Wes Craven’s New Nightmare [retro review]

“Every kid knows who Freddy is. He’s like Santa Claus… or King Kong or…”

The Scoop: 1994 R, directed by Wes Craven and starring Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, and John Saxon

Tagline: This time staying awake won’t save you…

Summary Capsule: In the real world, Freddy haunts the actors of the original Nightmare movie.

Justin’s Rating: I don’t watch Friends! I don’t! Okay, I do, but I don’t enjoy it! At all!

Justin’s Review: Once you get past the introduction to the better Nightmare flicks (1 and 3), you’re pretty much immune to anything they can throw at you from there on in. The rest of the Nightmares are kooky dream sequences and Fun Ways To Die Based On Your Weaknesses. In other words, once you know what to expect, they really cease to be horror films.

Not so with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, a movie that REALLY throws out the rules of its predecessors and charts some radical new territory. Before Scream‘s self-awareness, New Nightmare poked fun at its own genre — and a specific, six-film genre at that — while managing to create a pretty darn scary flick.

It’s the real world, not Freddy’s pretend playland. Actress Heather Langenkamp is playing actress Heather Langenkamp (of Nightmare 1 and Nightmare 3 fame). She’s reuniting with her old costars for one last Freddy flick (which, as you see, takes place in a new Freddy film that reunites the old cast… confused yet?). Her husband is the special effects artist, she is friends with Wes Craven and Robert Englund (Fred Krueger), and the film they’re making is a revolutionary new take on the Nightmare series (gee… like the film WE’RE watching!). You probably understand by now that there is a SERIOUS blending of reality and fiction here, which begins with our confusion and goes on to the confusion of the actors and actresses in the film that don’t realize… the spirit of Freddy is real, and it’s coming for them.

The film and reality loop-within-loop was also done in Scream 3, although not nearly as good as it’s done here in New Nightmare. At one point we’re reading the script for the film’s film, which happens to be what is actually happening in the film we’re seeing. And Heather even works for New Line Cinema, which is the company that made all the Nightmares. Geez, this is nearly impossible to describe.

It’s pretty cool to see the Freddy series come to a close by bringing the plot to a full circle in the series (and it’s not a coincidence that this movie came out 10 years exactly after the first Nightmare). Even though all these characters had been killed off, seeing the actors and actresses back is a hoot. Back for one last spin is John Saxon (Nancy’s dad in the first and third movie), Nick Corri (Rod in the first movie), and Tuesday Knight (Kristen in the fourth movie), among others. In addition to New Nightmare being a grey area of reality/fiction, it’s also a “real” version of the first film (and to a lesser extent, the rest). The opening, the fashioning of the claw, is referential to Freddy making his own glove in the first Nightmare. Several other scenes are unconsciously recreating the classic scenes, albeit in a new context.

So, is Freddy back? Yes… and no. Trust me, there is a new plot idea for Freddy that does tie this together in the “real” world. The ending is a bit so-so, but it’s all done with Craven’s deft touch that I forgive him for unknowingly unleashing all the inferior Nightmares onto the general populace. It’s a one-of-a-kind movie, with an equally unique opportunity for a horror series to take a new turn.

Other than all the cleverness (did I mention it’s clever?), there are parts of this film that really freak me out. As with the best parts of Nightmares 1 and 3, the scariest parts have the least special effects; they’re just moody and set right. A small bit with Heather and her kid Dylan looking under the covers at the unknown farther down the bed is something we’ve all done as kids: imagined a whole world that exists under the sheets. Only this time, it’s a scary, invasive world. I really cared about the characters, ’cause we’ve seen them die once already. One last chance to make things right! Only Scream approached this level of building terror and still managed to be pretty darn gory to boot.

It’s not a perfect film, and the movie-within-a-movie aspect alone is enough to give one headaches with plot holes. But still, I like having this film end the series much better than Freddy’s Dead.

A Special Note On The Freddy Marathon

As a kid, the Freddy flicks were very forbidden to me. Parents in the 80’s loved to tout the Nightmare series as the height of cinematic trash… and perhaps they were right. Still, as a cult film reviewer, I felt it was my responsibility to have seen the entire series through at least once.

Although I had previously seen parts one and three, the rest lay unrented on my video store shelves. Honestly, who actively rents Freddy’s Revenge as your average Friday night fare? So, on one forsaken June Sunday, I rented all seven films. Steeling myself with bottles of coke and Chinese stir-fry, I watched all fourteen hours back to back to back to back to… Well, you get the picture. It was not so bad at first, but once I got into part 4 I began to feel beat. Part 6 took extreme effort to sit through, even with the aid of internet surfing to help me. But I did it, all seven films, something I will never ever do again. It’s amazing how much bad acting one can subject oneself to in the same day.

So why did I do it? I suppose to get the reviews all done, in one swell batch. Maybe for a twisted sort of pride — how many of you have done a 7 film marathon lately? But also I just had a craving for some good old fashion horror films… I don’t know why, but sometimes all you need is to see something pretty campy, something that dares you to be scared. It’s over now, and I’m going to go to sleep. If I can.

