Film Review: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

New Nightmare
For my money, this is easily the best of the sequel posters. Freddy looks scary again. It’s not too over-the-top as the other sequels’ were.

We are finally here … er, I am finally here! The last in the original line of the Nightmare films, even though it’s not canonical and technically two other films follow, but I’m going to deal with those two later. The film I’m talking about brings the return of the horror master himself, Wes Craven, in the aptly titled 1994 film, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Craven, obviously, directed the first film in 1984, and even though he had a hand in the screenplay for Dream Warriors, this is the first one he’s been back in all three seats (director, screenwriter and story) since the first.

And, if you ask me, without doing my pre-research yet to confirm my suspicions: This meta Freddy Krueger film was the test-run for the mega-hit Scream in 1996, a meta horror film about horror movies.

This is the film I’ve been most looking forward to watching (in this case, watching again). When I was a kid and then a teenager, I remember seeing the original and I remember seeing Dream Warriors, but it was New Nightmare that stuck in my head, and which I thought was incredible. I probably saw it a good 10 years ago, perhaps close to its 10-year anniversary, and now I’m excited to give it another whirl, and see if it still looms as large as it has in my imagination.

We’re also officially at the longest gap between movies in this franchise, with this coming out slightly more than three years (which nowadays doesn’t seem long at all) after Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare in 1991. Which makes sense, given that it was billed as the final Nightmare film.

This is also notable the first film in the franchise to not have Robert Shaye as a producer. Instead, that credit goes to Marianne Maddalena, who was Wes Craven’s producing partner, and for which they had the Craven/Maddalena Films company together.

The premise of this film is that Freddy Krueger is a fictional movie villain who invades the real world and the real cast and crew responsible for the films. This is also a film that tries to get Freddy Krueger back to the original (and second) films in the franchise: Scary. As I’ve mentioned in the previous reviews, the previous installments of the film find Freddy Krueger, a child killer, cracking jokes and being quippy, attempting to be funny.

As I have continually praised in each installment in this franchise, the premises are brilliant. After you’ve done the, “Don’t fall asleep,” gambit, and the, “We’ll make you go to sleep,” gambit, and the, “We’ll take the fight to Freddy,” gambit, and the baby Freddy gambit, and then killed Freddy gambit, what other gambit is left? Meta. And as the tagline says, “This time, staying awake won’t save you.” After all, these films continue to play with the line between what’s real and what’s not, and what better way to mess with the fabric of reality than to get meta about it?

One other element worth pointing out here: This is the longest of the Nightmare films. Off the top of my head without checking, all six prior films were between 80 minutes and 90 minutes, with the original hitting the longest at nearly 100 minutes. So it’s no surprise that with Craven back in all the seats, this film is listed with a runtime of nearly two hours, at one hour, 52 minutes. Whew. Let’s do it.

In front of the screen, obviously, Freddy Krueger is back as both himself and as Freddy Krueger, but also interestingly in the credits, he’s billed as The Entity. That’s interesting, similar to how Michael Myers was called The Shape in 1978’s Halloween.

Since the premise is based on the real actors, that means we also have the return of Heather Lagenkamp as herself and as Nancy Thomas; John Saxon as himself and as Donald Thompson; and even Craven, Shaye and Maddalena are in this as themselves. I don’t recognize the other cast members, though.

One other notable element in front of the camera is that Freddy Krueger now has a long trench coat that he wears. The glove also looks different, more bony:

new-nightmare-freddy-kreuger-2

bony

We start off the film just as we did in the original: With Freddy Krueger making his iconic knives glove in the boiler room, with ominous music playing. But then the meta begins: It turns out to be part of a movie, and we even see Craven from the onset … on set.

“Come on, it’s only make believe.” Chase Porter (played by David Newsom), the husband to the Nancy Thompson character

The Freddy Krueger mechanical glove then starts attacking and killing the crew, and Dylan Porter (played by Mike Hughes), Nancy Thompson’s son, goes missing. But it’s all a dream! Nancy Thompson wakes up, and an earthquake is happening. In fact, that coincided with the real 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles, so this movie is meta on meta.

