title suggesting it as such, New Nightmare is not a sequel to any of the previous Elm Street films, nor is it a reboot or remake of the franchise. Instead, New Nightmare goes for a rather novel approach of taking place in the “real world” in which the Elm Street films are just that; films.
This “real world” gives the film a clever meta feel to it as Craven presents a much more introspective take on the series and, to a certain extent, the horror genre itself, painting horror films as being akin modern-day fairy tales with the Witches and their gingerbread houses being replaced by scarred slasher killers and their boiler rooms.
I also quite enjoyed what I perceive as Craven’s satirical take on how the Elm Street sequels “ruined” Freddy’s character by turning him into an almost cartoonish comic figure that everyone adores when they should really fear him. With the suggestion that Freddy’s popularity has come at the expense of his heroines as shown in one very telling scene in which Heather is upstaged on a talk show by a surprise appearance by her former co-star.
New Nightmare with its self referential, sometimes satirical, approach has often been compared to Scream and one can’t help but think that Kevin Williamson wasn’t a little bit inspired by Craven’s efforts he sat down to write his own slasher satire. It certainly explains why Craven was given the director’s chair on
The film also gives us a look at the effect that horror films have on those who work on them, with the film focusing on the franchise’s impact on actress Heather Langenkamp here playing a fictional version of herself.
Beset by calls from a deranged fan and with regular reminders of her on-screen past, Langenkamp spends much of the film attempting to outrun the legacy of her most famous role. It’s only with Freddy now terrorising her and her son in the real world, that Langenkamp is able to confront her past and embrace her role as Nancy in which she can triumph.
It’s a creative approach and one that mostly succeeds at keeping you engaged throughout. Although it’s also an approach that Craven doesn’t fully invest in and, in the end, it feels far too reminiscent of the classic slasher sequel plot that has the killer up against the “final girl” who always bested them. And, before you say it, yes I get that’s sort of the whole point. I honestly would have preferred to see a film revolve around Robert Englund who, after hanging up the glove, finds himself being haunted by Freddy, thus giving the whole “confronting your past” aspect an extra edge.
Speaking of Freddy, after the sequels diluted the tone and character of Freddy Krueger, turning him into a beloved pop culture icon who fired out jokes left right and centre, New Nightmare takes the dream demon back to his roots.
Sporting a design that is closer to what Craven originally intended and ditching the jokes entirely, this time Krueger is a much darker and evil figure who takes no greater pleasure than tormenting the woman who defeated him all those years ago. It’s a welcome return to form that allows Englund (in his 7th appearance as the character) a chance to show off just how menacing he can be, with the actor clearly relishing the chance to dive back into the dark side of the character.
While featuring plenty of scares and nightmare sequences, New Nightmare opts to take its time, presenting a much slower film than it’s predecessors. The vast majority of the film is spent in the company of Heather as she attempts to help her son deal with the death of his father while struggling to keep it together herself. Freddy himself doesn’t even appear on screen until nearly an hour in, with his presence throughout the first half being felt primarily through suggestion and very brief appearances throughout.
The slow pace might work for some but others might find themselves growing impatient waiting for Freddy to appear, and I must confess it did leave me rather bored at times. However, I will give praise to Heather Langenkamp’s performance, which manages to keep you captivated throughout, even in among the film’s slower moments.
Yet, while it might take a while to get going, once it does, the film is an intense, thrilling and imaginative trip that keeps you gripped, particularly in the fantastic climax that turns Freddy back into the genuinely frightening monster he is. I’ll be having nightmares about that fucking tongue of his for weeks now.
Thanks to strong performances and a creative story, New Nightmare, while not a patch on the original, is a welcome return to form of Freddy Krueger, offering us a much darker and self-reflective take on the long-running franchise that, while deeply flawed is a million miles better than the worst of the sequels. Check it out if you’re curious.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★