And I promise, promise, promise myself I will not do the same sort of marathon for the Friday the 13th flicks. [Editor’s note: promise broken!]

Kyle’s Rating: An impressive approach to horror and a series high point

Kyle’s Review: Compared to the rest of the proper Nightmare on Elm Street series, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is the most polished and accomplished-looking film. It’s one thing for trained actors like Robert Englund and vastly improved actress Heather Langenkamp to play “themselves” well, it’s another for director Wes Craven to do so effectively as well. Combined with the excellent cinematography and creative settings (talk about kismet: utilizing the real-life California earthquakes as a primary plot point in the film), New Nightmare is an exceptional horror film first, and a great Freddy film second. Even if you have zero interest in the Freddy Krueger films, New Nightmare is just a meta-delight that you should definitely see it if you have any kind of interest in scary movies. Especially if you like to consider just what it is that makes such films scary in the first place.

See, New Nightmare is a film that takes a documentary approach to the creators and actors behind the Nightmare on Elm Street series; focusing specifically on the first film, naturally. Everyone has moved on and is doing their own thing (on a talk show appearance, Langenkamp explains she’s been doing a lot of television work, which is true) but it transpires that Wes Craven has found new inspiration to write a Freddy Krueger script. The ultimate Krueger script. Langenkamp isn’t exactly psyched about it, due to family turmoil and heartache, but it soon becomes clear that all everyone involved is intertwined inextricably with the Freddy Krueger phenomenon, and that there is more than a pop culture facet to it all. There’s something primal and supernatural in effect here, and it will require Heather to descend into the world of Freddy to save her son and herself. Whoa!

The “real world” setting sounds problematic and potentially annoying, but the way it’s played is both clever and ingratiating. The best part is that, far from the blatant and sad attempts at intellectualizing what was going on in prior films, there is real intelligence at work in this script. And it just looks great! With the same cinematography here that made Scream look so good, it’s easy to just watch New Nightmare simply for the gorgeous visuals. The advanced skills shown on so many fronts (Craven’s writing and directing, Langenkamp’s acting) is impressive. Especially when you’re watching the entire series pretty much back-to-back (warning: not recommended).

I really liked New Nightmare. It’s not the horror fun that Dream Warriors was, or the “classic” innovator that the original was, but it’s something different and accomplished and that is something to be admired. Dream Warriors is the film I’d recommend to people who want to get a taste of the Freddy phenomenon; New Nightmare is the movie for anybody who watches horror movies. I’m at a loss for words on this one, simply because I want you to stop wasting your time reading and go out and find this movie to watch. I seriously doubt you’ll regret it.

You just know he's smelling her hair. Creepy guy.

Intermission!

  • The TV in Heather’s house keeps playing scenes from the original Nightmare on Elm Street
  • The credits read Freddie Krueger …. as himself
  • Lin Shaye, who appears as a nurse, also played the teacher in Nightmare on Elm Street
  • The clothes worn by Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon towards the end of the film are the exact same clothes they wore in A Nightmare on Elm Street
  • A picture of Heather Langenkamp that was on John Saxon’s desk in the original movie can be seen on a shelf in Wes Craven’s house
  • All of the earthquake sequences in the film were actually filmed one month prior to the Los Angeles quake of ’94. The real quake struck only 2 weeks before the end of filming. Subsequently, a unit was sent out to film drive-by footage of actual quake damaged areas of the city before the end of filming. The cast and crew believed that the earthquake scenes that were filmed before the real quake struck were perhaps a bit overdone, but when viewed after the real quake hit, all were frightened by the realism of it.
  • The “bio-engineered” hand/glove that Freddy uses in this film (as opposed to the glove used in the prior films) is actually derived from the artwork of the theatrical poster and video box covers of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
  • Before making New Nightmare, Wes Craven watched all of the Elm Street films. By the time he was finished, he claims that he could not follow the storyline at all.
  • The events in this film revolve around Heather Langekamp having a stalker. In real life she did have a stalker, and Wes Craven got her permission to weave it into the story.
  • Is It Worth Staying Through End Credits? At the very end of the credits, children are singing Freddy’s rhyme.

Groovy Quotes

Freddy Krueger: Hey, Dillon… Ever play skin the cat?

Heather Langenkamp: Every kid knows who Freddy is. He’s like Santa Claus… or King Kong or…

Heather Langenkamp: Hello?
Freddy Krueger: 1, 2…
[Heather slams phone down, but answers ring again]
Freddy Krueger: FREDDY’S COMIN’ FOR YOU.

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4 Comments

  1. This is probably my favorite of the series, I always liked the first one, just because it was original for it’s day, but the rest were just… ehhh. Until New Nightmare, it’s a really and truly creative way to look at a horror series. I definitely recommend it.

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