Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

26 Jan


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” is the seventh entry in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” horror movie franchise, with director Wes Craven back in the saddle after the original film ten years before. I liked Craven’s original film, and I thought the five sequels that followed were dull, standard slasher films (though with a few good twists thrown in, particularly in the third movie), all of which Craven had little to do with. But Craven has returned for a seventh film, and it’s the best one in the series.

The “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise has been popular mainly because of its villain—the serial killer with knives for fingers and a dark comic personality: Freddy Krueger. But wait. If Freddy died in the sixth film—actually entitled “Freddy’s Dead”—then how can he come back for a seventh film? It’s the same reason killer Jason Voorhees came back for more “Friday the 13th” sequels. The public wants him back, so the character keeps coming back. Horror movie monsters can transform into cultural phenomenon to the point where maybe they create their own existence in reality that forces the writers to create a new script for them.

That’s a crazy idea, but “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” is centered around that idea. What if Freddy wasn’t a horror movie character, but more like a real thing? What if he didn’t like, as much as his fans, the idea that his character was killed off? This movie plays with that concept and has a lot of fun with it. The result is a quite intriguing horror film.

“Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” brings Freddy back to life, as he haunts the nightmares of a few people who worked on the original “Nightmare on Elm Street” film. Most notably troubled is Heather Langenkamp, who played the heroine Nancy in the original film. She gets strange, harassing phone calls from a caller who sings the haunting “Freddy” song (the one that goes, “1, 2, Freddy’s coming for you”). Her son Dylan (Miko Hughes) has an odd habit of sleepwalking and murmuring, “Never sleep again,” while also putting himself in great danger. Robert Englund, who played Freddy in the films, is having nightmares and painting weird pictures.

And Wes Craven himself has been having nightmares too, and is writing a script for a new screenplay. When things start to go very wrong, and Heather actually starts to believe that Freddy might be alive in the real world, she asks Craven about what he’s writing. It turns out that what he’s writing becomes real in Heather’s life. Craven believes that the only way to stop Freddy is to make another movie, and because most of the story involves Heather’s original character, Heather is the focus. This means she has to fight Freddy as Nancy again. Only this time, there’s no shouting of “cut” for reshoots. This is real, or as real as you can be in a dream where if you die in the dream, you die for real.

By the way, Heather is asked to play Nancy for another “Nightmare” movie even though she clearly died in the third movie. But if they can bring Freddy back to life, I don’t see why Nancy doesn’t have a fighting chance.

The idea of “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” being a horror film within a horror film is unusual, but I’ll take this concept over just another standard story of Freddy just invading people’s dreams. While “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” follows the “Nightmare on Elm Street” tradition in that it plays with visions of fantasy and reality (in fact, the contrasts grow kind of tiresome after a while, because they seem kind of obvious at times), and while it also keeps the blood and gore consistently horrifying (and the special effects are top-notch), it’s mainly focused on the people who know the tradition by heart because they love to watch horror films. What effect do they have on these people? This includes the actors, who are pleased by the cult following that the series has brought onto the public, and then are horrified by the evil force that the series has generated upon them as well. This affects their own lives.

Having these people play themselves (more or less) in this movie is quite fun. Heather Langenkamp actually shows more dimensions as herself than as Nancy in the original film. She had to, if she was to remain credible. She’s game as an actress who appreciates the fame, but concerned about why she is famous. Wes Craven is terrific, playing himself as a bright filmmaker who knows more about what’s happening and keeps most details a mystery in order to keep the “story” going. Bob Shaye, head of New Line Cinema (which released this film and the predecessors), is gamely satirical as himself stating reasons why there should be a new movie—it’s what the fans want. Robert Englund seems like a fun guy to talk to, despite his reputation as a movie monster. And John Saxon, who played the father in the original film, has a chance to be Heather’s “counselor” in reality when things go wrong and Heather warns him about Freddy.

There are darkly comic moments in “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare,’ such as in an early scene where we see the making of a “Nightmare” movie, with an animatronic Freddy glove and it comes to life and slaughters the special-effects guys (that’s a dream sequence, foreshadowing events in the movie—very clever). But also, there are some genuinely frightening moments in “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.” Most of them have to do with Heather’s young son Dylan, who is constantly put in harm’s way. One scene has him on top of a jungle gym, possibly being manipulated by Freddy, and about to fall as Heather races to get to him. Then there’s the scene in which Dylan is sleepwalking and makes his across a freeway, nearly being hit by cars and trucks. These are done very well; they’re sincerely creepy moments.

Freddy Krueger himself has updated. While he’s best known as a twisted killer with many one-liners that give him a dark-comedic personality, he actually comes across as legitimately frightening here. He’s more threatening and less comical. He’s more of a monster here than in the other movies. Also, and here’s a nice touch, his appearance is somewhat different than in the films—not too much, but you can tell the difference between the movie-Freddy and the movie-within-the-movie-(reality)-Freddy. Robert Englund is game too and has fun contrasting his actor role with his Freddy role. You can take the campiness of his original Freddy; this is the more frightening Freddy here.

Oh, and I should also mention that Freddy Krueger is listed in the end credits as playing himself. Mwahahaha!

Another positive element to mention for “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” is that it’s unpredictable. There are many neat tricks and twists to be found throughout this story (or story-within-a-story, if you will). And there are some neat omens, like the constant earthquakes in the earlier scenes and even the earlier dream sequences that foreshadow some important deaths. You’re wondering how is this going to pay off, and it does.

Though admittedly, some of the “meta” elements can get confusing, especially at the very end, “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” as a whole is a hip, funny, and scary horror film. It’s odd that the two “Nightmare” movies with Wes Craven turned out to be the most successful. I honestly don’t mind Craven working on another “Nightmare” movie. Just hope he’s not doing it because of crazy nightmares, though.

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