Also in this movie, Nancy Thompson is apparently being stalked by someone on the phone, which is meta in a way, too, since a lot of these female protagonists in horror films have stories of being stalked in real life. I don’t know if Langenkamp has, but that hits a nerve for sure. But I also feel like the opening bit with someone stalking her on the telephone is similar to Scream, too. I’m telling you, this is Craven’s Scream test drive!

There’s a great special effect from the opening where it seems like another aftershock has happened, but the cracks in the wall look as if it could be Freddy Krueger’s slices through the wall with his knives glove. It’s great.

Wes
Wes Craven as Wes Craven in a film by Wes Craven.

What’s also great is that they lean into the silly mania around Freddy Krueger (silly because of the MTV-ifying of him and the icon status for a brutal child murderer and how he became humorous) with Nancy Thompson and Robert Englund (in the Freddy Krueger get-up) on a talk show with adoring fans. Then we go to the normal looking Robert Englund, which is great to see. He actually looks normal! I know that’s … normal, but even in the other films where he’s not in makeup, he still looks creepy.

Centering a lot of early part of the film on Dylan Porter basically losing his mind (and Nancy Thompson along with him) is pretty creepy. The scene at the playground makes my hands sweat because I’m afraid of heights. Great running catch from Nancy Thompson!

I love the phone conversation between Nancy Thompson and Robert Englund, where she tells him the person seemingly stalking her is a different, scarier and more evil guy. Ha. Craven is definitely taking shots at the sequels. There’s even a point where they bluntly say the original is the best of the franchise.

I’m happy for Langenkamp here, as this film is quite the showcase for her, and as I’ve mentioned before, she was better in Dream Warriors than she was in the original, and she’s better here than either. With each new Nightmare film she’s involved in, she gets better with the material. Why not bring her back for a new Nightmare in 2021, Halloween/Jamie Lee Curtis style? I wouldn’t hate it.

This movie is super meta because there’s a scene with Langenkamp talking to Craven, and Craven literally tells the audience the premise of this film and within the scope of the entire franchise. And Craven then asks her to play Nancy Thompson one last time to be able to trap The Entity, which has manifest itself as Freddy Krueger, in the films instead of in reality. Then we see the actual script where he asks her, and then we see *fade to black* and we fade to black!

I’m trippin’.

Aside from this movie already being brave for doing such a cerebral and meta horror film (and doing so as the seventh film in a franchise), this film is also brave for doing a slow-burn film where we don’t even see Freddy Krueger as Freddy Krueger for real until 68 minutes into the movie, which as I mentioned, is about 110 minutes. That’s wild. We certainly get some great atmosphere, intensity and atmosphere setting, but that’s certainly a bold choice. It works for me. The first real sighting of Freddy Krueger is great and scary, even with a light quip of, “Miss me?”

Getting Freddy Krueger chasing a little kid is a good way to make him scary again. I forgot that he still quips a decent amount in this film. Granted, not as much as the prior films, but still more than I would like.

Overall, I would slot this behind the first three films, probably. Upon seeing the sequel for the first time, and re-watching Dream Warriors, this would probably come in fourth in the franchise for me. That’s not even a knock since I like those three films and I quite like the meta reality Wes Craven is playing with here. I certainly like that we, for the most part, get away from silly Freddy Krueger.

Unfortunately, it’s the least successful of any of the Nightmare films at the box office, and I get it. Again, Freddy Krueger isn’t even in it until the 68-minute mark, and it’s such a cerebral, meta film. Craven pulls it off with Scream only two years later, but here? Fans didn’t seem to get it or like it.

However, aside from the original, this is the most critically favored of the Nightmare films. The Rottentomatoes consensus reads, “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare adds an unexpectedly satisfying – not to mention intelligent – meta layer to a horror franchise that had long since lost its way.”

That’s the best way to describe it: This is just a satisfying, back-to-form (but in an unusual way) addition to the franchise.

Nancy

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